Fairy Tales 2010

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sondheim and Willingham

I found both of this week's contemporary fairy tale encounters extremely interesting, not only because of the extensiveness of the characters portrayed but also because of the relatively accurate retellings of the Grimms' tales (Cinderella in Into the Woods suffered the same consequences as her Grimms counterpart and Rose Red - who is virtually unknown to most readers not familiar with the Grimms' "Snow White and Rose Red" - was included in Willingham's comic book). But I think what I found most interesting in both of these contemporary fairy-tale themed plots was the way in which Prince Charming(s) was represented.

A stark contrast to the fairy tale prince of perfection, both "Into the Woods" and "Fables" have cheating, untrustworthy princes who hurt the women that love them. In "Into the Woods," both princes represent this very idealistic stock type that falls head over heels exceedingly quickly but then once the chase has ended, they rapidly lose interest and move on, singing of "Agony" and "Moment(s) in the Woods". Similarly, in "Fables," there is only one Prince Charming who wedded and cheated on and divorced each of the female fairy tale characters whose fable ended with marriage to Prince Charming. He uses his skills in bed to trick women into giving him money and support.

Snow White's harsh attitude toward her ex-husband signifies scathing resentment and anger (hundreds of years after the fact) at his adultery with her sister. Into the Woods seems acutely aware of the fairy tale romance ideal and turns that on its head when Cinderella doesn't seem especially excited about being pursued, as well as when the Baker's Wife realizes that being with Prince Charming is not an ideal to long for. This new male prince character most likely results from a more modern feminist, cynical viewpoint that doesn't portray men as rescuers, or rather doesn't portray women as needing rescuers. The women in both of these contemporary versions are strong and independent, instead of the poor, silent female who is simply destined, so it seems, to wed a prince.

1 comment:

  1. As the Prince said to the baker's wife in Into the Woods,
    "I was raised to be charming, not sincere."
    Yes, these princes seem to represent all the prince charmings in every story because they are not very specified and their "insincerity" seems to arise from the fact that they do not want the wife for her personality, but for her beauty. (Remember in Snow White he wants to buy her as an object, and doesn't really care if she wakes up or not.) I believe this is what Sondheim and Willingham were trying to convey in a more modern form perhaps.