The Evolution Of "Happily Ever After"
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The Evolution Of "Happily Ever After"

All the best love stories have one thing in common.

The Evolution Of "Happily Ever After"
Kayla Riemensperger

We live in a world where the media is constantly changing, attempting to stay up to date on the most relevant entertainment in society. This constant change can be seen through the example of fairy tales. Fairy tales hold a prominent place among the world’s oldest literary traditions. There are countless different variations of fairy tales still present in today’s society that have evolved throughout the years. From bookshelves to theaters to televisions, fairy tales can be found all over the media. Through television shows such as: "Once Upon a Time" (ABC), and "Grimm" (NBC), as well as Hollywood blockbusters such as "Into the Woods" (Disney 2014), "Cinderella" (Disney 2015), and even "The Jungle Book" (Disney 2016), offer continued proof that these tales are still considered appealing even in the 21st century. Therefore, it is safe to infer that in ten years, these stories will still be around and will have evolved even more. Changing from the modern day fairy tales that are portrayed through media in shows such as "Once Upon A Time" into futuristic fairy tales, possibly something similar to the movie "Star Wars."

Fairy tales usually convey moral, social or political messages to teach a lesson to the audience. They also contain a skillful narrative and not your average everyday characters, such as the Fairy Godmother from "Cinderella". Although the storylines and characters stay the same, the messages being conveyed often change. For example, gender roles have evolved through fairy tales, the message conveyed in Disney’s "Snow White" was that women had to depend on men for a happily ever after. In regards to the fact that Snow White couldn’t live without the prince kissing her back to life. Yet today in media and society women are portrayed as being more independent and are less reliant on men to get their happy ending. In the movie "Snow White and the Huntsman", Snow White has her own independence and fights her own battles, conveying the message to young females that they are capable of doing anything. Audiences are shown that being a woman doesn’t confine you. Women are equally as strong as men. According to Lee Chamney’s article “Why Fairy Tale Reboot are a Necessary Part of Society”, fairy tales have become a way to communicate shared values with young children as well as the rest of the world. Therefore, it is safe to infer that as our values change through time, so must the media sources that convey them.

Fairy tales tell us a great deal about our culture and society in which they are present, yet at the same time they also offer a look at the larger human experience. This is shown through archetypes that, according to Groeppel-Klein, Domke and Bartmann, "represent inborn and universal ways of perceiving the world." This means that fairy tales are made to always seem familiar, even only after a first read. Therefore, this has caused fairy tales have been present in history for a long time. For example, Aesop’s fables, have been around since the mid-6th century BCE and are still popular today. According to John Horgan, “they are the world’s best-known collection of morality tales.” Therefore, these stories are often used as the basis for many of society’s contemporary moral stories. These fables teach important life lessons but still describe the “world of childhood.” Such as the “Tortoise and the Hare”, which teaches children that “slow and steady wins the race”. According to Jack Zipes, author of “The Irresistible Fairy Tale Cultural and Social History of a Genre”, “The memetic crystallization of certain fairy tales as classics does not make them static for they are constantly re-created and reformed, yet they remain memetic because of their relevant articulation of problematic issues in our lives.” This means that fairy-tales are often being reworked to ensure that they stay relevant with our constantly changing society. For example, “Beauty and the Beast” which is a traditional fairy tale written by French novelist Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont and published in 1756, has lived beyond its times. Most of our society is familiar with the Disney movie version released in 1991, where a smart and beautiful girl named Belle attempts to save her father by living with an ugly beast who was cursed and must find someone to love him in order to break the spell. At first, she is repulsed by the beast, but in the end, she falls for what’s on the inside of him. Teaching society the lesson to not judge others by how they appear. As the influence of media grew so did the simple fairy tale. In 2011, another modern take on “Beauty and the Beast” titled “Beastly” was released. It was based on the novel by Alex Flinn; the story places the basics of the original fairy tale in the context of a contemporary American high school. As well as some time in 2017, Disney has plans to release yet another more modern “Beauty and the Beast”, a live-action film. Displaying just how easily media changes in order to stay relevant with American values and culture.

The genre of fantasy and fiction seems to invite evolution, it is not very difficult to rework the fiction of fairy tales to make it more appealing to the media and culture present in society today, as well as the society ten years from now. Take for example the well-known fairy tale of “Cinderella” that most of Americans grew up with as a child. This tale clearly tells society something about their culture and it is deemed worthy enough to be passed along. The preservation of “Cinderella” is a testament to its cultural importance. Although fairy tales adapt and change with each generation the best of our tales do not die. The story ofCinderella” gives us a picture of an inventive young woman who finds herself in harsh circumstances who then is dependent on other people, including a prince to help solve these issues. Some feminist scholars, such as Baum (2000), have argued that “the Cinderella story presents young girls with the negative role model of a beautiful but powerless young woman, one who desired nothing more than a prince who would carry her away from her miserable life to live happily ever after.” Yet as our culture evolves so do the social values in society. In a more recent retelling of “Cinderella”, “Ugly Betty”, the gender roles are switched. Betty, the Cinderella of the story, alternately takes on the role of “the rescuing prince”. Since the values that Americans hold constantly change, the Culture surrounding the values changes as well. This is why Cinderella spin-offs have evolved the portrayal of women in media. Women are now portrayed as being more independent and that there is no reason to rely only on a prince for a happily ever after. For example, in the Hilary Duff Cinderella movie, the objective for the main character isn’t to find a prince. The main objective is to attend college and obtain an education, portraying woman as educated and driven. This is a valued lesson in society because parents want their children to value education over men. These messages have firmly implanted themselves into the minds of children in our society and have all but surpassed the original fairytales before them. Therefore, the evolution of fairy tales tells us a lot about ourselves and our changing society. Numerous fairy tales are actually down-scaled historical events masked so that they can not be dispelled easily. According to the Huffington Post, Fairy tales were a way of passing along a lesson from adults to children. The article stated that “Many take place during the hero’s or heroine’s passage from childhood to adulthood, often ending in marriage. Along this fantastic path are not only challenges to overcome but warnings: the perils of being alone in the woods; the potential pitfalls of physical attractiveness; the dangers of being naïve.” This is prevalent in many fairy tales, for example, “Little Red Riding Hood” teaches the lesson of not going out alone, and being careful of strangers, a lesson that is taught to children at a very young age.

Back in the early 1800’s Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm collected their very own “fairy tales”, stories that represented the unpredictable and often unforgiving life experienced in Germany where the brothers were from. The Grimm’s brothers first collection of stories was based on truthful, gruesome events and people. For example, according to an article in the Huffington Post “Cinderella” is a true story based off of the history of Rhodopis, a Greek woman. According to history, when she was a young girl she was captured in Thrace, sold into slavery around 500 BC, and taken to Egypt where she was forced to perform sexual tasks whenever her master pleased. The Grimm’s brothers took a simple tale such as this and evolved it into their own version of Cinderella. The brothers had claimed to want to retain literary purity, but over the years, they drastically changed the stories to stay relevant with society values. Their earliest manuscript dates from 1810, with various revisions being published from 1812 to 1857. Each revision took away some of the sexual overtones and gruesome violence against only the innocent never against the villains, to pass along a message that it's wrong to be evil. This is because parents had no interest in letting their children read stories that would negatively influence the morals that they had already been taught. The brothers also added lessons in about Christian morality, to please parents and to sell more of their literature. This sometimes altered the stories dramatically: for example, Snow White’s jealous biological mother from the first edition became a vain stepmother in later editions, changing the theme from a complex mother-daughter rivalry to a much simpler moral lesson against vanity. According to Norton, he states that “the tales were told around the fire to children and adults alike.” Norton also tells us that, “because these stories were dark and provocative, society decided that the nature of the tales had to change.” Society had to protect their children from the gruesome nature of the Grimm fairy tales. They didn’t want these stories to affect their children and their personal morals. Mothers didn’t want their children exposed to stories that inspired violence. Therefore, these tales continue to evolve, keeping up to date with the culture in our society.

According to a survey of the re-published stories conducted by Alice Neikirk, there is a distinct trend that validates women through submissive beauty, meanwhile, men are portrayed as active and often violent. She quotes, “rather than be a mere reflection of societal ideals, these fairy tales perpetuate Christian, patriarchal concepts as a means of maintaining the gender hierarchy. We can certainly see these ideas, such as gender inequality through the fairy tale “Cinderella”. “Cinderella” portrays attractiveness as being the most important attribute that a woman can possess, for Cinderella claims that she can not go to the ball until she is beautiful enough to be in the prince’s presence. This trait is similar to other fairy tales because beauty is usually linked to a future of happiness. Which is not a message society wants to place upon their children, but it still occurs even in the most recent versions of fairy tales. According to Kristy Stewart (Blogs, Books, & Breadcrumbs: A Case Study of Trans medial Fairy Tales), many of the popularly retold fairy tales can be interpreted as “beauty contests” and can emphasize the message that a woman’s appearance is her most important attribute. We see this throughout all of the fairy tales in today's society. For instance, almost every princess in Disney’s fairy tales is portrayed with unrealistic body measurements, and perfect hair, makeup, and faces. They are what society deems as “beautiful” this is a harmful lesson for young children. Another message Disney displays is the message that if you are beautiful, then you are dependent upon a prince for rescuing. This is shown through Cinderella in the fact that she waits for her prince to come rescue her by bringing the slipper and take her to her “happily ever after.” This ideal undermines women in society claiming that if a woman is beautiful she must wait around for her prince, instead of being independent and going out the get a prince or live her life on her own.

In the early books, “Cinderella” was portrayed most often in her downtrodden state, dressed in rags, but most modern-day picture-book covers show “Cinderella as an elaborately dressed beauty, focusing on her magical transformation into this jaw-dropping prince worthy spectacle. Causing the character Cinderella to shift from a role model for the quality of humility in young women to a symbol that beauty is all that is needed for success; a dazzling display for little girls to consume and imitate. Going back to the Grimm’s brother’s version of “Cinderella” she was portrayed as a girl in rags who was humble and had to work for what she wanted. There wasn't any fairy godmother to grant her wishes. The fairy tale wasn't dazzling with gold, glitter, and beauty. Especially since society at this time wasn't bursting with riches, the culture was more along the lines of impoverished therefore the Grimm’s brother’s version of “Cinderellawas dark and depressing, especially the part where her step-sisters cut off their heels to get the glass slipper to fit their foot. Yet this version became too dark for parents as society evolved and values changed. Therefore, the first Disney version of “Cinderellawas released, portraying Cinderella in riches instead of rags, making young girls believe that in order to be successful they had to rely on beauty and money. Disney didn’t stop there, they released another live-action version of “Cinderella” (2015) in which again she is portrayed as society's definition of the perfect woman. Cinderella is portrayed in her ball-gown and has golden locks; which again is considered a more desirable trait for women to possess because it increases their beauty. Cinderella wasn't always blonde, in the older versions, she was often brunette until Disney decided to make her blonde changing all future generations of Cinderella’s to always be blonde. Therefore, according to Linda Robinson (From Rags to Riches, The Evolution of Cinderella) the current Cinderella with all the glam and glitz “reinforces the current princess culture that young girls can magically become princesses, and by doing so, helps to perpetuate and reinforce this commodified fairy-tale dream”. According to all the claims above the up to date version of Cinderella, ten years from now will focus on a more modern day woman. An independent woman trapped in a terrible situation attempting to escape. It will display more gender equality since women have gained many rights since the older versions of Cinderella. The media will focus on capturing this empowerment of women, therefore creating a content society. Many of the movies present in today's society are focused on providing women with more freedom and equal rights. Women are no longer portrayed as weak and man dependent. Therefore, in the futuristic version of Cinderella, the prince may need to be saved, or they might just cut the prince out of the story altogether. Since most movies in today's society have begun to focus on women empowerment this will still be the case in ten years. The character of Cinderella herself will be created to become an icon for all women, yet the issue of always having Cinderella portrayed through her beauty will still exist. This is because society still is obsessed with appearance over personality and the fairy-tale will most likely stay haunted with that ideal for a very long time.

All in all, fairy tales have made a huge impact on our media in society throughout the ages. From folk tales to the Grimm’s tales, to Disney, and so forth, fairy tales continue to evolve to fit the culture that is shaped around it. They are constantly competing to stay up to date on societies values. Therefore, in the future they will still be an important part of the media in teaching children lessons and morals, for fairy tales will be around forever and will always dominate the media.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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