A Many-Faceted Fairy Tale That's for Adults, Too

By M. S. Mason Arts and television writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, February 25, 2000 | Go to article overview

A Many-Faceted Fairy Tale That's for Adults, Too


M. S. Mason Arts and television writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Every story has a moral. It's one of the most appealing aspects of any story because it reminds us how best to live. And never is this clearer than in folk and fairy tales, legends, allegories, and myths.

These story forms are distinctly different from one another, but they all meet in one big fantasy extravaganza called "The 10th Kingdom" on NBC (Sun., Feb. 27, 9-11 p.m. through Mon., March 6).

This 10-hour comic-epic event is meant for adults, as is the lovely "Arabian Nights" (airing in April), which has been politically corrected a tad for contemporary American audiences. But it retains great charm, vitality, and poetry.

Behind all this fairy-tale telling for grown-ups is producer Robert Halmi Sr., (see profile, Page 13) who has produced popular versions of "Gulliver's Travels," "Moby Dick," "The Odyssey," "Noah's Ark," and "Leprechauns," among others.

Even when critics are not receptive to these expensive films, TV audiences seem to go for them. But then, why not? Alan Dundes, a professor of anthropology and folklore at the University of California at Berkeley, says the original folk tales handed down orally from one generation to the next were never meant for children, though certainly children listened to them along with their elders. The stories have been made juvenile by all kinds of writers starting with the Brothers Grimm down to the likes of Walt Disney.

But "the tales are like collective dreams.... They provided an outlet for psychological trauma," Dr. Dundes says.

The Brothers Grimm, of course, collected oral tales early in the 19th century. "The early [collectors] had nationalistic agendas, and after they collected [the tales], they changed them...."

For example, in girl-centered stories where the girls rescue themselves, the Grimm versions had them rescued by males to fit the conventions of the day. In the oral versions of Hansel and Gretel, their own mother sends the children out into the woods - a bad image of German motherhood. So in the Grimm version, the mother is a stepmother.

"Maybe we should call them 'fake'-lore instead of folklore," Dundes says. And TV and movie versions of fairy tales are twice removed from original sources because they are based on the literary versions, he points out.

A collision of two worlds

Indeed, "The 10th Kingdom" combines so many tales from such a variety of cultures, it might make a purist balk. But at least the makers try to address some interesting issues. They begin by returning the stories to adults - albeit in paradisiacal form. Then, too, the protagonist of this tale is a female on a hero's journey, and though she is aided by males, she rescues herself and defeats her nemesis.

The story concerns the collision of two worlds. …

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A Many-Faceted Fairy Tale That's for Adults, Too
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