#10 Fables of Empowerment: Good Fairies, Bad Witches, and Pitiful (Male) Beasts

May 9 and 23, 2019 - 9:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.

Ulrich C. Knoepflmacher, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Department of English

In the seventeenth-century, the orally transmitted fairytales which generations of female “spinners” had told to listeners of all ages were appropriated by writers who turned them into profitable texts for literate youngsters as well as for their elders.  This shift turned the fairytale into a perpetually self-revising literary form.  The universal power-conflicts between the dispossessed and the privileged, between women and men, and between child and adult could now be re-invested with meanings that reflected sharp cultural changes.

We shall closely examine such changes by looking at a great variety of texts and film excerpts.  Entirely devoted to “Gender Shifts,” our first meeting will focus on the multiple permutations of two related texts, “Cinderella” and “Beauty and the Beast,” and move from Charles Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, and Marie de Beaumont to recent revisers such as Angela Carter and Disney’s Linda Wolverton.   Our second meeting, devoted to “Fairy-Tale Fakery,” will consider the demonizing of Racial Others by relating “Hansel and Gretel” to Nazi “Volk” ideology before looking at the mass extermination dramatized in Roald Dahl’s The Witches. We shall conclude with a tribute to the falsifying-yet-truthful spinner of ads whom E. B. White cast as both fairy godmother to, and redeemer of, a male Beast in Charlotte’s Web.