by Tennessee Hill
The best college course I’ve taken thus far is Fairy Tales as Literature with esteemed fairy tale scholar and part-time fairy godmother, Dr. Christine Butterworth-McDermott. Halfway through covering the classics, a classmate remarked that they felt disillusioned by the tales. This shocked me. Were they really expecting Cinderella’s stepsisters to go unpunished, or Oscar Wilde’s Selfish Giant to live forever, or bread crumb trails to not get eaten by birds? Had they never heard of a jealous stepmother decapitating her child via chest lid à la “The Juniper Tree”?
As a millennial, I’ve seen my peers expect fairy tale figures to fall in real love the first go-around, sans magical spells, and Neighbors Wolves to give Little Reds a break. There’s a naive desire for rabbit holes like carnival rides, to get out when it’s not fun anymore. As young people, we’ve waded for too long in the pool of Disney where everything is lovely and resolves itself. Now, sitting in a classroom being asked to engage with “The Juniper Tree” or Perrault’s “Cinderella,” it feels like a veil has been torn.
The idea embedded in “happily ever after”–that life is changed for the better in a split second, void of consequence or reality–is one that should be laughed off the stage. But when presented with it dressed like an old lady offering to tighten the corset laces of a hidden princess, there’s shock when the princess is left to flounder on the cottage floor, suffocating. Well, Bluebeard looks like the husband type, forget all those missing wives.
Maybe that’s why there’s an ambient sadness when Hansel and Gretel are abandoned by their parents, or Donkeyskin’s father pursues her so. It’s too close to home. Having gone to the pages to find a happy family, friendly creatures, and a predictable trajectory to follow, there can be a bitter feeling of having been tricked out of a good time. To me, that’s all the more reason to dig both heels in and reside in fairy tale literature.
Generations have walked through the forest before, lantern-less and trusting. Millennials: I’m convinced we’re more fortunate than we realize. With fairytales as our guide, we can make it through, too.
Tennessee Hill is a Senior at Stephen F. Austin State University working toward her BFA in Creative Writing. She is an alum of the Sewanee Young Writers Conference, a 2017 AWP Intro Journals Award nominee, and was a finalist for the 2017 Dan Veach Younger Poets Prize. She has work in The Sandy River Review, Jenny Magazine, Kaaterskill Basin, Elke Journal, and forthcoming from Crab Orchard Review.