My most recent encounter with different interpretations of fairy tales came when I was listening to Wallflowers. What’s Wallflowers? It’s a podcast by a good friend of Fairy Tale Fandom, Amy Elize Brown, blogger of The Willow Web. In Wallflowers, Amy Elize and her boyfriend Josh read a fairy tale aloud and then discuss it. The podcast is rather entertaining as Josh brings a terrific layman’s point of view and sense of humor to the proceedings that complement’s Amy’s more knowledgeable approach well.
Anyway, it came about when I was listening to the Wallflowers presentation of “All Fur” (also called “All Kinds of Fur” or “Allerlieraugh”). The story of “All Fur” starts more or less with a widowed king coming to the conclusion that he is meant to marry his own daughter. The daughter then takes three miraculous dresses and a cloak made of many types of fur and runs away. A different king then finds her in the forest and takes her back to his castle where she hides in plain sight except when she goes to different balls dressed in her fantastic dresses and dazzles this new king. Her identity is eventually revealed and the princess and the new king get together at the end. But what if that isn’t how it went? What if there wasn’t a second king? What if it was the same king as the first? In other words, her father! In the Wallflowers retelling of “All Fur”, this was the conclusion that Amy and Josh came to. I was actually a bit surprised and flabbergasted! My first impression was that they had it wrong. After all, it wasn’t how Grimm’s Fairy Tale Classics had it, or how Jim Henson’s The Storyteller had it or how Erstwhile had it! But then I went back and read the story and I realized that the text never explicitly states that it’s a new king! It’s certainly implied but never stated. So, nothing in that interpretation contradicts the text.
It makes me think of some varying interpretations of fairy tales I’ve had. For example, I’ve had a slightly different interpretation of “Snow White” compared to others for a while now. Mainly because in that story I’ve always been fascinated by the Dwarfs. Upon a few rereadings of the story I noticed a few things. For one, despite the vast amount of German folklore surrounding the mythological types of Dwarfs, the seven Dwarfs in the story never show any sign of being magical. For another, we never know how much time Snow White spends with the Dwarfs. We just know that she was seven when the queen ordered her to be killed. The third thing I noticed is that the Dwarfs are the ones who do the most to try and save Snow White’s life. They let her stay in their house and save her from both a poisoned comb and poisoned stay laces. So, the notion came to me that maybe they weren’t Dwarfs in the magical sense but Dwarfs in the sense of human beings afflicted by dwarfism. Seven men who had likely been ostracized for looking different and settled on the fringes of society. The perfect contrast to a villainess obsessed with her own physical beauty. And what if Snow White didn’t stay with them for days or weeks, but years? Then we have a different situation. Rather than a little girl finding a house full of “magical helpers”, we have a little girl who’s cast out for her own looks finding an unconventional new family among a group of other outcasts. And of course, the Dwarfs are the true heroes of the stories, having saved Snow White’s life about three times. The story takes on a whole different vibe when viewed through this lens. The themes of appearance and family are now enhanced in a way and the role of hero is shifted from the Prince or Snow White herself to the Dwarfs.
I’ve encountered a few different interpretations of fairy tales over the years. I once encountered someone who thought Hansel and Gretel’s stepmother was the same person as the witch, evidenced by the fact that both conveniently seemed to die at the same time. I’ve also seen some interpretations that have seemingly gotten a bit overused. For example, it’s surprisingly common to cast Jack as the real villain in “Jack and the Beanstalk”.
I’m interested in hearing other people’s unconventional interpretations of fairy tales. So, post yours in the comments section below. I look forward to reading them.