If you were to compose a narrative in which you subvert a well-known fairy tale into a new exploration, what would you write about?
I would absolutely go for "The Little Mermaid" by Hans Christian Andersen. Have you ever read the original? It's incredibly macabre as well as disturbing in a way when considering both religion and gender roles. There's a lot to work with there which could be exaggerated, turned to sarcasm, or just flat out criticized. When critiquing the story through a feminist lens as an undergrad, I had a field day! You could also consider it as a statement on difference (you know, seeing merpeople not as merpeople, but rather as those who society deems "different" for whatever reason).
Also, for inspiration, take a look at Gregory Maguire's Wicked. It, unlike the musical of the same title, truly deconstructs the modern fairy tale that The Wizard of Oz has become, and views the story in a new light which is unsettling, thought-provoking, and moving.
Your post reminds me of one of those bad experiences that happens to teachers. I was teaching in a highly conservative area of rural Florida at the time, and I chose to use the wonderful film, The Princess Bride, in class. There was a complaint because of "foul language"--I believe one of the characters uses a profanity--and my gutless principal stopped the viewing after receiving a complaint from a teacher in an adjacent classroom, much to the dismay of the class; most of the middle schoolers had never seen the movie before, and they absolutely loved it. I got chewed out the next day for my poor choice of films--even though another teacher (the reigning "Teacher of the Year") had showed it the year before. The difference? There were no complaints the previous year. I pointed this out to the principal, who had no real defense other than to explain that she didn't know profanities were used in the movie.
Ha! This is a tough call because Disney has already stolen most of them and turned them into hit movies. (Not that I don't love all of them, because I DO.) I guess I would go for the group of what are considered "American Tall Tales," the stories of Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan, John Henry, etc. I would love to expand upon those stories and use them to highlight a few things in current society. With Johnny Appleseed I would stress how the mentally handicapped can be very valid and useful members of society. With Paul Bunyan I would stress how the working class man is as important as any other white collar worker. With John Henry, I would stress the value of combating racism with the truth of equality. Of course, this all depends on your ability to accept that these "tall tales" are technically "fairy tales." No fairies here, ... not to say we couldn't create one.
I always give this as an assignment to my Grade 10s after studying narration and point of view. I tell them to re-write a famous fairy tale from the point of view of one of the characters who is normally viewed as the "baddie." I have had some excellent responses, some of which focus on the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood or the Three Little Pigs, and talk about Darwinian theory that means they are just trying to survive and ends up arguing for animal rights. I have also had a truly outstanding contribution of Cinderella, told from the point of view of the stepmother, whose every effort to gain the affections of her step-daughter is resented and rejected. However, another great example of the re-telling of Fairy Tales can be found in Angela Carter's excellent short story collection entitled The Bloody Chamber, which retells a number of fairy tales, normally examining them from a female and deeply sexual perspective. It is a classic and gripping collection that is well worth reading.
What I would like to explore is the idea that evil and good are black and white and have definate lines that are never crossed (think the evil witch, and the handsome hero). Wouldn't it be interesting if we could give our fairy tale characters shades of grey like people in real life. Let the prince struggle with doing the wrong thing, but also let the evil witch toy with the idea of being compassionate and letting the girl go to have her "fairy tale" life.
By doing this, you may take some of the romance out of the fairy tale, but you might also give young ones a more realistic view of the world.
I like this! I may use it in my World Lit class after we study folk/fairy tales.
To answer your question, I'd probably take one of those traditional women--Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, etc.--and put her in the real, present world of independence. She would represent for all young women a life without eating disorders, beauty issues, or dependence on a male to "save" her. She would show that with determination, hard work, maybe advice from an older sister, and lots of faith, she could succeed on her own. I might even use all three and make at least one of them non-white. Young people in this world need encouragement, but they also need work ethic beyond pushing a button and viola! it's done.
It seems to me that the part of fairy tales that most needs subversion is the idea that women are relatively helpless creatures who are mostly looking for a prince to sweep them off their feet. To subvert this, I would look at Cinderella. I would imagine her as someone who does not simply want to be rescued by a prince. Instead, I would portray her as someone who has more depth to her, someone who wants a true companion rather than a prince who will rescue her.
This is a fairly interesting question. I think that you might want to focus on narratives that have already done this. For example, the film Shrek was able to take the basic elements of fairy tales and nursery rhymes and invert them into a compelling narrative that provided richness and depth to its characters. At the same time, I would example another film entitled Enchanted. This film takes the fairy tale reliables such as the princess, the evil queen, the valiant prince, and even the forest animals and provides interesting and unique twists on each. The princess turns out to be strikingly intricate, despite the fact that she lives in the world of fairy tale cliches in the modern setting. At the same time, the valiant prince turns out to be very simplistic and rather boring. These can turn out to be a very interesting starting point for inverting the traditionalist notions of the fairy tale good. As far back as the 1970s, this was done. Woody Allen's film, Annie Hall, has a great sequence where the protagonist is in love with an animated version of "the wrong girl," which turns out to be the evil queen character from presumably Snow White. Hearing the evil queen complain about "not being on a period" is a part of the subversion process that brings depth and complexity to static and simplistic figures.