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For Carol
With Hope for a Better Future



Jack Zipes


Taylor & FrancisGroup
New York London

First publishedin 1987by Methuen,Inc., and

GowerPubli shingCo., Ltd.

This edition published2012 by Routledge

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Jack Zipes, 1986

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reprod~
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Library ofCongrnsin PublicationData

Main entry undertitle:
Don't bet on the prina:.
Bibliography: p.
Indudes index.
I. Feminism-Fiction. 2. Women-Fiction.
3. Shon stories, American. 4. Shon stories,English.
5. Fairy tales. 6. Fairy tales-Historyand critidsmAddresses,essays,lectures. 7. Feminist Literary
criticism-Addresses,essays,lectures. 8. Women in
essayslectures. 1. Zipes,
li terature-Addresses,

Jack David.

PS648. F4D66 1986

ISBN ~ 1 6-o 01371-6
ISBN ~ I S-90263..(}{pbk.) 0(pbk)

Funhercopyright C details are given on the




Jack Zipes






The PrincessWho Stood On Her Own Two Feet

JeanneDesy (1982)
Prince Amilec
Tanith Lee (1972)
Jay Williams (1979)
The Donkey Prince
AngelaCarter (1970)
... And Then The Prince Knelt Down and Tried
to Put the GlassSlipper on Cinderella'sFoot
Judith Viorst (1982)
Snow White
The MerseysideFairy Story Collective (1972)
The Moon Ribbon
Jane Yolen (1976)
Russalkaor The Seacoastof Bohemia
A Fairy Tale for Our Time
Jack Zipes(1985)





The GreenWoman
Meghan B. Collins (1982)





Briar Rose(SleepingBeauty)
Little Red Riding Hood
Olga Broumas(1977)
Sara HendersonHay (1982)
Tanith Lee (1983)
Malaganand the Lady of Rascas
Michael de Larrabeiti (1983)
Margaret Atwood(1983)




'SomeDay My Prince Will Come': Female

Acculturation through the Fairy Tale
Marcia K. Lieberman
The Queen'sLooking Glass
SandraM. Gilbert and SusanGubar (1979)
Feminismand Fairy Tales
Karen E. Rowe(1979)
A SecondGazeat Little Red Riding Hood'sTrials and
Jack Zipes (1984)




The plansfor this book were initiatedby David Hill, CarolineLaneand

Lynne Jarche,who helpedme developmy ideasin fruitful discussions.
As the book beganto take shape,I benefitedfrom the suggestionsof
JessicaBenjamin,Lois Kuznets,Anita Moss, Wolfgang Mieder and, in
particular,JanicePrice, who providedneedfulprodding. In more ways
than one, Ken Silverman served as a provocative muse, and I am
grateful for his supportas critic and friend. In the final stagesof my
work, I was fortunateto havethe adviceand help of JohnIrwin and the
editorial staff of Gower.Throughoutall the stagesmy wife Carol Dines
and helpedme redefinemany of my
notions. I can only expressmy gratitude for her encouragementby
dedicatingthis book to her.
The coverillustration is TheLittle Girl Who Did Not Believein Fairies;
Eleanor Fortescue-BrickdaleR.W.S. (1872-1945). Copyright F.
Fortescue-Brickdaleesq. Reproducedwith the kind permissionof F.
FortescueBrickdaleesq.andby courtesyof Chris BeetlesWatercolours
Ltd. A greetings card reproducing this painting under the title
Fairyland has beenpublishedby the BucentaurGallery Ltd.
'The PrincessWho Stood On Her Own Two feet' in Storiesfor Free
Children, Ed. Letty Pogrebin (New York: McGraw Hill, 1982).
Copyright 1982 by Jeanne Desy. Reprinted by permission of
Floricanto Press,OaklandCA. This story will be publishedin 1986 in
a bilingual (Spanish/English)picture book edition by FloricantoPress,
604 William Street, Oakland, California 94612, USA. (ISBN
'Prince Amilec' in PrincessHynchatti and SomeOther Surprisesby
Tanith Lee. Copyright 1972by Tanith Lee. Reprintedby permission
of Macmillan, London and Basingstoke and Farrar, Straus and
Giroux, Inc., New York.


Don't Bet on the Prince

'Petronella' is reprinted from The Practical Princess and Other

Liberating Talesby JayWilliams andillustratedby Rick Schreiter.Text
copyright 1973 by Jay Williams. Reproducedby permissionof The
Bodley Head, London and ScholasticInc., New York.
'The Donkey Prince' is reprintedby the kind permissionof Simon and
Schuster,New York. Copyright 1970 Angela Carter.
, . .. And Then The Prince Knelt Down and Tried to Put the Glass
Slipperon Cinderella'sFoot' in If I Werein Chargeofthe World (New
York; Atheneum,1982). Copyright Judith Viorst, 1982. Reprinted
by permissionof Atheneum Publishers,New York and Lescher and
LescherLimited, New York.
'Snow White' is reprintedby kind permissionof the MerseysideFairy
Story Collective. Copyright 1972.
'The Moon Ribbon' reprinted by permissionof Curtis Brown, Ltd.
Copyright 1976 by JaneYolen, from The Moon Ribbonand Other
Tales. First publishedin Great Britain by J. M. Dent and Sons Ltd.
'Russalka or The Seacoastof Bohemia' in Kittatiny by Joanna
Russ. Copyright 1978, JoannaRuss. Reprinted by permissionof
Ellen Levine Literary Agency Inc. First published in the USA by
'The GreenWomen'in TheBestofMs. Fiction Ed. Ruth Sullivan (New
York: Schribner, 1982). Copyright 1982, Meghan B. Collins.
Reprintedby permissionof Richard Curtis Associates,Inc.
'Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty), in Transformationsby Anne Sexton.
Copyright 1971 by Anne Sexton. Reprinted by permission of
Houghton Mifflin Company.
'Little Red Riding Hood' in Beginning With 0 by Olga Broumas.
Copyright 1977 by Olga Broumas.Reprintedby permissionof Yale
University Press,New Haven.
'Rapunzel' reprinted from Story Hour. Copyright 1982 by Sara
HendersonHay by kind permissionof University of ArkansasPress.
'Wolfland' in Redas Blood or Talesfrom the SistersGrimmer (New
York: Daw Books,1983).Copyright Tanith Lee, 1983. Reprintedby
permissionof Daw Books Inc.
'Malaganand the Lady of Rascas'in Elsewhere3, Eds. Terri Windling
and Mark Arnold (New York: Berkeley, 1984pp. 189-204).Copyright



1984, Michael de Larrabeiti. Reprintedby kind permissionof the

'Bluebeard'sEgg' by Margaret Atwood (Toronto: McClelland and
Stewart, 1983). Copyright 1983. Margaret Atwood. Reprinted by
permissionof PhoebeLarmore, Venice, CA.
, "Some Day My Prince Will Come": FemaleAcculturation through
the Fairy Tale' by Marcia Leibermanin CollegeEnglish, 34 (1972) pp.
383-95.Copyright Marcia R. Leiberman,1972. Reprintedwith the
permissionof the National Council of Teachersof English, Urbana,
Illinois, USA.
'The Queen'sLooking Glass' in The Mad Woman in the Attic. The
WomanWriter andtheNineteenth-Century
Imagination. (New Haven:
Yale University Press, 1979). Copyright 1979, SandraM. Gilbert
and SusanGubar. Reprintedby permissionof Yale University Press.
'Feminismand Fairy Tales'in Women'sStudies.6 (1979) pp. 237-57.
Copyright 1979Karen E. Rowe. Reprintedby kind permissionof the

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It is obviously difficult to define the feminist fairy tale. Part of the

difficulty is due to the fact that somefeminist fairy talesare written by
authors who would not necessarilydefine themselvesas feminists.
Despite this fact, their tales, and the others in this collection, are
imbued with a particular vision of the world which I would call
feminist. Not only do the authors challengeconventional views of
gender,socialisation,andsexroles, but they alsomapout an alternative
aestheticterrain for the fairy tale as genreto openup new horizonsfor
readersand writers alike.
Createdout of dissatisfactionwith the dominantmale discourseof
traditional fairy tales and with those social values and institutions
which have provided the framework for sexist prescriptions, the
feminist fairy tale conceivesa different view of the world and speaksin
a voice that has been customarily silenced. It draws attention to the
illusions of the traditional fairy tales by demonstratingthat they have
been structured according to the subordinationof women, and in
speakingout for womenthe feminist fairy tale alsospeaksout for other
oppressedgroupsand for an other world, which may have appeared
Utopianat onetime but is now alreadywithin the graspof thosepeople
seekingto bring aboutmoreequalityin socialand work relations.Thus
the aestheticsof the feminist fairy tale demands an open-ended
discourse which calls for the readers to complete the liberating
expectationsof the narrativein termsof their own experienceand their
social context.
Although onecan find feminist fairy talesthroughoutthe world, the
most innovative ones in the West are being written in England and
America. Suchexperimentationis largely an outcomeof the women's
movement, which, in my opinion, has been strongestin these two
countries.Ever sincethe late 1960sthere hasbeena growing tendency
on the part of women in England and America-and not only
women- to expressa non-sexistview of the world throughfairy talesor
throughcriticism about fairy tales. The political purposeanddesignof


Don't Bet on the Prince

mostof the talesareclear: the narrativesaresymbolicalrepresentations

of the authors'critique of the patriarchalstatusquo andof their desire
to changethe currentsocialisationprocess.
The primary intended audienceof feminist fairy tales consistsof
childrenand women,but this doesnot meanthat men areexcluded.By
reconstructingfairy-tale worlds along non-sexistlines, the writers of
feminist fairy talesaddresssocietyat large, questionrecurrentpatterns
of valuesandthe stableexpectationsaboutrolesand relations.They do
not naIvely believethat onecanchangegenderarrangements
and social
behaviourby simply reformulating the traditional fairy tales. On the
other hand, it has beendemonstratedby psychologistsand educators
time and again that storiesand fairy tales do influence the mannerin
which childrenconceivethe world andtheir placesin it evenbeforethey
begin to read. Arthur Applebee has shown conclusively how story
charactersbecomepart of a child's 'real world' and form part of their
cultural heritage. Thus, tales play an important role in early socialisation. For instance,upon hearinga fairy tale, children of four and
five will 'assimilatethe story to their past experienceof similar tales,
providing themselves withexpectationsabout such things as types of
characters,patternsof behaviour,and suitableendings.On the other
hand, their understandingof "fairy tales" will be somewhataltered
andexpandedby the new charactersand actionswhich they meetin the
particulartale'.1 As a key agentof socialisation,the fairy tale enables
the child to discoverhis or her placein the world and to test hypotheses
about the world. For years the classical literary tales were mainly
articulations and representationsof a male viewpoint.2 Even when
womenwrote and told the tales,they submergedtheir voicesto servea
patriarchalsocial order or to disguisetheir discontentwith it. The fact
now that male and female writers have explicitly altered the aesthetic
constructs and social contents of the tales to present a feminist
viewpoint is an indication that there have been major changesin the
socialisationand educationof children in Englandand America since
the 1960s.That is, the feminist talesthemselveshaveemergedfrom the
strugglesof the women'smovementand are being used to elaborate
social choices and alternatives for both females and males. As
indicatorsof social, psychological,and political change,they are also
agentsof a new socialisation.
What is also new is that many feminist talesand criticism havebeen
written by males, some who would refer to themselvesas socialist
feminists and others who are just generally dissatisfied with male
dominationand privilege in English and Americansociety. Moreover,
numerousmale educatorsand psychologistshave drawn connections



between gender arrangementsand the miseducationand abuse of

childrenin EnglandandAmerica. They havefound that it is impossible
to assumea critical stanceof societyas a male without adoptingsome
of the criteria elaboratedby feminists and, of course,by other underprivileged groups.Or, to put it moresuccinctly, I would claim that it is
impossible today to be a critic without being a feminist. Such an
assertionis not intendedto be doctrinaire.Ratherit emanatesfrom my
experienceand work as teacher, writer, and storyteller. The rigid
principlesof fairnessby which I governedmy life were principleswhich
I dictatedto womenandwhich restrictedm.y own experience.Most men
suffer from male myopia, and our vision can only be correctedby
adjustingour lensesto include a feminist viewpoint. There is a moral
imperativebehindsuchan adjustmentjust asthereis a moral view to all
art and especiallyto feminist fairy talesand feminist criticism. Neither
male morality nor female morality in American and English society is
superiorto the other. Yet, we havegovernedour lives and continueto
governour lives accordingto male 'norms'as thoughthey were normal
and superior. Such recent studies as Carol Gilligan's In a Different
Voice and R.C. Lewontin, StevenRose, and Leon J. Kamin's Not In
Our Geneshave shown that forms of gender behaviour have been
produced culturally through social interaction and ontogenetic
development.The genderspecific upbringingin Englandand America
has led to different sets of moral ideologies which need better
integrationand not the rationalisationof the maleview for domination
which most men prefer. Gilligan hasstudiedthe ways in which men are
reared to cultivate an ethic of justice basedon abstractand rational
principlesand the ways in which womenare rearedto value an ethic of
care basedon nurturing and personalresponsibilities.
In the representationof maturity. both perspectivesconverge in the
realization that just as inequality adverselyaffects both parties in an
unequalrelationship.so too violenceis destructivefor everyoneinvolved.
This dialoguebetweenfairnessandcarenot only providesa betterunderstanding of relations between the sexesbut also gives rise to a more
comprehensiveportrayalof adult work and family relationships.J

In the history of the literary fairy tale one can tracethe development
of a debate and possible dialogue about sex roles and domination
which correspondsto the actual practice of child rearing and value
systemswhich have come to be establishedin England and America.
Obviously the different fairy tales contain many different concerns
other than genderformation and politics. Yet, the social essenceof the
fairy tale in particular as weB as the mannerin which we continually


Don't Bet on the Prince

return to it and reformulateit to conceivenew worlds, or to reinforce

our belief in the presentone,indicatesthat we attributegreatmoral and
ideological power to it in the processof socialisingand educatingour
In documentingthe rise of the contemporaryfeminist fairy tale and
the feminist critique, my aim hasbeento bring togethermaterialwhich
will enable us to understandthe vitality of the fairy tale and the
significanceof thetransformationswhich havetakenplacein the last 15
years. The make-believeof the feminist fairy tales will perhapsmake
believers out of many children, and as adults, these children will
undoubtedly conceive other tales which speak to the tensions and
strugglesof their lives. For the time being, however,the feminist fairy
tales are here to stay, and, if the tales and criticism in the present
collectionare any indication, then theywill continueto provide us with
intriguing choicesto chart our lives for yearsto come.
I TheChild's ConceptofStory(Chicago:University of ChicagoPress,1978), pp. 3 -4.
2 Seemy book, Fairy TalesandtheArt ofSubversion:TheClassicalGenreforChildren
and the Processof Civilization (London: Heinemannand New York: Wildman,
3 In a Different Voice (Cambridge:Harvard University Press,1982), p. 174.

Jack Zipes

For centuries now theologians, educators, literary critics, psychologists, and librarians have debatedthe pros and cons of readingfairy
tales to children. The basic questionthey continually ask is whether
children shouldbe exposedto the cruelty, violence,and superstitionof
make-believeworlds. This debatebeganpractically the very moment
the tales were written down and establisheda genre with children in
mind-children as targets. From the late seventeenthcentury to the
present, serious talk has centred on the moral aspect and related
psychologicaleffect of the literary tales. Yet, the pedanticpostureof
moralism hasalwaysbeensuspect,for its rigidity haspreventedus from
focusing on the real problem, if there is such a thing as the 'real
problem' with fairy tales. Instead of examining social relations and
psychological behaviour first-the very stuff which constitutesthe
subjectmatterof the tales- boththe proponentsandopponentsof fairy
taleshavebasedandcontinueto basetheir criticism on the harshscenes
and sexualconnotationsof the tales, supposedlysuitableor unsuitable
for children. Take your pick: 'Away with smut and violence!' vs.fairy
our children opentheir eyesto sex and resolvetheir oedipalproblems'.
The code words of the debatechange, but there is, in fact, a 'real
problem' which remains: the moral attack againstfairy tales (censorship) and the rationaldefenceof the tales (liberal civil rights) emanate
from a mutualrepressionof what is actually happeningin society.
Recent feminist criticism and feminist fairy tales in America and
Englandhave soughtto confront the 'real problem' which lies beyond
and around fairy tales. At the very least, feminists endeavourto alter
our gaze and challengeour perspectivewith regard to literature and
society. And they accomplishthis changeby forcing us to look at and
takeour everydayoccurrencesmore seriouslythan we do. As we know,
the everydayfor a woman often consistsof menial tasksat homeor at
work where her rights and needsare denied in various ways and her

Don't Bet on the Prince

rewardsareunequal.The lack of good,inexpensivedaycarecentres,the

meagresalariesin comparisonto men's wages, the dangersimply in
walking out aloneon a street,the male protocolin social, political, and
business affairs, the emphasis on sport as national pastimes that
celebratemale power and makewomeninto fringe adornments-these
are just some of the factors which contribute to the exhaustion,
reification, and exploitationof women. Moreover,the increasein wife
batteringand child abuseby men is also a sign of how hazardousthe
normal homeroutine, invisible to the public eye, has become.It would
be foolish to exaggeratethe 'desperate' situation of women in
American and British societiestoday or to maintain that men are not
suffering from manyof the samesocialand political conditionssuchas
technologicalrationalisation,unemployment,and discriminationthat
creategreat frustration and anger. In fact, one could even arguethat
some of the difficulties experiencedby women today are due to the
greatgainsthey have madetoward their liberation, and that they have
qualitatively easierlives than ever before. Still, the liberation and ease
havebroughtwith them moresubtleforms of oppression,and the daily
life of a woman is fraught with harassmentand obstaclesthat men
rarely experience.Or, to put it anotherway, a woman'slife is far from
that of a fairy tale, and feminist fairy talesdepict the struggleswomen
undergo to define their lives in opposition to the daily lives they
To talk about fairy tales today, especiallyfeminist fairy tales, one
must, in my opinion, talk about power, violence, alienation, social
conditions,child-rearingandsex roles. It is no longerpossibleto ignore
the connectionbetweenthe aestheticcomponentsof the fairy tales,
whether they be old or new, and their historical function within a
socialisationprocesswhich forms taste,mores,values,and habits.And
it is too simple or simplistic to maintain that children need fairy tales
more than any other form of literature to work through psychicdisturbancesas many pseudo-Freudians
like Bruno BettelheimI have
donewithout challengingthe premiseof the oedipalparadigm.It is also
too ethereal and idealistic to argue that the fairy tales contain
archetypal patterns which point the way to happiness as many
Jungians2 havedone without questioningthe historical validity of the
archetypes.J What is neededis a socio-psychologicaltheory basedon
the recent findings of feminist investigationsand critical reinterpretations of Freud that will help us grasp how fairy tales function
historically in a mediatory role within the American and British
Since the late 1960s feminist criticism has been moving in this


direction. Suchwriters as Simonede Beauvoir, Kate Millet, Shulamith

Firestone,Elizabeth Janeway,Adrienne Rich, Robin Morgan, Sheila
Rowbotham, Betty Friedan, and Juliet Mitchell among others have
provided the basis for a radical analysis of patriarchal practicesin
westernindustrial societies.4 As HesterEisensteinhasdemonstrated,
the developmentof feminist thought can be divided into threephases:
(1) During the early 1970ssocially constructeddifferencesbetweenthe
sexeswere judged to be the chief sourceof female oppression,and it
was arguedthat socialcontrol of womencould be reducedby diminishing genderpolarisationand moving toward someform of androgyny.
(2) From the mid-1970sto the beginningof the 1980sandrogynywas
largely rejected in favour of a woman-centredperspective. The
polarisation betweenmasculineand feminine was to be maintained,
and womenwere urgedto 'isolateand to define thoseaspectsof female
experiencethat were potential sources of strength and power for
women,and, more broadly, of a new blueprint for social change'.6 (3)
Since 1980the woman-centredperspectivehasled somewriters suchas
Mary Daly and SusanGriffin to argue for the intrinsic superiority of
women due to physiologicalcauses,the renunciationof rationality as
masculine,andan undifferentiatedview of womenas powerlessvictims
of male violence. Eisensteinbelieves that feminism has reachedan
impassebecausethere has been a 'divorce from Marxism and the
political left; a consistentemphasison psychologyat the expenseof
economicfactors; and a false universalismthat addressesitself to all
women, with insufficient regard for differences of race, class, and
BearingEisenstein'sanalysisof feminist thoughtin mind, I want to
suggestthat oneof the major contributionsof the feminist critique still
pertainsto the power relationsof dominationin capitalistsocietiesand
their reinforcementby a specific arrangementwithin child-rearingand
the family and the sexualdivision of labour.8 Childrenareconditioned
to assumeand acceptarbitrary sex roles. Thesesocially conditioned
roles preparefemalesto becomepassive,self-denying,obedient,and
self-sacrificial (to name some of the negative qualities) as well as
nurturing, caring, and responsiblein personalsituations (the more
positive qualities). They prepare males to become competitive,
authoritarian, and power-hungryas well as rational, abstract, and
principled. The result of the symbiotic child-rearingprocessin which
underprivileged women assume the major responsibility for the
children and the householdis a type of reinforcementof the capitalist
socio-economicsystemin which it hasbecomesecondnaturefor mento
compete against one another for material rewards in the name of

Don't Bet on the Prince

progress,to dominatetheir own natureand the natural surroundings

without regard for the consequences.Thus, social relations have
becomeso reified and instrumentalisedthat we are almostunawareof
how alienatedwe are from one anotherand how close we are to selfdestruction. At least this is the warning sounded by Dorothy
Dinnersteinin her book The Mermaid and the Minotaur:
It is senseless,I shall argue, to describeour prevailing male-female
as 'natural.'Theyareof coursea partof nature,but if they
shouldcontributeto the extinctionof our species,that fact would be part
is as naturalas
of naturetoo. Our impulseto changethesearrangements
they are, and more compatiblewith our survival on earth. To change
them, however,we needto understandnot only the societalmechanisms
by which they are supported, but also the central psychological
'adjustment'of which theyarean expression.What makesit essentialfor
us to understandthis 'adjustment'is that its existencerestson our failure
to understandit: it is a massivecommunalself-deception,designedto
allay the immediatediscomfortand in the long run-a run whoseend we
are now approaching- suicidal.9
Though it is difficult to summarisefeminist literary criticism as a
whole, it is possibleto argue that it generally adheresto the impulse
behindDinnerstein'swork. In particular,the criticism which dealswith
fairy tales has stressedthe positive notion of change. That is, the
criticism underscores our deep desire to change the present
male-female arrangementsand endeavoursto demonstratethat we
can raise our awarenessof how fairy tales function to maintain the
presentarrangements,how they might be rearrangedor reutilised to
counterthe destructivetendenciesof male-dominantvalues.To understand the vast undertaking of both feminist literary criticism and
feminist fairy tales,I want to presenta brief surveyof the criticism, then
discussmajor featuresof the tales themselves,and finally draw some
socio-psychologicalconclusions about the Utopian function of the
fairy tales.

The feminist discussionaboutthe socialandcultural effect of fairy tales

beganin the early 1970s. In her article' "Some Day My Prince Will
Come": FemaleAcculturationThroughthe Fairy Tale' (1972), Marcia
Liebermantook issuewith two essaysprinted in the New York Review
of Books by Alison Lurie, who had recommendedcertain tales in
Andrew Lang's nineteenth-century collections as feminist. 10
Liebermandid a close textual study of the tales and found that they


were indeed very much sexist: most of the heroines were passive,
helpless, and submissive,and in the course of each narrative they
functionedlargely as a prize for a daring prince. Liebermanquestioned
whether the acculturationof such normative values conveyedby the
talescould foster female emancipation.Sinceit has neverbeenproven
that thereis such a thing as a biologically determinedrole for women,
shearguedthat fairy tales which disseminatenotionsof rigid roles for
male and female characters are detrimental to the autonomous
developmentof young people.
Most feminist critics tend to agree with Lieberman that the
traditiohal fairy talesspreadfalse notionsaboutsexroles. For example,
AndreaDworkin speaksaboutthe nefariouseffect of thesetalesin the
first two chaptersof her book WomanHating:
The point is that we have not formed that ancientworld - it has formed
us. We ingestedit as children whole, had its values and consciousness
imprinted on our minds as cultural absoluteslong beforewe were in fact
men and women. We havetaken the fairy talesof childhoodwith us into
maturity, chewedbut still lying in the stomach,as real identity. Between
Snow White and her heroic prince, our two great fictions, we neverdid
have much of a chance.At somepoint the GreatDivide took place: they
(the boys)dreamedof mountingthe GreatSteedand buying Snow White
from the dwarfs: we (the girls) aspiredto becomethat object of every
necrophiliac'slust -the innocent,victimizedSleepingBeauty,beauteous
lump of ultimate, sleepinggood. Despiteourselves,sometimesknowing,
unwilling, unableto do otherwise,we act out the roles we were taught.11

Dworkin examinessuch traditional role models as the evil stepmother, the passivevirgin, the active prince, and the powerful king to
show how fairy tales manipulateour notions about sex roles. Unfortunately her argumentsare too reductionist, and she fails to make
careful distinctions about the possible positive effects of the tales.
Implicit in her analysisis the assumptionthat the talesareautomatically
receivedin fixed waysand that all fairy talescontainthe samemessages.
Certainly it is difficult to see how women-hating stemsfrom her
analysisof fairy tales,and, if women-hatingwas the motive behindthe
writing and productionof fairy tales, shedoesnot documentthis. Her
contributionto feminist criticism aboutthe complexreceptionof fairy
talesremainslimited becauseshestereotypesthe talesin much the same
manneras she perceivesthe fairy tales to be conveyorsof stereotypes
for children.
This limitation is also a glaring defect in Robert Moore's political
essay, 'From Rags to Witches: Stereotypes,Distortion and Anti-

Don't Bet on the Prince

humanismin Fairy Tales' (1975),12 which, to his credit, incorporates

an anti-racist critique with feminism. Moore maintains that the
classicalfairy talesrepresentthe cultural valuesand prejudicesof white
people from Europe and that they uphold male privileges.
Consequently,they must be carefully scrutinisedand criticised for the
mannerin which they spreadanti-humaniststereotypes.Like Dworkin
he emphasisesprimarily the negativefeaturesof the tales: (I) Females
are poor girls or beautiful princesseswho will only be rewardedif they
(2) Stepmothers
are always evil. (3) The bestwoman is the housewife.(4) Beautyis the
highestvalue for women. (5) Males should be aggressiveand shrewd.
(6) Money and property are the most desirablegoals in life. (7) Magic
and miraclesare the meansby which social problemsare resolved.(8)
Fairy tales are implicitly racist becausethey often equatebeautyand
virtue with the colour white and uglinesswith the colour black. In sum,
there is very little in the classical fairy tales which Moore would
consider positive and worthwhile in the interest of a humanist
education.Fortunately, he does not argue that thesetales should be
eliminated. Rather, he stressesthat educatorsand parentsshould pay
more attentionto the dark side of the tales.
Undoubtedlythere is a dark side to the tales, and both Moore and
Dworkin are empirically correct in demonstratingthe sexist and racist
aspectsof many traditional fairy tales. However,they deal only with a
small selectionof the tales and with surfacefeatures. If one were to
take the completeGrimms' fairy tales, for instance,one could point to
tales which focus on the solidarity of old people (The Bremen Town
Musicians), the compassionand heroism of a sister who saves her
brothers(The SevenSwans, Brotherand Sister), the commonsoldier
who uses his wits to revengehimself on a king (How Six Travelled
through the World), the shrewdbehaviourof a cook who outwits her
master (Clever Gretchen). Even in such a 'sexist' tale as Cinderella,
there are matriarchal remnants of a folk tale which still play an
importantrole in the outcomeof the tale, for it is the deadmotherwho
enables herdaughterto attain her goal. IJ ThoughDworkin and Moore
raiseimportantquestionsaboutclassicalfairy tales,they also neglectto
deal with their Utopian allure and historical evolution. One of the
importanttasksof feminist criticism is to discoverhow and why certain
changeswere madein the tales during the courseof centuriesso that
women can regain a senseof their own history and possibly alter
This is obviouslythe point
of Kay Stone'sessay'Things Walt Disney NeverTold Us' (1975).14 She
compares the original Grimms' fairy tales with the British and


American translationsof the past two centuriesas well as with the

Disney versionsof the twentieth century, and the results of her study
reveal that the productsof the modernculture industry specify that a
womancan only be considereda heroineif she is patient, industrious,
calm, beautiful and passive.Or, in other words, mass-marketedfairy
tales of the twentieth century have undergonea sanitisationprocess
according to the sexual preferencesof males and the conservative
norms of the dominant classesin America and England. In contrast,
Stonepoints to anotherfolk tradition in America and Englandwhich
portrays women in folklore as aggressive, active, clever, and
adventurous. Unfortunately, these tales have been suppressedin
literature and the mass media. Stoneinterviewed40 women between
the agesof sevenand sixty-one in North America to discoverwhether
they were awareof this 'other tradition'. The majority of the women
were mainly familiar with the Disney and sanitisedversionsand were
surprisedto learn that there were tales about independentwomen to
which they could relate in a more satisfying manner.
The historical re-examination and rediscovery of matriarchal
featuresin folk and fairy tales constitutesomeof the most important
work being conductedin the field. IS For instance, Heather Lyons
investigates a variety of tales with feminist implications in her
interesting essay 'Some SecondThoughts on Sexism in Fairy Tales'
(1978),16 and she also discussesways in which traditional tales can be
altered. Similarly, Jane Yolen, a gifted fairy-tale writer in her own
right, has presenteda convincingdemonstrationof how an active and
strong heroine was transformedinto a docile and submissivegirl in
'America's Cinderella' (1977)17 She studied different Europeanfolk
versions of Cinderella and establishedthat the original heroine had
never been 'catatonic',but rather she had always fought actively for
justiceand truth. It was only toward the endof the seventeenthcentury
that Perrault began to transform the Cinderella protagonist into a
passiveand obedientyoung woman. His adaptationpavedthe way for
the Grimms and numerousAmerican authors who produceddainty
and prudish Cinderellasen massein the nineteenthcentury. The final
result of this mass-marketdevelopmentwas the Walt Disney film of
1949, which presentedCinderella in her most 'perverted'form -the
patient, submissive, defencelessyoung woman, whose happiness
dependson a man who actually definesher life. It is evidentthat Yo len
wrote her critical essayto rectify history and suggestalternativesto our
common picture of Cinderella so that women could use cultural
material to realise their own essencethrough art and literature. This
purposealso underliesher own remarkableversion of the tale entitled

Don't Bet on the Prince

The Moon Ribbon, in which a young woman is guided and protected

by her dead mother until she achievesher own independence.
The movementtoward autonomy-womenshouldgoverntheir own
destiny and write their own history- has beena dominanttendencyin
feminist literary criticism, and it provided the basis for the first
completestudy of fairy tales and everydayoccurrencesby Madonna
Kolbenschlag.Her book, Kiss SleepingBeauty Good-Bye: Breaking
the Spell of FeminineMyths and Models, 18 endeavoursto graspand
overcomethe negativefeaturesin the role modelsof SleepingBeauty,
Snow White, Cinderella,Goldilocks, and Beauty. Kolbenschlagis not
interestedin the literatureper se, but in the habitual mannerin which
women are forced and influenced to adopt particular roles and
identities. There are two major argumentswhich are developedon a
sociological and philosophical level. First, she believes that most
womenare conditionedto internaIiserigid spiritual notionsabout life.
Many women are religious, pious, and asceticnot becausethey have
independentlychosentheir own religion or spirituality but becausethe
teachingsof the church itself have conceivednormative patternsfor
women which hinder them from realizing their own spiritual and
sensualunity. Secondly, she maintainsthat the contemporarycrises
betweenmen and women are symptomaticof the feminine need for
ethical autonomythat is preventedby men and institutions. Thus she
calls for the destructionof the traditional feminine identity in Kant's
senseof a categoricalimperative.What is a given for men-thecapacity
for self-realisationwhich is reinforcedby the socialisationprocessand
cultural education- should be a given for women as well, but for the
most part they must seek,graspand appropriatethis capacityin ways
that are often painful and traumatic.
The goal of Kolbenschlag'sbook is to provokeboth menand women
to think about alternativesto the commonly acceptedrole models in
our lives. The fairy talesthemselvesare not responsiblefor the creation
of these roles. Rather they are the symbolical forms which reinforce
self-destructivesocial and psychologicalpatternsof behaviourin our
daily lives. This is also the major idea in Colette Dowling's 1981 bestseller The Cinderella Complex: Women'sHidden Fear of Independence.19 Again it is not the fairy tale that is responsiblefor the
dependencyof women. The fairy tale is only important in so far as it
reflects how women are oppressed and allow themselves to be
oppressed.Dowling is of the opinion that:
deepwish to be taken care of
by others-isthe chief force holding women down today. I call this 'The


CinderellaComplex'-a network of largely repressedattitudesand fears

that keepswomen in a kind of half-light, retreatingfrom the full useof
their minds and creativity. Like Cinderella, women today are still
waiting for somethingexternalto 'transformtheir lives'. 20

On the basis of personalexperienceand empirical studiesDowling

demonstrateshow women themselvespsychologicallyinvent various
traps and tricks to play the role of Cinderella.The significanceof her
book is not so much in her analysis of the social and psychological
situationof Americanwomenbecausesheremainstoo impressionistic,
but she does draw remarkableconnectionsbetweenfairy-tale images
and wish-fulfilment that shed light on the contemporarydilemma of
many women.
It is not by coincidencethat numerousfeminist critics, women and
men, feel that the fairy tales of their childhood stamp their present
actionsand behaviourin reality. There are certain fairy-tale patterns,
motifs, and modelswhich constantlyarise in our life and in literature
which appear to have been preservedbecausethey reinforce male
hegemony in the civilisation process. And the exploration of the
mediationsbetweensociety and fairy tales seemsto be breaking new
ground in feminist literary criticism. In their significant study The
Madwomanin the Attic 2! SandraM. Gilbert and SusanGubar rely
upon fairy-tale motifs to examinethe socio-psychologicalsituation of
women writers inscribed in the dominant male discourse of the
nineteenth century. In particular Snow White serves them as the
paradigmaticdramatisationof a male-manipulatedconflict between
two types of females,the witch and the angel, who are played off one
against the other. In their view the stepmother/witchwants to kill
Snow White becausethe witch has becomean artist who also wantsto
lead an active life with stealth, and the submissive, innocent and
passivestepdaughteris a threat becauseshehas not beenentrappedby
the masculinemirror, and she naively acceptsthe world as it is. In
contrast,the stepmother,who has learnedto practisethe art of black
magicin a world dominatedby men, hasno longerany chanceto attain
independence.This is why she is jealousof Snow White and attempts
to kill her. However,shemust die so that Snow White can continueher
Gilbert and Gubaroutline Snow White's future andcommenton the
significanceof her destiny:
Surely, fairest of them all, Snow White has exchangedone glasscoffin
for another,delivered from the prison where the Queenput her only to
be imprisonedin the looking glass from which the King's voice speaks


Don't Bet on the Prince

daily. Thereis, after all, no female model for her in this tale exceptthis
'good' (dead) mother and her living avatar the 'bad' mother. And if
Snow White escapedthe first glasscoffin by her goodness,her passivity
and docility, her only escape from her second glass coffin, the
imprisoningmirror, must evidently be through 'badness,'through plots
and stories, duplicitious schemes,wild dreams, fierce fictions, mad
impersonations.The cycle of her fate seemsinexorable. Renouncing
'contemplativepurity' shemust now embarkon that life of 'significant
action' which, for a woman, is defined as a witch's life becauseit is so
monstrous,so unnatural.22

Gilbert and Gubar analysehow this basic cultural pattern in Snow

Whiteis linked to otherimagesof womenandthe portrayalof conflicts
betweenwomenin the English literatureof the nineteenthcentury,and
they draw parallels with other fairy tales, which ostensibly had an
effect on women writers, for it is not by chancethat particular fairytale motifs continually appearedin their writings. For instance,Karen
Rowe has demonstratedthat CharlotteBronte'sJane Eyre
begins withan echoof Cinderella and then transformsinto a variant of
Beautyand the Beast, one modified however by Gothic shadowsand
psychologicaldepthspermittedto nineteenth-century
novelists.From its
opening Jane Eyre plays upon a collective, folkloric unconscious,
engagingreadersto transferyouthful romantic expectationsfrom their
own psychesinto the fiction and to judge its successby the fidelity to
fantasy paradigms.2J

Rowe'ssubtle analysismakesit clear how Bronte felt compelledto

confront stereotypicalfairy tale roles to try to define her own needs.
And, indeed, Bronte was not alone in her endeavours.24 Numerous
women writers up to the presenthave felt compelledto confront the
stereotypicalfairy tale roles in some form or another to establisha
senseof their own identities and voices.
In a lecture on 'The Beast, the Mermaid and the Happy Ending'
delivered at the 1980 MLA Meeting in San Francisco, the novelist
Carolyn See expandedthe discussionbegun by Gilbert, Gubar, and
Rowe.25 Sheexaminedthe function of the 'Beautyand Beast'motif in
contemporaryliterature. For instance,Alix Kate Shulman'sMemoirs
ofan Ex-Prom Queen,Sylvia Plath'sThe Bell Jar, and Alison Lurie's
The War Betweenthe Tatesdepict 'beautiful' women who fall in love
with 'beast-like'men only to learnthat the mendo not turn into princes
when they, the women,sacrificetheir lives for them. The womenbreak
their relationswith thesemen eitherto take destinyin their handsor to
succumbto a bitter fate. In this way, accordingto See,the novelsreveal



the patriarchallie of the happy end in the classicalfairy tale. Underlying See's interpretation of the fairy tale patterns in certain contemporarynovelsis Karen Rowe'sthesisfrom her essay'Feminismand
Fairy Tales' (1979) that
romantic tales exert an awesomeimaginative power over the female
psyche-apower intensifiedby formal structureswhich we perhapstake
too much for granted.The patternof enchantmentanddisenchantment,
the formulaic closing with nuptial rites, and the plot's comic structure
seem so conventionalthat we do not question the implications. Yet,
traditional patterns,no less than fantasycharacterizationsand actions,
contribute to the fairy tale's potency as a purveyor of romantic
archetypesand, thereby,of cultural preceptsfor young women.26

If most feminist critics arguelike Rowe and Seethat the traditional

fairy tales are unacceptabletoday becauseof their atavistic notions of
sex rolesand their ideologyof maledomination,we must now ask what
the alternativesare. Or, how have feminist-orientedwriters tried to
andaestheticsto suggestthat we have
choices as individuals with regard to the developmentof gender
qualities and characteristics,social values, and norms?

In her essay 'The Tale Retold: Feminist Fairy Tales' (1982) Ruth
MacDonaldsuggeststhat thereare threesolutionsto the dearthof folk
tales acceptableto modernfeminists:
One may presentthe tales, unaltered,with their traditional endings,and
the devil take the consequences
of the possibledamageto a young girl's
careerexpectations;one may rewrite the tales, deemphasizingphysical
beautyand marriage,but therebyviolating the objectivity of the folklore
collector by imposingone'sown languageand bias on the narrative;or
one may write new tales, using folklore motifs with less conventional

As examplesof the new tales, MacDonald discussesThe Practical

Princess and other Liberating Tales by Jay Williams and The Five
Wivesof Silverbeardby Adela Turin, FrancescaCantarelli and Nella
Bosnia, and she finds them lacking becausethe male charactersare
presentedas one-dimensionaland inadequatein comparisonto the
females.With regardto the rewritten folk tales, sheexaminesthe two
collections by Ethel JohnstonePhelps, Tatterhoodand Other Tales
(1978) and The Maid of the North: Feminist Folk Tales Around the


Don't Bet on the Prince

World (1981), and hereshequestionsthe right of an editor, 'who is not

a teller but rather a feminist and scholar',28 to make changeswhich
comply with her bias. Finally, she praisesthe unalteredfolk tales in
RosemaryMinard's WomenFolk and Fairy Tales (1975) becausethe
editor refrains from tamperingwith them (as if they had not already
beenchanged!).She concludesher essayby assertingthat 'to subvert
the ending [of a tale) by altering the reward structure or to deemphasizethe essentialvalues of goodnessin a fairy tale - beauty,
wealth, potency against evil, or even marriage - is inherently
unsatisfying. To reconstruct the fairy tale world in the image of
modernity may be possible,but successat this point in history seems
illusive' . 29
Perhapsit may be illusive for MacDonald,but the fact of the matter
is that she is barely in a position to make such judgementswhen she
considerssuch a minute selectionof new and retold fairy tales. Moreover, she appearsto believe that there are eternaland essentialvalues
in fairy taleswhich are 'inherent',as if the literaturewere organicand
as if valueswere natural and universal. As most feminists argue,it is
this notion of biologically determinedtraits and valueswith regardto
sexualityand societywhich needsquestioning,and their experimental
literature of the last 20 years reveals a fascinating transformational
tendencywithin the fairy tale genrethat is linked to key social changes
in the civilisation processitself.
As I have alreadysuggested,MacDonald has failed to indicate the
great breadthand quality of experimentalfeminist fairy tales which
seek to provoke the readerto re-examinehis or her notion of sexual
arrangementsand the power politics of those arrangements.For
instance,she should have at least mentionedif not discussedin more
detail the following works publishedbefore her article appeared:The
DonkeyPrince (1970) by AngelaCarter,PrincessHynchattiand Some
Other Surprises(1973) by Tanith Lee, The Forest Princess(1974) and
The Returnof the Forest Princess(1975) by Harriet Herman, The Girl
Who Cried Flowers (1974), The Hundredth Dove (1977), Dream
Weaver(1979), and SleepingUgly (1981) by JaneYolen, The Clever
Princess (1977) by Ann Tompert, All the King's Horses (1976) by
Michael Foreman,Little Red Riding Hood (1978) and Snow White
(1978) by the MerseysideFairy Tale Collective, Kittatinny (1978) by
JoannaRuss, Clever Gretchenand Other Forgotten Folktales (1980)
edited by Alison Lurie, The Skull in the Snowand other Folk Talesby
Toni McCarty, Storiesfor Free Children (1982) editedby Letty Cottin
Pogrebin,all designedlargely for young readers,and Transformations
(1971) by Anne Sexton, The Green Woman(1973) by MeghanCollins,



In the SuicideMountains(1977) by John Gardner,Beginning with 0

(1977) by Olga Broumas, Beauty (1978) and The Door in the Hedge
(1981) by Robin McKinley, and The BloodyChamber(1979) by Angela
Carter for adult readers.What is interestingabout the experimental
'tampering' with traditional fairy tales is that the authors cut across
ages, social classes,race and gender and write their tales as socially
symbolic acts to pursue alternativesto the destructiveand also selfdestructive processesin American and British child rearing and
As I have already noted, there are numerousexperimentswith the
traditional fairy-tale repertoire that could be called feminist. Such
experimentsdid not appearout of thin air. Aside from a long tradition
of matriarchal tales that were printed and continue to be printed in
folklore collectionsof variouslands,therewere feminist precedentsset
in the literary fairy-tale tradition by the end of the nineteethcentury.
Such Victorian writers as Mary De Morgan, Mrs Molesworth, and
Evelyn Scharp (who incidentally played a major role in the British
suffragettemovement)conceivedtales with strong heroineswho rebel
againstconvention-riddensocieties.At the beginningof the twentieth
centuryE. Nesbit wrote, amongother significant tales, TheLast ofthe
Dragons and The Nine Whirlpools, which are remarkablefor their
critique of tyrannical patriarchs and their depiction of resourceful
women, who work with men to form humanesocieties.It was exactly
during this time, too, that L. Frank Baum wrote his Oz books, which
portray a Utopian societygovernedby nurturing women. Later in the
century, Catherine Storr wrote Clever Polly and the Stupid Wolf
(1955), which reversesthe motif of the traditional Red Riding Hood
tale by having a smart and intrepid girl continually outwitting a
bumbling wolf. Thus, the contemporaryfeminist fairy tales have
drawn upon a rich tradition of feminist tales or tales with strong
womenwhich may not be widely known but haveneverthelessprovided
models and the impetus (along with the feminist movementitself) to
challengethe dominantmale discourse.In reviewing the contemporary
feminist experiments,I want to focus on those tales that reveal the
manifold ways in which present-daywriters have rearrangedfamiliar
motifs and charactersand reversedplot lines to provoke readersto
rethink conservativeviews of genderand power.The aestheticsof these
tales are ideological, for the structural reformation dependsupon a
non-sexist (and non-racist, I might add) world view that calls for a
dramatic change in social practice. This point has been made
convincingly in Ellen Cronan Rose's essay 'Through the Looking
Glass: When Women Tell Fairy Tales' (1983), in which she discusses


Don'/ Bet on the Prince

the works of Sexton, Broumas, and Carter.30 My discussion of

feminist fairy tales will be broaderand cover narrativeswritten for
young and old. Obviously, the aestheticcomplexity of those tales
written for older readersdoes preventyoungerreadersfrom grasping
or evenfollowing the plot. However,all the talesemanatefrom a basic
impulsefor changewithin society,and though the writers havereacted
to this impulse on different levels, they share the same purposeof
questioningsocialisation,haveinfluencedoneanotherto somedegree,
and have been stimulatedby feminist criticism to rethink both fairy
tales as aestheticcompositionsand the role they play in conditioning
themselvesand children. As a cultural phenomenon,the new feminist
fairy tales seek to break boundariesand speakin the name of future
generationswhich may not needa feminist literatureof this kind in the
future. This is the basic irony of feminist fairy tales: they aim
ultimately at discardingthe adjectivefeminist andat conceivingworlds
in which the contradictions are not concerned with sexism and
In the fairy tales for youngerreadersthe most noticeablechangein
the narrativesconcernsthe heroinewho actively seeksto define herself,
and her self-definition determinesthe plot. As she movesto complete
this task, traditional fairy-tale topoi and motifs are transformedto
indicate the necessityfor genderrearrangementand the use of power
for achievingequality. For instance,in The Forest Princess3' Harriet
Herman reversesthe Rapunzel tale by having a princess, who has
grown up alonein a forest tower, rescuea prince. After shereturnswith
him to his father'skingdom and is treatedin a patronisingway by the
that sheis equalto all the malesat the court and
king, shedemonstrates
rejects the sexist society by departing for her home in the forest.
Herman'stale is illustratedwith picturesthat emphasisethe key scenes
of self-discovery,joy, and disappointment.The initiation ritual of this
tale is totally different from that in Rapunzel.Absent is the female
witch who imprisons Rapunzel and punishes her lover. Here the
princessgrows up 'sexless'so to speak,andshegraduallydiscoversthat
thereare arbitrary sexualdistinctionsmadein society, largely by men.
She is unwilling to be socialised by such a court and rebels as an
exampleto the other children, both in the narrativeas charactersand
as implied readersof the narrative. Herman does not belabour her
point. Neither the king nor the prince is villainous. Rather they are
stuck in a tradition which they have neverquestioned,and the princess
as outsider can more readily challengethe authoritarianstructureof
the court, which incidentally begins to break down and becomemore
egalitarianin the sequel The Return of the Forest Princess.