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Easily digestible lessons for modern life – The 100-Year-Old Man and Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk

New spins on old fables

The past few years have seen an increase in films and novels that rework and modernize classical fairytales and folklore. These include:

  • Fairy Tales, BBC, 2008 – TV series
  • Beauty and the Beast, CBS, 2012 – TV series
  • Once Upon a Time, ABC, 2011 – TV series
  • Grimm, NBC, 2011 – TV series
  • Snow White and the Huntsman, 2012 film
  • Jack the Giant Slayer, 2013 film

Two modern versions of folk tales, that have sold very well, are The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson, and Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, by David Sedaris. Both were enjoyable reads while they lasted, and very amusing. However, regardless of how black the humour is in these books, they are not half as primitive and horrible as the original fables from which they sprang.

Is it a fairytale or folklore?

Fairytales is a sub-genre of Folklore. Folklore is moralistic tales that have been handed on throughout the centuries. Fairytales are folklore, with magic added. Often, the original fairy stories and folktales, the themes of which exist in different versions in all cultures around the world, were menacing and bloody, without happy endings, since they were manifestations of the greatest fears and taboos of the society in which they were told.

For example, the modern version of fairies, as tiny, pretty things with wings, is a sanitized version of the earliest stories about fairies. As long ago as in Ancient Greece and Rome, there were nymphs, satyrs, penates (household deities), lares (guardian deities) and genii (or jinns), the ancient equivalent of “fairies”. These manifestations were gods, demigods, and spirits, with supernatural powers.

“Many explanations have been given for a belief in fairies. Some say that they are like ghosts, spirits of the dead, or were fallen angels, neither bad enough for Hell nor good enough for Heaven. There are hundreds of different kinds of fairies – some are minute creatures, others grotesque – some can fly, and all can appear and disappear at will.” (The Origins of Fairies, by Ellen Castelow)

The noticeable increase in the number of fairytales and folklore produced for both children and adults makes me think that screenwriters and film producers are running out of ideas – or perhaps the comfortingly familiar tales with their easy, magical solutions are what people want in today’s world: children’s books for grown-ups is all they can stomach. This trend can also be seen in publishing, with a growing number of novels in the format of updated folk tales, or modern adaptations of fairy tales.  

Read all about it! – Here are two good examples

A querulous knight on a quest: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson

Fables with fangs: Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, by David Sedaris

About the header:

Old Father Wolf eyes up Little Red Riding Hood, adapted from an illustration by Tyler Garrison in The Guardian, 15 Oct. 2009.

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