Once upon a time, in different lands far, far away, there lived two scholars… Christine Jones, associate professor of literature and languages at the University of Utah (Salt Lake City, UT), and Jennifer Schacker, professor of English at the University of Guelph (Ontario, Canada). United by a common scholarly interest and complementary expertise, they embarked on an epic collaboration that crossed both academic disciplines and geographic borders. Their subject… the happily (and sometimes not so happily) ever after world of fairy tales, a classic literary genre, which is enjoying renewed popularity today thanks to Hollywood. As 2012 marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Grimms’ Fairy Tales, it seems a fitting time for Christine and Jennifer’s story to begin.
Jones and Schacker represent the new generation of scholars studying this historic genre. Their collaboration in fairy tale studies started with a major new anthology they co-edited, having commissioned 15 specialists to write new essays about the genre. Entitled Marvelous Transformations: An Anthology of Fairy Tales and Contemporary Critical Perspectives, their highly anticipated book will be published by Broadview Press this fall and will include new translations of older versions.
As the work on their book got underway, the professors’ collaborative partnership extended into their classrooms last year – Schacker’s University of Guelph seminar covers the history and influence of fairy tales on English literature, while Jones’ University of Utah course focuses on French women who wrote fairy tales in the 1690s with a sidebar emphasis on Charles Perrault, the more celebrated French fairy tale author from that period. They teach these very different courses at their respective institutions, each bringing new insights to the understanding of the genre from the perspective of each of their disciplines. But, three times a semester Jennifer and Christine virtually connect their classes, via the internet, hosting online discussions with their students about the materials both classes have read. This year, thanks to a Great Ideas In The Humanities Grant from the College of Humanities at the University of Utah, Jones and Schacker were each able to visit the others’ classes to “guest teach”, which further broadens their students’ intellectual experience, enhances learning and brings their educational collaboration to a truly tangible level.
Recently, Teresa Pitman of the University of Guelph wrote an in-depth piece and interviewed these Women You Should Know about their collaborations. The article is fascinating and one of the more intriguing parts for us was learning what Charles Perrault’s 17th-century Sleeping Beauty (yes, she’s that old) said to the prince when she woke up. Read on to find out what the princess uttered… but just know that Disney tricked us!
Apparently, Hollywood really needs to consult with Jones and Schacker before they remake another fairy tale and dumb-down any more heroines.
Excerpt from the Pitman interview:
Jones says that from a historical literary perspective, rediscovering early versions of some stories can be quite revealing. For example, she is now re-translating Perrault’s version of Sleeping Beauty, “La belle au bois dormant”. In the well-known Disney version, the sleeping Princess Aurora is woken by a kiss from the Prince. “In that version, the princess is comatose and passive, awaiting the prince’s kiss – a sign of his power over her – to waken her,” says Jones.
In Perrault’s version, she says, the sleeping princess wakes up on her own when the curse ends simply because the prince has entered the room. As he falls to his knees at the sight of her, she sits up and says, “Are you my prince? You certainly took your time.”
It’s a very different way of reading that scene, Jones points out. Schacker adds, “The irreverence in the princess’s comments are there in the original – we tend to think of those qualities as very post-modern. We imagine that fairy tales are serious, oriented towards life lessons, but they have always contained lots of irony and playfulness.” The dark side of fairy tales – as shown in TV’s Grimm, for example, was also part of the original stories. “We think these dimensions are new twists, but they’re not,” says Schacker.