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lumin3sc3 GiRL
Registered User
(10/29/06 1:39 am)

fairy tale narrator
Wondering if anyone has given thought to how the narrator affects the tone and mood of a fairy tale. I think it is curious that many modern tales are retold in first person point of view. Does anyone have any ideas about how that changes the story?

I am currently involved in a fairy tale unit with eager seventh graders, and we are trying to figure out what "makes" a fairy tale. We have established that it is more than just having fairy tale elements. Currently, we're exploring this idea of the narrator and their power in fairy tales.


I would love any feedback I can get. Thank you. ;)

Rosemary Lake
Registered User
(10/29/06 4:14 am)


Re: fairy tale narrator
Hm. One thing it suggests to me is that the story will be more realistic, more detailed, more serious, probably more mundane than the traditional fairy tale (as well as longer).

DividedSelf
Registered User
(10/29/06 6:29 am)

Re: fairy tale narrator
Just some half-baked thoughts:

1. For me part of the power of fairy tales is that they take you clearly and immediately into a story world. I don't think it matters how, but obviously a narrator is a very simple way of doing this: "I'm going to tell you a story... Once upon a time..." It gives a sort of license to go anywhere and deal with any terrifying subject - the audience is safe, because it's always looking through the window at the story world, not actually within it. There are other ways of doing this - exaggerated stylisation, for example, especially when it comes to drama.

2. Massive difference in the way a 1st and 3rd person narrator works. A 1st person narrator assumes you share the same world, therefore the story world safety barrier is removed.

3. A 1st person narrator is not necessarily reliable. Arguably necessarily unreliable - the ugliness of the witch is as much a function of what the narrator deems ugly (and why) as the witch herself - and this massively undermines the witch's power in one sense. In a fairy tale the witch is terrifying simply because she is the thing which terrifies - which goes right to the root of unconscious terrors. The 1st person narration of a witch opens possibilities of interesting psychological interpretation, and that has a power of a different kind, but as soon as the witch has a psychology, she ceases to be a witch in the fairy tale sense.

4. 3rd person narrators are traditionally authoratative, which generally gives away a great deal about the values of the writer. For instance the assumption that we would admire and empathise with female protagonist simply because she is "good and beautiful".

5. There's no reason why most/all of the above can't be subverted - for instance, one might find an ostensible 3rd person narrator who turns out to have an agenda. Also it would be interesting if someone could set up a story world and then somehow undermine the barrier with the real world - that could be very unsettling to suddenly take away the safety barrier, but can't think of an example right now - I'm sure there must be some.

princessterribel
Registered User
(10/29/06 9:40 am)
Re: fairy tale narrator
If you were going to consider narration in more modern versions, it might be nice to think of the early Disney films which hark back to the oral tradition as each story begins with a narration of some kind. ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and ‘Snow White’ begin with both narration and the opening and closing of a large, pseudo-medieval book. In the case of ‘Cinderella’, we are presented with a series of still images providing an introduction to her situation. Her father is excused from any malice he may have received from the listener or reader as in other versions of the tale. His aim is clearly stated, he wanted to provide his daughter with a mother and then he suffers an untimely death. The voice itself is that of an elderly woman, perhaps what we would expect a true ‘old wives tale’ or ‘Mother Goose’ to sound like. The voice narrates, “Cinderella was abused, humiliated and finally forced to become a servant in her own house, and yet through it all Cinderella remained ever gentle and kind for with each dawn she found a new hope that some day her dreams would come true.” As twee as it sounds, Disney, to some degree, has held onto the oral aspect of fairytales that critics such as Zipes claims is lost.


lumin3sc3 GiRL
Registered User
(10/29/06 5:22 pm)

fairy tale narrator
Thank you.

I suppose I was intrigued by how stories like, McKinley’s Beauty and some of the newer first person retellings from Simon Pulse still retained the authoritative power of third person narration. Since one of our goals is to gain insight about the values and social issues of the time, we are beginning to question the purpose and intent of the narrator. All of you have offered some useful ideas to talk about in class.

Rosemary Lake
Registered User
(10/31/06 12:42 am)

Re: fairy tale narrator
I think it might be helpful to distinguish different kinds of 'reliability' or 'authority'.

To take a somewhat different example, Lewis's TILL WE HAVE FACES (published around mid-century) takes the story of Cupid and Psyche from the pv of one of the 'jealous' sisters, who tells it in first person. In one way she is a very 'unreliable' narrator, revealing facts about her dysfunctional family that she does not understand herself (and more, but that's a spoiler). But there is no reason for her to be unreliable about the plain background facts of her world.

If a third person narrator says it was the custom for a princess to be sacrificed to the gods, I tend to think about the author just making it up. But if a first person narrator says it was true in her country, I tend to believe her. :-)

DividedSelf
Registered User
(10/31/06 5:52 am)

Re: fairy tale narrator
"Authority" and "unreliability" are not really about honesty. You might think about how the "accepted facts" of history are often made by people in authority - who often turn out to be a good deal less than honest. Or compare it to a witness in a court case, who is unimpeachably honest, yet is unreliable in the technical sense that they have an interest.

Someone may choose to write a 1st person story based on accepted historical facts - say around the 2006 World Cup - and we might be able to check up on those facts (who got knocked out where and when) - but the story is not ultimately about any accepted history, but about the 1st person narrator. And if they have a big enough need to tell us it was England who won the cup, then that is what they'll tell us, and that will be the truth of the story, regardless of what we might (sadly) know outside of that story.

In fairy tales, we can't even make the comparison to historical facts. If someone writes a story from the p.o.v. of Psyche's other sister in which she reveals it was actually she who married Cupid, no one can say "You are wrong in point of fact!" It's just another story.

3rd person narrators live in our world (drawing a window onto another) and everything they say reflects that, and we can judge them on it even when the story's over. 1st person narrators draw us into their world.

Rosemary Lake
Registered User
(11/1/06 11:50 am)
Re: fairy tale narrator
As I understand the term, 'unreliable narrator' can mean either someone like the narrator in WHO KILLED ROGER ACKROYD who does deliberately conceal facts from the reader ... or narrators like Orual (the narrator of TILL WE HAVE FACES) and Forrest Gump and the girl in "Marlake Witches" who are telling what they believe to be true; there the story point is the contrast between their view and what the author is telling the reader by wink and nudge.

I haven't heard of any modern tales where the narrator disputes the popular version but is 'unreliable' in either sense, tho of course there might be some. There are many modern tales made to contrast with the popular version, but in them it's the tale version that's true, the popular that's false.

As for a story designed to contrast the narrator's view with the reader's view of a historical event without needing wink and nudge ... maybe THE REMAINS OF THE DAY would be an example?

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