Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Deep Thoughts (on Cannibalism in Fairy Tales. Yeah, creepy. I know)...

I've been thinking a lot .... A LOT ... today about why everyone always wants to eat each other in fairy tales.    Something that both a few intuitive students and a good old friend from graduate school pointed out to me in the last few months (thanks, Josh - you know who you are). Think about it: Little Red Riding Hood is swallowed up by the wolf; the Evil Queen wants to eat Snow White's heart for dinner (or her lungs and liver, depending on which version you read); a young girl watches another be chopped to pieces and seasoned as she is prepared to be eaten by a band of salivating robbers; Beauty is afraid the Beast will gobble her up the moment she sets foot in his castle; the evil witch in Hansel and Gretel tries to fatten up and then bake the little children lost in the woods; Talia's rival has what she thinks are her husband's children served to him in a Robert sauce. The list could go on and on.

Even in today's modern fairy tales, there's a lot of cannibalism going on. Coraline is nearly devoured by her fake father and her Other Mother. Max threatens to eat his mother, and is sent, as a result, to the land of the Wild Things, who just might eat him if he's not careful. The Monster House (the Fat Lady at the circus, turned house, who punishes wayward children in her neighborhood by devouring them if they trample on her lawn). Let's take up some more popular fairy tales.

In Twilight and The Hunger Games, as in the fairy tales referenced above, others’ craving for the heroine’s body and soul is crucial to the stories’ evolution.  Bella Swan wanders in a forest teeming with ravenous wolves and voracious vampires who vacillate endlessly between their instincts to devour her sexually or literally feast upon her flesh.  Katniss Everdeen, perpetually starved, her skills as a survivor honed by the need to provide food for herself and her family, finds herself plucked from her native soil in the Appalachian mountains by a tyrant government and deposited in an arena where she herself eventually becomes food, hunted down by werewolf muttations that have been programmed to gorge themselves upon Katniss and the other remaining tributes.  In both, Bella and Katniss, new Gretels lost in the woods, are subjected to cannibalistic threats that influence both their development as people and the outcome of their stories.

My question, then, is this (or I guess I should say, my questions, then, are these - I have a lot of questions): How do the modern young-adult tales Twilight and The Hunger Games adopt and adapt the threats of consumption and cannibalism, as well as the connection between devouring and desire, that appear in the fairy tales they draw on as their sources? Why is food, and more particularly the girl objectified as food, so crucial to each series? How do the numerous references to food, eating, purging, and being consumed echo similar references to food and hunger in traditional fairy tales? And perhaps most crucially, how do teenage audiences, primarily young girls, process the connection between the girl’s body as an edible substance and the arguments about love, gender, and sexual politics that are at the core of each of these series? 

I'm really curious to hear what you have to say. If you're a fairy tale/children's literature lover like me, what do you think? ~Alice
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