Today we share a post by Sara Eazell, who was a student in our Fall 2023 Introduction to the Fairy Tale course.
Sara Eazell is a sometimes writer and always reader that currently works at Santa Monica College. She studied at the University of La Verne in the areas of English, Spanish, and Education. She hopes to finish her TBR (To Be Read) pile before she dies but makes limited progress as, infuriatingly, great books continue to be published.
Jack Zipes, professor emeritus and fairy tale translator and researcher extraordinaire, details his fierce distaste for Walt Disney and his work, stating that Disney "used his own 'American' grit and ingenuity to appropriate European fairy tales... [with] proclivities [...] so consummate that his signature has [obscured] the names of Charles Perrault the Brother Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson and Carlo Collodi" (Tatar 414).
At the time of Zipes's writing of this statement (1995), we were yet to see the multimedia conglomerate that Disney has ultimately become, adding non-European cultural appropriation to its list of detractions. I doubt we'll see the day that Disney carefully and respectfully represents cultures in a way that everyone appreciates, as their financial aims will always be inextricably tied to our cultural backgrounds as consumers.
However, does Zipes not target Disney for what the 'original' fairy tale authors also did? If one wants to claim appropriation, then we must pause a moment to consider the historical period and actions of the fairy tale authors such as Charles Perrault or Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.
In the case of the Grimm brothers, perhaps the accusation of appropriation is a bit heavy handed, as Jacob and Wilhelm tirelessly collected folktales in the face of social and cultural oppression, thereby potentially hoping to preserve their culture. It nonetheless stands that as a highly literate and educated duo, the Grimms were taking what belonged to the people in oral tradition and privatizing it by publishing books for which they alone benefitted monetarily. We see in their correspondence and editing work the very issue of their desire to make each edition more financially successful, sacrificing the purity of the folklore for revisions that make the stories more palatable to their audience.
In the case of Charles Perrault, the case is much more grim. As a government official born into the wealthy French bourgeoisie, the existence of Les Contes de ma Mère l'Oye seems utterly dependent on the often exclusive and segregated French salon culture, wherein 'low class' issues of the day might be lauded by the wealthy as they continued to stand atop the shoulders of the poor. In this way, yet again, we see a single entrepreneurial spirit collecting the folklore of the lower class while pocketing the sales for himself.
If we claim that Disney obscures the name of Perrault and the Grimms, then it follows that Perrault and the Brothers Grimm have also succeeded in obscuring the multitude and generations of people who created these tales—Disney being only the latest and largest to exploit and monetize fairy and folk tales.
Zipes, Jack. "Breaking the Disney Spell." The Classic Fairy Tales, edited by Maria Tatar. 2nd Ed, Norton, 2017, 414-435.