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Isaac Nguyen
Professor Lynda Haas
Writing 37
03 November 2015
Re-Imagination of Classic Fairy Tales
Modern day fairy tales often take conventions of older tales and re-invent them so
they are updated with current day beliefs and appeal to the audience. The original tales
collected by the Grimm Brothers had many distinct conventions that many of their stories
shared such as a passive female character as well as first loves kiss. However, as time
progressed fairy tales started to get modernized according to the audience and cultural
values in the specific time period. A specific tale that re-imagines the genre of fairy and
folk tales by incorporating multiple fairy tales into one story is The Sleeper and the
Spindle written by Neil Gaiman. In the 2014 novel The Sleeper and the Spindle, two
kingdoms are being plagued with a deep sleep and Snow White is on a journey in an
attempt to wake the cursed princess in order to stop the spreading of the sleep. When
Snow White successfully enters the castle, she kisses the princess and wakes her up to
find out that she was an evil witch who took the beauty and youth from the real princess
who is now an old lady. The old lady then stabs the young beauty in the breast and goes
to sleep while the evil witch dies and the entire kingdom wakes up from their slumber.
There are many conventions in The Sleeper and The Spindle that differs greatly from the
works Brothers Grimm collected from the 17-1800s. The conventions that are clearly
evident in the original Little Brier-Rose and Little Snow White is the portrayal of a
passive female character as well as first loves kiss from a prince. However, in The

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Sleeper and the Spindle, the modifications of the classic conventions were showcased
when Snow White was the heroine of the story as well as the first loves kiss. These
alterations show a progression of a passive female character into a heroine as well as an
altered portrayal of true loves kiss. According to Dr. Silima Nanda in her article The
Portrayal of Women in Fairy Tales, she states Fairy tales embody the ways that societies
attempted to silence and oppress women making them passive. Much of the fairy tale
literature reinforces the idea that women should be wives and mothers, submissive and
self-sacrificing. Good women in stories are to be silent passive, without ambition,
beautiful and eager to marry(3). The plot of a passive female character and first loves
kiss is in the Grimm Brothers 1812 version of Little Brier-Rose. In this tale, a princess
that was cursed by a fairy falls into a deep sleep and the only way she can wake up is
when a prince kisses her. The reliance on a male figure to save her exemplifies the idea
that girls need a male to guide them. However, these conventions have been altered
greatly due to a change in time period and cultural values. Neil Gaiman's 2014 story, The
Sleeper and the Spindle, is a mash-up that incorporates two classic fairy tales, Little Snow
White and Little Brier-Rose, re-imagining the conventions such as first love's kiss and the
passive female role in order to appeal to a 21st century audience.
The progression of a passive female character into a female heroine is portrayed
in the Grimm Brothers 1812 edition of Little Snow White. In the original Little Snow
White, the main female character was presented as a nave girl who constantly fell for her
step-mothers evil tactics which resulted in her death. However, in the end a prince who
falls in love with her ultimately revives her from death. In The Sleeper and The Spindle,
Snow White was portrayed as strong, independent character that assumed the role of the

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typical male hero. This could be seen when Snow White went on a journey to stop the
curse and battled her way into the castle and woke the princess up from her sleep, which
made her the heroine of the tale. Although fairy tales typically display the female as
passive, this tale completely turns this convention on its head. The change in role is
accounted for the change in time period as well as the audience. The 21st century values
are much more different than the time when these tales first originated. In the 17-1800s,
women were considered fragile and were viewed as less than a man. In Karen E. Rowe's
article Feminism and Fairy Tales, she states "Yet, such alluring fantasies gloss the
heroines inability to act self-assertively, total reliance on external rescues, willing
bondage to father and prince, and her restriction to hearth and nursery"(1). However, as
time progressed women started to become more independent, and the feminism
movement arose in order to fight for gender equality. This movement resulted in women
being more dominant in society, putting them on the same level as males. Rowe further
states that the change in the role of women is due to change in values when she says,
Today women are caught in a dialectic between the cultural status quo and the evolving
feminist movement, between a need to preserve values and yet to accommodate for
changing mores, between romantic fantasies and contemporary realities(8). These
changes are evident in The Sleeper and the Spindle when the heroine in the story says,
She wondered how she would feel to be a married women. It would be the end of her
life, she decided, if life was a time of choices(Gaiman 5). In the original Little Snow
White, the female character married a prince who was described as her true love. This
exemplifies the idea that women heavily relied on the male figure as a savior, and that
they are not complete without a man. In contrast, Snow White in The Sleeper and The

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Spindle expresses her disappointment and discontent at the thought of her marriage with a
prince, which conveys the idea of change of dependency a woman has for a man. With
the change in cultural values and audience, the alterations in newer tales such as The
Sleeper and the Spindle are well suited for modern day audiences.
The conventional motif of first loves kiss is greatly altered in The Sleeper and
The Spindle due to a change in cultural values. Homosexuality has always been a very
controversial topic, and the portrayal of any sexuality other than heterosexuality was
prohibited back when these tales first originated. Many fairy tale writers often included
their religious ideologies into their works, which greatly discouraged the addition of any
acts between the same sex. As stated by fairy tale expert Jack Zipes in his book
Introduction: Rediscovering the Original Tales of the Brothers Grimm he states,
Moreover, the Grimms had not yet "vaccinated" or censored them with their sentimental
Christianity and puritanical ideology(2). Since many authors incorporated religion into
their tales, the idea of homosexuality was never part of these tales, and the idea of any
female-to-female or male-to-male relations was frowned upon in that time period. The
idea of a girl meeting a prince and falling in love with him and living happily ever after
was considered acceptable, which made it a very popular conventional plot for fairy tales.
In both Little Snow White and Little Brier-Rose, both female characters depended on a
male figure to resurrect and save them. When Snow White was killed by her mother by
eating the poisonous apple, a prince came to her rescue by his romantic interest in her. In
Little Brier-Rose, the princess was saved from her curse of a hundred years sleep when a
prince emerges and presents her with her true loves kiss. In the end, the female characters
would fall in love with the prince and they would get married. However, in The Sleeper

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and the Spindle, the idea of homosexuality was incorporated when a female assumed the
role of a female heroine. Gaiman re-imagined the idea of first loves kiss in order to
accommodate for the changing views of homosexuality in modern day society. Instead of
a male prince coming to the rescue of Sleeping Beauty, the character of Snow White
came to the rescue and presented the Damsel in Distress with her awakening kiss. This
kiss does not only expose the heterosexual oppression that has been evident in many fairy
tales, but it also widely accepts the idea that gay is okay. The view on the topic of
homosexuality is not as controversial as it used to be, and the legalization of same sex
marriage was recently passed by congress in June of 2015 because of the change in
values of modern society. Since idea of a "happily ever after" between a male and a
female was a social belief back then, this change in ending can be seen as an attempt to
go against society's expectation of a heterosexual relationship between two people.
Modern day values have changed greatly, and as a result these tales are also changing.
These alterations of the role of a passive female character and the motif of first
loves kiss breaks down the social barriers and oppressions that were embedded within the
tales. Through the changes in the role of the female character in The Sleeper and the
Spindle, the tale became much more relevant and appealing to the modern day audience.
According to fairy tale scholar Jack Zipes in his book The Irresistible Fairy Tale: The
Cultural and Social History of a Genre he states, The memetic crystallization of certain
fairy tales as classical does not make them static for they are constantly re-created and
reformed, and yet remain memetic because of their relevant articulation of problematic
issues in our lives. (Zipes 20). The cultural values and views of the 21st century has
changed from when the tales first originated, so authors started to incorporate much more

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diverse ideas that are relevant to modern day society.

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Works Cited
1) Nanda, Silima. "The Portrayal of Women in the Fairy Tales." Valley International
Journals. Web. 02 November 2015. <>
2) Zipes, Jack. The Irresistible Fairy Tale: The Cultural and Social History of a Genre.
Princeton University Press. 2013. Web.
3) Rowe, Karen. "Feminism and Fairy Tales." 12 July 2010. Web. 02 November 2015.
4) Zipes, Jack. "Introduction: Rediscovering the Original Tales of the Brothers
Grimm." The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. Trans. Jack
Zipes. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2014. Print.

5) Taher, Reham. "Fairy Tales and its Contribution to Gender Identity, Sexuality, and
Socialization." 5 May 2014. Web. 03 November 2015.