The dominance of the vampire figure in popular culture is deceptive. Whilst Twilight and The Vampire Diaries have been taking up column inches, other monsters have been slipping past the radar. At least here in the UK, anyhow. We all know True Blood and other shows like it have ‘other’ creatures: werewolves, faeries, and even zombies (in the UK version of Being Human at least). But a trend is emerging on the other side of the Atlantic: fairytales are coming back.
Granted, they’ve never really gone away, and there was quite a successful comics series, Fables, which depicts a world of fairytale characters in modern-day cities. Again, like I mentioned in a previous post (which you can read here) – rewriting old stories seems to be something that fascinates us. Rewriting history is one thing: firing a whole load of ‘what ifs’ into our perceptions of the past is fantastical on one level – it would change the world we lived in now. Altering fictional tales seems somehow different. Granted, many of these tales may seem outdated as values and cultures shift, and with the basic messages of the stories still being interesting, or useful in someway, the best way to make them appeal to a modern audience is to revamp it to include all the necessary cultural markers.
Anyway. In the Autumn season of 2011, 2 series premiered in the US, both of which centred around different myth and monsters: those in fairytales.
The first of these is ABC’s Once Upon A Time, which like Fables centres around a ‘modern-day’ take on fairytale characters being trapped together in one town.
The lead character, Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) is (unknowingly) the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming and it is up to her to save the people of Storybrooke, who are all fairytale characters, from a curse which has left them with no memory of their true identity. Although the series reworks the fairytale structures and characters, it’s not quite monstrous or fantastical enough for me…
Then there’s Grimm.
One man, Nick, learns he is a descendant of the Grimm family, who chart and destroy creatures that humans can’t see. These creatures include wolfish creatures (known as Blutbaden) and a long list of others. All far more animalistic, and all interwoven into various echelons of society. These creatures can’t be seen by humans, only by the Grimms. Nick is aided by a trusty wolf sidekick, Monroe, who just so happens to have turned ‘good’, and gives Nick inside knowledge about the monster community he’s trying to get to grips with. The episodes focus on various different fairytales – Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks and others.
Both series demonstrate that there’s a thirst for mythical creatures that goes beyond the gory and all-too-human world of vampires and werewolves, which are now so prevalent that they’re in danger of becoming banal. Whilst both series fail to deliver the same kick as more detailed mythological creatures such as the vampire can bring to a show (at times, anyway), perhaps that’s not the intention. Fantasy is still a huge genre in both literature and film, and these recent interpretations show that the TV series are becoming a definitive medium for exploring our addiction to escapism. We can now get a weekly dose of fairytale creatures rather than the odd film. What’s interesting is that there is nothing sweet about it, just as there is nothing sweet about fairytales originally. It’s probably something to do with Disney and their sugar coating of stories such as these that strengthened the link between ‘fairytale’ and the phrase ‘happily-ever-after’.
These series are interesting, if you want something mythical or fantastical to watch, and are bored of the vampire/werewolf dynamic that’s currently in trend. But there isn’t really a ‘happily-ever-after’ and that’s probably the most pertinent message that comes across from our traditional stories of mythic creatures, princesses and monsters. There won’t always be a dreamy vampire to claim as your soulmate for all eternity, or your pick of dangerous, enigmatic men desperate to be with you. Instead, there’s a remake of stories that can be viewed from far more complex perspectives – socially, economically and politically. They reinforce that identity is only what we choose to show to others. So, who’s the real monster?