‘I grew up at the edge of a pine forest in Switzerland and from my bedroom window I would watch the sun set on the scene of so many of the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales: glistening, snowy treetops melting into darkness. For hours on end, I would get lost in my imagination, ignited by these stories.
Now, all these years later, I am just as intrigued by these magical worlds as I was then. The power of fairy tales, to me, is timeless.
For as long as I can remember, however, feminism has also been a defining part of who I am. So it makes me wonder why I have been spellbound by tales that, by and large, are about brave young lads or noble princes on horseback, but meek, servile women who function merely as the objects of their desire. Given that nowadays fairy tale films gross enormous amounts at the box office and are most popular with female audiences, I mustn’t be alone with this conundrum…!
Even just a couple of hundred years ago, elders, both men and women, sat around the fire, telling tales about luck and misfortune, adventures and home-comings, about marriage and betrayal, birth and death. Fairy tales were living things.
In 1812, however, this changed when the Brothers Grimm came along with ink and parchment. Up until then, every storyteller was free to sprinkle their tale with a bit of their own magic, making it more relevant both to the teller themselves and their listeners. But once these stories were written down, it was only the Brothers Grimm who did any further editing - and that under close supervision of the Church.
Roughly a century later, Disney repeated this process of standardising the Grimm’s tales, making them more palatable to 20th century folks and printing them on celluloid for an audience of millions. Thus, our fairy tales froze in time - and the social values of the eras in which they were captured were immortalised right along with them.
Today, for the sake of girls and women who are most often minimised, simplified and commodified in these old, patriarchal stories, I think it is high time that our fairy tales are free to breathe and evolve once more. I, for one, plan to do my small part with my privilege as a filmmaker because, whilst I believe that by seeing stories that differ from our own, such as fairy tales from the past, we grow, I also believe that by seeing stories in which we recognise ourselves and the ways in which we think and feel in the present, we heal.
I spent my childhood years gazing at the snowy forest outside my window, loving fairy tales for what they were. I hope to spend my adult life cherishing them for what they can once more become.’
- Shannon Ashlyn