“But What Does It Really Mean?”: “Wolfland” and the Ambiguity of Meaning

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In the introduction to the The Classic Fairy Tales, Maria Tartar notes that there is no “single, univocal, uncontested meaning” for any particular fairy tale (xiv). This is primarily due to the “kaleidoscopic variations” of fairy tales that have been “reconfigured” to meet the needs of different, distinct audiences (Tartar ix). As Tartar notes, “local color” shape each the telling of each tale (ix). However, the local color shapes more than just the telling, or variation, of a tale. When coupled with the personal experiences and expectations of the listener/reader of a tale, the local color also affects the meaning of a tale. As a result, a singular fairy tale or tale variation can have numerous meanings, each one dependent upon the individual. This is can be clearly seen by looking at several possible interpretations of “Wolfland” by Tanith Lee.
Although many consider “Wolfland” to by a feminist fairy tale, it is not. The female and male characters in the story conform to very traditional fairy tale stereotypes.
Lisel’s parents are traditional fairy tale parents. Her mother died while in childbirth. Her father, while living, is virtually a non-entity. He does not parent her or seem to have any desire to protect her from the dangers of a woman he considers to be “mad” (Lee 123). As a result, Lisel is left to face any danger or cruelty on her own.
“Grandpére,” Anna’s husband, reveled in the “man’s pleasure” and beat his wife whenever he so desired (Lee 131). Traditionally, in patriarchal societies, the man was the head of the household. He was the one with all of the power, his desires and decisions were law. Anna’s husband embodies this traditional, powerful role of head of the family. He viewed both his w...

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...cal relationship discussed in Gilbert and Gubar’s “The Queen’s Looking Glass.” Their relationship is as cyclical as the relationship of Snow White and the Wicked Queen. The two characters represent two sides of the same character. They are the same in both looks and temperament, Anna being “Lisel as she would become” in the future (Lee 141). Throughout the story, Lisel’s struggle with her grandmother represents her “struggle to repress the assertive [witch-woman] in herself” (Gilbert and Gubar 205). She is, however, unsuccessful as Snow White is unsuccessful. Anna, a “transmogrifite,” transforms Lisel in order to save herself (Lee 139). As she does so, she informs Lisel that she, too, will eventually need to transform an innocent female in order to save herself. Thus forcing Lisel to become Anna as Snow White is eventually force to become the Wicked Queen.

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