Zipes's View on Fairytales

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In this essay, I examine what Zipes means by institutionalised, define what makes a fairy tale and evaluate how different versions of Little Red Riding Hood reflect the social ideology of the period.

Zipes is not using ‘institutionalised’ in the traditional, negative sense of being rigid and never evolving. He theorises that fairy tales have become part of the social psyche. They permeate into every aspect of the social unconscious to become meme, examples of which are ‘tunes, ideas and catchphrases’ (Montgomery, 2009, p. 46). Zipes proposes that this meme is similar to a virus mutating and evolving with each generation. Each generation’s variation reflects their ideas and concepts regarding universal aspects of human existence like love, identity, revenge, sexuality and betrayal.

The reasons why fairy tales embed into the social psyche is the simplistic and plot driven nature of the story. Even the smallest child instantly understands the characteristics and motifs of the story. It is set with simple characters with one characteristic for example the wicked stepmother is only every wicked. There are no further details as to how or why she became wicked. The actions of the character further enhance this singular characteristic. The primary drive of the story is the plot with repeated refrains in text and in character’s discourse but with a non-specific setting and period. Few fairy tales include fairies in them but are abound with fantastical creatures and events. The fantastical is still believable as it merely bends the laws of physics.

The simplicity of fairy tales and non-specific details renders them ideal for manipulation allowing writers to add their own comments often reflecting social convention and ideology. Theref...

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... the fairy story of the Snow Queen to expound his Christian viewpoint whereas Pullman’s book Northern Lights is its antithesis. Advertisers readily use the unconscious to sell products to society, e.g. the use of Little Red Riding Hood in the 1963 advertisement for lipstick to add a sexual allure (Orenstein, 2004) and the promise of living happily ever after by buying a broadband package in 2010 (Johnson, 2010).

In conclusion, the extent to which a specific fairy tale meets Zipes’ definition varies dependent upon its adaptability and acceptance by society. Some fairy tales are harder to manipulate and their plot is insufficient to reflect society’s values so not all fairy tales are institutionalised. Thus, the manipulation of Little Red Riding Hood throughout its history and its adaptability to a myriad of usage passes Zipes’ definition of ‘institutionalisation’.

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