Storytelling Matters

The Live Art and the Power of Words

Is Goldilocks Really Tired?

I got hooked on some Thursday Next books by Jasper Fforde recently. A literate writer adept at wordplay, his narrative twinkles when he gives knowing nods to classic literature. These action-packed novels are engaging and intelligent. Curious about the author and his other work, I checked out his fun website.

On his overview page, my eyes were immediately drawn to “Nursery Crimes,” a detective series based on children’s nursery rhymes and stories: the first book investigates Humpty Dumpty’s suicide, the second probes the death of Goldilocks. Given my professional focus on quirky renditions of traditional folklore, I eagerly read on.

In describing that series, Fforde says that the books “manage to blend absurdity with satire, and have fun at the very tired genre from which they hail.”

And therein lies the rub.

Fforde is not the only one to accuse the classic folklore canon of being ‘tired.’ However, if it is so tired, why do these stories and rhymes inspire artists of all kinds? Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Jack and his Beanstalk, Humpty Dumpty and all the others are recycled again and again in visual, literary, and other forms of media. They are retold, updated, fractured, extended, quoted, and reworked to the delight of millions. Movies (Shrek, Tangled), television (Once Upon a Time, Grimm),musicals (Into the Woods), books (several by Gregory Maguire and Jasper Fforde, for instance), video games (World of Warcraft, Overlord: Dark Legends) are but a drop in the bucket of examples of narrative media that continue to embrace this “tired” material.  

The old stories are like veins of ore, and people perpetually dig beneath the surface to see what else they can find. Every new adaptation uncovers nuance and humor and unexpected themes in stories we all thought we knew. Those who create and recreate these pieces are mining for gold, for there really is gold them thar tales.  Then, they carefully polish the gold they dig up and find new areas of luster.

So how do we tell The Three Bears? Let me count the ways.  Goldilocks might get sleepy and nap in the story, but her story and other classic tales are surely not tired… how can they be when they are so chock full of inspiration?

More on this topic in future posts!


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2 thoughts on “Is Goldilocks Really Tired?

  1. Ed Hotaling on said:

    With a 10-year-old video screen junkie in the house, my wife and I have taken to seeing how many of the shows and movies she watches are ripping off classic tales. Some even admit it, others do so subtly. Shakespeare is one of the most frequent victims, but there is really nothing new under the sun.
    That said, we each have a unique way of retelling a given story. In fact, I seldom tell a story exactly the same twice. Maybe that’s why kids ask for the same tales over and over again.

    • I totally agree! We all have our own spin, maybe that could be a reason the term is ‘spinning tales.’ (Though I think one possible root of that phrase is more literal, and has to do with people telling tales while literally spinning thread). And yes, Shakespeare is a frequent victim. As you saw in the post, I purposely referenced him to emphasize my point.

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