Fairy tale parody


Fairy tale parody (also known as a fractured fairy tale) is a genre of fiction which parodies traditional fairy tales.

The genre was popularized on television by the "Fractured Fairy Tales" segments on The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.[1]

The 2001 computer-animated film Shrek brought great popularity to the genre. Parodies soon eclipsed traditional fairy tales. The genre garnered some praise for its more modern views but was also criticized for supplanting the traditional stories.[2]


The genre of ‘Fairy Tale Parody’ grew in popularity following the “Fractured Fairy Tales” segment on the The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show in 1959, where well known fairy tales were presented with altered storylines for a modern audience. Since then, fairy tale adaptions have pervaded contemporary popular culture - subverting, shattering, and altering understandings of classic fairy tales, with the digital revolution significantly contributing to the dissemination of these new tales in the 21st century.[3] There are two types of fairy tale parodies – one focused on mocking the fairy tale genre and individual tales themselves, and the other, reformatting tales to include more serious morals and social messages[4] - literary scholars and critics tend to focus on the tales that reflect the evolving sociocultural conditions of the 21stcentury.[3] The fluid nature of the fairy tale and the evolution of technology has allowed fairy tales to permeate a wide range of media, providing these parodied tales with means to be presented in more creative and advanced forms, and providing the creators with an ability to alter the audience’s reception of the stories being told.[5] This fluidity of the genre has allowed Fairy tale parodies to mutate over time, and to be portrayed in a plethora of forms - not only literary parodies but live-action and animated film and television, poetry, comics, and music,[6] that have provided audiences with ubiquitous access to these complex narratives.

Development of the Fairy Tale ParodyEdit

Traditional fairy tales are believed to be derived from myths, relevant to religions of the time and as storytellers discarded religious connotations, the fairy tales became much more secular.[7] As society progressed, and authors began writing fairy tale parodies, pertinent social and political matters became the key focus of the tales, and the question of “what, if any, is the role and function of such tales in the evolution of human civilisation” (Burkert, 1979),[8] was fundamental to the development of these parodies. Parody is “governed by intentionality”[7] (Hutcheon, 1985), thus when crafting a parody of traditional fairy tales, writers borrow, both consciously and unconsciously from other cultures in an “endeavour to imbue their symbolical stories with very specific commentaries on the mores and manners of their times”.[7] Writers of fairy tale parodies decide what is relevant in society and communicate this crucial information through their tales,[7] utilising memorable motifs, stereotype subversions and intertextuality. The parodies are radical and significantly deviate from the trajectory of the traditional tale, modernising the previously explored ideologies to resonate with a contemporary audience and allow readers to question the principles of existing narratives.[9] Fairy tale parodies will resonate with an audience if the configuration of the tale is adapted, and meaning is transformed to fit the relevant social and cultural context.[9] If a parody of a tale does not alter the text to fit the contemporary social context and instead recycles content of traditional narratives, they are to be considered imitating existing stories to affirm traditional ideologies and prolong a conservative message.

Development for Different AudiencesEdit

To parody a fairy tale for children has some differences than in doing so for adults. For children, tales are retold to make them more comprehensive, to teach simple moral lessons suitable for the contemporary audience or to rouse greater senses of wonder and imagination through alternative endings. When parodying a fairy tale for children, in the form of a fictional picture book, authors often preserve the ‘happy ending’ convention, as a practise governed by a motivation “to enculturate children in societal codes”.[9] For adults, the parodied tale acts as a means for carrying social and political dialogue regarding issues of the time – often with a heavy focus on feminism - a widely acknowledge and important approach to modern tales that allows authors to alter oppressive social representations.[10]

Characteristics of the GenreEdit

Fairy tales have always been hybrid in their nature, borrowing from multiple simple genres – with a key focus on, fables, fantasy, romance, and magical realism - to form their own.[11] Fairy tale parodies further this hybridity, disrupting and defying the traditional form of the tale through the following distinctive characteristics:

  1. Chronotope[10]– The chronotope of a fairy tale parody– which refers to “how configurations of time and space are represented in language and discourse” (Bakhtin, 1937) – shifts the fairy tale to a more contemporary setting relevant for a modern audience, making it acceptable for diffusion into the public sphere.[4]
  2. Attribute to the supernatural – Authors of fairy tale parodies often “renegotiate the boundary between magic and realism” to coincide with a modern, secular society. When magic is utilised in these retellings, it is often described through the perspective of an unreliable narrator, leaving the audience to question whether magic really occurs, or materialises only through the mind of the protagonist[10]– fitting for a modern society with a greater focus on psychological health.
  3. Optimism[10] – as previously stated, many authors of fairy tale parodies for children conform to providing a traditional happy ending, however, writers of parodies with an adult audience, often unmask this illusion, providing a pessimistic ending much more consistent with the harsh realities of society.
  4. Intertextuality – When parodying a traditional fairy tale, authors will retain markers of their intertextual relationship with the original text such as numeric symbolism[10] - the seven dwarfs in Snow White, whilst they may take on unique and diverse forms, will still be 7 figures, as to keep a clear connection to the text they are parodying.
  5. Subversion of character – In parodying classical fairy tales, authors have the ability, and the role, of refabricating canonical characters, as well as introducing new characters vital to their story. Often the purpose of these refabrications is to dismantle exhausted and stereotypical gender ideologies[12] that favoured a patriarchal narrative focus – ‘Damsel in Distress’, ‘Evil Queen’, ‘Knight in Shining Armour’. Through refabricating, rather than removing a character, authors encourage the audience to make a comparison between the traditional and contemporary story and highlight the possibilities of empowering characters that have previously been disparaged or misrepresented.[13]

Children's booksEdit

Children's books that have been classified as fairy tale parodies:

Politically Correct Fairy Tales and Politically Correct Bedtime Stories: Modern Tales for Our Life and Times by James Finn Garner have been called "Adult fractured fairy tales ... still humorous but the humor is for adults".[14]

Animated shortsEdit



  1. ^ Kinsella, Marilyn A. "Fractured Fairy Tales". Taleypo the Storyteller. Retrieved July 25, 2012.
  2. ^ Poniewozik, James (May 10, 2007). "Is Shrek Bad for Kids?". Time. Archived from the original on June 17, 2007. Retrieved April 2, 2012.
  3. ^ a b Schwabe, Claudia (September 27, 2016). "The Fairy Tale and Its Uses in Contemporary New Media and Popular Culture Introduction". Humanities. 5 (4): 81. doi:10.3390/h5040081. ISSN 2076-0787.
  4. ^ a b Zipes, Jack (1988). "The Changing Function of the Fairy Tale". The Lion and the Unicorn. 12 (2): 7–31. doi:10.1353/uni.0.0236. ISSN 1080-6563. S2CID 144272360.
  5. ^ Zipes, Jack (2011). "The Meaning of Fairy Tale within the Evolution of Culture". Marvels & Tales. 25 (2): 221–243. ISSN 1521-4281. JSTOR 41389000.
  6. ^ Tiffin, Jessica (2006). "Ice, Glass, Snow: Fairy Tale as Art and Metafiction in the Writing of A. S. Byatt". Marvels & Tales. 20 (1): 47–66. doi:10.1353/mat.2006.0018. ISSN 1536-1802. S2CID 144749940.
  7. ^ a b c d Reynolds, Kimberley; Zipes, Jack (April 1, 2008). "Why Fairy Tales Stick: The Evolution and Relevance of a Genre". The Modern Language Review. 103 (2): 503. doi:10.2307/20467798. ISSN 0026-7937. JSTOR 20467798.
  8. ^ Zipes, Jack (March 19, 2012). The Irresistible Fairy Tale : the Cultural and Social History of a Genre. ISBN 978-1-4008-4182-0. OCLC 979685942.
  9. ^ a b c Athanasiou-Krikelis, Lissi (2019). "Picture-Book Retellings of "The Three Little Pigs": Postmodern Parody, Intertextuality, and Metafiction". Children's Literature Association Quarterly. 44 (2): 173–193. doi:10.1353/chq.2019.0024. ISSN 1553-1201. S2CID 182356482.
  10. ^ a b c d e "Critical and creative perspectives on fairy tales: an intertextual dialogue between fairy-tale scholarship and postmodern retellings". Choice Reviews Online. 49 (3): 49–1300–49-1300. November 1, 2011. doi:10.5860/choice.49-1300. ISSN 0009-4978.
  11. ^ Zipes, Jack (April 8, 2012), "The Cultural Evolution of Storytelling and Fairy Tales: Human Communication and Memetics", The Irresistible Fairy Tale, Princeton University Press, doi:10.23943/princeton/9780691153384.003.0001, ISBN 9780691153384, retrieved May 11, 2022
  12. ^ Bacchilega, Cristina (January 1, 1997). Postmodern Fairy Tales. University of Pennsylvania Press. doi:10.9783/9780812200638. ISBN 978-0-8122-0063-8.
  13. ^ Van de Walle, Etienne (2001). "A Comment on Fertility Control and the Fairy-Tale Heroine". Marvels & Tales. 15 (1): 128–131. doi:10.1353/mat.2001.0016. ISSN 1536-1802. S2CID 201741878.
  14. ^ Kinsella, Marilyn A. "Fractured Thoughts Workshop: Fractured folk tales including fairy tales, fables, myths". Taleypo the Storyteller. Retrieved April 16, 2014.