Old Tales Re-spun: Fairy Tales in Literature and Film

This interdisciplinary Honors Seminar discusses the structure, meaning, and function of fairy tales, and 

their enduring influence on popular culture. Both literature and film formats are considered. 

Seminar readings (required reading) 

“Sleeping Beauty” 

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman and 

Chris Riddell

"Beauty and the Beast"

"Little Red Riding Hood" 


Seminar films (required viewing)

Maleficent (Robert Stromberg, 2014)

Beauty and the Beast (Jean Cocteau, 1946) 


Beauty and the Beast (Bill Condon, 2017)

The Company of Wolves (Neil Jordan, 1984)

Bluebeard (Catherine Breillat, 2009)

Useful but not required reading

"The Irresistible Psychology of Fairy Tales," by Ellen Handler Spitz

“How fairy tales have stood the test of time,” by Adam Ganz

Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tales, by Marina Warner

The Irresistible Fairy Tale: The Cultural and Social History of a Genre, by Jack Zipes

"The Storyteller," by Walter Benjamin

"Frauds on the Fairies," by Charles Dickens

The uses of enchantment: the meaning and importance of fairy tales, by Bruno Bettelheim

Angela Carter's Book of Fairy Tales, edited by Angela Carter

Useful (and fun) but not required viewing

Le Royaume des fées (The Kingdom of the Fairies), by Georges Méliès (1903)

Fractured Fairy Tales (1959-1964)

Psyche, Beauty and the Beast—the Great Greek Myths (2015): available via WCC Library Films on Demand

The Sleeping Beauty, performed by the Royal Ballet Company (1999): available via WCC Library Films on Demand

Bluebeard's Castle, opera by Bartók: available via WCC Library Films on Demand 

Shelley Duval's Faerie Tale Theatre (1982-1987)

Opera by Hungarian composer Béla Bartók: Bluebeard's Castle 

1901 silent film from Georges Méliès: Bluebeard 

They Might Be Giants song: "Mrs. Bluebeard" 

To consult the Multilingual Folk Tale Data Base, Aarne-Thompson-Uther Classification of Folk Tales, 

click here.


April 3

Introduction to fairy tales: oral and literary traditions, structure, themes, function, magical elements

→Assignment: read "Sleeping Beauty" (any version you choose) and The Sleeper and the Spindle, by Neil  

Gaiman and Chris Riddell (required graphic novel for this seminar)

Below are links to several versions of "Sleeping Beauty"; your choice isn't restricted to those listed:

Lit2Go (audio and text files)

Pittsburg University (multiple versions)

Project Gutenberg 

April 10

Discussion “Sleeping Beauty” and The Sleeper and the Spindle

Assignment to complete before April 17: Watch Robert Stromberg’s Maleficent. Consult the discussion 

questions for April 17 (below) before you view the film.

April 17

"La grande valse villageoise" aka "The Garland Waltz," from Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty, Opus 66, Act I 

Mary Costa and Bill Shirley interpret "Once Upon a Dream" (featured in 1959 film Sleeping Beauty)

Lana Del Rey interprets "Once Upon a Dream" (featured in 2014 film Maleficent)

Discussion Questions for “Sleeping Beauty,” The Sleeper and the Spindle, and Maleficent

1. Do the characters differ? If so, explain.

2. What cultural concerns are reflected in each story?

3. Do the stories share certain motifs? Is so, which one(s)?

4. What human truth(s) does each story communicate? Be sure to consider different levels of meaning in 

the stories.

5. Is it a truth of conformity or resistance? Support your response with specific references from each 

6. Do Chris Riddell’s illustrations in The Sleeper and the Spindle tell a story independent of Neil Gaiman’s 
narrative? Justify your response with specific references from the book.

7. Identify the shifts in social values and message(s) represented in the stories.

8. Do the different story renditions share a common over-arching theme? Explain your response and refer 

to specifics from each story as support.

Discussion prompts for Maleficent

1. The film opens with the narrator making a declaration to viewers before she begins to recount the tale: 

   "Let us tell an old story anew, and we will see how well you know it." Consider the possible purposes 

    this serves.

2. The name "Maleficent" doesn't seem to match the personality of the title character as she appears at 

   the beginning of the film. What explanations can you imagine for this choice of name? 

"maleficent"(adj.) = causing harm or destruction, especially by supernatural means

"beneficent"(adj.) = kindly, generous in doing good 

3. The Disney film provides a backstory that encourages viewers to sympathize with the traditionally 

    wicked fairy; she is newly presented as a powerful and heroic figure. How do you react to this change? 

    Consider whether the change serves a cultural purpose or simply represents a new packaging of an old 

    tale for monetary gain.

Presentation of “Beauty and the Beast”

→Assignment to complete before April 24: Read "Beauty and the Beast" 

                                                              Project Gutenberg version

April 24

Viewing of Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast

Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre version of this story, directed by French screenwriter, film director, and 

producer Roger Vadim, bears some striking resemblances to the Cocteau version.

→Assignment to complete before May 1: Watch Bill Condon’s 2017 Disney version of Beauty and the Beast

Discussion Questions for "Beauty and the Beast," Jean Cocteau's La Belle et la Bête, and Bill Condon's Beauty 

and the Beast

1. What role does personal integrity play in the story? 

As you watch the two films, consider how integrity (or lack of) is represented in the principal characters. 

Identify differences. To what do you attribute those differences? Refer to specific points of the films to 

support your responses.

2. What themes does the story present? What is the over-arching theme? 

Are the same themes present in the film versions of the story? Support your response with specific references 

to the written story and the two film versions.

3. Who are the principle characters of the version of the story you read? 

Which characters appear in the film versions? Consider possible explanations for the changes and the impact of  

those changes on the overall tone and theme(s) of the film stories.

4. Describe how you imagine the Beast to be in the written version of the story. Point to specific story details 

that lead you to the image you have.

5. How does Cocteau's Beast differ from Condon's? Discuss both physical and psychological attributes.

6. How do the musical illustrations of the two films relate to the visual images?

7. What engaged you as a reader of the written story?

8. What engaged you as a spectator of Cocteau's film? Of Condon's?

9. Which story version appealed to you most? Why?

10. Does one version of the story represent a more obvious moral than the others? Explain.

May 1

Discussion of Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast and Bill Condon’s 2017 version for Disney

4 of the many musical references in Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast:

The Sound of Music 


Singin' in the Rain 

Busby Berkeley’s kaleidoscope dance 

→Assignment to complete before May 8: Read Charles Perrault's "Little Red Riding Hood"

                                                           Project Gutenberg version ("Little Red Cap" by Brothers Grimm)

May 8

Discussion of “Little Red Riding Hood” / Viewing of first half of The Company of Wolves

Discussion prompts for "Little Red Riding Hood" and Neil Jordan's The Company of Wolves

Critical analysis practice

1. Read aloud a translation of Charles Perrault’s “Little Red Riding Hood.” 

2. Read a translation of the Brothers Grimm’s “Little Red Cap.”

3. Read Angela Carter’s “The Company of Wolves.” 

4. Identify similarities and differences, referring to specific lines of each story.

5. Propose explanations for the differences.

The following article offers well-researched information on the werewolf topos in general and specifically on 

the use of the topos in the medieval folk tale "Bisclavret" by Marie de France: 

Jorgensen, Jean. "The Lycanthropy Metaphor in Marie de France's Bisclavret." Selecta: Journal of the Pacific 

Northwest Council on Foreign Languages 15 (1994): 24–30.

If you want to read the article and can't locate a copy online, speak with your seminar teacher.


→Assignment to complete for our May 15 session: Hypothetical research project

Imagine that you’re planning a research project on the Little Red Riding Hood theme.

1. First compose a thesis statement. Ask yourself, “What point am I trying to make?”

2. Next identify supporting details to reinforce the point you’re trying to make. You'll want to consider 

possible subjects to explore: history of the tale; authors or collectors of the tale: who, their purpose; 

different cultural versions of the tale; literary theories concerning the tale; social values reflected in the 

tale; different formats of the tale: short story, film, stage, poetry, song...

James Thurber and Roald Dahl  

Sam the Sham & the Pharoahs  

Andrew Queen and the Campfire Crew 


3. Make a list of possible places to look for resources. Be specific.

4. Make an outline for this hypothetical research project.


May 15

Viewing of second half of The Company of Wolves / Discussion

→Assignments to complete for our May 22 meeting:

1. Read "Bluebeard" or the Project Gutenberg version and/or Angela Carter's "The Bloody Chamber" (based on 

   Charles Perrault's version) or any other version you choose.

  You may enjoy listening to this short YouTube: "The History of Bluebeard."

2. Prepare a short proposal for your presentation/paper. Include a thesis statement and a list of potential 


May 22

Discussion of “Bluebeard” 

Viewing of first half of Catherine Breillat's Bluebeard

Discussion prompts for Charles Perrault version of the tale of Bluebeard

1. Describe the setting of Perrault’s adaptation of the story: Where does it take place? When? What are the   circumstances?

2. Who are the characters?

3. What does Bluebeard do to encourage the sisters and their family to get to know him?

4. What is the outcome?

5. Describe the character of the young wife in the Perrault version of “Bluebeard.”

6. What magical element(s) exist in this fairy tale?

7. What do you think of the way the story ends?

8. Identify at least two themes present in the story, citing specific passages that point to those themes.

If you also read Angela Carter's "The Bloody Chamber,” consider the following questions: 

1. Who is the narrator?

2. What foreshadowing exists in the early part of the story that hints at the true character of Bluebeard? 

3. What clues does Carter give us early in the story that tell us what kind of person the mother is? 

4. Why do you think Carter chose to have the girl rescued by her mother?

5. Describe the narrator at the beginning of the story. How has she changed by the end of the story? What prompted her changes in character? theme does this suggest?

6. Why is the blindness of the piano tuner an important plot element? 

7. Identify two themes of the story, citing specific passages that point to those themes.

May 29

Viewing of second half of Catherine Breillat's Blue Beard 

Post-viewing discussion prompts

1. Identify the two stories told in this film.

2. Identify the characters in each story.  

3. What kind of person is Breillat's Bluebeard? Name specific character traits and scenes that support your 


4. Describe Breillat's characters Catherine (child from modern times) and Marie-Catherine (17th century young 

   woman). Point to specific scenes that support your responses.

5. Fairy tale scholar Jack Zipes maintains that Breillat's representation of the title character re-focuses 

   the story on Marie-Catherine.* Do you agree or disagree? Explain your reasoning by pointing to specifics in 

   the film to support your responses.

6. Discuss the theme of power in Breillat's Bluebeard: who has it and how is it used? Point to specific story 

   elements that support your responses.

*Zipes, Jack. "Remaking 'Bluebeard,' or Good-by to Perrault."  The Irresistible Fairy Tale: The Cultural and 

Social History of a Genre. Princeton University Press, 2012, pp 41-54.


June 5 and June 12

Oral presentations and discussion

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