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No more happy-ever-afters: Professor explains changing fate of fairy tales

IF you go into the woods today, prepare for a big surprise.

These are the words of the University of Chichester’s Professor Bill Gray, who has been speaking with the national Telegraph newspaper about the changing fate of traditional fairy tales.

It follows the release of Disney’s new fantasy blockbuster Into The Woods, which introduces a sinister twist on the classic Brothers’ Grimm tales of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel, as well as the old English story Jack and the Beanstalk.

In an article published by the Telegraph, Professor Gray, who is director of the Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairy Tales, and Fantasy at Chichester, said fairy tales no longer offer a magical other-world, which steals away from the harsh complications of real life.

He added: “Re-imaginings of fairy tales, especially those that overturn the traditional naive happy endings, aren’t new, but a modern consensus has it that today’s offerings have to be ‘darker’, partly in order to reflect the realities of the world in which we live.

“But there remains an almost a pervasive sense that we – and, perhaps, adults more than children – somehow still need fairy stories with (and increasingly without) a happy ending.”

Professor Gray was speaking to the Telegraph on behalf of the Sussex Centre, which provides a forum where writers and performers can explore how popular contemporary culture - such as the Into The Woods movie – has affected traditional folk stories.

The film is, according to Professor Gray, the latest adaptation to upset the fairy-tale order of things, and follows on from the 2013 hit Frozen which offers an unconventional ending.

He added: “Fairy tales have long held an important role in society, offering a kind of moral guide for the perplexed and those left behind by traditional religion.

“If the idea of fairy tales as family entertainment was born during the Victorian period and grew up in Disney’s hands, the modern versions as seen on film often seem to be aimed more at adults than children.

“Fairy tales should thus be taken as a guide, something to help us find our way out of the woods.”

To read Professor Gray’s full article published in the Telegraph visit www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/11335901/Go-into-the-woods-at-your-peril.html.

Alternatively for more about the University’s Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairy Tales, and Fantasy go to www.sussexfolktalecentre.org.