Female Characters in Fairy Tales: the Old, the New, and the Ugly

By Jennifer Garcia

“Sometimes mirrors are maps, and sometimes maps are mirrors.” – Kelly Link, Travels with the Snow Queen

For as long as I can remember fairy tales have been a part of my life. Much like everyone in my generation, I grew up watching Disney films in my VCR, dreaming of one day finding my prince charming. I sang along to the songs, dancing around my room and reenacting my favorite scenes. Never did I question why it was always the prince who saved the princess, or why she was willing to sacrifice everything for a happily ever after which was only possible with him.

The reemergence of fairy tales’ popularity in the last couple of years through new films and television series indicates the impact and importance they have on, not only children, but adults as well. Original Grimm and Andersen fairy tales, and Disney adaptations, display princesses as beautiful, with kind hearts, and in need of rescuing from an evil stepmother or a tower guarded by a dragon. By victimizing women and placing their fate in the hands of others (evil stepmothers, queens, or princes) these fairy tales give the message that a woman’s only escape, and eventual happily ever after, is through a man and true love’s kiss.

However, the media has begun displaying stronger female characters who question their own roles. Females roles have shifted from female characters depending on a male character, to finding freedom and happiness through one’s self and/or family. The definition of true love has expanded from a kiss between a prince and princess to sacrificing one’s self for another, be it family, friends, or lovers. It comes in all shapes and forms and sometimes takes us by surprise. Supporting characters now comment on the absurdity of love at first sight and marrying someone after knowing them for only one day (see Kristoff in “Frozen” and Robert/Patrick Dempsey in “Enchanted”).

As society and culture change, so does media representation of females, especially in fairy tales. In 2001, Kelly Link published, “Travels with the Snow Queen,” her own twist on Han Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Snow Queen.” Link shifts point of view to second person, utilizing “you” throughout her short story, creating the illusion that the reader is actually the one traveling in search for Kay, the man who abandoned you for a beautiful woman because he does not love you. Her more mature version details things such as, suffering, periods, one-night stands, jealousy, and sassy animals that are not as friendly as previously thought.

Along the way you submit yourself to bloody feet from following a trail of broken glass, which serves as your map toward Kay. You meet eccentric characters—not all of them nice—who guide you but not without warning you that Kay “doesn’t love you.” Even though “you’re sick and tired or traveling towards the happily ever after, whenever…that is,” you continue your journey, if not to get Kay back at least to give him a piece of your mind. But when you finally find him you realize that you don’t love him and “maybe [you] just wanted to see the world…[and] meet interesting people.”

In “Travels with the Snow Queen,” Link creates a world like our own, adding magic and fantastical characters. Her character development of Gerda—from a woman desperately searching for her husband to an independent woman who wishes to continue traveling—truly encompasses the shift in female characters.

While I enjoy older versions of fairy tales, the newer representation of female characters inspires me to be in charge of my own happily ever after.

Jennifer Garcia

The author

Jennifer is a Texas-born, Mexican-raised college student who proudly wears both nationalities. When she's not jamming out to music, she can be found watching Netflix or reading.

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