26th February is Tell a Fairy Tale Day, a day dedicated to fairy tales and passing them on through communities. Appropriately, no-one really knows when Tell a Fairy Tale Day started but it has been observed in the United States for many years. We have a marvellous display all about fairy tales in the Information Store, with quizzes and the staff writing about their favourite fairy tales.
In celebration of this, we’re featuring one of the most powerful modern fairy tale films: Edward Scissorhands (DVD LOBBY 791.43), directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder. It was based on an idea that Tim Burton had had while growing up in Burbank, California, a character that reflected his own sense of isolation and being different to everyone around him. He hired a novelist called Caroline Thompson (who would later work with Burton on The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride) to write a screenplay, but it wasn’t until he became famous for Batman that he could find a production company willing to take it on.
Edward (Johnny Depp) is a boy who is human in every way except for the fact that instead of hands, he has scissor blades. He was created by a man called the Inventor (Vincent Price) and raised as his own son, but the Inventor dies before he can give Edward the human hands he has made for him. Edward is left alone in his father’s creepy castle and emerges into a nearby suburban neighbourhood. At first, people are frightened of him, but it quickly becomes clear that he’s gentle and kind. A family takes him in and he falls in love with their teenage daughter, Kim (Winona Ryder). His scissorhands prove useful, as he becomes well-known for trimming hedges into fantastical shapes and giving stylish haircuts, but as with anyone who is an outsider, people are still suspicious of him and his naïve and trusting nature means that trouble is just around the corner.
Danny Elfman’s score for the film is as quirky as his fans have come to expect, and the team-up of Burton and Elfman is as iconic here as it is in The Nightmare Before Christmas and Batman. Edward Scissorhands is a beautiful film with fantastic performances (particularly from Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder). It is no secret that Tim Burton sympathises with characters who are outsiders and are seen as weird: Edward Scissorhands is clearly a very personal film for him, and Johnny Depp is brilliant as Edward in the role that first brought him to Hollywood’s notice.
Tim Burton was heavily influenced by horror films when he was growing up, and while making Edward Scissorhands, Burton got to work with his idol Vincent Price, who was known for playing villains in horror films. It was one of Price’s last films before his death, and as the Inventor who created Edward, he brought pathos to his role as a fatherly Dr Frankenstein.
Edward Scissorhands is a modern fairy tale about how society punishes people who are different, and it is also a sweet romance about seeing past people’s outsides to their souls. Kim sees past Edward’s scissorhands, and Edward sees past her seemingly shallow outside. As with many modern fairy tales, it has no clear ‘happily ever after’, but Edward remains truly himself and Kim learns to see past appearances.
Edward Scissorhands was adapted into a ballet by Matthew Bourne in 2005, with a score that used Danny Elfman’s quirky and magical music to great effect. It recently showed at the Theatre Royal in Norwich.
If you liked this, try…
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) is a Spanish-language film by Guillermo Del Toro set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War. It is about a girl called Ofelia who is told by a faun that she is a princess from a magical world. She moves between a fairy tale world and the awful life she has in the real world with her cruel stepfather who hunts down republican rebels. It’s beautiful, frightening, violent and sad, as many classic fairy tales are. Well worth watching if you want to see a fairy tale that isn’t Disney! DVD LOBBY 791.430946
For a fairy tale film that is Disney, try Peter Pan (1953) – it is slightly dated now (especially in how it portrays Native American characters) but it is a classic story of fairies, pirates and mermaids. Whether Peter Pan counts as a fairy tale is up for debate, but it’s still delightful! DVD LOBBY 791.43
The Princess Bride by William Goldman (BOOK ZONE 823.91) is a lovely novel about a couple in a fantasy world, Wesley and Buttercup, who are constantly torn apart and brought back together by circumstances. It’s romantic and sweet, but never saccharine. They both have a lot to learn before they can have their happy ending.
Angela Carter is well known for reworking fairy tales with a feminist angle, and given that Tell a Fairy Tale Day is the week before International Women’s Day, it would be silly to miss her out. The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (BOOK ZONE 823.91) is Carter’s classic collection of stories that rework Bluebeard, Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast among others.
From the Beast to the Blonde by Marina Warner (BOOK ZONE 398.21), Why Fairy Tales Stick by Jack Zipes (BOOK ZONE 398.2) and The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettelheim (NORFOLK HOUSE 398.2) are some of the most interesting studies of fairy tales and why we continue to be fascinated by them.
Seven Miles of Steel Thistles is a blog by author Katherine Langrish, who has been heavily influenced by fairy tales in her work and has brought together dozens of authors to talk about their favourite fairy tales in a series called ‘Fairy Tale Reflections’. Check to see if your favourite author is on there!