Equally inspired and deflated by the imminent release of the third Shrek movie, Time's James Poniewozik has an article this week about the fracturing of fairy tales in both movies and books. He's right about how such twisted retellings can appeal to both children and their accompanying adults ("the Shrek movies have a nigh-scientific formula for the ratio of fart jokes to ask-your-mother jokes") and right also to wonder about the disappearance of the original tales:
The strange side effect of today's meta-stories is that kids get exposed to the parodies before, or instead of, the originals. My two sons (ages 2 and 5) love The Three Pigs, a storybook by David Wiesner in which the pigs escape the big bad wolf by physically fleeing their story (they fold a page into a paper airplane to fly off in). It's a gorgeous, fanciful book. It's also a kind of recursive meta-fiction that I didn't encounter before reading John Barth in college. Someday the kids will read the original tale and wonder why the stupid straw-house pig doesn't just hop onto the next bookshelf.
We certainly see relatively few straightforward folk- and fairytale retellings among new picture books, save for a couple of publishers, like North-South and Barefoot Books, who specialize in them. The glitzy '80s saw lots of lavishly illustrated traditional retellings of familiar tales, the '90s brought more cultures into the mix, but the 'aughts are twisting and turning. Northrop Frye told us this would happen.