Tuesday, September 9, 2008
The Mormonization of the Modern Fairy Tale
Certain activities in my life have led me to take interest in a company called RHI Entertainment (formerly Hallmark Entertainment), that produces, distributes, and licenses long form television content. One of RHI's fairly recent releases is a reinterpretation of The Wonderful Wizard of OZ called Tin Man.
I read a review of Tin Man that got me thinking.
The author (Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune) said, speaking of L. Frank Baum, "It’s almost as if the writer was planning ahead, not just for his own series of sequels, but for the latter-day artists and writers who’ve found endless creative possibilities in the realm of Oz."
After listing some other Oz interpretations and briefly mentioning the film's central themes, she continues, "Sure, those well-worn concepts are not the most original starting points for stories, but those themes have endured for generations because they resonate not just with kids but with everyone who’s ever felt like an outcast."
So this got me thinking about how frequently people try to reinvent "classic" stories and try to turn them into blockbusters, social commentary, or whatever else they have in mind. RHI, for example, has films in its archives that give new interpretations to stories such as Jack and the Beanstalk, Gulliver's Travels, Snow White, Jason and the Argonauts, etc....
But we also see this in Mormon films too. Pride and Prejudice and Beauty and the Beast are the two that spring most immediately to my mind, but even classic Mormon stories like Johnny Lingo have already seen remakes. Plus there are a whole host of LDS films that take scriptural stories as their themes.
I'm wondering why it is that this is so popular, especially with the fairy tales and classic literature. Does this come from an impulse to claim mainstream but potentially meaningful works as our own, as seems to have been done with the writings of CS Lewis and others? I know some people who seem to look at the Narnia movies as church-sanctioned productions (this may be only a slight exaggeration). On the other side of that, are we sometimes trying to make our ideas seem compatible with mainstream lore, and therefore culture? Do we simply want to rearrange the tales so that they can be seen from what we consider to be an ideal LDS perspective (in order either to use them as teaching tools or to justify embracing what we might otherwise not)? If so, are we uncomfortable with or unwilling to consider them from other perspectives, not obviously LDS? If so, does that indicate an attachment to the natural man (the aforementioned desire to embrace the world's culture by ignoring its incompatibility with our perception of gospel culture)?
I realize that not all of the questions above apply to every classic story (or even all of the ones I've listed) and that my list of questions is not complete, but I'm not supposed to say everything there is to say on a topic. I'm interested in your thoughts on the place of fairy tales and classic literature in LDS filmmaking. What do you think?