“Once Upon a Time” Can Be Really, Really Gory

September 19, 2012 — 1 Comment

…..the little mermaid’s tongue was cut out by the sea witch.”

…..the stepsisters cut off parts of their feet in order to fit into the golden shoe.”

…..the prince’s eyes were pierced by thorns after he was thrown from the tower.”

…..the children will not find the way home again, and we shall be rid of them.”

“Eugh,” says Nick. “These are horrible stories”

“They are so bloogory, …a combination of bloody and gory!” exclaims Loghan.

“Really, really gory,” adds Cassie.

We are in the middle of a fairy tale unit for my 9th grade English class which was designed so that students can begin to identify patterns in classical stories and match those patterns to the contemporary stories they read independently.

Each student has a “criteria” sheet to complete while reading the fairy tales in this unit. We share these lists of  repeated elements in fairy tales in class after reading.

Our form for generating the criteria for fairy tales


So far they have listed elements that would be expected from comparison by reading fairy tales such as castles, giants, and magic objects from their readings of Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, The Valiant Little Tailor, and Cinderella. They have also compiled a list of elements I did not expect: birds; thieves and lies; trees and bushes; and wives, not mothers. There is also a great deal of “love at first sight” discussion.

“Cinderella only saw the prince once!” says Casey. While Louisa notes that the prince is the only man Rapunzel has ever seen, “and the next time she sees him, she has a set of twins!”

Our fairy tale unit is a first exposure to the genre without the Disney treatment for many of my students, and a number of the students have commented how they think these original  fairy tales are too frightening for children. On the other hand, there are a few students who have enjoyed the dark and edgy nature of Grimms (aptly named) fairy tales. “At least the characters aren’t breaking out in song,” muttered Christopher reading The Little Mermaid.

We have no trade books or anthologies on fairy tales and have been using online texts only. Some of the texts are difficult, so we have posted resources such as the site Lit2go where most of the stories in the Andrew Lang fairy tale books and Grimm’s collection of stories have been recorded; clicking on links brings a student to the text and supporting audio.

Once the students have generated the criteria for the genre of fairy tales, we have asked them to match the fairy tale story plot to one of the  “Seven Plots in Storytelling.” Students need to explain why the fairy tale plot matches one of the seven plots in literature:

  • Overcoming the Monster
  • Rags to Riches .
  • The Quest 
  • Voyage and Return 
  • Comedy 
  • Tragedy
  • Rebirth

The “rags to riches” plot is easily understood by most students through the story of Cinderella. Similarly, they easily identify the “overcoming the monster” plot with Jack and the Beanstalk. The more tricky plots of “redemption” and “tragedy” challenge them to incorporate evidence from the story. For example, Michael suggested that the Giant’s fall from the beanstalk, “was tragic for the Giant”, but others in the class argued back that tragedy means the main character suffers the tragedy. Other students put The Little Mermaid into the “redemption” plot because, as Cassie noted, “she gave up her life to spare the life of the Prince, and she becomes immortal as a result.”

We have also had the students create original stories that address one of the seven plots using the software Storybird. The art on this website helps to inspire the story; according to the website, “Storybird reverses the process of visual storytelling by starting with the image and ‘unlocking’ the story inside.” The stories are quick to produce, but they do require Adobe Flash. So far, we have watched several “rags to riches” stories, but no student has written a “quest.” However, I am not worried about the “quest” plot because the conclusion of this fairy tale unit will bring us to the unit on Greek myths before we begin The Odyssey.

Michael was looking ahead at the syllabus and asked suspiciously, “Is The Odyssey any good?”

“Oh, yes,” I assured him, “the Odyssey is the ultimate quest!”

He looked unconvinced until I added,  “and there are parts that are really gory!”

One response to “Once Upon a Time” Can Be Really, Really Gory


    wonderfully crafted! yes, storybird is a great one, and I look forward to more….

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