Fairy-Tale Files: Hybridity

Fairy-Tale Files, published once weekly, feature three variations of a fairy tale chosen by one of Fairy Tale Review’s editors, readers, editorial assistants, or contributors.


Fairy-Tale Files, published once weekly, feature three variations of a fairy tale chosen by one of Fairy Tale Review’s editors, readers, editorial assistants, or contributors.


From the ethereal mermaid with its fishtail and human torso to the more monstrous griffin, manticore or basilisk, the worlds of many fairy tales are populated with hybrid creatures. The very term “fairy tale” evokes the merged human and insect that imbues the entire genre with a sense of hazy boundaries, transformation and previously unimagined possibility. Hans Christen Andersen’s The Little Mermaid deals directly with both the positive and negative potential of the hybrid body. Although the Little Mermaid’s home and body are presented as beautiful, the Sea Witch’s garden is “in the center of a strange forest, in which all the trees and flowers were polypi, half animals and half plants” who “catch and strangle” mermaids.

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A 2013 exhibition at the Frist Center for Visual Arts titled “Fairy Tales, Monsters and the Genetic Imagination” featured work by contemporary artists who examined the link between the once fantastic world of fairy-tale hybridity and today’s very real world of biological engineering. As did Andersen’s classic fairy tale, the artists featured in “Fairy Tales, Monsters and the Genetic Imagination” explore the complexities of the hybrid form and challenge the viewer to ask themselves “what it means to be human.”

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Joe Wright’s 2011 film, Hanna, poses a similar question through the frame of a fairy-tale bildungsroman in which the film’s titular character discovers she is the product of a program that has implanted her with enhanced DNA before birth in order to engineer her as a super-soldier. Hanna presents itself as an inquiry into the anxiety of genetic engineering, a coming-of-age tale and a modern-day fairy tale. While The Little Mermaid creates a stark division between the fully human and the hybrid body and invites the audience to examine the bounds of their own bodies, Hanna and “Fairy Tales, Monsters and the Genetic Imagination” perhaps suggests that our modern fairy tale is unbound, a zone of ultimate transfiguration.


This edition of Fairy-Tale Files is brought to you by Emerald Issue contributor Candice Wuehle.