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Registered User
(7/2/07 12:17 pm)

food symbolisms in fairy tales
I am trying to do a research paper on the symbolism of food in fairytales/children's literature. I have read some of the archive discussion boards, but am still having trouble finding some scholarly sources on the subject. Does anyone have any ideas? :\

Heidi Anne Heiner
(7/3/07 9:05 am)

Re: food symbolisms in fairy tales
Other than what is in the archives and annotations on the site, I don't have much else for you on SurLaLune. However, I recommend the following links.

First of all, Terri Windling's post on Endicott Redux is about food today. Since the archive will move in a month of so, I will quote the article and pertinent links here:

"Today's issue of Salon features a lovely article by Chitrita Banerji on the importance of fish in Bengali cooking, culture, and legends. She writes: "In Bengali mythology -- and in my mother's kitchen -- fish has always been a delicious symbol of prosperity, fertility and pleasure."

"If this whets your appetite for more about food (and myth), try these two gorgeous articles: "In Praise of the Cook" by Midori Snyder and "The Lore of Simple Things: Milk, Honey, and Bread in Myth and Legend" by Ari Berk. You'll also find a post here from last February on The Fantasy of Food."

Also, for fun, try Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook for Young Readers And Eaters by Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple and The Fairy Tale Cookbook: Fun Recipes for Families to Create and Eat Together by Sandre Moore.


Registered User
(7/3/07 5:19 pm)

Re: food symbolisms in fairy tales
This is just my take on the subject and not that of a scholar, but a lot of fairy-tales seem to reflect the values of the poorer people in times gone by who would have originally told the stories. Food was seen as vital and this feeling is reflected in the tales, as food is regarded as a means to great things in life in various tales. Examples:

*In "Cinderella" (Charles Perrault's version from 1697, which is the most well known version), a pumpkin becomes a coach, which leads Cinderella to the fateful ball.

*In "Jack and the Beanstalk", the beanstalk is a means to Jack's fortune.

*The princess in "The Princess and the Pea" is found to be a true princess by feeling a pea underneath the mattresses, thus enabling the royal wedding.

*The ogre in "Puss in Boots" is defeated by being eaten by the cat once he turns into a mouse.

*Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Match Girl", instead of using fanciful imagery to promote food, seriously addresses what happens when one does not have food and shelter. The Match Girl, impoverished and malnourished, only able to dream of a roast dinner, dies at the end of the story.

*Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" arguably satirises the fairy-tale promotion of food being a necessity, by having Alice instantly grow very large when she eats certain foods (and also shrink when she eats/drinks certain things as well).

Equally, certain foods (mainly the more appealing and sweeter ones) are seen as dangerous. This perhaps reflects the morality of oral folk tales, and reflect feelings (in woodland areas in particular) of how certain mysterious foods are in fact dangerous. Examples:

*In "Hansel and Gretel", the gingerbread house is home to a cannibal witch, leading them to almost be eaten.

*The apple in "Snow White" is also an obvious icon, obviously reflecting the belief of how food from the unfamiliar is dubious.

*The food from the witch's garden in "Rapunzel" is what leads to the kidnapping of the young baby.

Also, becoming food is often the main threat in many fairy-tales. This may be a metaphor for the need for protection in a dangerous world. More examples:

*Joseph Jacobs' version of "The Three Little Pigs" has the first two pigs with the unsturdy houses eaten by the Big Bad Wolf, enforcing the tale's moral that sturdy accommodation is needed in order to live.

*"The Wolf and the Seven Kids" promotes the idea that children should be very weary of strangers, as they may harm them.

*Joel Chandler Harris' stories about Brer Rabbit and friends (based upon African-American folktales) often use plot lines concerning Brer Fox trying to catch and eat Brer Rabbit, only with the bunny getting out of trouble using his wits, therefore promoting being streetwise.

*The Giant in "Jack and the Beanstalk" is shown as having an appetite for men, and on smelling Jack, wishes to eat him despite not knowing where and who he is. The Giant's wealth, contrasting Jack's poverty, perhaps suggests that the upper classes are greedy and want to cause the poor pain for their own gain.

*As Perrault writes at the end of his version of "Little Red Riding Hood" (in which the title character is eaten, and not saved), using being eaten as a metaphor for falling in love with a suspicious person: "Moral: Children, especially attractive, well bred young ladies, should never talk to strangers, for if they should do so, they may well provide dinner for a wolf. I say "wolf," but there are various kinds of wolves. There are also those who are charming, quiet, polite, unassuming, complacent, and sweet, who pursue young women at home and in the streets. And unfortunately, it is these gentle wolves who are the most dangerous ones of all."

Registered User
(7/6/07 12:10 am)

Re: food symbolisms in fairy tales
Just wanted to add the note that I see two sorts of symbolism with regard to food in reading fairy tales - that of the actual food stuffs mentioned (oranges, almonds, gingerbread, meat, etc) whether or not they're actually eaten and the idea of 'consumption/consuming' (and this includes all that cannibalism!).

These articles here on Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel look particularly at the cannibalism contained in each tale.

It would also be interesting to look at what the children in the fairy tales you choose eat/are fed and what that might represent.

Beyond Heidi's recommendations for scholarly resources there are many excellent books on food and their meaning in history - the notes on food and culture could be considered alongside the time period and location (country/province/etc) in which the tale/s you're looking at were written down.

By the way, if you subscribe to Realms of Fantasy Midori's article 'In Praise of the Cook' was also published in the 'Folkroots' section in the Feb 2007 issue. (This magazine is worth getting for that column alone!)

Rosemary Lake
Registered User
(7/9/07 7:45 pm)

Hansel and Gretal
Food is used in several different ways in Hansel and Gretal. There's real food, which the family doesn't have enough of (lack). There's the gingerbread house, fantastic and constructed as a lure, a message to H and G. There's the planned, fantastic, cannibalism, a message of horror to the reader, which doesn't happen (the witch lacks her meat, and the story ends happily).

There's also the bread crumbs: real food, but used as a message, to mark their trail -- till used as real food by the birds, after which the trail lacks a marker. :-)

What seems odd to me is the meal the witch serves H and G: pancakes and fruit. She does it as a deception, a message, but it's a realistic sort of meal, and not described as an illusion. And there's the food she fattens Hansel with, again presumably real food. She seems to have abundance, food and jewels, odd in the middle of a woods in a famine (but jewels carrying the same message of magical abundance from author to an adult reader as the bread/cake house did to H and G).

Registered User
(7/9/07 10:38 pm)

Re: Hansel and Gretal
Note that in many variants, the house is not gingerbread, but just good old plain bread

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