McKinley: Deerskin: Rewritings of fairytales

From: Karen Chan <>
Date: Sat May 30 1998 - 05:12:50 PDT

30th May, 1998. 1:31 a.m.

This is one thing that really fascinates me about Robin McKinley; she can
rewrite fairytales without changing their essential structure or plotlines.
I think she really brings out latent elements of fairytales/folktales that
make you see them in a different light.

With Deerskin, the story is taken from "The Coat of Many Colours" or
"Donkeyskin" or "Alleirluah" (or however you spell it) which appears in
both Grimms and Perrault. Part of the story is actually based around a
"King Lear" motif - you know, the king asks his daughters how much they
love him and Cordelia replies that she does love him but she does not love
him in the way that he seems to want her to love him. We know the story of
"Donkeyskin" - how the queen dies and makes the king promise never to marry
again unless the bride is as beautiful as herself. And the only girl who
fits the bill is, of course, the king's daughter. I love how McKinley
renders this on such an unnatural note - the king and the queen having such
overshadowing presences that they seem both terrible and beautiful.

Anyway, you can see how the incest thing works. And I suppose that the rape
scene was really shocking in that it explicitly said what was not said in
the fairytale - that the father did lust after the daughter and she felt
uncomfortable with the whole notion so she fled. Child abuse or familial
abuse figures quite highly in fairytales - you know, like in Hansel and
Gretel, where the children are left out to die; like Snow White where the
stepmother (who is really only a metaphor for the "real mother") is mean to
her... Terri Windling edited a book called "Armless Maidens" which is a
collection of tales based around the theme of child abuse. Bruno Bettelheim
argues that fairytales work on a psychological level in children so that
they can work through some of these issues unconsciously.

What I want to know is whether there was any real "healing" in "Deerskin".
I mean, at the end there was this sense of... almost... unfulfilment. It
was like she had been violated so badly that it could neve be repaired -
not even by the prince (whose name I've forgotten) who normally symbolises
harmony - the happily-ever-after marriage thing symbolising the restoration
of paradise. I was wondering if McKinley was being realistic by writing
that kind of ending - like she doesn't believe that happy endings are as
neat as they seem, and that the events that Deerskin goes through will take
years to heal, rather than a few simple moments when she and the prince are
united. I guess it was unsatisfying because it did not follow the formula,
but at the same time I think it is a good thing because she points out the
unrealistic aspect of fairytales.

Funny how McKinley has done the fairytales that most closely resemble
"Cinderella" - "Beauty and the Beast" and "Donkeyskin" both contain
elements that appear in "Cinderella", and "Cinderella" is the most
well-loved fairytale of all. I wonder if she will ever rewrite "Cinderella".


Karen Chan ICQ 2293920

Mistic Watcher [Proofreader of Mistic Circle & PIGS Secretary]
Mistic Circle:

"Myth must be kept alive. The people who can keep it alive are the
artists of one kind or another. The function of the artist is the
mythologization of the environment and the world."
(Joseph Campbell)

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Received on Fri May 29 16:13:48 1998

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