- Beyond Adaptation: Essays on Radical Transformations of Original Works
As the title of this collection suggests, the editors and contributors have attempted to broaden the understanding of adaptation and, in doing so, challenge the ways that texts are read, reread, and retold. Using the more fluid term transformation to link original stories to their various retellings is one of the appeals of this collection, but it is also one of its limits. In their introduction, the editors delineate between terms—transformation, adaptation, intertextuality, revisions, and so on—and speak to the "transformative" possibilities of these definitions overlapping. At times it feels like these words are simply interchangeable, and the text becomes lost in the rhetoric. For some of the essays, [End Page 385] however, the fluidity of the term becomes more useful because it allows for individual authors to interpret transformation within their own disciplines—to "transform" transformation. This is particularly true of the many chapters that discuss fairy tales ("Mulan," "Beauty and the Beast," "The Little Mermaid," "Bluebeard," "Snow White") and is one of the many strengths of this collection.
In their introduction, Phyllis Frus and Christy Williams begin by defining transformation as a "text that reworks an older story or stories, making a transformation very much like an adaptation" (3). Like their analogy of a caterpillar transforming to a butterfly, transformations move beyond adaptations and "transform the source text into something new that works independently of its source" (3). Transformations may not be obvious references to original texts as adaptations are, but, instead, allow for more flexibility and interpretive possibilities with the source text.
This concept is a refreshing way to look at how certain stories are rewritten, espe cially in relation to intertextuality and other, earlier transformations. The editors note that this type of scholarship has already been taking place in fairytale and folklore studies. In particular, fairy-tale scholarship offers certain questions: Why this text? Why now? What is the appeal in retelling this story in this way? These are questions that many of the authors in this collection also ask.
For the chapters on fairy tales, transformation is particularly effective by not simply transforming the texts, but by offering the disciplines or scholarship transformative possibilities. Stella Bolaki's chapter on four retellings of "Snow White" (Angela Carter, Anne Sexton, Olga Brouhmas, Emma Donoghue) does not offer anything new about these texts, but it does discuss the importance of feminist transformations—not simply the writing of feminist versions of old tales, but how these transformations are understood as feminist and what revisiting them can tell us about the ever-changing nature of feminism itself. These stories, then, do not just offer us subversions of limiting representations of women in fairy tales; they also offer us revisions of the feminist discourses that frame our analysis of these works: feminist transformations become transformations of feminism.
Mark DiPaulo's essay on "Beauty and the Beast" laments the transformation of Belle from a feminist character to one of the mass-marketed figures in the Disney Princess line. Although I disagree with DiPaulo's assessment of Belle as a feminist and with the film as taking up a 1990s resurgence of feminism, his discussion of the transformation of Belle into a commodity that undermines the strength and intelligence that many see in Belle is important. While DiPaulo does acknowledge that many feminist fairy-tale scholars would disagree with his interpretation of any Disney character as a feminist, he makes good points about the pervasiveness of this type of transformation. Whatever we may think of Belle as a character, or whether or not we agree with DiPaulo's [End Page 386] assertion that the commodification of Belle is Disney's own backlash against Linda Woolverton's feminist message, DiPaulo's discussion of the "omnipresence" of the Disney Princesses as an image and an ideal sold to young girls is a reminder that transformations are not always positive. It is also a reminder of the power of fairy tales as cultural knowledge and of the appeal...