Sara Cleto and Brittany Warman (Photo: Amy Parrish)
A lonely, overgrown castle sits abandoned in a dark wood. Lost to the ravages of time, its ruins are covered in menacing vines and thorns. Travelers who stumble upon it might glimpse—or fear they glimpse—ghostly, motionless figures inside. It is whispered that the tallest tower contains a beautiful princess, the rose among the thorns, trapped in dreams from which only a foretold love may wake her.
It is easy to believe that this story is taken from an old Gothic novel, a long tome full of melodramatic plot twists, hidden doorways, dashing criminals, and fainting women. Instead, of course, it describes the “Sleeping Beauty” fairy tale, which, when seen through the unconventional lens of the Gothic aesthetic, reveals itself to be a story of magic and terror quite similar to our greatest Gothic masterpieces. Gothic literature and the fairy tale are, in fact, much more closely related than one might expect. While it’s common to think of fairy tales as frothy, simple stories for children, they can be profoundly uncanny, spectral, even transgressive—all words linked to the Gothic.
Folklorists Sara Cleto and Brittany Warman explore the connection between these two seemingly disparate literary modes. Discover just how much fairy tales and the Gothic have in common, looking at traditional fairy tales full of ghosts, family secrets, and monsters; the high Gothic novels of the 1800s so dependent on fairy-tale structures, allusions, and intertexts; and contemporary fairy tales retold in ways that highlight their Gothic connections. The difference between a princess and a vampire or a big bad wolf and a lecherous tyrant may not be as great as you think.
Cleto and Warman are former instructors of folklore and literature at Ohio State University and cofounders of the Carterhaugh School of Folklore and the Fantastic.