Fairy tales are an international pastime; they have been an integral part of millions upon millions of childhoods for centuries. Since their creation, these stories have remained pretty much the same (except if you consider the fact that in the original Cinderella the evil stepsisters cut off their toes to fit the famous glass slipper). Indeed, most fairy tales haven’t advanced dramatically to embrace social, cultural, economic, or scientific advancement. We wanted to ask the question: what would happen if the Brothers Grimm lived now? What would their fairy tales look like, or how would they change, in this postmodern age? More, what would some traditional fairy tales look like in a world chock-full of modern science?
Jack and the Beanstalk
Let’s start with “Jack and the Beanstalk.” This fairy tale revolves around the protagonist Jack, a poor young man who wishes to marry a rich man’s daughter. In his desperation, he goes to the market and sells his only cow for a handful of what a seller claims are “magic” beans. When he returns home, the beans do nothing and in frustration Jack throws them on the ground. However, overnight, while Jack sleeps, the beans begin to grow in the soil, producing an enormous beanstalk. Jack wakes up and decides to climb the beanstalk. When he reaches the top, he finds a castle—but it is owned by a giant. Then comes the famous “Fee-fi-fo-fum!”chant, and well, the rest you know; after some struggle, Jack ends up killing the giant, stealing his gold, and living happily ever after with his rich bride.
It’s time to take this story up to the twenty-first century. First of all, Jack might not need magic beans anymore. Scientists have long been able to genetically modify (GM) foods and plants by introducing specific changes to their DNA. While this is often done for the purposes of pest or virus resistance, some GM foods are specifically tampered simply to increase their size. Who knows, maybe scientists, through lab work, could create a giant beanstalk like the one in this fairy tale. In addition to taking GMs into account, modern science could alter “Jack in the Beanstalk” in other ways. For instance, some larger humans have now been clinically diagnosed with Acromegaly, or Giganticism, a syndrome in which one’s anterior pituitary gland produces too much growth hormone. Real-life persons afflicted with Acromegaly were Andre the Giant, and even, speculatively, Abraham Lincoln. Now, these people can treat their condition and shrink their pituitary gland—thus decreasing the amount of growth hormone dispersed—with surgery, medicines, and radiation therapy. In sum, the giant of this fairy tale wouldn’t even need to be a giant, and would likely be able to better see and chase Jack. In the end, science may have facilitated a more fair fight.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
The tale of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” would dramatically change with the help of one of the most controversial developments in modern medicine: plastic surgery. The evil witch in this tale is murderously upset when the magic mirror on the wall declares another woman, Snow White, fairer than she. However, now with Botox or other surgeries, the evil witch could conceivably be the “fairest one of all”—even fairer than a younger girl. Surely there have been many botched plastic surgeries, and some fair maidens actually look worse after they go under the needle and knife, but there are many examples to the contrary. For instance, Sophia Loren or Helen Miren, in their sixties and seventies are as fetching as ever, and could probably give Snow White a run for her money. Although we don’t have any confirmation, Botox and/or surgery may be involved in preserving these beauties.
Another tale having to do with physical appearance that would change dramatically should modern science rear its head is “Sleeping Beauty.” The wicked fairy in this story is similarly jealous of the attention that a young woman garners. Here, Botox or cosmetic surgery could have prevented a death plot. The wicked fairy creates an elaborate plan in which the beautiful young protagonist will die when she pricks her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel. However, another good fairy creates a spell that will instead cause her, instead of dying, to fall into a deep, 100-year sleep. Conversely, then again, with the development of euthanasia, and various substances that ensure the near-instant death (whether voluntary or not) of persons, the wicked fairy could have easily counteracted the good fairy’s spell. Poor Sleeping Beauty!
Beauty and the Beast
Modern science, when inserted into the fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast,” could perhaps prevent the most heartache. In the Disneyfied tale, a selfish prince turns away an ugly old lady who comes to his palace asking for shelter. When he refuses her, she becomes a beautiful enchantress, and turns him into a hideous beast, unrecognizable to the outside world. If the Beast were to live today and not in medieval or pre-modern France, he could have fiddled with stem cells to, in essence, “unbeast” himself. Then again, hormone therapy could also help the Beast; he could try out anti-hair growth hormones. He could even try hair growth medicines, and make everyone in his secluded castle as hairy as he. Of course, if this were to happen, the heroine of the story may never fall in love with the Beast who is actually a prince. And more importantly, the Prince may never fully understand that one should never judge a book by its cover.
There are many more fairy tales that would change should they be introduced to our times’ modern technology and scientific innovations. What would “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” look like in a world with appetite suppressants? Or how would “The Emperor’s New Clothes” end now that there are now drugs that can help treat hallucinations? Try to think of some of your own!