Macquarie University
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Power, place and perspective: exploring subjectivity in twenty-first century fairy-tale screen adaptations

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posted on 2023-01-31, 04:01 authored by Rebekah Ruth Peach

Subjectivity has since the 1990s become a major area of interest in the field of children’s literature. This thesis enters the discussion by examining representations of subjectivity in contemporary screen adaptations of fairy tales. The latter have long been perceived as didactic vehicles that reproduce certain social and cultural values. As social and political discourse evolves, however, classic fairy tales are ‘updated’ to reflect current climates. The thesis thus explores how these fairy tales are being adapted and argues that there is a distinct pattern of tension between tradition and progression both in the portrayal of subjectivities and in the fairy-tale genre itself. Consequently, traditional fairy-tale narratives are broken down into familiar characters, signs, and symbols in order to maintain their cultural authority and relevance for modern readerships and audiences. 

Chapter one examines the function of metanarratives as a core element of fairy-tale genres and focuses, in particular, on the ideological tensions between traditional fairy-tale metanarratives and contemporary discourse in fairy-tale adaptations. Chapter two discusses the Walt Disney Company and its major impact on the fairy-tale genre, with an emphasis on the Disney metanarrative, social interpellation of young audiences, and ‘reboot culture’. Chapter three examines social ecology, cognitive mapping, and diasporic identities in fairy-tale universes; it then uses these to discuss the relationship between place, space, and identity, and how these affect questions of exile and morality in dystopic environments. Chapter four examines conceptions of Eastern subjectivity evidenced in adaptations of East Asian fox spirit folktales; through a focus on interdependence, collectivism, and naïve dialecticism, the chapter explores cultural and political perspectives and difficulties that emerge in conceptions of subjectivity and alterity in East Asia. Centring on the concepts of embodiment and embedment through an extrapolation of the fairy-tale genre, Chapter five applies the concept of a posthuman subjectivity to a comparison of Eastern/Western ‘celestial maiden’ folktale adaptations. This thesis explores subjectivity in fairy-tale screen adaptations, where adaptation not only refers to the textual transformation of the fairy-tale genre, but also illustrates its enduring capacity to navigate cultural change. Ultimately, the project contributes to the academic field of children’s literature, but would also benefit tertiary students of film, media, and education, additionally providing pedagogical approaches for educators of children and adolescents in a school setting. 


Australian Postgraduate Award (APA) scholarship


Table of Contents

Chapter one -- Chapter two -- Chapter three -- Chapter four -- Chapter five – Conclusion – Appendices -- Reference list

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD

Department, Centre or School

Department of English

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Paul Sheehan

Additional Supervisor 1

Sung-Ae Lee


Copyright: The Author Copyright disclaimer:




265 pages

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