“Understanding the Fairy Tale” is a course that challenges students to look at classic tales like Little Red Riding Hood through a feminist lens or see Cinderella through a sociopolitical lens and even analyze Sleeping Beauty through a psychoanalytic lens.
Donald Haase, a German professor, created the Wayne State class in the early 1990s. Since then, WSU has had a well-known group of professors from various fine, performing and communications arts majors who teach and research fairy tales.
Among these professors is Anne Duggan, department chair of Classical and Modern Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, who was the first to continue teaching the class following Haase. Duggan said the course allows students to deeply examine common fairy tales.
“I think one of the goals is to look at something critically that we take for granted and see that fairy tales have a history,” Duggan said. “The same fairy tale can mean something different in different contexts, and that different fairy tales can take different kinds of forms.”
Duggan said she had the most fun teaching “Understanding the Fairy Tale” than any other class at WSU because the students are more familiar with the content than they are in her typical classes.
“I think sometimes when I teach literature with a big L, students are kind of intimidated, but when I teach literature with fairy tales the students come up with awesome papers and awesome comparative works,” Duggan said. “I think part of it is because they’re less intimidated by it. Even though they’re doing the same thing, they’re just doing it with texts they already know."
Eventually, the course was handed to Julie Koehler, a lecturer of German and Slavic studies, who now teaches it. The class is cross-listed as a French and German course, but available for all majors to take. It also fulfills the Philosophy and Letters credit.
“For me, the purpose of the class is to blow people’s minds,” Koehler said. “Like when you come into the class, you think you know what Little Red Riding hood is and then it’s really something totally bigger, and different and more complex.”
The professors and graduate students who focus in fairy tales and folklore at WSU are well-known around the country. They attend conferences at various universities with other folklorists and researchers, and this upcoming August, they are holding a conference at WSU.
Wayne State is also known around the world for “Marvels and Tales,” a journal started at the University of Colorado and acquired by Haase in the 1990s here at WSU.
Duggan now edits the biannual journal, which is printed through the Wayne State University Press, which prints a fairy tale series.
"'Marvels and Tales' has articles on film, media, and we’ve had special issues on television in fairy tales,” Duggan said. “We really want 'Marvels and Tales' to represent a wide variety of traditions.”
In the future, Duggan and Koehler would like to expand the program and make the subject more accessible to study. They are looking into adding a fairy tale and folklore minor, an Italian fairy tale course and a graduate class for fairy tale studies. The fairy tale program is still growing, having recently added a course for next fall, RUS 2991, which explores Russian and Slavic fairy tales.
“We get people who contact us and they’re like, ‘Oh, I wan do a degree there in fairy tales,’ and we don’t have a program here to make that possible... You can work with people who do it but it’s not the same," Koehler said.