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The Changeover, feminism and fairy tales

September 14, 2015

Adam Berkin once wrote an article explaining the links he saw between Margaret Mahy’s The Changeover: A Supernatural Romance and traditional fairy tales. In this article, he claimed:

The Changeover is a stepping stone to a feminist literary awareness.” (p.250)

“By using the framework of “Sleeping Beauty” within her otherwise contemporary and realistically depicted novel, Mahy draws attention to the narrow-minded and anachronistic stereotypes of the weak, innocent female and the heroic, strong, and powerful male that this particular fairy tale and fairy tales in general perpetuate. She encourages the reader to question the use and meaning of the mythic images of “Sleeping Beauty” through her dialogue, and she poses alternatives through her symbolism.” (p.245)

Berkin points out the many references to fairy tales that can be found in this text as well as the numerous occasions in which critical literacy (of fairy tales, women’s magazines etc) is alluded to by the characters themselves. It’s an interesting discussion, though written 25 years ago and perhaps a little focused on putting the text to didactic purposes. That said, I think Berkin right to highlight that “throughout the novel Mahy experiments with gender roles and sometimes reverses them.” (p.250) (a point he goes on to provide evidence for and discuss).

One thing I particularly found interesting in Berkin’s discussion was his highlighting of the fact that Mahy portrays multiple experiences of sleep in this text (p.249). I hadn’t ever noticed that, but it’s true; sleep is not to be understood in singular terms when reading The Changeover. On this note, he also observes that “In Mahy’s adaptation, sleep is important only because it presupposes an awakening.” (p.249) It’s an interesting point!

Ref: Adam Berkin (1990) “I Woke Myself”: The Changeover as a Modern Adaptation of “Sleeping Beauty” Children’s Literature in Education 21(4), pp.245-251

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