Feminist Fairy Tale Narratives in Rowling's ”Tales of Beedle the Bard"
Much work has been done on J.K. Rowling's treatment and portrayal of female characters as either feminist or not feminist within the Harry Potter canon. Hermione Granger, Molly Weasley, and Minerva McGonnagall are just a few of the characters that scholars and fans alike have discussed at length in regards to feminist thought. In the end, the answer to whether Rowling should be considered a feminist writer or not is inconclusive. However, there has been little to no work done regarding Rowling's supplemental Harry Potter texts such as Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Quidditch Through the Ages, and particularly The Tales of Beedle the Bard. Using the traditional fairy tale formula and motifs, Rowling showcases a new possibility for the function and purpose of the female character similar to that which Mimi Gladstein, notes: In the world Rowling has created, sex is, as it should be, irrelevant to the question of one's moral fiber… Each character is judged individually by what kind of person he or she is … (59) This paper argues that Rowling has taken the traditional fairy tale narrative and rewritten many of the tales in The Tales of Beedle the Bard, allowing for the women to take the place alongside the hero, and not to replace the patriarchy with matriarchy, but to join the two. Specifically, the tales that this paper will address are the ones where the females truly shine: "The Tale of Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump" and "The Fountain of Fair Fortune." Rowling's inclusion of these "feminist fairy tales" in Beedle the Bard are unique because they are presented alongside the more "traditional" patriarchal fairy tales, allowing for the heroines to appear more natural and not so blatant as those fairy tales that have been turned on end to become specifically feminist; the tales that "are transformed to indicate the necessity for gender rearrangement" (Zipes 14). While there is nothing seemingly wrong with these specific feminist fairy tales, they do suggest a separation, a type of literary gender inequality. In Rowling's case, the presentation of "Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump" and "The Fountain of Fairy Fortune" amongst the more traditional fairy tales suggests both a literary and gender equality. While The Tales of Beedle the Bard have presented new tales for fans mourning the finality of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, it has also become far more than a pacifier. Similar to Dumbledore's hopes for Hermione's bequeathed copy of the tales, we as the Harry Potter scholars and fans should, too, find "[The Tales of Beedle the Bard] entertaining and instructive" (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 126). "Instructive" is the key word in Dumbledore's phrase; Rowling's tales not only offer another layer to the drama of Harry Potter, but present a new and challenged way of perceiving the female character within the traditional outline of fairy tales, perhaps paving the way for future fairy tales with ground-breaking heroines, not instead of, but amongst heroes.
Brooke Hollis has completed a BA in English at Lyon College in Batesville, Arkansas and has taken graduate level courses at Southeast Missouri State University. Currently she is a candidate for a master's degree in Children's Literature at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas where she also teaches Expository Writing. Her particular academic interests lie in the retellings of fairy tales and myths, historical children's books, and the recent rise in graphic novels. She has a great interest in Scottish culture and folklore and enjoys the fantasy genre; particularly, her favorite stories include The Harry Potter series, The Percy Jackson books, The Lord of the Rings, and The Chronicles of Narnia. While not reading or writing, Brooke enjoys playing her Celtic harp and teaching Highland Dance.