Straw Into Gold

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Straw Into Gold -- An Experiment in Open Source Fairy Tales

In many ways, fairy tales are the original open source literature. As tales passed from one generation to the next, material was added and subtracted, to fit the cultural and historical context at hand. However, modern book publishers and filmmakers have attempted to make fairy tales proprietary, by packaging, copyrighting and selling one re-telling as authoritative. In this project, we wanted to re-claim the open source nature of the fairy tale in a modern context.

With new material infused into the body of the story itself, instead of in a new production, as in a remake, we highlight the space left in the original tale for multiple interpretations. With our writing we have focused on what perspectives are left out of the tale as it is recorded, and how we can make this ancient work come to life by adding new voices and possibilities. By encouraging others to continue to remix the work, we are returning the story to the ongoing process of cultural creation from which it originally emerged, while making use of new technologies such as blogging to suggest alternative modes of story telling. As writers, this project also allows us to follow the impulse to continually recreate, resisting the idea that there is a finished project in artwork that is somehow better than the process itself. We look to the open source movement not to see our earlier versions of the story as "buggy," but to value the ongoing changes in the work and the new places it can go when it is not limited to one final production.

Anne had hoped that we might be able to host our version of "Rumpelstiltskin" in the Organization of Transformative Works open-source archive, but that will not go live until summer 2008. Although our work is not fan fiction in the usual sense, particularly because we write directly into the source text instead of creating separate stories drawing on the same sets of characters or settings, it is definitely a transformative work and stands with other artistic explorations into a kind of open source literature.

For our project, we began with translated text of the Brothers Grimm version of "Rumpelstiltskin" that was available on Project Gutenberg. Previous "remakes" of the story include a poem by Anne Sexton and various young adult fiction. As catalogued by this discussion on livejournal, Rumpelstiltskin and other stories have often been retold in service of feminist and queer readings, and just for fun and interest. Yet as far as we know, our project is unique in writing into the source text itself, and in its attempts to make such story writing a collaborative and potentially community building process in itself.

We also found, as we had hoped, that writing into a text in this collaborative form afforded us a uniquely close understanding of the story's inner workings. We believe this model for re-writing as a method of understanding texts might have pedagogical implications for literature studies beyond the fairy tale form. Of course, this in many ways harkens back to Barthes' "Death of the Author," since this project seeks to literalize the idea that all readers are also writing the text, that "the reader is the very space in which are inscribed, without any being lost, all the citations a writing consists of."
  Screenshot of original Project Gutenberg version:
Screenshot of our work in progress:


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