Tuesday, November 21, 2017

From the Archives: Marina Warner on the Silence of Women in Fairy Tales

Fairy tales are often accused of portraying negative female stereotypes, encouraging young girls to become passive and silent and obedient to men. 

In one sense this is true-when men such as the brothers Grimm collected fairy tales, they tended not to include stories which existed in folklore that featured strong, clever female heroines, and instead gravitated (however consciously) towards stories with active males and passive females. Not only that, but as Marina Warner cites from Ruth Bottigheimer's analysis of speech patterns in the Grimms, as the Grimms published their later editions, the female heroines used less and less words and the female villains spoke more. Thus girls tend to subconsciously receive the message that to be good and desirable like the female heroines in the stories, they must be quiet.

There are two famous examples of females who aren't simply reserved, but are completely unable to speak--Hans Christian Andersen's Little Mermaid, and the sister from "The Wild Swans" and its variants. 

The Little Mermaid stands in direct contrast to the sea maidens of antiquity, the sirens. Sirens used their voices, beautiful and alluring, to draw men to them and cause their death. Their voices are therefore powerful, and evil. The Little Mermaid gives up her voice willingly for the chance to win the love of a prince and her immortal soul. Now the desire is hers, but it is she who is forsaken. 

The Disney version makes Ariel, in Warner's words, "a fairytale heroine of our time." She knows what she wants (another word count fun fact-the word "want" is spoken by Ariel more than any other verb) and will go through anything to get it, but this time hers is a happy ending. But in this version, according to Warner, "female eloquence, the siren's song, is not presented as fatal any longer, unless it rises in the wrong place and is aimed at the wrong target." The female voice is now powerful like the siren's, but not inherently evil.

The sister in the Wild Swans is silent by choice (in a way)--if she speaks one word before the shirts of nettles are made and placed on her enchanted brothers, they will stay swans forever. In one sense, this can be seen as yet another example of encouraging women to be quiet and submissive, but although she is rewarded for enduring, the silence is clearly meant as a hardship--the happy ending includes a return of her voice. Other tales have forms of silenced heroines as well, such as the heroine from Goose Girl, who gave her word (under pressure) not to tell the truth of her situation to a living being--but she is able to find a clever way for her to reveal the truth anyway.

It's possible that, as women throughout the centuries were frustrated at their own lack of voice within the community and family, they told stories such as "Wild Swans" to express their own frustration. Yet there is also something to be admired in the self control and determination of the heroines. This is Warner's personal memories of reading the Wild Swans, one of her favorite childhood stories: "it still seemed to me to tell a story of female heroism, generosity, staunchness; I had no brothers, but I fantasized, at night, as I waited to go to sleep, that I had, perhaps even as many tall and handsome youths as the girl in the story, and that I would do something magnificent for them that would make them realize I was one of them, as it were, their equal in courage and determination and grace". The actions of the sister are indeed impressive-there are different forms of heroism, not all that are as easy to recognize. 

Fortunately, we are not as constrained by the severe gender expectations of the Victorian times, but that doesn't mean these stories or even these particular versions have to be thrown out and completely replaced with new "girl power" tales. There are times when we all feel silenced-we don't feel like our opinions are being taken seriously at work, we feel overlooked in a certain relationship, etc.--and even today people of many races, faiths, and sexual orientation are still being denied basic rights. It can be encouraging to read stories that give us hope that there will come a time when we will be able to speak again and the truth will be revealed.

Illustrations of Little Mermaid by Margaret Tarrant, Six Swans by Elenore Abbott
Information from Marina Warner's From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and their Tellers

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Fairy Tale Sushi


I'm no sushi expert by any means, but Tony and I do enjoy it every once in a while for a special dinner. We were out for a date and I was thrilled to discover something I had never seen before: a Beauty and the Beast roll! Of course I had to get it.

Most sushi menus will feature a Snow White roll, with snow crab and white tuna, also on the menu above. I liked that this restaurant also topped it with "cherry kiss cream" which I don't think is usually part of the description.

I thought that the BATB roll would be only a local specialty but it turns out there's a somewhat standard recipe for it-this picture is from a restaurant in Orlando.

I did find one restaurant, Thelonious Monkfish, that has a specialty fairy tale sushi roll section. It's fun, and although mostly random, you can see some connections between the tale and the ingredients. The menu even includes little descriptions/snippets of the tales too. Fairy tale menu below.

Has anyone else come across any fairy tale rolls?

Sleeping Beauty Roll $18.95

Like Princess Aurora asleep in her chamber waiting to be woken with a kiss, this blonde roll is prepared with white tuna (escolar)*, crushed pineapple + tempura flakes wrapped in yellow soy paper + sushi rice, draped with salmon, sliced ripe mango + drizzled with refreshing pineapple-lime mayo. (Ten pieces.)

Red Riding Hood Roll $18.95

Ambling through the dark forest with innocence as her only weapon, she leaves the trodden path and encounters the blackest, hungriest of wolves. Our roll is reminiscent of this ancient folk tale: spicy tuna, shrimp tempura + cucumber ensconced in sushi rice + green soy paper, draped with pared scallop + strawberry medallions, topped with black tobiko + drizzled with red berry coulis. (Ten Pieces.)

The Frog Prince Roll $18.95

In one version, the princess flings the frog against a stone wall; in another, her kiss precipitates its transmogrification into prince; but what to do if your prince is actually a frog and not the other way around? The interior:salmon, mango + tempura crunch; the exterior:layered with avocado + crowned with spicy snow crab + tobiko salad.

The Snow Queen Roll $16.95

Benumbed & blue in the ice palace, Kay feels nothing, for his heart’s a lump of ice; only Gerda’s tears can warm his frozen heart. Our roll evokes childhood memories of grandmother’s tales. Shiitake, green apple, cukes & asparagus wrapped in seaweed & rice, draped with young coconut meat, drizzled with pineapple mayo, garnished with coconut flakes. (8 pieces)

The Rumpelstiltskin Roll $18.95

Three times, he spun straw into gold, then awaited his prize. Under a coverlet of dark branches, round a smoky fire he danced a jig. “Today I brew, tomorrow I bake; then the Prince child I will take; for no one knows my little game: that Rumpelstiltskin is my name!”Inside: wok-roasted balsamic-glazed shiitake,yellowtail, asparagus tempura + green apple. Outside: fresh tuna, drizzled with wasabi mayo; topped with spring onion confetti; crowned with crispy yu mein noodles.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Muggle Fairy Tales are Mad

If you have time you should check out Muggle Fairy Tales are Mad by Meltha. I heard about these on Megan Kearney's BATB tumblr. They're fan fiction imagining Hermione telling Ron and Harry Muggle Fairy tales as a way to pass the time during their search for Horcruxes in the seventh book. It's fun for fans of Harry Potter, but also gives us a way to imagine hearing our own classic fairy tales for the first time. Hermione confuses the different versions, combining Disney, Perrault and/or Grimm, which is natural for most people who piece together what they've heard over time, but it's really Ron's reactions which make these so funny yet thought provoking. Here's an exerpt from the Cinderella story:

“Just then, though, who should appear but her fairy godmother.” 
 “Her what?” Ron said in disbelief. 
 “Her fairy godmother,” Hermione repeated. 
 “Who in their right mind would pick a fairy as a godmother? Don’t they know how dangerous those things are?” Ron said. “I mean, really, why not just give her a banshee godmother; they’re about as deadly.” 
 “Muggles think of fairies differently,” Hermione explained. “They don’t really understand them.” 
 “Yeah,” Harry chimed in. “They think they sneak into the house in the middle of the night and swap kids’ fallen-out teeth with money.” 
 “Now there’s a comforting image: one of the fae walking in and stealing body parts. Don’t they know how much trouble giving a magical being a body part can lead to?” Ron said, still flabbergasted. “Everyone knows that!” 
 “Well, Muggles don’t,” Hermione said. “Besides, the Tooth Fairy is something only children believe in. Mostly Muggles just think of fairies as tiny, cute, pudgy things with wings to put on greeting cards with flowers and bunnies.” 
 “There really ought to be a public service campaign for them, then,” Ron said pityingly. “So how’d Cinderella’s Muggle mum and dad even know a fairy to make a godmother to begin with?” 
 “Well, I… I don’t know. They never really explain how she wound up with a fairy as a godmother,” Hermione said, tilting her head to one side in consideration. “It is sort of an odd loose end to leave, isn’t it?” 
 “No kidding,” Ron agreed. “Hermione, no offense, but this is a really weird story.”
Rita Fetisov

Monday, October 30, 2017

Witches and Cats

Another post that comes to you courtesy of Surlalune and her latest collection, Puss in Boots and Other Cat Tales From Around the World. I have to say, of all her books this one might have interested me the least, because I'm not especially a cat person, but it's ended up being one of my favorites because of all the variety! There are so many tale types represented here, many of which I wasn't very familiar with before.

I knew I had to read some of the tales about cats and witches for Halloween! Several of the stories fit into the category, Migratory Legend 3055: The Witch That Was Hurt. They involve, in this case, a cat or group of cats that terrorize some location-but when someone manages to protect themselves and hurt a cat they away. Later, a local woman is found to have the same injury that was given to the cat, and it is thus revealed that the woman was a witch, in her cat form.  Sometimes the injury itself deprives the witch of her powers, other times she is killed. They're very entertaining stories, although it's always extra chilling to know that tales about witches were sometimes believed to be true, and that accusations of witchcraft led to many people losing their lives. I did notice that in a couple of these tales, the person who disenchants the witches are themselves practitioners of magical arts, so at least in some people's minds, there were good uses of magic as well as bad.

 There is a Russian tale, "The Witch," that is also a form of "Hansel and Gretel." The children are beaten and half starved by their cruel stepmother, who then sends them to visit her granny in the woods. The sister suggests that they first visit their own grandmother.

Their grandmother knows they are being sent to the witch in the woods (but for some reason doesn't offer to just let the children live with her). She does give them valuable advice: be civil and kind to everyone, and don't touch a crumb  belonging to anyone else. She gave them some food and sent them off to the witch.

This witch doesn't deceive the children like the Grimms' does-she tells them right away that if she isn't pleased with their work she will fry them in the oven, and then gives them impossible tasks. But there are animals in the house-mice, a cat, and a dog, and when the animals ask for food, the children give them the little food they had from their grandmother. In this way they are a stark contrast to Hansel and Gretel, who dig in to someone else's house. The children in this story even go above and beyond the advice from their grandmother-rather than just not taking what doesn't belong to them, they give away what does. I don't agree with the interpretation that Hansel and Gretel's actions means they are selfish, because the children were literally starving (and if you make your house from gingerbread it's asking to get eaten-by animals if nothing else) but I also like these tales that encourage selfless giving because I personally need reminders to be more generous myself.

Anyway, the animals then help the children with their impossible tasks, and gave them magical gifts that would help them escape. When the witch later demands to know why her animals let the children get away, they respond with "I have served you all these years and you never gave me so much as a hard crust, but the children gave me their own bread/ham/etc."

The witch pursues the children on her broomstick, but the magical objects from the animals block her progress and the witch eventually gives up and goes home. 

The ending of this tale is very satisfying compared to most tales of evil stepmothers and silent fathers:

"But the twins ran straight on till they reached their own home. Then they told their father all that they had suffered, and he was so angry with their stepmother that he drove her out of the house, and never let her return; but he and the children lived happily together; and he took care of them himself, and never let a stranger come near them."

Illustrations by Arthur Rackham

Monday, October 16, 2017

Recipe For Murder

Usually a fairy tale cookbook is a fun way to get kids to experience fairy tales with multiple learning styles, but this cookbook is clearly aimed for more mature audiences. Recipe for Murder: Frightfully Good Food Inspired by Fiction, by Esterelle Payany and illustrations by Jean-Francois Martin, features recipes inspired by morbid parts of literature, not just fairy tales. It features a recipe for Pigs in a Blanket inspired by "Three Little Pigs" and of course, the poisoned apple from Snow White.


Monday, October 9, 2017

Disney's 2017 BATB


Guess what I finally saw...?

So now the live action Beauty and the Beast is on Netflix (any major Disney film is usually available on Netflix within a few months). I know this movie was reviewed a ton back in March and I'm not sure if I'll be adding anything new. And I can never be unbiased about an adaptation of the Disney classic...it was my favorite movie as a child, I could probably quote the whole movie mostly accurately (but I've never tried to go from start to finish). It was my comfort movie-the one I watched when I was sick and always made me feel better. So really nothing could surpass the classic for this nostalgic girl...

But in the words of a friend, "It made me want to watch the cartoon." (To be fair, most of my friends really liked the new film.) Not that it was all bad, in fact I liked several of the changes they made. Biggest improvement by far was LeFou, who went from being the stock dumb sidekick (who wasn't even that funny, truthfully) to what I found to be the most likable character, funny and with more depth. And honestly...I don't know that I would have picked up the fact that he was gay on the initial viewing if everyone didn't make such a huge deal about it, it was so subtle. We (my husband Tony and I) also liked Maurice better, more realistic than the comically short, bumbling old man.

But the rest of the characters just...weren't that likable to me. One of the great tragedies of the film was how even excellent actors seemed to make the classic characters fall flat. Normally I would say Emma Thompson can do no wrong...but was it just me or was her accent really weird? And Ian McKellen's Cogsworth grew on me a little towards the end but I still wasn't crazy about him. He was much darker...the former Cogsworth was delighted to take Belle on a tour of the castle her first night there, complete with cheesy puns. This one wanted her to stay in her cell the first night in the castle. And I won't even get started on Lumiere...

But in order to make a BATB story work, you need a great Belle, a great Beast, and good chemistry. Normally I don't mind Emma Watson as an actress, but from her artificial sounding singing voice to her acting coming across as very forced in general, this was her most distracting performance I've seen since the first Harry Potter movies.

Then there's the writing too...the scenes with the villagers just seemed so random. Why are they so bitter about women reading? I'm no expert in French history circa the 18th century, but wasn't that not really a time period in which reading women were persecuted? Why did their dumping of her laundry on the street have barely any reaction from Belle? And if they're so unreasonable about reading, why were they all of a sudden much more civil when Maurice claimed Gaston, their hero, tried to kill him?

And speaking of Gaston-he was initally not really that bad of a character. A little shallow maybe, but from what we saw, he hardly seemed to warrant Belle's rude rejections. The cartoon Belle's "I'm sorry Gaston, but...I just don't deserve you!" was so clever yet a polite turn down, because that Gaston would never in a million years imagine she meant she was too good for him. And no matter how arrogant someone is, it still hurts to be turned down. Their interactions just reflected poorly on Belle's character and not Gaston's. Later, his cruel murderous actions seemed random and not as believable.

I think Dan Stevens did fine as the Beast...it was so hard to tell underneath all the unnecessary CGI!

There were some subtle changes I enjoyed, like when Beast asks if Belle is happy and instead of "Yes...(moodily stares off into distance)" she replies, "Can anyone be happy if they're not free?". And then props to this Beast for then being the one to realize she might miss her father. And that scene, borrowed from the musical, where the objects are one by one turning into inanimate objects...so haunting! It was nice that the happy ending included a reuniting of villagers with the cast from the castle. Oh, and the rose request from the classic fairy tale! And the super subtle nod to McKinley (I think) with the Beast meeting Philippe. And...

There are so many little things I could mention but I feel like that was part of the problem. So many things here and there introduced but not fully developed. Plot holes from the original film were filled in but I feel like it left just as many questions. I think I'm beginning to realize that fairy tales, especially BATB, are really not well suited for film. They almost need the length and depth of a novel or tv show to fully get into backstories, side characters, and really develop such an unlikely romance realistically and steer away from Stockholm Syndrome. Or, it needs the beautiful simplicity of the bare bones classic fairy tale or children's picture book. (Aside from making me want to rewatch the cartoon, I also felt the urge to reread Robin McKinley's Beauty and my favorite picture book by Max Eilenberg and Angela Barrett).

Curious to see what you all thought!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Cinderella Pumpkins, Part VIII

Pumpkin decorating inspiration time!






I had thought, since I always feature Cinderella's carriage, maybe I could try to find other fairy tale inspired pumpkins. Turns out if you want non-Disney fairy tale carving ideas, they're pretty hard to come by! I did find this one: (Share a link in the comments if you know of other great fairy tale pumpkin ideas!)

Previous years:

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Whooping Cough Wolves

Talk about effective use of fairy tale imagery-this ad definitely caught my attention and is still a little disturbing to look at. This is a Walgreens ad in Family Circle magazine

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

From the Archives: Swan Lake and Gender Perceptions


The Royal Ballet 


Though the plot of the ballet Swan Lake is pulled very loosely from a few existing tales, it was basically created for the ballet itself. Given that it reflected the values of a few men in 1895, the gender roles in the ballet are very cliche. In fact, the last time I saw the ballet I found myself bored with Odette and Siegfried's characters-Siegfried spends the vast majority of his time looking perplexed, or trying to find Odette, who looks scared and woeful the whole time. My favorite character was Odile, who has not only the flashiest moves but at least looks like she enjoys dancing.

From this site, by Aaron Green:

"We do know that Tchaikovsky had much control over the stories content. He and his colleagues both agreed that the swan represented womanhood in its purest form. The stories and legends of swan-maidens date as far back as ancient Greece; when the Greek god Apollos was born, flying swans circled above their heads. Legends of swan maidens can also be found in The Tales of the Thousand and One Nights, Sweet Mikhail Ivanovich the Rover and The Legend of the Children of Lir. "

So I guess according to Tchaikovsky and his colleagues, "womanhood in its purest form" is a fragile and powerless creature, with no real personality or depth, defined by being a victim (Ironically, Tchaikovsky was a pretty fragile creature himself-more on that here.)

This view of women is frowned upon by most people in Western culture today. The ballet has been reinterpreted by Matthew Bourne with a corps of male swans, challenging preconceived notions (this is the production Billy Elliot stars in, if you saw the movie). Bourne said, "The idea of a male swan makes complete sense to me. The strength, the beauty, the enormous wingspan of these creatures suggests to the musculature of a male dancer more readily than a ballerina in her white tutu." It's true that the power of the male dancer is extremely impressive-while the female can acheive the affect of defying gravity by dancing en pointe, the male can do so simply by the strength of his jumps, seeming to linger in the air for longer than humanly possible.

Then of course there's the Mercedes Lackey novel, Black Swan, which I've mentioned multiple times before, but I really prefer Lackey's compelling characters. Though the prisoners of Von Rothbart are still victims, Lackey's females have depth and dimension and her unique take on Odile's character is just wonderful.

The original ballet ended tragically, and each production comes up with its own. I think happy endings are the most prevalent these days (ballet people out there, correct me if I'm wrong!). Although, listening to the music-the famous minor theme is major at the end, it seems hard to believe it could accompany the death of the two main characters...

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Around the Web

I had never seen some of these Arthur Rackham silhouettes for Cinderella before! Just gorgeous, but also humorous-that poor mouse's expression! Via Pook Press

Fairy Tale Cannibals-fascinating read at Writing In Margins!
Gustav Dore

This post by Jeana Jorgensen clarifies the difference between a version and a variant of a folktale (or other form of folklore). I'm sure I've misused those terms before and probably will again in the future but I will try to use them correctly! Jorgensen studied folklore under Alan Dundes (!!). I wasn't familiar with her blog before, but I can't wait to read more of her FolkloreThursday posts.