Thursday, May 5, 2016

Lives of the Writers of BATB Stories

"Beauty and the Beast" emerged from a long line of Animal Bridegroom tales in France around the 1700s. Some sources credit Madame de Beaumont as the author of the tale, but her version is heavily influenced by other stories that preceded her. In a tale that revolves around marriage ideals, it's a story that can be very personal, and the lives of the authors influenced their versions of the classic fairy tale.

1696-1698- Marie-Catherine d'Aulnoy's The Ram

Beauty and the Beast Image 3 by DulacAt the young age of 15, d'Aulnoy was married off to a man notorious for a reputation as a gambler and extramarital lover. She took some lovers on the side herself, but it was a very unhappy marriage. d'Aulnoy attempted, later in life, to have her husband hung for high treason, but the attempt failed; her husband retaliated by charging herself and her lover. She fled to Paris where she became a successful writer.

d'Aulnoy wrote several fairy tales, but her Animal Bridegroom tale, "The Ram," ends tragically, with the Beast figure/Ram dying of heartache just outside of the castle gates, where his wife was attending his sister's wedding. d'Aulnoy wrote other stories with happier endings, but it's interesting that her attempt at killing her actual husband found outlet in this story. She certainly wasn't naive about what could happen in marriage when she penned her version of this romantic line of fairy tales.

1712-1714-Jean-Paul Bignon's Princess Zeineb and King Leopard

Beauty and the Beast Image 4 by Dulac
Jean-Paul Bignon was a priest and a scholar. Perhaps not surprisingly, the emphasis in his Animal Bridegroom tale seemed to be on sexual restraint; King Leopard spends every night in bed with Princess Zeineb but does not touch her, while the villains attempt to have one night stands (but are hypnotized by Princess Zeineb into doing monotonous tasks through the night instead-although the other "morals" in this tale seem a little more arbitrary, that scene is very humorous).

Jack Zipes estimates that it was very likely Villeneuve knew this story. Interestingly, in her version, there's an episode that was removed later by Beaumont, in which after Beauty accepts the Beast's proposal, there's basically a repeat of the initial bedroom scene from Princess Zeineb-the Beast comes in to bed, lies down, but makes no move.

1740-Madame de Villeneuve's "Beauty and the Beast"

It's difficult to find much information on Villeneuve, even the very excellent books exploring the tradition of Beauty and the Beast by Betsy Hearne and Jerry Griswold gloss over her life and version of the tale and instead focus on Beaumont, which is a shame in my opinion.  Villeneuve certainly borrowed from tales like the ones above, but she clearly created the story we know of today as Beauty and the Beast, so knowing more about her would seem to shed more light on the tale.

Beauty and the Beast Image 5 by DulacVilleneuve was married at 21 but requested a separation after only 6 months, because her husband was squandering all of their wealth. Just a few years later, at the age of 26, she was widowed. She lost her fortune and had to work for a living. She lived with a boyfriend for the rest of her life and worked as a writer, a lifestyle virtually unheard of for the time.

Her version of the story set up the essential details we associate with the BATB tradition, with lengthy descriptions of what went on in the castle and detailed backstories included for the Beast and Beauty that tie together all the details. One emphasis of the tale was on marrying for kindness and not looks, wit, or class. Having experienced two significant relationships, Villeneuve had more perspective on what helped relationships work better in the long run-character and equality.

1756- Madame LePrince de Beaumont's "Beauty and the Beast"

Beaumont, like Beauty in her tale, was very well educated. She (like the women above) also entered into an arranged marriage with a womanizing man, and the marriage was annulled after 2 years. Beaumont moved to England and became a governess, also writing more than 70 books. At the age of 51 she returned to France and remarried, this time resulting in a happy marriage.

Beaumont simplified Villeneuve's longer story to create the beloved classic (without giving any credit to Villeneuve, incidentally). Her version (as well as Villeneuve's) empowered the female to have choice in marriage, yet did not go to the extreme of most French salon writers whose characters were swept up in passion and love at first sight (more on this in my post Beaumont on Arranged Marriages).

Beauty and the Beast Image 7 by Dulac
And of course, there are countless other tale tellers and audiences, whose life details we will never really know. How interesting, though, that in the French fairy tale salon period, perhaps the most influential versions of BATB were written by those on the outside of happy marriages (for most of their lives). Their stories contributed to the then-new idea of marrying for love and not just for social standing, and helped to make one of the most female empowered fairy tales that remains well known today.

Jerry Griswold, "The Meanings of Beauty and the Beast: a Handbook"
Jack Zipes, "Beauties, Beasts, and Enchantments: Classic French Fairy Tales"
Wikipedia article on Villeneuve

Illustrations by Edmund Dulac

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Punchkin: An Indian Rapunzel Tale

This story from India is found in Surlalune's Rapunzel Tales From Around the World Collection, although it reads like an epic mashup of Cinderella, Snow White, and Rapunzel, with some fun twists!


Once there was a Raja with seven daughters,but the youngest, Balna, was more clever than the rest. Their mother had died, so the sisters cooked the dinner.

Every evening, a widow and her daughter would come begging for some of their food. Balna warned her sisters not to help the widow, but her sisters insisted on being generous. Only, when no one was looking, the widow would ruin the meal by putting mud in the bowls.

The Raja noticed the food was ruined, but knew his daughters wouldn't spoil it on purpose, so he hid to watch what happened. When he saw the widow, he called her to him, and she claimed that she had only done it to get an audience with him, and her words pleased him, so he married her.

The new Ranee (Queen) hated the Princesses, and wanted to get rid of them. She gave them only a little bread to eat, and none of the nice things they were used to. The sisters used to go to their mother's tomb and weep. As they did that, a pomelo (citrus fruit) tree grew up and gave them food, so they didn't even want any of the bad food their stepmother offered them.

This made her suspicious, so she sent her daughter to see how her stepdaughters could be so healthy, and her daughter discovered the pomelo tree. Balma noticed her, and told her sisters they should send her away, but the sisters saw no harm. So the Ranee's daughter told her about the tree. The Ranee feigned sickness, and told the Raja that only the tree that grew on his wife's grave could cure her, so he had to cut it down.

The sisters wept at this, but by the grave they saw a white cream that hardened into cakes, and they ate this instead. Once again, the Ranee sent her daughter to discover how the seven sisters could be happy and healthy, and despite Balma's warnings, the sisters didn't send her away, and she discovered the truth.

The Ranee pretended to be sick again, and this time demanded that the daughters be killed, because only their blood on her forehead and palms would make her better. But the Raja could not bring himself to kill his daughters, so he brought them out to the jungle and left them there. When they woke up alone, they started crying, but seven Princes found them, who each married a Princess.

They all went to live in the Princes' land, and were very happy. The only one to have a child was Balma, who had a son, and all the royal couples loved the son and raised him together.

They were all happy for a time, but one day, Balma's husband went out hunting, and never came back. Each of the brothers went out looking for him, and also never returned. The Princesses were very grieved.

One night a stranger entered the castle, claiming to be a holy man; he was really an evil sorcerer named Punchkin. He saw Balma and thought her the most beautiful, and offered her to come home with him as his wife. She refused, saying that after raising her son she would go in search of her husband. He was angry at this, and dragged her away, and locked her in a tall tower.

Balma's sisters discovered she was missing, and the committed to raising their nephew. When he turned 14, they told him the truth about his missing parents and uncle, and he was determined to go out and find them. Despite his aunts' protests, he journeyed until he came to a land with a tall tower.

He was befriended by a kind woman who told him that the country belonged to a great enchanter who turned anyone who displeased him into a tree or a stone, and had trapped a Princess in the tower who refused to marry him. The boy realized this must be his family. He disguised himself as the woman's daughter and the sorcerer had him deliver things to his mother in the tower. The son had a ring that had been given to him by his mother at birth; when he showed this to her, she realized who he was.

Balna's son told his mother to pretend to have accepted the sorcerer's proposal, but first to demand to know the secret of his power. She did this, and learned that in a far away jungle there was a parrot, and if the parrot died, so would the sorcerer; only, the parrot was guarded by thousands of genii who would kill anyone who approached.

So Balna's son left again, for the remote jungle. On his way, he saw a serpent about to attack an eagle's nest. He slew the serpent, and the eagles were so grateful they were willing to fly him above the genii while they slept and steal the parrot.

The boy used the parrot to get the sorcerer to undo all of his spells, before dismembering the parrot and wringing its neck, killing the sorcerer. His parents and uncles were free from their enchantment, and they returned to their families and lived happily

Some of my favorite things about this tale:

-Positive sister relationships. Even though Balma is cleverer than her sisters, there is no ill will between them, even after her sisters' foolish choices made a lot of trouble for them! In turn, her sisters weren't jealous or spiteful that Balma was the only one to have a child, but lovingly raised him together in her disappearance.
-Kindness-but not gullibility. At first I was a little bothered that Balma was rewarded for not being willing to share a little food and fire with a widow and her daughter, as if it's clever to never risk anything to give to those who have little. Yet, it's true that there are times to be cautious and not overly nice-we teach children about stranger danger, and people need to be aware of cyber crime scams that prey on people's good intentions to get their money. This is where knowing folklore as a whole can be beneficial-overall, kindness is rewarded, but that doesn't mean every situation is the same! (Plus, we do see Balma's son being kind and going out of his way to save the eaglets, and he is clearly rewarded for that, so even in the same tale we see a balance)
-Balma is saved not by her Prince, but by her son. I don't have anything against lovers rescuing each other, per se, other than the fact that it's become a bit of a cliche in fairy tales. Having the son do the rescuing is a refreshing change, especially since this tale shows:
-A clever and resourceful heroine. True, she is temporarily rendered helpless when trapped in a tower by a sorcerer, but she was the only one to spot the danger from her stepmother and stepsister earlier, and was able to lead the sorcerer into thinking she would marry him, and give up his secret. Again, I love the balance in this tale-I don't like the argument that showing females as victims for part of the story is unfeminist, because there are times where we might all be rendered helpless, and we should never blame the victim. I like tales where the characters work together.

Also, the Tower images in this post (taken by Rebecca Stice, found here) are from Helen's Tower. If anyone is able to vacation in Northern Ireland, you can live out a Rapunzel fantasy by renting this tower out on airbnb!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

That Snow White She Did Right in Her Life

Rackham's Snowdrop
Arthur Rackham

"That Snow White she did right in her life, had seven men to do the chores, 'cause that's not what a lady's for"

My ears perked up when I heard these lyrics on the radio, in Daya's single "Sit Still, Look Pretty." In fact, this song is kind of a good example of the post-feminist culture we were discussing in my last post. The song itself is Daya refusing to fit into the female stereotypes of sitting still, looking pretty, and just waiting for a man to come make her life worth something. In this interview, she says,
Q: Is "Sit Still, Look Pretty" based on any sort of personal experience of being told to do just that: Sit still and look pretty?
A: Definitely. It's also just from growing up with gender stereotypes and thinking, you know, you're not supposed to play sports, and you're supposed to dress up and wear makeup all the time. It's not as bad as it has been in the past -- and I think that's great -- but those stereotypes are definitely still there. It's important to be aware of that.
*Does anyone else find it ironic that she's doing in this photo exactly what she claims she won't?
Honestly, a part of me heard the song and thought, "this message is so overplayed." I'm kind of surprised about her statement about girls being told not to play sports. All the popular girls in my school played sports, and I felt embarrassed to be so unathletic. But of course, we should never assume that our experience is the only reality, and just because we haven't suffered a certain way doesn't mean that other people don't. I'm glad she acknowledges that things have gotten better, but are still far from perfect.

Anyway, back to the fairy tale lyrics: I'm not sure where she got the idea that Snow White had the dwarfs do the chores for her, because that's the opposite of what happens in the fairy tale, where they agree to let her live with them, if she'll do the housework (maybe it's in one of the big Snow White films that came out a few years ago that I still haven't seen?). I tried to find an interview where she talks about that specific part of the song but haven't yet.
Trina Schart Hyman

But, I think there is something significant about the use of fairy tales in this song. In songs like this, it's typical to hear fairy tales blamed for our ideas that women should just sit still, look pretty, and wait for a man; or for the idea that romance will be perfect (see Natalia Kills' "Wonderland"). I think this might be one of the few times in pop music that fairy tales are used as an example of overcoming sexism (however incorrectly) (and there's still the issue of calling housework itself a bad thing that modern women are "too good" to do, and now relegating it to men). But, progress? Maybe those feminist versions of fairy tales are finally starting to actually alter the way the public sees fairy tales?

Monday, April 25, 2016

Post-Feminist Fairy Tales

Tom Shippey has a great article titled "Transformations of the Fairy Tale in Contemporary Writing" (which can be found in A Companion to the Fairy Tale). Fairy tale scholarship itself has gone through phases-at certain points, academics have been more concerned with fairy tale origins or psychoanalysis. Around the 70s, feminism was sweeping through folklore research as well as the rest of the Western world. We still see the effects of this today in much writing about fairy tales-it's very common to hear concerns about gender representation, especially the dreaded stereotype: the passive fairy tale Princess who does nothing but sit around and wait for her prince to save her.

While some scholars have fully embraced certain methods of looking at fairy tales, some theories are more controversial. It can be easy to dismiss other claims, but Shippey has, I think, a very well rounded outlook-recognizing both the flaws and the values in various trends. Sexism in fairy tales is still a very important topic, but sometimes going too far in one direction can actually hurt your cause. I appreciated reading a male perspective that seems a little more moderate than Jack Zipes (who appears to be way more offended by female roles in fairy tales than I am).

A large part of the reason for unbalanced gender portrayals in stereotypes is simple the culture of the Victorian period that ultimately determined what we now consider to be "classic" versions of "standard" fairy tales. It was a patriarchal culture and this was reflected in the tales that were collected, told, edited, and retold. Yet, Shippey says, "Fairy tales may be transparently patriarchal, but once this is grasped they need be so no more; they can be rewritten with an entirely different, or inverted, orientation." Yet, how does one go about rewriting fairy tales in a non-patriarchal lens? It's not necessarily as simple as it might appear.

Some authors have decided to write more active heroines who play the traditional "hero" role, sometimes doing the rescuing, sometimes rejecting the Prince to show independence. Things things can be done well...they can also be done poorly, or simply too much. Shippey points out that these kinds of stories may still be just as moralistic as the Victorian ones that were meant to train young girls into being the ideal, submissive wives. The fact that it's an opposite moral doesn't take away from the fact that stories can lose their power when they become more about making a point (even a good one) than telling a good story. They come across as preachy (and can also suffer from being very unrealistic, especially when authors set feminist heroines in historical contexts without necessarily grasping the culture well).
Merida from "Brave" and Danielle (Cinderella) from "Ever After", modern weapon-weilding Princesses

The irony is that as more and more authors write feminist tales that reverse traditions, they are actually embedding those traditions in the fairy tale realm. If a princess rescues a prince, there is still a victim that needs rescuing and a hero that does it; if one gender is presented as negative and the other positive, that's still sexist, just reversing sexes.

The other ironic factor is that, by choosing the most well known passive princesses to use as the basis for a "twisted fairy tale," we are still only being exposed to those core Princess tales that tend to feature passive females, rather than exploring  other types of tales. There are countless dark or inverted versions of Snow White, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, etc. out there-yet the public still tends to think of the Grimm/Perrault versions of these tales as the "real" versions, and a twisted version as only that-not the new normal. Why not expose the public to Kate Crackernuts or Janet from Tam Lin? What about the many tales that don't involve romance or rescuing at all? What about "Snow White and Rose Red", a tale that shows sisters with very opposite personalities,but both seen in a positive light (because, just as we can't all fit into the prim, dainty, Victorian ideal woman, we can't all fit into the bold, athletic, feminist stereotype either!) There are countless wonderful folktales that have positive messages for modern culture (see Multicolored Diary for lots of examples!) while still having the timeless, "authentic" quality that most people crave who desire fairy tale entertainment.
Andrea Adams, illustration for "Kate Crackernuts"

Don't get me wrong, I love a good feminist tale and it's very important to question certain elements of old tales and reinvent them, but there can be dangers in going to the opposite extreme. Especially since it's been decades now and the feminist formulas are, frankly, getting kind of old. The first "twisted" fairy tales I read were very powerful experiences for me, and for some people, being exposed to this is still a fairly new concept.

Shippey also points out something really interesting-even among fairy tales themselves, the idea of "transforming" or "reversing" the stories already exists! "Bluebeard" and "Beauty and the Beast" are like opposite tales-"the one tale of an ideal husband who becomes a monster, and the other a tale of the monster who turns into an ideal husband." There's also Sleeping Beauty, waiting for a kiss to come back to life, verses the Beast, waiting for love to bring him back to his former life. Of course, I find it interesting that in the two contrasting examples he uses, he compares tales to "Beauty and the Beast." It's a tale that doesn't fit the traditional mold-it's essentially the story of a helpless male who needs to be rescued by a woman. (And yet, nobody gets all up in arms because this implies that males are helpless! Our very idea that a helpless woman in a story translates into "all women are innately helpless" is in itself kind of sexist...but I digress).

Another concern I have with the gender-focused approach to fairy tales is that, by being so fixated on gender and stereotypes, we're further emphasizing the divide between genders, whereas I would love to see children encouraged to relate to and empathize with characters of all kinds. In the words of Kate Bernheimer, "While I appreciate the celebration, both in scholarship and in popular culture, of the strong female characters in fairy tales, I think that, first and foremost, our devotion to fairy tales is with 'the whole of the mind' and not with our gender." Yes, it's important to realize that gender is usually a huge part of our identity, but it doesn't need to define us and our experiences, especially in negative ways.

Shippey makes an intruiguing suggestion: "Are all female-protagonist fairy-tales, then, all versions of each other?" An interesting thing to think about, especially when you realize that there really are dozens of versions of each of the standard Princess tales. You can find versions that end unhappily, versions in which the heroine is more passive or more active, versions that combine elements from other stories-it becomes clear that fairy tales themselves aren't sending out certain "morals" or messages, unless that message is that situations play out differently for different people, in different circumstances, at different times.

And of course, there are many authors who have written feminist tales and done it very well. He spends a lot of time discussing the stories of Angela Carter, among others. It's a great article that goes into more topics than addressed here. He ends with reminding us that the future of fairy tales in this century is yet to be determined.

What do you see as the future of fairy tales in the 21st century? How should fairy tales (or really stories in general) portray genders, and what would you  like to see in terms of either reinventing the classic tales, digging into unknowns, or creating new stories?

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Chronicles of Pantouflia

I recently learned that Andrew Lang had written his own fairy tale, The Chronicles of Pantouflia. I don't believe it's very common for fairy tale collectors and writers to overlap-the Grimms never wrote original fairy tales, or other collectors such as Russia's Afanasyev, or Norway's Asbjornsen and Moe
(correct me in the comments if I'm wrong!).  And while authors such as Andersen sometimes drew from folklore, his tales were clearly his own literary version of the tale.

I was hoping that a fairy tale written by someone so familiar with the traditional folktale might be more influenced by the older tales-what might Lang's unique perspective, having collected tales from around the world, translate into his own original story?

My collection of Andrew Lang's Rainbow Fairy Books published by Folio Society:

It seems to be a book that hasn't generated much interest (it doesn't even have its own wikipedia page), so who knows if I'll ever get a copy myself. You can read the summary of one plotline, Prince Prigio, here, although it seems like it's not that much different than other literary fairy tales published during the Victorian era. For example, one of the main themes is that the Queen does not believe in fairies, and Prince Prigio has to learn for himself that they exist. That in itself gives away that it isn't a timeless fairy tale, but a fantasy story. Belief is never really a theme in fairy tales-the characters hardly even react to talking animals or magical enchantments. In the story, Prigio also uses knowledge he has gained from the Arabian Nights to defeat a dragon-a humorous touch, but not quite "timeless".

Still, it would be an interesting read for a fairy tale fan-have any of you read it? What did you think?

Monday, April 18, 2016

Heinrich Lefler

In the process of putting together a recent Guest Post in which Lissa Sloan explored religious/immortal characters in fairy tales, I discovered a new-to-me fairy tale illustrator with some gorgeous images, Heinrich Lefler (1863-1919). These images seem to have such a wide variety of styles that I was inclined to doubt they were all done by the same artist (such as the two illustrations of the final scene of "Six Swans"-very different, but both attributed to Lefler). Unfortunately I had a hard time tracking down more authoritative sources than Pinterest, so if anyone knows better, please let me know in the comments! He did often work with his brother in law, Joseph Urban, so maybe that explains some of the differences. In any case, enjoy some eye candy!

wild+swans+illustration - Google-søk:
The Six Swans By Heinrich Lefler and Joseph Urban:
Six Swans

Heinrich Lefler/Joseph Urban, Illustration for Snow White in Bilderbogen für Schule und Haus (1905):
'Schneewittchen / Snow White’ by the Brothers Grimm, illustrated by Heinrich Lefler. Part of a fairy tale calender published 1905 by Berger & Wirth, Leipzig.:
Snow White

hans christian andersen illustrations - Google-søk:
Andersen's "Princess and the Swineherd"

Godfather Death

little mermaid, heinrich lefler:
Little Mermaid

fuckyeahvintageillustration:  'Rapunzel’ by the Brothers Grimm, illustrated by Heinrich Lefler. Part of a fairy tale calender published 1905 by Berger & Wirth, Leipzig. Source:

Heinrich Lefler, "Dornroeschen" or "Sleeping Beauty":
fuckyeahvintageillustration: 'Dornröschen / Sleeping Beauty’ by...:
Sleeping Beauty

The Goose Girl -- Heinrich Lefler -- a really good story about a princess who avoids sexual harassment.:
Goose Girl

Hänsel and Gretl by Heinrich Lefler ~ 1905:
Hansel and Gretel

Original watercolor by Heinrich Lefler for Die Nachtigall [The Emperor’s Nightingale] -- offered by Battledore Ltd.:
The Nightingale

'Aschenbrödel / Cinderella’ by the Brothers Grimm, illustrated by Heinrich Lefler. Part of a fairy tale calender published 1905 by Berger & Wirth, Leipzig.:

Friday, April 15, 2016

From the Archives: History of Arabian Nights

It can be a lot harder to fine information on the Arabian Nights than on the fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm. The following information is taken from the chapter "The Splendor of the Arabian Nights" from Jack Zipes' When Dreams Come True: Classic Fairy Tales and their Tradition.

The Arabian Nights is more unique than just another culture's collection of folktales because of its framework story: that of Scheherezade heroically saving her own life and that of countless other women by telling stories to Shahryar, the king who was so incensed by the adultery of his first wife that he took to marrying and killing a different woman each night. This framework story was modeled after a Persian book called Hazar Afsaneh, or "A Thousand Tales", translated into Arabic in the ninth century.

The individual tales themselves differ from collection to collection. The tales as we know them today are mainly taken from Persian tenth century tales with some Indian elements, tenth century tales recorded in Baghdad, and Egyptian stories written down between the tenth and twelfth centuries. But, similar to other collections of fairy tales around the world, these were probably circulated orally for hundreds of years before being written down, and afterwards have become an important influence in Western stories. The Arabian Nights were translated into French by Antoine Galland between 1704 and 1717, whose literary talents made the tales popular and eventually were translated into multiple languages, with the most famous English translation by Richard Burton (who plagarized a lot from an earlier English translation by John Payne).

Due to the Scheherezade story, the tales have clear purposes-firstly, for Scheherezade to educate and recivilize Shahryar and show him that he can regain his trust in women. Secondly, Scheherezade's sister Dunazade is also an audience member, so the tales are Scheherezade's passing down advice to her younger sister and enabling her to navigate through society. The readers themselves are the third audience, who become educated alongside Shahryar and Dunazade into values of the time and culture-justice, the importance of creativity and wit, and most of all, empowering the oppressed.

The power of story itself cannot be ignored either-through the ultimate happy ending that Scheherezade's determination brings about, as well as four other major tales that employ the same motif of people telling stories to save innocent lives.

I found this passage fascinating, as it's something I had wondered about myself: "Given the patriarchal nature of Arabic culture, it would seem strange that Scheherezade assumed the key role in the Nights. Yet, a woman exercised more power in Moslem culture during the Middle Ages in Baghdad and Cairo than is commonly known," including ultimate power over children and slaves, including children's educations, marriage, profession, and sexual initiation.

Interestingly, the title was originally One Thousand Nights, and no one knows how it became The Thousand and One Nights. Zipes speculates that it had something to do with the fact that odd numbers were considered lucky in Arabic culture. I personally find the perfectly even "one thousand" to be a little too practical, while "the thousand and one" adds a touch of whimsy and a hint of the eternal, as if no matter what the number, there's always one more to be heard the next night...(there are not literally one thousand tales in the collection. There are 42 "core" tales in Galland's translation, but apparently the complete collection of Payne's collection included nine volumes).
Illustrations by Virginia Frances Sterret

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Guest Post: Lissa Sloan on God, the Devil, and Death Walk Into a Forest: Heavenly Godparents and Other Immortals

I am very pleased to bring Tales of Faerie readers a post by writer Lissa Sloan! She is one of the authors featured in Frozen Fairy Tales, with her story "Death in Winter."

(Also, it may seem like it's a little out of season by this point to still be featuring Frozen Fairy Tales but this guest post somehow got lost in the vast internet, and just recently made a harrowing journey back to my inbox. But as I initially drafted this, it was literally snowing here in Chicago, so depending where you live winter may still be lingering-or on its way, those of you in the Southern Hemisphere!)

Lissa's story involves a young mother's journey following Death in a desperate attempt to save the life of her daughter. It's well written and the protagonist is a strong, admirable character. Some of the stories in the collection have a modern feel to them; "Death in Winter" has a timeless quality to it.  In ways it feels like listening to an old folktale told by a fire, but it has some unique elements to it as well, and keeps you wondering what's going to happen next! So without further ado: Please enjoy Lissa's insights, delving further into the concept of Death and other Immortals as characters in folklore!


God, the Devil, and Death Walk into a Forest: Heavenly Godparents and Other Immortals

 When I first began delving into fairy tales and reading more than the most familiar stories, I expected to find fantastical characters like witches, giants, trolls, and fairies. I did not, however, expect to find immortals like God, St. Peter, and the Virgin Mary. And yet, it's not at all uncommon for our hero or heroine to encounter them, like a poor man does in "Godfather Death". Desperately looking for a godfather for his child, he meets God, the Devil, and Death, who each offer to do him this service. The man rejects God, saying that he allows the poor to suffer. He likewise rejects the Devil, because, well, he's the Devil. And he accepts Death because all are equal in his eyes. The child does well with Death as a godfather. At least until, in true fairy tale fashion, he tries to push things a bit too far.
"Godfather Death," Heinrich Lefler

 Sometimes these Christian figures are in Heaven, doing heavenly sorts of things. For instance, St. Peter is often found guarding the gates, like in "The Tailor in Heaven", in which he erroneously lets an overly curious and judgmental tailor into heaven when God is out for the afternoon. But it is just as likely you will find him or the Lord down on earth, looking for directions, a place to stay, or something to eat. In fact there are many stories featuring Jesus and St. Peter just traveling around, rubbing shoulders with poor folk, rich folk, gamblers, and soldiers. Some of these stories are a bit like parables,with Jesus teaching a moral lesson. But many are silly, featuring Peter as a buffoon, trying to get away with doing less work or getting more than his share. In "How Saint Peter Lost his Hair", Peter hides a pancake under his hat so he doesn't have to share it with Jesus, but the hot pancake burns the hair off his head. Often, Jesus's response is reproving but forgiving, but other times he is as good-humored as a typical fairy tale trickster. In "Stones to Bread", Peter lugs a giant rock along the road, greedily hoping the Lord will turn it into a giant loaf of bread if there is no bread available at their destination. But there is plenty of bread, Peter has toiled all day for nothing, and Jesus has a good laugh at his expense.

 When the Virgin Mary appears in fairy tales, sometimes taking a poor girl into her care, she is more dignified. In fact, in "Our Lady's Child", she is quite austere. Her protege is caught in a lie she will not confess to, so Mary punishes her, kicking her out of her heavenly home and taking her voice. When the girl marries a king and has children, Mary appears after each birth, giving the queen a chance to confess, then taking the baby and framing her for its death when she refuses, much like the villainous mother-in-law in "The Six Swans". Only when the queen is about to be put to death and at last confesses does Mary relent.

 In "Pearl Tears" from von Schonwerth's The Turnip Princess, however, Mary is much more like a fairy godmother, helping to deliver her goddaughter Maria, and, when things turn ugly with the girl's stepmother, giving her a home in her palace. When Maria transgresses in the same way as "Our Lady's Child" (looking into a forbidden chamber), Mary does banish her, but she continues to keep an eye on her. Maria now cries pearl tears, so is able to make the best of any misfortune, and eventually Mary allows her to return to her palace and take her place caring for the poor and the sick.

May 12 - The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs by fresh4u
 The Ferryman from "The Devil and the Three Golden Hairs," by fresh4u

My favorite immortals are the Devil and Death, perhaps because they're both so unpredictable. Like the other immortals, Death and the Devil are powerful beings, but in many ways, fairly ordinary folks. In "The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs" and "The Devil and His Grandmother", the Devil has a grandmother, who cooks, keeps house for him, scolds him for being bad-tempered, and even removes his lice when he asks her. She also takes pity on our heroes when they ask for her help, even if it means her grandson loses out on his bargain. The devil is fond of bargaining, of course, but many heroes are able to outwit him. In some stories, however, he's just looking for some help around the house, as in "The Devil's Sooty Brother", and he pays up willingly at the end of his servant's tenure, and even cuts his hair before he goes. In "Bearskin" he loses out on the soldier's soul, but is just as happy to gain the man's two jealous sisters-in-law instead. Like the Devil, Death is often a fearsome adversary, and many tricksters are forced to submit to him in the end, as the godson must in "Godfather Death". But Death can also be merciful, as in "Death and the Gooseboy". The world-weary child asks Death to take him along, and, after making sure a rich, greedy man gets his just deserts, Death agrees and takes the boy to his heavenly rest. In "Death's Messengers", he promises a man who has helped him that he will warn the man his death is imminent by sending his messengers on ahead. (Unfortunately, the man does not recognize illness or increasing weakness when they arrive, but Death has kept his promise.)
"The Soldier and Death," Darcy May

 Like the Devil, Death also finds him or herself tricked by mortals, winding up caught in magic trees, bottles, or in the case of the Russian tale "The Soldier and Death", trapped in a soldier's magic sack for years while no one on earth can die. In this tale, Death, who appears as a little old woman, is quite a pathetic figure by the end of the story.

 Immortals in fairy tales may be a little less omnipotent and omnipresent than their counterparts in other genres. They're much more fallible and down to earth, despite their power to grant wishes and mete out supernatural justice. But as the soldier from "The Solider and Death" finds out, just because he can triumph over these powerful figures doesn't mean he should. Eventually the soldier sees the flaw in his plan and must let Death out to do her job. By this time, even he is ready to die, but Death is so frightened by him after her time in the sack that she will go nowhere near him. Some of Hell's devils, too, have been in the sack and refuse to let the soldier into Hell. Denied entrance to Heaven and Hell alike and unable to die, the soldier must wander the world forever. When dealing with immortals, as in so many fairy tales, “be careful what you wish for” is always good advice.

Thanks, Lissa! For more of her writing, be sure to visit her website! (For more on the devil in fairy tales, check out Adam's recent post at Fairy Tale Fandom on the Grimms' tale "Bearskin," which happens to complement this post perfectly!)

Friday, April 8, 2016

Multicolored Diary

Another resource you should definitely check out if you haven't already:

The Multicolored Diary, run by Hungarian storyteller Zalka Csenge Virag, is one of my essential blog reads. She has an impressive knowledge of folktales from around the world. I'll admit that my own world folklore knowledge is more limited; it can sometimes be overwhelming to open a book of completely unknown stories, and it's easier for me to read stories I know are versions of familiar fairy tales. But of course, we miss so much if we only read the tales that are considered the classics!

I'm especially loving the latest series, her A to Z Challenge on the theme of Diversity in storytelling. Contrary to popular opinion, fairy tales are not all stories of helpless damsels being rescued by sword-wielding Princes! In fact, even though you can look at typical folk tales and find reoccurring themes and patterns, the only rule is that there's bound to be exceptions to every rule. As the fairy tales we tell adapt over time to reflect the changing cultures, it's exciting to think of what can come in a world that is becoming more focus on representing minorities and celebrating diversity. Maybe the fairy tale world itself can be one of the factors to promote positive change!

So far there's been posts showing tales that portray loving stepmothers, beauty found in unconventional bodies, female heroes, and heroes and heroines with disabilities (that don't magically get fixed as the "happy ending"). I've really enjoyed reading each of the posts in the challenge so far and really look forward to the others to come!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Fairy Tale Fashion at the Fashion Institute of Technology

Fairy Tale Fashion at MFIT / Kirsty Mitchell photograph
The Storyteller
I think I had seen snippets of this collection around the internet closer to when it opened, but so often a fashion collection that claims to have a fairy tale inspiration really just means "vaguely vintage inspired" and/or "flowy layered fabrics that we have come to associate with fairies" or possibly a token red cape with other Disney-inspired color schemes. So I was excited to read more about the direct influence of fairy tale illustrators and specific fairy tales in this exhibit at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Fairy Tale Fashion at MFIT Charles James
Fairy Tale Fashion at MFIT 18th century capeFairy Tale Fashion at MFIT Alexander McQueen 2007Fairy Tale Fashion MFIT J.Mendel
Rapunzel, Swan Maiden, Snow Queen, Red Riding Hood

From the website:
"Fairy Tale Fashion is a unique and imaginative exhibition that examines fairy tales through the lens of high fashion. In versions of numerous fairy tales by authors such as Charles Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, and Hans Christian Andersen, it is evident that dress is often used to symbolize a character’s transformation, vanity, power, or privilege. The importance of Cinderella’s glass slippers is widely known, for example, yet these shoes represent only a fraction of the many references to clothing in fairy tales.

"Organized by associate curator Colleen Hill, Fairy Tale Fashion features more than 80 objects placed within dramatic, fantasy-like settings designed by architect Kim Ackert. Since fairy tales are not often set in a specific time period, Fairy Tale Fashion includes garments and accessories dating from the 18th century to the present. There is a particular emphasis on extraordinary 21st-century fashions by designers such as Thom Browne, Dolce and Gabbana, Tom Ford, Giles, Mary Katrantzou, Marchesa, Alexander McQueen, Rick Owens, Prada, Rodarte, and Walter Van Beirendonck, among others.

"The exhibition’s introductory space features artwork that has played a role in shaping perceptions of a “fairy tale” aesthetic. These include illustrations by renowned early 20th-century artists such as Edmund Dulac, Arthur Rackham, and A.H. Watson. Connections between fashion and storytelling are further emphasized by a small selection of clothing and accessories, including a clutch bag by Charlotte Olympia that resembles a leather-bound storybook."

Fairy Tale Fashion MFIT Thierry Mugler
The Little Mermaid

For those of you in New York, the exhibit is only open until April 16. However, good news for all of us-Yale University Press is releasing a book of the same title!

Book description (emphasis mine):

"Dress plays a crucial role in fairy tales, signaling the status, wealth, or vanity of particular characters, and symbolizing their transformation. Fairy tales often provide  little information beyond what is necessary to a plot, but clothing and accessories are frequently vividly described, enhancing the sense of wonder integral to the genre. Cinderella’s glass slipper is perhaps the most famous example, but it is one of many enchanted or emblematic pieces of dress that populate these tales.                                                                                                                                   
"This is the first book to examine the history, significance, and imagery of classic fairy tales through the lens of high fashion. A comprehensive introduction to the topic of fairy tales and dress is followed by a series of short essays on thirteen stories: “Cinderella,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” “The Fairies,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Snow White,” “Rapunzel,” “Furrypelts,” “The Little Mermaid,” “The Snow Queen,” “The Swan Maidens,” Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Generously illustrated, these stories are creatively and imaginatively linked to examples of clothing by Comme des Garc¸ons, Dolce and Gabbana, Charles James, and Alexander McQueen, among many others.
This sounds right up my alley, and is going on my wishlist!
(Psst-it's cheaper on Amazon)

UPDATE: For more fairy tale fashion in recent media, check out Lisa Jensen's post on the fairy tale looks just featured on Project Runway!