Friday, December 19, 2014

Schonwerth Christmas Tales Part II

#99: The Dwarf's Treasure

"On Christmas Day, a woman went home through the forest from the town of Eslarn bearing a back carrier. She noticed a pile of moss on the snow, stirred around in it and found a big bumblebee nest. She placed it into her back carrier to take it home to her children; then a tiny little man clothed in green approached, and asked her what she was doing here and asked to be shown the nest in her basket. Immediately, he began to take everything out; on the stroke of twelve he disappeared. Thereupon the woman became scared and hastened home. 

In the basket she found a brand new silver coin. The Dwarf had left behind one bumblebee when he was surprised by the striking of the clock."

According to the notes provided by M. Charlotte Wolf, the Bavarians believed that long forgotten precious metals would end up in the ground over time. "Such a treasure sinks down nine fathoms deep and then rises every seven years one foot toward the surface. Arrived at the surface, it gives testimony of its whereabouts with a blue little flame that hovers above the place where it is to be found."

Also note the importance of the clock striking twelve, which is significant not only in Cinderella but in Christmas lore, as Santa is often thought to visit homes right at midnight (although in this story it appears to be twelve noon).

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Fairy Holiday

This is from a couple years ago, but I just stumbled across this fairy tale themed holiday fashion shoot.
When I first saw the phrase "Fairy Holiday" I thought it would be the more general sense of "winter wonderland/magical," but I was excited to see that Free People's November catalogue was based on specific fairy tales, and the photos tell the story! More photos are on this site.

Twelve Dancing Princesses:


Snow Queen: (top image)

Snow White:

Princess and the Pea:

Monday, December 15, 2014

Schonwerth Christmas Tales: Part I

Many cultures believed that the changing of the seasons-Easter/spring, Halloween/fall, Christmas/New Year's/Winter Solstice, or Midsummer, were times when the veil between the spiritual world and our world was especially thin. There are many superstitions involving these holidays, some of which translated into our modern holiday traditions.
John Leech, for Dickens' "A Christmas Carol"

The below tale from the collection by Franz Schonwerth is along the lines of a very creepy ghost story, which used to be more associated with Christmas (from the song "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year"-"There'll be scary ghost stories/and tales of the glories/of Christmases long, long ago). There is another Schonwerth tale set at Christmas that is less morbid, on the way :)

#31: Premonitions and Predictions of Death II

"On Thunder Mountain near the town Oberviechtach there lived a tailor. He once visited the Stehr farm and worked until late on Holy Christmas Eve, while everyone else was attending Midnight Mass.
Image from here

When he was finished, he set off for home just as Midnight Mass was underway, and after he had walked for some time, a glass barrel, polished like the finest crystal glass, rolled up to his feet. He became frightened and wanted to turn around; but again the barrel rolled up to his feet.

So he decided he better continue on his way home, and the barrel always rolled along before his feet, and he saw inside of it several coffins and men beside them, all of whom he knew very well, since presently they were still alive; also, he saw himself standing beside the last coffin.

At this he was seized by such terror that he fell to the ground senseless, and people returning from Midnight Mass had to help him home. He lay down in bed feeling sick, and all of those whom he had seen through the barrel died in the same year-the last to die was the tailor."

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Black Swan Skirt

Black Swan Skirt-Sheinside
Here's a fairy tale print item that's pretty affordable, at $20.83!
As worn on style blogger TheClothesHorse

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Red as Blood, White as Snow, Black as Crow

After posting the article a few days ago about the possible significance of Santa in white and red, I did a little more digging into color symbolism in fairy tales. I found this article, Red as Blood, White as Snow, Black as Chrow: Chromatic Symbolism of Womanhood by Francisco Vaz Da Silva. It's a really great in depth look into the subject of colors in fairy tales if you're interested-it is several pages long.

It looks specifically at the triad of colors that is most often found in fairy tales, white, red, and black. And while that usually brings Snow White to mind, there are other fairy tales Da Silva mentions that have that same combination; more specifically, in which the sight of red blood upon a white background reminds someone of ideal female beauty. Three drops of blood on the snow remind 12th century Perceval of his sweetheart, and the colors of a slain crow's blood and feathers on a stone remind the Prince in Basile's "The Crow" of what he would like his wife to look like. In another Basile tale, "The Three Citrons," a prince does not want a wife until he cuts himself while slicing cheese and decides he wants a wife who is "like ricotta stained with blood." A tale from Brittany, collected by Francois Luzel, features a man who, when seeing a crow and its blood on the snow, decides to marry the princess whose face is just as red, white, and black. Even in the Grimms' "Goose Girl," the princess' mother gives her a white handkerchief with three drops of her own blood on it, which will protect her as long as she has it with her.

The article delves more into the symbolism of the three colors and what they mean, but essentially, it boils down to the female cycle. Fair warning: the article discusses much about women and blood and I'll be talking about it too, so if that makes you uncomfortable you can skip the rest of this post. It's a common way of interpreting fairy tales so although it may be a little awkward I think it warrants discussion.

The three drops of blood are supposed to represent the three significant times a woman bleeds in her life, which all represent her transition into womanhood: her menarche (first period), deflowering (first time she has sex), and childbirth. This is a popular way that people understand this color trio; several other authors make connections like Sleeping Beauty pricking her finger to either of the first two.

This never really made sense to me. If you claim that this is "the meaning" of the colors, that would indicate that the authors intended the reader to make that connection, and that most readers at the time would also do the same. Yet, I consider myself to be a fairly intelligent person, but I would never, ever have connected the pricking of a finger, or red blood on snow, to women's periods. Sure, menstrual blood happens every month, but it's always hidden. Especially since, in several of the stories above, the sight of blood involved a man thinking of a woman, how would he make the connection? Men would rarely, if ever, see a woman's menstrual blood. (Basile, author of two of those stories, was a man himself.) I would think a more obvious connection to red blood would be war, in which blood was visibly shed, or red flowers.

I think it might be safer to assume that red on white just means the blush of a cheek against white skin. In days when people farmed the land, white skin would indicate the ability to be indoors; it was desirable because it was unusual, and would also probably mean you were rich (for the same reason that people at the time would have desired curvy women rather than rail-thin models at the time-not everyone could afford to eat their fill, so that body type was more rare). It's clearly a sight we desire today, as evidenced by the fact that blush is still considered an essential part of any woman's makeup kit.

Yet, the meaning could have been vastly different hundreds of years ago. Today, a woman's cycle doesn't really interfere with her regular life. Just put on some protection, pop a couple of painkillers, and you can forget about it. But before drugstores made painkillers available and had aisles dedicated to "feminine products," it's possible that a woman's period may have intruded on her life much more. In Bible times, a woman was considered unclean when she was on her period. Anyone who touched anything she touched also became unclean, not to mention the hassle I assume there would be from laundry and just experiencing severe cramps without ibuprofen. Today we can afford to be discreet about menstruation, but in the days when families shared one room houses, bodily functions were less private, and it might have been obvious when a woman was having her period. (Although still, I don't know that men would associate it with the color red).
Bess Livings

And we can't argue the fact that red has been considered a significant color by virtually every culture. Da Silva cites a study in which they found that if a language has only two words for color, it's black and white. If they have three, it's always red, black, and white. Subsequent colors are always added in a similar order. (Frankly, it's hard to imagine a language that only has two or three words for colors; it's one of the first things we teach our babies, but here's the information from the study: "Berlin, Brent, and Paul Kay. Basic Color Terms: Their Universatily and Evolution. 1969. Berkely: 
U of California P, 1991"

Clearly, these colors are significant to humans. Maybe it is because of female cycles and their unique ability to bear children. What do you think?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The International Fairy-Tale Filmography

Nikki Pilgrim/George Melies

This great new fairy tale resource was introduced to me via the comments! Lauren Bosc says:

"We introduce the International Fairy-Tale Filmography,, created by Jack Zipes, Pauline Greenhill, and Kendra Magnus-Johnston. It is available free of charge, open access to all users. 

This database is currently searchable by title, director, person, company, country, language, or origin (Aarne-Thompon-Uther tale-type names and numbers and/or literary fairy-tale titles and authors). It was funded by grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). 

As this project is ongoing, we encourage users to suggest films under "Contribute." There is also a "How-To Video" and further information on fairy tales and fairy-tale films."

This is a great resource and I can't wait to explore it further! Now, the films themselves can't be viewed via the site, but many of the older films can be found with a quick search on youtube. It's still a great tool for finding fairy tale-related films-everything from old silent films to classic Looney Toons to Disney to films that just came out in the last year! Here's the how-to video they include:

Monday, December 8, 2014

Santa and the 'Shrooms

Haddon Sundblom-Coca Cola ad

A friend of mine sent me this article, Santa and the 'Shrooms: The Real Story Behind the "Design" of Christmas, by Holly McWhorter. Basically, the premise is that Santa's traditional red and white coat actually stems from old traditions of the Kamchadales and Koryaks of Siberia involving hallucinogenic red and white mushrooms, called "fly agarics".
Vintage holiday cards, via the article

Before passing it off as ridiculous, it's a pretty interesting article and they make connections not just between the colors of the mushrooms and Santa's coat, which in itself would be quite a stretch, but to many other traditions about Santa, from his reindeer to why he comes down the chimney. 

The article describes a solstice ritual of the Siberian people in which the Shaman would go out and gather these mushrooms, which were enjoyed by reindeer and people alike, and would give them a high, which could explain some of the stories about flying reindeer and such. McWhorter goes on to describe the actions of the Shaman:
"But how would he get into a yurt whose door was blocked by several feet of snow? He’d climb up to the roof with his bag of goodies, go to the hole in the center of the roof that acted as a chimney, and slide down the central pole that held the yurt up over the fireplace. Then he’d pass out a few ‘shrooms to each guest, and some might even partake of some of the ones that had been hung over the fire. Clearly, this idea of using the chimney to get in and pass out the magic mushrooms (and other goodies) had sticking power. Interestingly, even as late as Victorian times in England, the traditional symbol of chimney sweeps was a fly agaric mushroom — and many early Christmas cards featured chimney sweeps with fly agarics, though no explanation of why was offered."

The article claims that this ritual is the origin of the Santa myth, which got later mixed in with other traditions such as the Dutch Sinterklaas. I think that's maybe stretching it a bit much-many European cultures had some form of gift giving spirit, or mischievous house elf, or a possible relation to Santa. The influence of St. Nicholas can't be ingnored, because where this article claims that hanging mushrooms in a sock over the fire was the origin of stockings, that has also been attributed to a legend of St. Nicholas. It seems a little odd to me that the traditions of such small, isolated tribes should have spread and grown throughout Europe over the years; the article claims the traditions were carried to Great Britain by ancient druids. I'm sure that some elements of this tradition did get incorporated into the modern Santa, but I find it extremely unlikely that these traditions would have been spread all around Europe in bits and pieces, then later all brought together again when those descendants immigrated to America, where they were all joined together again in a remarkably similar way.

Debating origins is pretty tricky and ultimately impossible to know for sure, but I found the article interesting. Red is such a significant color in Santa Claus history as well as fairy tales, especially "Snow White" and "Little Red Riding Hood". Could the use of this color in these stories could also be related to these mushrooms, which are also often pictured alongside fairies? I also posted earlier this year about the possibility that the traditions of witches flying on brooms were also caused by a hallucinogenic plant that would give the eater illusions of flying. It's not too much of a stretch to see that as a possibility, but at the same time, flying is a pretty universal human wish, and a common dream. I don't think we need to be high, necessarily, to create stories about flying.
Elsa Beskow
Selina Fenech

Also, I've done a fair bit of reading into the history of Santa and Christmas traditions, and this is the first I've heard of any of it being related to mushrooms and highs. 

Something else to keep in mind whenever looking at possible origins of either Santa Claus or various related fairy tales is that, statistically, some coincidences are bound to happen. If you compare our Christmas traditions with every ancient culture's Winter Solstice, you're more than likely to find some parallels, it doesn't necessarily mean they're related. Still, pretty interesting to consider!

Friday, December 5, 2014

A Hansel and Gretel Christmas

Found these two ads in the Chicago Tribune a couple days ago and thought you might find them interesting too:

"Gingerbread House Competition: Hansel and Gretel's witch could look to Geneva for inspiration this season as candy-coated houses fill the All Chocolate Kitchen. The houses must be made entirely of edible materials and will be judged...on overall appearance, creativity, difficulty, and precision."

Emerald City's "Hansel and Gretel: A Wickedly Delicious Musical Treat"

Among the most fertile of fairy tales, this classic takes on a new flavor when kiddie ace Justin Roberts teams up with Emerald City's Ernie Dolan. The pair deliver an all-ages rock musical (featuring The Grimm Brothers Band) about the brother-sister duo who discover appearances aren't always as sweet as they seem. 

Sounds interesting, definitely a new take on Hansel and Gretel! More info on the Broadway in Chicago site.

Then, also from the Chicago Tribune, but on a much more sober note: They've been doing several exposees on the system of institutions in Illinois for abused and neglected children, finding that they are rife with sexual and physical abuse, from the other residents as well as the staff. Truly heartbreaking to read story after story of kids and teens who were taken advantage of when they should have been protected. (Read more here, here, and here.)

But it did remind me of fairy tales, so many of which are about the abuse of children. And while we sit around contemplating the possible symbolic and psychological meanings of these tales in which mothers, stepmothers, siblings, and lusty fathers are cruel and mistreat the protagonists (I was just reading the other day about how "Donkeyskin" is supposed to be a way that girls live out their Oedipal complexes), we forget that for thousands of kids worldwide, these accounts of horrible abuse are true in the most literal sense. Even in our modern world, the very system that is supposed to put an end to this is making it worse. Many of these girls escape the system, to end up on the streets and in prostitution. They are truly victims, yet I hope no one would accuse them of being passive and unfeminist; they were placed in a horrible, awful sitation they should never have been in. I just hope that these articles inspire some major change, because awareness is only the first step-people have to take action next.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Neil Gaiman: Why Disney's Sleeping Beauty Doesn't Work

Concept Art for Disney's Sleeping Beauty by Eyvind Earle

You may have seen links to this interview with Neil Gaiman going around the fairy tale blogosphere from The Telegraph: Why Disney's Sleeping Beauty Doesn't Work. He talks about many aspects of fairy tales and history, from the Grimms to Goldilocks to Angela Carter, so it's worth a read; but in reference to the title, he doesn't think Disney's Sleeping Beauty makes a complete story. In the opening paragraph, he says,  "I don't have a lot of patience for stories in which women are rescued by men." 
Henry Maynell Rheam

Sure, that's a way to interpret Sleeping Beauty and Snow White stories, and I love a good twist to the helpless heroine, but that's only one way. Bruno Bettelheim sees stories with sleep as describing adolescence, Gaiman himself discusses how Perrault's "Sleeping Beauty" is really less about the sleeping and rescuing and more about the nightmare of having a horrible mother-in-law. With Disney's new "Maleficent" it's clear we can tell the story in a way that doesn't include rescue by a man at all.

It's just another example of how it seems like the only way modern people interpret classic fairy tales is to see them as sexist-helpless women in need of rescue by men. We miss out on other meanings, and then it sets up anyone reading such opinions to decide that, to be intelligent and forward thinking and support gender equality, we too have to dislike any stories where women are less active than men or in need of rescue.
Warwick Goble

Disney's classic Sleeping Beauty may not work for Gaiman, but clearly, for generations, it has "worked" for lots of little girls (and big girls!) who love Princess Aurora; who are enchanted not so much by the idea of being helpless, but that someone would want to rescue them.

I just hope we aren't sending out messages that it's wrong to ever need help. We all get in situations where we need help, it's okay to ask for it, it's even okay if that help comes from a loving and supportive significant other.

Gaiman himself says it best at the conclusion of his interview:

"What does he mean, I ask – that they are true and also… inspiring?
"True and also lies!" says Gaiman. "If someone says: 'We have investigated – there was no Snow White', I'm not going to go: 'Oh no, my story is now empty and meaningless'. The point about Snow White is that you can keep fighting. The point about Snow White is that even when those who are meant to love you put you in an intolerable situation, you can run away, you can make friends, you can cope. And that message," he says with a smile of satisfaction, " – that even when all is at its darkest, you can think your way out of trouble – is huge."
Nancy Ekholm Burkert

*Also, I believe this interview, and the movie Coraline, has been the source of some confusion over the famous quote about fairy tales showing children that dragons can be defeated. I've seen many people crediting it to Gaiman. The article says, "He points to the lines he used as an epigraph to Coraline – remembered from GK Chesterton but loose enough a paraphrase to be his own: "Fairy tales are more than true – not because they tell us dragons exist but because they tell us dragons can be beaten."
Here's the Chesterton quote:

“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

Paolo Uccello

In my opinion, I think the thought is clearly still Chesterton's, but with either wording, I love that quote.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Posts of Christmas Past

Illustrated London News, 1848

Even in mid-November I was starting to see people searching for "Nutcracker" and other Christmas-related posts in my archives, so I thought I could put together links to some of the most popular/pertinent Christmas posts. You can also use the Christmas tag at the right for a thorough list, but it can be frustrating to sift through old archives, so here's a more organized guide to posts that may be of interest:

History of Nutcracker Ballet-A video that discusses the history of the ballet
E.T.A. Hoffman's The Nutcracker-A summary of the original story that inspired the ballet
Dumas' Nutcracker-A discussion of Alexandre Dumas' revision of E.T.A. Hoffman's "Nutcracker" story

1904 German Postcard
Santa Claus:
Scary Night Visitors-A link to a BBC article that describes some more fearsome versions of Santa Claus throughout the world
Yes, Virginia-A discussion of the true response to a little girl in the paper who asked if Santa Claus existed, and the cultural myth of telling children about Santa Claus
St. Nicholas' Day-History of St. Nick through Santa Claus, from Martin Ebon's book Saint Nicholas: Life and Legend
Legends of St. Nicholas-Including the legend of the origin of hanging Christmas stockings
Jultomten-The Swedish Christmas elf and other Christmas folklore
Jenny Nystrom

Christmas-related folklore:
Hildur the Fairy Queen-an Icelandic version of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses", set at Christmas time
Spinning Straw into Gold on Little Match Girl-a guest post from Christie of the blog Spinning Straw into Gold, discussing Andersen's "The Little Match Girl"
Little Match Girl-full text of the fairy tale
December Liturgy of the Dead-a haunting Christmas tale
Arthur Rackham

Fairy Tales in Christmas History: See how fairy tales were an important part of Christmas traditions
Charles Dickens: A Christmas Tree-Includes the famous quote in which Dickens admits he wanted to marry Little Red Riding Hood as a child; as well as the surrounding context in which he also discusses other fairy tale memories related to Christmas
Paul Woodroffe

Stay tuned for more Christmas posts this month, as well as general fairy tale programming!