Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Fairy Tale Fashion: The Snow Queen

One more post from Colleen Hill's Fairy Tale Fashion!
In her essay on Andersen's "The Snow Queen," Hill informs us that the fairy tale was initially conceived as a short, ballad-style poem about a young woman and her lover, a poor boy who was abducted by the Snow Queen. The Snow Queen was then more of a sexual predator. The story evolved into the tale we know today, of two children separated when the boy, Kay, gets a piece of an evil mirror lodged in his eye that turns him into a cruel boy who mocks the things he used to love and follows the Snow Queen to her ice palace.

The tale uses opposing imagery-the natural, warm beauty of the rose verses the stark symmetry of mirrors and ice/snowflakes. The mirror in this tale is unusual in that, while mirrors usually tell the truth (such as the mirror in "Snow White" that is bold enough to bluntly tell the Queen when there is someone more beautiful than she), this mirror is deceptive-it distorts reality, causing beautiful things to seem ugly. (In fact, I sometimes thought of this mirror when I was in my first trimester-when foods I usually loved became disgusting to me and activities I enjoyed lost interest for me because of the constant nausea-I felt like I could relate to Kay).

Mirrors usually represent vanity in stories. The theme of vanity is also developed in "Snow Queen" by the reference to Gerda's red shoes. When she goes to search for Kay, she intentionally puts on her new red shoes that Kay has never seen before, but when she goes to the river she is willing to sacrifice her prized possessions to gain information about his whereabouts (but the shoes are returned to her because the river does not know where he is). Interestingly, this tale was written just four months before Anderson wrote the infamous tale "Red Shoes" in which the desire for the colored footwear is completely and repeatedly seen as selfish.
From the "Snow Queen" section of the Fairy Tale Fashion exhibit at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Far left; white fur cape by J. Mendel, second to the left; not in the book, second to the right; Alexander McQueen Fall 2008 dress inspired by snowflakes, far right; Tom Ford Spring 2014 dress that imitates shards of a broken mirror

Hill interprets the red shoes as objects of pride, even for Gerda-saying that by wearing them she was initially hoping to impress Kay, but the difference between Gerda and Karen from "Red Shoes" was that Gerda was willing to give up her shoes. This may be, especially given Anderson's feelings about red sheos, but I didn't necessarily read it that way in "Snow Queen." It's natural for a child to be excited to show her friend a new toy or possession, without necessarily trying to impress or show off to your friend. If Gerda had taken a beautiful red rose and tucked it behind her ear with the intention of showing Kay, would that be interpreted as vanity? The rose would still be beautiful and displayed on Gerda, but fairy tale characters who request roses rather than clothes and jewelry are held up as the example of being non-materialistic, like Beauty in "Beauty and the Beast." Yet roses are a symbol of her friendship with Kay-when staying with the old woman, it was seeing an image of a rose that reminded Gerda of her quest to find Kay. Could the wearing of the red shoes even have been Gerda's attempt to remind Kay of their beloved roses, since a real rose wouldn't survive a long journey? The colorful roses of Kay and Gerda's childhood playdates are a stark contrast to the colorless white of the Snow Queen's palace.

Red Morocco leather shoes, from 1800-1810

Although, it was more of a natural assumption at the time to associate red shoes with luxury, since red dye was more difficult to produce, and therefore more expensive, so red was a color only the wealthier could afford. But it seems that illustrators to tend to intentionally bring out the contrast in warm colors associated with Gerda, her friendship with Kay, and her journey to find him, as opposed to the cold realm of the Snow Queen. See Arthur Rackham's illustration of Kay and Gerda in their garden, and Edmund Dulac's image of Gerda at the old woman's house:
Compared with the Snow Queen/her palace by the same illustrators:
Although, I may be too quick to defend the wearing of red, just based on our own modern culture, where bright colors are just as easily accessed as neutrals. If anything, we tend to associate good things with characters who wear bright colors, aligning them with bright, joyful personalities. What do you see as the significance of Gerda's red shoes?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Surlalune's Puss in Boots and Other Cat Tales From Around the World

I always get excited when another Surlalune collection comes out, and I was especially excited that Heidi Anne Heiner was kind enough to send me a copy of her Puss in Boots and Other Cat Tales From Around the World!

"Puss in Boots" is not a tale I'm especially familiar with-in nearly 7 years of blogging (!!) I've only had three other posts with the tag. It's not a tale that scholars frequently like to discuss or artists depict, so it's a great opportunity to learn more about this iconic character and story through essays as well as several different versions from folklore! And the unique thing about this collection is that, even if Puss in Boots isn't your favorite, the other cat tales fall into different tale types, such as "Cat Bride," "The Kind and Unkind Girls," "The Magic Ring," and Witches and Cats (that will be fun for Halloween some year!). Surlalune has been posting about each of the categories over on her blog so you can hop over there to learn more.

I'm slowly reading about the famous Puss in Boots, but I've also been enjoying reading the tales in the "Bremen Town Musicians" section. When I first spotted the title in my book of Grimm tales, I got excited to read a story about musicians because...I'm a musician! Of course I discovered it really has nothing to do with music, but animals making noise, which initially disappointed me. But over the years I've still had an affection for the tale just because of the name, and after reading more versions I'm really coming to appreciate it! The stories really have a great message about not writing off those who are aged or might otherwise be overlooked/seen as useless by society. The idea of a group of misfits banding together and ending up victorious is a pretty common trope in many of our more modern favorite stories.

In some versions, the way the animals scare off the robbers is more intentional, and other times it's accidental. The former way gives the animals more credit to their intelligence, but the latter is often funnier. One of my favorites is "The Choristers of St. Gudule," in which the donkey who begins the quest believes he has a magnificent voice and should go join the choir in the Cathedral in Brussels. The other animals, a dog, cat, and rooster, are all known for making noise that is unpleasant for humans to hear but each animal is very proud of. When they see the food the robbers are eating, the donkey suggests that they "serenade them, and perhaps they'll throw us something as a reward. Music, you know, has charms to sooth the savage beast." The irony in the tale makes it stand out as being the funniest (in my opinion).

In most of the tales it is robbers that are being scared off, but one of the story notes says that it can sometimes be wolves, therefore making it a story of domestic animals triumphing over wild. But one thing that I find curious these animal is the double standards in animal treatment. In Puss in Boots, the protagonist is rewarded for doing no more than trusting the cat he was given as his inheritance, which was seen as the worst option. This would appear to have the message that, once again, you shouldn't underestimate that which the world may give the least value to. But then the Puss himself keeps going out and killing other animals to present to the King, so not all animal life is given value (maybe...only those that talk, like in Narnia??).

In Bremen Town Musician tales, the old animals who are no longer of use to their masters are the heroes. Yet in the Irish tale "Jack and his Comrades" (sometimes there is a poor boy named Jack in the ragtag group), he asks his mother to kill his rooster for him before he goes out into the world to seek his fortune...only to later save a rooster from a fox that was about to kill him and welcome him into their group! The animals, when they find the robbers, sometimes only see them counting their money, but sometimes see them eating a large meal. Most of the time the food isn't described, but I wonder if those meals would have included meat...in one version from the United States, turkey is listed as one of the delicacies the robbers are eating.

This does highlight the irony that many of us experience who aren't vegetarians and yet sympathize with animal stories, especially those in which they're trying to avoid being eaten. According to this study, only 3.2% of Americans are vegetarians, yet who doesn't root for Babe, or Wilbur in "Charlotte's Web"? There is, of course, a divide between reality and fiction, so it's interesting that the characters within these stories tend to have the same inconsistencies, (which tend to go unnoticed by the readers).

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

H. M. Brock's Beauty and the Beast

Happy New Year! Hope you were all able to spend some time with friends and family over the winter holidays!

I got a few fairy tale treasures over the last month to share! First up, I received another book to add to my Beauty and the Beast collection, H. M. Brock's 1914 illustrated version. The copy I got has an introduction by Jerry Griswold, author of one of my favorite books on BATB.

The prose, adapted by an anonymous writer, follows the traditional French fairy tale pretty faithfully, but with a faster pace than either Beaumont or Villeneuve. One unique aspect I don't think I've read before was that when Beauty wishes herself back with her family, she uses the magic rose. Her sisters try to use the rose for themselves-only as soon as they wish on it, it withers. Beauty is dismayed to find the withered rose on the floor of her sister's room, but as soon as she picks it up, it blooms healthily again.

I wasn't familiar with H. M. Brock's illustrations before. They mimic Walter Crane's 1874 illustrations, but as Griswold discusses in the introduction, Brock has his own unique contributions.

Brock's emphasis, Griswold says (other than the luxurious, Cowardly-lion like locks of the Beast) is on the enchanted servants. Beauty's father is waited on by disembodied hands that seem to foreshadow Cocteau's row of candelabra sconces that appear to be disembodied human arms. Beauty's servants aren't as creepy; she gets monkey servants like in Crane (and in Villeneuve's "original" story). 
Brock's Disembodied hands wait on Beauty's Father

Disembodied arms hold candelabras in Cocteau's 1946 film

Walter Crane's monkey servants in procession with Beauty 

Brock's parallel monkey servant procession

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Joffrey's New Nutcracker

I don't get out to see the Joffrey Ballet's Nutcracker every year, but last year when we learned it was their final time producing their classic version we made it out to Chicago to soak it all in one last time. This month I got to see Christopher Wheeldon's new take on it.

I've seen other more local productions too throughout the years, and various movie versions/youtube clips, and typically each company doesn't vary too much from the classic story, scenes, and characters. The new Joffrey Nutcracker is certainly unique-it's set the Christmas before the opening of the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 (which introduced the first Ferris Wheel to the world, among other novelties-you're welcome, Earth!). Clara (whose name went back to Marie...possibly a nod to the Hoffman story?) is now the daughter of one of the immigrant workers on the Fair.  Her family lives in a shack on the developing Fair Grounds-one that was based on a historical photo.

So it's an interesting choice for a setting, although it may hold less appeal for out of towners. One of the most significant differences is that Marie is now poor, and the Christmas party scene looks very different. Purely from a visual perspective, the party scene isn't nearly as colorful or lush, but it makes for good exploration of what Christmas might have been like for most families around that time who couldn't necessarily afford the luxuries that Clara's family does in most ballets. From the program notes: "Instead of receiving luxurious and rare presents at a magnificent party in a vast house and then dreaming of even more presents and candy, our story offers a small gathering of immigrant workers coming together to celebrate the holiday with the things they have, filling the air with music and their vivid imaginations." When the tree transforms, it's significant not just because the tree magically grows, but because the tree originally started out as basically a cheap, Charlie Brown Christmas Tree that disappoints Marie, and it becomes a more lush and decorated tree in the process of growing.

The score is the same classic Tchaikovsky music, although with a few minor changes-during the party scene, some of the dances were played by three onstage musicians, as characters playing for the festivities. It added a sense of authenticity, although there were times I missed the full orchestra. The dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy (who is now the Queen of the Fair) was moved to earlier in Act 2 and I think at least one variation was removed (the Nutcracker or Cavalier's solo after the big Pas de Deux).

I like Chicago history as much as the next person,probably even more, and although the setting was interesting I almost felt by the end like we were being hit over the head with it, in almost propaganda-like fashion: "The Chicago World's Fair of 1893 was the greatest anyone could ever dream of!!!" The Fair isn't merely the setting with interesting themes to explore, it became the thing the ballet revolves around. The opening scene has a huge billboard advertising the coming of the Fair; instead of mechanical dolls at the party the Drosselmeyer character (the Great Impresario, modeled after the Fair's chief architect Daniel Burnham) creates a silhouette model of the Fair for the children; the Waltz of the Snowflakes was performed with the Fair in the background and the entire Land of Sweets was replaced by the Dream Fair. To be fair (haha...no pun intended), the setting did make sense of the dancers from all around the world, as the program compared the World's Fair to Disney World's Epcot, giving you a "taste" of different countries' cultures from around the world. Still, in the old Joffrey production that element was tied together by the dolls that came to life under the tree, each representing one of the dances in the second act.

One of the more disappointing changes for me, personally, was replacing the Russian dance with a Buffalo Bill's Cowboy Show. Although there really was a Buffalo Bill's Cowboy Show at the original Fair, making it historically accurate, the Trepak is one of the most iconic dances in the ballet- but really I just found the choreography to be unimpressive. I feel like they could have done more with Cowboy Bill than swinging a lasso, the saloon girls hardly did anything, and the dance lacked the energy of the Russian dance-but the rest of the audience loved that one. I also thought the choreography was poor for the Mother Ginger dance-which used to feature children doing tumbling and ballet, and is now child dancers in walnut costumes that frankly made me feel like I was watching a local dance studio's production of Nutcracker and not one of the top ballet companies in the country. Yet again, others disagreed-one reviewer called that dance the most hilarious part of the show.

So overall, it was an interesting look at the Nutcracker story and I enjoyed it. Still, for the traditionalists in our group, we kind of missed the ballet we knew and loved. Yet not everyone agreed with us-I overheard a woman afterwards saying she liked this better than the old ballet, and critics have given it great reviews. It will depend on what you're used to and expect when it comes to Nutcracker-some people may be itching for a new way to look at the story, but others of us love the nostalgia of recreating old traditions at Christmas-one of my favorite Christmas memories has just been replaced by a totally different ballet. Although I did like the concept, I don't know that I'll be dying to see this as often as I did the classic version (just as well, since it will be harder to get to it in future with a baby!). Speaking of which...one cool thing was that one of the party guests in the first act was "pregnant"-I think it's probably pretty rare to have a pregnant character in any ballet!

Although I really will miss my favorite element of the old ballet: one year, a child showed up to audition in a wheelchair, and so a character in a wheelchair was made part of the cast every year after that, participating naturally with the other boys in their party shenanigans. At the very end of the party scene, Drosselmeyer would give that child a magical "blessing" and it always made me tear up (I teach music to people with disabilities).

I don't know that I have a lot of local Chicagoland readers, but if anyone else has seen the new Nutcracker I'd love to hear what you think! Gypsy posted on it a few days ago, with several excerpts from other reviews, for more on what the experts have to say and not just my sentimental reaction ;).

Thursday, December 22, 2016


If you hear noise and clatter this Christmas Eve, it may not be Santa's reindeer, but a band of witches and trolls coming to party:

"One Christmas eve...there arose a frightful noise and clatter in the hallway outside the queen's apartment. Tatterhood asked what it was that was making such a noise outside.

"Oh," said the queen, "it isn't worth asking about."

But Tatterhood wouldn't give in until she found out all about it; and so the queen told her it was a pack of trolls and witches who had come there to celebrate Christmas. So Tatterhood said that she would just go out and drive them away. In spite of all they could say, and however much they begged and asked her to leave the trolls alone, she just had to go out and drive the witches off. She begged the queen to be careful and keep all the doors shut tight, so that not one of them would open the least bit."

-Excerpt from Tatterhood, a Norwegian fairy tale collected by Asbjornsen and Moe. You can read the full text here, which I would highly recommend: it's a tale that features an strong, active heroine who not only saved the castle from the trolls and witches, but then saved her sister who had been turned into a calf, and engineered marriages for both of them. The heroine is also very ugly, but as often happens in the world of fairy tales, transforms at the end into a beautiful bride. It's similar to Cinderella, where objects are one by one turned into gorgeous finery, but in this tale she is the one who transforms herself. Which makes it seem as though she had the power to transform all along, but chose to stay in her ugly state. It's a very empowering tale for girls and women everywhere, especially those who may not conform to society's expectations for desirability, and one that I would love to see become more well known.

Images- John Bauer, Lauren A. Mills

Monday, December 19, 2016

He Sees You When He's Creepin': Tales of Krampus

Kate Wolford and the lovely folk at World Weaver Press were kind enough to send me a copy of He Sees You When He's Creepin': Tales of Krampus. While I haven't had as much time as I would like to curl up by the tree and read, I've been able to read a few of the stories here and there!

Book description:

Krampus is the cloven-hoofed, curly-horned, and long-tongued dark companion of St. Nick. Sometimes a hero, sometimes a villain, in this anthology, he’s always more than just a sidekick. You’ll meet manifestations of Santa’s dark servant as he goes toe-to-toe with a bratty Cinderella, a guitar-slinging girl hero, a coffee shop-owning hipster, and sometimes even St. Nick himself. Whether you want a dash of horror or a hint of joy and redemption, these 12 new tales of Krampus will help you gear up for the most “wonderful” time of the year. 

The character Krampus is a fascinating one, so I was eager to learn more about him. I was excited to see the first two stories in the book were by authors whose stories I had particularly enjoyed from Frozen Fairy Tales. Steven Grimms' "Villainess Ascending" is the first-his twisted reworkings of fairy tales are well written and I enjoyed his imagining of Krampus interacting with a Cinderella in Vienna around 1800 (and another fairy tale character makes an appearance too!). I also enjoyed the historical details, such as using Schonbrunn Palace as the setting:

In the next story, Lissa Marie Redmond's character James made his second appearance since Frozen Fairy Tales. This modern story is much more lighthearted in tone. For example, I laughed at the line "So I did what any millenial with a problem would do, I went upstairs and googled it." (So true!)

One of the interesting things about reading a collection of Krampus stories is seeing the various ways he is portrayed-sometimes he's a clear villain, others he's really the victim or the hero. It's an interesting concept to explore what would go on in the mind of the monster who is sent each year to violently harm naughty children...does he relish his work? Is it just a job to him? Is he trapped in that role? Along with that, there are some interesting looks into what might motivate Santa/St. Nicholas (and warning-he is not always the classic jolly old soul!). As Wolford points out in the introduction, Krampus in folklore isn't viewed as the anti-Santa, a demon to be destroyed, but his partner. Although his methods might be extreme, his role provides a balance to the gift-giving St. Nicholas. In fact, it's interesting that many authors (of the stories I've read so far) are more sympathetic to Krampus than capitalized on the opportunity to make him into a Christmas horror story.

I've been pondering our own, modern cultural Santa/behavior myths as well. I wouldn't advocate giving children no presents, or coal, on Christmas if they've been especially "naughty" that year, but the threats we tend to give (Elf on the Shelf reporting on your behavior to Santa, for example) are so empty, it seems like a cheap way to influence behavior if there will be no follow through (I'm a teacher, and threats without consequences are a recipe for chaos, not better behavior!).

Austrian Greeting Card

So far another standout story I've also really enjoyed Anya J. Davis' "The Business of Christmas." It's a clever look into how Santa and Krampus might have developed their operations over time to fit in with our modern culture and technology.

While some of these stories might be a little more dark or cynical than typical holiday fare (which might be a perk for some people tired of extra cheesy Christmas entertainment), not only are they thought provoking, but they retain a sense of the wonder and magic of Christmas. I look forward to reading more!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Giveaway: The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm

21981650Princeton University is hosting a giveaway over at Goodreads for the chance to win a copy of The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, edited by Jack Zipes! I LOVE my copy and the ability to compare and contrast their earliest published versions of tales with later ones-and to read tales that get left out of most "complete" collections of Grimm tales.

Hop on over to enter-you have until New Year's Eve! Unfortunately (for some of you), it's open to US readers only.

And if you're interested, here are some of the tales I've been able to explore this year using this book:

Castle of Murder
Grimms and the Elves
Frog King vs. Frog Prince
Spinners Tales
The Twelve Brothers

Monday, December 12, 2016

Icelandic Yule Lads

Despite the sensationalized title of the Buzzfeed article, The 13 Horrifying Christmas Trolls of Iceland, I didn't think these trolls were all that horrifying. But I do find the concept interesting-instead of one night in which there is a supernatural visitor who either gifts or punishes, in Iceland there are visitors for 13 nights straight! Unlike the 12 Days of Christmas, which start on Christmas Day and traditionally end before Epiphany on January 6, these lads visit in the nights leading up to Christmas. The article has images of each troll, as well as the night they visit.
The visits begin tonight, with Stekkjarstaur, the Sheep Harasser! Although the Lads aren't nearly as terrifying as Krampus, if children are naughty they will stuff their shoes with rotting potatoes instead of gifts-definitely worse than our American idea of coal! Other Lads to come:
Spoon Licker

Door Slammer

Sausage Swiper

Sunday, December 4, 2016

La Bella e La Bestia

I found out about this via Megan Kearney's Beauty and the Beast tumblr-an Italo-Spanish mini series Beauty and the Beast. Starring Alessandro Preziosi and Blanca Suarez, it retells the classic story in two episodes, which Kearney provides links to here.
IMDB summary:

The story starts with Bella Dubois, daughter of a merchant/Sea captain. She decides to be a maidservant at Leon's castle because her father couldn't afford the debt at the moment. When Leon first meets Bella he has passionate feelings for her because of her bravery and she seems to understand his anguished memories.Their love is developing beautifully but encounters opposition in the form of his jealous cousin. Prince Leon finally convinces Bella that she is not a bet. He cancels her father's debt, frees her and they marry.
^This poster definitely gives the Beast more of a Phantom of the Opera vibe. Has anyone seen this/have opinions??

Speaking of BATB media...I haven't posted anything on the upcoming Disney version, mostly because my fellow bloggers have been covering it quite well, and you've probably seen the trailer floating around the internet by this point. I'm trying not to get my hopes up too much, but have to admit I'm excited about it. I especially love that they seem to be returning to the tale's roots more so than just reinventing the Disney cartoon-referencing the French literary version/even McKinley's "Beauty."

Also from Kearney recently-a helpful answer to anyone who says BATB is about Stockholm Syndrome, and a link to a good article on Fairy Tales and the Necessity of Fear

Friday, December 2, 2016

Mindy Kalilng's Holiday GIF Cards- Fairytales

A couple of years ago, celebrity Mindy Kaling released these Holiday GIF cards that look at some of our favorite fairy tales with a bit of sarcastic humor.

There are a couple more here but the above were my favorites! Happy beginning of the holiday season!