Thursday, December 30, 2010

How to Make your own Beauty and the Beast Journal

This post could really be applied to making any fairy tale or any other kind of journal, but my examples are Beauty and the Beast.

For fairy tale fans who journal and also happen to be adults, it can be hard to find appropriate journals. Most look much like one of these:
So for a little more sophistication, you can create your own journal. The easiest thing to do is simply create a collage over an existing journal. You'll need a journal with a smooth cover you don't mind ruining, some kind of glue (I recommend using Mod Podge, which is made to use for collages and dries clear), and pictures you'd like. For the below images, I did internet searches for' "Beauty and the Beast" -Disney' and printed out my favorite results, or used scans of pictures from my favorite picture book version of BATB, illustrated by Angela Barrett. Surlalune's illustrations pages is also a great place to find classic fairy tale illustrations.

Collages give you a lot of freedom to be creative. Another way to create a fun journal is to reuse a children's story book cover. Techniques for this can be as simple as folding a stack of papers in half and stapling them in the middle, then gluing the outside pages to the inside covers, or you can get fancy with different kinds of bookbinding, sewing sections of paper together for more sturdy and thick books. This tutorial seems to be relatively helpful but doesn't provide help in sewing; this video shows someone sewing a book. For the one below I did the old fold-staple-glue routine.

For the journal below I sewed sections of folded paper together. I made this years ago so don't have step-by-step pictures to show what I did, but I used techniques I learned in a Japanese bookbinding class. And for those who are appalled at my turning this beautiful vintage book into a journal, in my defense, I was young and foolish and the cover had already come off; I probably wouldn't do it again now but it was one of my favorite journals to use...

Fairy Tales in Christmas History

One more Christmas-themed post, for good measure:

This month I checked out Christmas: A Social History by Mark Connelly from my library, which I recommend to anyone who enjoys learning about Christmas but might tire of the traditional feel-good stories in which a person's character and morality can supposedly be measured by their level of Christmas spirit. (Don't get me wrong, I watch each classic Christmas special religiously every year...) This book takes a historical-social approach, analyzing Christmas traditions and what they reflect about the society at the time, focusing on the English perspective.

I didn't expect to find fairy tale references in it, but a large part of the historical Christmas celebrations in England were pantomimes, some of which focused on fairy tale plots. Just further evidence of how fairy tales are altered to fit moods and attitudes of the culture that creates them:

"E. L. Blanchard wrote Faw Fee Fo Fum; or, Halequin Jack, the Giant Killer in 1867 for Drury Lane. The pantomime starts on the Giant's Causeway, showing the giant leaving Ireland to come to England. This seems to play on long-standing fears of Ireland as a staging-post for invasions of England. England is portrayed as the home of chivalry and merriment...When Jack realizes that the nation is in peril from the giant and sees the glory of the Duke's retinue he vows to become a knight-no rejection of aristocratic values here. Jack then goes off to defeat the giant and is feted as a glorious knight...He also becomes a hero in Ireland where the fairies and leprechauns are glad to be rid of the tyranny of the giant, thus sending a ressuring message about the unity of the two nations. Jack sums up the Victorian belief in the ancient English liberties and tells the audience: 'We English form a curious community/No tyrant makes us prisoners with impunity.' "

Image-Arthur Rackham

This was not the only Jack and the Beanstalk-themed pantomime; Arabian Nights were also popular source material (these fairy tales were also mentioned by Charles Dickens in his "A Christmas Tree", proof that they were both very popular in England at the time). Interest in China and the East had widened as trade between the countries did, evidenced in the fact that the names used in plays about Aladdin usually had to do with tea: Widow Twankay (a famous port), Tealeaf, Souchong (a tea leaf with a smoky taste because of the affects of being exposed to fire on the long journey from the east), and Mazawatea.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Charles Dickens-A Christmas Tree

"But, now, the very tree itself changes, and becomes a bean-stalk--the marvellous bean-stalk up which Jack climbed to the Giant's house! And now, those dreadfully interesting, double-headed giants, with their clubs over their shoulders, begin to stride along the boughs in a perfect throng, dragging knights and ladies home for dinner by the hair of thei heads. And Jack-how noble, with his sword of sharpness, and his shoes of swiftness! Again those old meditations come upong me as I gaze up at him; and I debate within myself whether there was more than one Jack (which I am loathe to believe possible), or only one genuine original admirable Jack, who achieved all the recorded exploits.
"Good for Christmas-time is the ruddy colour of the cloak, in which-the tree making a forest of itself for her to trip through, with her basket-Little Red Riding-Hood comes to me one Christmas Eve to give me information of the cruelty and treachery of that dissembling Wolf who ate her grandmother, without making any impression on his appetite, and then ate her, after making that ferocious joke about his teeth. She was my first love. I felt that if I could have married Little Red Riding-Hood, I should have known perfect bliss. But, it was not to be...

"Hush! Again a forest, and somebody up in a tree--not Robin Hood, not Valentine, not the Yellow Dwarf...but an Eastern King with a glittering scimitar and turban. By Allah! two Eastern Kings, for I see another, looking over his shoulder! Down upon the grass, at the tree's foot, lies the full length of a coal-black Giant, stretched asleep, with his head in a lady's lap; and near them is a glass box, fastened with four locks of shining steel, in which he keeps the lady prisoner when he is awake, I see the four keys at his girdle now. The lady makes signs to the two kings in the tree, who softly descend. It is the setting-in of the bright Arabian Nights.
"Oh, now all common things become uncommon and enchanted to me. All lamps are wonderful; all rings are talismans. Common flower-pots are full of treasure, with a little earth scattered on top; trees are for Ali Baba to hide in; beef-steaks are to throw down into the Valley of Diamonds...Any iron ring let into stone is the entrance to a cave which only waits for the magician...all apples are akin to the apple purchased from the Sultan's garden...
"Yes, on every object that I recognise among those upper branches of my Christmas Tree, I see this fairy light! When I wake in bed, at daybreak, on the cold, dark, winter mornings, the white snow dimly beheld, outside, through the frost on the window-pane, I hear Dinarzade. 'Sister, sister, if you are yet awake, I pray you finish the history of the Young King of the Black Islands.' Scheherezade replies, 'If my lord the Sultan will suffer me to live another day, sister, I will not only finish that, but tell you a more wonderful story yet.' Then, the gracious Sultan goes out, giving no orders for execution, and we all three breathe again."

Texts taken from "A Christmas Tree" by Charles Dickens, a delightful piece in which he recalls childhood memories that come to mind in the presence of his Christmas tree. People love to quote the line where Dickens claimed he thought he should have known perfect bliss if he married Little Red Riding Hood, so here is a bit more of the context, which includes other fairy tale references as well. To those of you that celebrate-Merry Christmas!

Images: here, Charles H. Sylvester, llamdorada, Virginia Frances Sterrett, Illustrated London News "Christmas at Windsor Castle" (1848),

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Joffey's Nutcracker

In the Chicago area, (or the whole coutry according to the ads,) the Joffrey Ballet's Nutcracker is clearly the best one to see-but also the most expensive. When you're used to it, any other productions are disappointing in comparison. Thank goodness for youtube-

One of my favorite things about the Joffrey Ballet's version happens at the end of the party scene. There's always a little boy in a wheelchair at the party. If I recall correctly, they used to have it so that at the end of the party, Godpapa Drosselmeier throws some magic dust on him and he rises out of his chair-a miraculous healing. Last year, from what I could see from my seat, I think the boy in the wheelchair was really a boy with a disability. Godpapa Drosselmeier gives him a special "magic" blessing as usual, but there's no miraculous healing-I think I like it better that way; it gives encouragement to individuals and families with disabilities without an unrealistic solution that won't really happen.

Friday, December 17, 2010

ETA Hoffmann's The Nutcracker

The evolution of the Nutcracker reminds me of the evolution of Beauty and the Beast-they both started as longer, drawn out stories, including stories-within-stories that explain the characters' background. As versions of the tales were simplified-condensing the action to a shorter period of time and cutting out the backstories, they became more popular and well known. And now the original tales are hardly known at all, whether Villeneuve's Batb or Hoffmann's "Nutcracker and the King of Mice" (although for whatever reason, Beaumont is always credited with Batb and not Villeneuve, but Hoffmann always credited for Nutcracker and not Dumas.) Nutcracker also has a very beauty and the beast-esque theme running through it, so it's no surprise I love it so much.

Hoffmann's story starts, like the ballet, with the young heroine and her brother Fritz eagerly awaiting Christmas Eve festivities. The original name is Marie-she's become Clara in many versions, and interestingly Clara was Marie's Christmas doll. They also have an older sister Louise, who has been forgotten, but her character's not very important anyway.

Christmas Eve does not bring a large party with many guests, but a small family gathering, complete with Godpapa Drosselmeier, who brings them a castle he made with mechanical pieces, the genius of which is rather lost on the children. An ugly nutcracker soldier doll was discovered among the gifts, "but Marie remembered that Godpapa Drosselmeier often appeared in a terribly ugly morning jacket, and with a frightful-looking cap on his head, and yet was a very very darling godpapa." Marie "had quite fallen in love with at first sight" this ugly man. Fritz did break the Nutcracker, but not out of spite-he simply broke him trying to crack an extremely large nut. Marie was terribly upset, and Godpapa Drosselmeier laughed at her for being so concerned with such an ugly man.

That night Marie begged to be allowed to stay up a little longer to take care of her dolls. Her mamma allowed this, and as the clock struck, she saw Godpapa Drosselmeier on top of the clock, and heard the screeching of many mice. Marie was not afraid of mice, but when she saw the Mouse King with seven heads, she became frightened. Fritz' toy soldiers followed the Nutcracker out of the cupboard-note that they do not grow to life-sized proportions (which makes more sense when the throwing of a shoe causes so much distress to the Mouse King). The Nutcracker rejected a token of affection from Marie's doll Clara, since he already treasured above all else the ribbon Marie had tied around his wound. After a perilous battle, in which the Nutcracker's troops were forced to retreat and the Nutcracker in grave danger, Marie threw her left shoe straight at the King and fell senseless to the floor.

Marie woke the next morning in bed. She had cut her arm on the glass of the toy cupboard the night before and had a fever. Her parents did not believe her story of the toys and mice, but she heard a voice telling her, "Marie! Dearest lady! I am most deeply indebted to you. But it is in your power to do even more for me."

Godpapa Drosselmeier appeared, and Marie accused him of not being of any help in the battle. At first he answered very mysteriously in a way that made her parents uneasy, but after laughing at their response to his "Watchmaker's Song," he produced a Nutcracker to Marie that he had fixed, and told Marie and Fritz the Story of the Hard Nut, over a succession of nights.
In a kingdom was born a Princess named Pirlipat that had strong teeth and could bite anything as soon as she was born. Her parents adored her. One day as the Queen was making sausages for the King, the Queen of Mice asked for a bit of the browned fat. The Queen assented, but was soon troubled by all the friends and relations of the mouse Queen, and the sausage had very little fat in it. The King was very upset by all this and ordered mousetraps put all over the palace. This was done by the Clockmaker, Christian Elias Drosselmeier. The Queen was too clever to be caught in a trap, but she lost her family, including seven sons, and cursed Pirlipat with ugliness-an enormous head on top of a crumped up body, wooden eyes, and a mouth that stretched from one ear to another.

The Clockmaker, Drosselmeier, found through the Princess' horoscope the solution to the curse-to eat the kernel of the nut Crackatook, cracked in the Princess' presence by the teeth of a man whose beard had never known a razor, and who had never worn boots, and must take seven steps backwards before handing the kernel to the Princess. Drosselmeier traveled the world in search of the nut and the man destined to crack it, with no success. Finally he returned home to Nuremberg, where the solutions turned out to be in his own family-his cousin had the nut Crackatook and his cousin's son fit the exact description of the man needed to crack it.

The young Mr. Drosselmeier returned with the Clockmaker to the kingdom, where he performed his duty, but on the seventh step he took backwards, he was tripped by the Mouse Queen, cursing him with the ugliness that had been Pirlipat's and to remain that way until he slew the Queen's son with seven heads, and until a lady should fall in love with him despite his deformity (see? I told you it was just like Beauty and the Beast...)
Not long after Marie was told the history of her Nutcracker, the Mouse King-who had survived the battle-began to blackmail her for her treats and Christmas presents, threatening to chew the Nutcracker to dust if she didn't do as he said. With a heavy heart, Marie sacrificed her beautiful things- until the Mouse King wanted her picture books and dresses. The Nutcracker pleaded with her not to sacrifice any more for him, but to provide him with a sword. Fritz gives the Nutcracker one of his retired Colonel's swords, and the Nutcracker is equipped. That night the Nutcracker appears to Marie, and gave her the seven crowns of the Mouse King, who has finally been vanquished.

The Nutcracker takes her through a ladder in the wardrobe to fantastic lands like Christmas Wood and the metropolis of Sweetmeatburgh (a land where their name for God is "Pastrycook"), where he tells his subjects of Marie's loyalty and help in his victory. They are all grateful and invite her to pound sugar-candy with them, which she does until she falls asleep.

Once again her parents are not convinced, even when Marie shows them the seven tiny crowns (Drosselmeier claims he gave them to her on her second birthday). Even Fritz doubted the story (that, plus the wardrobe, reminded me of Narnia). It wasn't until Marie told the Nutcracker, "Ah, dear Mr. Drosselmeier, if you really were alive, I shouldn't be like Princess Pirlipat and despise you because you had had to give up being a nice handsome gentleman for my sake!" that there was a tremendous bang and there was Godpapa Drosselmeier with his nephew from Nuremberg, who thanked Marie for freeing him from the spell and asked her to be his Queen in Marzipan Castle, to which she agreed. They were married in a year and a day, which is somewhat disturbing, considering she was only seven at the story's beginning.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Nutcracker's ETA Hoffman

The Nutcracker, the famous Christmas ballet, was based off a story written by E. T. A. Hoffmann in the fall of 1816 (to put that in the context of the fairy tale world, the Grimms published the first edition of their Children and Household Tales in 1812). Note that the ballet story is not directly derived from this story, but from Alexandre Dumas' translation and adaptation of the Hoffmann story.

Hoffmann did not consider himself primarily a writer, but a musician. According to E.F. Bleiler, Hoffmann was a very underrated but significant figure in music: he was revered as a music critic, where he wrote under the pseudonym Kreisler. He wrote "the first really romantic music," was one of the first to recognize the merits of J.S. Bach, one of the first to support Beethoven intelligently, inspired the compositions of giants such as Weber, Schumann, and Wagner, and may have been the first to write an opera based on folklore. This would be his opera Undine, based on the tale of the water nymph who dies for love of a human. Much of the music from this was destroyed in a fire.

Critics say his music was not great like his writing-it "sounded like Mozart...but without Mozart's genius." He tried to make a living off music but turned to writing when that didn't work out.

His Nutcracker story was not the only one to be turned into a ballet plot-Delibes' Coppelia is taken from his "The Sand-Man." The story "Nutcracker and the King of Mice" came out of the idea that "a child is closer to the primal innocence...than an adult, and can enter and savor realms of experience or beyond-experience that even an adult with insight cannot enter." The main characters were based off of real people-Godpapa Drosselmeier was based on himself. The Stahlbaum children were representative of his friend Hitzig's children, whom he had made a cardboard castle for the previous year, as Drosselmeier presents a castle to the children in the story.

"In 'Nutcracker and the King of Mice' a marchen or literary fairy tale serves as the 'unconsious focus' of the story. It indicates the inner relationships in the ideal world that created the present story situation, together with possibilities for future resolution."

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Disney Christmas Gift

The holidays are a CRAZY time for music here's something that took no time for me to plan: A Disney Christmas Gift, from 1982-an assortment of classic Disney clips that have anything to do with Christmas. I grew up watching a video of this we'd taped off the t.v. Follow the youtube links to watch successive parts.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


In general, our modern Santa Claus came from a historical figure, St. Nicholas. But in Sweden, their Santa Claus figure was actually once a house elf.
The Swedish tomte is the equivalent of a hob, brownie or house-elf found in other parts of Europe. They live in houses and can be quite helpful, but very nasty if denied their usual salary (porridge with butter on Christmas night) or if he felt offended, after which he would punish people-sometimes harmelss pranks, other times killing those who ate his porridge.
Denmark's house elf, the nisse, started bearing presents on Christmas around the 1840s, and the Swedish tomte followed his example. Jenny Nystrom illustrated the tomte as a more Santa Claus-like figure-wearing red with a white beard (illustrations shown above). He had a goat rather than reindeer, and though over time he's been more and more influenced by the Western Santa Claus, some in Scandinavia still leave out porridge for him (I'd rather have cookies, myself...).

Other Swedish Christmas traditions come from ancient folklore. Long ago people believed that the dead would come back to visit their homes on Christmas, so lights were left on, beds were left open (the people slept on the floor), bath houses were warmed, and food was left out for them. Some of these traditions have been attributed to being for the Christ-child, but that's not where they originated. There was much superstition attached to every activity done on Christmas-for example, if a light went out during the night it was an omen of death in the coming year, and I wonder if that's the original reason for why we still have outdoor Christmas lights on through the night. Sleigh bells served the purpose of making noise to keep away goblins and demons. Goblins were supposedly often present at Christmastime, and there are many stories of people who were whisked away to another spirit world on Christmas. Christmas, like fairy tales,
tends to have a reputation that it's mainly for children (and marketing), but both things started out much darker and not exclusively for children at all.
One other interesting thing-there was a belief in ancient rural communities that the well-being of a farm was dependent on the well-being of a certain tree, called an ancestral tree-often thought to be the home of the farm's house elf. Christmas trees are a relatively recent tradition in the long history of Christmas, but earlier generations may have had those associations in mind when decorating their sacred Christmas trees.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Taming of the Beast

I was babysitting and watched a Little Einsteins in which there is a sort of Three Little Pigs parody; the enthusiastic and educationally inclined children discover at the end that the Big Bad Wolf that was huffing and puffing the house of their little bug friends was really just sneezing, he really only wanted to play with the bugs and was only accidentally sending their house around the world for more learning opportunities. And this just reminded me of a theme that is sort of the theme of Beauty and the Beast in general, but also a very modern interpretation of fairy tales; nothing is really dangerous. In Beauty and the Beast we find the beast we thought was dangerous is really the hero; in modern versions we often find Beauty embracing that beastliness and preferring the Beast to a human version.

But it's other stories too-"How to Train your Dragon" comes to mind. Though I really love the movie, it irked me a bit that it seemed to imply that any human/animal frictions are really to be blamed on humans, ignoring the fact that not all animals are fluffy puppies and kittens and that many are truly dangerous. "Free Willy" is a random old example, but I happened to watch it the same day as Pet Dragon the other week and realized there were many parallels-and to bring it all back to fairy tales, my sister made the comment that it followed the same plot as Beauty and the Beast, which is true on some levels.

I'm all for overcoming negative stereotypes and unnecessary judging, but it seems a lot of media is actually sending the message that nothing is actually dangerous, which in itself can be a very dangerous message. The earlier audiences of Beauty and the Beast, as well as Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White and Rose Red, etc., would have viewed animals completely differently and automatically assume a wild animal to be a threat, especially to the unarmed females in the tales. But today we're so used to being surprised that nothing surprises us, and we're not nearly as frightened of animals in general to begin with. I've referenced this before, but the huge Twilight phenomenon is an example of something that is supposed to be truly horrible and terrifying, and now vampires have been turned into a means for millions of girls to vicariously live out the experience of having attractive, shirtless men fight over them-calling them vampires just makes it that much more "exciting."

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Beastly trailer

I'm ashamed to admit I have yet to read the book "Beastly" by Alex Flinn...I would probably have been excited about the movie version but the moment I heard Vanessa Hudgens was cast as the Beauty character I knew I could never take it seriously. She's gorgeous but one of the most annoying actresses in the world...which, ironically, is completely countering the "substance over style" her character claims she goes for in this trailer...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Beauty of the Beast

Image available as ipad case (or iphone) from Kirstin Mills
One of the reasons I love the band Nightwish is because of songwriter Tuomas Holopainen's love for Beauty and the Beast-the theme can be tracked through each of their albums. In the album "Century Child", this is especially evident through the phrase "Beauty of the Beast." I love the idea of challenging perceptions; maybe the Beast is beautiful, either truly physical attractive, in the eyes of some beholders, or in his character-in the French tale, he is innocent and Beauty is the one who breaks her word to him. Which is connected to the image above (though the illustration has nothing to do with Nightwish), for here the hint is that the beast is within the Beauty (or...Little Red Riding Hood) as well. In typical fairy tales, the heroes and villains are obvious. In Beauty and the Beast, it's not so obvious, which I appreciate.
The opening song of the above mentioned album, "Bless the Child," contains these words at the end of the beginning narrated part:
" One night I dreamt a white rose withering,
a newborn drowning a lifetime loneliness.
I dreamt all my future. Relived my past.
And witnessed the beauty of the beast"

The last song of the album is titled "Beauty of the Beast."

The opening words "Trees have dropped their leaves/clouds their waters/all this burden is killing me" always makes me think of this as a late fall song, so here we are.

The lyrics "
I fear I will never find anyone
I know my greatest pain is yet to come
Will we find each other in the dark
My long lost love" could apply to any single person...but I always imagine them being the Beast, before he's met Beauty, despairing of ever finding someone to break the spell.
Also from this song: "
My home is far but the rest it lies so close
With my long lost love under the black rose
You told I had the eyes of a wolf
Search them and find the beauty of the beast"
Sanest choice in the insane world:
Beware the beast but enjoy the feast he offers"
Not sure exactly what Tuomas means by these words...I have my ideas, and I'm sure each person has their own interpretation as well.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes-Little Red Riding Hood

As soon as Wolf began to feel
That he would like a decent meal,
He went and knocked on Grandma's door.

When Grandma opened it, she saw
The sharp white teeth, the horrid grin,

And Wolfie said, "May I come in?"
Poor Grandmamma was terrified,
"He's going to eat me up!" she cried.
And she was absolutely right.

He ate her up in one big bite.
But Grandmamma was small and tough,
And Wolfie wailed, "That's not enough!
I haven't yet begun to feel
That I have had a decent meal!"

He ran around the kitchen yelping,
"I've got to have a second helping!"

Then added with a frightful leer,
"I'm therefore going to wait right here
Till Little Miss Red Riding Hood
Comes home from walking in the wood."

Tyler Garrison

Fleury Francois Richard

He quickly put on Grandma's clothes,
(Of course he hadn't eaten those).
He dressed himself in coat and hat.
He put on shoes, and after that,
He even brushed and curled his hair,
Then sat himself in Grandma's chair.

In came the little girl in red.
She stopped. She stared. And then she said,
"What great big ears you have, Grandma."
"All the better to hear you with,"
the Wolf replied.
"What great big eyes you have, Grandma."
said Little Red Riding Hood.
"All the better to see you with,"
the Wolf replied.
He sat there watching her and smiled.
He thought, I'm going to eat this child.
Compared with her old Grandmamma,
She's going to taste like caviar.

Then Little Red Riding Hood said, "
But Grandma, what a lovely great big
furry coat you have on."

"That's wrong!" cried Wolf.
"Have you forgot
To tell me what BIG TEETH I've got?
Ah well, no matter what you say,
I'm going to eat you anyway."

The small girl smiles. One eyelid flickers.
She whips a pistol from her knickers.
She aims it at the creature's head,
And bang bang bang, she shoots him dead.

A few weeks later, in the wood,
I came across Miss Riding Hood.
But what a change! No cloak of red,
No silly hood upon her head.
She said, "Hello, and do please note
My lovely furry wolfskin coat."

Roald Dahl

Top two images from this post-click to read interesting discussion on modern LRRH and more art samples

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Burtonized Disney Princesses

Silvertallest on deviantart created these.

Happy Mickey Mouse Day!

It's the official Mickey Mouse Day! On this day in 1928, Steamboat Willie premiered, and in 1955, the Mickey Mouse Club aired. You can read about other Disney history that happened on November 18 on the This Day in Disney History page.

Mickey started out looking a bit different that he does today (his name was also originally Mortimer) due to limitations in animation. The animators first went with what was easiest to draw, since they had to create 700 feet of film every two weeks. Mickey gradually changed to his present image to give him more character.

Mickey was also different in personality at first-he was meaner and more controversial-"he was quick and cocky and cruel-at best a fresh and bratty kid, at worst a diminutive and sadistic monster...after a delightfully bratty beginning he matured into a terrible square, simply incapable of the kind of irreverent comic turns that a great comedian must master". Disney changed him to make him nicer, but he lost some of his personality that way, so Donald and Pluto were added- as less sacred, they could get away with losing their tempers while Mickey continued to be the hero.

The distributors of the films believed Mickey was the star and the selling point-Disney realized that the technique was key, and realized sound was a huge way to make movies successful. Steamboat Willie was the first movie to have synchronized sound and visuals. Disney drew a slash of ink on every 12th frame, so the screen would flash white every half second, and the conductor's job was to keep the music in time with the flashes. The soundtrack was originally created with lots of sound effects by musically illiterate animators. Eventually, the costs of recording the music for the soundtrack grew more than expected, and Roy Disney had to sell Walt's favorite car to fund it.

Disney also introduced the idea of using great classical music to accompany cartoons in "The Skeleton Dance". This was considered gruesome at the time (the cartoon, not the classical music)-the subject matter didn't go well with the animal characters, so they were absent. This is supposed to be set to Saint-Saens' "Dance Macabre," of which I hear...maybe 5 seconds' worth, altered. Am I crazy?..

Information from the 1968 American Heritage article "Bringing Forth the Mouse" by Richard Shickel. Shickel also includes some choice words about Walt Disney himself:
"Walt Disney was a grouchy, inarticulate, withdrawn man."
"Everything that came out of his workshops was stamped with his name and, indeed, with his taste and personality, a practice which eventually drove most of his genuinely talented elves from his employ."
"He remained suspicious of outsiders, stragely small-minded on questions of aesthetics and narrow-minded on morals, and deeply wedded to the propagation of the happy myth of small-town, turn-of-the-century virtue."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Mercedes Lackey's The Black Swan

A while back I posted a review of Mercedes Lackey's Firebird novel which was not the most enthusiastic ever, so it is with great pleasure that I reread her The Black Swan (which is not connected with the movie "Black Swan" coming out, starring Natalie Portman). It is a retelling of the story of Swan Lake, but from the perspective of Odile, the Black Swan, which is a fascinating idea. I'm also glad that the source was Swan Lake, which is not written on as often as the more "standard" fairy tales.

The first time I read this book was a while ago, and I think it was probably the first book I ever read with sexual content in it, so it was shocking to me and was really the only thing I remember about it. And Siegfried's character starts out like the prince in Firebird that I didn't like-a chauvenist who has sex with whoever he wants to, whenever he wants to, and has no compassion for the females or servants he uses. Now some people are indeed more liberal than the stereotypical chaste fairy tale characters, but this is the other extreme- throughout Firebird it seemed like this was a totally normal, healthy way for a prince to behave-"ah, boys will be boys." So Siegfried made me uncomfortable at the beginning of Black Swan-I wasn't sure how much was supposed to upset me and how much was supposed to be accepted by the modern reader. Although Siegfried is supposed to get you riled up on some level, at least if you're female (a lot of guys probably think his existence would be the dream life): at one point he muses two separate ladies he intends to have as his newest sex partners, "I'll have to make it clear from the start to both of them that I am the master, and I won't tolerate either of them acting as if she has any rights over me..."

But there's good news for this book: Siegfried grows as a character and has a change of heart after he is haunted by the ghost of a gypsy girl he raped, and a very powerful dream scene.

Overall, I was impressed by the characters as well as the plot. It's rich in symbolism, which is very rare for modern books...the contrast and paralells between the father/daughter relationship of von Rothbart/Odile and the mother/son- Clothilde/Siegfried. Mirrors are important, for they "reveal the truth," and masks are symbolic-literal physical masks, as seen on the book cover, as well as the masking of emotions. The concept of faithfulness and loyalty to lovers is a big one, as well as gender stereotypes-how people (male and female) tend to negatively stereotype the entire opposite gender.

In this version, von Rothbart captures women he believes have been unfaithful traitors, and deems them worthy of their punishment as swan maidens. Odile, at the beginning, is devoted to her father and only wishes to please him; she believes that the flock are wayward women. She practices her magic in order to gain rare approval from her father, and finally is forced to realize that the swan maidens are not what she thought, nor is her father. The book never reveals why von Rothbart is so insistent on punishing his view of sinful women, but I assumed his wife cheated on him and he made it his life's mission to punish the female race out of bitterness (at one point, Odile reflects that her own silvery white hair is odd compared to her father's red hair. She supposes it's due to magic, but the reader is left to wonder if she's really his daughter at all).

I also love this book because Lackey was clearly familiar enough with the ballet to nod to it occasionally-she refers to the four youngest swans, and the first time you meet them they are dancing-this is the Dance of the Cygnets:

These are, apparantly, vegan ballerinas...
Also, in the final ballroom sequence, she mentions that some of the guests are dressed in costumes of different countries, and that they perform dances for the prince. These are all dances performed in the ballet-here's ABT's Hungarian Dance:

In my opinion, this book is far above Firebird in sophistication. The characters were intriguing, and their relationships with one another were fascinating; the characters had growth, the plot was imaginative and complex, the real world was blended expertly with a world of magic that was thrilling yet believeable; the climax was very exciting. Go read it. It is, however, intended for mature audiences, so don't give it to your little ballet-loving neice for Christmas.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Children in the Story

In the book "Mary Poppins in the Park," there's a very sweet chapter in which the characters of a fairy tale Jane and Michael are reading come to life. Jane and Michael believe they have gone into the story of "The Three Princes," but the Princes (and their unicorn) believe they have traveled into the story of Jane and Michael. Which is amusing on different levels-the reader knows that Jane and Michael are, in fact, only characters in the story, yet it still causes you to think that maybe the characters we read about are just as real as we are...and, in fact, in a way the characters are more permanent:
""But-" she protested. "How can it be? You are in Once Upon a Time. And that is long ago."
"Oh, no!" said Veritain. "It's always. Do you remember your great-great-great-great-grandmother?"
"Of course not. I am much too young."
"We do," said Florimund, with a smile. "And what about your great-great-great-great-granddaughter? Will you ever see her, do you think?"
Jane shook her head a little wistfully. That charming far-away little girl-how much she would like to know her!
"We shall," said Veritain confidently.
"But how? You're the children in the story!"
Florimund laughed and shook his head.
"You are the children in the story! We've read about you so often, Jane, and looked at the picture and longed to know you. So today-when the book fell open-we simply walked in. We come once into everyone's story-the grand-parents and the grand-children are the same to us. But most people take no notice." He sighed. "Or if they do, they forget very quickly. Only a few remember."
Jane's hand tightened on his sleeve. She felt she would never forget him, not if she lived to be forty."
The princes, in the book, step out of the Silver Fairy Book. Which, when I read it, I assumed was one of the Andrew Lang colored fairy books. After searching for it, it turns out that there is no Silver Fairy Book, or a story about the three Princes Veritain, Florimund, and Amor, that I could find. It would have been nice if it were more well-known fairy tale children, like Hansel and Gretel, because the reader could relate to them more. Later in the chapter, the adults in the story are tested and all fail to recognize the fairy tale characters but for a brief moment when they remember their childhood-except, of course, for Mary Poppins and Bert, who always remember.
The movie "Mary Poppins" is possibly the only movie to ever be better than the books on which it was based, so the books tend to get overshadowed (I might put "Pinocchio" into this category as well, I found the book a bit frustrating...). But this is not for lack of quality in the books, so they are definitely worth reading, for children or adults.

The Mary Poppins books were written by P.L. Travers and illustrated by Mary Shepard.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Flute Player-Apache Tale

I was in the children's section of my library and caught the title of a book, "The Flute Player: an Apache Tale." I already have interest in Native American lore because of my adopted Cherokee brother, and if it's about a flute player as well, I have to read it!

The tale was a rather tragic Romeo and Juliet-esque story. At a hoop dance, one boy and girl were noticed to be dancing only with each other. The others wondered if they liked each other. During the course of the dance, the boy told the girl he was a flute player. He told her that, in the mornings, he would play. She told him that, when she heard him, if she liked his song, she would send a leaf down the river to him.
He played the next morning. From the fields where the girl was at work, everyone stopped when they noticed the sound like wind through the trees, but was really a far off flute. Pleased, the girl dropped a leaf in the river. When the boy received it, he was glad.

The same thing happened the next morning; the boy played, and the girl sent a leaf. The boy was very happy, and he wondered if the fact that the girl liked his playing meant that she really liked him.

The boy's father told him it was time for him to go on a hunt, not stay home every day with the women. The boy left for a hunt, all the time dreaming of the girl at home and how he would play for her when he returned.

The girl, though, did not know that the boy had left on a hunt. She listened every morning for his flute, and heard nothing. She got up extra early and went to the fields to catch the sound, and still heard nothing. Eventually she grew depressed and ill. Nothing could make her well, and she died.

When the boy returned from the hunt, he was so anxious to play his flute again. The next morning he played and played and waited for a leaf...and received nothing. The following morning he got up extra early and played again, to find nothing. Finally the boy went to the girl's family to ask after her. He is horrified that she is dead. He found her grave and played his flute for it. After that, he turned and left and was never seen by the people again.

But often, in the morning, when we hear a sound like the wind whistling through the trees, almost like a faraway flute, we remember the boy, and that the girl still likes him.

Here's the flute geek in me nerding out with some samples of Native American flutes:

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Lost Spear-an "African" fairy tale

This fairy tale comes from South Africa. In this post I referenced the issues of African fairy tales being influenced by Westerners, and I think that influence is very clear through this tale.

It starts with a typical Western motif: a challenge set to a group of men to win the beautiful princess. The princess goes for the underdog, the poor herdsman Zandilli. Now, the concept of the underdog rising victorious is pretty universal. But after Zandilli fairly wins the first challenge, the princess' father sets another challenge, since he doesn't want his daughter to marry a herdsman. This is a spear throwing contest, and the father gives Zandilli a faulty spear. He outthrows his opponents, but is told he cannot marry the princess until he returns with the spear.

This starts a journey for our hero, including another very common Western element; the compassion the hero shows towards animals along the way later ends up saving him, as the same animals return to help him accomplish impossible tasks. Eventually Zandilli reaches a fairy cave, and this is the part I scoffed at: "each fairy sat singing as she combed her long golden hair." Later, it gleams against their "snowy breasts." Now often people do seek after the most rare traits as those which are beautiful, but come on, did Africans really value golden hair and snowy breasts independantly of the white men interpreting their fairy tales? Zandilli's speech to the Fairy Queen: "Oh, great Queen! whiter than the sind-clouds, fairer than the dawn..." her eyes were "blue as the lake."

The fairies give Zandilli further tasks before he can go home to his princess; making a black chamber beautiful, which is accomplished by the butterfly he had saved, and filling a hundred boats with the wings of flies from which the fairies' robes are woven-helped by the frog he rescued earlier.

I'm no expert in African culture, and the Princess Zandilli is in love with is called "the beautiful black-eyed Lala," which itself makes sense. Who knows, maybe Africans did imagine white-skinned fairies with blue eyes. The belief in fairies themselves, or at least a supernatural race of strange and powerful creatures, is universal, but these fairies are very similar to the stereotypical fairies of the Western tales. It's possible that some elements of the tale could have been independantly invented in each culture, but on the whole it's too similar. The spear throwing, though, seems to be an authentic African contribution to the tale.

PS-it's really hard to find images to go along with obscure fairy tales, especially when the characters are African...there's Fred Crump, who illustrates tales with African heroes...

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Bert Appermont's Rapunzel/Midsummer Night's Dream opera

Okay, imagine this performed by a professional orchestra and not a high school band...I actually really like the music, but I'm a sucker for this kind of music: minor 3/4, an eerie glockenspiel ostinato, anything stereotypical for "fantasy" music. (The third and fourth movements are cheesy to me, but this could honestly just be a matter of personal taste and not a reflection of quality change between the movements.) The narration is part of the score and tells the traditional Rapunzel story.

Also related to music, but another Chicago event-a bit more avant garde, though very professional-the Lyric Opera is putting on Benjamin Britten's "Midsummer Night's Dream." Not from the same production, but here's a sample of the opera:

The Tribune reviewer gave it 3 stars. From the John von Rhein article: " "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at Lyric Opera of Chicago is a bit slow to find its comic rhythm, the early scenes suggesting someone awakening from deep slumber who needs a jolt of black coffee before facing the day. But give it a chance. By the time the mismatched lovers are going at one other in full squabble mode, their senses hopelessly addled by Puck's magic herb, Benjamin Britten's delicate, otherworldly music has worked its wonders, the show comes alive and we are transported."

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Issue of the "Moral" in Bluebeard

Perrault included "morals" at the end of his fairy tales; little rhyming verses that brought out his interpretation of the point of the tale. Some of them are meant to be more humorous-others, it's hard to interpret the tone, coming from a modern perspective. The most maddening of all of these is the moral attatched to Bluebeard:
"Curiosity, in spite of its charm,
Too often causes a great deal of harm.
A thousand new cases arise each day.
With due respect, ladies, the thrill is slight,
For as soon as you're satisfied, it goes away,
And the price one pays is never right."

It's simply mind-boggling to imagine that Perrault could condemn a woman for opening a room in what is now her own house rather than the serial killer husband. Marina Warner points out that Perrault's tone is tongue-in-cheek throughout the story. I hope this is true for the moral too-not for the sake of defending Perrault, but for the sake of the human race in general...but in his day, would people have caught on to the exaggeration, or taken it literally?

The fact is, though in words he chastises the heroine, in the end it's Bluebeard who is punished and his wife who is rescued. Warner says- " 'Bluebeard' is a version of the Fall in which Eve is allowed to get away with it. in which no one for once heaps the blame on Pandora." (From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and their Tellers, p. 244.) Except that...Perrault does heap the blame on Pandora, at least in the moral. Warner also says that initially, the reader's sympathies lie with the husband. I disagree, although maybe that's because I can't remember hearing this tale for the first time-but unless one is expecting it to be a Beauty and the Beast tale, the blue beard sets him apart as strange. And it may have once been common for men to keep entire rooms hidden away from their wives, but nowdays that's a definite red flag.
Walter Crane's positioning of the wife in front of a painting of Eve in the garden is telling.

Bruno Bettelheim sees the act of opening the forbidden door as evidence of the wife commiting adultery in the absence of her husband. The fact that the chamber is at the end of a long hallway clearly indicates sexual overtones, he claims. He sides with Bluebeard in this tale. Although I certainly agree stories can have hidden meanings, I see this as an example of completely ignoring the words on the page in search of your own meaning.

Other versions of this tale don't glorify the husband as much. In the Grimms' "Fitcher's Bird", and in Italo Calvino's story "Silver Nose," the lover is a demon seeking to trap three sisters. The eldest two fall prey to his schemes, but the youngest uses her wits to rescue herself as well as her sisters. She is not condemned for curiosity, but commended for getting away with it.

Illustrations by Walter Crane

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Fractured Fairy Tales: Beauty and the Beast

Another Beauty and the Beast link-

Here's the Fractured Fairy Tales' Beauty and the Beast, by A.J. Jacobs, as told on the Rocky and Bullwinkle show. It begins like so:

"Once upon a time there was a magnificent golden castle on a silver cloud high up in the sky, which has nothing to do with anything because our story is about an old woodchopper who lived in a shack, but that's a good way to start a fairy tale. The old man was very happy, but he had a daughter, who was very unhappy because...well, she was rather plain. Actually, she was really plain. In fact, she had a face like five miles of bad road."

It's really pretty funny. Also, here's Cutie and the Beast, which is actually closer to the fairy tale. I won't give endings away...but they both end with a very modern twist.

To read more fractured fairy tales, find a list here.

This image is random, but for this post I searched for "Humorous Beauty and the Beast" and this came up:


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Copyrighted Beauty and the Beast pictures

When I want pictures of Beauty and the Beast, my go-to is Surlalune's Illustrations of Beauty and the Beast page. However, not everything is on there, I'm guessing mainly due to copyright issues. Now that people are actually reading my blog I need to be more careful about copyright issues I'm going to provide links to images on other websites.

Angela Barret
Errol Le Cain

Kirsi Salonen
Robert Sabuda-pop-up book
Mercer Mayer

I'll add more to this page as i find them. By the way, sometimes I find images by doing a google or Bing search for:' "Beauty and the Beast" -Disney'. You'll still get Disney images, (like a lot of community and high school productions of the musical,) but it weeds out a lot.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Disney villains

Hop on over to The Cherry Blossom Girl to see how fashion bloggers Alix and Louise interpreted Disney villains for Halloween, inlcuding Cruella de Vil, Captain Hook, The Queen from Snow White, Maleficent, the Queen of Hearts, and Medusa (from The Rescuers).


"Fairy tales don’t tell children that dragons exist. Children already know dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed."- G. K. Chesterton

Dragons are part of the stereotyped fairy tale story-hence the quote by Chesterton, and the fact that the image above is listed under "fairy tale figures" on this site. But can you think of any fairy tales that feature dragons? If you thought of Sleeping Beauty, that was only Disney's invention to have the Prince fight Maleficent as a dragon.
I can only think of a very few fairy tales that actually have dragons in them, and they're very obscure. However, this little Serbian tale may give us insight into an example of the dragon stereotype:

There was an emporer with three sons. One day the eldest was hunting and saw a hare spring out of a bush, and chased it. Only the hare was really a dragon, and it ate him (killer rabbit from Monty Python, anyone?). The same thing happened to his middle brother. The third son went hunting, but chose not to follow the hare. He went to hunt elsewhere and returned to find an old woman. He greeted her respectfully, and she told him that the hare was really a dragon who killed many people. The prince wished to free the old woman from the dragon, and instructed her to flatter the dragon into telling her where his strength was kept. Wherever he told her, she was to fondle and kiss that place as if out of love.

The old woman did as she was told. The dragon told her false locations twice, but believing her show of love for him, he told her the true location of his strength: in another emperor's court, in a lake, in a dragon, in a boar, was a pigeon, and that pigeon was the dragon's strength.

The prince set out for the kingdom, disguised as a shepherd, and offered his service to the emperor of the other land. The emperor sent him out where no other shepherd had returned. The prince brought with him a falcon, hounds, and a bagpipe. He called to the dragon, "Dragon, dragon! come out to single combat with me to-day that we may measure ourselves together, unless you're a woman." (In the book this tale is in, there's a footnote here that explains, "This is intended as an insult.")

The dragon responds to the taunt. They wrestled till afternoon, when the dragon requested to moisten his head in the lake. The prince claimed "if I had the emperor's daughter to kiss me on the forehead, I would toss you still higher." They separated, and the people of the kingdom were astounded to see the new shepherd return alive. The emperor sent two grooms to watch what he did, and the same thing happened the next day. The emperor sent his daughter to go with him on the third day, who went weeping, but her father had full faith in the shepherd.

The same thing happened the next day, only after the shepherd taunted the dragon with the kiss, the emperor's daughter ran up and kissed him. The prince threw the dragon p in the air, and when it fell it burst into pieces. The boar sprang out, and the prince shouted to the shepherd dogs to hold it. They tore it to pieces, and out came the pigeon. The prince loosed the falcon, who captured the pigeon. Once the prince asked the pigeon where his brothers were, he killed the pigeon. The prince then married the princess and released his brothers.