Friday, April 30, 2010
Thursday, April 29, 2010
If there was one summarizable thing I gleaned from the collection of essays, it is that everyone experiences fairy tales differently. We have so many theories on what certain symbols in fairy tales mean and how they affect children, etc. But I wonder how much of that study is personal philosophy, and how much is conducted by discussing with people how they understood fairy tales as children and now as adults, or reading tales to children to record their reactions and questions. Because really, who's to say one philosopher's personal journey with fairy tales is any more valid than the little kids I babysit? Or my own, or any of the authors in this book? Some of the essays were very similar to my own personal connections with tales, others are quite opposite, but they're all real experiences.
One thing Jack Zipes points out in the Afterword I thought was interesting-that though you can spot a feminist trend in fairy tales, you can't really spot a clear "male" trend. And though I respect those who are trying to undo negative stereotypes of women in tales, at the same time that's kind of sad. In order for a tale not to be offensive to females, it has to have a plucky and courageous female character who doesn't need a man to save her. Yet the males in this anthology seemed to identify with the neglected and forlorn youngest son who is thought to be useless but eventually rises to power, not the sword-weilding, kiss-bearing hero we might think they would. I myself connect a lot more to any shy characters. While I like reading about these lively females, I never really connect with them. If anything, female warrior characters (in pop culture, or in a more fairy tale-like setting, such as Mulan or other feminist versions of tales) intimidate me. I can't be beautiful and kind and witty and courageous and strong and athletic all at once! It was enough to just be beautiful and kind! And since female warriors are never anything but beautiful, it's not like we're setting more realistic expectations for our heroines-they've only become more unattainable.
Dumbo isn't the only classic Disney to involve drunkenness, or to make it humorous.
Check out Sir Hiss from Robin Hood at 3:30
The Kings-and the Page-drink a little too much in Sleeping Beauty
"Let me fill up your glass-that glass was all full!" Heehee
And of course, Gaston's tavern song.
LeFou: More Beer?
Gaston: What for? Nothing helps. I'm disgraced.
LeFou: Who, you? NEVER! Gaston, you've got to pull yourself together!
In addition to these, David Koenig cites 12 other Disney films which include characters drinking: Pinnochio, Fantasio, Saldos Amigos, Make Mine Music, Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, Sword in the Stone, Aristocats, Rescuers, Pete's Dragon, Great Mouse Detective, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Hunchback of Notre Dame. Pocahontas was mentioned but dismissed as not qualifying for "heavy drinking."
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
The article goes on to say that John Smith also saw a mermaid, but unlike Columbus, he thought she was "by no means unattractive."
Supposed "real mermaid"
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
The musical turns the world of the Wizard of Oz upside down. What was once black is now white, what was white is now black-but the world is still one of black and white. The book does not attempt to villainize Elphaba, or to make her out to be a heroic victim. Maguire's purpose was to explore the character and history of the Wicked Witch of the West in a way that fits in more closely with the original books and movie. Not to implicate her from all wrongs, but to create a scenario in which a person would be so obsessed with her sister's red shoes (silver, in the original). And, if the witch did have green skin, how would that affect her upbringing and ultimately the person she became?
The book is definitely an adult book, in contrast to the family-friendly musical. It's more dark and gritty and doesn't even feel very much like a fantasy because the fantastic world of Oz is so like our world. If I had read the book first I probably would have appreciated its approach more-it wasn't till I had time to process afterwards that I understood it better.
This is a theme that fascinates me, but I was surprised to discover in my research that few other authors touched on the subject. In fact, given the importance of the theme in the book, it's pretty much ignored in most papers and books.
Yet what about examples of Animal Brides or females with deformities? Though folklore has examples, virtually none remain in common knowledge. Even with historical Animal Bride tales, generally the animals take beautiful forms-swans or cats-and there is little struggle to win male affections. There are seal maidens, but they shed their seal skins and then the men fall in love with their naked human forms.
The Frog Bride (illustrated above by Kay Nielsen), is one of the exceptions. But very few people know that the Frog Prince is sometimes a Frog Princess. Why do we ignore this theme? Why do we only have animal grooms?
My theory is that we, as a culture, can't even stand the idea of an ugly female. Females themselves are willing to love the Beast-but don't want to be the ugly, vulnerable one themselves. I'd be interested to know how popular Beauty and the Beast is among males. Do they mind picturing themselves as the Beast? Or can they stand it as long as Beauty stays hot the whole time? From my limited experience, it APPEARS as though men tend to judge women by more shallow standards. Please contradict me if I'm wrong.However, there are some exceptions to the rule: Gail Carson Levine's Fairest. This book features a hideous girl with a beautiful voice in a land where singing is valued as highly as beauty. I would LOVE to live in a land like that (I am definitely one of those people who wishes every deep emotion would trigger backup music and a song with choreographed dancing). It's a very good story-I found it on the bookshelf of a girl I was babysitting one day and started it, and after I went home I had to go to the library and finish it. Then there's Penelope, in which Christina Ricci's character has a pig snout for a nose. Yet first of all, these examples are hardly classics like the male versions I mentioned before, and I also wonder about their implied messages. Fairest has good messages about how each girl is beautiful on their own, but seems to put a lot of pressure on the boys to fall in love (basically) at first sight-yet now they're not supposed to judge by beauty, but instantly know character. If boys do judge by appearances-and let's face it, we all do to some degree, should we ignore that fact? No one would claim that beauty/appearance doesn't matter at all. How do we deal with it in the world in which we live?
And one Netflix commenter pointed out that Penelope seems to indicate that any physical flaw will result in being treated like a complete monster, and that true happiness ends in looking like a beautiful celebrity. Of course, that's sort of the message implied by the old versions of Beauty and the Beast as well. Another commenter-I tried to find the exact quote but it was left a while ago-said something to the effect of, "This movie is stupid. I kept waiting to see Christina Ricci cuz she's hot but she had that stupid pig nose on the whole time."
What do you think?
Monday, April 26, 2010
He showed us these fascinating pictures drawn by a child. (He promised he would have the outline posted on the web later that day, and I haven't found it yet. I'll keep checking and load the pictures if I can, or at least link to the site.) The child had drawn Jafar, only the drawing was a red, completely unidentifiable blob. The researchers taught the child about parts and wholes-everything is part of a whole, and has its own parts. After a short amount of time, the child drew Jafar again, but this time the picture had limbs and was recognizably human. After a little more training, the child drew Jafar a third time, but this time the resemblance was unmistakable.
This came up when I searched for "Disney Princesses." An attempt to make them more human and relatable?
But overall, Disney movies-as well as other movies-are great teaching tools in general for kids with special needs. While some teachers might shy away from using movies because it's "cheating," movies provide great modelling of correct grammar, plotlines, realistic facial expressions (especially good for people with autism), and in tune singing. Plus, if a teacher uses a still shot from Mary Poppins, for example, to review vocabulary, then every time the child watches that movie again, the vocabulary words are reinforced, unlike a random worksheet.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Marie Taglioni is most famous for her role in La Sylphide, in which she debuted this new style of dancing. David Barber's summary of the ballet: "La Sylphide tells the story of a young Scotsman named James who's about to get married to a woman he's not sure he loves. (She's his cousin and her name's Effie, neither of which may have helped.) The night before their wedding, he falls asleep and dreams of a beautiful winged fairy, a sylphid or sylph, who flies down and tries to lure him away. He follows her into the forest, but thanks to an evil spell by the neighborhood wicked witch, her wings fall off and she dies. At the end of the ballet, some of her sister sylphs fly down to carry her away, leaving James alone in the woods while Effie goes off to marry someone else entirely. Bummer." (Taken from Barber's Tutus, Tights, and Tiptoes: Ballet History as it Ought to be Taught-apparantly really cheap on Amazon).
Since then, fairy tales have popped up as sources for most of the famous ballets. Giselle features a group of Wilis, spirits of dead women who dance men to death. Above picture of the American Ballet Theater. Chopin's Les Sylphides, Stravinsky's The Firebird, and Prokofiev's Cinderella are all examples of standard ballet repertoire that features a fairy tale and/or fairy characters.
Picture by Don McMurdo, Australian ballet, Swan Lake
But the most famous ballets are the three Tchaikovskys- Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, and The Nutcracker. The combination of plot, music, costumes and scenery together with dance make all of the above instant classics. It's so unfortunate that both fairy tales and ballet have become culturally associated with little girls, and become something that every girl is interested in and then "grows out of." Ballet is a beautiful and incredibly difficult art form- in fact, few professions (if any...) require the amount of discipline and commitment demanded from a professional ballet dancer.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Other than that, Bett has a very interesting book. He not only takes current (or, what was current in 1924) tales and rhymes, but has many related examples through different cultures, and then cites historical facts and customs that relate to the tales and rhymes as we know them today. He claims that our tales and rhymes are rooted in historical fact, which have evolved and become distorted over time. He talks about the practice of burying people alive in the foundations of a house or bridge to appease the devil as the source of the rhyme "London Bridge is Falling Down," (which may or may not have been the case, although there's no reason to think a person was specifically buried under London Bridge,and there are other guesses as to the meaning of the rhyme) as well as the custom of baking pies in such a way that live birds can actually fly out of it when cut, such as in "Sing a song of sixpence."
Most modern analysts of tales assume they hold symbolic meaning. Which is surely partly true, but we can't forget the tales are very much the products of the cultures from which they came. Bett talks about certain fairy tales I've already posted about, Little Red Riding Hood and Bluebeard. For more on the history of nursery rhymes, you can visit this site.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Monday, April 19, 2010
Henry Bett claims that Gilles de Retz, Sieur de Laval, Marshal of France, was nicknamed "Barbe Bleue," "because of his blue-black beard," and that he believed he could restore his strength by bathing in the blood of young children (an awful resemblance to Countess Elisabeth Bathory bathing in the blood of young virgins to retain her beauty).
I haven't found any concurrence on the nickname or the bloodbaths, but he was a serial killer of young boys who gained pleasure from their pain and humiliation. More about him on wikipedia.
Conomor the Cursed is the other possible candidate for the "real" Bluebeard. Once again, history becomes intertwined with legend. We do know he existed and killed his wives-I can't tell from my sources what are the exact known facts, but there's a whole legend about killing his wives once they got pregnant and how the last one was murdered but brought back to life and became a saint.
If you want to know more about the tale, read the annotated version on Surlalune, or Terri Windling's article. Windling explores the various folkloric versions that predate Charles Perrault's tale, and how many of the heroines were able to outwit their murderous husband on their own, saving their sisters who had been victims-a stark contrast to Perrault's heroine who can do nothing but wait for her brothers to save her. And the moral (Perrault's) which condemns the woman for disobedience, and not the serial killer husband.
Art by Frederic Theodore Lix
It's hard to pick a favorite, because they're all excellent, but I couldn't help wishing some filmmaker would make a short version of "Thorns," the Sleeping Beauty, because it has such delightfully macabre descriptions that have the potentially to be visually stunning. I also thought "When the Clock Strikes," the Cinderella tale, was particularly genious. The plot was actually more convincing than the traditional tale.
But, as Beauty and the Beast tales will always be close to my heart, I adored "Beauty." The first time I read this book, I was terrified by the time I got to this last story that it would be twisted beyond recognition like the other tales. I enjoy speculating about Snow White and Rapunzel being Satanic, but Beauty and the Beast is too personal to me-I would hate for Beauty to cast the spell on the Beast, or for the Beast to be a true monster of nightmares. Yet the story, though definitely with a twist, is beautiful and won't offend Batb freaks like me. It is set in the future and is my favorite short story version of Beauty and the Beast, which is saying a LOT, because of all the genres, there are a lot of short story versions out there.
This book isn't for everyone-those who don't like scary movies or having the plots of their favorite tales turned upside down on their heads should stay away. But as far as quality and creativity goes I can't recommend it highly enough-each time I read this book I can hardly put it down.
Saturday, April 17, 2010
Kenneth Whitley poster
Little Red Riding Hood tends to be over-analyzed, in my opinion. Every branch of folkloric thought believes it has the correct symbolic meaning. Any psychoanalist will tell you the red cloak is OBVIOUSLY blood from menstration and the wolf is OBVIOUSLY a sexual predator. Henry Bett, on the other hand, claims with certainty that Little Red is a myth of sunset and sunrise. Generally sun myths can be applied to anything because anything good is the sun, anything bad is the night. The ultimate triumph of good over evil is the dawn triumphing over night. Congratulations, you have an interpretation for 99% of human stories.
Image by Paul Woodroffe
Yet, after a conclusion that might seem oversimplified, Bett goes on to cite many myths and legends from around the world that are directly related to the moon and sun and have parallels to Little Red-either connecting the color red/red coverings with the sun, or wolves with the night. Even one Melanesian myth where the hero takes a piece of red obsidian and cuts Dawn out of the belly of night. Personally, I can see a red hood as the rising sun more easily than menstration. This would all make a lot more sense if the red cap/hood wasn't added till Perrault's version. But anyone who claims any myth or tale has one specific origin or meaning is making one heck of a claim. Betts himself admits earlier, when critiquing those who interpreted everything as a sun myth, that "It seems to be the fate of every theory in folk-lore to be made ridiculous by being pressed too far." Modern interpretations don't really pay any attention to this sun myth idea and attribute everything to sexual meaning.
Friday, April 16, 2010
Madame LePrince de Beaument (of Beauty and the Beast fame) has another tale called Le Prince Desir et la Princess Mignonne, in which the Prince is cursed to have a huge nose until he realizes that his nose is unusual. Andrew Lang simplified the tale for his Blue Fairy Book, renaming it Prince Hyacinth, and it can be read online here. (Image from Blue Fairy Book, illustrated by H. G. Ford and G. P. Jacomb Hood).
His whole life, the Prince is surrounded by people and pictures of people with long noses. His nurses and teachers tell him that all the great historical figures had long noses, that a long nose is a sign of beauty, and that a short nose is a horrible thing to have. He falls in love with a princess' portrait despite her short nose, and it's not until he meets a fairy in disguise on his way to save his Princess and tries to kiss the fairy's hand that he realizes how inconvenient his nose really is.
I find this tale very intriguing. Today many people (myself included) believe in the power of embracing your natural, healthy body. While it may seem that to say every woman is beautiful is simply untrue, or that we must at least concede that some women are surely more beautiful than others, I truly believe that there are different forms of beauty and it's up to the viewer to learn to see it, rather than putting all the pressure on girls to conform to our rather narrow cultural standards of what is beautiful.
Yet in this tale, the Prince's salvation isn't embracing his unique nose-because for most of his life he is truly proud of his nose-but the moral is supposedly that pride can blind us to our faults. Which may be true of character, but is a long nose a fault? But the Prince is easily convinced that long noses are beautiful. If long noses were the majority, would we not all also be swayed? Cultures through time and around the world have considered things beautiful that modern Americans don't:
Full, round figures (painting by Titian)
However, for anyone to admit to loving fairy tales enough to research their origins and their "true" nature, there still has to be a sense of vulnerability and childlike appreciation of the magical aspect of the tales as well. Yet the darker, adult versions of these traditional themes and tales provides an interesting juxtaposition of dark and light.
I've found that I like this same juxtaposition in music. I love basically any music in minor, but especially in minor 3/4. Music in 3 has a lilt to it, usually thought of as being waltz-like. Yet with a minor melody, that waltz can become more sinister- a waltz of vampires, or a demented circus-something childlike or innocent gone awry. Any story-or music-that tries too hard to be hardcore without leaving any vulnerability takes away much of the realism and the personal connection.
I adore the waltz from Prokofiev's Cinderella ballet. In minor 3/4, it takes a beautiful waltz but gives it a sinister sense of foreboding. And listen to how he creates the ominous clock ticking and then chiming midnight with a symphonic orchestra!
I love Ravel's "La Valse." (This is only part 2 of 2). It starts off bright and cheery, but towards the end gets wilder and wilder. It makes me think of a dream that starts off pleasant and turns more absurd and perhaps nightmarish. I also think it would be perfect to accompany the Cinderella-at-the-ball scene.