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."