Friday, February 26, 2010

Native American folktales

There are so many well-known Western tales, but so many other cultures full of rich and fascinating folklore. When I saw this book of Native American tales at the library, it appealed to me especially because my adopted brother is half Cherokee Indian.

It was really good to experience tales that weren't influenced by Western tales at all--though Eastern Europe and Asia have their own stories, our stories have influenced each other. For example, we think of Cinderella as a European tale, but the earliest known versions are from Egypt and China (origins are debatable, but it makes sense that it could have originated in China, with their obsession with foot binding to produce unusually small feet).

I didn't read the whole book, I skipped the mythological stories and went for categories like "Journeys to the other World" and "Animal Wives and Husbands." Even if I had read every single tale, it wouldn't have been truly representative of all Native American folklore, but here are some observations I had from what I did read:

-Death is not final. Often, protagonists that die are resurrected by friends or family, although antagonists generally stay dead.


-In the Animal Wives and Husbands section, the line between sexuality and beastiality is kind of blurred. The line between human and animal is also blurred, as some people can change back and forth, without a clear notion that being animal is especially bad. In general, Native Americans felt very strongly connected to Nature, so that would naturally be reflected in their folklore.

-Romance is not a big deal. In most European tales that involve people, the tale starts out with a single guy and a single girl. By the end they're married and that indicates the happy ending (along with wealth/royalty). In Native American tales, they might start out married and one of them will have a test of loyalty (although it seems a big offense for women not to be loyal and not as much for a man). In general, loyalty towards your married partner is highly valued.

In the tales where people do get married at the end, it's not a big deal. It's more like "so she went and found herself a husband and they were married."

(by the way, doesn't it seem that in any modern movie that starts with a happy couple, one of them ends up dead? We just don't like following a couple after they get together--either that or don't really believe people can stay in love)

I also wonder if the lack of emphasis on romance has to do with the polygamy. Marrying that special guy doesn't mean as much when he might add another wife or two later on.

-Lastly, in case all the chauvenism is making you angry, this should make you feel better-men seem to cry a lot. One tale had a man sitting down and crying because all his brothers got a wife and he didn't. Women don't really cry at all from what I remember.

Cinderella ballet

I'm seeing this tomorrow night and I'm so excited. The Joffrey Ballet is doing Sir Frederick Ashton's Cinderella, accompanied by the wonderful music of Prokofiev.
WGN did a little backstage special on this production.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

My fairy name

I was at Diamonds and Toads and her fairy name intrigued me.

here's mine:

Your fairy is called Hex Reedglow
She is a panpipe player and enchantment singer.
She lives in places hexed and tainted by black magic.
She is only seen in the light of a full moon.
She wears black feathers and rose petals. She has gentle green butterfly wings.

The funny thing is, my fairy is a panpipe player and enchantment singer, and I play the flute and sing!">Get your free fairy name here!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Music inspired by the Arabian Nights

If you're like me, every time you hear the phrase "Arabian Nights," the opening song to Disney's Aladdin pops into your head: "Arabian Niiiiiiiiiiights, like Arabian Daaaaaays..." but that isn't the only music inspired by the Arabian Nights.

First of all, a little background: the Arabian Nights is a collection of folktales, but all told within the framework of a larger story. When the Sultan Schahriar's wife had an affair, he was convinced all women were wicked and took his revenge by, after killing her, marrying a new wife each night and having her killed the next morning. Finally, the grand vizir's daughter, Scheherezade, volunteered to be his new wife. Her strategy for staying alive was to tell him a fairy tale each night, but not finish it; in his curiosity to hear the rest of the story, he kept her alive for a thousand and one nights, and eventually fell in love with her. The fairy tales in the collection are the tales Scheherezade tells the king each night. I love this story because of Scheherezade's wit and courage, as well as the lifesaving power of storytelling itself.

I got this beautifully illustrated book at Bluestem Books in Lincoln, Nebraska. Of all the used bookstores I've ever been to, this one had the biggest selection of fairy tale and folklore books.

Anyway: First up is the four-movement suite "Scheherezade" by Rimsky-Korsakoff.

This piece pretty much embodies the essence of Romantic music, with its sweeping melodies and dramatic mood swings. It's the perfect music for listening to while reading or writing fairy tales.

Next is a very different style, but inspired by the same subject matter. Remember my favorite band, Nightwish? Their song "Sahara" from their album "Dark Passion Play" alludes to the Arabian Nights:

"A ballad of dark queen echoes through night
As he flees the curse of gods, the pharaoh's wrath

1001 nights unseen
The philosopher and the queen

Ancient mariner in a sea of sand
The burning beauty his tomb to die for

1001 nights unseen
The philosopher and the queen
Horizon's swarming with death

Heaven has a darkened face
Dunes are soaring, as on a chase
Caravan of the cursed
Chasing him across the waves

May he now rest under aegis of mirage
As the sands slowly turn to Elysian fields

1001 nights unseen
The philosopher and the queen"

Lyrics found at

This poster was created by my brother. He took plain, individual shots off the website, arranged them together, and added the affects.

The Truth about Dracula

For those interested in the Twilight phenomenon or not, The Truth About Dracula is a fascinating read. Though this might not seem directly related to fairy tales, as I pointed out in my post on Victorian beliefs about fairies, the beliefs in dark supernatural beings are more prominent in folklore than we often realize.

Written by Gabriel Ronay, this book traces beliefs and legends about vampires through history, extending beyond Bram Stoker's famous figure. The man who inspired the book Dracula was Vlad the Impaler, or Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia (1431-1476). As his nickname would imply, Vlad was famous for impaling people, and for the very slightest of reasons. But he didn't stick to just impaling; he also invented various kinds of torture. For example, (do not finish paragraph if you are squeamish/hate reading about torture), once he created a giant pot with holes in the lid, through which the victims' heads would be forced. The pot would be filled with water, then the water boiled, so Vlad could watch them scream in agony as they boiled to death.

Not exactly a guy you'd want to run into in a dark alleyway, but people have defended him. People expected different things from royalty back then than they do from government now--it was commonly believed that rulers had to punish the people every now and then, just to remind them who was in charge.

But vampirism isn't something we can actually accuse of Vlad the Impaler. The closest predecessor of a vampire, (as far as an actual person goes), would be Countess Elisabeth Bathory (1560-1614).

Elisabeth came from a very prominent family that had intermarried so many times, by the time they got to her, she was already kind of psychotic. Convinced that bathing in the blood of young virgins would help her become beautiful, she lured young peasant girls to her castle, which was really a torture chamber. She was also sexually turned on by seeing other people bleed and would get into ecstasies as her accomplices tortured and killed her victims. And, yes, she sometimes drank the blood as well as bathe in it. She was guilty of 650 murders.

Sadly, this obsession of hers was allowed to escalate to the point that it did, mainly because of the importance given to class and family name. The families of the young peasant girls were virtually powerless to do anything, because peasants were considered to be next to nothing. Only when the countess was led to believe that the real secret to youth and beauty was in bathing in the blood of girls of respected families, people finally started to take notice. Even when she was found guilty of kidnapping, torturing, and murdering hundreds of girls, she got off merely with house arrest, because of the fear of her family.

This book is very disturbing and not recommended for the faint of heart, yet once you start it's hard to tear yourself away. A fascinating read, I finished it in a day. Highly recommended for anyone interested in this subject.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Angela Barrett and Max Eilenberg

It would be impossible for me to pick my favorite version of Beauty and the Beast, so I have to narrow it down by genre.
My favorite picture book version is written by Max Eilenberg and illustrated by Angela Barrett. The text sticks closely to the Beaument version while keeping the characters fresh and relatable. The illustrations are highly imaginative. After so many versions of the Beast have been conceived, I'm sure it's hard to come up with creative new versions that are believably scary and loveable at the same time. If I were to ever create a movie version of Beauty and the Beast (I don't create movies or anything--only in my head) I would model the sets off of these pictures. I just love the third picture down, all the mystical creature candelabras. There's another picture in the book I couldn't do justice to because of the size of my scanner, of the father stumbling upon the castle for the first time. The castle looks breathtaking and formidable at the same time, and I can almost feel the still, cold air as the father gazes in awe. If you want to see the picture, buy the book!

Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle

A proud Chicagoan, I have to admit that my favorite part of the Museum of Science and Industry is probably the least scientific or industrial exhibit: Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle. The actress collected miniatures and over time amassed a dollhouse-sized castle worth half a million dollars (and this is according to numbers from 50 years ago).

I was so excited to find this children's book at my campus' free thrift store last year. Published in 1964, it contains facts and pictures of the castle. Here are a few of the pages, starting with the cover:

The second to last one was of Colleen Moore herself, holding Cinderella's coach.
The miniatures in the Fairy Castle aren't just any fairylike dollhouse furniture, but many are made of precious metals. There is functional plumbing for the bathrooms and fountains. Artifacts in the castle come from all over the world, some constructed specifically for the castle, some true antiques. I was most excited to find out that the music for the piano in the drawing room (pictured below) was handwritten by famous composers of the day, including three of my favorite composers, Rachmaninoff, Gershwin, and Stravinsky!

For more information or pictures, go here

The anatomy of a Disney Princess

Before I say anything else, I love Disney princesses. I will myself point out the ironies of Disney versions of fairy tales (more on that some other post) but get very defensive of Disney when someone else attacks him.

Also, the whole thing about Barbie dolls and their inhuman proportions--I'm glad people are aware of this, I guess, but honestly, when I was a kid, I didn't notice her hourglass figure or feel any pressure to look like her. In fact, all my Barbies were Belle barbies, and I just made up stories with her and my Prince that turned into a Beast.

But, this Valentines Day, my roommate and I were joking about the sparkly Disney Princess valentines I had bought (my excuse is, they were for the little girls I babysit), and I noticed that Ariel's figure is a bit questionable...

Namely, just one of her boobs is the same width as her waist. Well, maybe a boob is 1/2 centimeter and her waist is 6/10ths of a centimeter, but still. Does she not have organs? Imagine if she ate an orange. The orange would be as big as her stomache.

Btw, the other princesses have slightly more attainable figures; Ariel's is the most exaggerated.


Let me introduce you to my favorite band, Nightwish.

They are a Finnish symphonic metal band. If that sounds appealing to you, you'd probably like them.

My brother introduced me to them a couple years ago. Right away I loved the music (the second picture is the album art from their latest album, Dark Passion Play), but one of the things that really drew me to them is that their songwriter, Tuomas Holopainen, loves fairy tales and Disney movies, especially Beauty and the Beast. They have a song called "Beauty and the Beast," one called "Beauty of the Beast," quote the phrase "Beauty of the Beast" in several other songs, quote from the Disney movie as well as many others in "Fantasmic," which is a tribute to Disney, and have made their own version of the theme song from "Phantom of the Opera."

When asked in an interview why he loved the Beauty and the Beast theme so much, Tuomas said he loved the idea of duality (hence the phrase beauty of the beast, not just beauty and the beast, a distinction I really love).

Here is a version of "Fantasmic" where the lyrics are illustrated by the Disney movies-

Strange and Secret Peoples

I recently finished this book by Carole G. Silver. It's a fascinating read and I highly recommend it to anyone interested. As a student of fairy tales, I admit I knew very little about the fairy beliefs of the people who told the tales, and surprisingly, the role of fairies in lore is very different than that in the tales. Silver describes how the prevailing attitudes of the Victorian age influenced the tales that were told. Chauvenism is seen in the fairy bride tales, which traditionally ended with a fairy bride (or selkie, mermaid, or other superhuman creature) finding her skin and leaving her human husband and children behind. The Victorian versions of these tales portray the fairy bride as wrong for doing this, or perhaps portray her as staying happily with her new family. (Did you know it was legal in Victorian England for husbands to beat their wives, under certain circumstances??)

Silver also has a fascinating section on how early understanding of Darwinian science combined with racism to lead people to believe that dwarves, trolls, and other people from folklore were remnants from earlier, less evolved species. This, sadly, reinforced those beliefs of racism and class superiority.

Silver also discusses the Cottingly Fairy photographs (though commonly acknowledged to have been a hoax, one of the girls on her deathbed claimed that one of the pictures taken was not a fake. Unfortunately, they all look the same, but for those who still want to hope...) and how fairies went from being truly scary and dangerous to being diminuitive and "cute" as we think of them today. Our present ideas of ghosts, vampires, cannibals, the Grim Reaper, etc., were more like the fairy beliefs of people in the Victorian age than Tinker Bell or the little baby Cupid.
It makes me wonder how the fairies in the tales told then differ so much from their supposed beliefs. But at the same time, it reminded me of our current cultural obsession with vampire-as-lover. Most of us know that traditionally, vampires have no sexual interest in humans, only in drinking their blood. I personally think the appeal lies in the fact that an undead admirer is more flattering than a regular man with hormones, because the female must be that much more attractive in order to seduce a blood-thirsty vampire. But this is only personal speculation.

A Beginning

Once upon a time,

There was a girl who loved faerie tales, very much. Above all, she loved the story of Beauty and the Beast.

This is her attempt to organize her findings as she reads and learns.