Sunday, December 22, 2013

Hildur the Fairy Queen

Here's an Icelandic version of the Twelve Dancing Princesses tale; this one is a slightly morbid tale set at Christmastime!


Once there was a farmer who settled in the mountains. He had a housekeeper named Hildur who kept to herself but performed her duties well and was kind. Though the farmer was kind as well, he had trouble keeping shepherds, because one after another, they were all found dead in bed on Christmas morning. Hildur did not go to the Christmas mass like everyone else, but stayed at home to tend to her duties and prepare for the Christmas feast.

Finally the farmer decided not to employ any more shepherds, until a man came to him and offered his services for the winter. The farmer protested that those who had filled that same position met with a sad fate, but the man insisted he would still care for the sheep.

So he stayed with the farmer that winter, although on Christmas Eve thought it wise to stay awake. During the night, he saw Hildur approach him. He pretended to be asleep and felt her put a magic bridle in his mouth. She mounted his back and they rode to a chasm in the earth. There she dismounted; in order to follow her the shepherd rubbed his head against a stone until the magic bridle came off.

He followed Hildur, and noticed she did not act like the same housekeeper he knew. He took a magic stone out of his pocket that would make him invisible as long as he held it, and kept close behind her.

Finally they reached a great palace, where a great crowd of people came to meet her and a man dressed in purple in gold came to meet her, calling her his wife. The crowds called her their queen and treated her with respect. Two children ran into her arms and called her Mother. Hildur was given royal attire and together with her king sat down at a big feast, which was followed with dancing. But Hildur and the king did not dance, they sat and talked, and seemed to the shepherd to be very sad. At one point Hildur gave one of her children one of her rings to play with; after the child was done playing with it the shepherd snatched it up.
"Fairy Feast", Arthur Rackham

Finally Hildur made preparations to leave, which was met with protests by all except an old woman alone in the corner. The King begged her to stay, but Hildur said, "I cannot stay here, in consequence of the spell by which your mother has bound me, and who knows if I shall ever see you more." She told him that she had killed so many men that she would certainly be found out and punished, even though she had done it against her will.

The shepherd went back to the bridle and pretended to be asleep again as she rode him back to the farm. The farmer came in early in the morning, anxious to see whether or not this shepherd had survived through Christmas morning, and rejoiced to see him alive and well. He asked if anything strange had happened during the night.

"Nothing, except that I had a very wonderful dream." He then told the story of what had happened. Afterwards Hildur said, "If you tell the truth, show us some token to prove what you say."

The shepherd showed the ring. Hildur then said that he had delivered her from the spell that had been placed on her by her mother in law and told them the full story. She was a lowly fairy maid, but the fairy king fell in love with her. The marriage displeased his mother, who bound Hildur by a spell to become a servant in the world of woe, and every Christmas Eve, to kill a man, the only night she was allowed back to the fairy kingdom. She was to do this until she was convicted of murder and put to death, unless she should meet a man courageous enough to go with to the world of Fairies and bring back evidence. She thanked and blessed the shepherd for being the first man who dared venture into the dark roads that lead to Fairyland, but longed for her true home, and disappeared, never to be seen again in the world of mankind.

The shepherd later married and became a wise and successful farmer, but he always attributed his wealth  to Hildur the Fairy Queen.


Found in Surlalune's Twelve Dancing Princesses: Tales From Around the World; summarized by me

First image above, an illustration of Hildur, found on Wikipedia. No illustrator credited, but this excerpt from the same page is interesting:
"There are four Icelandic holidays considered to have a special connection with hidden people: New Year's Eve, Twelfth Night (January 6), Midsummer Night and Christmas night.[44] Elf bonfires (álfabrennur) are a common part of the holiday festivities on Twelfth Night (January 6).[45][46][47] There are many Icelandic folktales about elves and hidden people invading Icelandic farmhouses during Christmas and holding wild parties.[48] It is customary in Iceland to clean the house before Christmas, and to leave food fo the huldufólk on Christmas.[49] On New Year's Eve, it is believed that the elves move to new locations, and Icelanders leave candles to help them find their way.[50] OnMidsummer Night, folklore states that if you sit at a crossroads, elves will attempt to seduce you with food and gifts; there are grave consequences for being seduced by their offers, but great rewards for resisting."

Monday, December 9, 2013

Christmas as time for Storytelling

Hey-remember when I said I was engaged? Well, the wedding is now less than a month away! Which means that in addition to working, I will be doing much wedding planning, moving to a new Chicago suburb, and doing this thing called Christmas. So don't be surprised if I'm extra scarce around here for a while...I will hopefully have more time for reading and posting around mid-January when we get back from the honeymoon!

In the meantime:

Christmas, at least in Victorian England, was seen as a time set apart for telling stories. I have a book from my library from 1881 titled "Yuletide Stories" which I originally thought would be Christmas themed, but are in fact fairy tales from different parts of Europe. Dickens wrote a series of stories, each supposedly told by a different person in a group gathered around a Christmas tree.

Christmas was also used as an idealized image of the telling of folk and fairy tales. When the Grimms published their collection, they tried to romanticize them by emphasizing the image of an old woman reciting the tales word for word, when really most of the tales were told by young friends of theirs. When the Grimm collection was translated into English, Edgar Taylor, the translator, fleshed out this image even more.
from The Illustrated London News, 1848
In the epigraph to his first volume, he writes, "Now you must imagine me to sit by a good fire, amongst a companye of good fellowes, over a well spiced bowle of Christmas ale, telling of these merrie tales which hereafter followe." Sounds pretty cozy...
Taylor went on to name a fictitious narrator, Gammer Grethel, and invent a history for her:

"Gammer Grethel was an honest, good-humoured farmer's wife, who, a while ago, lived far off in Germany.
She knew all the good stories that were told in that country; and every evening about Christmas time the boys and girls of the neighborhood gathered round to hear her tell them some of her budget of strange stories.
One Christmas, being in that part of the world, I joined the party; and begged her to let me write down what I heard, for the benefit of my young friends in England. And so, for twelve merry evenings, beginning with Christmas Eve, we met and listened to her budget."

Even though there was no Gammer Grethel, we can try to revive the tradition of spreading fairy tales at Christmas time!

EDIT: Woops! Forgot to credit my source! Jennifer Schacker, National Dreams: The Remaking of Fairy Tales in Nineteenth Century England

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Afanasyev-unsung hero of Russian folklore

Edmund Dulac
The brothers Grimm are pretty well known for gathering tales from around Germany (although their methods may not have been the most accurate). And in general, their work was well-received-their Kinder Und Hausmarchen was popular among scholars as well as casual readers and children. Although a few people thought their tales were inappropriate, they solved that problem by making the tales more appropriate according to standards of the time.

Collecting folktales, a seemingly innocent occupation, was not as easy to do in other parts of the world. In Russia, for years oral storytellers were very popular. Storytelling was an actual occupation, as people would give them food and drink for accompanying them at their monotonous tasks and entertaining them. From peasants to nobility (such as Count Leo Tolstoy and Ivan the Terrible), children would fall asleep listening to stories. This embracing of storytelling was not always universal, like when tsar Alexei Mikhailovich ordered all the storytellers to be rounded up and their tongues cut out. He proclaimed in 1649: "Many persons stupidly believe in dreams, in the evil eye and birdsong, and they propound riddles and tell fairy stories. By idle talk and merry-making and blasphemy, they destroy their souls."
A. Lopatine

However, for most of Russian history oral tales were a way of life. Written tales, however, were a different story. The Russian Orthodox Church was very strict in its censoring. They believed that written language should be reserved for sacred religious writing and not for pagan stories. An Englishman, Samuel Collins, managed to publish some Russian tales he had collected in London in 1671, but it was a long time before Russian tales were published in Russia.

The great author Pushkin was condemned for trying to imitate the fairy tale in his writing. In 1838 five Russian stories were published by Bogdan Bronnitsin. But it was Alexander Afanasyev (1826-71) we have to thank for giving us such a complete collection of Russian tales-in fact, the largest group of fairy tales in the world.

Afanasyev published eight volumes of tales. Students of fairy tale history may be aware that the Grimms had seven editions of their KHM, but the core stories remained the same. They added and deleted a few tales, but mainly edited the stories that were already in the collection. Afanasyev, however, published new tales in each collection, totalling 640 tales. Also unlike the Grimms, he did not alter or edit the tales he received. He did not record most of them himself, but other friends and colleagues sent him tales. His tales also cover a vast distance and include many Russian districts, whereas the Grimms mainly gathered from their family friends, who were not even necessarily German in origin.

Afanasyev's first volumes were not all well-received-the Moscow Metropolitan Filaret claimed the tales were "blasphemous and immoral. They offend pious sentiment and propriety. Religion must be safeguarded from such profanity." Afanasyev unapologetically retorted, "There is a million times more morality, truth and human love in my folk legendds than in the sanctimonious sermons delivered by Your Holiness!"
S. Kamanin

To make matters worse, the freeing of the peasants from serfdom in 1861 created much violence and discontent in all classes, all over Russia. This included even more severe censorship. In 1860 Afanasyev's publisher was raided and one of his manuscripts destroyed. Afanasyev left the country for a while, and in Europe he had greater ability to publish things that would have been banned at home.

Upon returning, he was evicted from his house and dismissed from his job. He was forced to work as an assistant clerk in a court. He kept working on his own projects, and 1865 the press censorship was reformed and he was able to resume publishing works, although not genuine folktales. Sadly, he was ill and his living and working conditions were hard on him. He died in relative obscurity and in poverty at the age of 45.

Makes me all the more grateful for freedom of the press!

*Information from "Russian Fairy Tales and their Collectors" by James Riordan. Found in A Companion to the Fairy tale, edited by Hilda Ellis Davidson and Anna Chaudhri

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Dickens and Bluebeard

Dickens is loved by fairy tale enthusiasts; the fact that he was enamored with Little Red Riding Hood as a child is fairly well known. He also claimed that "it is a matter of grave importance that fairy tales should be respected" and in general advocated for the genre. Yet he also claimed that fairy tales should not be altered from their "original form." Anyone who has studied fairy tales will know there's really no such thing as an "original" version of any tale, and probably most of us also agree there are good reasons to adapt fairy tales to changing cultures. Yet we may understand the same frustration when fairy tales are interpreted in a way we don't think does them justice, or when fairy tale variants become so prevalent the older versions get lost and fewer and fewer people are familiar with a tale's history. Dickens claimed, "With seven Blue Beards in the field, each coming at a gallop from his own platform mounted on a foaming hobby, a generation or two hence would not know which was which, and the great original Blue Beard would be confounded with counterfeits."

Dickens referred to Bluebeard in five of his novels, including Pickwick Papers, Bleak House, and Hard Times, and his journalism. In his The Uncommercial Traveller of 1860, in the essay "Nurse's Stories," Dickens recalls being told the tale of Captain Murderer, a variation of Bluebeard. The story is of the eponymous Captain who, when courting a woman, always asked if she could bake a pie crust, and instructed those who couldn't how to do so. A month after the wedding, he gave her a golden rolling pin and silver pie board, and butter and eggs and everything she needed, except for the pie filling. When his bride would ask why she saw no meat, he would reply, "look in the glass." She would then look up just in time to see her head cut off. Finally one bride, whose twin sister had already fallen victim to Captain Murderer, gained revenge by taking poison before she was killed. When the cannibalistic Captain eats the last pie, he turns blue and spotty and explodes.
Often adults debate as to how harmful it is to tell violent stories to children. Dickens would have landed on the Keep Violence Far From Children side:

"Hundreds of times did I hear this legend of Captain Murderer, in my early youth, and added hundreds of times was there a mental compulsion upon me in bed, to peep in at his window as the dark twin peeped, and to revisit his horrible house, and look at him in his blue and spotty and screaming stage, as he reached from floor to ceiling and from wall to wall. The young woman who brought me acquainted with Captain Murderer had a fiendish enjoyment of my terrors, and used to begin, I remember-as a sort of introductory overture-by clawing the air with both hands, and uttering a long low hollow groan. So acutely did I suffer from this ceremony in combination with this infernal Captain that I sometimes used to plead I thought I was hardly strong enough and old enough to hear the story again just yet. But, she never spared me one word of it...Her name was Mercy, though she had none on me."
Source: Bluebeard: A Reader's Guide to the English Translation by Casie E. Hermansson
Illustrations of Captain Murderer by Rowan Barnes-Murphy

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Rosaspina Vintage

Rosaspina Vintage's 2013 Fall/Winter Collection is inspired by "the 60s and my favorite childhood fairy tales," says creator Ale.
 I wasn't too surprised to see a Little Red Riding hood cape; it's one of the most obvious ways to connect fairy tales to fashion. However, all the items are named for a fairy tale character. After the obvious ones came some that don't quite have the fame of LRRH or haven't been turned into Disney princesses. It was fun to see inspiration taken from Gerda, The Little Match Girl, and even the Nightingale.
Briar Rose pinafore
 Gretel dress
 Little Match Girl blouse and Nightingale shorts
Gerda skirt

It's a pretty collection (way out of my price range though) but it's fun to think of dressing in a way that is inspired by fairy tale characters, while not being costume-y.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Fairy tales and Arranged Marriages

Fairy tales have been intertwined with messages against arranged marriages for hundreds of years now. The French salon fairy tales of the 1700s were largely written by feminists encouraging marriage for love; the whole notion of love at first sight which many people today criticize in fairy tales was a way of promoting the idea that women could marry young men their own ages they considered attractive, instead of older, abusive husbands, as was sadly so often the case. The whole Animal Bridegroom series of fairy tales is thought to have been largely encouragement to girls who were about to be married off to men that might seem monstrous.

Clearly the world has changed since then. Arranged marriages are getting pretty rare these days, and the average person expects to marry for love (with a few exceptions, like the Indian and Orthodox Jewish cultures, where arranged marriages are more common). Which is why is always surprises me that the message in popular YA novels and other fairy tales seems to have stayed the same. It's no longer a provocative message, but someone merely preaching to the choir. I thought as much when I saw Disney/Pixar's Brave. No, I don't think you should force your daughter to marry, but the movie isn't watched by young princesses being forced to wed princes they don't love, but mostly young girls years away from marriage who were probably planning on choosing a spouse anyway.

I'm not saying parents are perfect these days and don't impose their will inappropriately, but the message can go too far, especially when the media acts like it's giving us this revolutionary message which it's really not. There's still a lot to be said for trusting the wisdom of parents and those who have been around longer. Though parents can make choices selfishly, young and inexperienced people in love can also act very foolishly and make decisions they regret.

It's not a fairy tale, but I just finished reading Kristin Lavransdatter, a book written in the 1920s but set in medieval Norway. The book is about the life of a woman who rejects the man her parents arrange for her to marry and marries for love instead. I'm so used to the modern "arranged marriage=bad" message that I was expecting the book to have the same message, but it doesn't. In fact what I love about the book is it shows how complex any marriage situation is-the marriages that were approved of and those that were chosen by the couples. Neither is all good and neither is all bad; no character in the book is without flaws yet no one is without redeeming value. The book explores very messy relationships over time, and it's really a good book to have read right before getting married.

It would be nice to get more fairy tale interpretations like this. It seems these days its either the same happily ever after versions for children, which end at the wedding with happiness implied, or the twisted, dark versions being redone for adults. What about versions that are realistic without being entirely depressing or going for shock value? Books and movies that challenge you and encourage young, single people to choose their relationships wisely?

By the way, this interesting article by Ezriel Gelbfish recognizes that while not all arranged marriages are successful (and let's face it, many love marriages aren't either), statistically they tend to work. Fairy tales are cited as one of the reasons love marriages fail: “We grow up on fairy tales and movies in which magical forces help people find their soul mates, with whom they effortlessly live happily ever after...The fairy tales leave us powerless, putting our love lives into the hands of the Fates.”

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Villeneuve's Epilogue to BATB, part II: Letter from the Beast to Beauty

 Finally! I'm excited to share the second letter which is part of Villeneuve's epilogue to Beauty and the Beast. You can read about the first in my archives, Letter from Beauty to the Beast.

As a reminder, these were translated for me by a friend, but he admitted it was very difficult work, and he is not a professional translator. But I am very grateful he was willing to take on this project! I'm not going to try to provide commentary, much of it is very confusing to me, and parts are more clear if you've read the full Villeneuve story, but it's extremely interesting to read Villeneuve's own musings on the idea of an animal bridegroom. So without further ado, here are what I found to be the most interesting excerpts:

"I ask myself why the ancient myths are permeated with such monsters, to the point where these fables that you like appear to me suddenly as a work of mourning among the gods that we have been tempted to lose.  There are beasts everywhere and it would suffice during a short weakness – or refusal - for the heroes to change their appearance and that, the angels that they promise to be, they find turned into beasts.  Most of these gods, bewildered on the shores of the sea where from all the aspirates that fall into ruin, do any of them choose to seduce their Beauty to make herself a beast, and not human?  There would be, then, in the Beast, evidence that a human is not inclined toward him or rather to the Monster – his former form in the fables – would be the image that authorizes to speak of delinquency. The essence of man is uncertain, a nothingness at all is able to destroy it.  This fiction in which we are engulfed, is probably only the result of a long story where the supernatural prepares the Beast to explain the naked form of desire.  I do not want to seek revenge for my beastness by playing the role of a scholar but nonetheless, when the desire to do violence, a god does not hesitate to disguise itself as a swan or as a bull and the young woman herself from the relentless Sun to deliver not far from here her body to become another bull that came forth from the deep sea.   

We were thusly made, you the Beauty and me the Beast, at this time of prior history – the universe that was the habitat of the strange fairy-tales of our story --, where humans and beasts were one and the same, before the original sin when we did not yet long for the gods and they for us.  This fragment of time that we lived brought us into a porous universe, where fairy-tales themselves, antiquated remnants of wandering goddesses in the lands of the sky in rural clothing, are subjected to strange tests that require that, flying-beings as they are, the come “as snakes” to the underground world to obtain their full enlightment under the rulership of the “Mother of Times”, the great Black, the primitive night giving birth to mediocre sleep and terrible Death that brought us into time. 

I was the Beast and also that other thing – because our earlier states never disappear entirely --, the unknown of your nights, the one who charmed you and that you feared having lost when you returned to the place of your father. You did not know then that I was not able to be that one or the other – the Monster – in your place.  These nights, that we received as ordinary        
in the world of humans, did I only dream them?  Were you there already my wife, as Psyché was in Love in Obscurity? I lost all memory of this dark period where I was the Beast and your Unknown One, whom you knew perhaps as it seems to suggest the narrator of our story.  Had she read Apulée too much?  We forget that all images are by nature deceitful, that they shape themselves only in order to assemble contradictions and gather them together: beast at the end of the day, I came in the night to trouble you in my previous form so that, by you, I rid myself of my facial image and my scales so as to be changed as human.                     
In light of that, you had pass through my appearance, that of the Beast, that you hold as my previous being.  I would say openly – but you would mock my intension -- that the Beast ticket that would authorize the woman to be woman and that for her that is a necessary image.  Also is it likely that she would consent to being her Beast-ness.  If my scales, the gnashing of my teeth and my terrible voice do not frighten you any longer as on the first evening, your disdain to enter this lower world will continue. Your absence had to lack to the point of causing me to lose my life for you to risk becoming animal-like like me.  That, which you do not want to admit, was in your bed and you will one day accept it because you did in fact accept to sleep with me.  My scales melted in sleep and my body lost its heaviness.  It was at the price of a snoring that surprised you and which, probably,  worried you.  Every metamorphosis requires a releasing of physical characteristics.  In the morning, your Beast confessed being the Unknown-one."

*Illustrations by Margaret Tarrant

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives at Museum of Science and Industry

I got to see the Museum of Science and Industry's Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives exhibit!
I was already prepared from reading in the Chicago Tribune that the exhibit focused on movie props and animation, not on storylines or specifically fairy tales. But of course, no display of Walt Disney's life would be complete without reference to fairy tales. In the article, Steve Johnson also pointed out his disappointment that the museum didn't go more into Disney's life, "the good and the bad." I was surprised by this initially, because this is not a display somewhere in Disneyland, but put on by a respected and unbiased museum-until I saw that the whole thing was put on by D23, Disney's official fan club. And really to be fair, only so much can fit into one exhibit, and it's a science museum after all, so it makes sense they would focus on animation.
And animation is where Disney shines most when we look back-this form of storytelling would be very different today if it weren't for Walt Disney. It's rather unfortunate that someone so innovative and forward thinking couldn't be more progressive when it came to his portrayals of women in fairy tales. In my opinion, Disney's movies really aren't that bad in and of themselves, especially compared to much of the media coming out at the same time (although you will find many who vehemently disagree with me on that)-what's really telling is looking at each fairy tale's history, and how in that sense, his ideas seemed almost backwards. And while we could have expected a little more from him, at the time critics and fans alike absolutely loved his movies-there were even fan letters from other celebrities and presidents. I don't know enough history to fully understand the attitudes of the time, but it's safe to say people had different expectations from there entertainment in Walt's early career than we do today.
Of course you won't find any of that in this museum. The only thing they mention about storyline is how Walt invented the storyboards. But, aside from that, it was still really interesting. I'd read about the multiplane camera before, another invention of the Disney company (although not actually Walt himself, as the exhibit made it seem), but only had a vague idea of how it worked. But now I understand what it is and appreciate the creativity that went into creating it.
I also really enjoyed seeing movie props, like the costumes from Mary Poppins, and the storybooks used for the openings of the first Disney Princess movies.
I also thought it interesting to see how, in the span of Disney's creations, though the creators of this exhibit lauded his genius as storyteller, I'd say at least 50% of his movies were taken from either fairy tales or well-known books. It's a little more challengin to create your own masterpiece then to interpret a story that is already well-loved...but whatever your personal opinions of Disney, you can't deny how influential he was. From his earliest laugh-o-grams to the present, fairy tales were integral to Disney's success, and in turn his interpretations of the tales placed him as one of the most significant people in the history of fairy tales (one fan letter the museum displayed, I think from Cecil B. Demille, said that "Germany had its brothers Grimm, and America its Disney!"). I'd recommend the exhibit to anyone else in the Chicago area who has a soft spot for Disneyana!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Post-Victorian Little Red Riding Hood

Over a year ago I did a post on the history of Little Red Riding Hood, and how the story that began as purely a bawdy, entertaining folktale had become adapted as a children's story that was meant to instruct the younger generation on the proper way to behave, according to Victorian standards.

 Since Perrault's and the Grimms' famous versions, many versions continued to be produced that followed the same patterns: Red Riding Hood breaks an admonition her mother gave her, thus making it a story about the dangers of disobeying, and she is rescued by a man. In Jack Zipes' The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood he gives us a glimpse into the next wave of Little Red Riding Hood stories-at the beginning of the twentieth century, writers began to play around with and parody what were by then familiar tales. These stories tend to fit into several categories.

Political statements
Fairy tales were used by those on all sides of the political spectrum. Werner von Bulow wrote a racist essay (published by the Swastika Publishing House, which should give you a clue) using the motif of Little Red Riding Hood as, essentially, Nazi propaganda. But there were others, like Ulrich Link in 1937, who used irony to critique Nazism through the same fairy tale. In his story, Little Red is a member of the League of German Maidens, and when the wolf is killed he is "distributed among the Reich's nutrient producers and made into meat in his own juice." Zipes points out that the traditional way of using the tale to promote conformity (stressing the young girl's need to absolutely obey elders) is exaggerated to critique Nazi conformism.

LRRH was also used to critique fascism (Evgenii Shvarts in 1937) and totalitarianism in H.I. Phillips' version, told "as a Dictator would tell it." In Phillips' story, the narrator portrays Little Red as the aggressor, and thus justifies the wolf's actions, making him the true hero.

Margaret Kassagep's story criticizes how common crime had become in West Germany in her 1980 story, where Red and her friend Wolfi both kill the grandmother to take her money.

Gender equality
James Thurber presented a very different Little Red Riding Hood than the public was used to in his 1939 Little Girl and the Wolf. She is not deceived, or even phased, by the wolf. My favorite line: "she saw that it was not her grandmother but the wolf, for even in a nightcap a wolf does not look any more like your grandmother than the Metro-Goldwyn lion looks like Calvin Coolidge." After that, the little girl calmly takes out a gun and shoots him.

O.F. Gmelin's 1978 tale features a clever girl that cuts her own way out of the wolf's belly. Angela Carter's 1979 story presents a "strong-minded child" that fends for herself and tames the wolf.

Many other versions since then have heroines that are not gullible, and/or fend for themselves without needing the aid of a hunter to come rescue her. Sometimes she is on her own, and other times she and her grandmother conspire together to overthrow the wolf (which, I might add, is what happens at the end of the Grimm version after they got rescued the first time.)

Ecological statements
In some versions, the wolf's animal nature is embraced rather than condemned. Similar to modern interpretations of Beauty and the Beast, the animal characters are seen as representing sexuality, and modern females can embrace their wild side rather than repressing it.

But there are other reasons for this as well. Now that wild animals do not present a danger to our everyday lives we don't really see them as a threat-if anything they are romanticized. They can also represent getting in touch with Nature.

Traditional versions
Of course, the traditional version that emphasizes the importance of not straying from the path is still being circulated in children's books that take out anything that might be considered too violent. The storylines brought to us by Perrault and the Grimms will not entirely disappear for a while yet.

*Illustrations by Jennie Harbour

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Surlalune's Beauty and the Beast collection available!

My blog followers will know I'm a big fan of Surlalune's fairy tale collections, and I'm not the only one who's excited about the newest book, Beauty and the Beast Tales from Around the World. Surlalune has been providing posts about the features of the book and Once Upon a Blog has already covered it too, so I just want to quickly highlight it.
Not only will the book feature, obviously, different versions of BATB from around the world, but readers have asked me where they can get an English translation of the Villeneuve version. I've tried to dig into the Villeneuve version and have talked about it here, but the problem is, it's extremely hard to get an English translation of the text, and I've lately discovered that the only one I've found, by Jack Zipes, is not even the most accurate.

Now, for the first time, accurate English translations of Villeneuve's Beauty and the Beast will be available to the general public at a resonable price. You can read more about them at Surlalune, but Heidi Anne Heiner has included translations by Dowson and Planche. This will definitely be on my Christmas wishlist and I'll probably be posting more from it after then!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Fairy Tale Commercials playlist

I just saw a new Gieco commercial featuring Jack and the Beanstalk. Couldn't find it on youtube yet, but I did find this playlist featuring 47 different fairy tale-themed commercials. Cinderella and Red Riding Hood are definitely the most commonly used. Some of them are recent and some are old, going back to the 80s and 90s, and a couple from the 1930s! Advertisements are some of the most globally viewed takes on fairy tales, so they give us an idea of what the general population has been exposed to in terms of fairy tale parodies, as well as what companies think will appeal to everyone. And, some of them are just plain entertaining! Enjoy-

Sunday, October 6, 2013

A Turkish Variant of The 12 Dancing Princesses

The Magic Turban, the Magic Whip, and the Magic Carpet

"Once upon a time that was no time..." there were two brothers. The younger was lazy and lived off of his older brother. One day he was wandering and found three youths quarreling with each other. Their father had left them a magic turban, which made the wearer invisible; and a carpet which, one struck with the whip, would fly the rider far away. The three youths were arguing over who should inherit the gifts.

The lazy brother told them that he would shoot an arrow, and whoever brought back the arrow first would receive all the gifts. But as soon as the other brothers left to fetch the arrow, he put on the turban, sat on the carpet, struck it with the whip, and asked to be where his older brother was.

He found himself in a large city and soon learned that the Sultan's daughter disappeared every night from the palace, and whoever could discover where she went would win her hand. So he went to the palace and pretended to be asleep while watching the Sultan's daughter, who stuck a needle into her heel, took a candle, and went out a side door.

The youth followed, with the turban on his head. The maiden came to a spirit and sat on his head, and they were about to leave, when the youth jumped on as well. The spirit complained that the maiden was too heavy, and the Sultan's daughter protested, "thou art very odd tonight, for I am neither bigger nor smaller than I was yesterday."

The group came to a garden where the trees were made of silver and diamonds. The youth broke off a twig, and the trees wept and said, "There's a child of man here who tortures us!"
Ruth Sanderson

The maiden then realized that maybe the soul of the youth was pursuing them. Later they came to a garden where the trees sparkled with gold and precious stones. The youth plucked another twig, and the trees again wept, and the damsel and spirit were afraid.
Then they came to a fairy castle, where slaves greeted the princess and they brought her a pair of slippers covered with diamonds and precious stones, but the youth snatched one away and put it in his pocket. The maiden could not find the other shoe, so sent for another pair, but another shoe went missing, so she finally went on without shoes.
Shoes from here

She came to a black Peri, "one of whose lips touched the sky, while the other lip swept the ground." He angrily asked the princess why she was late, and she told him about the youth coming and there being trouble on the way, and the Peri said it was all a fancy. He ordered a slave to bring them sherbet, but the youth grabbed the hand of the slave handing it to her and the diamond cup fell and broke into pieces.

The princess was afraid and wanted to go back, but the Peri ordered other slaves to bring them food. The Peri got impatient when food and forks and spoons began to disappear, so maybe it was best if the Sultan's daughter did go home early. He wanted to kiss her, but the youth pulled them apart. The Peri called for the spirit to carry the princess home, and they left. The youth took a sword from the wall and chopped off the head of the Peri. The earth groaned and a voice cried, "Woe to us, a child of man hath slain our king!"

The youth went to the carpet and it carried him back to the palace, where he pretended to snore as the princess came back.

The next morning the youth had all the people called together, and he told them the full story of where the Princess had gone. The princess denied it, but the youth brought forth the enchanted twigs, slippers, and spoons and forks. The youth saw his older brother and insisted he should claim the princess and half the kingdom.

The princess was overjoyed, for the Peri had carried her off and put her under a spell, from which she was now free. She and the elder brother were married, and had a great banquet that lasted for forty days.

*Full tale found in Surlalune's Twelve Dancing Princesses: Tales From Around the World

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Cinderella's Pumpkins: Part 4

Image from here
Image from here
Image from here
Can't find this image again to credit the source! If anyone knows where it's from please let me know in the comments!
Image from here

Image from here

Ah, October! In Tales of Faerie Land, that means looking at the creative ways people carve pumpkins into Cinderella's magical coach! See posts from 2012, 2011, and 2010

Female leads as a Marketing Tool

Surlalune posted from an article about the upcoming "Frozen" movie by Disney, which has fairy tale enthusiasts disappointed by its lack of having anything at all to do with its original inspiration, Andersen's "Snow Queen". But I feel like I've been reading/hearing a lot lately about people complaining about lack of strong female leads in entertainment and this one quote really struck me:

"It is a telling sign of how far gender parity has fallen in the last decade when something like this or Brave is considered noteworthy, especially as the female-driven animated features like Mulan or Anastasia used to come and go without comment in the mid-to-late 1990′s."

I think I never really got what all the fuss was about, because in my mind I had never noticed a lack of strong female leads. I have no problem relating to male protagonists, such as Harry Potter or the cast of Lord of the Rings, but also as a girl I was drawn to the classic girl stories such as Alice in Wonderland, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, etc-and of course the classic Princess fairy tales. But the quote above made me realize that some of my most formative years were some of the most successful in terms of promoting female leads-so much so that it wasn't considered something to brag about. Can I just say that I am so disappointed Anastasia doesn't have the continual marketing that Disney princesses do and none of my students even know that movie? It hurts my heart. I swear every single girl my age can sing all of "Once Upon a December" word for word even if she doesn't admit it. Despite its historical inaccuracies it got me interested in reading about Russian history in a way that no history class ever did.

A musician friend of mine in college and I were once complaining about how we didn't like recitals or concerts that promoted only female composers. It meant that the music was chosen primarily because of the gender of the composer, not because of the quality of the music. If the music is excellent it should be featured regularly alongside the works of Bach, Beethoven, and the other male giants of the music world. It almost comes across as patronizing rather than empowering.

The same thing applies to entertainment. The world is full of males and females and so should entertainment be. If you're looking for strong female casts of characters you can certainly find them but sadly it seems our culture has become less female-empowering over time. The more we pat ourselves on the back for fecently featuring a gender that encompasses 50% of the world the sadder the situation is.

But there's also good news here. I think that if we give our young girls enough positive female role models, it's not going to destroy their self-esteem if they are also exposed to some of the most passive versions of fairy tale princesses. I grew up seeing strong and independent females as well as those who mainly waited around for their prince to come, and I didn't see the latter as representing the ideal state of the female, as many critics claim is their result. I spent my single years getting educated and pursuing my talents and hobbies (including researching fairy tales) and working in a job I love. And that's the goal of feminism, right? Equal opportunities for both genders?

What kinds of female role models did you grow up with and how do you think they influenced you, looking back?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Hipster Witch


Like this? Check out Hipster Princesses

Image found here

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Fairy Tales: So hot right now

"The current Hollywood vogue for fairytales has been partly inspired by the bicentenary of Grimms Fairy Tales...but Bill [Gray, University of Chichester] suggests the economic downturn may be a factor too. He says, 'These so-called fairy tales are often about surviving a (murderously) dysfunctional family in a harsh situation. Don't forget the Grimms created their book while Germany was an occupied country under French rule. Life was harsh; people did starve to death. The sort of scenario we see in Hansel and Gretel is not too far-fetched.

"'So-called fairy tales both take you out of the harsh demands of real life, but are also about finding solutions, finding hope, in hard times. And the cinema is itself a magical shelter from a bleak world-and yet can also be more than just escapism.'"

-from Faerie Magazine, Issue 24 (Either I'm blind or they didn't cite an author for that article) (Be sure to check out Heidi Anne Heiner's, AKA Surlalune's, piece on "Cinderella Through the Years")

I caught bits and pieces of the new Hansel and Gretel movie while my in-laws were watching it a few weeks ago. I agree with Christie of Spinning Straw into Gold that, while it's not one of the most significant versions of a fairy tale, it's a fun movie to watch (but definitely rated R for a reason-I would NOT recommend for younger audiences). But I was surprised that afterwards my future mother-in-law said, "That was cool! I wonder how many other fairy tales they're going to turn on their heads like that?"

We who follow the world of fairy tales know that they're EVERYwhere in media, just check out Once Upon a Blog and see how many fairy tale movies are currently in the works, but those who don't pay attention may be just picking up on the trend. Her comment reminded me that what is cliche to some of us (such as the idea of creating a "twisted" fairy tale, where some traditional plot point or character's status as good or evil is challenged) is dependent on the type of entertainment we consume. Those who don't typically seek out modern versions of fairy tales are being exposed to them, and wanting more!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Cocteau and Disney's Beauty and the Beast as Gay Advocates

Jerry Griswold claims in his The Meanings of Beauty and the Beast: A Handbook that the two major film versions of "Beauty and the Beast", by Jean Cocteau (1946) and Disney (1991), "essentially present it as a gay version." When I read that I wondered how in the world you could conclude that from seeing the movies. With all the modern versions challenging society's views of gender roles and sexuality, these movies seem to be some of the more traditional ways of telling the story.

While I don't think a gay advocacy is obvious from plot points themselves, there is some very telling information about the creators of the films I had never heard before.

Griswold provides movie summaries; for the purpose of this post I'll just assume you're familiar with the movies' basic plots.

Cocteau: Griswold claims that Cocteau makes an effort to show a negative correlation with male heterosexuality. For example, he amplifies the horrific/creepy elements of the story. The tale is often thought to portray the anxieties a woman faces before intimacy with a man, so therefore to increase the horror is to indicate that the horror of heterosexual intimacy never really goes away. Also, when Belle sees the Beast outside her bedroom just after a hunt, paws smoking, and he is ashamed, that supposedly means that "what is ugly and repulsive...are male sexual desires and giving into them."

I think the logic there is pretty weak. But what I do find interesting is the ending. I was always bothered by the fact that the Beast turns into the Avenant character, who is clearly a villain. Griswold seems the whole ending scene as intentionally ridiculous-from the cheesy lines to the costumes. Audiences tend to be disappointed at the ending, and Griswold thinks this intentional, which I think makes more sense than taking the ending at face value. Cocteau may have been making light of the traditional storybook ending, man + woman = happily ever after.

Also fascinating-Cocteau was suffering from several "painful and disfiguring skin problems" during the shooting of the film, including boils, carbuncles, eczema, and impetigo, so he may have found himself relating to the Beast physically. Not only was he homosexual, but his lover was Jean Marais, who played Avenant/the Prince. Definitely changes how you view the film to know that.

Disney: Throughout the film, Belle's character is looked upon suspiciously by the other townspeople, and their reactions are close to reactions to gay people: "strange," "funny," "peculiar," "odd," "very different from the rest of us." Now on the one hand, I wouldn't connect that to people's reactions to homosexuals specifically because pretty much anyone who's been through puberty can relate to feeling out of place and awkward in some way and the media definitely knows that. So many popular movies/books/tv shows revolve around a main character who is awkward and unpopular, and therefore everyone instantly feels a connection. Of course it's perfectly appropriate to read into the gay experience as one way to relate to Belle, I'm just not sure if I conclude with Griswold that the Disney version is "essentially a gay version." Although the lyricist, Howard Ashman, was gay, so we can assume he had experienced some of the same misunderstandings as Belle.

In his analysis of both films, Griswold sees the chauvinist male characters (Avenant and Gaston) as messages about the dangers of male heterosexuality. Sure there's dangers, but that doesn't mean all male heterosexuals are dangerous.

Griswold sees the Beast and Gaston as inverses of the other. One is essentially good at heart and ugly in appearance, the other handsome in appearance but evil at heart. Echoing the Cocteau film, the Beast can't transform into the Prince until after Gaston dies. Griswold suggests interpreting the title "Beauty and the Beast" to being about Gaston and the Beast, which is a very interesting thought. He even says that the Beast is in danger of becoming Gaston-abusing his power and masculinity, which reminds me of Snow White and how she is in danger of  becoming her stepmother, as many people have recently been interpreting that fairy tale.

So while "Beauty and the Beast" won't pop up in your Netflix cue under the gay and lesbian film sub genre, the Otherness of the Beast can definitely be a way to see the Otherness of the gay community. I have to admit this is not an area I feel qualified to write about-I am very attracted to my fiancé Tony and none of my close friends are gay, but I'd be interested to hear what this fairy tale means to people who are ostracized for being gay, if they feel a special connection to the story.

And as always there's much more in the book, this is just a summary of a few main points, I highly recommend it to any BATB fans.