Wednesday, March 31, 2010

East of the Sun, West of the Moon: Gender roles

The Surlalune fairy tales blog has a poll at the bottom where people can vote on their favorite fairy tale. I was happily surprised that Beauty and the Beast came out with an impressive lead, but even more surprising to me was that "East of the Sun, West of the Moon," came in second at 15%. Not only is is lesser known than many other tales on the list, but I think of it as part of the Beauty and the Beast/Animal Bridegroom cycle of tales. Most surprising to me was that Cinderella was pretty far down the list, at 9%. I'm pretty sure if you polled people off the street, and not fairy tale enthusiasts, Cinderella would be first or second place.
As I reread "East of the Sun, West of the Moon," the subject of gender kept popping out at me.

The father in this tale is definitely one who has his own best interests in mind rather than those of his daughter, as he pressures her to become the wife of a white bear so that the family can have money. No judgement is ever made on the father for doing this, but as his advice turns out to be true, one tends to forget how selfish this really was. Yet that was the reality for a lot of girls who were given away in marriage for no purpose other than help their family's financial situation.

Illustrations by Kay Nielsen

The mother gives advice too-but this advice the bear warns the daughter ahead of time not to listen to the mother's advice. Immediately the reader perceives negative things about the mother, when really her advice is much more sound--to know who you're sleeping with at night. Yet the mother is also never punished, like many fairy tale women whose punishments seem too extreme compared to how the men get off. And technically, if the daughter had followed her mother's advice all the way and been careful not to let the tallow get on the Prince's shirt, she may have been able to avoid all the trouble.
Image by Elizabeth Hoyle

Well, the Prince disappears and the heroine is left to search for him. Yet, just as both parents gave advice, which may or may not be considered helpful advice by the reader, the heroine is aided in her task by males and females alike-the four winds, which are represented as males, and three old kind hags. The hags are the ones that give her the amazing trinkets she needs to eventually win back her Prince from his new betrothed.
The Prince's new fiancee has a nose three ells long. The word has the same root as "elbow" and is meant to be the length of a man's arm. The measurements differ from country to country but could have been between 25 to 45 inches long.
As is so often the case, the villains are females. Though the whole country is supposedly inhabited by trolls, the only trolls we meet are the long-nosed fiancee and her mother.
Then, the task that wins back the Prince is washing the tallow from his shirt. People say this is an example of women only gaining salvation by housework. Yet there is also the implication that the secret to success is the difference between human and Troll, and that the heroine's success may be because it was she herself who dropped the tallow. Either way, I don't see a problem with women adding a little imagination to a chore which they were destined to do over and over again.
Although, speaking of gender roles in Norwegain tales, "The Husband who was to Mind the House" makes fun of a man who attempts to switch roles with his wife for a day and majorly messes everything up. This may make you more angry for further cementing the "men work in the fields, women work in the home" stereotype, or may make you glad that it acknowledges that keeping a house is not a walk in the park. Especially back before running water, refridgerators, etc. Although, the woman seems to do just fine doing her husband's work in the fields. Either way, I like to think of it as a good reminder to everyone not to criticize something about which you have no experience.

Just go here

Susie Bubble's post "Enter the Enchanted" takes you on a visual tour of the renovations of Kensington Palace in London. Apparantly it's something like a museum of seven famous Princesses, yet an art display at the same time. Whatever it is, the pictures alone are truly creepy and magical at the same time. Some reminded me of specific fairy tales (Princess and the Pea, above, is obvious) and while others may not be inspired by a specific fairy tale, they all seem to belong in the realm of the magical and mysterious. Hop over and read the whole post for more details and pictures.

The Princess on the Glass Hill: A Norwegian male Cinderella

Get ready for a lot of Norwegian fairy tales coming up. I've been reading the collection of Asbjornsen and Moe, which I got to look up the original version of Peer Gynt, and have been fascinated by many of the other tales as well.
In my copy of the story, the youngest son is named Boots (which, sadly, makes me picture the character from Dora the Explorer. One of the disadvantages to babysitting), but in other versions he's called Cinderlad.

Well, Boots's father's grassfields keep getting eaten on St. John's night by an unknown source. Boots' older brothers try to stay the night and catch the culprit, but are frightened away by earthquakes. Only Boots is brave enough to wait them out, and three years in a row, he finds three grand horses with full sets of armor right by them. One brass, one silver, one gold-much like the three dresses the Grimms' Cinderella requests from her mother's grave. Though the materials of those dresses don't get grander every night (although the last night has her dancing in gold shoes,) Donkeyskin's gowns are colored as the weather, the moon, and the sun (Donkeyskin is often categorized with Cinderella, as the oppressed-maiden-whose-true-worth-is-eventually-recognized).
Now the king of the land has a daughter that sits at the top of a glass mountain with three golden apples. The only one who can win her is the one who can climb the mountain and be given the gold apples. There are three days in which Boots goes out each day, each time with the next nicest horse and armor, and goes partway up the mountain (a little farther each time) and then back. The people are all wondering about this mysterious knight who has found favor to win a golden apple each day yet leaves. Boots' brothers leave him home (sitting in the cinders and ashes) while they go and then tell Boots all about the festivities. Boots feigns ignorance and interest, just like Cinderella.

All the knights of the land present themselves to the king, so he can find the one who has the golden apples. No one does, so he sends notice for all the men to appear before him. This still yeilds apples, so the king asks if there is anyone else. Boots' brothers say there's no need to ask Boots, who has been home in the ashes, but the king insists. (Much like the parents of Cinderella, who insist she cannot be the woman the Prince seeks, until the Prince insists.) Boots, of course, produces the apples and the king and Princess are overjoyed. I like the ending-"and all I can say is, if they haven't let off their merry-making yet, why, they're still at it."

Gail Carson Levine has written a story about "Princess on the Glass Hill." I haven't read it, and I like her novels more than her short stories, but I'm sure it's a great read.

Disney's Beauty and the Beast onstage: My take

Well, I finally did see Broadway in Chicago's "Beauty and the Beast".

Secret to automatically enjoying any stage production you see in Chicago: see a jr. high do a production of the same show a week or two before, then the professional version will instantly be better.

But, I'm pretty sure I would have loved it anyway. You can read my review of the musical version in general here.
Here's my take on this production: the costumes, sets, special effects, everything was amazing live (especially compared to the jr. high version. Sorry to be hating on jr. high). I thought Nathaniel Hackman as Gaston was especially funny. Lumiere and Cogsworth (Merritt David Janes and Keith Kirkwood) were funny too but hard to understand sometimes.
The musical starts out strong. In the scene when Belle goes to the castle to rescue her father, the Beast was especially scary-more violent and creepy than in the movie. But then, like I said before, Belle's song "Home" is just such a letdown at that point in the plot. The movie Belle's flinging herself across her bed and sobbing is way better. The song is in a major key, guys. Even my students with developmental disabilities know that a song about losing your home, family, and freedom and being at the mercy of an angry, heartless monster should definitely be in minor.
From this point on, the musical becomes more unrealistic. It's largely the way the script is written, and I understand it's for kids and they're trying to lighten things up and everything, but the Beast becomes less of this tortured soul and more of a comic figure as we laugh at his attempts to woo Belle, who ends up being far too cheeky. While bravery is one thing, realism is another.

I still also hate the song "A Change in Me." Pointless words and music, and yet another slow solo when the audience just wants the plot to start wrapping up. At least Elizabeth Shivener does have the pipes for it. (Justin Glazer as Beast had a great voice too. I automatically fall in love with any Beast character so my opinion of him hardly even counts.)
They made some other minor changes to the script-cutting out a couple scenes (like the battle between the townspeople and enchanted objects, that surprised me) and there were parts I'm pretty sure they added some of their own lines to, but I think that's the beauty of live theater and making each production unique.
By the way, the special effects for the transformation scene were really cool. With my little experience in school theater, I was amazed he could get off the complicated Beast costume while never leaving the stage.
Overall I'm so glad I went, and I'm glad I have this production in my head now to replace the school versions I was in/just saw.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Peter Pan collars

Images by Carrie of Wishwishwish

My introduction into the blogging world was through style and fashion blogs, not fairy tale blogs. I (stupidly) had never even looked for or read any fairy tale blogs before I started this on a whim one day.

Anyway, the style blogs I prefer are usually girls who love vintage. Peter Pan collars are a favorite among some of my favorite bloggers, though not really "in" right now. I wondered what relation the collars had with the character Peter Pan and found this information on Retroland:

"When Disney got a hold of Peter Pan in 1953, they made some distinct wardrobe changes - notably, a jagged V-neck replaced the delicate, rounded collar that had come to be known for decades as the Peter Pan collar. But up until that time, this simple and sweet collar named in the honor of the boy who never grew up found its way around the neck of many a boy and girl who wanted to grow up to be just like their hero.
"The Peter Pan collar wasn’t always called such. In the late 1800s, it was referred to as the Little Lord Fauntleroy suit collar, and was designed out of either plain white cotton or frilly lace. When J. M. Barrie’s famous play hit the stage in 1904, however, the collar would be renamed forever in Peter’s honor. Little boys everywhere, who wanted to emulate their flying friend, embraced the fashion. In the 40s, it was incorporated into the Eton suits worn by angelic tykes, and a decade later, little girls had taken to the style as well, carefully folding the collars over their cardigans. For the older girl, a string of pearls completed the look. While not exactly on the fashion forefront these days, an occasional Peter Pan collar can still be seen from time to time, harkening back to flying adventures to faraway lands and representing all that is innocent and good in the world. Jagged V-necks, not so much."

Image of Emily on Some Girls Wander

Another Frog Prince movie

The Princess and the Frog the other day reminded me of this version (youtube link)(imdb), from 1986, which I'd sort of forgotten about until now. I love youtube so much (even when they don't have an embedding code). The huge frog always freaked me out.

I noticed similarities to Beauty and the Beast as I re watched it (although I see Beauty and the Beast everywhere). It is technically an Animal Bridegroom tale, and therefore related anyway, but some alterations they made were even more like Beauty and the Beast.
In the Grimm tale, the frog asks to share the Princess' plate and bed in return for fetching the ball, to which the Princess agrees, but later has to be forced to keep her promised by her father. In this version, the frog doesn't make any requests (although I do notice now that in the Grimm he also wants to be her "companion and playfellow," which is the most this children's version hints at). This Princess, Zora, has no problem being a friend to a frog-more like Beauty than Zora's predecessors. And then the near-death of the Frog near the end? Totally like Beauty and the Beast. Also, in one of the few fairy tales that doesn't have an evil same-sex sibling to contrast the hero, they added one.
And the scene at the end? From rags (sort of) to a poofy blue ball gown and dancing with a prince? Totally Cinderella.

Yet with the insistence on keeping promises over and over, that reflects the Grimms' moral (even though Zora doesn't specifically keep a promise she had made to Ribbit). The golden ball is also unique to The Frog Prince. I must have loved this movie as a kid because my sister and I watched it over and over. Though low-budget and slightly bizarre, it was still fun to re watch.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Cupid and Psyche

No study of Beauty and the Beast would be complete without a look into Cupid and Psyche.

Though the two stories at first glance may not seem to have all that much in common, Cupid and Psyche is the earliest known story that influenced the Animal Bridegroom tales which evolved over time and culture to become the story we know today as Beauty and the Beast. Learning the oral versions that came in between helps you see the progression.

The plot:

Psyche is so beautiful she becomes famous and makes the god Venus jealous. Venus gives Psyches' father a prophecy that Psyche must be set on a rock and wed a Serpent. Psyche goes bravely, only to find herself in an exquisite palace where she recieves all sorts of luxuries. A lover comes to her at night, whom she is forbidden to see.

Naturally, any prohibition in fairy tales is violated, so Psyche does look on her husband, after her sisters convinced her she must be married to a monster. Turns out her husband was Cupid, the son of Venus, who was sent to kill her but fell in love instead (woops). Because she looked, Cupid is sent away and Psyche is sent to fulfill many dangerous/impossible tasks by Venus before she can be reunited with Cupid.

Illustration by Errol Le Cain

The story of Cupid and Psyche is found within the larger work Metamorphosis, or The Golden Asse, by Lucius Apuleies, from the 2nd century A.D. Psyche's tale is told as a story within a story, which reflects the larger frame story. This is important, because Psyche's big sin in the tale is curiosity. The pattern in fairy tales is for women to be severely punished for their curiosity while men are often rewarded (think Bluebeard). Yet, this story is a parallel to the narrator of the larger story, Lucius (probably Apuleius himself), who was too curious about magic and ended up accidentally turning himself into a donkey. So this time, the curiosity is not reprimanded only in females. Yet, Benjamin Slade points out that even though the two characters suffer from their curiosity, they are both rewarded in the end. (You could argue the same about Bluebeard's wife, but not her predecessors).

So in this tale we have the precedent for the selfish sisters, and though the groom turns out not to be an actual animal, don't they all in the end turn out to be princes in disguise? Other elements of the story that were weeded out eventually include the violition of the prohibition to look on the husband, and that was often replaced by the prohibition of staying home too long, because of mean sisters/mothers as well. The series of tasks the heroine must go through disappeared by the Villeneuve/Beament version but are still there in some other versions.

Note that, although this is the first known version, it's not the authoritative. This was (likely)based off of earler work by Lucius of Patrae, which is based off of earlier oral stories... maybe this is what Disney meant by "Tale as old as time."

An EXCELLENT retelling of this story is C.S. Lewis' Till We Have Faces. My personal favorite of C.S. Lewis, he tells the tale from the perspective of the sister, but with some twists--the sister doesn't pressure Psyche to violate the prohibition out of jealousy, but out of genuine concern. The main character, Orual, is incredibly ugly, as opposed to Psyche's overwhelming beauty, but not evil. The book is a fascinating look into trust, beauty vs. ugliness, and different forms of love.

Eye Spy

Can you spot the Beauty and the Beast characters?
This was drawn for me by a little girl who just saw the stage version.

Answer key: top row: Gaston (holding a knife) (the line drawn from him to the Beast below was drawn as the little girl told me how he was trying to hurt the Beast), Mrs. Potts

next row: the rose, the Prince (holding the Magic Mirror), Chip

third row: the Beast, the father (in a dungeon), Belle (in her yellow dress), Cogsworth (very tiny), audience (including the artist herself, Christy)

bottom: the Beast, after he's hurt

I don't know what the letters are supposed to mean. She hasn't mastered the art of spelling yet.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Princess and the Frog

I caught parts of Disney's The Princess and the Frog today while babysitting. I hadn't been especially enthusiastic about it and hadn't planned on ever spending money to see it, but was still curious.
A lot of fairy tale enthusiasts hadn't been crazy about this movie, since the plot (which was all pretty much given away in the previews anyway) was so completely unlike the fairy tale it should hardly share the same title (basically the same, anyway). But this is the only Disney fairy tale to acknowledge the existence of itself-it really isn't a retelling of the Frog Prince, but a story that is influenced by the older tale, which helped me forgive all the creative liberties.

I noticed they were deliberately trying not to fall into the typical Disney Princess stereotypes-this young woman had business ambitions and didn't care about romance (just like BELLE was smart and loved to read and wanted adventure and not a jerk husband like Gaston).

The first thing the heroine does after she meets the frog-besides scream-is throw things at him and slam a book on his head. I wondered if this was a subtle nod to earlier versions where the Princess didn't bring about the frog's transformation by a kiss, but a violent act, such as throwing him against the wall.

By the way, the concept of the girl turning into a frog instead of the other way around has already been done in The Frog Prince Continued by Jon Scieszka, who has done some really great fairy tale parodies for kids.

Fairy tale references in Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte has been a favorite novel of mine since I was young. I think it was the first real "adult" book I read, and though a lot of it went over my head at the time I loved it then, and have loved each time I revisited it.
So I was fascinated to learn that Jane Eyre is full of fairy tale references. Not only is there a running theme that Mr. Rochester suspects Jane to be from the faerie world and not the human world, but Karen E. Rowe has written on the patterns seen from Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Bluebeard, and Beauty and the Beast.
Unfortunately I haven't been able to read what Karen E. Rowe has actually written--I can't find the whole text online, if anyone knows of a link I'd love to have it. I can see some of the themes on my own (don't read on if you don't want spoilers)-Jane Eyre goes from being orphaned and then to a place as governess, which was a form of servitude, and ends up well-off and happily married. But this general rags-to-riches theme is pretty universal-usually stories end up with the characters better off than when they started. I wouldn't have necessarily thought of Cinderella.
I don't really see how Sleeping Beauty fits in, other than...she only lived with females till she was 18? Or, maybe when she runs away and stays with her cousins, that's a form of enchanted sleep since she's hidden from the normal world for a while? I'd welcome other guesses on that one.
Charlotte Bronte

Bluebeard is more obvious. Mr. Rochester isn't murderous like the infamous husband himself, but a secret wife in a secret room isn't standard romance fare. The tables are turned as Bertha ends up being the crazy one and not the husband (although, hard as it is to imagine, some people apparently don't see Bluebeard as being out of line *cough Perrault cough*).

And I had already made the connection to Beauty and the Beast myself, but I tend to have a one-track mind. In fact anything I find romantic I realize ends up being (at least) indirectly a BatB theme. In Jane Eyre the characters switch places, with Rochester starting off being the Prince Charming and Jane being almost like an understated female beast. Called "plain" over and over again, and also being a servant, any prospects of being loved by her Master were pretty bleak. By the end, though, he's an old hermit who is blind and deformed, and she has a respectable place in society, compared to him. Some versions of Beauty and the Beast have this flipping of roles as well, notably Robin McKinley's Beauty. Beauty has the advantage at first, but she, like Jane, is also supposedly "very plain." After the Beast transforms, Beauty assumes he would no longer want to marry a poor, plain country girl such as herself. Yet, like Jane and Rochester, their love for each other supersedes all obstacles.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Key to my Heart

Faux antique key jewelry is very trendy right now. Walk into any mall store that sells jewelry and you'll find something like the above, from Forever 21. I have always found old keys to be fascinating and appealing, myself.

I think we like keys because they represent endless possibilities. Modern car or house keys are less appealing, but an old skeleton key could be a clue to a great mystery, or open the gateway to some enchanted hidden place, such as The Secret Garden.

Keys (especially when we see old-fashioned ones) can be associated with fairy tales. This short little treasure is from The Brothers Grimm:

The Golden Key

"In the winter time, when deep snow lay on the ground, a poor boy was forced to go out on a sledge to fetch wood. When he had gathered it together, and packed it, he wished, as he was so frozen with cold, not to go home at conce, but to light a fire and warm himself a little. So he scraped away the snow, and as he was thus clearing the ground, he found a tiny, gold key. Hereupon he thought that where the key was, the lock must be also, and dug in the ground and found an iron chest. "If the key does but fit it!" thought he; "no doubt there are precious things in that little box." He searched, but no keyhole was there. At last he discovered one, but so small that it was hardly visible. He tried it, and the key fitted it exactly. Then he turned it once round, and now we must wait until he has quite unlocked it and opened the lid, and then we shall learn what wonderful things were lying in that box."

That's the whole tale! I like to think that this tale was always told with a sense of humor. I imagine a parent telling children bedtime stories and saying, "All right, now it's time for you to go to bed," and the kids are like, "No, one more story, please, daddy, please!" and so the Dad tells one more story that's super short and doesn't even have a climax and the kids are like, "You can't end there, Daddy!" and he's like, "Nope, that's it, time for bed."

But once again, the key opens something we assume will be "wonderful," and the contents of the box are probably more wonderful when left to our imaginations.

The below key, which I wear as a necklace, has a story behind it. From what we can gather from my grandmother's scrapbook, we think she swiped it from her college infirmary one time when my grandfather, then her boyfriend, was sick and she wasn't allowed to visit him, and she kept the key.
Not all keys open exciting and wonderful things, though. I mentioned the key in Bright, Deardeer, and Kit a while back that opened the cupboard with Deardeer and Kit's old skins stretched out. Sleeping Beauty turns a key that leads her into the room where she pricks her finger on the spindle and falls into a death-like sleep. And who can forget the blood-stained key in Bluebeard that leads to a room full of mutilated corpses, signaling the heroine's doom to follow the same fate at the hands of her murderous husband?

Yet the possibilities of danger because of whatever the key opens only adds to their excitement and mystery to the reader of tales.

A Word from Walt

"I do not make films primarily for children. I make them for the child in all of us, whether we be six or sixty. Call the child innocence. The worst of us is not without innocence, although buried deeply it might be. In my work I try to reach and speak to that innocence, showing it the fun and joy of living; showing it that laughter is healthy; showing it that the human species, although happily ridiculous at times, is still reaching for the stars."

-Walt Disney

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Fairy tale apparel

Alice in Wonderland is so trendy on Etsy right now, so it's a good time to stock up...

Nowonder has lots of Alice apparel, as well as a Cinderella tank top I really like.

Debunking some myths about the Villeneuve

I had read everything I could online about the history of "Beauty and the Beast" before I finally got my own copy of the de Villeneuve. The impressions I had gotten of it from other people were surprisingly very different than my own.

The first myth people have about the Villeneuve version is that it doesn't exist. Usually (at least in fairy tale collections) Madame LePrince de Beaument gets all the credit for having written "Beauty and the Beast" in 1756, published in Le Magasin des Enfants. Her version is definitely a classic, but it's more of a summary of the story Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve had already written in 1740, included in Les contes marins ou la jeune Americaine.
Villeneuve's version is much longer and includes more overall detail, including episodes of what Beauty does each day in the castle (and this AWESOME mirror system that lets her see any play, ballet, or social event anywhere in the world--imaginative predecessor to t.v.?) as well as the back stories for Beauty and the Beast, which I will describe in a later post.

Critics generally talk about how the Villeneuve version is long-winded and too detailed. Maybe because I was given low expectations, I didn't think so at all. It's long compared to a typical fairy tale, but it was interesting and held my attention. It really helped to answer questions I had had about the tale: Why was the Beast turned into a Beast? Why does he flip out when the father steals a rose? (Answers will come later)
illustration by Anne Anderson

Terri Windling has an excellent article on basically everything you'd need to know about "Beauty and the Beast" in a nutshell, including summaries of all the most influential versions. (Though I just sang Disney's praises a couple posts ago, I'm pretty sure that if I had seen the Disney BatB after knowing the Villeneuve/Beaument version, I'd feel the same way. Sort of like why I'm avoiding seeing The Princess and the Frog.)

But it's from this article I got several misunderstandings. She says:

"De Villeneuve's Beauty and the Beast, over one hundred pages long and published for adult readers, is somewhat different than the shorter version we know today. As the story begins, Beauty's destiny lies in the hands of her father, who gives her over to the Beast (to save his own life) and thus seals her fate. The Beast is a truly fierce figure, not a gentle soul disguised by fur — a creature lost to the human world that had once been his by birthright. The emphasis of this tale is on the transformation of the Beast, who must find his way back to the human sphere. He is a genuine monster, eventually reclaimed by civilit√©, magic, and love — and it is only then that Beauty can truly love him. In this story, the final transformation does not occur until after Beauty weds her Beast, waking up in her marriage bed to find a human Prince beside her."

It's not so much wrong facts as confusing wording. Item 1: Beauty's father "gives her over to the Beast (to save his own life)." This makes it sound like some oral versions where the Father literally just hands his daughter over and doesn't seem to care either way. But Villeneuve's father exclaims, "Could I be so inhuman as to save my own life at the expense of one of my children's?" Yet lest he be painted as squeaky clean, his next comment is "Under what pretext could I bring her here?" as if he's sort of considering it (although I think this comment was just to get the Beast to say she needs to come willingly or not at all).
Then, when the father tells his story, Beauty insists on going to take his place in the castle, and "the father was the only one who would not consent to his youngest daughter's plan." Only after his other daughters accused him of being sorry he wasn't going to be rid of them instead did he get more passive. But even then, during the journey to the castle, "offers her the opportunity a hundred times to dismount, saying he would go on alone." He says, "Think about it...there's still time. This monster is more terrible than you can imagine..." so I really wouldn't call this "giving his daughter over to save his own life."
Item 2: "The Beast is truly a fierce figure, not a gentle soul disguised by fur..." and following. Except he's...not. He looks scary, certainly his first impression on the father is less than favorable (as with every version.) The Beast's backstory gives detail to how innocent he really is, but towards Beauty he is a perfect gentleman (other than proposing marriage every night, which is also in Beament's version.) On night one of Beauty's stay in the castle, the Beast accepts her in place of her father because she is willing, and sends her father home with trunks full of presents. One night two, the first official marriage proposal, she shrieks, "Oh! heavens, I'm lost!" to which he replies, "Not at all. But without frightening yourself, reply properly. Tell me succinctly yes or no." She replies no, and "Well, since you don't want to, I'll leave you, " the "docile monster replied." Night three: "Wish for whatever you want, and you shall have it. You're very pretty."

Etc. I would pretty much call him a "gentle soul disguised by fur."

Illustration by Walter Crane

Item 3: "In this story, the final transformation does not occur until after Beauty weds her Beast, waking up in her marriage bed to find a human Prince beside her."

This makes it sound like Beauty goes through with a traditional wedding night with an animal. Not so. What really happens is, she accepts his proposal and goes to bed like any other night. They're just engaged, not married. She dreams about the Prince, who she's been courting with in her dreams the whole time, and wakes up with him lying beside her. That's all. No bestiality here.
Overall, I was surprised by how similar the Beament is to the Villeneuve, Beament just changed minor details and cut out a lot. I enjoy them both.

Animated Snow White

I got this sweet book from the library the other day.
Put aside any qualms you may have with the implied messages of the Disney version and let's just talk animation.

This book is full of pictures of stills from the movie, and of sketches from the animators in different stages of animation. This book is great for anyone who likes the fairy tale or anyone interested in animation or the history of film. No one can deny Walt Disney had a huge impact on the movie industry-he was always pushing the limits of what was possible.

The end of the book also has a "making of" section.
Fun facts about the movie Snow White:
-Walt Disney's Snow White was the first ever full-length animated movie. While in production, it was referred to as "Disney's folly."
-Disney had plans to do a version of Alice in Wonderland first, which got thwarted when Paramount announced their Alice
-Walt told the story to anyone who would listen. He would watch their reactions to certain plot twists and refine the story according to what people responded to
-(Rejected) names considered for the dwarves: Gabby, Jumpy, Sniffy, Lazy, Stubby, Wheezy
-More than 150 girls auditioned for the part of Snow White. Disney listened to their auditions from behind a screen, not wanting their physical appearances to influence his judgement.

-At the time, cartoon animation was primitive and Walt wanted it to look more realistic. Actors, vaudeville performers, and staff acted out scenes for the animators. To make the characters look "rounder," the edges were airbrushed.
-Real blush was used on Snow White's cheeks
-To achieve camera-like motion, the Disney team invented the multiplane camera. Since I wouldn't explain it very well I linked you to the wikipedia
-Project expenses kept expanding. At one point, they needed a loan from the Bank of America in order to finish the project. Representative Joseph Rosenberg watched the completed portion of the film without a reaction, walked out, yawned, and commented on the nice weather. He then turned to a terrified Disney and said, "Walt, that picture will make a pot full of money" and Disney got the loan.
-At the preview, though the audience responded well, towards the end a third of the audience got up and left. The Disney team was worried until they learned they were college students who had to get back for their 10 PM dormitory curfew. 10 PM dormitory curfew! My has college life changed...

-Ingredients in the witch's peddler's disguise: mummy dust, black of night, old hag's cackle, and scream of fright
-The animators say that they improved throughout the year and a half of making the film, and that the animation improves towards the end of the movie
-Audiences LOVED the movie. The animation was so new and so appreciated, even landscape shots got applause
-It took 750 artists to make the film-towards the end, they were all working overtime to meet the Christmas 1937 deadline

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Some thoughts

After a bit of research on fairy tales, you tend to hear certain judgements again and again. Fairy tales are deemed trite if they're too happy; "Disneyfied" becomes a negative term, you start seeing everything as misogynist or Freudian (after reading Bettelheim's "The Uses of Enchantment," I started freaking out that since I have a good relationship with my father, I might have secretly harbored incestual thoughts about him. But then I remembered I also have a good relationship with my mother, which blows most of Bettelheim's theories out of the water). When I started researching fairy tales, I felt like they were being attacked over and over again and I found myself wondering, "Why do you (authors) spend all your time researching fairy tales if you don't even like them?"

Just a couple of specific things I've been mulling over lately: First of all, I take it too personally when anyone says negative things about something I like, which is something I'm working on. A commenter on some other blog (I forget which one) called Beauty from Beauty and the Beast "passive" and her father pretty close to evil. Yes, it seems that all princesses end up passive when analyzed, and taking culture into account makes sense, but at the same time, Beauty? passive? The woman who courageously risked her life to save her father's despite him pleading for her not too? And the father is less than ideal-he does let Beauty go a little TOO willingly-but geez, she has to get to the castle somehow. It does change your reading of the tale to know that, in Victorian times, women were basically expected to sacrifice anything and everything to make the men in their lives happy. That's unfortunate, but I had always viewed Beauty as a role model. I know my father would give his life to save mine if he could, and I always hoped that, if the need were ever to arise, I'd be willing to do the same for him.

Also mulling over the comment from the Tatar book I recently read about Disney intensifying the evilness of Snow White's witch, who is female, and therefore being misogynist. There's more to it than that, but I never would have made the connection that because many fairy tale villains are evil females it must be a negative reflection of women in general, if other scholars hadn't pointed that out. Not that they have no reason to say that-patterns tracing which tales have been collected and popularized are very telling. But in this day and age, or maybe universally, I find myself connecting with male protagonists as well as female, and I don't pick up on gender patterns unless I stop and think about it. The wicked witches and stepmothers are, to me, single characters who don't necessarily reflect the entire gender. There are an unusual number of female villains compared to male, but also fairy godmothers and old peddler women who are really kind fairies in disguise.

I don't really have a point with all this, but sometimes it's nice to step back and remember why I like fairy tales in the first place. I love the world of fairy tales. I think there's a little bit in all fairy tale scholars (and amateur scholars such as myself) who would be thrilled to find historical evidence for an ancient predecessor of Cinderella or one of the fairy tale characters. I remember I used to subconsciously think that, if I knew my fairy tales well enough, they would give me a sort of code to live by, or a set of clues that I could use to uncover my own mysterious adventure. And I lovelovelove the story of Beauty and the Beast, no amount of criticism can change that (though it does make me tense). But in a way, I'm already making that come true, as I work with people with disabilities. They can be beastly figuratively--people who are looked down on by culture for having less intelligence or social smarts--or physically, they often look very different from "normal" people. But each time I teach them I find beauty in them--in their personalities and their humor and their appearance--and I hope to show other people that beauty through my work with them.

Fairy tales are classics-they've been passed down from generations, some thousands and thousands of years old. Even those with definite authors and cultures behind them were influenced by tales that came before them. While each culture shapes the tales and they evolve over time, it would be a pity to let the negative aspects of some cultures (Victorian or 1950s American gender stereotypes, for example) shield us from seeing the beauty in even those versions of the tale too. If I can read tales now and get a different meaning than they had in the culture in which they were created, maybe the tale has a quality that transcends through culture. A Cinderella created to be more passive can still encourage me to be cheerful while I do my own housework and humble when I do feel victimized (Note: I do NOT promote passivity, in males or females). Now that we aren't bound by Victorian sensibilities, we have more power to transform the tale into something meaningful to us. We have resources to explore all different versions of tales and learn about different cultures through them, and we can still enjoy tales from all different cultures. Even the Brothers Grimm, and even Disney! I feel almost ashamed to admit it, but here I go: I love Disney!!! I have wonderful childhood memories of all the movies, of going to Disneyland, especially everything having to do with Beauty and the Beast.

Peer Gynt

I decided to teach a unit on Peer Gynt this semester, and I had found a copy of the Ibsen play over the summer. The children's versions of the story are all so different from each other I wanted to know what the original was and teach that to my kids.

Well, first of all, I learned that the Ibsen play isn't the original, and I also learned why children's versions are so vastly different from each other. Nothing about the play is child-friendly. Apparantly Ibsen meant it as a critique on Norwegian culture, particularly the life "based on avoidance."

I enjoyed the first part of the play more--probably because I had associations with the scenes I knew from the music, and because I thought Peer would eventually be redeemed. But it starts off with Peer, notoriously lazy and an exaggerater of stories, kidnapping and raping another man's bride and then leaving her. He finds some peasant women out to seduce trolls and says they can seduce him instead. There's the famous In the Hall of the Mountain King scene, but whereas in the children's versions they make the Troll King's daughter out to be the villain and Peer the innocent victim, Peer's really the one taking advantage of the Troll Princess.

Basically the whole rest of the play is Peer going around taking advantage of people. Towards the end it got pretty trippy. From wikipedia: "Ibsen wrote Peer Gynt in deliberate, liberating[neutrality is disputed] disregard of the limitations that the conventional stagecraft of the 19th century imposed on drama.[7] Its 40 scenes move uninhibitedly in time and space and between consciousness and the unconscious, blending folkloric fantasy and unsentimental realism.[8]"

I can't really imagine this play being a hit today, I'm surprised the first edition sold as well as it did in 1867.

What keeps the story known today is the incidental music Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg wrote to accompany it. The music for "In a Morning Mood" is also very famous and pretty but I wanted to share the pieces that are utterly sad and yet so beautiful.

"Solveig's Song"-Solveig left her family and the good graces of her town to stick with Peer, and waited for him her whole life while he was off traveling and seducing other girls. This piece is a perfect picture of her waiting for him to come home, perhaps tormented as she wonders if he ever will...(or WHY she decided to go with him in the first place...)

Aase is Peer's mother. Though he's a grievance to her, Peer does have true affection for his mother. Aase is torn by her mother love for Peer-knowing that part of who he is was because of his drunk father, but also knowing that what he does is wrong. Often, she'll be chastising Peer in the play, and then another character will agree, and she'll get all offensive and "How dare you insult my boy! No son could be better!" (not a direct quote). In fact I think Aase is my favorite character in the play.

Before I read the play I was familiar with Grieg's "Aase's death," so I knew she was going to die. I hate spoilers.

I tried tracking down the "original" story. Supposedly it can be found in the collected Norwegian tales of P.C. Asbjornsen and Jorgen E. Moe, but none of the copies at my library had a story with a character called "Peer Gynt." Which would be pretty unusual--characters in Western fairy tales rarely have names other than those which define their physical traits. Except for Russian tales, where all the men are named Ivan. Ibsen believed Peer Gynt to be a real person, so one person's name probably got attatched to one of the legends.

The original fairy tale involved Peer Gynt saving maidens from a troll. Trolls are pretty common in Norwegian folklore, like evil jealous stepmothers. So there are several fairy tales that could be the predecessor to Peer Gynt--I may do a later post on those.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sleeping Beauty ballet

I always think of the Tchaikovsky ballets as seasonal--"Swan Lake" is fall/winter, "Nutcracker" is obviously Christmas, and "Sleeping Beauty" is a spring/summer ballet. Less dark than Swan Lake, in setting and in the music. And since Chicago weather has blessed us with a beautiful spring day, I couldn't resist.

Anyone who has seen the Disney version has already heard parts of the Tchaikovsky score.

In the ballet, the Rose Garland waltz is done for the celebration of the Princess' birth. The Disney team added words and it became "Once upon a dream."

(The song doesn't start till about 7 minutes in)

Musically, one of my favorite parts is the Rose Adagio, which also features the ballerina doing incredibly difficult balancing.

The plot of the ballet is similar to the story everyone knows, with the addition of a Lilac fairy to help the Prince find Sleeping Beauty, and a wedding celebration at the end where lots of other fairy tale characters show up.
The White Cat and Puss-in-Boots
Danced here by Natasha Oughtred and Ricardo Cervera
The Lilac Fairy - Daria Vasnetsova
Copyright: John Ross ©

Monday, March 22, 2010

Eugenio Recuenco's fairy tale photography

Gypsy Thornton has a full post on the delightfully macabre fairy tale photography of Eugenio Recuenco. I try not to post things from another blog unless I have something additional to add to it, but these I couldn't reisist sharing. Obviously I was drawn to the Beauty and the Beast images, but I think my favorite in terms of photography was this one of Sleeping Beauty. At first glance it looks more like a Haunted House picture than a fairy tale.

Bright, Deardeer, and Kit

"The Fairy Tale Book" (later published as "The Golden Book of Fairy Tales"), translated by Marie Ponsot and illustrated by Adrienne Segur, was well-loved by myself and my sister growing up, and was my first non-Disney venture into the magical world of fairy tales. For more about the artist, check out Terri Windling's tribute.

I used to be fascinated with the tale of "Bright, Deardeer, and Kit," by Madame la Comtesse de Segur, and can't recall ever coming across it in my research. Going back and reading it with a different perspective was interesting.

It starts out very typical of fairy tale plots--beautiful and kind Princess (Bright) whose father (King Kind) remarries an jealous stepmother with a mean daughter. But this tale goes out of its way to emphasize the innocence of the father (his only request for his new wife was that she would be good to his little girl, and when he saw that Bright was unhappy he arranged that Bright "wouldn't see her often." Also, Bright's stepsister, Dark, isn't the typically ugly and cruel stepsister--she was "pretty, though less pretty than Bright," although she was mean.

Reminiscent of Snow White, the Queen (Rigid) bribes Bright's page into leaving her in the enchanted lilac forest. There, she befriends Deardeer and Kit, an enchanted deer and cat, who befriend her.

Another unique aspect of this tale--Bright wakes the next morning as a young lady, instead of a seven-year-old. " 'Today's your fourteenth birthday, child,' said Deardeer. 'You've slept an enchanted sleep for seven years. Kit and I wanted to spare you the tiresome part of growing and learning. We're taught you in your sleep. You've learned what an educated woman should know...' She [Bright] threw her arms around Deardeer's neck. 'What wonderful friends you are!' she said. 'No better present was ever given anyone.' "

Though we may disagree with the philosophy that the years from ages seven to fourteen are purely tiresome and worth skipping over, it makes a very interesting idea to entertain.

Bright lives happily with Deardeer and Kit, but is tricked by a parrot into disobeying Deardeer and picks an enchanted rose (rather reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast), and she finds the mansion destroyed and deardeer and Kit gone. However, after wandering around in the forest, an enchanted turtle instructs her to climb on his back and ride completely silently for half a year, which she does. This is another example of females having to endure silence for long periods of time, which never seems to happen to males. This fairy tale falls into many of the "misogynistic" patterns found in tales, yet it was written by a woman. Madame la Comtesse de Segur lived from 1799 to 1874-born the daughter of a Russian governor, she married a Frenchman. The Victorian period was so different from our own--I wonder if she wrote according to patterns to please her audience, or if she didn't even view things we now think of as misogynist as being demeaning.

Anyway, Bright obeys this time, and finally reaches the house of the Fairy Goodness, who gives Bright the key to a cupboard which contains the stretched out skins of Deardeer and Kit (this is the other image that really stuck with me from childhood). But, it turns out that viewing the skins was the only way to free Bright from enchantment, and the Fairy Goodness really was Deardeer, who marries King Kind in a double wedding with Kit, now a handsome Prince, and Bright.