Friday, July 30, 2010

My Favorite Cherokee

Today is a very special day-the birthday of my brother, one of my best friends. Half Cherokee Indian, he was adopted into our family 17 years ago. So in honor of him, I'd like to share some Cherokee folk lore.

First, the legend of Spearfinger, from here.
"Spearfinger, once upon a time, could appear in any shape she wished. She was a master of disguise. However, beneath her disguises, she was a stone monster whom no one could harm. She was most dangerous in the autumn, for then she could walk out of the mountains hidden in smoke from bonfires. One day, late in October, out of that smoke she appeared to a group of children, disguised as an old woman. The children saw only an old woman, and they offered her a seat. Then she smiled at a little girl. "Sit on my lap, and I will brush your hair," she said. The innocent girl sat upon her lap and then, with her special stone finger, Spearfinger stabbed the child's side. The girl never felt a thing. Later the girl walked home, and that night she grew very sick. Then the villagers knew. Spearfinger had struck again.Month after month, year after year, she struck at the children.
Eventually, the people called a grand council. "We must stop her," they agreed, and the medicine men spoke. "Here is how to catch Spearfinger. We will dig a pit, cover it, and lure her into our trap. Afterwards, we will find a way to get rid of her forever." Then they made a huge bonfire, and when Spearfinger saw the smoke, she came down into the village and chased the young men right to the trap. Just as the medicine men had planned, she did not see the pit, and so she fell in."Now what do we do?" the people wailed. That's when the chickadee came. It flew to the witch's hand, and there it sang. So the people fired at that hand, and true enough, that was where Spearfinger's heart was.The people watched as Spearfinger sank to the ground, dead at last. Today the Cherokee still honor the chickadee, calling it "tsi kilili," or truth-teller."

C. H. DeWitt

This blog post has information on the different kinds of Cherokee fairies, called Yunwi Tsunsdi.

This picture is entitled Standing at the Pool of Creation. The site it comes from includes a description of the Cherokee creation tale:

"Old Grandfather saw how the land above the sky had become crowded and he knew he would need to create a place for his Cherokee children to live. The world at first was covered with water and there was no good place for the Cherokee. The raven went first to find a place but to no avail, finally the water beetle said he would find a place and everyone laughed. The water beetle dove down and brought up the mud that would become the Smokey Mountains. I believe good and evil must have taken animal forms and came to earth with the Cherokee."

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Basile's Cinderella

I'll be posting lots of Cinderella-themed posts in the near future, as I've started going through the book Cinderella: A Casebook. This is one of my all-time favorite books on fairy tales; it's full of essays on Cinderella which all take different approaches and is very helpful in getting an overall feel for the tale's history and meanings, without just reading into one person's personal interpretations. Someone needs to make a Beauty and the Beast: A Casebook.

Cinderella's history is very long and complicated, but as far as European history goes, Giambattista Basile's Cat Cinderella is one of the first recorded versions.
Sir John Everett Millais

The heroine's name is Zezolla. Her father, a Prince, doted on her completely, but remarried a harsh woman who hated Zezolla. But the girl had a governess who loved her, and Zezolla wished her governess could be her mother instead. So the governess instructed her to murder her stepmother (by asking for a dress kept in a large chest, and slamming the lid on her head while it was looking in the chest) and then persuade her father to marry her governess. Zezolla does this, and for a few days her new stepmother is kind towards her, but later forgot Zezolla's kindness towards her and became cruel again. She also brought out six daughters of her own she had kept hidden, and they all forced Zezolla to do the work, calling her "Cat Cinderella." This element of having two separate stepmothers seems odd, as they fulfill the same function in the story, and the reader is less inclined to sympathise with Zezolla, as she partially brings her struggles on herself, and is a murderer. Nevertheless, the story continues:

A dove flew to Zezolla after the marriage of her father to the governess and told her, "If you ever desire anything, send to ask for it from the dove of the fairies of the Island of Sardinia, and you will at once have it." The Prince shortly had to go to Sardinia on a trip, and offered to bring presents home for his daughters. The stepdaughters all asked for clothes, cosmetics, games, and the like, but Zezolla asked for the dove of the fairies to bring her something. Her father continued on the trip, remembering all the presents but his own daughter's. When it came time to leave, his vessel would not leave the harbor. The captain was told in a dream that because the Prince broke a promise to his daughter, that is why the ship would not leave. Once he told the Prince this, he hastened to fulfill his daughter's wish.

This strikes me because it is similar to a very common motif in most Animal Bridegroom/Beauty and the Beast tales: the father goes on a trip and asks his daughters which presents they would like. The elder/evil sisters ask for material goods, and Beauty asks for a rose-part of nature. Zezolla's gift, as we will see, ends up being from nature as well.
Felix Lorioux

By the way, once I uploaded this picture I realized it's not appropriate to this post because Basile's story doesn't have a fairy godmother. So, this is the part in the story that will later have a fairy godmother in it, when Perrault gets around to it. But in this version (and the Grimm's,) we have a magical tree instead. So, the fairies' gift to Zezolla was a date tree, and all the things necessary to cultivate it. Zezolla was overjoyed with her gift, and planted the tree, which grew to the size of a woman in four days. A fairy steps out and asks Zezolla what she wants. She says she wanted to get away from the house without her sisters knowing. The fairy told Zezolla a spell she could use to be robed in beautiful clothes, thus serving as her disguise.

On a feast day, Zezolla ran to the tree and got her magical outift and hurried after her sisters, who did not recognize her. The King happened to see her and was enchanted. He ordered a trusted servant to follow her, but Zezolla cleverly threw coins on the grounds, and the servant was too tempted by the money. The King was later angry at the servant and made him promise he would follow the girl next time.

However, the next time Zezolla cast down pearls and jewels. The King was now furious with his servant, and he was the one to be clever the third time-he fastened himself to the carriage with thread. When Zezolla saw he wasn't being distracted, in her agitation she lost her patten, or shoe covering. (Note the absence of the time restriction or the significance of midnight.) The servant brought this to the King, who spouts out a little ode that begins with this: "If the foundation is so fair, what must be the mansion? Oh, lovely candlestick which holds the candle that consumes me! Oh, tripod of the lovely cauldron in which my life is boiling!" and goes on with ever more ridiculous metaphors.
Warwick Goble

So the King threw a feast for all the women in the land. After eating, he went around and tried the shoe on every foot, but it fit no one. So the King had another feast for the next day, and ordered that no woman be left at home. The Prince admitted he had a daughter, but that she was a "sorry, worthless creature, not fir to take her place at the table where you eat." The King's response: "Let her be at the top of the list, for such is my wish."

When Zezolla entered the next day, the King thought he recognized her, but said nothing. Note that, because Cinderella critics often point out that the Prince (who's a King here) is a)shallow, and b)stupid because he can't recognize Cinderella's face, only counts on her being alone in her shoe size. Stupidity especially applies to the Grimms' Prince, who starts riding away with both stepsisters, thinking they are Cinderella, and has to be told by birds that their shoes are leaking blood. So at least in Basile's world, though the King might have fallen in love at first sight, he still recognizes Zezolla in her rags, and the shoe is more like a confirmation. In fact, the shoe "darted forward of itself to shoe that painted Lover's egg, as the iron flies to the magnet." Zezolla becomes Queen and the stepmother and sisters are duly humiliated.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

More Disneyland Videos

I swear this is my last Disneyland post, unless I share a few pictures when I get back...I leave for the Happiest Place on Earth in FOUR DAYS...

Above: the original footage from the Opening Day of Disneyland, July 17, 1955. Complete with the bloopers I mentioned in the History of Disneyland post. (My favorite is when the camera switches to one of the hosts, who is caught kissing a girl.) As always, feel free to click on the links to continue onto the next parts.

And documentaries of the making of two popular rides:
Pirates of the Caribbean

Haunted Mansion

Stravinsky-The Fairy's Kiss

"One of Stravinsky's most tender scores – a love letter to the Russia of his childhood – The Fairy's Kiss lovingly adapts more than a dozen songs and piano pieces by Tchaikovsky. The action of the ballet depicts a child kissed by a Fairy; later, on his wedding day, he is carried off to the Land of Eternal Dwelling. The story suggested to Stravinsky "an allegory with Tchaikovsky himself. The Fairy's kiss on the heel of the child is also the Muse marking Tchaikovsky at his birth" – and later terminating his mortal existence at the height of his powers. The static coda (not to be found in the Divertimento) is among Stravinsky's most sublime inspirations."
Information from Boosey & Hawkes

For anyone in the Chicago area, the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra is performing Stravinsky's The Fairy's Kiss this Wednesday and Friday night in Millenium Park-lawn seating is free. The music depicts Hans Christian Andersen's The Ice Maiden (not to be confused with his The Snow Queen), the full text of which can be found here. It is also performed as a ballet:

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Biblical Beauty

"Don't judge with your eyes and above all, don't abandon me"-the Beast

"A more illustrious fate awaits you. But if you have to attain it, beware of allowing yourself to be swayed by appearances." -the good Fairy-both quotations from Madame de Villeneuve's Beauty and the Beast

Edmund Dulac

"Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature...for the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart."-I Sam. 16:7, ESV

Friday, July 23, 2010

Fairy Godmother-in-Law

Lest we think fairy tale parodies are only a recent phenomenon, I stumbled across a delightful book from 1905 at an antique bookseller's stall this summer; Oliver Herford's The Fairy Godmother-in-Law. The book contains several humorous poems, beginning with the title story.
The preface:
"It is not always well to place
Unbounded Faith in Fairy Lore,
Believing that in every case
They all lived Happy evermore.

Stranger than Fiction though we deem
The Truth, it does not follow, too,
That Fairy Tales, because they seem
Still Stranger, must be still more True.

Far be it from me to assail
The Truthfulness of Fairy Writ,
But let us take a Well-Known Tale
And see what really came of it."

The story is very short- only 25 small pages of verse, with illustrations. It describes the Prince as "most industrious- at Play; a Leader too-in Fashion's Set; and Deep-that is to say, in Debt." Cinderella's fairy godmother comes to pay a visit to the castle, where she plays magical tricks on everyone, making herself quite a nuisance (at one point she even gives the Prince wings instead of arms, much to his dismay, but they change back at midnight.)

Attempting to do a favor for the Royal couple, the godmother replaces their outfits for an upcoming ball with more beautiful, enchanted ones-yet since they do not realize their garments are magical, they don't know to escape before midnight, and are revealed in their woolen undergarments to all their guests, thus starting a craze for wool materials.
The story ends:
"Poor God-mamma, 'twas her last caper;
One night to throw some Light about
She changed herself into a Taper,
And Cinderella blew her out.
The Princess then divorced the Prince,
And Both lived Happy Ever Since."

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A little word from Beethoven

"Music is the one incorporeal entrance into the higher world of knowledge which comprehends mankind but which mankind cannot comprehend." -Ludwig van Beethoven

So, not directly related to fairy tales, but a beautiful quote about the power of music and the supernatural. In general Beethoven was not a fairy taleish guy, so the closest music of his I could find that had anything to do with fairy tales was what we now call his Moonlight Sonata, but what he originally called, "Quasi una fantasia," or "Almost a fantasy."

You'd pretty much have to have lived in a cave not to have heard the famous first movement, above, but the other movements are wonderful too. Below is the much flashier third movement.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Superheroes vs. Fairy Tales

Sometimes I wonder if superheroes are our generations contribution to, or extension of, the fairy tale genre. They have some basic things in common-the possibility of the supernatural, the battle between good and evil. Although, as far as the supernatural goes, superheroes often have scientific explanations as to how they got their powers.
But that got me thinking about the differences and similarities between superheroes and fairy tales. One thing I find interesting about the heroes is that there are so many different versions, like fairy tales. Even among the comics themselves, there are so many issues, and different authors who keep creating tales for the heroes, not to mention the various tv shows and movies that have been so popular. This is most interesting to me because there is still a definite "authentic source" for them, yet that doesn't stop people from creating their own versions. With fairy tales, even our "authentic" sources are really just well-known ones but not at all authentic. The Grimms just collected (and altered) tales they heard. Even "The Little Mermaid," whose plot is attributed to Hans Christian Andersen, contains basically the same plot as Friedrich de la Motte Fouque's "Undine," which came out 26 years before Andersen's tale, in 1811.

It's normal for books to be made into movies, but superheroes have a whole host of media attributed to each of them, much more so than other popular book characters.

But one of the main differences between superheroes and fairy tales is that superhero stories revolve around the character, and mainly, their power. Fairy tales revolve around plot. Any story about an underprivileged girl who rises out of her situation is a Cinderella story, and romance where someone is loved by someone else who is "out of their league" is a Beauty and the Beast story. The traditional fairy tale characters are pretty vague, and all heroines are pretty much the same, just as all villains and parents tend to fit the same profiles from story to story. So modern versions of fairy tales explore and deepen the characters while keeping the plot the same, and versions of superhero stories keep the characters the same while adding new plot elements.

Yet both of these genres have the element of longevity. Fairy tales have been around as long as humans have, and some of the same ones we love today were loved-though in different forms-hundreds and thousands of years ago. Superheroes are much newer, but several are household names even years after they first came out, and I really don't expect to see Superman or Batman go out of popularity anytime soon. Who knows-in the future they may be categorized with classical fairy tales the way several children's books of the Victorian period are (like Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland).

There are two little-known Grimm fairy tales called "The Six Servants" and "Six Soldiers of Fortune." Each of the named characters possess an unusual ability-one who can hear any sound from any distance, one who basically has laser vision, one whose body feels the inverse of the actual temperature, a tall man who can continue to stretch as as high as a mountain, one who can see anything in the world, one with perfect aim, a fast runner, one who creates frosts, a strong man...etc. Each of the men is able to use their gift to solve problems or save the lives of the rest of the group. When I first read these, I was all excited that I had discovered the forerunner of X-Men: a group of people with unique abilities who work together creatively to achieve their goals. Even some of the powers are the same ones we see in modern superheroes-laser vision is Cyclops, the fast runner is Pietro, the frost man would be Iceman...

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Happy Birthday, Disneyland!

Today, July 17, is the anniversary of the day Disneyland opened. NOT ONLY THAT, but Disneyland opened in 1955. It is now 55 years since that day! So it's sort of like the park's Golden Birthday, but not. (There's gotta be some term for that, though.)
So this is the perfect day for a brief history of the park.

The idea for Disneyland started one day when Walt had taken his daughters out. Saturdays were his day to spend time with the girls, and he started wishing there could be some place he could take them where the whole family could have fun together, rather than the parent waiting while the child plays. People had been asking for him to arrange tours of the Disney studios, but he thought tours of animation studios would be relatively boring. He wanted people to experience something more interactive, and a park would be the perfect thing.

At the time, amusement parks were in existence. But they were dirty places with gum all over the ground, grumpy employees who would bark instructions at the guests, and the same set of rides-a tunnel of love, a ferris wheel, roller coasters, a ball toss. When Walt tried to describe what he had in mind for Disneyland, people didn't understand what a "theme" park would be. They were shocked he intended to have no tunnel of love or ferris wheels, and told him no one would come. But Walt in his mind saw an ideal place, where the employees treated each guest with enthusiasm, and everything was clean and visually appealing. For this reason, gum has never been sold in the park. Walt had the curbs on Main Street all rounded, as it's more pleasing and comforting than 90 degree angles.

Walt was determined to make his dream a reality. Walt and his brother Roy made many personal sacrifices in order to finance the park. Walt sold his vacation home at a loss, borrowed against his own life insurance policy, and mortgaged his home.
In the 50s, Annaheim, California was not the major city it is today. The land on which Disneyland stands was originally orange groves, surrounded by open farm land. Walt wanted it this way-he didn't want the area around Disneyland crowded with cheap motels and diners. Ironically, the success of Disneyland has made Annaheim a crowded city and detracted from the "escape from reality" concept Walt wanted, but the inside of the park is blocked off from viewing the outside.

Walt was determined not to push back the opening date. Unfortunately, that meant that some shortcuts were taken and opening day was a disaster. The asphalt had been poured only hours earlier than the opening and was so hot still that ladies' heels sank in. A power outage stopped Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. A gas leak led to early closing for Fantasyland, Adventureland, and Frontierland. No fault of Disney's were other contributing factors, like the unbearable heat. A plumber's strike meant Walt had to either have functioning bathrooms or drinking fountains. Walt wisely chose operational bathrooms, saying that people could "buy Pepsi, but they can't pee in the street." The lack of drinking fountains, though, caused people to suspect that they were being forced to spend money on drinks.

In addition, the crowds were more than anyone expected. The premiere was an invitation-only event, with 11,000 passes sent out. But between counterfeit tickets and people climbing over the walls, the attendance count was 28, 154. The heat and the crowds made the day very uncomfortable.

Not only that, but the day was recorded live on camera. To increase support for the park, Walt had created a Disneyland t.v. show. But the live filming was full of bloopers, which are funny now, but were embarrassing at the time.
Because of the disastrous opening day, and because the next day, the 18th, was the day the park opened to the public, sometimes the 18th is called Opening Day. So, it's like a two-day birthday celebration! I read somewhere that employees all wear black ribbons on July 17th to commemorate that first day.

Yet, obviously, despite the problems with the original park, Walt and his team-and later the Disney company-have continually changed and expanded the park, continuing to make it better and better. Walt's death in '66 was a huge shock to the world, but especially to the Disneyland team. Walt intentionally wanted the atmosphere to be like a family. He was often in the park, observing the guests to see what their experience was like and how to make it better. But he also cared about the employees-from the lead operators to the janitors, and would often ask for their opinions about certain ideas he was contemplating. Those who knew him say that his heart was primarily concerned with the guests, and giving them a good experience. Money was secondary, although necessary. After the Disney company came into other hands, the priorities got switched. Make the people happy so that they'll pay more.

But Disneyland has been well-loved by many people-from employees to guests, who range from people all over the world to locals, from families who save for years to be able to afford their trips to royalty and Presidents. Author Ray Bradbury (one of my personal favorites) said of his visit to Disneyland, "I've never had such a day full of zest and high good humor...I found in Disneyland vast reserves of imagination before untapped in our country."

Thursday, July 15, 2010


I had always wondered about the line "Screw your courage to the sticking place" in Disney's Beauty and the Beast's "Mob Song." Where exactly is the sticking place for our courage? Who knew it had to be screwed in?

Today I was reading Macbeth and came across the line. Lady Macbeth says it while she's persuading Macbeth to go through with Duncan's murder in Act I, Scene 7.

I was all excited about my discovery, but it's already on IMDB's trivia page, which I've read before but hadn't remembered everything. Those IMDB guys don't miss a thing. So, I'm not posting anything revolutionary here, but it's more exciting when you find something out yourself rather than read it on a list of trivia.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Mouse Tales: A Behind the Ears Look at Disneyland

David Koenig is an unbiased, humorous author who explores the truth behind the Disney movies in Mouse Under Glass, and Disneyland in Mouse Tales: A Behind-the-Ears Look at Disneyland. This book is a great read for Disney lovers and haters alike. After a brief section on the history of Disneyland, Koenig explores what the Disneyland explorer is like for an employee, and then all the tragic accidents, injuries, deaths, lawsuits, etc. that have happened at the Happiest Place on Earth .

One might imagine it would be a fun job to be a costumed character at Disneyland, but the costumes are heavy and can strain the head and neck, and the furry ones especially are sweat machines. A couple costumes have even caught fire from battery packs worn at the light-up parades. More surprisingly, this job is very dangerous mainly because of the guests. Characters have been hit, kicked, punched in the face, groped, threatened at knifepoint to go on a date, attacked by groups of children, attempted to set on fire, and stabbed. I can't imagine anyone's motivation for this, but even more innocent acts-enthusiastic children pulling and shoving-can be irritations in a costume where movement is limited.
Employees aren't always being attacked, though. They often play minor pranks on park guests, and more elaborate pranks on each other. But being a character can be very rewarding. Koenig lists two incidents which have to do with children with autism-one boy was there who had never spoken in his life. Mickey Mouse was being mobbed, and the autistic boy broke away from his father, rushed over, and said "Mickey Mouse"- his first words. The second incident I'm a little skeptical of-it sounds like a boy with autism "snapped out of it," meaning, I assume, his autism in its entirety, after repeated trips to Disneyland, because "he realized it was better living in Disneyland than in his head."

A majority of the book discusses the accidents that have happened in the Park. A majority were caused by guests doing stupid things-trying to climb from car to car on a moving ride, for example. Some were caused by employee neglicence and some by mechanical failures. Look at the wikipedia link for a list of incidents, many of which Koenig gives more details for. The wikipedia link also includes updated incidents, as the book was published in 1995. The most controversial is not the fact that there are accidents-no one can really be surprised at that, although some do forget that they're still in the real world while at Disneyland-but the fact that Disney tries so hard to make sure the other guests aren't disturbed, they've taken guests to hospitals in unmarked vehicles rather than ambulances, when the faster ride might have saved their life. There's really only one incident in the book where this was a possibility, and I'm not sure if there have been more incidents, or a changed policy, in the past 15 years.
Some of my favorite tidbits:

-The first flying Tinkerbell was 71 years old (Tiny Kline, in 1961)
-At one time the park had a rat problem, so the staff would put rat poison in hot dogs and leave them out at night, later skimming the dead rats off the Rivers of America. One kid get ahold of a hot dog and ate it and got very sick. Whoever this kid's parents are, I don't have any sympathy for them-who lets a kid eat a hot dog off the ground, or ignores a kid that ignorant for long enough for them to eat it?
-"The family of a man who was killed by their neighbors' pet lion sued the park, claiming the neighbors were unable to control the beast because they were spending the day at Disneyland." Forget the lawsuit, which is ridiculous enough in itself-who has a pet lion?? In California??
-Walt Disney World's EPCOT Center wasn't originally supposed to be a theme park, like it is today (which is basically Tomorrowland on steroids, at least in concept.) Walt wanted it to be an actual, idealized city- "a planned and controlled environment, a showcase for the latest in industry, technology, education and culture. Slums wouldn't be allowed to develop because no individuals would own land; they would rent homes, at modest rates, work gainfully and help keep the city alive." Sounds creepy to me...
A picture of the Matterhorn Mountain under construction-the world's first steel roller coaster.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Fairest of them all

Sometimes fairy tales are seen to be shallow and superficial because of the focus on physical appearance. Nearly every major tale (except for Beauty and the Beast, thank you very much) features love at first sight.

Sometimes this bothers me too, but remember we interpret these tales through the lens of our own culture. Back when arranged marriages were the norm for ladies, they would often be married off to older, ugly, potentially abusive husbands. It was a natural thing for them to dream of choosing who they would marry-someone young like them, handsome, and compatible. It's not a perfect fantasy, but a better alternative to their situations.

Hermann Vogel, illustration of Snow White

But more than that, a fairy tale is really a different genre. A fairy tale character never voices their thoughts or motivations-the reader knows by what they do. For example, Cinderella doesn't grieve, she cries. The crying is the outward manifestation of her inner feelings. In the same way, beauty is an outward indicator that a person is good on the inside. Who knows to what extent this may have been believed by our ancestors, but we'd be lying if any of us claimed we don't also judge by appearances, at least a little.

Edmund Dulac, illustration of Cinderella

And sometimes I wonder about the affects of our new visual media, as opposed to oral/written tales. Certainly beauty is emphasized in the old tales-The Grimms' The Frog Prince begins by describing the younges princess who "was so beautiful that the sun himself, who has seen everything, was bemused every time he shone over her because of her beauty." Yet there is nothing specific in this description. Generally the only agreed upon beauty trait in fairy tales is blonde hair, which was not only considered attractive but could be representative of royalty because of its relation to gold. So a girl reading a fairy tale about the most beautiful princess in the world very easily can slip herself into that image. In a way it can increase her self-esteem. But in visual media, there is one specific actress or model who represents the beautiful heroine. It's much easier to compare yourself and feel that you don't measure up when Hollywood standards of beauty are so narrow, as opposed to tales where the scenes and people are left mostly to your imagination.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Fairy Tales gone Vogue

These shoots appeared in American Vogue in 2009. First, some shots from Grace Coddington's "Into the Woods," featuring Natalia Vodianova.

And Annie Leibowitz' Hansel and Gretel-inspired "Little Girl and Boy Lost." Andrew Carfield and Lily Cole as Hansel and Gretel, and Lady Gaga as the witch. I love how the pictures tell the story. This fairy tale, featuring paupers and not royalty, isn't technically as well suited to a fashion editorial, as Hansel and Gretel don't really belong in designer clothes, but I like it anyway.

The shoot was inspired by the opera version (music by Engelbert Humperdinck, 1893). The above picture features the Sandman putting the children to sleep, and the fish waiter is part of the children's dreams.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Disneyland Links

In keeping with my Disneyland-themed summer (25 days!!), here are some links to interesting trivia:
First, The Walt Disney Touch. It has fun facts about Disney and Disneyland. A couple of my favorites:

"Disneyland's address is 1313 Harbor Boulevard. This address was picked by Walt, because at the time Disneyland was built, all that was in the area was orange groves. The explanations for the address are either that 'M' is the thirteenth letter in the alphabet, making the address MM for Mickey Mouse, or that the thirteens, being unlucky, were Walt's way of thumbing his nose at those who thought Disneyland would fail.

Walt Disney was very insistent that the designers take the perspective of young children into account when designing the park. Because of this, Walt would frequently stoop down while looking at a partially constructed building to take into account how smaller people would see things"
Now I know I usually pretty much sing Disney's praises on this blog. This is partly because I do have undying loyalty for Disney, and partly because you hear many intelligent arguments attacking Disney and no intelligent defenses. But here I play a bit of devil's advocate: here's a link to Wikipedia's fascinating page on all the deaths and injuries incurred in Disney Parks.

Mercedes Lackey's Firebird

Mercedes Lackey's Firebird is a good story, yet left me somehow unsettled. It retells the ballet story, which combines the Russian character with other folklore scenes and characters.

The first half I found almost boring. Ilya was not technically the youngest son, as in traditional fairy lore, but fulfilled the role of the underestimated "fool". The brothers were unrealistically stupid, and they spent so much time beating up Ilya and he spent so much time recovering from their beatings, it got tiring. Plus, pain is not something the reader can vicariously experience (not like they want to either). Situations, characters, can be very real to the reader, but descriptions of pain are hard to connect with, especially if there are too many of them.

Finally the Firebird came and things began to happen. I did also like Lackey's twist on the simpleton son-Ilya fakes idiocy in order to protect himself. By the way, is it too late to warn for spoilers? Several plot elements were altered but the scenes progress in the plotline of the ballet version. Lackey also includes the animal helper theme included in many fairy tales, and one of the animals is a fox, probably alluding to one of the better known oral versions of Firebird. In this story, the Firebird bestows on Ilya the gift of understanding animals. This is another common folklore motif-the protagonist assisting an animal, who later comes back to aid him.
Anastasiya Kazakova

The thing that most bugged me was Lackey's portrayal of women. Granted, it is told from a man's perspective, in a very chauvenistic culture. But Ilya is portrayed as the ultimate hero who can do no wrong, a direct contrast to his selfish brothers and father. Yet he only sees women as sex objects, yet supposedly he is the enlightened one for not abusing them like the other males. In this society, women who are beautiful have to sleep their way to higher positions, yet none of the women ever seem to have a problem with this. The end of the story provides an interesting twist-he had fallen in love with the most beautiful tsarina, and they were betrothed. This is where the ballet ends, with the assumption that they all live happily ever after, but the book goes on. Ilya discovers Tatianna's selfishness and realizes he does not love her, but the Firebird. After she's caught cheating on him with his brother, he leaves her, guilt-free, to go back to the Firebird.

Lev Lominago

In theory, I like this twist. But first of all, it seems to me to diminish the mystery and magic of the Firebird to have her fall in love with a mortal-I like that she wasn't part of any romance in the ballet version. That's a more minor point though. The whole thing reminded me of the Disney movie Enchanted-the moral is, you actually can't have love at first sight, but Giselle and the dude fall in love after two whole days of aquaintance (or, in the case of Idina Menzel's character and the Prince, we're back to love at first sight-technically, first dance.) The circumstances contradict the message. Although it's a family comedy, I give it the benefit of the doubt and don't think too hard about it.

This book, however, is not for children. Given the sexual content, it's for mature young adults and adults, so I expect more consistency in messages. Here, Ilya's had a couple conversations (including a dangerous mission, but still, very short on bonding time here) with the Firebird-so, exactly one more than he had with the Princess before betrothal, and we're supposed to imagine that this is true love? And somehow, although he was foolish enough to pledge himself to a stranger just because she's hot, she comes across as the villain and he just the innocent victim. Earlier in the book, there is a character that enforces the stereotype that fat girls are fat because they have no self-discipline and just eat everything in sight, and also they're all probably stupid too. Though Ilya at one point thinks that her heart is better than his beautiful betrothed princess, he as much as stated earlier that it would be impossible for a man to love a woman who was fat and ugly-and this from the most gentlemanly character of all.

Boris Zvorykin

Overall, reading this book just made me feel like I, as a woman, had no worth unless I was beautiful and sexually appealing to men, which disappointed me, especially coming from a female author. Oh, she pays lip service to the character part, but the Firebird just happens to be inhumanly, stunningly beautiful at the same time. It was an interesting, quick read but I probably won't go back to it.

Monday, July 5, 2010

What you never knew about Beauty-according to Villeneuve

This is part II of a series. Read part I to find out the Beast's backstory-here is Beauty's. I would recommend reading part I if you haven't, all the characters are connected and it gets a bit soap opera-y.

Beauty finds out, after the Prince/former Beast told his story, that his mother's brother is actually her father, and is a King. The good fairy (and friend of the Prince and his mother) tells the story. Beauty's father, the King, fell in love with and married a shepherdess, but after she had given him a daughter, she died. The King was heartbroken but took solace in his daughter. He never knew until now that his shepherdess wife was really a fairy, and the sister of the fairy telling the story.

This sister had visited Fortunate Island in disguise, and happened to meet the King. She admired him but assumed that she, as a fairy, could never fall in love with a human. Yet she was curious as to whether she could find a king who could love a humble shepherdess. So she lived for a while in a cottage, tending sheep which were really genii and in no danger of wolves. In time she fell in love with him as well, so though any human is far below the rank of fairie, she consented to marry him.
W. Heath Robinson

Unfortunately, this fairy was not allowed to marry a human, so she had to keep the marriage a secret. The fairies have a general assembly three times a year they are all required to attend, and the fairy was able to come to these without raising suspicions from her fellow fairies, or her husband. Only the story narrator-the fairy's sister-knew the secret. Yet eventually, the fairies noticed that all her deeds had been contained to Fortunate Island, and fairies are expected to travel throughout the world. She promised to travel, but love for her husband and daughter kept her in the same place. At the next council, this angered the other fairies and led them to the magical book that "spiritually records all [they] do at the very second [they] do it." The forbidden marriage was discovered, and the fairy was stripped of her powers and made a prisoner by the fairies. One old evil fairy cursed her, her husband, and declared that her daughter should wed a monster to make up for her mother's shame. The fairy Queen pleaded to be allowed to live as a mortal. The other fairies had pity on her, but the evil fairy insisted that she be made an example of, and her sentence was carried out.

Now this fairy that ensured her punishment became curious as to the King that had won such tender affections. She also happened to be the same fairy who was the Prince's (future Beast's) guardian, at the time. Remember how she was unexpectedly absent from the Prince for a while? This was the reason she was gone.

Charles Robinson

Meanwhile, back in the kingdom, the people were dismayed at the disappearance of their Queen. The servants, fearing the King's anger, told him she was dead. The King mourned and he and his daughter were inseparable.

Yet then the evil fairy came. She too fell in love with the handsome King, yet realized he had no interest in remarrying. The fairy found a nearby princess and put her to sleep, assuming her beautiful form. She came to the King, claiming to be the princess whose husband had been murdered. She hoped that, as a widow, she would attain the King's sympathy and understanding, and eventually lead to marriage. He did appreciate having someone to talk to in a similar situation, and she requested to live in the Palace and become the guardian of his daughter. Yet the King still showed no signs of proposing marriage to her. She tried to stir up the people to insist that the King take a wife, but he refused and asked the fairy to return to her former land.

The fairy was convinced that Beauty was the only obstacle between herself and having the King for a husband, and determined to kill her. She one of the King's council members and his wife, who were willing to help her. Their plan was to suffocate her in the forest and claim she had suddenly died, too far away for help to have come.

Paul Woodroffe

However, the Queen fairy had pleaded with her sister (the narrator) to watch over her husband and daughter (this summary would be a lot easier if they all just had names...). So she secretly kept watch, and took the form of the bear when Beauty's kidnappers entered the forest with her. The fairy killed the murderous couple, and left Beauty's clothes, covered in blood, so that the evil fairy would not suspect that she was still alive.

The fairy found a house in a small village, where an infant had just died. The fairy replaced the infant with Beauty, and in the morning the nurses rejoiced at the sick infant's sudden recovery and took her home to her father, a merchant. The fairy went with, and gave a prophecy to him, giving Beauty her name and telling him that she would save his life and bring fortune to the whole family. (Earlier in the story, when Beauty determines that she will go to give her life for her father's, he remembers this prophecy, and is one of the reasons he allows her to go.)

The King was grieving once again, and the evil fairy renewed her marriage proposal, but he only replied with scorn again. The narrator fairy asked a powerful fairy to protect the King. The princess whose form the evil fairy had stolen woke up, and the evil fairy returned to the Prince, where she fell in love next with him, back in part I.

Beauty grew as one of the merchant's children, with the good fairy watching over her secretly. This fairy also happened to read the Magical book that recorded the fairies' acts and discovered the evil fairy's proposal to the Prince, and the conditions for the undoing of the spell. She revealed this to the fairy Council, and the evil fairy was imprisoned. The good fairy later arranged for Beauty to come to the palace under the right circumstances, and both Beauty and the Beast fulfilled the conditions to be released from the spells of the evil fairy.

By the way, Beauty's mother had just been released, after going a very dangerous ordeal called becoming a Serpent, which gives the fairy who survives it greater rank and power, so she was reunited with her husband and daughter as well.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Goose Girl

The Grimms' "The Goose Girl" enjoys mid-level fairy tale fame. She isn't a household name like Cinderella or Rapunzel, but fairy tale fans love the story. Shannon Hale's novel version helped spread its popularity. Perhaps one reason it isn't as well known is the overall similarities to Cinderella, although I think I might like the story of the Goose Girl better.

The story begins as a young, beautiful princess is sent off to be married to a prince of a far away country. She is given a speaking horse named Falada by a fairy, andher mother gave her many gifts, including a maid, and a handkerchief with three drops of blood on it (or in some versions, a lock of hair). Her mother warns her not to lose the handkerchief, because it will be of help to her.
While on the journey, the princess gets thirsty and asks the maid to fetch her some water. The maid refuses and the princess says nothing. She asks the maid again, who once again refuses and tells the princess to get her own water. The princess does, and as she does she loses her mother's handkerchief. The maid now takes full advantage of the situation. She makes the princess switch clothes with her, and took her beautiful horse. Once at the palace, the maid was accepted as princess, and the princess was sent to work tending geese.
Stephanie Holmes

The maid knew that Falada could betray her, so she gave orders to have her horse beheaded. The princess, hearing this, gave a piece of gold to the knacker if he would nail Falada's head to the gateway into town. The princess walked under this gateway each day. As she did, she would say, "Alas, Falada, hanging there!"

Falada's head would answer, "Alas, young Queen, how ill you fare!
If this your tender mother knew,
Her heart would surely break in two."

Then she would go out into the meadow with the boy who tended the geese, Curdken. She would sit down and let out her beautiful golden hair. Curdken, when he saw it, wanted to pull it, so the princess said a little spell for the wind to blow Curdken's hat away until she had finished braiding her hair.

This same thing happened the next day as well. Curdken complained to the king of the goose girl's conversations with the horse head, and her golden hair. The king hid himself the next day to see what really happened, and saw everything as Curdken described it.

Above illustrations by Arthur Rackham

The King later questioned the goose girl, asking what all this meant. She told him that she had promised not to reveal the truth to anyone, but he advised her to tell her troubles to the iron stove, which would not technically break her promise, while he went away and listened. He revealed to his son, the prince, that this was the true bride, and the prince rejoiced.

A feast was prepared in honor of the princess, whom the false bride did not notice. The king asked what punishment should be given to such a person who did certain events which he described, summarizing her own crimes. The false princess declared that such a person deserved nothing better than to be stripped naked, put in a barrel studded with pointed nails, and driven through town by two white horses until she is dead. She then receives her own punishment, and afterwards the true princess was married.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

For anyone who can't get enough Disney music

...or is that just me, who can't get enough Disney music? Either way, here are some slightly different takes on Disney music:
Heigh Ho Mozart: Donald Fraser arranges Disney tunes in the styles of classical composers. Guys...what's not to love about this? From "The Second Star to the Right" in the style of Thomas Tallis to "Beauty and the Beast" in the style of Rachmaninoff, one of my all-time favorite composers (although, alas, it's more in the schmultzy style of the famous movement from his Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini and less the intense Rachmaninoff of the Symphonic Dances or Piano Concertos, but but it fits really well with the Rhapsody theme) to "Winnie the Pooh" in the style of Prokofiev. If this isn't enough for you, there's an additional album, Bibbidi Bobbidi Bach: More Favorite Disney Tunes.
Now...if anyone ever respected my musical opinion, I will probably forever lose it by recommending this next album, but bear with me:

I grew up listening to Mannheim Steamroller every Christmas and loved it then and I love it now, even if it's not all musically quite as excellent as other music one might choose to listen to, but I swear their earlier albums are better, as long as you don't get hung up about synthesizers. So get ready for delightfully awful/awesome 80s renditions of Disney tunes, which are in general even more bizarre than their Christmas albums. I have already used several songs for various teaching purposes. I love being a teacher, you can justify any quirky interests for the sake of some teaching objective.