Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Catherine Breillat's Bluebeard

Catherine Breillat's Bluebeard is available to watch on Netflix Instant Play, for anyone who has Netflix. Even if you don't, I'd still recommend watching it.

Obviously, any movie based on Bluebeard is going to be dark-if not, it's terribly done. The movie is a retelling of the Perrault story-the plot and characters are fleshed out but nothing altered from the tale. Juxtaposed between the scenes from the story are two sisters reading the fairy tale and interacting with it, which brings another dimension to the story. One of the main themes I picked up on in this retelling was sister relationships, especially concerning older vs. younger sisters. Bluebeard's wife is the youngest sister, and the little girl reading the tale is the youngest sister, teasing her older sister, who is scared of it. I think it's true, as the movie seems to portray with both pairs of sisters, that often youngest siblings are more determined to prove that they are not afraid of things people might assume they'll be afraid of, which is possibly what led Bluebeard's wife to marry him-out of spite and a desire for independence.

The sister pairs are more obviously meant to be connected when you see their names: and this could be wrong because as you see it's rather confusing, but I believe Bluebeard's wife is Marie-Catherine, her sister is Anne. The little girls are named Marie-Anne and Catherine. It's even more interesting because Perrault didn't name the heroine, just Sister Anne, so the filmmaker gave the heroine her own name.

Bluebeard is an intriguing character. The movie portrays him as more sympathetic, so you see why Marie-Catherine is drawn to him. He's still kind of creepy, but maybe if I didn't know the tale's ending I might think of him as more of an outcast Beast figure. It's all the creepier because they spend over a month of marriage where he appears very kind and sincere towards her. But at the end, when he tells her she must die, she's hardly even emotional. She claims she agrees and doesn't even cry or plead, just stalls for time. I wonder if this is to reflect the tone of the tale itself, which treats the more fantastic elements of the plot more matter-of-factly. Sister Anne is never shown calling for help, and we don't see Bluebeard killed. The movie ends with a long shot of her caressing the head of Bluebeard on a platter and looking off into the distance.

The infamous scene where she discovers the secret chamber with the corpses blends the two story lines together. Instead of Bluebeard's wife, you see the little girl who's reading the story to her sister run down the stairs, open the door, and walk among the corpses (saying to herself, "I'm not afraid, I'm not afraid, I'm not afraid-"). It was a very intriguing switch. After that it goes back to the original cast for the fairy tale storyline.

The ending of the little girls' plot line surprised me-that's all I'll say.

This picture has nothing to do with the movie, other than the grave on the left. From stylerookie.

Also! Apparently, because the wife was so young when she married Bluebeard, he and her mother agreed that they would sleep separately until she was older. Was this done back then? I just assumed girls always got married off as soon as they could start making babies, mainly so that they could...start making babies. Why even get married if you're not sleeping together? Most modern retellings of Bluebeard are all about the morbidity and sexuality. We're fascinated by this tale because it's so forbidden (sort of like a young child being told, "you can't read about sex/serial killers-you're too young" like the younger sisters in the movie.) But I kind of respect that the movie downplayed the more provocative elements (young girls having sex, murder), which is sure to generate interest but not necessarily the best kind, and concentrate on other elements of the story, like relationships.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Is Labyrinth based on a fairy tale?

A friend of mine claimed tonight that, growing up, she had read the fairy tale on which the movie Labyrinth was based. I completely freaked out, demanding to know exactly what the story involved and where she found it and how I could possibly not be aware of it, to which she had no answers. I immediately googled it upon getting home and this is what I've discovered:

According to imdb, and Is Labyrinth Based on a Novel, the story for the movie is completely original. The book she refers to isn't a real book, although I wish it were. The above link has great detailed information on the authors and misconceptions people have about the movie being based on a prior story. Author A.C.H. Smith wrote a novel version of the movie, after the movie came out (and also wrote a novel version of Dark Crystal). I would love for someone to write an interpretation of what the book contained, working in the famous lines ("you have no power over me...")

However, I did discover a children's novel, "The Goblin Baby: Adapted from a Story By Andrew Lang." This seems to be similar in ways-a girl is afraid her brother was stolen by goblins and replaced by a changeling. She goes on a journey to get him back, is at times afraid of being kidnapped herself, but eventually the goblins help her in her search.

This prompted me to try to discover which Lang story this was adapted from, and I really couldn't find anything-not that my various internet searches are fool-proof. I did find an interesting tale, "The Hoodie-Crow," that came up in my searches because it involved stolen babies. It caught my attention because of its similarities to Beauty and the Beast-a hoodie crow asks two sisters to marry it, and they refuse he because he is ugly. He asks the third sister, who agrees, not despite his ugliness, but because she thinks a hoodie is a pretty creature. I like that element, because stories often make it appear that there is a clear scale of ugly to beautiful and every girl (and boy) can be neatly ranked along it, when there is often disagreement among people as to which is the most beautiful celebrity, girl in school, etc., even when we're judging on the most shallow standards. The hoodie's wife goes on to discover that he is human for part of the time, and later has to go on a journey in search of him, much like Beauties in earlier tales.

So, if anyone knows of this Andrew Lang tale that has elements that may be similar to Labyrinth, please let me know. But one more thing I have to share: a fake trailer for "Labyrinth 2: Return of the Goblin King", combining shots from "A Beautiful Mind" with elements of Labyrinth, and a random shot of David Bowie not in Jareth costume. It's quite cleverly done:

Friday, September 24, 2010

Another romantic take on Baba Yaga

Romantic as in the era of classical music, that is. Mussorgsky has a piece based on a painting of Baba Yaga's Hut, and here's a piece by fellow Russian Liadov entitled "Baba Yaga."

Also, to read Lucy Coats' well-informed comments and reflections on Baba Yaga, read her post on Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Frog

Image by Anne Anderson

"“Do you enjoy it?”
“Enjoy what?”
“Being a frog.”
The frog thought for a moment. “I suppose. It has its ups and downs. Do you always enjoy being human?”
“I guess not. But I don’t have frog-like characteristics, and you certainly have human characteristics.”
“Yes, I suppose speech is a human characteristic, and intelligence is thought to be one too. I do miss having intelligent conversations, but I enjoybeing a frog, I guess, just as much as any frog."

The above is an exerpt from a short story version of "The Frog Prince" I wrote a while ago, in early high school. Usually I'm very wary of "fan fiction," becuase generally the writing is pretty bad. Reading over my past writing is a mix of shame and "actually, that's kind of good..." but I'm not the best judge of my own writing. But as I want to keep all of my fairy tale notes and things together on this blog, I'm including the link to the story on googledocs. (There are some obvious typos, and some edits I could have made, but I think I'm electronically challenged, because I can't figure out how to alter the text on googledocs...)

African Cinderella

First of all, in googling images for this post, I came across images for a Ghanaian play version of Cinderella. A writeup claims,

"The story of the girl who has lost her mother and ends up in a step-family was originally an African saga that the Brothers Grimm brought to Europe and Walt Disney brought to the US. African Cinderella keeps to the storyline but the Cinderella we meet is a young Ghanaian girl. Despite the harsh environment she encounters in her new family, she manages to preserve her integrity and her pride, and demands that those she meets along the way view her as a human being and an equal, even if they happen to be an Ashanti prince!

The parallels with the day-to-day lives of young Ghanaian girls are striking. The theme – growing up in a step-family – is a familiar one to many girls in Ghana, not least because like many other parts of Africa the country has been hard hit by HIV/AIDS. In this connection, theater is a powerful and highly effective means of making people more aware of children’s rights. The impact is immediate.

“When you watch this production with a thousand kids and hear them shouting things like ‘No-one’s allowed to hit me! You can’t treat me badly just because you’re a grown-up! I can go to the police and do something about it!’ it really makes you believe that theater makes a difference,” says Anders Öhrn."

That first paragraph is full of misinformation. Cinderella is not originally an African saga, unless they are referring to the fact that it may have originated in Egypt. The Grimm brothers did not "bring it to Europe-" it was in Asia long before, and probably circulated in European oral tales long before Perrault penned his famous version, which was before the Grimms. Likewise, Disney did not "bring it to America," as if no one in America had heard of the classic tales before Disney made his film versions (although, nowdays, they're usually the only versions people know.)

But the second two paragraphs are really moving.

ANYway, I was going to share what I learned from William Bascom's Cinderella in Africa essay from "Cinderella: A Casebook." Now, the problem with African folklore is that there's no way to tell how much and to what extent the folktales have already been influenced by Western tales. Not surprisingly, Cinderella-type tales are more similar to our Western Cinderella in countries closer to Europe. Bascom shares a tale from northern Nigeria called "The Maiden, the Frog, and the Chief's Son."

In this tale, a man lived with two wives, each who had a daughter. One he favored. The wife he didn't love as much died, and he allowed his favorite wife to mistreat her stepdaughter. She did all the hard work but was not allowed to eat the food she made, so she often ate at her brother's house.

One day a frog spoke to her and wished to repay her for her kindness. So on the day of a Festival, he picked her up and swallowed her, and spit her back out. The first time she was crooked, so he spit her out again and she was straight. He vomited out clothes and jewelry, which she wore to the dance. The frog instructed her to leave one gold shoe at the Festival and keep her silver one. At the Festival, the chief's son noticed her and told her to sit on the couch, and they talked all evening. Eventually she said she must go, but he found her shoe. When the maid got back, the frog swallowed and spat her out again and she was in rags as before.

(Book version of Cinderella available at Nubian Gifts)

Meanwhile the chief's son tried the gold shoe on every maid, and it fit none of them. Finally someone remembered the mistreated slave girl, and it fit her, and she was married to the chief's son. The new wife went back to the frog and thanked him, and he vomited up many gifts for her. He also instructed her to tell her stepsister, should she ever visit, to do rude things to the chief's other wives, concubines, and to the chief himself, whereas he instructed the kind girl to great each with gifts and respect. She obeys, and the stepsister is deceived into making the household into enemies. For this, she is chopped up and the pieces taken back to her home. The wife asked the frog for one more gift-that the frogs all live in a well by her home. Her husband had it built for her.

Bascom gives us an idea of which elements were taken directly from Europe by providing a list of elements found in previous collections of folklore from Africa, verses those not found at all. Granted, the previous collections were not exhaustive, but still more likely to be authentically African. Though the elements of cruel stepmother and stepdaughter heroine seems to be universal, as well as lowly heroine marries prince, these elements are not found in the earlier collections: abused youngest daughter, cruel stepsister, hearth abode of unpromising hero, supernatural helpers, clothes produced by magic, golden shoes, glass shoes, silver shoes, carriage from pumpkin, magic animal supplying treasure, prince that is enamored with heroine when seeing her at a ball, taboo of staying too long at a ball, or false bride's mutilated feet. However, the element of a hero being identified by a boot test seems to be found several times in African folklore.

Monday, September 20, 2010


I didn't expect to come across Beauty and the Beast over on the cheeseburger network of all places (the home of lolcats and fail blog, among other things) but this picture was on historic LOLs. I was debating whether or not to post it, since I don't think it's that funny, and it doesn't look to me like her knee is anywhere close to his that just me? Unless the leg we see is his right leg because his left was somehow amputated...

This is Nightwish doing a cover of Megadeth's "Symphony of Destruction." If you don't like metal don't listen, I'm just posting it because the lyrics of the chorus refer to a fairy tale:

"Just like Pied Piper/Led rats through the streets/Just like marionettes/Sway to the symphony of destruction."

I can't remember ever reading the story of the Pied Piper, or coming across it in scholarship about fairy tales, but it's somehow something everyone is familiar with. The only version I can remember reading is Tanith Lee's thought-provoking tale in "Red as Blood: Tales from the Sisters Grimmer."

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Fairy Tale Feasts

So I found this book at my library, and I'm always trying to find new recipes since I'm still a bit of an amateur cook, and obviously relating cooking to fairy tales appeals to me. It's "Fairy Tale Feasts," by Jane Yolen (fairy tales,) Heidi E.Y. Stemple (recipes), and Philippe Beha (illustrations). And it's a really great book for a child who knows nothing about cooking, or for an adult who might already know something about fairy tales and/or cooking. The book is filled with tales that are each connected with a recipe, which is a great idea because it gives kids (and...adults like me) motivation to cook, while at the same time helping the story to come alive and become more personal. I liked that, along the edges of the pages, there were fun facts and trivia about each of the tales and recipe ingredients.

The tales are a good balance of well-known tales, and lesser known tales from various cultures. (Of course, that's a Western version of well-balanced...that's probably a whole future post.) Many fairy tale lovers have pointed out the relationship between fairy tales and food, but food is a main feature of many tales, well-known and lesser known, or the absence of food leading to hunger, so the theme for this cookbook is quite appropriate.
And the recipes that I tried were all good. Below is a picture of my apple cinnamon oatmeal-another example of how the book is great for any level cook-it includes the recipe for basic oatmeal, which might be good for little kids who have never made oatmeal, but also includes several variations for a more adventurous cook. (I'm really excited to try the holiday oatmeal suggested, involving eggnog, once the holiday season starts). And the porridge recipe is actually NOT from Goldilocks and the Three Bears, but a story about a magical pot that cooks sweet porridge, but won't stop unless it is told specific words. And of course, one day the heroine's mother tells the pot to start, and before the daughter comes back, the whole town is filled with porridge...

I've also provided a picture of my lemon chicken for your viewing pleasure. And I'm always on the lookout for gluten-free recipes, since one of my good friends is on a gluten-free diet, so I was able to make her some carrot soup (associated with the story of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby) and Snow White's Baked Apples. I did not get pictures of them because I made it for company and would have felt weird taking pictures of my cooking in front of them.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Vintage Beauty and the Beast book

I scored this amazing vintage children's version of Beauty and the Beast from 1897 off ebay. I wish I'd saved the images before I bought it, because now I can't get them, and my camera's pretty bad and can't capture close-up details. Anyway, it's made of linen, which is genius-we should still make children's books out of linen and not paper, it's more durable. The text and illustrations are not attributed to anyone. The text is a summary of the Beaumont version, with a couple interesting twists.

In getting Beauty to the castle, they just have her dream about her father's encounter with the Beast and she wishes herself there. It's not a bad way to make the story faster-by the time the father has his experience, describes it to his children, and Beauty has her own experience entering the castle, you get kind of tired of hearing basically the same thing three times.

The other change is, the Beast does not become a Beast by being cruel and selfish, nor from being cursed by an evil fairy. He became a Beast because he wished he could be a pet bear one day. Isn't that the most stupid reason ever? It makes the Beast seem so childlike and unattractive. I'd rather have a cruel Prince who has to learn how to love, or the innocent victim Prince. The cover illustration also has both Beauty and the Prince looking very child-like, which adds to the overall impression.

I've seen one of the illustrations available for different products on etsy. Below is a link to personalized book plates made from one of the illustrations from this book.

Brother and Sister

Kay Nielsen

In the Grimm's tale of "Brother and Sister", the eponymous siblings leave an abusive stepmother and set off on their own. The brother becomes thirsty and wants to drink, but their stepmother, a witch (naturally), had put a spell on every brook in the forest. Sister warns brother that if he drinks of the brook, he would turn into a tiger. The brother listened to his sister, but his thirst increased. He wants to drink from another brook, but that would turn him into a wolf. By the third brook, he would turn into a fawn, but he could no longer help himself, and he drank. Sister promised she would never leave her brother, and they made a home in the forest.

One day, Brother/fawn begged to go watch a hunting party. He teased the King and his hunters, always eluding them, and returning home to his sister each night. On the second day of the hunt, the fawn was slightly wounded, and a hunter saw the fawn knock and say, "Little sister, let me in." This information he related to the King.

The fawn still begged to go to the hunt the third day, though his sister was very afraid to let a wounded fawn out among hunters, but he insisted. The King gave orders that the fawn should be followed, but not hurt. The King followed the fawn and, when he saw Sister, asked her to be his wife. She agreed, on the condition that the fawn always stay with them.

The stepmother, meanwhile, heard of her step children's fortunes and was jealous. She determined to put her own daughter in the new Queen's place. The stepmother made a great fire in the bath-room and suffocated the Queen, and placed her daughter in the Queen's bed-just after the Queen had given birth. Claiming the Queen was ill, the stepmother would not let the King look in the bed where she lay. Each night, the Queen's ghost came into the room, fed her baby, stroked the fawn, and left. One night, she told the fawn, "My child my fawn twice more I come to see, Twice more I come and then the end must be." The nurse told the King of these strange events, and he watched the next night, as the Queen proclaimed she would only come back once more. The King, recognizing her as his wife, restored her to life. The evil daughter was sent into the woods and devoured by wolves, and the witch burned. As soon as the witch was burned, the fawn resumed his human shape. "Then the sister and brother lived happily together until the end."

I was reminded of this tale when I mention Madame de Beaumont's Prince Cherry the other day. Prince Cherry features a prince who is turned into an animal because of his cruelty-first he is a combination of dangerous and feared animals, then with acts of kindness he gradually assumes less threatening forms-a dog, then a bird, and finally back to a man. "Brother and Sister" shows similar results of what would have happened if Brother had given into temptation right away- first a tiger, then a wolf, and then a fawn. Though Brother was punished for succumbing to temptation, he is given a lighter punishment because he waited longer.

Tales of human/animal transformations certainly have many different meanings, but in these tales I think the point made is highlighting the difference between humans and animals. And certainly, there are multiple differences there too, but one of them being that humans have the capability of making moral choices, whereas animals are driven purely by instincts. Humans also follow instincts, but we can be motivated to deny our immediate gratification either by knowledge of beneficial long-term results (studying hard now to get a good job later, saving now to retire later, denying that second dessert helping for the sake of your health, etc.) or to benefit another. Humans also show differing levels of discipline, like the different animal progressions in the above mentioned tales. This is why I get annoyed when people equate Beauty and the Beast with bestiality. If the Beast has the form of an animal, but the capability to love and care for Beauty, therefore proving he has disciplined himself not to act only to satisfy his immediate desires like an animal, he is a man in disguise, and not an animal.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Shel Silverstein-Mirror, Mirror

QUEEN:Mirror, mirror on the wall.
Who is the fairest of them all?
MIRROR:Snow White, Snow White, snow white--
I’ve told you a million times tonight.
QUEEN:Mirror, mirror on the wall,
What would happen if I let you fall?
You’d shatter to bit with a clang and a crash,
Your glass would be splintered--swept out with the trash,
Your frame would be bent, lying here on the floor--
MIRROR:Hey … go ahead, ask me just once more.
QUEEN:Mirror, mirror on the wall.Who is the fairest of them all?MIRROR:You--you--It’s trueThe fairest of all is you--you--you.(Whew!)

"Mirror, Mirror" by Shel Silverstein

(I hope I haven't broken copyright by posting the entire poem...but if I did, it was already on the web, I got the text from here...I figure I'm safe from copyright issues if it's already available at a google search?)
Mirror from here

Princess dreams

It's pretty much a universal rule (though every rule has, of course, exceptions,) that little girls dream of being princesses. Certainly telling them fairy tales tends to enhance this desire.

Now, being a princess is really a political job description-it means you'll grow up to rule a country. But little girls rarely consider this part of princesshood. Although, being a female in a ruling family didn't necessarily mean you'd have any political power. Often princesses were raised as trading devices ("whoever can kill this giant will have half my kingdom and my youngest daughter in marriage," etc...) so really being a historical princess is not necessarily something to be desired.

But, there are other elements to it too. In a class system, no one moves out of their social status by hard work or luck. From this system comes the mindset that your class is deserved-elements of this belief we still have today, though not nearly as much. Therefore, being born a princess would be a symbol of your innate worth-that you alone are special and unique and born to privilege. That much appeals to everyone.

And, being a princess, you would have so much opportunity to do good for other people-to rule your people justly and secure peace and prosperity for your land.

But who am I kidding-99% of the desire to be a princess comes from the opportunity to wear pretty dresses and live in a castle and have all the pleasures of wealth at your disposal. And while I wouldn't, in actuality, want to live in one of these gorgeous castles (I'd hate to get immune to these surroundings...), doesn't everyone like to pretend, now and then?

Buckingham Palace, London-1-3
Summer and winter palaces at St. Petersburg, 4-7
Eltz Castle, Germany, 8
Neueschwanstein Castle, Bavaria, 9-11 (Inspiration for castles in Disney's Magic Kingdoms)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Korngold's Fairy Tale music

Erich Wolfgang Korngold was a romantic composer who often used fairy tales as inspiration. He composed a set of seven "Fairy Tale Pictures" in 1910, originally for piano, which he later orchestrated. I almost always prefer an orchestral version (I'm trying to think of anything where I don't like the orchestral version best and I'm drawing a blank...the link is to an orchestral version on Amazon) but being limited to youtube selections, here's the last movement, "The Fairytale speaks an Epilogue," the piano version.

It's a pretty piece. The infuriating thing is, Korngold was 13 years old in 1910. The other movements are "The Enchanted Princess," "The Ruler of Spirits," "The Goblins," "The Fairy King's Ball," "The Brave Little Tailor," and a missing movement, "The Princess and the Pea."
Korngold also composed the music for the soundtrack to "The Adventures of Robin Hood:"

And also "The Prince and the Pauper":

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Prince Cherry

Once there was a King who rescued a rabbit while out hunting. The rabbit was actually a fairy in disguise, and in return for his kind heart, the Fairy Candide offered the King a choice of gifts: to make his only son the handsomest, the richest, or the most powerful Prince. Being wise, the King decided he wanted his son to be a good man rather than anything else. The fairy promised to point out the Prince's faults and punish him for them.

Image from here
To do this, she gave the prince a gold ring which would always prick his finger when he was doing something wrong. If he continued to ignore his ring's warnings, she would stop being his Protectoress. The Prince was amazed, but the ring did indeed start pricking him whenever he lost his temper or became cruel. At first the Prince obeyed his ring, but he became frustrated with not having his way, and ignored the ring more and more, and eventually got rid of it. He also had bad companions who encouraged him to do the wrong thing. He had a beloved tutor, Suliman, who would admonish the Prince when he took advantage of his power, but one day the Prince became so frustrated he banished the tutor.

Later, Cherry happened upon the most beautiful girl he had ever seen, and proposed marriage. The maiden, Zelia, refused, for she knew he was selfish and had a bad temper. His friends encouraged him to make an example of anyone who dared disobey him and imprison the girl. He listened to his friends and cast her into the dungeon.

The Fairy appeared before the Prince again. Because he behaved like an animal, she condemned him to appear as an animal, and Cherry was transformed into a creature like a mixture of a lion, a bull, a wolf, and a serpent. Cherry ran away and fell into a bear trap. His captors put him on display, and through people's talk, Cherry learned that his wise tutor had been made King in his absense, and that the people were glad of the disappearance of the cruel prince.

One day, the keeper of the Menagerie was attacked by an escaped tiger. As soon as Cherry had the impulse to save the man, his cage was opened and he saved the keeper, who was thankful. At that moment, Cherry transformed again, this time into a dog.

Cherry lived happily as a dog for a while, until he saw a woman in a garden looking for food. Feeling pity, Cherry gave her the piece of bread he was about to eat. As he did, he recognized the beautiful Zelia as the recipient of his bread-but just then she was dragged back into the dungeon. As Cherry repented of this deed, he became a white pigeon.

Cherry flew in search of Zelia. He finally found her and perched on her shoulder. Zelia proclaimed her love of the bird, which were the words needed to turn Cherry back into his human form. Zelia was able to love Cherry now that his true nature was not "hidden by faults," and they were transported back to rule Prince Cherry's kingdom. His ring was restored to him, and he became a just and kind ruler.

This little fairy tale isn't really part of the Beauty and the Beast cycle, although it is an Animal Bridegroom tale. Here we see a foreshadowing of the Disney version in that the beastly forms are punishment for beastly behaviors, only here the Prince gradually goes from savage to domestic, which is an interesting twist.

Also interesting is that this tale is written by Madame LePrince de Beaumont, the same woman who is credited with writing Beauty and the Beast Proper. Clearly appearances and beast-like men were a theme with her. Only the book from which I got this tale (Bookhouse Through Fairy Halls, 1928) calls her not "LePrince de Beaumont," but "La Princesse de Beamont." I don't know why they decided to make her last name feminine, but I checked and it really is the same person.

Monday, September 6, 2010

"Beware of the stories you read or tell; subtly, at night, beneath the waters of consciousness, they are altering your world."-Ben Okri

Image from here

Marilyn Singer's Mirror Mirror

I am ecstatic about the book Mirror Mirror by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Josee Masse. It was highly praised on Surlalune when it came out. Being on a tight budget, and since fairy tales are not my line of work, I don't have the luxury of ordering every fairy tale book I'd like to, and generally content myself with whatever my library has, but after flipping through this book I knew I had to own it.

For those of you who haven't heard of it yet, Mirror Mirror is a book of reversible fairy tale poems. Singer took several major fairy tales and wrote a poem about each of them, and on the other side of the page, the poem is reversed line by line. With alterations only in punctuation, the poems not only still make sense, but most of them alter the perspective and/or meaning by the reversal. For example, I'll share with you my favorite, which predictably, is the Beauty and the Beast one, but it's so beautiful and simple, yet complex...
Longing for Beauty

A beast
can love
A moist muzzle
can welcome
a rose.
A hairy ear
can prize
a nightingale, singing.
Beneath fur,
A soft heart

(And the reverse: )
a soft heart.
beneath fur.
A nightingale singing,
can prize a hairy ear.
A rose can welcome
a moist muzzle.
can love
a Beast.

Isn't that amazing?!?! I think that, if I read this as a child, I would be fascinated by the concept of the reversible lines. It would blow my mind (it still does) that it could make sense up or down, but the child can look and see, visually, that each line is the same, just reversed. I feel like I could have stared at these poems for hours, trying to understand how they worked.

I think my other favorites in the book were the Ugly Duckling, and the Rumplestiltskin (although they are all fantastic). Rumplestiltskin isn't necessarily one of my favorite fairy tales, but the poem that features his perspective starts "Do you know my name?/Think of straw turned to gold./In this story/I am/famous/but not/liked." The one that features the princess ends, "I am/ liked/but not/famous./I am/in this story./Think of straw turned to gold./Do you know my name?" At first I was confused but then I realized...the princess doesn't have a name! It's a whole fairy tale about guessing Rumplestiltskin's name, and though the princess is thought to be the heroine, I never even noticed she didn't have a name.

Let's forget about the bewitching writing for a second and just talk about the pictures, which are also stunning, and perfect companions for the poems. They make complete pictures, but the pictures are split as the poems are, showing opposite sides of the tales. The ones that illustrate this best are probably the cover and the Snow White picture-I love how the cave and hill complete the witch's face!

The pictures help clue you in on some poems. Rapunzel's poem includes the line "No wonder she felt snippy." At first I just read that as, "she felt annoyed," as it talks about her mother being a witch and keeping her in a tower. But a close look at the picture reveals that "snippy" meant she literally cut her own hair off!

Seriously, for Christmas this year, get this book for every child you know.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


First of all, Pinocchio isn't technically a fairy tale, but how exactly do we define a fairy tale? A fantastic story so old we can't trace its origins? Wikipedia skirts around a definition by giving examples of what a fairy tale is not (a myth, fable, or cautionary tale), and including a whole discussion on the difficulties of defining fairy tales, but doesn't actually say what it is. The American Heritage Dictionary calls a fairy tale "A fanciful tale of legendary deeds and creatures, usu. intended for children." Which is not actually correct: a)this definition would encompass all children's fantasy, and fairy tales are a more specific branch of fantasy, and b)nowdays we think of fairy tales as being intended for children, but historically fairy tales were not intended for children, and even now there are plenty of modern adult interpretations.

So all that to say, you can't really say definitively that Pinocchio has no place on a fairy tale blog; I focus more on traditional tales, but any story that was later made into a classic Disney movie also holds interest for me. And Pinocchio does have something most fairy tales lack, which is the presence of an actual fairy.

Pinocchio is a story written by Italian Carlo Collodi which came out in 1883. It contains the story of a puppet who wants to be a real boy, but has to learn to be responsible, and in the process makes a lot of stupid decisions and is severely punished for it. Some scenes are really quite awful and violent, but that was the mode for children's literature in the Victorian age-to scare children into obedience by telling stories of children who suffered horrifying punishments for their crimes.

Enrico Mazzanti
The book is sort of frustrating to read, because at first you're just annoyed with Pinnochio for being so obstinately stupid. He does have good intentions (don't we all?), but even when he tries to be good, he gets tricked or tempted beyond what he can bear. Although, as the book goes on, he holds out more and more before giving in. The book has good messages-stay in school, work hard, obey your parents, etc., but it's so preachy it gets tiring. The plot itself would be more enjoyable if it weren't for them hitting you over the head with lamentations like this one from Pinocchio: "It serves me right!...Decidedly it serves me right! I was determined to be a vagabond and a good-for-nothing...I would listen to bad companions, and that is why I always meet with misfortunes. If I had been a good little boy as so many are; if I had been willing to learn and to work; if I had remained at home with my poor papa, I should not now be in the midst of the fields and obliged to be the watch-dog to a peasant's house."

The Disney movie takes all of its scenes from the book, with alterations, and leaves out other scenes. Some differences of note: Pinocchio actually starts off by killing the Talking Cricket. He later comes back as a ghost, but doesn't have nearly the importance that Jiminy Cricket does in the movie. At one point you think Pinocchio also killed the Blue Fairy, but she was just teaching him a lesson. The large man-eating fish is also like Jonah's fish in that people insist on making it a whale-Pinocchio's fish was actually referred to as a Dog-fish. Also, Pleasure Island in the book is "known on the geographical map by the seducing name of the 'Land of Boobies.'" But not that kind of seductive boobies...

Pinocchio starts off by being infuriatingly annoying. He has no schoolbook, so Gepetto goes out, sells his coat in the middle of winter, and buys Pinocchio a spelling book. The next day Pinocchio sells the book to see a play. But, Pinocchio does grow on you more as you read the book. Gepetto doesn't start out as the best character either, though; early on the villagers are concerned that Gepetto will beat the puppet and abuse him, and he gets into a fight with another man for calling him names. So I guess there's plenty of character development for all involved...

Hee hee Pinocchio from Shrek is really funny...

Friday, September 3, 2010

More on Cinderella's slippers

Grand Dame: I find your collection of folk tales quite brilliant, actually. Jacob Grimm: Thank you. Grand Dame: But I must say, I was terribly disturbed when I read your version of the Little Cinder Girl. Jacob Grimm: Well, there are those who swear that Perrault's telling with its Fairy Godmother and um... [laughs] magic pumpkins would be closer to the truth. Wilhelm Grimm: Some claim the shoe was made of fur. Others insist it was glass. Well, I guess we'll never know. Jacob Grimm: Forgive me, Your Majesty, might I inquire about the painting? She's really quite, um... extraordinary. Grand Dame: Her name was Danielle De Barbarac. [Reaches inside the box the footman has brought to her] Grand Dame: And this... was her "glass" slipper.

-From the movie Ever After
The above bit of dialogue was actually based on fact-notably the line "some claim the shoe was made of fur. Others insist it was glass." In Perrault's version, he used the word "verre," which is "glass" in French. Somehow a rumor got started that this was a mistranslation of "vair," or "fur," and this was perpetuated for a while and even stated in the Encyclopaedia Britannica to be the case. Perrault officially wrote about a glass slipper, although it really doesn't matter in a way because his version was not intended to be based on oral tales, but his own literary story. It's likely that the subsequent versions of Cinderella including glass slippers were influenced by Perrault, since before then the shoes were any valuable material, as many fairy tale objects are (glass, gold, silver, diamond, crystal, etc.) The jump doesn't seem to be a hard one to make from one valuable material to another-I have a pair of gold ballet flats and multiple people have commented that they're like Cinderella's shoes, although they probably are not aware that many Cinderellas did indeed have gold shoes.

But as for glass itself-it can be seen as a symbol of virginity, as it can only be broken once. Jewish weddings feature the groom crushing a glass under his foot for good luck. With this in mind, a glass slipper as Cinderella's identifier makes perfect sense.

Sources: Paul Delarue-"From Perrault to Walt Disney: The Slipper of Cinderella" from Cinderella: A Casebook
Alan Dundes-his introduction to the above essay
*The slipper in the image is available from Disney for $300, if you have more money than you know what to do with...

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Bound Feet and Bride Shows: More on the Chinese Cinderella

Again from Cinderella: A Casebook-Photeine P. Bourboulis argues for the likely origin of China for the fairy tale we now know as Cinderella in her essay "The Bride-Show Custom and the Fairy Story of Cinderella." She mentions two specific customs that appear in the Cinderella tale-1. The ancient Chinese custom of a bride show. When a rich prince wanted to marry, he would gather several beautiful young women and choose between them-think of the story of Esther in the Old Testament. The connection between this and Cinderella is pretty obvious.

The other custom she mentions is the custom of foot binding. A lot of times we like to think of the foot test in Cinderella as just meaning that the Prince had to find the right girl, and the shoe was the only thing he had to identify her-but why couldn't he identify her by her face? In some older versions of the tale, Cinderella had never even met the Prince. He just finds an unbelievably small shoe, one that no one else can fit into, and by that criteria alone, selects his bride.

I'm not going to comment on the following, I'll let the pictures and the quotes from Chinese people do the talking.

"If a girl's feet are not bound, people say she is not like a woman, but like a man; they laugh at her, calling her names, and her parents are ashamed of her."

"Girls are like flowers, like the willow. It is very important that their feet should be short, so that they can walk beautifully, with mincing steps, swaying gracefully, thus showing they are persons of respectability. People praise them. If not bound short, they say the mother has not trained the daughter carefully. She goes from house to house with noisy steps, and is called names. Therefore careful persons bind short."

"Possessed of peerless beauty the ring of her admirers gradually increased, till at last she rose up to go. The excitement among the young men was intense; they criticized her face and discussed her feet..."

"One of a good family does not wish to marry a woman with long feet. She is commiserated because her feet are not perfect. If betrothed and the size of her feet not discovered till after marriage her husband and mother-in-law are displeased, her sisters-in-law laugh at her, and she herself is sad."

"Girls are like gold, like gems. They ought to stay in their own house. If their feet are not bound they go here and they go there with unfitting associates; they have no good name. They are like defective gems that are rejected."

From Madame Wu, a Chinese woman with bound feet: "I prefer eat to walk...In China not much use to walk, only around gardens at home. Chinese ladies not walk abroad like Americans. In streets they go in sedan chairs, always with chaperone."

"But she could not get the toe into it, for the shoe was too small; then her mother handed her a knife, and said, 'Cut the toe off, for when you are Queen you will never have to go on foot.' So the girl cut her toe off, squeezed her foot into the shoe, concealed the pain, and went down to the Prince."
-from the brothers Grimm's Cinderella

"Any Chinaman will bear witness as to the seductive effect of a gaily dressed girl picking her way on tiny feet sometimes three inches in length, her swaying movements and delightful appearance of instability, converying a general sense of delicate grace quite beyond expression in words."-quoted by Bourboulis from H.A. Giles' The Civilization of China, 1911. Emphasis my own.

Random thought: I was just over at DaddyLikey and read the latest Don't Showcha Your Chocha post, where readers submit pictures of models/celebrities/etc. wearing dresses/skirts/shirts and no pants where pants are really quite necessary. But under one of the pictures, the heading read: "Sitting down: overrated and unnecessary." It just struck me because I had just finished writing this post, in which the ideal in China was once that standing was overrated and unnecessary for women, and they physically were constrained to force them to stand and walk as little as possible. It is interesting that we've almost switched ideals in this respect-almost as if, in a way, we're so concerned about women being healthy and active in this culture that we truly don't like the idea of a woman sitting around, although the picture heading was meant to be a joke. But it's true that beauty standards are whatever is most difficult to attain: in cultures where people work physically to stay alive, it's the rich people who can afford to eat a lot and sit around that are considered the most desirable. Whereas now, with fast food and office jobs where most people are mostly sedentary unless they specifically work hard to stay active, it's the disciplined, lean, healthy body that we all covet. Not that really short hemlines are quite the ideal like tiny feet in China. It was just a thought...

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Sisters Grimm: Fairy Tale Detectives

I heard about the Sisters Grimm series over on Surlalune and was excited to check it out. The series revolves around two sisters, the last remaining descendants of the Brothers Grimm. In the first book of the series, "The Fairy Tale Detectives," by Michael Buckley, they discover that the fairy tales their ancestors wrote down were all true, and that the fairy tale characters are still living. The sisters get involved in adventures, solving fairy tale-related crimes, as the first book's title would indicate.

I found it to be an entertaining read, though not destined to be a classic like Narnia or Harry Potter or anything. When I heard that the fairy tales were all historically true, I was hoping that the characters would read the Grimm fairy tales and use their knowledge of the stories to help them solve the crimes, perhaps exploring lesser-known tales along with the Grimm versions of famous tales. The closest thing they got to this was imitating the Headless Horseman in order to scare away Ichabod Crane at one point. And, yes, the story mentions that all fairy tales are true, not just the ones the brothers Grimm collected. In fact, hardly any of the characters in the book are actually from a Grimm tale. I was beginning to think Michael Buckley had done no research into fairy tales whatsoever until I read that Dorothy's magic shoes were silver. Well, that's something. Other than the above incidents, the stories of the fairy tales were hardly alluded to-just that the characters all live together in one town (something like Into the Woods, only not as sophisticated.) Some other prominent characters include Puck of Midsummer Night's Dream, Cinderella's Prince Charming, the three little pigs, and Jack the Giant Killer.

I wasn't too crazy about the plot until the end, where it became more exciting and unpredictable. I do like that Michael Buckley dealt with darker materials-the beginning is very much like the Series of Unfortunate Events, with two orphans dependant upon themselves because they can't trust the adults around them. I also like that some of the traditional "good" and "bad" fairy tale characters get flipped in the book. (But I did not like his portrayal of Beauty and the Beast. You can mess with any fairy tale characters, but don't mess with Beauty and the Beast!)

The writing was fine, but I thought the dialogue lacking. A line from the Magic Mirror that struck me as particularly juvenile: "You may not have heard, but the whole circus-clown-meets-crazy-street-vagrant-look is so over." I may continue to read more books in the series to see what they're like. Not that the book was bad at all...I think I was just disappointed because I saw so much potential in the premise. But I'm very critical of fiction, so many people may enjoy the books more.

Disney's Beauty and the Beast dvd

Finally-Disney's Beauty and the Beast is coming out of the vault on October 5th. Now you can purchase the "Diamond Edition" and see it in High Def. Although, if you wanted to view the Platinum Edition, discontinued in 2003, there were plenty of special features:

Disc 1:
High-Definition Transfer Using Digital Technology
3 Versions Of The Film
-Special Edition
-Original Theatrical Edition
-Work In Progress Edition
Audio Commentary
Sing-Along Track
Maurice's Invention Workshop Game
Disc 2:
The Story Behind The Story
Character Profile Game
Disney's Enchanted Environments
The Broadway Musical
Disney's Animation Magic
Chip's Musical Challenge Game
"Beauty And The Beast" Music Video By Jump 5
"Break The Spell" Adventure Game
The Story--Bringing The Story To The Screen, Early Presentation Reel
The Music--Alternate Score: The Transformation, Alternate Version: "Be Our Guest," Deleted Song: "Human Again," Beauty And The Beast Music Video, Original Demo Recordings With Introduction By Alan Menken
The Art--Designing Beauty And The Beast, Art & Design Gallery
The Characters--Character Galleries, Animating Beauty And The Beast
Pencil Version: The Transformation
Animation Tests
Setting The Stage
Layouts & Background Gallery
Tricks Of The Trade
Camera Move Test
Release & Reaction, Poster & Ad Design, Trailers & TV Spots, Large Format Trailer

You can also get a VHS for super cheap on amazon.

But the Diamond Edition comes in 2 or 3 disk versions. You can preorder both on Amazon, but the 2-disk edition doesn't come out till November 23. The 3 disk set includes:

3-Disc BD Bonus Features: • Restored film• Three versions of the film• Original theatrical release• Special extended edition• Original storyboard version (BD-exclusive)• Original theatrical version with a PIP of the storyboard • Disney song along mode • Audio commentary• Beyond Beauty: The Untold Stories Behind Making Beauty And The Beast (interactive) • Broadway Beginnings – Up close and personal celebrity interviews with Nick Jonas, Donny Osmond, Toni Braxton, and others who have starred in the Broadway production • Composing a Classic: A Musical Conversation With Alan Menken, Don Hahn, and Richard Kraft• Deleted sceneso Alternate opening (boards)o Belle in the library – never-before-seen moment where Belle meets three new characters in the library• Art galleries – Only available inside the “Beyond Beauty Experience”• Family play gameso Enchanted Challenge: help Belle and the Beast fall in love in order to break the spell before the last petal falls (Disney Quest)o Bon Jour, Who Is This? A Disney TelePlay Game – Powered by BD-Live. Using your cell phone, guess the identity of the other players before they guess yours • Music & moreo All-new music video featuring Disney Channel star TBD • Classic DVD bonus features

I don't really know if the Disney vault policy is a good one. I'm sure that for all the people who are like "Oh, Dumbo's released, we have to get it for posterity before it goes back in the vault!" there are at least the same number of customers who are like, "Oh, I bet my nephew would like Peter Pan for his birthday. What? It's not available? Bummer" and then they forget about it. Plus in general it just makes me feel manipulated and angry. Thank goodness for, right?