Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Swan Lake Origins-or lack thereof

Swan Lake is a hard story to track down the origins of. Most internet searches lead to Wikipedia, which gives the two most likely origins-the most likely source appears to be "The Stolen Veil," collected German stories by Johann Karl August Musaus, although I can't find text for it online. The other story alluded to is the Russian "The White Duck," (also in Andrew Lang's Yellow Fairy Book) although it has very little in common with Swan Lake. I think far more likely are the many tales from around the world of Selkies (or swans or seals) who shed their skins to become women, or perhaps other European tales where a band of brothers is turned into ravens or swans and their sister has to save them.
For anyone interested in reading on the possible origins of the ballet story, this has some good reading. No matter what the speculated origins, it points out that Tchaikovsky himself had a bit of influence on the ballet story, making it truly unique and not primarily a folk tale.

Surlalune has a Swan Maiden tale. The site is not yet annotated and doesn't include history currently, but this particular tale has a very interesting twist on the story-it has a more typical Swan Maiden beginning, where the man steals the dress of the maiden while she is bathing and won't give it back, insisting she become his wife. She goes with him unwillingly, although these tales always have them happily married after this rather unlikely beginning, which irritates me. As always, the maiden escapes when she has a chance-but then the fairy tale turns into East of Sun, West of the Moon, only with the male doing the searching instead of the woman. Once again, the running away part would imply that she doesn't WANT to be his wife, but once he finds her at the end she goes back with him and they live happily ever after (they must have a REALLY good marriage counselor.)
Speaking of gender role reversals-off of Surlalune you can read more versions on the web. One of Ashliman's collected tales is a German tale, "The Three Swans" (you have to scroll down past a couple other versions to get to it). In the tales about brothers turned into birds I mentioned before, the heroine saves them through a mix of silence and making shirts for them out of painful nettles. Naturally women get all up in arms because this could imply that the ideal female is silent, but in this version the male has to get the female back with suffering and silence! Although, the females who suffer from silence do so for a lot longer...

One more issue that comes up when telling this tale to children is the issue of the happy vs. sad ending. It's a controversial topic that comes up often in fairy tale conversations-which versions should we tell children? The most authentic, most "adult" versions? The Victorian, somewhat authentic, sometimes very morbid versions? Or the modern children's versions that fit our ideals of "child appropriate," which are not authentic at all?

There are those who adamantly claim that children should not be spoon-fed idealized and unrealistically happy stories, yet I wonder if they have ever actually looked a child in the face and told them all the gory details of an old fairy tale, or that the Prince and Odette die at the end of Swan Lake. It's simply different when you have an actual child in front of you. Keeping in mind, of course, that each child is different and has different tolerance levels. But speaking on the teacher side of things-parents get reeeally uptight about what you teach their children. Some of it is understandable and some of it is not (a fellow teacher once got a passive agressive letter starting, "Dear lady, I hear you have been telling kids I don't exist..." and signed "Santa Claus" because she taught a lesson to fourth graders about the history of Santa Claus. My mom has had to stop showing certain movie versions of stories because parents report that it gave their children nightmares.) Basically, when other people's children are in your care, it pays to be extra careful.

I solve the problem of the Swan Lake ending by asking, "Do you want the happy ending or the sad ending?" when telling it to students/children. No one has ever asked for just the sad ending-they either ask for both, or the happy one. Some storybooks, or maybe even ballet productions, have a true love conquers all ending, so it's not entirely made up by me.

Images-Finnish National Ballet, picture by Neil McCartney; Kiev Classical Ballet; Mariinsky Ballet

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Happy Halloween

A couple years ago I hosted a Halloween party, and guess what my theme was? Fairy tales!

We carved our pumpkin to look like Cinderella's pumpkin coach. I was hoping it would turn out more like these:

Here was our end product:

Images from here , here, hereand here

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Mother/daughter relationships in fairy tales

In "From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers," Marina Warner reminds us that, though we have many modern psychological insights into fairy tales and their meanings, unless we look into history we will miss more obvious conclusions for fairy tale motifs which may seem shocking to us now.

For example, the tension between mothers, or mother figures, and daughters. Why is the stepmother always evil? There are a myriad of possible answers for this one. High mortality rates for young mothers giving birth led to men that remarried, causing real friction between a woman and her stepchildren in a household where not everyone could get the inheritance.

But also keep in mind marriage arrangements of older societies: women were married off when very young. They had no power in the choice, and no power over their husbands. One might expect the husbands to get villainized, but they rarely do. But a wife was not only under her husband, but under his mother. When a mother's son married, she acquired another set of helping hands. In several cases, a girl would be raised by her in-laws from a young age-in effect, a free servant. No wonder so many girls connected with Cinderella.

Warner delves into the full history of fairy tales, not just analyzing the Grimm or other most famous version. She contrasts two of the earliest versions of Sleeping Beauty and the villain in each one. In Basile's story, the prince (who is still the hero) rapes Talia while she sleeps, though married to another woman. It is his former wife whose anger against Talia and her children leads to her attempts to gruesomely kill them and turn them into food for her husband. Whereas Perrault's prince is single to begin with, and the villain is now his mother, who is really an ogre and wishes to eat the victims herself. Warner says that "cannibalism seemed then much less scandalous than rape, adultery and bigamy, and more suited to the childish fantasy of the invoked audience."

Yet as the tale becomes more and more "civilized," going next to the Grimms who take out the cannibalism entirely and has the prince saving the princess with a kiss, the tale has changed audience-former adults, or girls we might consider children but who were very close to marriage, were now Victorian children. Older fairy tales dealt with complications of marriage, and relatively more recent ones dealt with the time before marriage, and concluding with the marriage itself as the happy ending.

This quote is fantastic: "The more one knows fairy tales the less fantastical they appear; they can be vehicles of the grimmest realism." Don't forget that often, the characters which are now evil stepmothers were originally mothers, such as the Queen in Snow White.

But what about from the older generation's point of view? Imagine you, as a woman, have no authority at all until you have children of your own. It's not really surprising that some women might abuse the authority they finally got. But the idea of being jealous of the younger, more beautiful, daughter-in-law is perhaps just not wishful thinking on the part of the wife. Once a woman was widowed she was not guaranteed an inheritance. She could be shunned by all her children and left on her own. Once women became old they were seen as useless, thus true rivalry ensuing as the two women competed for power and affection from their son/husband.

The role of the mother figure in a fairy tale would also depend on who's telling the tale. Remember, often children were raised by a nurse, becoming closer to them than their birth mother. If a nurse, or or jealous grandmother, or some other relation was telling tales to children, that could explain why the birth mother would be villainized and some other womanly figure turn out to be the powerful fairy in disguise.

Mother figures are very powerful in fairy tales; whether they have the power to be cruel and abuse their charges, or the power of a godmother or fairy who eventually brings about the happy ending. Warner reminds us that, though it is mostly forgotten now, in Villeneuve's Beauty and the Beast, it is the fairy friend of his mother's that raises the Prince, later tries to woo him, and curses him upon rejection. Other French fairy tales, also lesser known, involve powerful, often evil, fairy figures, who wreak havoc upon the lives of their surrogate children. While we might get upset at the power men have in fairy tales, especially their lack of punishment, really the vast majority of action in traditional tales starring women is driven by women. The prince is little more than a prize at the end.

"Fairy tale's historical realism has been obscured...the experiences these stories recount are remembered, lived experiences of women."

Information taken from Chapter 14 of Warner's From the Beast to the Blonde: "Wicked Stepmothers: The Sleeping Beauty"
Image of Cinderella and her stepmother from here; Carabosse (witch from ballet version of Sleeping Beauty) by Leon Bakst, witch from Disney's Snow White

Friday, October 22, 2010

Swan of Tuonela

In the Kalevala, Finland's national poem, several characters of Finnish mythology are included to make one epic poem. One of these characters is Leminkainen, who makes a journey to the underworld, or Tuonela. From wikipedia:

"In one myth he drowns in the river of Tuonela (the underworld) in trying to capture or kill the black swan that lives there as part of an attempt, as Ilmarinen once made, to win a daughter of Louhi as his wife. In a tale somewhat reminiscent of Isis' search for Osiris, Lemminkäinen's mother searches heaven and earth to find her son. Finally, she learns of his fate and asks Ilmarinen to fashion her a rake of copper with which to dredge her son's body from the river of Tuonela. Thus equipped, she descends into the underworld in search of her son. On the banks of the river of the underworld, she rakes up first Lemminkäinen's tunic and shoes, and then, his maimed and broken body. Unrelenting, she continues her work until every piece of Lemminkäinen's body is recovered. Sewing the parts together and offering prayers to the gods, the mother tries to restore Lemminkäinen to life, but succeeds only in remaking his body, life is still absent. Then, she entreats a bee to ascend to the halls of the over-god Ukko and fetch from there a drop of honey as ointment that would bring Lemminkäinen back to life. Only with such a potent remedy is the hero finally restored."

Akseli Gallen-Kallela

Finnish composer Sibelius wrote a suite describing the adventures of Leminkainen. "The Swan of Tuonela" depicts the dark swan gliding along the lake of the Underworld. The music is slow and ominous, yet beautiful at the same time.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fairy Tales according to Calvin and Hobbes

Calvin: I'm ready for bed, Dad. What's tonight's story going to be?
Dad: Here's one. "Readings on dialectical metaphysics." You'll love it.
Calvin: Forget it, Dad. You can't make me dropp off that easy.
Calvin: Will you read us this story? Hobbes wrote it himself.
Dad: Hobbes wrote it, huh?
Dad: "Goldilocks and the three tigers."
Calvin: Oh boy, this is gonna be great!
Dad: Once upon a time there lived a young girl named Goldilocks. She went into the forest and saw a cottage. No one was home so she went in.
Inside she saw three bowls of porridge. A big bowl, a medium bowl, and a small bowl. She was just about to taste the porridge when the three tigers came home.
The quickly divided Goldilocks into big, medium, and small pieces and dunked them in the porridge that...
Calvin, I'm not going to finish reading this! This is disgusting!!
I don't know why I let you talk me into this. Good night!
Calvin: He didn't even look at our illustrations.
Hobbes: Now I'm all hungry.

Calvin: What should we have Dad read us tonight?
Dad: So in the next panel, supertoad goes "plooie," and...
Dad: "My, what big teeth you have!" said Little Red Riding Hood. "The better to eat you with!" said the wolf...
Calvin: Tiger.
Dad: "...said the tiger, and he pounced on Little Red Riding Hood. Just then a hunter cam by, and when he saw the wolf..."
Calvin: Tiger.
Dad:"...when he was the tiger, he picked up his gun and..."
Calvin: AND?
Dad: "and it was too late. The tiger ate them both and he lived happily ever after. The End."
Calvin: Good story, Dad! Thanks!
Hobbes: *sniff* I always cry at happy endings.

All Calvin and Hobbes comics copyright by Bill Waterson.
Sorry if these are kind of hard to read. These comics taken from "The Essential Calvin and Hobbes."

Monday, October 18, 2010


Neco z Alenky's "Alice" (1988) adds an interesting twist to the history of versions of Alice in Wonderland. The Czech film features a little girl among a cast of stop-motion creatures. The pace is very slow, and the overall mood is dark and drab, rather than the typical "let's imagine a lush and beautiful fanciful land for Alice to dream up." The white rabbit is a toy that comes to life-he is made of sawdust, which falls out every time he takes out his watch, and some scenes feature him eating sawdust out of a bowl, which I thought was cute. The caterpillar is made of socks. Everything is more grounded in reality. There is no music, which adds to the slowness. Each spoken line is followed by a close-up of Alice's mouth saying "said the White Rabbit" or "cried Alice," which gets a bit tiring (especially when watching the English version, where the lips and words don't match up.) Some props are more morbid-other animal characters are played by animal skeletons.

Isn't that a great image?

Alice has a doll of herself-with blonde hair and a matching dress. When she shrinks down to small sizes, she turns into the doll. The movie features famous Alice scenes, like the mad tea party, but also more obscure ones, like when the baby turns into a pig.

Now, some reviewers called it entirely true to the book, or more what Lewis Carroll intended when he wrote the book. I disagree. I like this interpretation, although to be honest, because it's so slow and repetitive, it's not one I'd watch again and again. But the tone I always got from the book was pure, lighthearted humor (not to mention a fast pace). This movie has very little humor and fixates on the bizarre factors. Those who thought this version was the most authentic were probably going on the assumption that Carroll was on opium when writing it. I don't know enough to comment on that, although I read a book about him once that was all about his love of riddles. He made lots of riddles, and the Alice books are full of hidden riddles-for example, "Through the Looking Glass" follows an actual chess game and the books shows you the moves each character makes. So I think it would be hard to do that type of thing while on drugs. However, evidence does point to him being perhaps a bit too intimate with little girls.

The film also adds imagery that was not necessarily emphasized in the books: drawers, scissors, and repetition. I can't say I understand the significance of those images. So the movie is worth a watch for Alice fans, but don't go out and buy the dvd.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


"The written word is all that stands between memory and oblivion. Without books as our anchors, we are cast adrift, neither teaching nor learning. They are windows on the past, mirrors on the present, and prisms reflecting all possible futures. Books are lighthouses erected in the dark sea of time. "

Isn't that a great quote? Doesn't it sound like it came from some famous person, or author? Well it's actually from a tv series featured on Toon Disney in the early 90s. But wait! Don't scroll down the page in disgust yet! This was back in the days when Disney had quality entertainment, and cartoons were entertaining to people over the age of 9! IMDB has a glowing review of it. When I was little, my mom had taped the first three episodes on VHS for my brother and I. We watched that movie, literally, dozens of times. A few years ago I discovered the whole thing is on youtube-just search Gargoyles season-episode-part (i.e., Gargoyles 1-1-1 for the first part of the first episode, or Gargoyles 2-13-2 for second season, 13th episode, 2nd part, etc.)

The series features a clan of Gargoyles who are stone building decorations by day, but when the sun sets, their stone exterior bursts as they emerge roaring, ready to defend their city. Only humans are mostly afraid of gargoyles, calling them monsters and shunning them. The main conflict between the gargoyles themselves is whether or not they should defend the humans who hate them. The gargoyles start off in Scotland in the 900s A.D. and because of a spell end up in New York in the 1990s. Action, drama, romance, and good vs. evil ensues like a classic comic book, all with really good plot, complex characters, and somewhat cheesy lines.

The idea of gargoyles which come to life to protect people is not a part of fairy lore, but the storywriters interweaved characters of fairy lore-and Shakespeare-into the plot. Oberon, Titania, and Puck get involved, and the history of the Gargoyles turns out to be interweaved with the history of the story of Macbeth (...not exactly the way it happened in Shakespeare's play, though). It's also got a very pro-reading message, as evidenced by the quote. The second half of the second season has some characters taking a trip to various lands where mythical legends from each country turns out to be true. I've already mentioned that Goliath, the main Gargoyle, is sort of like a Beast figure. So guess what Goliath and Elisa go as for Halloween:

(skip to 1:10)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

My own personal Beast

Before I started reading more on fairy tales, I thought I was the only one who found the Beast more attractive than the Prince he turns into at the end of the tale. As I read I found out that everyone finds the Prince a little disappointing, and Surlalune has a whole line of products you can buy that have the phrase "Beauty looking for her Beast" on them . I thought I came up with that! (And I thought I was so clever to sing Snow White's tune but insert "Someday my Beast will come...")

Now it is true that there are people who look at me strangely when I say one of the above phrases. But I always wanted to identify with my favorite characters, Beauty being one of them, and hope that I would somehow fulfill the tale. I would meet some forlorn man burning with a passion for me-perhaps a burn victim or someone with a rare skin condition, since the hairy variety are less likely to show up around Chicago-and I, like Beauty, would be the only one capable of loving such a man and he would be eternally grateful for my love. Which is really a selfish and needy fantasy anyway...yet is often dangerously disguised as the ultimate selflessness.

But ever notice how modern Beast figures are really kind of attractive anyway? Man Without a Face isn't really a Beauty and the Beast story since it's not even a romance, but I'm pretty much in love with Mel Gibson's character This is the side of his face that got burned. The other half looks like regular Mel Gibson.

And everyone's favorite, the newest film version of the Phantom:
I'm going to do a full post on Gargoyles soon...but OMG Goliath is SO SEXY.
Dude, Beast from X-Men? He's got the strong and manly beast thing going on, but he goes around quoting Shakespeare. Artsy and vulnerable as well. *Swoon* And really, it's that vulnerability factor that makes these Beasts so attractive. In romantic versions, it's his consuming love for Beauty that we really love.

The Disney Beast is animalistic, but still pretty attractive compared to historical Beasts.

EDIT: A more recent addition-Surlalune mentioned how everyone comments that Kyle in the movie Beastly is not even that beastly and I remembered this post.

I can't believe it, but I wrote the whole first draft of this post and forgot probably the best example of taking something that is supposed to be dangerous-a wild animal, to a peasant, or a vampire-and turning him not only into something completely non-threatening, but a romantic ideal. Interestingly, this is why I dislike Twilight (which I have never read or seen), because it changes vampires into something completely different, yet I obviously have no problem with it in Beauty and the Beast...

As you go back through history, depictions of the Beast have been less about the sexual appeal and more literal animals. Imagine being proposed to by these Beasts, compared to the ones above. Eleanore Vere Boyle
Arthur Rackham
Anne Anderson
Walter Crane

In the fairy tale, Beauty didn't find herself strangely sexually attracted to the Beast the way girls do now to various dark and mysterious Beast-like figures. She had to learn to love someone she initially found repulsive. Really, I think that often more extreme appearances aren't as repulsive as your average guy who's maybe a little overweight, a bit nerdy, or acne prone. These we more easily scoff at, whereas if you really saw a burn victim walking down the street, all our Politically Correctness sensors go off and we're very aware of the fact that he/she looks different and that we Must Not Judge. When the appearance is more average, we judge without realizing it.

I still sort of wish that the fairy tale will come true for me, in some way. But maybe I need to think more out of the box. I probably will never come across a musical genious with half a deformed face who is obsessed with me and my voice, or a heroic Gargoyle who saves my life whenever I fall off a building (again...stay tuned for more on that!), but by learning to love that which I find unloveable, I am like Beauty. I often think of the fact that I work with people with developmental disabilities as a non-romantic fulfillment of my wish. My students act different, and usually look different as well. Many people are awkward around them or even afraid of them, yet I love them. But on the other hand, my boss was saying the other day that a lot of the time, we tend to get workers who are there because they need to be needed and that causes trouble, sort of like what I was saying before about the Beauty fantasy being selfish.

To take the thinking outside the box even further, some things in life I find it hard to love aren't people. For me, I find the "Beast" ideal attractive already, so that's really my version of Prince Charming. I often struggle with the loneliness that comes from being single. What if singleness is my Beast? My situation that looks bleak and even ugly at times, yet has so many advantages, if I would only learn to see them?

For more on how the Beast and his perceptions have changed through history, this post is sort of an extension of this post I wrote a while back.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Spinning Wheel

Would anyone know what a spinning wheel is if it weren't for fairy tales? I'm sure I wouldn't.

Listen to this Dvorak symphonic poem, "The Golden Spinning Wheel".

Images of Rumplestiltskin from here and by Walter Crane; image of Sleeping Beauty by Ruth Sanderson

Now, the Dvorak piece you hopefully listened to is based off of a less well-known story. The reviewer on this site thinks the story sub par, but it sounds like a typical fairy tale, and I'm intrigued by the fact that the magical spinning wheel "spins out the awful truth" at the end. The summary from the site:

"Erben's Zlatý kolovrat tells the tale of a king who falls in love with a simple peasant girl. After he has invited her to his castle, her evil stepmother kills her, cuts off her feet and hands and removes her eyes, and substitutes her own daughter -- who is apparently the stepdaughter's spitting image -- in her place. Unwittingly, the king weds the evil daughter, but, fortunately, an old man stumbles across the body of the king's beloved. He sends his young lad up to the castle three times -- to exchange three items, including a golden spinning wheel, for the hands, feet, and eyes of the dead daughter -- and then proceeds to resurrect the king's beloved. The golden spinning wheel turns out to be the stepmother's and daughter's undoing: when the king's new bride begins to spin, the magic spinning wheel spins out the awful truth. The king seeks out his true beloved in the forest and the two live happily ever after, while the evil stepmother and daughter are eaten by wolves."
Not only is the spinning wheel a common feature in fairy tales, but spinning is part of the history of tales themselves. At night, when the women were doing their mending and spinning and other household tasks, they would tell stories to pass the time.
And symbolically, telling stories is often referred to as "spinning" a tale. The classical fates used to spin peoples' destinies-the past was the spun material, the present was what the spinner was controlling with their fingers, and the future was the thread yet to come. This controlling of destiny was often taken over by fairies in later stories.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

76 at one blow

"...all the while the scent of the sweet jelly was spreading throughout the room, where there were quantities of flies, who were attracted by it and flew to partake.

'Now then who asked you to come?' said the tailor, and drove the unbidden guests away. But the flies, not understanding his language, were not to be got rid of like that, and returned in larger numbers than before. Then the tailor, not being able to stand it any longer, took from his chimney-corner a ragged cloth, and saying, 'Now, I'll let you have it!' beat it among them unmercifully. When he ceased, and counted the slain, he found seven lying dead before him. 'This is indeed somewhat,' he said, wondering at his own gallantry; 'the whole town shall know this.' "

The Brave Little Tailor of the fairy tale quoted above (also known as "The Gallant Tailor") made himself a belt proclaiming "Seven at One Blow," and tricks those he meets into believing he killed seven men at one blow. I like this fairy tale because some tales have characters that are supposedly clever, but their actions appear lucky at best. This tailor actually uses his wits, and in funny ways. First the belt, which gives him confidence to approach a giant. When the giant squeezes water out of a rock, the tailor squeezes water out of cheese. When the giant throws a rock high in the air, the tailor throws up a bird (so high it will never again fall down to earth).

The tailor later kills two giants by dropping stones on them while they sleep from up in a high tree. The giants become angry at each other and kill each other. He then goes on to trap and kill a malicious unicorn (who knew unicorns caused trouble?) and a boar by trapping them-the unicorn's horn in a tree, the boar in a chapel.

Our house was recently infested with fruit flies. We have killed literally hundreds and they're finally almost gone. I kept thinking "seven at one blow!" as I swatted at them, although I never did get more than one at a time...does our fruit fly trap count? There's 76ish in there (it's cider vinegar and dish detergent-the vinegar attracts, the detergent kills).


Fly soup-YUM.

Images: H.J. Ford, Disney, Kay Nielsen, a bowl in my kitchen

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

French fairy tales

This spring I have the wonderful opportunity to travel to France and Germany. I'm really excited and I was thinking about trying to do French and German fairy tale-themed posts, but it's kind of impossible to have a fairy tale blog and avoid French and German fairy tales. Just about every well known fairy tale is from either Perrault or the Grimms (Beauty and the Beast is not, but is still French, as we shall see.)

Today I'm focusing on the rise of the French literary fairy tale. France is really where fairy tales became popular with the upper class- a couple Italian collections existed previously, but we have the French to thank for much of fairy tale popularity today. Previous to 1690, fairy tales were thought to be for children and peasants, and scorned by the upper class. Those who did share fairy tales were doing it all orally. Fairy tales became more popular as aristocratic French women formed salons, in which they would gather to discuss important topics to them-art, literature, love, marriage, and freedom. They wanted to set themselves apart as intellectuals and were a bit elitist. One of their goals was to improve their speech and discuss morality and manners, and to do this, they would practice telling each other fairy tales. They would be practicing the art of storytelling, speaking, and instilling their values into the stories at the same time. Telling fairy tales was the thing to do at gatherings back then-guests would take turns telling tales, speaking as if making it up on the spot, but really the tales had been planned out and rehearsed at home.

The attraction to fairy tales was linked to the spirit of the times-Louis XIV wanted his court to be the most radiant in Europe. The French wanted to translate the splendor of their country into splendid stories. The women who told the tales also added their own values-often feminist, their characters would resist male dominance, and their supernatural worlds would be governed by all-powerful female fairies, not male monarchs.

The palace of Louis IV
Fairy tales went through three stages in France. The first was the salon stage. Marie-Catherine d'Aulnoy kicked the whole thing off by including the fairy tale The Island of Happiness in a novel. Other authors (including Charles Perrault) jumped on the bandwagon and published their own collections of fairy tales. For the first time these salon fairy tales were traveling beyond the salon and becoming literary tales. Around 1688, France had its own recession that makes ours look like a walk in the park. Louis XIV continued to live his extravagant lifestyle and taxed all levels of French society, so even the aristocrats felt the sting. Because of censorship, the fairy tale was a way to critique the government subtley, as well as instill hope. Most of the famous authors from this period were aristocrats who got in trouble with the king at some point.

Louis XIV
The tales themselves were not complete inventions, nor were they pure folktales. Tellers would know the folklore of their regions of France, embellish tales in the salons, share ideas and edit with each other. Together they established a common tone for the tales, and really set a lot of standards for fairy tales as we still know to be part of the fairy tale formula. The French salon writers didn't shy away from violence-"in fact, the salon tales of the refined French ladies make the Grimms' tales look prudish." The protagonists of the tales had to suffer in order to demonstrate her nobility (much like many of the authors themselves suffered). The tales in general were very serious in tone-not escapist in the sense we often think of. "The fairy tales were meant to make readers realize how deceived they were if they compared their lives to the events in these tales."

The second stage was the Oriental Fairy Tale. The Translation of 1001 Nights (Arabian Nights) into French in 1704-17 made those tales very popular. Disillusionment with the decline of Louis XIV's court and the appeal of the exotic made the Middle East a more appealing option. Significantly for this period, women played less of a dominant role in the tales, and "the tales were no longer connected to the immediate interests of the aristocracy and haute bourgeoisie."
The final stage was the Comic and Conventional Fairy Tale. (I find this fascinating because we seem to have gone through the same stages-minus the Oriental stage. Wouldn't you say fairy tale parodies are very popular right now?)

In France, the same parodying happened. Once the fairy tale genre had become well known, authors could start playing with it- either through gentle mocking, or by taking themes and expanding on them in a more serious vein. Mlle. de Lubert and Mme. de Villeneuve did the latter. Beauty and the Beast fans, take note! This is the Mme. de Villeneuve who wrote the 1740 long version which is the origin of Beauty and the Beast as we know it today! (Influenced by former tales, as other posts discuss.)

Prior to this, fairy tales had been circulated among adults. Only later, by Mme. Leprince de Beaumont, were fairy tales rewritten exclusively as teaching moments for children. Beauty and the Beast fans should recognize her name as well-she's the one who simplified Villeneuve's tale and made it famous, in 1757. Others also simplified and moralised the tales, distributing them to children and the peasants, where the literary tales once again became integrated into oral folk lore. So even the tales which have not reached universal fame today are influential in the standards they set for the fairy tale genre-each generation molded the tales according to current ideas, handed their creation to the next generation to keep altering and evolving, and the process is still going on today.

Source: Jack Zipes, introduction to Beauties, Beasts, and Enchantment: Classic French Fairy Tales(the link is to the Hardcover version, though it is more expensive, because only it includes the Villeneuve version of batb)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Jephtha and the Maiden without Hands

"Plorate filii Israel," from Carissimi's oratorio Jephte-from around 1650. This hauntingly beautiful chorus is part of the retelling of the biblical story of Jephtha, a man who promises God whatever should first come to greet him on his way home, in return for blessings on the battlefield. To his dismay, the first thing that came to greet him was his daughter-and only child. His daughter is heartbroken at his vow, but the importance of keeping one's word was valued highly. She allowed her father to kill her, after two months of mourning.

The Jephtha story found its way into fairy tales, like the brothers Grimms' "The Maiden Without Hands." This story is of a man who promises whatever is behind an old shed in return for riches, thinking it was his apple tree. This turns out to be his daughter. When the wizard who tricked him-or, in many versions, the devil-came to reclaim the daughter, she was too pure for him to touch her. The devil tries to manipulate the father into letting his daughter become unclean-denying her water for washing, and then cutting off her hands, but each time her tears purify herself. The wizard could not claim her, so he left. The disgraced daughter wandered about, eating pears off of trees, until a king found her and married her.

The King made his wife silver hands. They lived happily for a while, but once during an absence of the King, the same wizard intefered with letters sent between the King and his mother, trying to kill the wife. However, the King's mother was too good to kill the Queen, even on supposed orders from her son, so she had the Queen escape with her son. The King vowed he would search for his wife and son until he had found them. This he did-and his wife's hands had been allowed to grow back again, since she was so good. They lived happily after that, to make "amends for all they had suffered."