Friday, February 25, 2011

Nancy Willard and Barry Moser's BATB

It's not my intention to discuss every children's version of "Beauty and the Beast" on this blog, simply because there are simply too many-but every once in a while one will jump out at me.
Nancy Willard has paired text with Barry Moser's almost eerie and somber wood engraved pictures in this book. It is geared towards a slightly older audience than a typical picture book but isn't quite a chapter book either. Willard sets the story in turn of the century New York. The historical setting makes the whole story more plausible-though it still contains magical elements, it's more grounded in reality. She follows the original fairy tale plot closely but adds enough details of her own to make it unique, and the characters more human than the typical fairy tale cliches (when Beauty's sisters insult her, though she is still gracious, she secretly keeps a gold pen of Mona's she had once borrowed and forgotten to return). The writing is delightfully descriptive, and sometimes just a little bit creepy-(the shadows on the walls of the Beast's attic don't reflect the objects there, but shapes of men and women).
An excerpt, as Beauty is travelling to the Beast's house: "The air grew warm. New leaves misted the maples and shag-bark hickories. In this part of the forest the snow was gone, and now the bees hummed, and the creamy plumes of the chestnuts gave off a soapy smell. They passed through a clearing, rich with wild strawberries so juicy that the horse's hooves seemed to be dripping blood.
Ahead of her, cypresses swayed like dark flames. The white horse quickened its pace through the forest. Beauty felt her own heart quicken. The fragrant chill of spruces surrounded her, then the woods opened into another clearing. At the end of the road loomed a tall, dark house that both terrified and enchanted her. The horse trotted up to the front steps and stopped as if to say, 'This is as far as I go. You must find your own way from here.'...Life had never seemed sweeter now than at this moment when she was about to lose it, but what use was regret now?"

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Little Red on the Big Screen

When I watched Year of the Fish, this was one of the previews:

Seems that the full movie isn't on Youtube or Netflix, but it's on itunes-you can buy it for $4.99 or rent for $2.99.
Has anyone else seen this? It looks intriguing, and not totally unlike the big Amanda Seyfried movie coming out-(surlalune has more up to date info on this and other fairy tale movies)

While searching for the Christina Ricci movie, I did come across this little treasure-how had I not heard of this before? I'm a huge Monty Python fan!

Monday, February 21, 2011

For the Birds

A couple posts ago I mentioned that Cinderella is a tale that modern people don't necessarily connect to, although it's been so well-loved for generations it's still possibly the most popular. By contrast, Hans Christian Andersen's "The Nightingale" (full version on Surlalune; summary by me) has a lot of themes in it that are very current, yet it's not especially well known.

Birds themselves are very trendy these days. The first two images are Miu Miu Spring/Summer 2010; the third is a necklace from Claires-similar necklaces can be found all over.
It's interesting the reactions I get to this necklace-people in an older generation tend to seem almost distressed when they realize that the bird is outside of the cage. And it's true, the bird would be a lot safer in the cage (I remember all those distressing times in my childhood when our hamsters would escape-one sadly drowned in the sump pump, it was so traumatic), although it's supposed to be a symbol of freedom. As with everything, there are dangers to either extreme-conformity or freedom, although in this culture the younger generation is all about independence and freedom.

The Nightingale has some other interesting aspects-
Appearance vs. reality-the royal people are surprised to learn that the famed, talented nightingale is just a plain, gray little bird. They are more excited by the bejeweled mechanical bird.
Authentic vs. fake-the people are taken by fads; first the real nightingale and then the mechanical one, but they love the mechanical one because it's predictable. It's proven that people tend to respond positively to music simply because they've heard it before and can recognize it, but Anderson's comment is a very interesting commentary on human nature in general.
Tension between technology and the natural world-this aspect of the fairy tale obviously could not be found in the more ancient tales we know and love but is something we all feel. We all use and like at least some aspects of technology, but the minute it stops working I get all upset that this culture is such that we can't work or communicate without it. Most of us probably would like to get more in touch with nature but find it difficult in our hectic, appliance-driven lifestyles.

This song may or may not have been inspired by the tale, but the words of the chorus certainly apply:
"A nightingale in a golden cage
That's me locked inside reality's maze
Come, someone make my heavy heart light
Come undone bring me back to life

A nightingale in a golden cage
That's me locked inside reality's maze
Come, someone make my heavy heart light
It all starts with a lullaby"

"The Escapist," by Nightwish

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Chapter 2


One year ago today, on impulse I sat down and created a fairy tale blog. My idea was to start with something I knew well-my favorite tale-and do a history of Beauty and the Beast. It didn't take me long to realize that to sum up the whole history of BATB was a more monumental task than I originally thought. I got frustrated and deleted the blog.

I went to my room but I just felt awful and like a quitter. So about an hour later I was back on the computer. I started with very small, simple posts, and felt much better about myself. I wasn't sure how long the blog would last but at least I had tried.

One year later, I'm still enjoying blogging about fairy tales, and shocked and flattered every time I receive post comments or have a new follower. And, to be honest, a little freaked out-I'm a very private person. The anonymity of the internet is the only reason I allowed my thoughts to be available to the public. So thank you for reading and being gracious in your comments-now let's toast to another year of learning about fairy tales together, shall we?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Year of the Fish

Cinderella is a tale that can be harder to understand in today's culture. A girl who does drudge work all day is seen as passive compared to the American Dream, and her salvation comes through basically winning a beauty pageant.

So when I saw Surlalune's post on the movie Year of the Fish, I was intrigued. The movie sets the story in modern Chinatown. Ye Xian came to America to work for her mother's cousin in what she thought was a beauty shop, but is a massage parlor for adult customers. When Ye Xian is not willing to do sexual favors for the customers, she is ridiculed and forced to do the dirty work, scrubbing toilets, cooking, shopping, etc. All the essential elements of the tale, but made very believable, even in a modern setting.

I saw the movie and was not disappointed. I was even more glad to see that other elements of the ancient Chinese tale were incorporated in-including the whole saga with the fish and its bones-only in this movie they were given to her by Auntie Yaga-Asian relative of Baba Yaga? The romance was a bit too love-at-first-sight, but still really sweet. And Cinderella is usually the most attacked for being passive, but this Ye Xian shows true courage. An excellent movie for the mature viewer (there is swearing and sexual content).

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Pink

It would be way too easy to find a romantic fairy tale to commemorate Valentine's Day, so here's one that's related in color scheme as well-the Grimms' "The Pink." A beautiful tale with elements similar to Snow White, but with a bittersweet ending (you can reference this tale when people accuse fairy tales of being too simplistically perfect).

There was a Queen who longed for children. She prayed every morning, and one day an angel answered her prayers-she would have a son with the power of wishing. The Queen took her little boy every day to bathe him in a fountain. One day she fell asleep with the boy in her lap, and the old cook took the child and sprinkled a chicken's blood on the Queen's lap. The cook ran to the King and claimed the Queen had allowed the boy to be carried off by a wild animal. The King, furious, ordered his wife to be shut up in a tower for seven years with no food or water, and wither away as punishment. But kind angels, in the form of doves, brought her food and water each day.

The cook realized he could be in danger if he stayed, and took the boy away and ordered him to wish for a castle. To give him companionship, he told the boy to wish for a beautiful maiden for himself, and as soon as he did, there stood a maiden "more beautiful than any painter could paint." The children played together and the cook go hunting. But the cook, realizing the boy might wish to see his parents, ordered the maiden to kill the Prince and bring him his heart and tongue.

The next day, though, the boy was still alive. When the cook demanded why she hadn't killed him, the maiden responded that she didn't see why the boy, who had done nothing wrong, should be killed. The cook threatened to kill her if she didn't obey. The next morning the maiden gave the cook the heart and tongue of a hind, and told the Prince to hide under the bed covers. As the cook entered, the Prince revealed himself and wished that the cook, as punishment, would turn into a black poodle with a gold chain around his neck, forced to eat live coals until the flames poured out of his mouth.

The Prince stayed at the castle a while, but began to wonder about his mother. He wanted to go back to see if she was still alive. The maiden did not wish to leave him, but was also afraid to go to a strange new country. So the Prince wished that she should become a beautiful pink flower.
The Prince presented himself to his father as a huntsman, even though there had never been any game in the whole district. The Prince's wishing provided the hunting party with plenty of game, and this delighted the King, who ordered his son to sit next to him. The son missed his mother and wished someone would mention her-immediately the Lord High Marshal expressed concern about the Queen in the tower. The King did not want to hear about her who he believed had allowed his son to die.

The Prince stood and revealed to his father who he was, that his mother was innocent, and the treachery of the cook. He showed the court the black poodle, and then the cook in his real form-and he showed them the beautiful flower, and then the maiden, more beautiful than any painting.
The King ordered the Queen to be brought down from the tower. But when she reached the table, she would no longer eat or drink. She said, "The merciful God, who has preserved my life so long, will soon release me now." She died three days later, and the two white doves who had brought her food hovered over her grave.
The King punished the cook, ordering him to be torn into four quarters, but he was filled with grief and died shortly after.
"His son married the beautiful maiden he had brought home with him as a flower, and, for all I know, they may be living still."

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Stevie Smith-The Frog Prince

"The Frog Prince"

I am a frog
I live under a spell
I live at the bottom
of a green well.

And here I must wait
Until a maiden places me
On her royal pillow
And kisses me
In her father's palace.

The story is familiar
Everyone knows it well

But do other enchanted people feel as nervous
As I do? The stories do not tell.

Ask if they would be happier
When the changes come
As already they are fairly happy
in a frog's doom?

I have been a frog now
For a hundred years
And in this time
I have not shed many tears

I am happy, I like the life
Can swim for many a mile
(When I have hopped to the river)
And am forever agile.

And the quietness
Yes, I like to be quiet
I am habituated
To a quiet life,
But always when I think these thoughts
As I sit in my well
Another though comes to me and says
It is part of the spell

To be happy
To work up contentment
To make much of being a frog
To fear disenchantment.

Says, it will be heavenly
To be set free
Cries, heavenly, the girl who disenchants
And the royal time, heavenly
And I think it will be.

Come then, royal girl and royal times,
Come quickly
I can be happy until you come
But I cannot be heavenly,
Only disenchanted people can be heavenly.

Image by P J Lynch

Vintage Cinderella book

Vintage children's book available on etsy here. By Evelyn Andreas, pictures by Ruth Ives. 1954 Wonder book.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Fairies and the future of vampires

Pressed fairies-Brian Froud

Every time I learn about fairy lore-as in actual fairy beliefs and not literary stories with fairy characters-I'm surprised by the chasm between the two. In popular culture fairies are synonymous with not only innocence but the saccharine-even a nine year old I know recently commented along these lines (everybody only says nice things in fairy tales, she said, which "isn't what real life is like." I was quick to point out that "real" fairy tales aren't like that at all).

Yet the more authentic world of supernatural folk wasn't like this at all. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever come across lore of a truly benevolent fairy-some house elves will do work for payment, but not out of the kindness of their hearts; they are quick to revenge if they feel offended and love pranks, from mild to dangerous to deadly. Fairies could be harbingers of death, or have bloodlust themselves. Female fairies and sirens would seduce men and lure them to their deaths. You can read back in my archives with the "fairies" tag or probably do a simple google search to quickly find out more specifics. I've enjoyed the books "Strange and Secret Peoples" by Carole G. Silver, "The Vanishing People" by Katherine Briggs and "Fairy Mythology" by Thomas Keightley.

We know when and some of why the shift happened from fairies being dangerous and dark to childish and simple-starting with the French salon fairy tales and through the Victorian era, influenced by literary stories and the idea that stories should be moralistic. But I still wonder what that transition time was like. Maybe the fairies in tales didn't represent fairies of thought. Example: vampires.

I know I keep going back to this, and in theory I really don't care that much about Twilight either way, although I am a purist so I prefer Bram Stoker or reading books about Vlad the Impaler. But to understand the huge transition fairies went through in popular understanding, it's like imagining that in the future people will have no ideas that vampires are supposed to suck your blood and have no control over that bloodlust-"vampire" will come to only mean a lovesick and attractive person, unrealistic and cheesy and only belonging in teen and children's fiction. If it seems fantastic that the original definition of vampires should be lost, that's the same thing that happened to fairies of yore. And who can deny that vampires have grown in popularity with the general population lately? Their very trendiness proves that we don't find them frightening but exciting, which after a while-and probably already has-turned cliche. But just as we imagine that these supposedly dark and dangerous vampires could be desperately in love with us because their struggle to conquer their dark longings reveals the depth of their love, and therefore the inherent worth of the human in question- maybe the good will of fairies in tales didn't represent the goodness of the fairies themselves, but the extreme nature of the goodness and beauty of the humans they helped. I'm not saying I think that's the way it was, but just one possible way of looking at early fairy tales, or a possible reason for the shift in fairy beliefs.

Okay, for some reason Blogger DOES NOT want me to post this youtube video, but here's a link to a funny Twilight parody that highlights how out of place Dracula feels in the Twilight culture:

Friday, February 4, 2011


Once upon a time there was an old man named Vania who wished to adopt a little girl. A neighbor told him of an orphaned girl who was not wanted by the family who lived in her parents' old home. Vania had intended to adopt a boy, since he did not know much about girls. But he remembered her parents had been pleasant people and thought, "If Dara's like them, I'd never be sad again."

Vania went to Dara's cabin and found her in the corner with a cat on her knees. The new mother of the house told him that she found caring for Dara to be a nuisance. Vania asked Dara if she would like to live with him and told her about how he was a hunter, and how in the winter he looked for the stag that no one ever sees;not for food, but to see his silver hoof.
Dara was curious about the stag but Vania would only tell her more if she came with him. So, taking her cat, Moura, the new family headed to Vania's house. They were happy together. Vania would hunt, Dara cleaned and cooked, and Moura chased mice. Now Vania wasn't lonely, Dara wasn't scared, and Moura wasn't skinny.
Vania finally told Dara about the White Stag. His right forefoot had a silver hoof. When he paws the ground with it, jewels fly out. Dara asked question after question about the stag until Vania was tired of answering them.
Ruth Sanderson

That winter Vania planned to spend the winter in a small hunting cabin where there were deer. Dara begged to go with him. Vania thought it would be too dangerous, but she kept asking until he gave in. Dara said goodbye to Moura, but Moura came after them, as the villagers whispered about how crazy Vania was to take a child into the forest for the winter. But the little family was glad to be all together.
Vania caught lots of deer and they were happy. One day Dara saw a quick shape dart outside the window-a stag with five-pointed antlers. She ran to the door but saw nothing. "I must have been dreaming," she said.
The next night Dara heard the clattering of hooves-over the rooftop, and down to the door. Dara tiptoed to the door and opened it. There was a stag with five-pointed antlers and a solid silver right hoof. She was so excited she couldn't speak, but clapped her hands. The stag laughed and ran off.
The next night Vania should have returned home from the village, but still he had not come, and Dara was lonely. She noticed that Moura was missing, and went outside to search for her. On a hill of snow she saw Moura, and before the cat stood Silvershod. Their heads were nodding and they appeared to be talking. Moura went off, and Silvershod followed. Dara watched them as they went out of sight.

Then Silvershod appeared again, leapt on top of the hut, and began striking with his hoof-sapphires and rubies and emeralds and diamonds fell from the roof, heaps and heaps of them. Just then Vania returned, amazed.
Suddenly Moura leapt up beside him with a strange cry, and in an instant both animals were gone. Vania pulled off his hat and filled it with jewels. Dara suggested they leave the rest in the snow, to see them sparkle in the sun. The two went into the house, and it began to snow.

The next morning Vania went out to dig the jewels from under the snow-but no matter how much he dug, the jewels had disappeared. However, those he had collected the night before were enough to make himself and Dara comfortable for the rest of their lives. Vania and Dara were happy together, but they missed Moura, who never returned. Neither she nor Silvershod were ever seen again.

Adrienne Segur

"Silvershod" is a Russian tale found in The Fairy Tale Book. It seemed an appropriate wintry tale for this time of year, especially given the snowstorm that just went through most of the country.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Song of the Nightingale

A while back I posted the opera version of Stravinsky's "The Nightingale", (including a summary of the Hans Christian Andersen story) which was the only version I could find at the time. Now on youtube is the orchestral version, "Song of the Nightingale," my favorite:

Around 5:35 listen for the flute playing the nightingale.

This half starts with the oboe playing the mechanical bird.