Thursday, December 29, 2011

Roald Dahl's The Three Little Pigs

"If I can't blow it down," Wolf said,
I'll have to blow it up instead.
I'll come back in the dead of night
And blow it up with dynamite!"
Pig cried, "You brute! I might have known!"
Then, picking up the telephone,
He dialed as quickly as he could
The number of red Riding Hood.

"Hello," she said. "Who's speaking? Who?
Oh, hello, Piggy, how d'you do?"
Pig cried, "I need your help, Miss Hood!
Oh help me, please! D'you think you could?"
"I'll try of course," Miss Hood replied.
"What's on your mind...?" "A Wolf!" Pig cried.
"I know you've dealt with wolves before,
And now I've got one at my door!"

"My darling Pig," she said, "my sweet,
That's something really up my street.
I've just begun to wash my hair.
But when it's dry, I'll be right there."

-This is just an exerpt from Roald Dahl's "The Three Little Pigs"-the full poem can be read at AllPoetry. Such a natural thing to combine The Three Little Pigs with Little Red Riding Hood, when you think about it. As you might expect with Dahl, the retelling is humorous as well as a bit morbid.

Image by Leonard Leslie Brooke

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Greetings from a Fairy to a Child

Lady, dear, if Fairies may
For a moment lay aside
Cunning tricks and elfish play,
Tis at happy Christmas-tide.

We have heard the children say--
Gentle children, whom we love--
Long ago on Christmas Day,
Came a message from above.

Still, as Christmas-tide comes round,
They remember it again--
Echo still the joyful sound
"Peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Yet the hearts must childlike be
Where such heavenly guests abide;
Unto children, in their glee,
All the year is Christmas-tide!

Thus, forgetting tricks and play
For a moment, Lady dear,
We would wish you, if we may,
Merry Christmas, glad New Year

Lewis Carroll

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Dumas' Nutcracker

Image from here

Last year I did a post on the original E.T.A. Hoffman story that inspired the ballet The Nutcracker. This year I read the Dumas version, which I knew was based on the Hoffman, but excpected to see an evolution from the Hoffman to the Dumas to the ballet. I was surprised by how similar Dumas' version was to Hoffman's, and even wondered why he bothered to rewrite it in the first place if he wasn't going to change anything significant. This site says it was because Hoffman's tale was considered to morbid for kids so Dumas made it more family friendly. Wikipedia calls the Dumas story a "somewhat watered-down revision." Surlalune featured a book that includes both versions plus an introduction by Jack Zipes, which I would love to read, but unfortunately isn't available to me at the moment.

Westside Ballet School

I don't see Dumas' version as being any different in child-friendliness or morbidness, because the plot is the same, other than he did pare down some of the descriptions and extra details. The only interesting addition I found in Dumas was an explanation of how Drosselmeier lost his eye on his travels, attempting to find the nut Krakatuk, because Drosselmeier almost always has an eye patch in the ballet versions.

Pennsylvania Ballet

Here is the description of Marie finding the Nutcracker, first from Hoffman:

"Objection, considerable objection, might, perhaps, have been taken to him on the score of his figure, for his body was rather too tall and stout for his legs, which were short and slight; moreover, his head was a good deal too large. But much of this was atoned for by the elegance of his costume, which showed him to be a person of taste and cultivation. He had on a very pretty violet hussar's jacket, knobs and braid all over, pantaloons of the same, and the loveliest little boots ever seen even on a hussar officer-fitting his little legs just as if they had been painted on them. It was funny, certainly, that dressed in this style as he was he had a little, rather absurd, short cloak on his shoulders, which looked almost as if it were made of wood, and on his head a cap like a miner's. But Marie remembered that Godpapa Drosselmeier often appeared in a terribly ugly morning jacket, and with a frightful-looking cap on his head, and yet was a very very darling godpapa."

Now from Dumas:

"His body was too long and big for the miserable little thin legs which supported it, and his head was so enormous that it was all out of proportion to the rest. He wore a braided frock-coat of violet-coloured velvet, all frogged and covered with buttons, and trousers of the same material, as well as shiny boots. But there were two things which seemed strange compared with the rest of his dress-one was an ugly narrow cloak made of wood which hung down rather like a pigtail from the nape of his neck to the middle of his back, and the other was a wretched little cap, such as some mountaineers wear, upon his head. But Marie, when she saw these two oddities which seemed so out of keeping with the rest of his dress, remembered that her godfather himself wore on top of his yellow frock-coat a collar of no better appearance than the wooden cloak belonging to the little man, and that the doctor often covered his own bald head with an ugly cap quite unlike all the other ugly caps in the world."

This is a good example of the difference between the versions. Minor detail and wording differences, but anything significant has been carried through both. In this instance Dumas' writing isn't even that much more simplified. So I don't really see why other sources are so insistent upon the fact that the ballet plot is taken from the Dumas-in terms of plot his and Hoffman's stories are nearly identical, and the ballet plot has definitely taken on its own characteristics which differ slightly from production to production but are, overall, universally the same.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Legends of St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas was a real man born in the third century, in what was then Greek but now part of Turkey. He was known for being exceedingly generous, giving all he had to the poor and expecting nothing in return, and is considered a saint of protecting children as well as sailors.

Over time, of course, legends have grown out of this man and I'm sure there's some truth to some of the stories about him but much has been exaggerated. You may have heard the story that is supposedly the origin of stockings-there was a poor man with three daughters and he had no money for their dowries. Because of this he would be forced to sell them into slavery, but on three occasions, a bag of gold was thrown in through the window, so his daughters were saved from slavery. One or more of these bags of gold landed in a stocking drying at the fireplace, and that's where the tradition came from (also, the balls of gold could be the origin of putting oranges in Christmas stocking, a tradition which my father had growing up but which I think has been largely lost, at least in America).

There are other lesser known stories about St. Nicholas-such as magically whisking an enslaved boy back to his parents on St. Nicholas' Day (December 6). Another story I heard in France earlier this year-we were staying very near a Cathedral dedicated to St. Nicholas, with an American who's been living in France, and she was shocked by the violence of this story, but it's really not too different from a lot of fairy tales. Anyway, three students (or children, in the French version) were murdered by an innkeeper, who hid their remains in a pickling tub. Nicholas stayed the night at the inn and dreamed the crime, and summoned the innkeeper. Nicholas prayed and brought the children back to life. I don't know what happened to the innkeeper-neither the story I was told nor this site has anything on it.

Images by Elisabeth Jvanosky and also from the link just above

Friday, December 16, 2011


Nightwish's new album, Imaginaerum, won't officially be released in the US till January, but the music video for "Storytime" can be viewsed on youtube, and the lyrics for the whole album on their website.
I've always liked that songwriter Tuomas Holopainen references both fairy tales and Disney in his songs-(contrary to what is often thought, like by the makers of the show "Once Upon a Time", Disney and fairy tales are not one and the same, but Holopainen references both often). The above song references the power of tales and stories-something I think we can all relate to here.

The album, using a creepy carnival as inpiration, seems to be an adult searching for the wonder and awe of childhood, but at the same time very mindful of that primal fear that children experience as well. And while we adults tend to think we're too intelligent to get scared of things that go bump in the night, often we're just operating under the illusion of control-life is so uncertain and precarious. Not that we should be paranoid all the time, but I'm glad the album isn't one-sided and either idealizes childhood or views life as hopeless.

The album contains many other references to fairy tales and classic fantasy characters-Alice, mermaids, etc., and also some less obvious ones-one song (I Want my Tears Back) contains the line "the voice of Mary Costa." It takes a more hardcore Disney fan to recognize this as the woman who voiced Disney's Sleeping Beauty.

I've mentioned Nightwish before, and again, their music isn't for everyone-but if dark creepy carnival-inspired symphonic metal sounds like a good idea to you, you'll probably really like this album.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Disney for the involved parent

Had a conversation with some friends today, and one of them has a professor who has a rule that his little girl is not allowed to watch Disney movies without him. He discovered that his daughter had seen Disney's Cinderella at a friend's house, and sat down to watch it with his daughter, "explaining" everything to her along the way.

For example, in the scene where the Stepmother locks Cinderella in the tower, the professor stopped the tape and said, "what are some ways Cinderella could get herself out of the tower?" and his daughter came up with several ideas (including tying bedsheets together and lowering herself out the window).

From this article by Libby Copeland:
"I suppose I could confiscate our daughter’s Disney-fied Cinderella book, but that feels like a step too far. She’s a pretty major figure, and our daughter will come across her sooner or later. I would rather take charge of this story than let someone else tell it. And when our daughter is much older, able to grasp historical context and possessed of that child's fascination with darkness, I hope she’ll read the historical versions of the tale, including the one where Cinderella chops off her stepmother’s head, and another in which Cinderella’s stepsisters chop their feet to fit them in that glass slipper. They’re all delightfully sinister—just not for a toddler’s ears."

So though the older Disney movies have become, in some ways, obsolete in today's culture, there are still ways to interact with your child and learn from them without condoning everything in them-because let's face it, there's no way you can sheild your child from Disney, even if you were to attempt such an extreme. And really, I think parents and mentors should treat more media this way, because what movie is perfect on its own, or couldn't lend itself to good discussion and bonding with your child?

Monday, December 12, 2011

December Liturgy of the Dead

Commenter Heidi shared on my recent post on storytelling at Christmastime the link to the story of the December Liturgy of the Dead. I believe this tale can also be found in Thomas Keightley's Fairy Mythology, but I had no idea it was still in circulation in other parts of the world. So in keeping with my own advice about balancing the warm and fuzzy holiday feelings with some chilling tales from our ancestors, here's the story for you all to enjoy:

Gladys Owen

"The story takes place in Oslo, where there lived a woman, a bit over her prime age. It was Christmas Eve and she had decided to go to church Christmas morning. During the night she woke up, her watch had stopped, so she did not know what time it was. She walked over to the window and looked toward the church. There was light in all the windows. She dressed herself, took the hymn book and went to church. It was empty in the streets and she saw noone. When she arrived the church, she sat down where she used to sit. She looked around and thought the people there looked so pale and strange. There was no one she knew, but there were many she thought she had seen before, she just did not remember quite where. When the priest arrived, he was someone she did not know, though she thought she had seen him before. He was a tall and pale man.

The priest preached beautifully, but it was quiet, and not coughing in the churchroom as she was accustomed to. It was so quiet that she almost got a little scared by it. When they began to sing, a woman, who sat next to her, bent towards her and whispered into her ear: Throw the coat loosely on your shoulders and leave this place. If you stay, this will be your end, because this is time for the dead. The wife was afraid, because when she heard her voice and looked at her, she realized that it was neighbor woman who had died long ago. She was really scared. She put on her coat, like the woman had said and left. As she walked, it was as if they grabbed her. Her legs trembled so that she thought she would fall. When she came out on the stairs, she felt how they hold her back in her coat, so she let go of the coat and she ran home as fast as she could. Back home, she collapsed of the anxiety.

Next morning, when people came to church, they found her coat on the stairs, torn apart into a thousand pieces."

Tell that one at your next Christmas party :)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Disney's BATB stained glass

"Finding a way to show how the Beast fell under the curse provoked a memorable disagreement. Howard [Ashman] envisioned the prologue as a fully animated sequence in which the audience would see a seven-year-old prince rudely refuse to give shelter to an old woman during a storm. Revealing herself to be a beautiful enchantress, the woman would chase the boy through the castle hurling bolts of magic that would turn the servants into objects. Eventually her spell would change the prince into the Beast boy, who would press his face against one of the castle windows screaming, "Come back! Come back!" "

Fortunately, Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, the directors, hated this idea. Why would you ever punish a seven year old with a curse that could only be broken by falling in love? The above suggestion would shift the blame for the curse away from the prince's selfishness and to the over-zealous enchantress. This curse would be completely random, as opposed to the Villeneuve version, which has a spiteful evil fairy cursing an innocent prince, or the way the Disney version turned out-a hopelessly selfish prince who needed a huge wake up call.

I like the stained glass opening-it sets up the tale in a unique but visually beautiful way.

The inscription on the bottom of the stained glass above, "vincit qui se vincit," translates as "He conquers who conquers himself."

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Storytelling at Christmastime

"There'll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago"-so goes the lyrics to a part of "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year," a popular Christmas song being played on the radio and in businesses now. I had never really noticed these words before and thought of them as odd. I don't usually associate Christmas with telling ghost stories-in fact, Christmas stories are notorious fpr being especially cheesy.

But as we've seen with fairy tales, often dark and disturbing tales have, over time, been turned into cutesy, "child appropriate" stories which are hardly anything like their ancestors. A lot of things tend to go this direction-that which is truly terrifying loses its power and becomes tamed; vampires, pirates, why not Christmas traditions as well? After all, one of the most popular Christmas stories of all times, Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," features four ghosts-but we now know the happy resolution so well the ghosts don't tend to phase us much.

John Leech

Maybe this year we should tell a few scary stories to balance out the feel good holiday stories we're bound to hear as well (not that feel good holiday stories don't have their place...)