Thursday, May 31, 2012

Ballet and fairy tales-article

In my last post I shared my love for ballet combined with fairy tales. For me, the combination of beautiful dancing, costumes, music, and story is such a powerful and emotional experience. I found an online article that highlights the importance of fairy tale plots within the history of ballet. Here's an excerpt:

"Fairy‐tale ballets have drawn upon four main sources: fairy bride legends (for example, Swan Lake and Giselle), folk fairy tales (Cinderella, The Sleeping Beauty), literary fairy tales (The Nutcracker, The Red Shoes), and stories of toys, puppets, or automata that come to life (CoppĂ©lia, Petrushka). During its romantic period—from the 1830s to the 1850s—ballet was dominated by the fairy bride motif. Towards the end of the 19th century—and again in the 1940s—folk tales, ‘live toy’ stories, and literary fairy tales (particularly those of Hoffmann and Andersen) became common sources of inspiration. A more recent development, dating from the 1980s, has been an ironic, revisionist approach to familiar fairy tales, often with psychological or strongly ideological overtones."

Click here to read the full article.

Most people are familiar with the Tchaikovsky ballets, but slightly less known is Prokofiev's "Cinderella", one of my all time favorite musical versions of a fairy tale. Here is the Royal Ballet and the pas de deux between the Prince and Cinderella:

And here is the Bolshoi and the midnight scene. Listen for the the musical clock that starts around 1:45-I love using this when teaching music to children! Kindergarteners love to listen for the clock and then count the number of chimes to see if it's midnight, they get really into it!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

And the winner is...

The random number generator has chosen Rachel, whose favorite fairy tale is Jorinda and Jorindel! Thank you to all of you who participated, I really enjoyed reading your favorite fairy tales and how you got interested in learning about them! Rachel, you can send me an email at currerbell26 (at) for shipping information.

I guess I'll answer my own questions as well. If you've been reading my blog you probably already know that my favorite fairy tale is Beauty and the Beast, although I also love 12 Dancing Princesses and basically anything that's been made into a ballet featuring music by a Russian composer-Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Firebird, Swan Lake, and Nutcracker (not technically a fairy tale, but I still love it).

My lifelong obsession started back when the Disney movie came out, and all through childhood and teenagerhood I was known for loving Belle, except for a brief lull around middle school when Disney princesses were no longer cool, but in high school it became retro (I even brought my lunch to school in a plastic Beauty and the Beast lunchbox!). Around high school I started google searching the story to attempt to learn a little more about the history, and like many of you, my searching led me to Surlalune. It hadn't even occured to me at the time that people would have written entire books on the history and significance of fairy tales until a friend in college told me about Besty Hearne's Beauty and the Beast: Visions and Revisions of an Old Tale. First I hunted it down at a Chicago Public Library, and eventually got a copy of my own. Around that time I discovered the folklore section at my library (398.2 for all libraries using the Dewey decimal system!) and devoured all the books there. I started this blog a couple years ago to help me remember what I'd read, and where, and to share my love of fairy tales with others who share the same interests, because none of my friends could care less about the significance of the differences between the Villeneuve and Beaumont versions of Beauty and the Beast. I've loved finding a community of people who also love fairy tales! Thanks for visiting and reading and sharing your own knowledge!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Jeannine Hall Gailey on Allerleirauh

The beginning of "Allerleirauh Reveals Herself to the Prince," by Jeannine Hall Gailey:

"I'd rather be mistaken for an animal.
If you knew what I ran from,
how my mother cursed me with golden hair, this face.

She left me a father obsessed with her image.
I fear your eyes, just as I feared his.
This coat offers shelter."

A friend once pointed out to me that the marriage of Donkeyskin/Allerleirah is not necessarily a happy ending-the prince only loves her when he sees how beautiful she is, the same reason her father wanted to marry her. This poem recognizes that same sad irony. I think so many girls face a battle between their desire to be found beautiful, yet their desire to be loved for more than that.
Gustav Dore

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Beaumont on Arranged Marriages

I've tried to find more infomation on the lives of the women who made the story of Beauty and the Beast so famous, Madame de Villeneuve and Madame LePrince de Beaumont, but it seems very little is known of them. In The Meanings of Beauty and the Beast, Jerry Griswold extracts two main facts of Beaumont's life that played into her version of the story.

Madame LePrince de Beaumont
First, arranged marriages. The topic of whether or not marriages should be practical and economical, as they had been before, or a result of mutual affections, was a big issue of the early 18th century. Beaumont herself had been married to a "dissolute libertine" (haven't been able to find anything more specific than that) and the marriage was unhappy and annulled two years later. Some critics have interpreted the tale of Beauty and the Beast as a comfort for girls who were being given in marriage to older men who might seem to be beastly, giving them hope that their spouses were really gentle and princely. Yet why would Beaumont present this view, if her own arranged marriage had been so unhappy?

According to Griswold, when you look at the facts of the story, Beaumont isn't really affirming arranged marriages-yet neither is she promoting being carried away by romantic passions. Griswold says, "at first the story seems to present something like an arranged marriage. When Beauty comes to the Beast's castle, her situation resembles that of a maiden whose hand is being given to the seigneur by her father."
Yet I beg to differ. Precisely the opposite was true at this point in the story-Beauty's father would not hear of her going initially, but Beauty herself insisted and would not be persuaded otherwise. Other animal bridegroom tales have a more forceful father (or mother), with the maiden reluctant, but here we already see Beauty using her own free will, determined to save her father's life despite his admonitions.

From then on the story makes it more clear that this is not a typical arranged marriage-the Beast asks for Beauty's hand, giving her the power of choice. Not to mention that he makes her mistress of the castle and grants her every little desire instantly.

Yet in the end, Griswold points out that Beauty was never actually in love with the Beast. When Beauty feels convicted of betraying the Beast by staying away from the castle longer than the promised time, she muses, "it is true that I don't feel infatuated with him, but I do feel gratitude, respect, and friendship." This is kind of disappointing for those of us who like to think of it as a beautiful love story, although later Beauty tells the Beast "I thought I only wanted to be your friend, but the grief I now feel convinces me that I cannot live without you." So this is still more than an obligation to return a favor.

I really think this is forward thinking of Beaumont. When a cultural idea is shifting, we tend to go from one extreme to another, which is why the response against arranged marriages usually resulted in an unrealistic and really quite unhealthy idea of shallow love at first sight. Yet Beaumont takes a more balanced middle ground. And though at first Beauty's logic appears too unfeeling, it's not so easy a question. Though I'd like to think you can have that "spark" in a relationship as well as practical factors, my friends and I are asking each other questions much along these lines as we navigate the dating world. What is realistic to look for in a relationship? You don't want to expect too much and never be satisfied, but neither do you want to settle.

The other facet of Beaumont's life Griswold discusses is the fact that she was a governess, and therefore the tale is very didactic-over and over Beauty's work ethic and selflessness are applauded, and the negative qualities of her sisters condemned. It can come across as too preachy to the modern reader, but Griswold also makes the comparison to Jane Eyre and the Story of a Governess-like Cinderella, Jane Eyre overcomes the barrier of social class between herself and her master and ends up united with him. Beauty also rises from poverty to become a queen. This is significant because in Villeneuve's story, we learn that Beauty was really originally not only royal, but born of a fairy, yet Beaumont left this part out-so her Beauty is not being restored to her rightful status, but earns her rise in status because of her character.

*And don't forget, the giveaway ends Monday, the 28th!
Illustrations by Eleanor Vere Boyle

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Marie-Louise von Franz on Baba Yaga

More on Baba Yaga-in Marie-Louise von Franz' Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales she suggests that Baba Yaga is clearly Mother Nature. She talks about owning the day and the night in the story of Vasilisa the Beautiful, and as her hut is surrounded with skulls she must also be the Goddess of Death.

I've heard before that true fairies (not the cute, diminuitive fairies we find in current culture) can also be understood when thinking of them more as forces of nature as well. Fairies and other supernatural creatures have their own laws and codes of conduct, but they are not the same ones humans operate by, and a fairie's instinct is not necessarily to preserve human life. In my recent post on Baba Yaga, Helen Pilinovsky was pointing out the multiple and seemingly contradictory roles Baba Yaga plays-sometimes as a helper, yet sometimes as cruel. Nature itself also displays such opposite faces-a beautiful, breezy spring day can give way to terrible storms and result in great loss of life at times. We can love and enjoy nature, yet so often are at its mercy.

Friday, May 18, 2012

An early version of Beauty and the Beast

Any history of Beauty and the Beast I've ever read cites the myth Cupid and Psyche as the earliest literary version of Beauty and the Beast, which was probably itself based on earlier oral tales. Usually the history skips from there to the 1700s in France, but Jerry Griswold mentions another very early version.

The Girl Who Married a Snake is an Indian tale from The Panchatantra, printed in 500 A.D. but "known to have existed in oral form well before its appearance in print." I'm amazed by its similarities to Straparola's "The Pig King" from the 1550s-much more than to Cupid and Psyche, though The Panchatantra and Straparola were one thousand years apart. It is told more from the perspective of the parents of the animal son, not the bride's. The obedient bride is not given a stipulation against looking at her husband, and when the father eventually destroys the snake skin, he frees his son.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Why Feminists love modern versions of Beauty and the Beast

It continually amazes me how people can read the same tale completely differently-some view the traditional Beauty and the Beast as a sad remnant of a culture that expected women's only purpose was to serve the males around her. Yet others see it as an example of a strong woman who for once has the power in a romantic relationship and, through wisdom and courage, earns her own happy ending.

A. L. Bowley

In Jerry Griswold's The Meanings of Beauty and the Beast, he claims that Beauty and the Beast is the "dominant myth" of our time-the story that, for whatever reason, we tend to keep reinterpreting through our media, mulling over the different meanings of the story. He cites many examples, mostly movies, that are in some way a beauty and the beast motif, from "Phantom of the Opera" to "Shrek" to Michael Jackson's "Thriller".

Why such a strong pull towards this tale? Griswold discusses the tale as an exploration of Otherness-the Beast can mean different things to different readers. Coming across a literal talking hairy suitor isn't likely to happen, but the Beast could be a person of a different race, social status, age, etc.-anything we might have a tendancy to shy away from, or the people around us might be judgemental of. In this age where we are questioning many of the social rules that once dominated romantic relationships, this message is something many people jump on, including the gay and lesbian community. And yet the exaggerated difference between Beauty and her Beast is also an example of the appeal of heterosexuality-("hetero" meaning "other")-the mystery and appeal of the other sex.

Griswold discusses the 80s tv show version, starring Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton, and why that show, though not exactly the best script, was so immensely popular with women. He describes how Vincent, the Beast character, is the ideal husband for the modern feminist-he "makes no demands on Catherine, gives 110 percent, and is so attentive to her and her needs that he reads her thoughts" (I'm pretty sure Griswold would have cited Twilight as a similar phenomenon, if the movie had come out before his book was published.) Catherine is a successful working woman and Vincent essentially her stay at home husband-and most versions of the Beast are confined to the house because of the nature of their deformity. The woman is now the one who goes out and experiences the world, not the naive housewife whose ignorance on worldly matters causes her husband to chuckle good-naturedly and pat her on the head condescendingly.

Yet Griswold brings up an interesting theory of Freud's that claims that the more we as a society become civilized, the more we miss an essential wildness. This makes sense when looking at the multiple modern "twisted" versions of the tale where the Beast does not transform into a dapper, socially approved gentleman, but Beauty herself embraces her inner animal. Authors are challenging us to examine what we judge to be beastly, and why.

And, since it's a particular interest of mine, Griswold also mentions the fact that, among the plentiful cultural explorations of beastly men, it is extremely rare to find examples of beastly females. He cites a few examples, but in each case, the female is initially unattractive not because of looks, but social status (and thus making the stories variants of the Cinderella tale, not Beauty and the Beast). We as a society apparantly cannot even tolerate the thought of an ugly woman as the heroine.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

First ever Tales of Faerie giveaway!

I ended up getting a duplicate book for my birthday last week, so I decided I would use this as an opportunity for a giveaway! The book is The Great Fairy Tale Tradition: From Straparola and Basile to the Brothers Grimm, selected and edited by Jack Zipes. The book tracks how some of the most famous fairy tale plots have evolved over time, from the often neglected Italian authors Straparola and Basile, but going no further chronologically than the Grimms (hence, the title. There are occasionally some Perrault stories and some obscure authors in there too) with helpful introductions by Zipes and a few essays in the back for good measure. It was from this book I got the information for my recent post on the history of Rumplestiltskin.

So to enter, just leave a comment on this post saying your favorite fairy tale and why, and/or how you got interested in learning about the history of fairy tales. I'll accept entries until Memorial Day, May 28, and then I'll use a random number generator to pick a winner.

I got some other fairy tale books for my birthday, including the much anticipated The Meanings of Beauty and the Beast by Jerry Griswold!! So be on the lookout for lots of BATB-themed posts!

I'll be looking forward to reading your comments!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

So You Think You Know Little Red Riding Hood?

                                                                   A. H. Watson

When modern authors tackle the popular fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood, they generally feature a strong heroine, who may kill the wolf herself, or otherwise outsmart it. This makes us feel like we've progressed so far from the Victorian simpering victim idea of the female protagonist, but actually this empowering ending is actually only hearkening back to the original Grimm story, which includes an addendum that is usually forgotten. (By "original Grimm story," I don't mean that the Grimms collected the first version of the tale, simply that this was how the tale appeared in their collection.)

In the Grimm's tale, our heroine is originally eaten along with her grandmother, before the huntsman comes along and saves them both by cutting them out of the stomach, from which they emerge. This appears like passive women waiting helplessly for a man to come and save them, but it was actually Red's idea to fill the wolf's stomach with stones afterwards, which she then did, dis-empowering the wolf and eliminating him as a threat.

                                                             Richard Hermann Eschke

Then, a few days later, Little Red is approached by another wolf, and isn't so easily duped this time. She knows not to get distracted by him and go straight to her grandmother's. When the wolf arrives, they use the scent of cooking sausages to lure him to his death. This ending clearly has more positive messages about women's abilities to think of clever solutions to problems. Why has this ending been left out of the "traditional" versions of this tale?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Clever Maids

I was initally hesitant to read Valerie Paradiz' Clever Maids, simply because I've already read multiple books on the Grimms and doubted it would contain anything new or different. But this book focuses on the women in Jacob and Wilhelm Grimms' lives, and the women who were really the mostly uncredited contributors to the collection that is the most sold book in the West, other than the Bible.

This book has significant things to say, I think, about redeeming the history of fairy tales in light of the feminist arguments that say this collection is outdated and not applicable to the modern reader. It's important to look back and see how far we've come, as a warning and an encouragement. But the gender equality we are so proud of today-that a woman can get the education and career she desires-was simply not even an issue in a time when so many people were fighting for their survival, and any education at all wasn't a given for men, not to mention women. Given that the tales were gleaned from women tellers and not from men trying to put women in their place, the tales actually hold elements of empowering or celebrating women and their work which we tend to be blind to, looking only from the lense of our culture.

Paradiz gives insight into the background of the Grimm family and their acquaintances, and also connects elements of their lives with the tales they immortalized. Whereas other books on the famous collection focus on the stories and refer to the lives of those who collected and contributed only as  secondary importance, this book focuses on the real lives of those who were involved in with the Grimms. What follows is a highly readable book that makes interesting paralells between the facts of the authors' biographies and the elements of the stories they immortalized.

H.J. Ford

The instance of contributing tales themselves Paradiz compares to the story of the Maiden Without Hands. The story features a daughter who is obedient to her father's rash promise to the devil, to the point of allowing him to chop off her hands-in the story, the father's will is absolute, no matter how cruel. What on the surface makes feminists irate is at least an ironic commentary on not only society but the status of the girls who contributed the stories, and the story form may have been the only way for women who were disadvantaged to cry for help. For example, many Animal Bridegroom stories show fathers who encourage and even force their daughters into marriage with hideous creatures. Why would women circulate such stories among themselves? Many have speculated that such an extreme plot would reveal the cruelty of arranged marriages in such a way that even a chauvenistic society could comprehend.

"The Maiden Without Hands" may well have been the same kind of story-exposing the very real plight of women through shocking means. The practice of denying women rights was evident even in the fact that the Grimms did not credit their faithful sources by name-instead Wilhelm and Jacob took all credit to themselves and the nameless "Folk" to which they attributed their stories. In Paradiz' powerful words: "If the tales contributed by the women collaborators were noted only by the geographical region from where they came, then the deep underlying message of male literary culture was that women as individuals did not matter. Indeed, it was as if the ladies of the Hassenpflug and Wild households had no hands. Although they could read and write, they were nonetheless robbed of holding the symbolic quill of authorship."

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Info on new Beauty and the Beast movies

This year we're being inundated with Snow White movies, but in the works are currently four versions of Beauty and the Beast. As a BATB lover this makes me nervous and excited at the same time. Only time will tell if any of them do justice to the tale or serve to add to tired cliches, but Misty at The Book Rat gives you the low down on all of them.

To check out more of The Book Rat's Fairy Tale Fortnight, follow the link...

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Evolution of Rumplestiltskin

In a recent post I discussed the significance of names as a topic of interest in the tale Rumplestiltskin, but Jack Zipes sees the main connecting point in Rumplestiltskin tales to be its connection to spinning. Not all versions even have the famous name guessing scene, but all reveal common attitudes towards spinning. A good spinner could gain a reputation that would result in a better marriage, so spinning was very important to many women; however, the tales also reveal that the spinners may long to end their monotonous task if possible. Many of the stories "were probably originally told by women in spinning rooms [and] reveal how the spinners would actually like not to spin anymore, but use their spinning to entangle a man and to weave the threads and narrative strands of their own lives."

Basile's story "The Seven Pieces of Bacon Rind" from 1634 feature a girl who is lazy and a glutton. Her mother gave her seven pieces of bacon to make into soup, but the hungry girl ate all the bacon, and put old shoe leather in the soup to cover up what she had done. Her mother was furious when she found out and was beating her when a merchant walked by and demanded to know what would cause a mother to beat her daughter. The mother claimed that her daughter was so industrious, she had filled seven spindles, despite the fact that it was harmful to her health. The merchant offered to take the daughter home as his wife, where he would be happy to allow her to spin so enthusiastically.

The merchant bought twenty rolls of flax for his wife, expecting twenty rolls of spun flax from his wife when he returned from the fair in twenty days. His wife did no work whatsoever, but ate the merchant's food. Finally she realized she had nothing to show for the time her husband had been gone, so she squirted water onto passersby until a group of fairies were so amused they did her work for her. When her husband returned, she feigned illness because of her hard work, and her husband declared he would rather have a healthy wife than a sick and industrious one and told her not to do anything to exhaust herself.

In this version, though the main character is lazy, she can be at least credited with being clever. This may not have resonated with the Victorian values of hard work and industry, but modern audiences are probably more sympathetic towards someone who can figure out a more efficient way to get the job done by thinking outside of the box. Also, the husband is very kind compared to the future cruel King who threatens his new bride with death.

L'Heritier's "Ricdin-Ricdon" of 1705 is bogged down by descriptions of how beautiful and perfect the heroine, Rosanie, is, and how everyone else at the palace is jealous of her. Rosanie is not lazy and a glutton like her Italian predecessor, but simply a slow spinner with an abusive mother. Later it turns out there was a whole switched-at-birth thing and Rosanie is actually royalty although she was raised by simple folk, much like Villeneuve's backstory for Beauty in her 1740 version of Beauty and the Beast. But here Rosanie is granted a magic wand that will spin for her, and if after three months she can remember the name which Ricdin-Ricdon told her, she would be free and out of his power. She forgets, and is all distressed until the prince reveals that he overheard a demon disguised as an old man telling him how he traps women who don't know that he is Ricdin-Ricdon. She safely returns the wand and has a "perfect union" with the prince and "extreme happiness."

The Grimms have multiple versions of the spinning tale in their collection. Most people are familiar with "Rumplestiltskin," which lays the blame on the father who claims his daughter can spin gold, and the King who demands gold or death from the maiden.
"The Three Spinners" is closer to the earlier French and Italian stories-a mother tells the queen her lazy daughter can't stop spinning, and she is expected to turn out more spun yarn than she can possibly manage. Three odd women offer to do her work for her, as long as they are invited to her wedding (she will win the Prince for her work). As they arrive, the groom is horrified by the girl's "ghastly looking friends," and asks how they came to have such a flat foot, drooping lip, and immense thumb; the three women reply it was from treading, licking, and twisting thread. The Prince declares his bride shall never spin again.

"The Lazy Spinner" departs a little more from the Rumplestiltskin story, as it shows a wife trying to trick her husband into getting out of spinning, first by scaring him (becoming a voice in the woods who calls, "He who chops wood for reels shall die in strife. She who winds yarn shall be ruined all her life") and then by substituting the skein of wool with a clump of tow, and allowing her husband to think it was his fault because he had done something wrong, so he doesn't mention it again.

I think "The Three Spinners" is my favorite, which is yours?

Illustrations by Charles Folkard, Warwick Goble, and John B. Gruelle. Information from Jack Zipes' The Great Fairy Tale Tradition