Friday, June 29, 2012

Lovely blogs

I just discovered two new (to me) blogs I've added to my link list and wanted to highlight: Spinning Straw into Gold and Something to Read for the Train. Both are very well written, and recently featured very thoughtful reviews of Snow White and the Hunstman (here and here). Though I intend to, I have not yet seen either of the new Snow White movies...

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Gypsy already has a more thorough post on the new Beauty and the Beast tv show over at Once Upon a Blog, but my main reaction after seeing the trailer is...where's the Beast? Despite the pretty minor scar, the lead actor is clearly still a very attractive man, which changes the whole dynamic of any supposed Beauty and the Beast-type story.

The whole hot female cop and mysterious protector reminds me more of Gargoyles than the 80s tv show, and it seems that Gargoyles also has more connections to Beauty and the Beast than this new show bearing its name.

I have earlier discussed (here and here) the phenomenon that artistic interpretations of the Beast began, a few hundred years ago, as completely animal and ultimately unattractive, but through the years has evolved into something first more safe and tame to someone more and more good-looking, and this most recent interpretation seems to push the envelope even further. This beast could hardly be less beastly. And if a large part of the pull of a story is the Otherness of the romantic male character (read what Griswold has to say on the subject), than the more we alter the Beast and make him desirable, the less the core of the story remains.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

These days it's probably rarer to find a version of Little Red who is not independant and a fierce contender for her classic enemy, which is really more historically accurate anyway. By Madame Lolina (click the link to see a larger version)

I'm out of town for the week and then may take some time to give myself a blogging vacation, but I assure you I will return, hopefully refreshed and ready with plenty of new things to share!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Finding the First Fairy Tales

Graham Anderson's essay "Finding the First Fairy Tales" is an interesting contrast to Ruth Bottigheimer's Fairy Tales: A New History.  Bottigheimer argues that the idea that fairy tales have existed since antiquity is simply false, and that fairy tales began in Italy with Straparola and Basile and were spread primarily through literature, not orally. And I agree that Straparola really probably created the genre of the fairy tale as we know it today, and that printed books played into the spread of tales much more than is usually acknowledged, but as I pointed out in my post on the book, the history of each tale goes back further than the genre itself, and related stories, as Anderson shows, do go back all the way into antiquity.

Anderson lists several examples of ancient plots that bear similarities to traditional fairy tales, but I have to admit some of them seemed like a stretch to me. And this brings up an issue of how we classify fairy tale variants, verses stories with similarities. Each story contains multiple functions, or plot elements, but also usually contains visual elements or classic lines we associate-"all the better to eat you with" immediately brings Little Red Riding Hood to anyone's mind, and a glass slipper is enough to remind anyone of Cinderella. Yet virtually none of these functions or symbols is necessary to classify a story as a tale type-there are versions of Cinderella where she is identified by another means, yet the plot is enough so keep it a Cinderella tale. Yet the more the plot and/or symbols become changed, the harder it is to actually classify it as a version of the tale. Some similarities may be intentional, and some may not.

I think if I wanted to classify an ancient story as a fairy tale variant (or really, the fairy tale would be a variant of the ancient story), I'd have to see a transitional tale. The process from Cupid and Psyche to Animal Bridegroom tales to Beauty and the Beast is a good example of this, but I'm not so sure as Anderson is that any ancient story  where a child is disgorged from the belly of a monster is clearly a Little Red Riding Hood story, and I don't think I'd have ever made the connection between the Exodus of Moses to the Pied Piper-the differences outweigh the similarities, in my opinion. It would be incredibly strange if no fairy tale shared a motif with any other story that previously existed, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're related stories.
However, he does provide insight into the history of many tales, including Sleeping Beauty. Traditinally, the oldest version of Sleeping Beauty is thought to be Basile, and sometimes Perceforest is credited as having a sleeping girl who gets raped. Anderson mentions the story of Chloris, in which a jealous goddess kills the daughters of a woman who boasts of their beauty, but one escapes and is renamed Nightingale, and later marries. This is slightly reminiscent of the jealous fairy's curse, but not enough on its own to classify it as a Sleeping Beauty tale. However, there is another tale where the heroine is called Nightingale, in which she is raped in a building in a wood, and out of revenge she cooks the son of the king who rapes her, and then serves him the meat of his own son. This wouldn't remind most people of Sleeping Beauty, unless you're familiar with the more grisly details of Basile's version, which appears to be a combination of these two Nightingale stories-although whether or not he was familiar with them, I don't know, so the similarities may just be coincidence.

If you want to read more from Graham Anderson on this topic and don't mind spending a lot for a book, you can read his Fairytale in the Ancient World

Above image-Alexander Zick

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


I don't know about you, but I find it hard to find tales of sirens-the pathetic figure of the Little Mermaid seems to be the only remnant of supernatural water creatures anyone's aware of anymore.

In The Great Fairy Tale Tradition, Zipes includes siren stories I hadn't read before-Straparola's "Fortunio and the Siren" and Mailly's "Fortunio" are variations of basically the same plot (details below are from the Straparola)
John William Waterhouse

A couple adopts a child (Fortunio) and then has a child of their own. One day the natural son revealed to his brother that he was adopted, and Fortunio felt so grieved he left the house he grew up in to wander the world. But his adopted mother, who did not want him to leave, cursed him and prayed that if Fortunio should ever journey by sea, he would be swallowed up by sirens.

Fortunio travelled for a while and came across a wolf, an eagle, and an ant who were in disagreement about how to divide some meat among themselves, and they decided Fortunio would be a fair judge. He apportioned the meat wisely, according to what they could eat best, and the animals were grateful and rewarded him with the ability to transform himself into one of their kind at any time.

Fortunio continued his travels and happened upon a country in which the king had proclaimed that the winner of a certain tournament he was holding would win the hand of his lovely daughter in marriage, and on that day the winner had been a foul-faced and deformed man, and the thought of being married to him caused the princess much distress. That night, as the princess came to her window, Fortunio turned himself into an eagle and flew up to her, then revealed himself as a man. The princess shouted out at the presence of a man, but Fortunio changed forms as soon as anyone hurried to her rescue. Finally Fortunio was able to tell the princess of his love for her and his intention to win the tournament. He did so, and he and the princess were married.

After being happily married for some time, Fortunio decided it was time to go on a voyage, and he prepared a large ship and set out into the ocean. But next to the ship appeared a beautiful siren, singing softly. Fortunio leaned over the side of the ship and fell asleep, and the siren took him in her arms and plunged deep into the ocean with him.

Fortunio's wife and country were much dismayed at his disappearance, and his wife decided she would take their child and go in search of him, despite the dangers. She brought with her three apples-one of brass, one of silver, and one of the finest gold. When the siren saw the child playing with the bronze apple, she wanted it, but the queen told her she did not want to give away her child's plaything, so the siren promised to show the woman her husband up to his chest. The same episode was repeated with the silver apple, which brought Fortunio out of the water to his knees, and the golden apple brought her husband all the way out, and he transformed himself into an eagle and escaped, living happily with his wife and child.
This book by Surlalune's Heidi Anne Heiner is on my Amazon wish list...

I like this tale not only for its inclusion of sirens, but because it deals with adoption, a subject very close to my family, and shows a woman as the rescuer. Also, in this version, we see another instance of the apple as the object of temptation, more commonly known in the fairy tale Snow White, as well as the story of the Biblical temptation in Eden. The Mailly version has the queen tempting the siren with balls made of precious jewels, so this element doesn't always hold true for this tale. But I was just thinking about this because I've noticed that, in my work with children and people with special needs, imagining an apple is poisoned is one of the most universal games of pretend. I admit I freely use the idea to try and get kids to eat their fruit, but I've come across multiple children who bring this up (without my prompting!) when there are apples around.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Fairy Tale Food

This illustration is from the book Fairy Tale Food: Enchanting Recipes to Bring a Little Magic To Your Food, which includes a recipe for Beauty's Plucky Chicken Burgers. Not sure what chicken burgers has to do with Beauty and the Beast, but it's a nice illustration by Yelena Bryksenkova. Discovered this via (Inside a Black Apple)

If you like the idea of fairy tales as inspiration for recipes, I also recommend Fairy Tale Feasts, a collaboration between Jane Yolen, Heidi E.Y. Stemple, and Phillipe Beha

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


I've mentioned Strewwelpeter before, but I just found a humorous article highlighting some of the most gruesome stories found in it. Strewwelpeter is a German collection of cautionary tales for children. I think it's important to understand Victorian fairy tales within context-if the tales of the brothers Grimm seem outrageously inapproriate for kids or extremely didactic, they were actually something like a breath of fresh air compared to some of what was in circulation at the time.

From the article:
"The Story Of The Man That Went Out Shooting" teaches us the paramount lesson of firearm safety. Namely, that sentient rabbits will steal your guns if you're negligent...

...whereas "The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb" informs tots that A.) a vengeful tailor will lop off your appendages with hedge trimmers; and B.) your parents will shrug nonchalantly when it happens.

And finally there's "The Story of Augustus, Who Would Not Have Any Soup." This story imparts the subtle lesson, "If you don't eat, you will die immediately.""

Monday, June 4, 2012

Freudian interpretations of Beauty and the Beast

The traditional Freudian meanings associated with Beauty and the Beast, as espoused by Bruno Bettelheim, is that Beauty shows a successful transition of her oedipal attachment from her father, to her suitor-the Beast.  Jerry Griswold points out that this interpretation, while valid, is incomplete.

Implied in this interpretation of Bettelheim's, according to Griswold, "as long as Beauty has a special bond of affection with her father, she sees sex as animal-like and loathsome because of the incest taboo...she sees other men as beastly." Therefore, the Beast's transformation isn't a physical one in the Freudian view, but only in Beauty's way of thinking.

I would be incredibly disappointed if it would be impossible to live in a world where one can be happily married, and continue a special relationship with either or both of your parents. I personally don't fully embrace all of Freud's teachings, I think very few people do nowdays, but the Beaumont version of Beauty and the Beast shows an almost disturbingly stong relationship between Beauty and her father. She turns down marriage proposals so she can stay at home with him, and he nearly dies when forced to be absent from his favorite daughter.

But even in this relationship we see part of what is lacking in the traditional Freudian view of the fairy tale-for them, all the responsibility and growing is put on Beauty herself, not the men who are incredibly needy and each pretty much die when she's not around, forcing her, in Griswold's words, to "shuttle around between needy males" who only stay alive at the end when they all live together. So one wonders if anyone ever actually successfully separates their needy attachment to Beauty.

Griswold points out that one could also interpret the story as a warning to men not to force himself on a woman, but to be a gentlemen and wait patiently for her to say "yes". I'm all for that interpretation too!

Illustrations by Walter Crane
And it's not just Freudians who see Beauty as the only character in need of growth-the back cover of the latest Disney DVD release of Beauty and the Beast reads, "With the help of the castle's enchanted staff, Belle soon learns the most important lesson of all-that true beauty comes from within." Excuse me? At least in the Beaumont version, the Beast is perfectly civil to Beauty (except for threatening her father with death for picking a flower, which is all explained in the Villeneuve version no one's familiar with), but how can the promoters of the Disney version ignore the fact that the Beast needs to learn far more about love and inner beauty than Belle?