Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Cinderella ballet

I am back from vacation-I had a wonderful time in Washington D.C., despite the weather being too cold for the cherry blossoms that we were supposed to see!

My trip did involve some fairy tale-related things-most exciting for me was being able to read the Villeneuve version of Beauty and the Beast, in French, at the Library of Congress! (And yes, I realize how nerdy I am for saying that! Not that that's any surprise to anyone reading this blog...) I had come across discrepancies in English translations that I've blogged about before and wanted to find out what Villeneuve really said. More on that later-I was actually surprised at what I found-but do any of you readers know French well enough to translate parts of it for me? Let me know in the comments if you're willing to help out! I know enough to find which part of the story I was in and scan certain pages, but going from here my current plan is to use an online translator which is obviously not the most reliable.

But I also got to see the Washington Ballet do Cinderella!

One thing that really surprised me in the ballet version is that they took out the stepmother and replaced her with a weak father character. I didn't like it-it really did nothing to improve gender stereotypes. The father is usually absent from the plot, implying he is weak or uncaring, in most versions of Cinderella, yet he is never given blame for allowing his second wife or stepdaughters to terrorize his own flesh and blood. Yet here you feel even less sympathy for either Cinderella or her father, because with two against two there's no reason they should allow themselves to be bullied around for so long.

After very briefly skimming through Surlalune's Cinderella Tales from Around the World (brief skimming is all I could do at the moment from a book that is almost 800 pages of text!) I did find that in some versions of the story, the father is present and more evil, but I believe it's very rare to have that particular cast of characters (no stepmother, weak but good father, stepsisters, and heroine) in any version but the ballet.

But other than that, I LOVED it. I love Prokofiev's music and classical ballet. The dancers who played the stepsisters (who are male) on the night I saw it were very funny-it would be a good ballet for someone who doesn't have much experience in classical dance, because it's light and humorous and the plot is pretty familiar, with the additions of some extra fairies to highlight more of the soloists.
Also, our seats were in the very front but on the end of the row, so we were very close to the dancers. You don't realize from far away how often the dancers accidentally bump into each other when changing formations, and you could hear the children counting along to the music. We could also see the dancers in the wings-prepping for their entrances, stretching, and joking around with each other. I'm always fascinated by the world behind the scenes of ballet, so that was really fun.

Monday, March 25, 2013

In this fairy land of light

Nils Blommer
"In this fairy land of light
No mortal ere has been
And the dreadful grandeur of this sight
By them hath not been seen.

T'would strike them shuddering to the earth
Like th eflash from a thunder cloud
It would quench their light and joyous mirth
And fit them for the shroud.

The rising of our palaces
Like visions of the deep
And the glory of their structure
No mortal voice can speak.

The music of our songs
And our mighty trumpets' swell
And the sounding of our silver harps
No mortal tongue can tell."
Brian Froud

These words were penned by a 13-year-old Charlotte Bronte in 1829. Makes me want to give up trying to write anything ever again...or at least, it appears in a story she wrote, "The Search After Happiness," she may have been quoting from a well-known poem. Anyway, I love that the fairy world is painted as awesome and even dangerous, rather than cute and saccharine.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Lotte Reiniger's Hansel and Gretel

Enjoy this beautiful silhouette of Hansel and Gretel by Lotte Reiniger. Interesting interpretation, to remove the mother from being the villain, the children are foolish instead of resourceful and clever. Like Little Red Riding Hood became a warning against straying from the path...

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

My Take on Oz, the Great and Powerful

I went to see the new Oz movie and was surprised by how much I liked it. I was expecting another forced epic journey extremely loosely based on literature using special effects to try and wow the audience. I was impressed by the levels of meaning and symbolism throughout the film, and throughout the rest of the day was discussing what certain things in the story meant-how the characters in Oz represented characters from Kansas and how Oz had an opportunity to redeem those relationships; what the film had to say about goodness vs. greatness, naivety and deception, and where true power lies. It was also fun to see another setup of the events we're familiar with in The Wizard of Oz, an alternative to Wicked.

So I was surprised to see the title of this article, linked on Surlalune, Why ‘Oz the Great and Powerful’ Is A Major Step Back For Witches and Women. The major points in the article are: 1. The Wizard of Oz has multiple sequels, so Hollywood should be exploring those rather than making more prequels 2. Baum was a feminist, and all of his heroines were females, so it's unfortunate that Hollywood should go back to making a male the center of attention.

As for the first point, the sequels are so unknown I can definitely see that it would be difficult to drum up excitement for a movie of one of those books. I loved the book Wizard of Oz and have read a couple of the other books in my childhood but that didn't stop me from enjoying both Oz and Wicked. One of the reasons I really love new interpretations of fairy tales is when they take well-known elements from fairy tales and come up with an explanation for why or how that came to be. Oz prequels do the same sort of thing-Wicked was exploring the "why"s of how the Wicked Witch of the West came to be the way she is, what made her so obsessed with her sister's shoes, what it would have been like for her to grow up with green skin. And this movie was exploring a different set of "why"s-how did Oz get to Oz anyway? How did he end up deceiving everyone behind a smokescreen? This movie presents a plausible (mostly plausible, anyway) explanation for that aspect of the story, as well as going into the relationships between the sister witches and why the Munchkins were so happy when Dorothy eventually landed on the Wicked Witch of the East when she arrives years later.

As for the second point, it was very interesting to read the history of Baum and his feminism. I think it's really cool that he intentionally made his main characters females and never had them get involved in romantic relationships.

But can a woman expect men to get excited about stories with female leads if we are offended by the mere fact that a man is the lead in another story? Granted it makes a difference when viewing it in context, but it seems like we judge characters seeing only through the lense of gender. If I as a modern woman have to be told why I should be offended before I get upset about characters in a movie I just saw, is it really that offensive?

Elisabeth Rappe points out that the witches of Oz come across powerless in their reactions to the Wizard-lauding him as the one who will save them. The only one who truly does this is Theodora, and she as a character is naive. Not only that, but though she is a witch from the beginning, we never see her using her power for good. She passively wants peace and only uses her powers to get revenge in a series of impulsive decisions. I thought she was an interesting character with challenging implications.

Evanora is intentionally trying to deceive Oz, so she plays into his vanity and greed in order to control him. Glinda sees through him and wants to use him and the prophecy to give her people hope for defeating the witches. I think she overall is a very strong character-she blends concern for her people with wisdom, and she is powerful-I loved the part where Evanora says, "what's the matter? Run out of bubbles?" and Glinda responds "bubbles are just for show" and they proceed to have an electric flying wand fight that reminds me of the Harry Potter wand fights.

Plus, the Little China Girl is a plucky heroine. She stubbornly convinces Oz to take her on his journey, saying, "I'm not as delicate as I look!" as she kicks him in the shin. She ends up being instrumental in freeing Glinda from Evanora later.

So I'm not saying I totally disagree with the article. It would be great to have more strong female heroines-if only Hollywood could realize that strong heroines aren't necessarily just sword-weilding. But I feel like I connect with characters regardless of gender and I personally enjoyed the movie. I must seem like I'm coming across as anti-feminist, especially with my recent post on Disney's Snow White, which I swear I'm not. Sometimes it seems like the academic world has become a little too hyper-feminist. I just wanted to put out my two cents, that as a female I did not feel offended by this movie until I read up on the history of its source. Even then, each reinterpretation of a fairy tale or classic fantasy literature should be seen as it stands alone, and as it stands in the history of that story. I'm sure the filmmakers never intentionally changed from female to male heroes, but unconsciously our culture/Hollywood has produced a new trend in this story that in turn reveals something about our culture.
By the way, for the record I didn't like that Oz got Glinda in the end-I thought she was too good for him.

Readers, have you seen the movie? What did you think of it? And of the article? I will be out of town for a bit and though I hope to schedule an extra post or two I won't be following up on comments for a while, but please feel free to discuss

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Ethna the Bride: and Irish faerie tale

This story is also found in Surlalune's Sleeping Beauties: Sleeping Beauty and Snow White Tales From Around the World. Although I'm not sure it technically qualifies as a Sleeping Beauty tale, I think it's a fascinating tale of faerie lore.

Kay Nielsen

"The fairies, as we know, are greatly attracted by the beauty of mortal women, and Finvarra the king employs his numerous sprites to find out and carry off when possible the prettiest girls and brides in the country. These are spirited away by enchantment to his fairy palace at Knockma in Tuam, where they remain under a fairy spell, forgetting all about the earthly life and soothed to passive enjoyment, as in a sweet dream, by the soft low melody of the fairy music, which has the power to lull the hearer into a trance of ecstasy."

There was a great lord who had a beautiful wife named Ethna, the loveliest bride in the land, who held all sorts of festivals in her honor. One evening while Ethna was dancing she suddenly let go of the hand of her partner and fell down in a faint.

She was carried to her room. In the morning she woke up and said she had had the most beautiful dream, where she was in a palace she longed to go to again. As evening came, Ethna fell into a deep trance. Though her nurse kept watch over her, in the morning she looked over and saw that the bride had disappeared. No one could find any trace of her.

The young lord went to question Finvarra about the whereabouts of his bride. He had no suspicions that Finvarra had taken her, but he was friends with the Fairy King. As he stopped to rest his horse, he heard voices in the air around him talking about how Finvarra was glad of his new beautiful bride, who could only see her husband again if he were to dig a hole through the hill to the center of the earth.

The lord was determined to dig a hole through the hill. He gathered a great crowd of workmen to dig through the hill all day. They made much progress, only to find the hole filled in the next day by Finvarra's power. The same thing happened for three days, and all their work was undone by the fairies.

The young lord heard a voice near him whisper, "sprinkle the earth you have dug up with salt, and your work will be safe." With this knowledge, the lord and his men were able to dig through the hole until they could hear the fairy music from below.
Sir Joseph Noel Paton
Voices in the air told the workers that the fairy kingdom would crumble if the men were to reach it with their spades, and the only way to save it was for Finvarra to give up his bride. Finvarra was willing to give up Ethna in order to save his kingdom. That night Ethna was delivered back to her husband. She was on her bed, lying in a trance as before, and no one could wake her for days on end. Everyone feared she had eaten of the fairy food and was under the fairies' enchantment.

The young lord was very sad, but once again overheard voices in the air by the fairy hill, saying Ethna's spirit was with the fairies though her body was with her husband. She would stay that way until he unloosed the girdle from her waist that was fastened with an enchanted pin, burn the girdle with fire, and throw the ashes before the door, and bury the pin in the earth.

The young lord hurried home to break the spell, and Ethna returned smiling to him, as if the year she had spent in Fairyland were nothing but a dream.

"After this Finvarra made no further efforts to carry her off; but the deep cut in the hill remains to this day, and is called 'The Fairy's Glen.' So no one can doubt the truth of the story here narrated."

Friday, March 15, 2013

Gold-tree and Silver-tree: and Irish Snow White

Some Irish fairy tales for this weekend, to coincide with St. Patrick's Day!

Once upon a time there was a king, who lived with his wife, Silver-tree, and daughter, Gold-tree. Silver-tree went to a glen where there was a trout in a well. She asked the trout, "an not I the most beautiful queen in the world?"

"Oh indeed you are not."
"Who then?"
"Why, Gold-tree, your daughter."

The Queen fell ill. The King asked what he could do to cure her, and the Queen said the only thing that could heal her was the heart and liver of her daughter, silver-tree. It happened that a prince of another kingdom had asked for Gold-tree's hand in marriage, so the King sent her off to be married, and had his lads cook the heart and liver of a goat for his wife, which she ate, believing them to be her daughter's.

A year later Silver-tree went back to the glen, and asked the trout the same question as before. He revealed to her that Gold-tree was still living in another kingdom.

The Queen demanded that she go and be allowed to see  her daughter. She herself steered the helm of the ship that took them to Gold-tree's kingdom. Gold-tree did not want to see her mother, for she knew she wanted to kill her. So she had herself locked into a room. When Silver-tree begged to see her, Gold-tree said that she was locked in and could not get out.

Silver-tree said, "Will you not put out your little finger through the keyhole, so that your own mother may give a kiss to it?"

Gold-tree did, and Silver-tree put a poisoned stab in it, and she fell down dead.

The prince was grieved when he found his wife dead, but unwilling to bury her because she was still so beautiful, he kept her in a room of his house, and he alone had the key to the room.

Over time he remarried, and one day he forgot to take with him the key to the room, and his second wife found Gold-tree, the most beautiful woman she ever saw. She tried to wake her, and then noticed the poisoned stab and pulled it out. Gold-tree rose alive, as beautiful as she was before.

That night the second wife was eager to tell her husband what she had discovered. The Prince was overjoyed. The second wife said, "Since she is the first one you had it is better for you to stick to her, and I will go away."

The prince insisted that she stay, and both be his wives.

The next year, Silver-tree again went to the trout in the glen and found out Gold-tree was still alive. She had the ship made ready to go to Gold-tree's kingdom. Gold-tree was afraid when she saw the ship, but the second wife told her not to be afraid, for they would meet her together.

Silver-tree offered Gold-tree a drink. The second wife told Silver-tree it was a custom in their country that whoever offered a drink must first take a sip of it themselves. As Silver-tree was taking a sip, the second wife pushed the rest of it into her mouth, and Silver-tree fell down dead. They buried her corpse, and the prince and his two wives lived happily ever after.


I like this version of Snow White, especially the fact that the father and heroine are not as stupid as in the Grimm's. Although I hate the polygamy aspect and don't believe there's ever a situation where that would actually work out well, in a way it's refreshing to read about two women who should be rivals who forge a friendship. How ironic that in fairy tales, mothers and daugthers can never get along without trying to kill each other, but two wives of the same husband can.

The full tale is found in Surlalune's Sleeping Beauties book-I've summarized it here.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Brewster Rockit

Fairy tales in the comics-today's Brewster Rockit: Space Guy

Mermaid fashion

After the latest word-heavy posts I thought we all might enjoy some simple eye candy...found this mermaid fashion shoot via Drifter & the Gypsy, and the title of the original post is from Andersen's Little Mermaid-"But a mermaid has no tears, and therefore she suffers so much more."

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Jack Zipes on Disney's Snow White

This is also taken from Jack Zipes' essay, "Breaking the Disney Spell," addressed here. And before I begin, I personally think one of the best honest looks at how Disney's Snow White affected perceptions of fairy tales is Christie's post on Spinning Straw Into Gold, The Domestication of Dwarfs.

After Disney almost faced bankruptcy in 1928 because a several of his best animators were hired to work for another studio, he became disillusioned with the cutthroat competition of the film industry and vowed to maintain complete control over all his productions. This is something Disney is often accused of, and not to excuse him, but it does give insight into why he was so unwilling to take advice from others.
Fortunately for him, by the end of that year he had found success with a new character, Mickey Mouse. His cartoon shorts in the early 30s, such as The Three Little Pigs, involved fairy tale characters that were comforting to people in the Depression, as the pigs were the hardworking American people and the wolf was the Depression itself.

 Disney became known for inventing new ways to improve animation. Continuing in that tradition, he became the first animator to make a full-length, hand-drawn animated film, Snow White. Even Jack Zipes credits it with being the first full-length animated fairy tale film, but that honor goes to Lotte Reiniger. Hence the hand-drawn distinction.

Still, Disney knew he was making history. Zipes says, "Disney had to be consulted and give his approval for each stage of development. After all, Snow White was his story that he had taken from the Grimm Brothers and changed completely to suit his tastes and beliefs."

Zipes highlights the main changes Disney made to the story. Here is my take on each one-

1. Snow White is an orphan-to be fair, the present but uncaring father in many fairy tales is a problem for anyone who wants to make a fairy tale into a full-length novel or movie. You have to either explain away why the father doesn't interfere or just kill him off. Killing him off is easier since he's not a featured character in the fairy tale anyway.
2. The Prince appears at the beginning of the movie, where he and Snow White fall in love. Zipes keeps harping on the fact that the Prince enforces gender stereotypes and the fact that he shows up at the beginning and rescues her at the end means that Snow White is incomplete without a male. Firstly, any fairy tale featuring a male protagonist usually has him end up with a wife at the end so I don't think either one is sexist, just an expression of the human desire to have the intimacy of marriage. Secondly, I think Disney's Prince, though utterly devoid of personality, is MUCH preferable to the Grimms-who has no idea who Snow White is, only sees a hot girl in a coffin, says he must have her, and takes her home with him, where the apple falls out while the coffin is being jostled on the road. I would much rather have love at first sight that for Snow White to be literally a sex object!
3. The Queen is not only jealous of Snow White's beauty, but of the fact that her beauty has attracted a suitor-I think this is a reasonable interpretation and the main reason people are jealous of others with beauty.

4. Anthropomorphous animals-I don't have too strong an opinion about this, just in the context of Snow White. In one movie it wouldn't have mattered but it's become a pattern where animals, toys, even household objects become anthropomorphous. It just serves to become another stereotype, and enforces the idea that fairy tales are for young children and not serious matter for adults as well, which is unfortunate.
5. The Dwarfs are hardworking, rich miners, which take on human characteristics. Again, see Christie's post for an intelligent opinion about the dwarfs.
6. The Queen comes one time instead of three. -While the pattern of threes is inherent to folklore, it does make Snow White seem really stupid to fall for the same trick three times. I don't mind that she only comes once.
7. Snow White is awakened by a kiss-not the jostling of a coffin as in the Grimms. Again, though that has become a misinformed stereotype, I find it a better alternative to the Grimms.

Jack Zipes hates gender stereotypes, and finds it ironic that one area where Disney and Grimms are similar is that Snow White earns her keep in the dwarf's house by doing housework. I would get very upset if, today, a man expected a woman to "stay in the kitchen." But housework is not a degrading thing to do-it is necessary and good. In my notes next to this paragraph, I wrote, "are they preaching a message or reflecting reality?" For most of human history, women have been in charge of taking care of house and home. Zipes condemns Disney for his "domestication of women," but can we assume he was actively trying to keep women from doing other work? I don't know-maybe there's evidence that he was mysoginist. But I don't think we can expect a man in the 1930s to be on the forefront of women's rights.

To put it another way: I enjoy seeing male characters today that take on the role of primary caretakers, but I never take it to mean that the maker of the movie/tv show is pushing an agenda to have all males stay at home, just presenting it as a valid option. So why are we so offended at a portrayal of a woman doing what most women actually did at the time?

I always come back to the fact that-whereas suppression of women was a real problem in the past, we can be grateful we live in a time where there is much more freedom for each gender to break beyond stereotypes. We don't have to resort to the opposite extreme and see all stereotypes as evil. I personally am not bothered by female characters who do housework. I currently earn my own living as well as taking care of my home, and it just doesn't occur to me to get offended.

Zipes' main other concern is that the Disney tale is presented to cleanly and perfectly packaged-"geared toward non-reflective portrayal and thinking, for it is adorable, easy, and comforting in its simplicity." But taking it in context-the American people were in the midst of the Depression. They at least had an excuse for resorting to escapism in their entertainment. But the problem is this is the same pattern Disney continued with his other fairy tale movies, through a changing American scene. Also, he was gearing it towards children, and the one-dimensional, simplistic aspect of the stories is true of fairy tales in general, not just Disney. Plus, Snow White really does get downright creepy and disturbing at times, and Snow White has to go through difficult times before she gets that happy ending. I guess it boils down to what we expect out of family movies-an hour or two of laughs and entertainment? Something to do together as a family? Or a deep and challenging message? Since Disney was pioneering the concept he didn't have a lot to live up to in order to stay at the top of his game. I think it's natural that the medium of films would grow from people initially just exploring this new technology, to eventually being able to use it to tell powerful stories that influence and challenge society.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Jack Zipes-Breaking the Disney Spell

I have to admit, I have a rather defensive attitude about Disney. I have very happy memories of watching the classic films during my childhood as well as family trips to Disneyland, and Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" is what sparked my interest in researching the history of the fairy tale more fully, which ultimately led to this blog (I would also point to Robin McKinley's "Beauty" as my other major inspiration, but I'm honestly not sure if I would have ever read it had it not been for my love of the movie). Not only that, but I'm not sure that all the arguments I read against Disney are that good-it seems people love to attack him simply for the sake of attacking him.

So, I will attempt to be as unbiased as possible and I welcome your opinions and insights in the comments as well.

Bruno Heroux

I did appreciate very much that Zipes examined Disney's early career in context-first he described the history of fairy tales and the major changes the stories underwent as they went from being primarily orally told, to literary stories. These changes included: becoming more elite, in the sense that now the stories were only accessible to those who could read and afford books; making tales more definitive and enduring, as opposed to oral stories which change slightly with every teller, retelling, and audience; the tales were now geared towards children, whereas before they had been meant mainly for adults; the tales reinforced ideas of patriarchy; the tales were no longer a communal activity but became more private; now authors had power to adapt the tales to their particular preference and publish that version as the "definitive"; and now the stories had illustrations to go along with them and help define and shape the reader's ideas of the stories.

The next major development in the lives of fairy tales was film. Other filmmakers had used fairy tales as inspiration, such as George Melies (featured in the movie Hugo) and Lotte Reiniger (I've featured her The Adventures of Prince Achmed before, such beautiful artwork). But none of them focused on fairy tales as much as Walt Disney, and his movies (and following his death, his company's movies) have become the definitive fairy tales of our culture.

Just as literary, published tales gave the stories a more definitive form, film versions make a story even more definitive. Now nothing is left up to the imagination, but each character and scene is illustrated for us. If you asked people across the world what color Cinderella's ball gown is, I bet the vast majority would tell you it was blue, which is a feature of Disney's film but never (or at least very rarely) in folklore. In the words of Walter Benjamin, the phenomenon of films that can be reproduced to mass audiences leads to a "shattering of tradition." Or perhaps more accurately, it supplants the former with a new, more widely known tradition.

As animation was in its infancy, filmmakers and directors wanted their films to reflect their own creativity and give their unique flavor to each story. Zipes said the images on the screen were meant to "celebrate the ingenuity, inventiveness, and genius of the animator." The credits of Disney's early movies show his name filling the screen, and for a long time he didn't even credit the artists and technicians who worked on the film (I'd be curious to learn what other filmmakers of the time did? Was the industry so new there was no expectation of recognizing each of the many workers, or did Disney alone refuse to give credit where due?).

A complaint about early films is a complaint we often hear (and I've made myself) about current movies-the story suffers as the director goes more for shocking and aweing us with special effects.  Early animators wanted to impress audiences with new levels of illusions. Zipes:  "The animators sought to impress audiences with their abilities to use pictures in such a way that they would forget the earlier fairy tales and remember the images that they, the new artists, were creating for them." What filmmaker wouldn't want to make the definitive version of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White? Genious for marketing, but not for enhancing the long, rich tradition of fairy tales. I've had instances where I pointed out a version of a non-Disney fairy tale to a child and they got confused and said, "But that's not Sleeping Beauty/Cinderella/Beauty/etc!"

Zipes analyzes Disney's 1922 "Puss in Boots" (can be viewed in this post). The plot is hardly even related to Perrault's story of a clever cat who uses his wits to trick a king and an ogre. A cat and a man together trick a king into getting the princess/lady cat they desire. Zipes reads the human protagonist as representing Disney himself, the young clever hero who wants to break into the industry.

I personally don't see anything wrong with making a fairy tale current and infusing it with your personal story, although I do generally want the plots to be more related. Fairy tales are always evolving and can be interpreted many ways, and I think the spirit of the story is the same-the underdog defeating the Powers That Be-although I admit I have little interest in Puss in Boots and would be more picky about other tales. But Zipes says Disney "robs the literary tale of its voice and changes its form and meaning...Disney returns the fairy tale to the majority of people."

Zipes himself says that Perrault's Puss represented his own class, so couldn't you say that by Disney using the tale to represent himself and the common people, he actually stayed true to its voice and meaning? Again, not an expert on Puss in Boots, so those more familiar with the tale's history and Perrault's intentions, please pipe in in the comments. But can we really accuse Disney of distorting tradition when Perrault did the same thing with his own literary tales-taking oral tales and elements of oral tales and creating stories that suited himself and his culture?

Zipes gives these as the main characteristics of Disney's contribution to fairy tales as they became his films: 1. Democracy-American attitude towards debunking monarchy and giving power to the people 2. Technology-not only in the making of the films, but Puss uses a machine to defeat a bull and an automoblile to escape the king 3. Modernity-references to specific people and items of the twentieth century

Zipes condemns Disney not for the message of empowering the people, but because Disney's heroes only help themselves, not the community at large. He uses deception to defeat the King, just like films themselves are, in a way, deceptive-multiple images are made to look like movement.

My question is, how is this different from any other fairy tale protagonist? Often characters in folklore use trickery and deceit (though those versions and tales are more suppressed as we've tried to make fairy tales morality stories for children). Though many characters are rewarded for being "good" I can't think of any that actively sought to make the world a better place. Fairy tales are almost always a personal journey-they are not epic battles between good and evil that currently attract audiences.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Crow-Cloak: A Swedish Cinderella

Peter Newell

" 'Did you ever hear tell of Crow-Cloak? She was really a woman, though people used to say she was an awful fool.'

All the people of the farm go to church, but Crow-cloak must stay home and is very sad.

A mountain-troll comes to comfort her, dresses her in a white dress, making her very lovely, and sends her to church, where all look at her in amazement. Her horse is outside. She jumps up, saying: 'White before me! Black behind me! Nobody shall see whither I go.' Crow-cloak is sitting in her wonted place when people return to the farm, talking about the beautiful lady.

The next Sunday, lest Crow-cloak should follow, they pour a jug of salt into the ashes, and bid her pick it up. The troll assists and sends her to church in a silver dress and shoes.

On the third Sunday, a bag of peas is thrown into the ashes. The troll sends Crow-cloak to church in a golden dress and shoes. In her hurry to leave, Crow-cloak does not see a trough of tar placed in the church doorway and loses a shoe. Everyone marvels at its small size.

The prince announces he will marry whomsoever the shoe fits. A woman at the farm wants her daughter to be the queen. She chops her daughter's heel and cuts her toe. The shoe is squeezed on, but birds betray the girl on the way to church.

'What meants that singing in the wood?' asks the prince.

'I suppose the birds are warbling.'

The prince is suspicious, and returns to the farm, but finds nobody, the woman having thrust Crow-cloak beneath a water-butt in the courtyard. The prince, supposing his bride spoke the truth, returns to the church, but more loudly still from every bush is heard: 'Chop heel, cut toe. In the courtyard is the girl whom the shoe fits.'

Thither the prince returns, seeks and finds Crow-cloak, and marries her. Neither the woman nor her daughter gets any profit for their pains!"
This tale was originally found in Marian Roalfe Cox's collection of Cinderella tales, but I am reading it from Surlalune's Cinderella Tales from Around the World. I don't travel much for work, but this week I happened to be sent to Nashville. As I was planning for my trip it occured to me that Heidi Anne Heiner of Surlalune happens to live in Nashville, so I emailed her on the offchance she'd be able to/want to meet up with me.

And I'm so glad I did! Heidi was sweet enough not only to meet up with me (despite her very busy schedule), but gifted me some books! In addition to her Cinderella collection I also got the Sleeping Beauties, and another book that isn't from her collection I'll have to write up when I have more time to look at it. It was such a pleasure to meet with someone whose blog, books, and website I have admired for so long. When I first started to do basic internet research on Beauty and the Beast, years ago, I discovered that all internet searches seemed to lead to Surlalune, and it was the best resource. I use it ALL the time for this blog (Peter Newell illustration of Cinderella? Got that from Surlalune's Cinderella Illustrations page).

So Heidi, it was an honor, I hope I wasn't too fangirly! The books are such wonderful resources, I highly recommend them to anyone interested in the history of fairy tales and how they spread around the world!

*Also-this tale variant provides fascinating references to color which fit perfectly with the idea of viewing fairy tales as alchemical stories...