Thursday, February 27, 2014

Hans Christian Andersen and Appreciating Nature

It's obvious from the tales of Hans Christian Andersen that he valued nature and was suspicious of too much dependency on technology. His story The Nightingale is a perfect example: it tells of a Chinese emperor and his subjects who got bored with a nightingale that sang beautiful melodies and instead became obsessed with a mechanical nightingale; the people loved the predictability and repetition of the mechanical bird, and the real bird flew off. However, the mechanical bird eventually broke down, and when the emperor was sick, only the real nightingale could restore his spirits.

As a writer in the Romantic era, this embodiment of ideals was typical. According to N. Ingwersen, in the Romantic era people looked down on the logical thinking of the Age of Reason which preceded it. "The Romanticist prefers nature to culture--the city is deemed a place of corruption, whereas nature is the place for those who are in touch with their natural instincts. Of course, folklore appeals to the Romantic mind, for through those age-old tales the voice of the people, unspoiled by civilization, expressed the wisdom of the past."

Kay Nielsen

Andersen's distrust of technology may have also had something to do with the fact that he had a very difficult childhood, which Wikipedia says is partly due to the Industrial Revolution. Wikipedia also quotes fairy tale friend Heidi Anne Heiner of Surlalune: "The tale's theme of "real" vs. "mechanical/artificial" has become even more pertinent since 1844 as the Industrial Revolution has led to more and more artificial intelligences, machines, and other technologies. The tale gains more poignance in the age of recorded music."
Vilhelm Pedersen

Also dealing with the issues of real/artificial is Andersen's fairy tale The Swineherd, in which a princess is condemned for preferring mechanical toys and a dirty swineherd to a beautiful nightingale and rose given to her by a prince (who is, incidentally, disguised as the swineherd). An older translation ends with the prince saying, "I am come to despise thee...thou could'st not prize the rose and the nightingale." The wording was so similar I almost wondered if Marilyn Singer's Beauty and the Beast poem, "Longing for Beauty," was referencing this tale: "A moist muzzle can welcome a rose/A hairy ear can prize a nightingale, singing." (It's been a while since I've mentioned this book, but even though I'm not super into poetry or have any reason to own children's books, Marilyn Singer's Mirror, Mirror book of reversible poems is SO GOOD!!!)

Although traditional Proud Princess tales like this usually end with the princess being humbled yet falling in love with the prince, Andersen gives the story a more tragic ending (not unusal for him though) in which the prince leaves and she is left alone, driving home the point even more that those who cannot appreciate nature=bad and unforgiveable.

In this case Andersen comes across as one of those authors who almost eerily predicted the future, since technology and machines have come to play even more prominent roles in our daily lives. I always think these tales are a good reminder to unplug more often, but obviously as one who is posting all of this on a blog and half of my sources were online, I believe technology is a very useful tool if we use it well.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Fairy Tales Sell

Lately I've been noticing this huge paradox in our culture when it comes to attitudes towards fairy tales. As I've previously discussed, referring to something as a "fairy tale" can often be a very negative thing, insinuating that it is naive, childish, or anything that implies life will be perfect. The ironic thing is that 95% of fairy tale content usually involves shocking amounts of abuse, violence, and sexuality, and that includes even the most sanitized versions by Grimm or yes, even Disney.

But at the same time, fairy tales are incredibly popular and used all the time in advertising. For example, the Geico commercials I just posted refer to fairy tales (disclaimer: no, Pinocchio is not technically a fairy tale, but closely related/often mistaken as such). Partly because fairy tales are common ground-general knowledge that pretty much everyone is familiar with; and I'm sure the fact that they're not copyrighted has something to do with it. But it's more than that too. Remember this fairy tale commercial playlist? For decades companies have used fairy tale motifs to sell their products, and companies don't want to be associated with childish and immature stories-they want people to connect with positive images related to their products.

It's not just commercials, either. One of my guilty pleasures is to online shop at sites like Modcloth, where I regularly see clothes and accessories given a fairy tale-inspired name, even if the piece really has nothing to do with a particular fairy tale.

Happily Ever After party dress
Flair-y Tale boot
The clock strikes midnight gloves
Trail as Old as Time Top
Play fair-y dress

You get the idea.

Another thing I find interesting has to do with the new movie "Frozen". No, I haven't seen it yet, but from what I've heard the plot has virtually nothing to do with its original inspiration, Andersen's "Snow Queen". Sure, a snowy setting and glass shards-from what I gather only vague references. Yet they still credit Andersen's story as their source, when they could easily have marketed it as an original idea. So why even bother to say it's a fairy tale, especially a more obscure one? Did they think more people would be interested in another Disney fairy tale interpretation than a new hit feature with an original script?

When you keep your eye out for them, you find fairy tale references everywhere. I even just found out about this coffee shop in Tacoma, Washington called Bluebeard coffee. I can't find any reference to the story or why they would have named it after a fairy tale character, especially one of such ill's possible this is one of the instances where Bluebeard was confused with either Redbeard or Blackbeard the pirates, but I would hope a little more research went into the name of their store than that.

If I kept looking I could find dozens more products that reference fairy tales for no apparent reason, and then of course there's the whole line of products that ARE directly linked to fairy tales. It's no secret that fairy tales have been the source of many recent movies and t.v. shows as well. Clearly people are drawn to them and companies count on that to make their products more appealing. So my question is, how does that fit in with the very negative light many people also view fairy tales in, revealed by their vocabulary if not a conscious opinion? Do you think that with so many fairy tales being brought into focus in mainstream media and not just a side genre, that people will start to have more respect in general for fairy tales?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

GEICO Fairy tale commercials

I just saw the latest of Geico's "Did you know" series of commercials, this one featuring Pinocchio. I had mentioned the Jack and the Beanstalk one earlier, which wasn't on youtube at the time, so here it is in case you missed it:

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Four years

As I watched my first dose of Winter Olympics, I started reminiscing about all that has changed in my life since the last Winter Olympics. I had just graduated from college that December, was still living with my parents, was only working part time and therefore had a lot more time on my hands, hadn't even met my husband yet...and I realized that that was also the month I started this blog! Today is the four-year anniversary of Tales of Faerie.

I had no idea what I was doing at the time, even now I look back at old posts and they seem immature. But one has to start somewhere, and I'm so glad I did! I have gotten incredible opportunities to connect with amazing people, to discuss topics I'm passionate about, and to learn from my wonderful readers.

So, thank you!! To all of you who share this interest in and love of fairy tales, I think it's amazing that we can create a community here on the internet. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The origins of the Red Riding Hood/Cap

You may be aware that the iconic Red Riding Hood was not usually associated with the tale until Charles Perrault's version. In fact, I had previously written that there were NO instances of a red hood before Perrault, as I had read, but Once Upon a Blog's fascinating post on the latest research into the history of the tale found one instance that did include a red hood (an 11th century poem in which a little girl is wearing a red baptismal robe and escapes a wolves' den by befriending the cubs.) But fast forward to other French folktales where a girl outwits a wolf, none of which had distinctive head coverings. Then Perrault's Little Red wore not a hood, but a French cap called a chaperon. Some historical background:
"Perrault used the word chaperon, which was a small stylish cap worn by women of the aristocracy and middle classes in the 16th and 17th centuries. Since clothing was codified and strictly enforced under Louis XIV, it was customary for middle-class women to wear cloth caps, whereas aristocratic ladies wore velvet. Bright colors were preferred, especially red, and the skull cap was generally ornamental. For a village girl, in Perrault's story, to wear a red chaperon signified that she was individualistic and perhaps nonconformist."*

We today read that and probably think positively about the words "individualistic" and "nonconformist," but to Perrault such things were warning signs. His Little Red started the trend of becoming less self-reliable and more helpless and in need of male rescue. However that's a whole other discussion-I just found the facts interesting, hope you do too!

*Text from The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood, Jack Zipes
**Image from here, a site that gives more information about the French chaperon if you're interested. Artist was not credited as far as I could tell, please correct me if I'm wrong-

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Curiosity, Eve, and blaming women

"The ethical issues connected with Bluebeard's wife-disobedience, betrayal of trust, intrusiveness-have repeatedly preoccupied critics, who associate her disruptive behavior with the transgressive acts of Pandora, Eve, Psyche, and all those other mythical, biblical, and folkloric women who seem to be too curious for their own good or for the good of the human race." (Maria Tatar, "Secrets beyond the Door: The Story of Bluebeard and his Wives."

Fairy tale characters such as Psyche, many of the Animal Bridegroom heroines who followed her, and especially Bluebeard's wife, are condemned for their curiosity, which leads them to trouble. Folklorists and critics have noted this connection, as well as connecting them to the myth of Pandora and the biblical character Eve. Fairy tale illustrator Walter Crane has solidified this connection by inserting paintings of Eve and the serpent in the backgrounds of his illustrations of Bluebeard's wife (above) and Beauty from Beauty and the Beast (below).

Yet this connection bothers me because it's not actually theologically correct. Yes, Eve ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but the main sin wasn't her curiosity-it was disobedience to the one command God gave and the pride of wanting to become like God. Yet more importantly than that for the sake of fairy tales and gender issues, Eve is never  held as exclusively responsible for the first sin in the Bible. When she took of the fruit and ate, "she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate" (Genesis 3:6, ESV). This implies that Adam was there the whole time Eve was being tempted, and didn't say anything to contradict the serpent or attempt to dissuade her from eating the fruit. Therefore he was just as responsible as Eve.

God sees them as equally responsible when He punishes all three of them-the serpent, Eve, and Adam in Genesis 3:14-19. In fact, later in Scripture, Adam alone is representative of bringing sin into the world-"For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive," I Corinthians 15:22.

However, for years and years the Church itself as well as those outside have seen the Fall as a picture of the sin of women who can't control themselves. The other myths and stories mentioned above have helped cement the idea of heaping the blame on women for global problems. How did this happen? Reminds me of Governor Huckabee's infamous statement that the problem with birth control is that women "cannot control their libido." Yes, it's all women's fault. Men have NOTHING to do with getting women pregnant.

Of course, we shouldn't forget that further back in fairy tale history, lesser known versions of the fairy tales feature women whose curiosity is rewarded-heroines such as in the Grimms' "Fitcher's Bird" find out the murderer's secret, and then heroically rescue and resurrect the other murdered women. Yet these tales are nowhere near as well known, sadly.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Fairy Tale Tea

Fellow tea lovers alert!! I found these fairy tale teas on etsy. There are so many fairy tale products available these days but this is pretty unique!

From seller SimplyDeliciousMe, 6 tea blends:

"Beauty & The Beast- Black summer roses blend with a dark forest flavor for a new twist on a tale as old as time.

Cinderella-A black tea mixed with vanilla and ginger, with hints of peaches. Keep a lookout for glass slippers and step mothers

Red Riding Hood-A rich red tea blended for a forest berry sensation so good, you may want to share with grandma.

Sleeping Beauty-A soothing blend of Chamomile and Green Needle teas, for a slumber you won't have to prick your finger for

Snow White-A white tea expertly blended with Snow buds and Vanilla for a princess worthy tea.
& The 7 Dwarves- A rich earthy tea with hints of a gold tea that mimics what mining dwarves love most."

I think these are all pretty clever. The only one that seems random is Cinderella. At first I thought the peaches were a nod to the tree Cinderella/Aschenputtel climbs in to hide in the Grimms version, but that was a pear tree. In the ballet version they make use of oranges in the ball scene...anyone aware of a connection to Cinderella and peaches?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Dreaming Anastasia by Joy Preble

I had come across a free download of Dreaming Anastasia on Surlalune almost exactly three years ago, and finally got around to reading it this week. It caught my attention because of its unique blend of Russian folklore/Baba Yaga with the legend that Anastasia Romanov had managed to survive the shooting that ended the Russian dynasty back in 1918. Like many girls my age I was exposed to the story through the animated movie from 1997, and I also had the Royal Diaries book on Anastasia, which was the more historically accurate version. Those two things had inspired me, years later, to read up more on what actually happened.

Unfortunately the truth is not quite as romantic. First of all, it was never Anastasia's body that was missing-it was Alexei's and Maria's-the famed daughter's remains were with her family all along while the world searched for her. Even their bodies were discovered not too long ago, confirming the fact that none of the Romanovs survived the shooting. However, the story is still not without mystery-the life and death of Rasputin are fascinating and downright creepy to read about.

I'm pretty sure that, had I not already been nerdy about the Romanov family, this novel would have gotten me into it. Overall, it's not the best writing I've ever come across, even for young adult novels. Maybe just because I haven't read and YA novels in a while (at least not that weren't fairy tales set back in Once Upon a Time where none of the characters had cell phones) but I was initially shocked by the speech of the main characters, which consisted of a lot of "likes" and "whatevers" and talking about how hot certain boys were and how far they would go with them (am I sounding enough like an old lady yet? Not to mention this was my first time ever reading a book on Kindle...I know I'm old fashioned but I just like holding and flipping through books). However, it was still entertaining, if not a bit predictable. There were other factors I liked too, like references to ballet, the story of Swan Lake, and a Chicago setting.

From the book description you get a pretty good idea of the plot:

What really happened to Anastasia Romanov?

Anastasia Romanov thought she would never feel more alone than when the gunfire started and her family began to fall around her. Surely the bullets would come for her next. But they didn't. Instead, two gnarled old hands reached for her. When she wakes up she discovers that she is in the ancient hut of the witch Baba Yaga, and that some things are worse than being dead.

In modern-day Chicago, Anne doesn't know much about Russian history. She is more concerned about getting into a good college—until the dreams start. She is somewhere else. She is someone else. And she is sharing a small room with a very old woman. The vivid dreams startle her, but not until a handsome stranger offers to explain them does she realize her life is going to change forever. She is the only one who can save Anastasia. But, Anastasia is having her own dreams…

"Vasilisa the Beautiful"
Ivan Bilibin

So according to this version, Anastasia's disappearance is due to the fact that Baba Yaga took her and she is trapped in the infamous hut on chicken's legs in the forest. Throughout there is a direct parallel made between Anastasia and Vasilisa the Beautiful, who has a doll given to her by her mother who helps protect her while staying with Baba Yaga.

I liked that the book explores the complex nature of Baba Yaga. Unlike many fairy tale witches, she isn't always always evil-sometimes she assists the main characters. Although the characters wonder if she can be trusted, she ends up being entirely benevolent in this version (spoiler alert: Anastasia refers to her as "Auntie Yaga," and the witch is heartbroken that Anastasia must leave her although she helped her escape). I almost wish they had made her a little more fearsome, for someone whose home is lit by human skulls can't be all motherly...
Ivan Bilibin

I also liked that the characters turned to reading fairy tales to help them find the clues they needed to get to Baba Yaga's hut (spoiler: it involves the rule of threes so common in fairy tales). This is an element I wish more of the modern fairy tale mystery treatments would do, like Grimm (although if the characters did more of this recently I wouldn't know, I stopped watching it).

I even learned some fascinating things about the Russian language. For example, "baba" is a word they give to a girl who has lost her virginity. Makes the character Baba Yaga even more complex...also, the name "Anastasia" means "reborn" or "resurrection." No wonder it seemed so perfect that she of all the Romanovs might still have been alive...

If this is up your alley, you should definitely check out The Kitchen Boy by Robert Alexander: historical fiction but uses a lot of facts, a really exciting read on the imprisonment of the Romanovs in the weeks before they died. Also, there are sequels to "Dreaming Anastasia"-Haunted and Anastasia Forever

Sunday, February 2, 2014

1001 Nights 101

Kay Nielsen

Wisconsin Public Radio had a special on 1001 Nights today! The program To the Best of Our Knowledge discusses its history and the significance of the stories. You even get to hear from Marina Warner, who talks about her book Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights. You can listen online (after the Superbowl is over ;) ).