Monday, March 31, 2014

The Witch Must Die

Tony and I finally made it to our new library, and of course the first place I went was to check out their fairy tale section.

And fortunately this new library has several interesting books I haven't read yet! Some of them were ones I was wanting to read anyway. Others are ones I wouldn't necessarily have bought for myself, but it's good to be exposed to other ways of thinking about fairy tales, even things I disagree with (often that which is controversial brings about the most interesting discussion anyway!).

Such is the case with The Witch Must Die: How Fairy Tales Shape Our Lives, by Sheldon Cashdan. (The link goes to the same book, I believe, but with the subtitle "The Hidden Meaning of Fairy Tales", which is interesting especially how it relates to my points below). Though I overall disagree with his thesis (and several of his supporting points...) that's not to say that he didn't have some really good points as well and interesting food for thought, so I'm certainly not discrediting everything he's written or anyone who happens to really like this book.

The two different subtitles 

Cashdan takes a psychological approach. It is somewhat similar to the psychoanalytic, which holds that fairy tales are meant to shape the subconscious lives of children, guiding them to different stages of development. Only psychoanlaytic approaches see everything in terms of sex and sexual development, and Cashdan claims that fairy tales help children deal with "the seven deadly sins of childhood."

I find it very odd that this is the conclusion he reaches, because in his own preface he states that fairy tales were NOT originally meant for children, and were NOT originally meant to teach lessons. He also acknowledges that fairy tales, or similar stories, existed for hundreds of years before the "traditional" versions, and in many different forms.

Yet throughout the book, he sees fairy tales as primarily being tools in children's development, extracts what he says the "lessons" or morals are, and though he references some older versions, draws specific conclusions from the details of Grimm versions. In fact, he often references modern versions and stories that are not even fairy tales, such as Disney movies, the "Wizard of Oz" series, Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are," even using Oscar Wilde's "Dorian Gray" and Star Wars. Usually when psychologists see fairy tales as having an overarching purpose and speaking in a similar way to all children, it's because they believe that fairy tales were handed down from generation to generation, being honed and developed by thousands of tellers and listeners into stories that are essential for human development-they were created by the collective humanity and that's why they continue to speak so deeply to humans. Yet specific versions are just one person's idea of a good story, and it's easier to disprove that a certain moral was their intent. In fact sometimes his examples make me wonder if his book should have tackled storytelling in general and not just fairy tales (he has a whole section on transitional objects such as stuffed animals, and mainly cites "Toy Story").

One of the issues with psychoanalytic views of fairy tales is that it puts all the blame and room for growth on the children in the stories, and the children who are listening, when it is clearly the adults who are the villains. This approach is similar. In fact, using the seven deadly sins to categorize all fairy tales seems downright creepy to me-maybe just because of the movie Se7en. Cashdan seems to see some things as "sin" that I would never categorize that way. He breaks it down:

Vanity-Snow White
Gluttony-Hansel and Gretel
Lust-Little Mermaid
Greed-Jack and the Beanstalk

Take Snow White and vanity. Cashdan details how both the stepmother/mother and Snow White struggle with the sin of vanity. In the witch's case it's pretty obvious; in Grimms' Snow White, the heroine is tempted first by laces and a comb, signs of vanity, before the infamous apple. Cashdan says that "vanquishing the queen represents a triumph of positive forces in the self over vain impulses." Yet Cashdan had just told us that Snow White suffers from the same temptations. In fact, time and time again she is found to have worth because of her beauty-from the huntsman ("she was so lovely the huntsman had pity on her") to the dwarves ("what beautiful child is this!") to that creepy prince ("I cannot live without looking upon Snow-white"). Snow White is never punished for wanting beautiful things-in my mind those episodes where the witch tempts Snow White shows more how tricky the witch is, or the pattern of threes in fairy tales, more than how Snow White is sinning. Plus, the object that actually knocks her out is an apple, not the laces or comb. It doesn't make sense that Snow White is sinful like the witch, and also that killing the witch is what conquers vanity while Snow White lives on happily. Many adults now muse on Snow White as a never ending cycle-Snow White is destined to become like her stepmother.

Cashdan maintains that children identify their own "sins" with those of the villains. "The encounter with the evil presence in the story forces children to come face to face with unwholesome tendencies in themselves by casting these tendencies as concrete characteristics of the witch. Confronting the witch becomes an act of self-recognition...If children hope to overcome bothersome thoughts and unwholesome inpulses, the witch must die." Really? Honestly, has any of you ever identified with the witch when reading a fairy tale? I'm positive I never did. Seeing the witch as one side of a mother's personality makes more sense to me, but not yourself.
Kay Nielsen

The chapter on gluttony really angered me. It reminded me of Carl-Heinz Mallet's similar psychological take on Hansel and Gretel, one which produces extreme amounts of condemnation on the children of a fairy tale who were abandoned by their own parents. Cashdan accuses both Hansel and Gretel of suffering from the same sin as the witch-gluttony. To which I would point out, they were LITERALLY starving to death, not the 21-st century American version of starving which means we haven't eaten in about 4 hours. He says, "one cannot fault the children for indulging themselves after wandering about for days with nothing to eat." Very true. But then, the fact that they take LARGE PORTIONS is just inexcusable-"the children know what they are doing is wrong, that it is sinful, but they cannot control themselves. What started off as 'nibbling' has turned into a feeding frenzy. Ordinary hunger has given way to gluttony."

All he quotes from Grimm, by the way, is that Hansel takes a great piece of the roof and Gretel a large window pane. Okay, eating a large portion once does NOT make  you a glutton. ESPECIALLY IF YOU WERE LITERALLY STARVING TO DEATH. Gluttony is a habit of overeating. Gluttony wasn't even an option for Hansel and Gretel, or the majority of German peasants at the time, or really for most people at most periods of history. You ate what you farmed, and when there was a bad season, everyone went hungry. To eat your fill was a dream many people wished they could experience.

Yet once again, children supposedly identify themselves with the witch. "She is the children; she is the sinful or bad part of Hansel and Gretel, the part driven by gluttony. This is not lost on the children. At a deep intuitive level, they know the witch is a part of them, and that the voice that calls from within the house is their own." Really? That's quite a claim to make. Why even bother writing a book about it if it's so intuitive? (And is the meaning really hidden, as the subtitle claims?)
Walter Crane

Believe me, I work with kids and am the first to admit they're not perfect, but some psychologists seem way too overeager to condemn children in general, and victimized characters, for their evils. For example, Cashdan thinks Rapunzel and the prince deserve their harsh punishment for their sexual recklessness. Yet Cashdan gives the witch a pass. Forget the fact that she kidnapped someone else's child and gave her no chance at meeting friends or knowing her family-"she is not evil through and through. Her decision to keep Rapunzel in the tower flowed not from malice but from maternal concern." Sure she's a more complex witch than some, but how can he excuse her actions and condemn the ones of Rapunzel, when it should have been the witch's maternal responsibility to educate her?

If the "psychological mission" of fairy tales is indeed to "combat sinful tendencies in the self," would fairy tales really be as popular as they are? This approach is pretty preachy and normally doesn't make for very good storytelling. Cashdan even points out that sometimes sins, such as lying, can be rewarded in fairy tales (he mentions Frog Prince and Puss in Boots-there are many more that reward those who are intelligent enough to trick the villain). He explains that away by the fact that the ability to lie is an important step in child psychology. Again, this might make more sense if fairy tales were always told primarily for children, and by child psychologists, but that's not the case.

I have many more underlines and notes from the book but you get the idea of Cashdan's approach to fairy tales. Many of his arguments bring up good points for discussion even if his conclusions often seem out of place for the context, in my opinion. Do you have memories of reading fairy tales in childhood/interacting with children and these stories, in ways that would confirm or deny Cashdon's claims?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Article: Reaching My Autistic Son Through Disney

Via Megan of The Dark Forest, I just found this New York Times article: Reaching My Autistic Son Through Disney. Though it may sound like blatant Disney promotion, it struck a more personal chord with me.

The article tells of the Suskind family, one of many affected by autism. At age 3, their son Owen regressed into a nonverbal state and was largely unresponsive. One of his passions remained watching, and rewatching, and rewinding and watching again and again, classic Disney movies. You'll have to read the full article for the whole story, which is really stunning, but because of Owen's connection to Disney movies, he was able to gradually connect to the world around him again. His family took to communicating with him in Disney quotes and through Disney character voices and it was the only thing he would respond to at first. Now he is flourishing in the world around him, although his attachment to Disney remains.

I've made mention of my jobs through the years, which are always slightly complicated to explain and the simplest thing is to call myself a music educator/special educator, although I have done little teaching in schools aside from my student teaching and the occasional subbing. But for the past 9 years I have been helping in my former church's disability ministry-I went from volunteering to holding a part time job and now I'm back to volunteering. I did various things from running weekend events to working in a group home, but my main passion there has always been teaching music classes.

So many of the stories in the article reminded me of my own students and friends. Through the years I remember acting out Princess scenes with my friend Christy while babysitting her; she would tell me, "okay, you Beast, I Belle" and we would quote her favorite scenes from Beauty and the Beast (the West Wing scene was the favorite, but so was the library). Another student, Tim, who also has Down Syndrome, is really into Disney as well. He and I have a game we play where we'll quote Disney lines and songs to each other, and we have to guess which movie it's from. Just this weekend he was asking me where my Disneyland book was (I brought it to class for a Disney-themed summer music camp I did last summer) and when he could look at it again :).
Image from here

So many of my students with autism and Down Syndrome love Disney. It's familiar to most of them and a way they can connect with other people, and the vast merchandising available for Disney products certainly helps, but is that the only reason people with disabilities have a passion for the Mouse? From the article:

"Owen’s chosen affinity clearly opened a window to myth, fable and legend that Disney lifted and retooled, just as the Grimm Brothers did, from a vast repository of folklore. Countless cultures have told versions of “Beauty and the Beast,” which dates back 2,000 years to the Latin “Cupid and Psyche” and certainly beyond that. These are stories human beings have always told themselves to make their way in the world.
But what draws kids like Owen to these movies is something even more elemental. Walt Disney told his early animators that the characters and the scenes should be so vivid and clear that they could be understood with the sound turned off. Inadvertently, this creates a dream portal for those who struggle with auditory processing, especially, in recent decades, when the films can be rewound and replayed many times."

This is not the first time I've heard someone else make a connection between Disney and people with disabilities, either. I posted back in 2010 about David Koenig's book Mouse Tales: a Behind the Scenes look at Disneyland. From that post (and it's not a Disney endorsed and published book, by the way):
" Koenig lists two incidents which have to do with children with autism-one boy was there who had never spoken in his life. Mickey Mouse was being mobbed, and the autistic boy broke away from his father, rushed over, and said "Mickey Mouse"- his first words. The second incident I'm a little skeptical of-it sounds like a boy with autism "snapped out of it," meaning, I assume, his autism in its entirety, after repeated trips to Disneyland, because "he realized it was better living in Disneyland than in his head." "

I also attended a workshop at a disability conference once entitled "How to use Disney movies to help your child speak." The premise was similar to that of the article-since Disney movies are so popular among the population of people with disabilities, we can use them as education tools to help motivate and engage children. People with autism struggle with social interactions-they often connect with objects, toys, and/or movies better than they do with other people. By entering into their world, we can often communicate better with them.
The original article quoted cited several instances where people with autism felt personally connected to Disney characters-one young man felt like Pinocchio, because he felt like he was made of wood and wanted to feel things like a real boy; Owen himself identified himself as a sidekick, someone there to help the hero fulfill his destiny, scrawling "no sidekick left behind" on paper as he was held back in school, watching his classmates succeed.
Disney movies are not the most popular among fairy tale fanatics. Yet it's important to realize, though they may not be your favorite and you might actively dislike them and disagree with many messages they send, how powerful they can be. Disney and its characters and toys won't be going away any time soon. Parents with fond memories of Disney movies and theme parks are able to share those with their children as together families experience the new hit Disney movies.

So instead of writing off Disney and everything they've produced, maybe we should try to work with it. We can use common ground to help educate people about other fairy tale versions, while being aware of the potential issues associated with their storylines. It's a good reminder to be sensitive too-Disney movies were a core part of many people's childhoods and many of us (myself included!) have strong emotional ties to them.
(This image, found here, is pretty precious...a little girl with autism wanted to see Princess Tiana, but nearby fireworks started and she covered her ears, overstimulated. So this Tiana joined her, covering her own ears, and they had a special bonding moment.)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Anton Konashuk's Mermaid Tale

These pictures by Anton Konashuk portray a rather depressing take on a mermaid tale, and perhaps a statment about marriage and how it often turns out far differently than expected for many. It's also one of those interpretations that most audiences probably see as a clever, "modern" or "realistic" take on fairy tales, when it actually echoes fairy tales older than the Hans Christian Andersen idea of the mermaid, and much older than Disney's (whose influence is so strong most people don't even realize Andersen's "The Little Mermaid" ends without true love). This story portrayed is closer to the selkie tales in which human men steal the sea maids' seal skins and the maidens agree to marry him...but as soon as they recover their seal skins they return to their home in the sea. The photographer's site doesn't mention his inspiration though, so his hearkening back to such tales may or may not be intentional.

Gender roles: Victorian fairy tales vs. Native American

As I mentioned in my anniversary post, over the four years I've been blogging I've grown-I've learned a lot and probably changed my opinions and views slightly in some areas. For example-I began reading into fairy tales more because I liked them. I liked the Disney movies, and the older Grimm tales that I thought to be more "authentic" and ancient tales.

Then as I started reading from feminist authors I was shocked by how these fairy tales seemed to be attacked because of their passive female characters and the gender roles they were assigned. At first I was defensive. And I do stand by some of my arguments-we have to remember not to condemn Cinderella too much for accepting her lot as servant; at certain points in history women really had very limited options. What bothers me even more is the idea that housework/raising children is a negative thing. It's one thing to be confined to the kitchen and the home, another to have the responsibility of taking care of home and kids, which is a huge and incredibly important job no matter which gender does it. And just because a fairy tale ends with a romance as a happy ending doesn't mean we assume that the princess was sitting around doing nothing but longing for a prince-but that depends on the version, because in some (Disney's oldest princess movies) they literally do sing about wishing for a prince.
But I realized that feminists were correct in lamenting the state of modern/relatively modern princesses in fairy tales. There are two ways to look at a fairy tale: a story in and of itself, and a story that fits within a history of the tale. Some authors/tellers are aware of a tale's history and intentionally make changes; others are unaware and simply tell the tale in a way that makes sense to them and their listeners. And when you trace most tales from their ancestors-ancient tales with similar motifs, literary fairy tales that preceeded the Grimms/Andersen tales most people think of as the "originals," you do realize that women in fairy tales underwent a loss. They became less active and creative. Women in Victorian fairy tales reflected the loss of authority and autonomy that Victorian women had. Even though modern authors are giving us "new" fairy tale heroines, Little Reds that defend herself against the wolf, and princesses that weild swords and forge their own destiny and sometimes even reject Prince Charming, the Victorian tales are still perceived as "real" and modern versions more as one author's vision-fairy tale females in general are still perceived in a very negative light.

So if this development in fairy tales was due to society, what about fairy tales from a culture that is more egalitarian? In general (of course remembering that each tribe is very unique) Native American cultures gave more authority and respect to their women. For example, those who taught their tribe sacred rituals were usually "a young woman or child, since most cultures believed that women and children have a more direct connection to the sacred energy of life" (Huffstetler). Tribes like the Cherokee were matriarchal-identity and citizenship was found through the mother and not the father. The women were in charge of their own houses and owned the children. "A Cherokee woman had more rights and power than Eurpean women. She decided whom she would marry, and the man built a house for her, which was considered her property...the house and children were hers. She and her brothers reared them. If she bore too many children, or if a child were deformed, she had the right to kill the unwanted infant. Should the father kill one, he would be guilty of murder. To obtain a divorce, she packed her husband's clothes in a bag and set it outside her door. She was free to marry someone else, and so was he." (Ehle)

With such a starkly different idea of gender roles, I was curious as to how this would be reflected in their folktales and stories. To clarify, I did not do a thorough search of Native American folklore, I sifted through a couple of books and perused a few websites. Anyone with more expertise on the subject who can confirm or contradict anything I say here is welcome to enlighten me in the comments! But some patterns I noticed:
Image from here-also a good source of Native American tales

First of all, it was difficult to even find tales that mirror traditional fairy tales. There are no "rise tales" (rags to riches stories, i.e. Cinderella) in Native folklore because they didn't have class structure like in Europe. Within the tribe there seemed to be much more equality. Most Native American tales seem to be legends that explain how the world came to be the way it is-how the stars got in the sky, why the mole burrows underground, etc.

Favorite European tales tend to be predominantly romance and adventure. As far as romance goes, I didn't find any tales that involved a woman sitting around waiting for a man to come and save her. Several tales started with women who rejected several suitors. These women are not desperate and hoping to fulfill themselves through marriage (although I believe marriage was still an expected destiny for most Native American people, they just had less of a love at first sight mentality).

There is a beautifully tragic tale from the Zuni tribe about a grieving man who lost his wife and followed her into the land of the dead. It reminded me of Cupid and Psyche, only this time it's a man seeking his wife and not the woman-he must go on a long and difficult journey to keep up with her. Like Psyche he is given a warning-he must not touch his wife. Like Psyche he disobeys-but without the happy ending. I was recently musing on the sad fact that Western myth and folklore tends to blame women for curiosity, if not for sin in general. This tale is a distinct contrast, because the man is responsible for death itself-"if he had practiced patience and self-denial for only a short time, then death would have been overcome." Yet the tale ends by saying that, if no one died, the earth would be overcrowded and it would lead to more war.

Yet some elements were not too different from the fairy tales we are familiar with. In Hero tales, the heroes are still largely men. The culture still has ideas of gender roles-the women stay home, take care of children and the fields, while the men are hunters and warriors. Yet maybe gender roles themselves are not the problem. Yes, it becomes an issue in a society like ours where we have so many job options available and women are denied certain opportunities. But for most of human history, "what do you want to be when you grow up?" wasn't really a question for children. They had to tend to their farms and family businesses and keep each other clothed and fed. The problem with gender roles is a lack of respect for certain roles, and that's the main difference between European women who were considered their husband's property, and Native Americans who gave both genders authority, over different areas.

Trail of Tears: The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation by John Ehle
Myths of the World: Tales of the Native American by Edward W. Huffstetler

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Once Upon a Time book clutch


*As seen on Carrie of WishWishWish

Also, although Alice isn't technically a fairy tale, I wouldn't mind this Alice in Wonderland book clutch found on Asian iCandy

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Jeannine Hall Gailey: I Like the Quiet

Jeannine Hall Gailey gives us a princess who doesn't sit around longing to be rescued.
Emma Florence Harrison

Rapunzel: I Like the Quiet

"Solitude my solace, wrapped around me
like layers of golden hair. Stacks of books
and I can sing as loud as I please all day
   and night.
In sleep I kick and snore, during the day,
in eating nothing but radishes and lime leaf tea.
Who says I need a partner to dance? Here
in this tower I am mistress of all; the reindeer,
the knight’s armor teetering in the corner,
various discarded disguises, crowns,
crumbs and bones. Will you rescue me?
What kingdom will replace my bounty
of leisure, what tether of care and nurture
do you wish to rope my neck with?"
 - Jeannine Hall Gailey

*As a sidenote, and to perhaps indicate that this concept of a happy, single woman is hard for illustrators at least to imagine-it's difficult to find images of Rapunzel alone and content. She is generally with the prince or witch, or letting down her hair and/or looking longingly out the window. There's also this one by Frank Cadogan Cowper, but it's, um, not the most flattering face?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Fairy Tale Lesson Plans

Jessie Wilcox Smith

A friend of mine is an elementary school teacher, and she mentioned that when she taught second grade, they did a unit on fairy tales. Naturally my curiosity was piqued and I asked her more about how and what they taught. It seems the primary source of knowledge children have about fairy tales these days is Disney movies. Children may be exposed through books they have at home, and what they learn at school, but that's up to each parent and school district.

So a school curriculum that includes education on fairy tales can be a vital way of exposing children to fairy tales, but I wonder what kids are actually being taught. Which versions are teachers using? Which tales do they choose? And what are kids being told to take away from the lessons? Many versions are very didactic already and I would hope lessons on Little Red Riding Hood went beyond "and that's why it's important to listen to your parents, kids, otherwise something horrible might happen to you like it happened in the story!"

I did a simple google search to look into some of the fairy tale lesson plans that were out there. The good news is there's plenty of materials for anyone hoping to teach on fairy tales. I was pleasantly surprised to see some lists of resources recommending lesser known fairy tales, as well as alternate versions of tales. In addition to basic comprehension/reading skills, teachers can use fairy tales to help their kids notice patterns and then make predictions about what might happen in an unknown tale; they expose their students to fractured fairy tales, and they can compare and contrast different versions of tales, such as this chart from comparing Cinderella to Yeh Shen:
What a great learning tool! One thing my friend and I had both noticed when interacting with kids about non-Disney versions is this idea that the version they are familiar with is "right." Kids will interrupt a story with "that's not what happens!" or see a picture of a non-Disney princess and claim, "that's not Sleeping Beauty/Cinderella/etc.!" So it requires education just to convince them that there is a world of fairy tales outside of what they are familiar with, and the very concept of different versions.

Some lesson plans I came across that I didn't like as much. They tended to reinforce stereotypical/not even accurate ideas of fairy tales. These are from Pinterest:
Fairy tales were not actually originally written for children...They were mainly told for other adults, often to pass the time as they worked in the fields and homes.

I like that whoever made this chart recognized the pattern of 3 and 7 (a great way to use fairy tales to cross over to math), but the happy endings are not necessarily always there. Fairies and godmothers are actually most often NOT part of fairy tales. And illustrations are pretty much just in children's book versions of fairy tales, they are not integral to the genre.

But, does an elementary teacher have to be an absolute expert in everything they teach? It's good that kids are being exposed to different kinds of fairy tales at all, right? And although some ideas about fairy tales may not always be true, like the happy endings, in general that is the case.

I'm curious to hear from you-do you remember being taught fairy tales in school? How were you taught? And any other teachers out there? Have you taught on the topic, and what resources and teaching tools did you use? As a music teacher I love teaching Prokofiev's "Cinderella" to kindergarteners or first graders and talking about how he uses an orchestra to make the sound of the clock striking midnight. I have them count each bell toll to see if it's too late for Cinderella to be at the ball, and they get really excited as they get close to twelve! I've also used ballet scores to Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, and Nutcracker either in Russian music units, or to weave in the storytelling.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Sibling relationships in Beauty and the Beast

Ever since young Kristin read Robin McKinley's Beauty, I've had this half-dream of writing my own novel version of "Beauty and the Beast". Early attempts proved to be mostly my rewriting of McKinley's story and I realized I'm not especially talented at writing fiction. However, I always wanted to flesh out the relationship between Beauty and her sisters more. In the traditional fairy tale, they're black and white-Beauty good (almost sickeningly good) and sisters bad, unrealistically so-much like Cinderella and her evil stepsisters. In contrast, in both of McKinley's novels (including Rose Daughter) Beauty's sisters are not only loving and supportive, but appear to have no flaws whatsoever. But I always thought there was a lot of potential for exploring complex sibling relationships, especially when the youngest is obviously favored by the parent and given the nickname "Beauty."

Villeneuve's 1740 version is actually fairly moderate as far as fairy tale relationships go (remembering, of course, that her story isn't truly a fairy tale, but a more complex novella). In nearly every other version, including the Beaumont, when the family becomes impoverished and moves, the older sisters refuse to do any housework, and Beauty does everything. However, in Villeneuve, the sisters begrudgingly help, although they are not as cheerful as Beauty. Her cheerfulness actually spurns more bitterness towards her, and anyone who grew up with siblings can relate, I think...
W. Heath Robinson

As opposed to Beaumont's Beauty (written 16 years later), who is more the picture of the perfect hard-working woman. She rises at four in the morning to do all the work. Yet, both authors acknowledge that it was difficult for Beauty, at first. I feel like a lot of children's versions just portray her as cheerful all along, and I'm glad they both recognize how difficult a transition that would be, despite how much inner character you had. Beaumont writes: "In the beginning she found it very difficult, for she had not been used to work as a servant, but in less than two months she grew stonger and healthier than ever...on the contrary, her two sisters did not know how to spend their time; they got up at ten, and did nothing but saunter about the whole day."

Yet one phrase in the Villeneuve I found especially surprising: "she knew, by a strength of mind seldom found in her sex, how to conceal her sorrow, and rise superior to her adversities." (emphasis mine) To those familiar with fairy tale history, Villeneuve and many of her French salon fellow writers were actually strong feminists, despite what this phrase sounds like. I remember coming across a similar attitude in other early feminists, like Charlotte Bronte-initially they weren't necessarily pushing for all women to be treated better. In fact many feminists had the same negative stereotypes about women in general that men did-the difference was that they saw themselves as exempt, and more "manly." Baby steps to feminism...
Angela Barrett

In general in Villeneuve, there's numerically more of everything. More siblings (six sons and six daughters, as opposed to three and three in Beaumont-and most later versions drop the sons all together). Also, everything takes a longer amount of time, as might be expected in a much longer story (63 pages in the Surlalune book, but that's with really small print! Beaumont is only 7 pages). For example, the family only spends a year in poverty in Beaumont, but two years in Villeneuve.

Then comes the scene where the daughters ask favors from their father. I always thought is was pretty unnatural for Beauty not to want anything. Certainly something I can't personally relate to. Both authors make it clear that Beauty, being wiser than her sisters, knew that her father wouldn't recover as much money as her sisters envisioned. The emphasis wasn't really on materialism at all, but practicality-many modern/children's versions emphasize Beauty's innate goodness and contentment as the reason she didn't want new clothes and accessories.

In Villeneuve, when Beauty's father asks why she has been silent, she first responds that all she desires is for him to return in good health. After pressing, she admits she might like a rose. Of course, that first response wouldn't do anything to improve sibling relationships. Beaumont, for the sake of summary and/or a personal choice, omitted the first, kiss-up request and went straight for the rose. She even says in the narration, however, that Beauty didn't even care for a rose particularly-she just knew what Villeneuve's Beauty should have known in hindsight, "lest she should seem by her example to condemn her sisters' conduct, who would have said she did it only to look particular."
Marianna Mayer

When Beauty's father does return with the rose and the tragic story of how he got it, the sisters' bitterness and jealousy is brought into full light. Beaumont's sisters say, "Do but see the pride of that little wretch-she would not ask for fine clothes, as we did; but no truly, Miss wanted to distinguish herself." Villeneuve's sisters go into a whole speech about how they won't let themselves be punished for what was Beauty's fault-"this is the fruit of the self-denial and perpetual preaching of this unhappy girl!" The sisters had already speculated that their father, with his obvious favoritism, would have granted only Beauty's special request and not their own (which proved correct, if only because he didn't have the money to satisfy them).

When it came time for Beauty to leave, Beaumont's sisters rub their eyes with onions to force tears. Yet Villeneuve's sisters, while she condemns them in the narration for their "ugly jealousy" and hatred, they even soften when Beauty says goodbye, which draws "a few tears from their eyes" and left them "for the space of a few moments almost as distressed as their brothers." Again, a little more complexity/realism to her characters.

After Beauty's sojourn in the castle and return home, Villeneuve's sisters are all too ready to get rid of Beauty. They remind her of her "duty" to return to the Beast. No wonder, though, for all of their suitors have immediately fallen in love with Beauty since her return home and will now have nothing to do with them.

Beaumont's sisters are more devious. They try to trick Beauty into staying too long and breaking her promise to the Beast by, for once, being kind to her. They hope the Beast will finally devour her.

Versions of Cinderella vary in the justice done to the sisters at the end of the tale. Sometimes they are cruelly punished, other times forgiveness reigns. Villeneuve's story concludes, for the sisters, with their suitors deciding to have them-not that they wouldn't have wanted Beauty, but being taken, they saw how much affection she showed for her sisters and decided they weren't such a bad deal after all.

W. Heath Robinson
Beaumont has a more bleak end for the sisters. They are condemned to be statues at Beauty's castle gates and behold her happiness, unless they can let go of the malice in their hearts.

Translations of both the Villeneuve and Beaumont found in Surlalune's Beauty and the Beast: Tales From Around the World

Friday, March 7, 2014

Alice + olivia A/W 2014

Fairy tales were part of the inspiration at Alice + Olivia's new A/W 2014 line! I like that the designs aren't just reinterpretations of Disney Princess wear (like, Snow White is wearing black and not all primary colors).  It's definitely possible to use props (apples, broom, hair if that counts) to portray fairy tale characters!

Yahoo lifestyles says, "Alice + Olivia presented a dramatic fairytale wonderland in which models showcased a variety of Victorian-inspired ensembles." Click through to see the whole collection

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Sleeping Beauty tidbits

Usually we have no idea where folktales originated, or what initially inspired them. This Alaskan tale was inspired by Mount Susitna, or The Sleeping Lady (who looks like the profile of a woman sleeping on her back):

"The Sleeping Lady
Legend tells us that a millennia ago, the Great Land known as Alaska was inhabited by a race of giants.  Among these people was a beautiful young maiden and a handsome young man whose devotion to each other was admired by all the villagers.  Wedding preparations were underway when word reached the village of a warring tribe approaching from the north. 
After a village council it was decided that the young man would bring gifts to the invaders to show the peaceful and friendly intentions of the villagers.  Keeping herself busy while waiting for the young man's return, the maiden eventually grew tired and laid down to rest.
Soon after, word reached the village that the invaders rejected the offer of peace and a battle ensued in which the young man was killed.  The villagers, gazing at the sleeping maiden, did not have the heart to wake her. 
So there she rests today, still waiting for news of peace and the return of her love . . . "
William A. Breakspeare
Technically a legend rather than a fairy tale, and apparently there's even controversy about how authentic it really is*-  but such genres have a way of blurring together with each other. The image of a sleeping woman is prominently featured in fairy tale lore, and is a controversial one, especially for modern feminists who see it as promoting the idea of the woman being helpless. 
By the way, is anyone else bothered by the Sleeping Beauty reference in Katy Perry's new hit Dark Horse? Maybe you all listen to more quality music than I do... From the rap section by Juicy J:
"That fairy tale ending with a knight in shining armor
She can be my Sleeping Beauty
I’m gon’ put her in a coma

The prince of the fairy tale (unless the writers were referencing Basile's version in which the prince takes advantage of the princess in a coma and rapes her, which I HIGHLY doubt) is supposed to get her OUT of the coma, not INTO it. Despite my doubts that it was influenced by Basile, I definitely get creepy rape vibes from the idea of a man putting a woman into a coma...
Honor C. Appleton

*If you read the article, it claims that the Sleeping Lady story is definitely NOT ancient folklore. The sources are a former student who says about a story she wrote in 1964, "I think I made the story up, although I can't definitely say for sure,"  and Ann Dixon who said "the tale probably originated with prospectors or homesteaders sometime between 1930 and 1950." Sounds like a legit folk tale to me...even if it isn't hundreds and hundreds of years old, but can they even prove it didn't exist before the 1930s?

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Cheri Herouard Little Mermaid illustration

I love this illustration by Cheri Herouard: It so perfectly encapsulates the mermaid's curiosity/longing for those strange and enticing human legs. The caption can be translated: "Ah! To have legs and to be able to dance!"