Thursday, January 29, 2015

Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Little Red Riding Hood

I keep coming across references to scholarly people discussing the show "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" in relation to fairy tales, especially as a modern retelling of "Little Red Riding Hood". Last year Heidi Anne Heiner of Surlalune shared the schedule for the American Folklore Society's Annual Meeting, and it included a session titled "What's in the Basket Little Girl?: Reading Buffy as Little Red Riding Hood." I remember reading that and thinking I could almost teach that session (not really, but Buffy is one of my go-to Netflix shows to have on while I do chores and by now I've seen every episode at least once). There are of course some obvious connections-the transformation of Little Red, a helpless girl being overtaken by monsters, to Buffy, a powerful young woman whom the monsters themselves fear. And of course there's the episode where Buffy dresses up as LRRH for Halloween.

But there's more to delve into. The book Buffy in the Classroom: Essays on Teaching With the Vampire Slayer, edited by Jodie A. Kreider and Meghan K. Winchell, includes a chapter called "Little Red Riding...Buffy?" The chapter outlines a unit that can be taught to college literature students, covers a thorough history of the famous tale, and encourages students to compare and contrast the themes found in LRRH and a specific episode of Buffy. Sample pages can be read online and it's clear from those that using television as a teaching tool doesn't mean your lesson plan is dumbed down! The chapter also includes discussion questions which  could be used outside of a classroom-perhaps a book club or other discussion group.

Buffy and connections to fairy tales are also discussed in the book Channeling Wonder: Fairy Tales on Television (Series in Fairy-Tale Studies). Apparently using Buffy in academic contexts is nothing new or unusual. According to Wikipedia,
Buffy is notable for attracting the interest of scholars of popular culture, as a subset of popular culture studies, and some academic settings include the show as a topic of literary study and analysis.[107][108] National Public Radio describes Buffy as having a "special following among academics, some of whom have staked a claim in what they call 'Buffy Studies.'"[109] Though not widely recognized as a distinct discipline, the term "Buffy studies" is commonly used amongst the peer-reviewed academic Buffy-related writings.[110]
I also really like the episode "Gingerbread," which has an interesting way of looking at "Hansel and Gretel"...

Monday, January 26, 2015

Fairy Tale Therapy

Hopefully you saw Surlalune's post on the Fairy Tale Therapy Seminar being held in Portugal in March! There's no way I could go but just the fact that fairy tale therapy even exists was a happy surprise! And now I have something else to add to my list of dream jobs...

I was curious as to exactly what it was-there are so many ways of interpreting fairy tales, psychologically, what approach would it even use? After some initial internet research, it seems that it boils down to: clients use fairy tales to relate to situations in their own lives; seeing the process that the main characters go through to find solutions to real life problems. In some ways this seems pretty basic, but it could also be really powerful. I remember sitting through literature classes where a certain personal connection to a character in a story deeply convicted or inspired me. It's great that modern psychology recognizes the potential, and current relevance, of fairy tales! As the Conference's Official Site says, "Together we can contribute to the development of using fairy-tales in many fields of life!"

For some more details, here are some excerpts I found interesting  (site links found below material):

"One of the main advantages of this method is the opportunity to understand or change aspects concerning the concept of time, thus gradually transforming the concept of time. Fairytale therapy actually allows the patient, who can be any age, to move him/herself along a time line, making numerous things possible.
Through these ‘mental steps’, a window to the past can be opened, allowing patients to focus on problems and solutions which are very different to current ones, thus creating an instrument for confronting the present and understanding differences between certain habits and modern lifestyles. This comparison is very important since, through awareness and comprehension of methods and timeframes related to past problems, patients learn how to develop patience and deferment, cognitive-emotional skills which are difficult to perfect in real social situations because of the speed of communication and transactions between people.

Fairytale therapy also allows patients to mirror the present time through tales which are very close to someone's or a group’s current reality, and this shows people that some personal problems are also universal problems, relieving the sense of solitude which is felt when going through difficult problems. It also provides different prospectives on the problem, possible thoughts and various, more useful reactions to help find a solution.
The stories told help patients look into the future, with regards to certain behaviour, and learn or predict how things will end if they act in one way or another.

From a strictly therapeutic point of view, and for the support of behavioural and psychological problems, fairytale therapy is a powerful resource for:
• allowing people to talk in an impersonal or gradual way about personal problems, thus slowly letting defences drop;
• allowing people to better recognise and express repressed and unexpressed emotions they have felt;
• providing alternative thoughts, emotions and behaviour in uncomfortable or maladjusted situations.
In more general terms, fairytale therapy allows patients to use their imagination in a positive way, transforming distortions of reality into instruments which are able to generate new experiences, mental images and behaviour and create positive and more appropriate alternatives in relation to reality."


Heroines are never ultimately done in by the abuse. The more Cinderella,
Snow White, and Hansel and Gretel are victimized by powerful cruel others,
the more sympathy they elicit. By encouraging clients who have been abused
to identify with fairy tale heroines, the therapist may help them to attain
empathy and compassion for themselves. 

The symbolic figures and imagery in fairy tales such as the cruel stepmother,
loving fairy godmother, winter darkness, or lost-in-the-forest, mirrors
disturbing inner emotional states. As the protagonist overcomes trials in
differing situations, an individual in psychotherapy is shown the ways to deal
with his or her upsetting affects. For example, Hansel and Gretel leave a trail
of breadcrumbs to mark their way, and trick the witch into not eating them,
offering proof of sorts that strategic action serves to assure that one does not
get overwhelmed by emotional upsets. For many psychotherapy patients, it is
important to learn to comfort and soothe or to discover metaphorically their
own inner “godmother” or “helpful animals” to transform emotional pain into
growth. If a connection to these common symbols that can be perceived as
representing possibilities for self care, then psychological improvement can
follow. The discovery of an “inner prince” or “fairy godmother” that likewise,
can rescue one can empower an individual at the deepest levels. 
Little Mermaid

The cognitive studies of contemporary psychological researchers, such as
Albert Bandura at Stanford University, corroborate that when individuals
approach difficult circumstances as challenges that can be mastered, their
resilience is strengthened. Similarly, classic stories teach one not to shy away
from difficult personal challenges and that it is through meeting them headon
that one grows emotionally and spiritually. A spirit of triumph and
optimism runs through those stories that carry a positive frame of reference.
For clients beset by inner turmoil, the fairy tale heroine or hero model one
who struggles, yet eventually succeeds. As they meet each challenging task,
their resilience grows into a core strength, for which they eventually become
richly rewarded. 

The Snow Queen

It seems that overall, fairy tale therapy stresses the fact that though characters suffer, there is hope and a way to proactively make positive changes in your life. I love that here, at least, there is no distinction made between male and female heroes-they are almost all persecuted, and all find some sort of solution. Many would argue that fairy tales are dangerous for girls because it encourages them to be inactive, but I like the idea of seeing the prince who rescues you as potentially an "inner prince." Although it does make me curious about which versions of the famous tales they use in therapy...

*Illustrations all by Harry Clarke

Friday, January 23, 2015

Fairy Tales in Clothing Advertising

With the relatively recent phenomenon of online shopping, companies selling clothes now have different ways of appealing to the buyers. In a store, a garment stands on its own; online, each item is given a name, and sometimes accompanied by a description of what one might do while wearing said item. Companies will try and come up with different images that appeal to the masses, something that makes you believe that if you buy their product, you will have the type of lifestyle described.

And despite the bad, "unfeminist" reputation they sometimes get, fairy tales are often used when selling women's clothes (I don't really online shop for men's clothes, but I assume fairy tales aren't as strong a draw in that market...anyone aware of any exceptions?) It's interesting to note which tales, and which aspects of the tales, companies believe appeal to women today. These are all from Modcloth.

Once Upon a Thyme Coat
"Your style and palette may be all grown up, but you still love to hear classic fairy tales from your childhood! This coat by Steve Madden showcases a woven black and white design, elegant pleats, and a beautiful, cape-inspired neckline wrap that's a fairy-tale-come-true on chilly days. The shiny black bubble buttons add a hint of fun vintage flair along the cuffs and belt loops, as well. So whether you’re shopping for spices at the open market or heading to Grandma’s house to share your newest recipe creation, you’ll look charming in this trendy coat."

My Prints Charming Dress

"Get swept off your feet by the captivating allure of this Southwestern-inspired dress. Patterned in vivid hues of scarlet, black, white, and cream, this softly textured tie-waist shift exudes effortless bohemian beauty that wins your heart!"

"What to wear to a wedding in Chicago and then a gala in D.C.? This tan party dress feels refined and fanciful, so you can reign over your social calendar with elegant ease. A tulle overlay and chevron accents feel princess-like over pink pumps, while a satin bodice and silky lining keep you looking modern with a sequined clutch. Add stunning jewels, and this A-line frock can stay out past midnight - regardless of the time zone!"

Pounce Upon a Time Skirt
"You’ll find that wearing this sweet mini skirt is like living in a fairytale! Designed with white cats playfully patterning a black hue, this pocketed bottom is endlessly adorable."

Grant You One Swish Dress
"Were there a genie in your wardrobe, you’d wish for this floral shift dress by British cult brand Motel, each time you want to look flirtatiously fashionable. Characterized by bold shoulder cutouts, unique white-and-slate blossoms atop a navy-blue hue, and a painterly feel, this swaying dress is always a lucky choice."

Midnight Dance Wedge
"Twirl under the stars as the clock strikes twelve, comfortable and chic in these platform wedges. A vegan faux-suede composition meets a deep -blue hue to create this wonderfully winsome pair."

Happily Endeavor After Boot
"Step into fairy-tale-worthy style with these chic black boots! Boasting buckled straps and a sleek, knee-high silhouette, this vegan faux-leather pair makes for ambitiously charming adventures."

Once Upon a Climb Sweatshirt
"Compose your own fashion fairytale by slipping into this darling pullover, which touts a graphic print of brown, taupe, and rust-orange foliage. You’ll be crowned stylish royalty thanks to this cozy knit! This UK brand uses playful details and a retro-meets-modern aesthetic to celebrate quirky, independent women who aren't afraid to be themselves."

Mirror, Mirror of the Ball Dress
"Just one stride past the ornately framed mirror in the ballroom assures that the union of you and this floor-length dress are one of the most elegant sights here. From the sweetheart bodice swirling with sequins, to the handkerchief-layers of the black chiffon skirt, this captivating frock reflects pure magnificence to all those who see you in it!"

Really, I think one of the reasons people get upset by this whole idea that fairy tales promote unrealistic and too idealistic expectations in life are because we live in such a consumeristic culture. When used to try and sell things, advertisers appeal to the positive aspects of fairy tales-they obviously wouldn't try to tell you "when you wear this skirt, while you may or may not catch the man of your dreams, but it's likely your stepmother and sisters will abuse you, because they're jealous of how cute you look!" They appeal to the "happily ever after" and the romance parts of fairy tales-Cinderella is an image of partying all over the country, going to Grandmother's house is now an idyllic pastime and not fraught with danger, Genies give you floral prints, and when you look adorable your life will be a "fairy tale come true," never mind that we probably only want the end of the fairy tale to come remotely true in real life because the beginning and middle parts are almost all extremely traumatic.

On the plus side, you will notice some more modern, feminist ideas associated with fairy tales in the examples above, like women going on adventures (which is definitely true in folklore, if not the most famous versions of fairy tales known today) or celebrating "quirky, independent women who aren't afraid to be themselves".

Still, I like the fact that fairy tales can be used for advertising, if nothing else because it still shows how well-loved the stories are. Being a fairy tale lover myself, calling a coat the "Once Upon a Thyme Coat" does make it more appealing to me than a more generic "Coat with Cape and Belt."

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Killian Schonberger-Brothers Grimm Photography

For some gorgeous photography inspired by fairy tales, be sure to check out Borthers Grimm's Wanderings, a series by Killian Schonberger!

Artist's description:
"Brothers Grimm's Wanderings is the second part of a photo project that started with Brothers Grimm's Homeland. The photos are inspired by the old fairytales written by the Brothers Grimm. Therefore I'm searching places throughout Central Europe that echo the mood of those old stories. I think there is a deep longing for tranquil naturalness among people in our techonology-driven environment. Therefore I don't want to show just potrayals of natural scenes - I want to create visually accessible places where the visitor can virtually put his mind at rest and make up his own stories. Possibly this is the real benefit of my work: Resting places for the eyes in an visually overstimulated world."

I think it's true that the more technologically driven our world becomes, the more we long for and romanticize nature, which partly explains why fairy tales are particularly trendy right now. I like how Schonberger interprets fairy tales as needing to be accessible as well as magical; they appeal to us on a personal level.

And here is his first series, Brothers Grimm Homeland. All of these were also taken in central Europe.

And with the same type of feel and inspiration, fans of this will also be interested in his Dark Forest series. Description: 
"Back into the light.  Where Hansel and Gretel lost their way.
Wanderings through the remote forests along the former Iron Curtain in Central Europe."

I love these. Forests are very important, symbolically, in fairy tales. They are where the heroes and heroines go off on their own, entering into adventure and danger; they can represent our subconscious and entering into a new phase of independence. While these photos portray the forest as ominous, the light breaking through is a ray of hope, reminding us that there is an end and a way out of our own dark forests.

Monday, January 19, 2015

More on Perrault and His Views on Women

My reading on Perrault and my last post made me curious enough to consult other sources. From Beauties, Beasts, and Enchantment: Classic French Fairy Tales, Jack Zipes writes,

"He [Perrault] had been annoyed by Boileau's satires against women. Thus, we wrote three verse tales, Griselda, The Foolish Wishes, and Donkey Skin along with a long poem, Apologie des femmes, in defense of women, a defense, which is, however, questionable. His poems...stress the necessity of an enlightened attitude of fairness toward women, but fairness on male terms." (emphasis mine)

The satires Zipes references were Nicolas Boileau's "Contre les femmes," or "Against Women," in 1694. According to Encylopaedia Britannica, the main reason for Boileau's beef with women was because they tended to be on the opposite side of the hottest literary debate in France, the Ancients and Moderns (which, as I understand it, boils down to: is old, classic literature innately superior to modern literature?) Women were, supposedly, on the modern side. Perrault was also one of the main supporters of the Modernists.

I've tried looking at what Boileau actually said about women that would have even prompted Perrault's "defense," but I'm having trouble finding any sources that summarize his writings (anybody know?). So far Perrault still looks, overall, like a hero for women's rights.

But just a quick review: the tale "Griselda" is about a prince who falls in love with a woman because she isn't silly and materialistic, like other girls. She is modest and humble, while conveniently being incredibly beautiful anyway. They marry, but after a while, for no reason at all, the Prince becomes annoyed with his wife and starts bossing her around. She bears it all with patience, humility, and grace. But this only prompts him to be more and more cruel, ultimately deciding to take a younger, hotter wife (who is also secretly his daughter, whom he hid and told his wife was dead, just to mess with her) and send his first wife home again. Then to rub it in, he has her come back to be the lady in waiting for his new wife. But through it all, Griselda makes multiple speeches about how it is her life's goal to humbly obey her husband in all things.

Okay. You guys probably know I'm not the type of person to get too riled up about princesses being passive and the other current feminist debates, in fact if anything I get defensive about fairy tales in their historical context, etc. But this story makes me truly angry. How is this, in any way, a defense of women?
Portrait of Perrault by Phillipe Lallemand, 1672

In a sort of twisted way, it looks like he's paying women a compliment by showing how they can be morally superior. But, in this story, in "Bluebeard," and in lots of Victorian literature that would follow, women are expected to be not only morally superior, but perfect, and harshly condemned for falling short in any way. Men can apparently do no wrong, because the Prince in Griselda is not only never punished, but praised for his cruelties because it allowed his wife to show her character. And we're supposed to believe that Griselda will be happy in returning to her twisted and dysfunctional marriage to this guy.

So here's my conclusion: Perrault was being completely serious in his fairy tales, even in his moral to Bluebeard, and yet somehow, in a mind-boggling way, this was actually feminist literature. Although expectations of men and women were vastly different (and completely unfair and unhealthy), Perrault at least shows women who do the right thing (as those at the same defined "the right thing") in the face of great adversity.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

What Perrault Had to Say About His Tales

One of the reasons I was so interested in the book Fairy Tales Framed, edited by Ruth B. Bottigheimer, was to see what Perrault actually thought about his tales. He has a whole host of fairy tales that are now considered to be part of the classic fairy tale canon, but one question that has plagued me for years (as well as many other fairy tale fans and scholars) is what to make of his moral to Bluebeard-the one that concludes that the moral of the story is not to commend the wife for discovering the truth and saving herself from a murderous husband, but to condemn her for her curiosity.

Marina Warner thinks that Perrault's story contains thinly veiled sarcasm and should not be taken seriously; it's true that he was a feminist for his time and a friend and associate with many female fairy tale writers of his time. Maria Tatar thinks he may have given random and contradictory morals just to prove how foolish it is to try and find deeper meaning in fairy tales.

Yet many people who later retold the story seemed to take the moral completely seriously, despite the fact that the story's events contradict the condemnation of the woman (Bluebeard is always punished and the wife lives happily). Cautioning women against curiosity was a big theme in the Victorian era, and even through the 20th century (anyone remember the episode of Dick Van Dyke where they purposely trick Laura into opening a package meant for Rob, and she is humiliated when the boat expands in her living room?)

Unfortunately, Fairy Tales Framed doesn't include anything directly written about "Bluebeard", but includes his own words about his Mother Goose tales and another fairy tale collection that included Donkeyskin-which will shed light on how he thought about all of his tales. In both of those instances, he spends the vast majority of his arguments defending the validity of fairy tales, simply because they had beneficial morals. He compares his stories to ancient myths and fables, and even claims that his morals are superior because they make sense (he claims that "Cupid and Psyche" has no discernible meaning).
rcmtrue, "Allerleiruah"

For example, regarding "Donkeyskin", Perrault wrote that "It is not hard to discern that the goal of this tale is to help children learn that it is better to risk the most severe punishment than to fail to do their duty; that virtue may be thwarted, but it is always rewarded."

Perrault's tale Griselda is a very preachy tale about the need for a wife to humbly obey her husband in all things, even when he is clearly at fault. When the Prince of the tale decides to marry another girl and send his wife back to her parents, she responds with "You are my husband, lord, and master. And whatever else you may hear, you must remember that nothing is nearer my heart than to obey you completely." Seriously, the whole story is like this, it's a very uncomfortable read. It's actually possibly the most sexist fairy tale I've ever read and makes our discussion of how females tend to be more passive overall look like nothing in comparison.

Yet Perrault did not see the cruel husband as needing to change, but the tale concludes with " Indeed, the people even praised the prince's cruelties because they had produced so remarkable a proof of Griselda's constancy that people saw in her a model for women everywhere in the world." He later wrote that the story "tends to influence women to put up with their husbands and to make them see that there is nothing so brutal or strange that the patience of an honest woman cannot bring to an end."

It's really hard to say what Perrault's true intent was. Scholars tend to think he couldn't have meant his words literally, and it's true that many fairy tales were disguised criticism of royalty. Yet I don't really find Perrault's tone to be that "tongue-in-cheek." He may have been defending the publication of fairy tales in general, which was a hot debate at the time, but to all appearances he was literally preaching complete and total obedience of wives to their husbands, no matter how degrading or cruel, in multiple tales.
Russian children's book illustration from Soviet Era-(can't find illustrator name, at least not in English)

And it really begs the question, why do scholars feel the need to defend Perrault's intentions? I admit I don't know much at all about French culture at the time other than what I've read in fairy tale books, but I kind of find it hard to believe that he was really just writing for shock value when it seems everyone at the time and for hundreds of years afterwards took him literally.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Russian Hansel

The Russian version of "Hansel and Gretel" (and its many variants) is one of the most popular Russian folktales. This one only features a young boy. He is abducted by Baba Yaga (sometimes it is because she either asks him for an apple, or offers him an apple; an interesting comparison to Snow White, especially when looking at how women are typically the ones to succumb to such temptations in fairy tales).

Yaga intends to eat the boy. She is often the mother of three daughters in Russian folklore, who are present in most variants of this tale. The first daughter is tasked with putting the boy in the oven, and asks him to sit on the bread spatula. He lies down but sticks his limbs out so that he won't fit into the oven. The daughter insists that he sit the right way; he plays dumb and asks her to show him how. When she does so, he shoves her in the oven and roasts her instead.

And if we think the Grimms' "Hansel and Gretel" are violent for shoving the witch in the oven, this boy takes it a step further; he serves the meat of the daughter to Baba Yaga, who comments on how sweet his meat is, and does the same thing with the other daughters, ending by defeating Yaga herself.

The most interesting thing about this Russian version is its similarity to a local custom of symbolically "baking" children. Andreas Johns says, "It consisted of putting an infant on a bread spatula and into a warm oven, and in some cases putting the child in and taking it out a number of times, with an accompanying dialogue urging the performer of the ritual to bake away the child's illness." A similar ritual in Romania involves holding a child over boiling water to cure it of "the evil eye".

Although it seems shocking, it was not meant to be an abusive thing, but viewed as positive and nurturing, as fire was seen to have healing properties. Still, I can't help but wonder how hot the oven was and how long they held the kid in there...but it seems reasonable to think that the tale could have reflected a child's anxieties concerned with this ritual.
John Augustus Atkinson-Russian oven drawing-1803

Johns also reminds us of how essential an oven was to a family in the middle of cold Russian winters, as their primary source of heat. We are reminded of the paradox of fire, which is both necessary for survival, and also a dangerous instrument of injury and sometimes death. From Wikipedia: "As well as warming and cooking, the Russian oven can be used for washing. A grown man can easily fit inside, and during World War II some people escaped the Nazis by hiding in ovens.[3][4][8][9] In Ancient Russia the oven was used to treat winter diseases by warming the sick person's body inside it."

So maybe this ritual wasn't as close to child abuse as it appears to us; it seems like ovens could be manipulated to become a sort of sauna. Still, I would imagine there would be some anxiety about keeping young children from climbing in...

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Interpreting Baba Yaga

I'm loving my new book, Baba Yaga: The Ambiguous Mother and Witch of the Russian Folklore by Andreas Johns. It came highly recommended by Heidi Anne Heiner, AKA Surlalune, and Tony was kind enough to get it for me for Christmas!

In the first chapter, "Interpreting Baba Yaga," Johns outlines the history of Baba Yaga scholarship and the different theories about her history and significance. It's kind of amazing to see how many people have attempted to trace the history of her name and origins. "Baba" is a common word, found in all Slavic languages, which primarily means "grandmother," but can also mean "old woman/wife," or "married woman," and can also be used as a derogatory term for a man. In Old Russian the word also had connotations of a midwife, sorceress, or fortune teller.

"Yaga" is much more controversial. There are over 50 variants of Yaga's name, and scholars have attempted to prove that linguistically, the name came from anything from "snake" to "female demon of illness."
Ivan Bilibin

The name was not recorded anywhere until 1755, when it was included in a list of Russian folklore characters. In 1780 the author Vasilii Levshin provided an account of her origin which may or may not be his own invention; the devil cooked twelve nasty women together in a cauldron to capture the essence of evil, and the result was Baba Yaga. Baba Yaga popped up regularly in literature and art after that.

The first attempt at understanding her origins was mythical; as a diety of the ancient Slavs. Mikhail Chulkov wrote in 1782 that "the Slavs venerated the underworld goddess by this name, representing her as a frightening figure seated in an iron mortar, with an iron pestle in her hands; they made blood sacrifice to her, thinking that she fed it to the two granddaughters they attributed to her, and that she delighted in the shedding of blood herself."
Image from here

Folklorists such as the famous fairy tale collector Afanasyev believed that folktales were remnants of old religious beliefs and rites; when the ancient ways were forgotten, the meanings of the stories were also lost and the fairy tales we have are only fragments of these older religions. In attempts to explain the most curious aspects of Baba Yaga, the fact that she can be both a helpful donor as well as an evil, cannibalistic witch, Afanasyev saw her as represinting a storm cloud. Such a thing would be a welcome relief in summer, a necessity for life, yet could also be treacherous and deadly in the long Russian winters.

Other mythological interpretations of Baba Yaga see her as representing the loss of children's teeth, the crow, the fox, a Bird Goddess, death, feminity, and fertility. For a while it was also popular to see fairy tales as the result of solar myths, and in 1973 a theory was made that she represents the moon; the waning crescent moon is the explanation for her cannibalistic urges.

Some scholars looked to historical customs to explain Baba Yaga, such as folklorist Vladimir Propp, who created the system of analyzing fairy tales in terms of the functions they all share. Propp traced Baba Yaga tales back to old rituals of initiation in which initiates underwent symbolic death and renewal. Yet, although Propp cites rituals from all over the world, he doesn't explain how those customs came to be represented in a Slavic figure. Although his logic is questionable, Propp's work became very influential in subsequent Baba Yaga scholarship, and many writers associated her with death and rebirth.

One very interesting observation was made by Olga Perianez-Chavernoff in 1983; the differences in how Baba Yaga relates to the hero (as villain or donor/helper) has everything to do with the age of the hero. To young children, Yaga is a threat; she abducts them and attempts to cook and eat them. Yet when the heroes are adolescents, she is usually the donor-even if she tries to take advantage of them, the older heroes find ways to manipulate her into giving them advice or magical aid in their journey.

Some people interpret Baba Yaga as being a Mother figure. She is sometimes the mother-in-law or somehow related to the hero; even when she is not, she may represent people's resentments against their mother's control in childhood. In European tales, it is often supposed that the evil stepmother or witch is a manifestation of the "bad" side of the mother, through the eyes of the child-the one who controls and punishes, whereas the "good" mother is often represented in another form, like a magical animal. So in Baba Yaga, the two sides are present in one figure; but why is she split in Europe and not in Russia?
Dave Crosland

Jack Zipes sees the tales from a social perspective; Yaga represents the evil rulers who suppress the people. But Johns points out that many Russian tales are obviously aimed at the government and don't disguise their feelings, so why would there be a need for a hidden meaning in Baba Yaga?

Other people have seen Baba Yaga as the result of gender issues. Yaga, they claim (without evidence) was more benevolent and likely to be good back in the old days of matriarchy; then in the struggle in which patriarchy overcame, she took on more evil traits.

Of course, Freudian scholars see everything in terms of phallic images. It's actually funny to see how they can take even a single old woman with exaggerated deformities and turn her into something that supposedly represents the act of heterosexual intercourse.
From the film "The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga," via Once Upon a Blog

Especially after reading all of these theories together, it becomes obvious that no one can claim to know the one true meaning of any fairy tale or history (many of these same arguments have been made to interpret the classic fairy tales of Western tradition.) After a while I even started thinking, "do these people actually realize that Baba Yaga is a character and not real?" Although her unique traits, especially her ambiguous moral status, deserve some looking into, it seems odd that scholars try to reconcile all of her characteristics from all of her tales in one master explanation, when in reality, these stories were mostly told by storytellers who only knew the Baba Yaga tales in their region, where they each developed characteristics of their own.

The mere fact that some variants of tales feature Baba Yaga wheras other variants feature a witch would indicate that, while she is a reoccurring staple of folklore, she is clearly interchangeable with other witches or donors. In Russian folklore, a majority of male heroes are named "Ivan," yet no one is trying to figure out how Ivan could have done every act he is attributed in every Russian fairy tale.

Again, being the only character that goes back and forth between good and evil is significant, sometimes within the same tale. But Yaga is only a helpful character in about 1/3 of her stories, and even there, she is usually an unwilling helper. To me that doesn't indicate moral ambiguity, but that the hero  is sometimes more powerful than her and able to trick her. The actions of Baba Yaga may just reflect the character of the hero-either their goodness, wit, or power. Baba Yaga is fearsome and cruel, but the characters are not helpless against her-evil can be conquered.

The rest of the book should definitely shed more light on this intriguing character!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Tales of Faerie Q&A

Hey guys! I'm thinking of doing some sort of "Behind the Scenes" feature next month for my 5 year blogoversary-crazy!!. So if any of you has any questions about me or my blogging process, consider this your opportunity to get to know the mind behind Tales of Faerie! You can ask questions in the comments, on this or future posts.