Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Jack Zipes on Ruth Bottigheimer

Back in 2012 I read Ruth Bottigheimer's book Fairy Tales: A New History and posted my thoughts on it.  Bottigheimer claims that fairy tales as we know them did not originate with the common folk as most people assume, and that they can all really be traced back to Straparola. It was a pretty daring claim to make and caused some controversy within the fairy tale world.

As I mentioned in my review, I had some issues with it, but I was really interested to see what Jack Zipes would think. We actually had a lot of the same points of concern (although his are worded much more strongly. According to Zipes, Bottigheimer's definition of fairy tales is "the most misleading, the most simplistic" he has ever read; her earlier book is "one of the most narrow, positivist studies of folklore and fairy tales ever produced").

1. Bottigheimer claims that there are literally no rise fairy tales (in which the protagonist goes from being poor to being wealthy) previous to Straparola. This is simply untrue, and Zipes points out, there's plenty of documentation of such stories previous to the Italian Renaissance. Plus, there are a million reasons that oral stories wouldn't be printed (many people were illiterate, and even those that weren't had no motivation to write them down). Many tales can trace their history back further to myths and motifs found in other literature, although I assume Bottigheimer would just say they were similar stories but don't fit in to the fairy tale genre (as she defines it).  Even then, there's the 8th century Chinese version of Cinderella, "Yeh Shien," and countless tales from the Arabian Nights that fit her definition of rise fairy tales. Which lead to the next major point-

2. Bottigheimer completely ignores non-Western countries. Not that she explains away the tales, she literally never mentions the highly influential Arabian Nights which predate Straparola, or acknowledges that similar folk and fairy tales occur in countries all over the world, even countries that would not have had the Italian literary fairy tales published in their language at the time when they were telling such stories.

3. This hadn't occured to me, but Zipes points out that Bottigheimer's view can really be seen as looking down on the peasants of Europe-she assumes that there's no way they could have had the creativity to create, tell, and spread fairy tales other than to simplify stories that they heard of through the literate upper class.

Still, I'm glad I read Bottigheimer's book. Although her claims are extreme, I think it's important to realize how influential Basile and Straparola were in the history of fairy tales. We might get frustrated when we hear yet another person mistakenly calling a Grimm tale the "original" or "authentic," but to have so completely forgotten these Italian men as a culture is like imagining that in the future, people will be calling the Disney cartoons the "original" versions (scary). A balanced view of fairy tale history will look at both the oral nature of fairy tales and the literary, and how the two interwove to influence each other over the generations. A balanced view should also take into account how little we can actually know about cultures hundreds of years ago when we don't have too many historical documents rather than making absolute claims.

From The Irrestistible Fairy Tale: The Cultural and Social History of a Genre by Jack Zipes

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Artist Feature: Rima Staines

"Rima Staines, a talented British artist, has experimented with portraying different images of Baba Yaga, Red Riding Hood's grandmother, and the witch in "Hansel and Gretel." To her mind, they are all related and part of one deity. The old woman 'appears as an incarnation of the crone of winter aspect of the female deities of old. She is the carrier of wisdom, the guardian of the life and death gates, the overseer of the cold months, and the stewardess of the story...her appearance in orally passed down fairy tales seems to stress the importance of story for gaining and nurturing wisdom.'"

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Significance of Shoes in Perrault's Time

"Today, the word Perrault used for Cinderella's footwear, pantoufle, is translated as "slipper," whereas in 1697 a pantoufle worn to a ball was clearly a high-heeled mule."*
"One of the earliest surviving French luxe mules, just the kind of slipper Cinderella wore to the ball"

A mule is any shoe that lacks a back, such as the one above from Perrault's time. During the Versaille era, the reign of the Sun King, fashion was undergoing a revolution. The clothes, shoes, and hair worn by the men and ladies at the royal court became trends the like of which had never seen before-their looks were copied and spread throughout the country of France and eventually the world. And a new look was just catching on-one that still seems highly done up to us, but one that at the time was more casual, the "desabiller," or "undressed" look. Clothes that were formally worn only at home were now worn out in public, breaking the previous fashion rules. These clothes were more relaxed, and more figure-conscious.

Similarly, the mule was a shoe once only worn at home, like a house slipper. It was much easier to slip off (important for both the Cinderella tale and the perceived image of the mule)-plus its connotations as a shoe formerly worn in the bedroom gave it sexual overtones. Fashion engravings, the only form of fashion advertising, were getting more and more scandalous-hard as it is for us to imagine, at one time it really was shocking for a woman to reveal her ankles, and the mule allowed that.

One thing I never realized is that Madame D'Aulnoy's tale "Finette Cindron" was essentially a competition, at the time, for Perrault's "Cendrillon." The two tales were published only months apart, and both were the author's versions of the oral Cinderella tales in circulation. Clearly Perrault's story has won out in popular imagination, but they're interesting to compare and contrast. Some people have already supposed that the Cinderella tale is really one about a foot fetish; Joan deJean makes the case that this is even more likely in "Finette Cindron."

The story is sort of like a mashup of "Cinderella" and "Hansel and Gretel", complete with a mother attempting to abandon her children in the woods, and an ogre wanting to eat them and being outwitted and burned in his own oven. The story is longer and more complicated which is probably partly why it was  never as popular. I noticed upon reading that shoes are prominently featured throughout the story: in poverty at the beginning, the soles of her shoes become worn through from walking to her godmother's; in servitude to her sisters, her job is to polish their shoes. Your relationship to shoes would have determined your status in France back them (as some people might say is also the case today, from the celebrities with closets full of designer heels, to those who can barely afford one pair, if that).

Then enter the fairy shoes: "red velvet mules completely encrusted with pearls," and Finette is the talk of the town. DeJean points out one interesting difference between Perrault's and D'Aulnoy's tales: in Perrault, Cinderella lets her shoe drop, on purpose; in D'Aulnoy, Finette loses it accidentally (easily done with mules). She and the prince have never even met; the Prince becomes obsessed, but it's more clear that it's with the shoe itself. The Prince held it, "turned it this way and that, kissed it, caressed it, and took it home with him." He does agree to marry the woman who fits the shoe, but deJean suggests it's because then he would have access to a closet full of "tiny, lovely" shoes.

And, just as the stepsisters are willing in the Grimm story to mutilate their feet to fit into the coveted shoe, D'Aulnoy gives us another image to make us squirm: "every woman washed her feet with the sorts of waters, pastes, and pomades. Some ladies actually had them peeled, while others starved themselves in order to make their feet smaller and prettier." *Shudder*

(Although...wouldn't it be a lot easier to fit into a shoe a couple sizes smaller if they  were mules?)

"D'Aulnoy's alternate version of the Cinderella story is the perfect icon for what can be seen as the first shoe-obsessed age. In a country ruled by a monarch who never tired of displaying his footwear, shoes became central to every outfit and to many psyches."

*Source: The Essence of Style: How the French Invented High Fashion, Fine Food, Chic Cafes, Style, Sophistication, and Glamour, by Joan deJean (chapter 3-"Cinderella's Slipper and the King's Boots", which also references "Puss in Boots")

Monday, June 22, 2015

A Little Fairy Tale Humor

You guys are probably sick of my soapbox on how fairy tales are so much more than childish and oversimplified stories, yet the vast majority of references to fairy tales you hear in pop culture and in real life refer to them this way. So I appreciated this comic and that it recognizes that many fairy tales really have a lot in common with horror. (Although they're not identical to horror, just like they're not all cutesy and twee)

Friday, June 19, 2015

Petrus and Catherine Gonsalvus: Historical Beauty and the Beast?

I've heard of people trying to find true historical precedents for fairy tale characters such as Bluebeard and Snow White, but despite all my readings on Beauty and the Beast, I had never heard of a supposedly historical Beast, until recently an anonymous commenter led me to this video on the smithsonianchannel. It tells of the story of Petrus Gonsalvus, a man with hypertrichosis, or Ambras syndrome-a body completely covered in hair.

You can read the basics of his life on Wikipedia. The video on smithsonian is about 46 minutes long, and details the life of Gonsalves, as well as some of the modern people who have the same rare condition, and some of the science behind it. The description claims: "It's a condition known as "hypertrichosis" or "Ambras Syndrome," but in the 1500s it would transform one man into a national sensation and iconic fairy-tale character. His name: Petrus Gonsalvus, more commonly known today as the hairy hero of Beauty and the Beast. Discover the facts behind the fable as we follow Petrus's remarkable life with a very rare and hairy genetic condition. Then learn about this medical phenomenon, which continues to fascinate and perplex scientists to this day."

It's quite a sad tale of how humans treat those who are different, especially in the 16th century. But the claim that Petrus Gonsalvus is not just coincidentally similar to the Beast, but the inspiration for the classic fairy tale, had me suspicious. No history of BATB I've ever read has cited this man as being part of the tale's history. Was this just another sensationalized show, exaggerating to get more views? The story is always linked back to the myth of "Cupid and Psyche". There is a long string of folklore between that and the Animal Bridegroom tales written in the French Salon period. I'm not sure if you can prove either way if those tales most similar to BATB were around before Gonsalvus, it's so hard to date the oral tales, but I think given how widespread Animal Bridegroom tales are all over the world, folklorists would say they were being told before Gonsalvus. The documentary hardly mentions the fairy tale at all until this at the end-"And even if there had been tales of Beauty and her love for the Beast before them, their lives must have influenced one of the most famous love stories in world literature."

It's an interesting theory. Given that the couple was well known at European courts, it's not impossible to assume that they would have been known to Basile, who included several Animal Bridegroom tales in his collection in the late 1600s, or later Villeneuve and her French contemporaries (D'Aulnoy's "The Ram" and Bignon's "Princess Zieneb and the Leopard" are very similar tales that predated Villeneuve's).

Petrus Gonsalvus was given a wife-a wife selected for her beauty, not told what her husband looked like, and ordered to marry by the Queen. Yet, the couple got along, and may have grown to fall in love-in the illustration above, the resting of Catherine's hand on her husband's shoulder is a sign of affection. They had seven children together-some of them with hypertrichosis (the only ones the public cared about). The family attempted to live a normal life, but were exploited by a public that did not see those with differences as entirely human-tragically, the children who inherited their father's condition were all given away as gifts to other European royalty.
Who else thinks that the story of Catherine Gonsalvus is just begging to be made into a novel by Kate Forsyth?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Mermaids from South America

Even if you're not headed to the beach this summer, all things nautical start popping up in advertisements at this time of year and we're told that the ideal summer includes time at the shore. For me, this means that I tend to consider mermaids as an especially "summery" interest, so recently I've turned to Surlalune's Mermaid and Water Spirit Tales from Around the World.

This book is one of the thickest volumes in the series, which means there's so much to explore. I've posted on Historical Mermaid Accounts, Mermaid Hoaxes, and Danish Mermaid Tales, all courtesy of this volume, and have only scratched the surface. This time around I was interested in some of the tales from areas around the world that were least influenced by Western culture, such as those from South America (although, once a tale has been told and translated into English, there's no guarantee it wasn't also influenced by Western tales).
Howard Pyle

In Charles Daniel Dance's essay on mermaid folklore in Guyana, he states that "the attachment of the Water Spirit to human beings is mostly sexual." And while you can find stories of mermaids who threaten the lives of children, it's true that the vast majority of mermaid tales across the globe seem to be explorations of tragic romances and fatal attractions. The well known beautiful and dangerous sirens of mythology have their counterparts around the world, but there are also mermen who prey on females. In Herbert H. Smith's words about the Brazilian mermaids, called Oiara, Uauyara, or Yara, he says "The Uauyara is a great lover of our Indian women; many of them attribute their first child to this deity, who sometimes surprises them when they are bathing, sometimes transforms himself into the figure of a mortal to seduce them, sometimes drags them under the water, where they are forced to submit to him. On moonlight nights the lakes are often illuminated, and one hears the songs and the measured tread of the dances with which the Uauyara amuses himself."
H. J. Ford

As I read the tales from Brazil, I was struck by how powerful the force of these siren/sea maids were, and how no man was able to resist them, even to the point of altering his personality. Elizabeth Brown Chase recounts that the Brazilian Yara, this time also called a water-witch, "lured young men by her marvelous singing. After seeing her the youth would become melancholy and would haunt the river day and night where he had first beheld her. His friends and people would remonstrate with and warn him of the enchantress "whose smile is death", but the youth, be he chief or simple Indian would not listen; he would go to the river. There the beautiful being would appear and as he rushed to embrace her the waters would divide, and the two would disappear."

There is a beautiful Brazilian tale found in Andrew Lang's Brown Fairy Book, titled "The Story of the Yara," in which the young lover Alonzo struggles to heed the warnings of his beloved fiancee Julia and stay away from the river where he encountered the Yara. (The Yara have no qualms enticing men who are committed, in fact it almost seems they delight in destroying romances and marriages.) The fact that he has seen the Yara causes him to act differently, to even laugh differently, and despite his intentions to listen to Julia, to go back to the river. (Read the rest online to see how true love conquers all in this rare happy ending).

These stories, and the power attributed to the sirens and mermen who destroy as they entice, could simply be literal warnings (belief in such creatures was pretty universal until relatively recently in human history), or warnings against sexual temptations. But the obsession and altered character of the victim of the Sea Maid sounds a lot to me like someone who has developed an addiction to drugs or alcohol.

I'm not sure if this interpretation even works historically-I know that in the past, alcohol was more diluted and drugs were not as strong, although drunkenness is certainly not a new problem. But considering that physical abuse is one of the primary themes of folklore, and the strong connection between substance abuse and domestic violence, it's a theme that seems like it's begging to be explored through stories.
Johannes Christiaan Schotel, "Storm on the Sea"

But it's also interesting to note that mermaid beliefs and legends are really quite similar around the globe. We are fascinated by them, but have always attributed a sense of danger and the threat of death with them. This is likely a reflection of how dangerous water and sea travels could be, such as is revealed in a series of North American children's ballads, with a chorus like this one: "The raging sea goes roar, roar, roar, and the stormy winds they do blow, while we poor sailors are drowning in the deep, and the pretty girls are standing on the shore." Although most of the tales seem to warn of the dangers of seduction more so than sailing, every culture seems to agree that great caution should be heeded around water spirits.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Free Fairy Tales (for Kindles)

Tales of Faerie is run on a budget. Or rather, it's completely a labor of love. The books I read are received as gifts or borrowed from the library, so I'm always on the lookout for a good deal.

For those of you who have a Kindle, you probably already know you can get great deals on ebooks. There's also a series of public domain books that volunteers have made into ereader format and are FREE to those with Kindles! Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a way to search only free books (UPDATE: with help from Emilyn J. Wood, here is a link to books with the keyword "fairy tale" and sorted with lowest price first) but I've collected some of the fairy tale books that might interest readers most.

Fairy Tales Every Child Should Know, edited by Hamilton Wright Mabie
Favorite Fairy Tales, edited by Logan Marshall
English Fairy Tales, collected by Joseph Jacobs
Fairy Tales From All Nations, edited by Anthony R. Montalba, Illustrated by Richard Doyle

This is only a partial list. There are free kindle editions for fiction books I haven't read, and other tales from around the world, such as Irish,Swedish, South African and American. Browse through the Kindle ebook store with the keyword fairy tale to find more, although finding free ones might take some digging. Although I've mentioned before that I'm pretty old fashioned when it comes to books-I prefer the physical, hard copies, which are still easier in my opinion for taking notes and flipping through afterwards, although ebooks have note taking abilities. But, you can't deny the good deals that Kindle provides. Plus, Kindles are ideal for traveling. I've got a couple of trips coming up this summer and I'm the type of person who likes to bring multiple books on vacation, so clearly a Kindle is a nice, lightweight alternative to stuffing several books in my baggage.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Baba Yaga as a Mother Figure

Psychologists have long thought that the presence of witches, evil stepmothers, and ogresses in fairy tales are a result of splitting the mother into two versions-one good and one bad. It's hard for young children, as concrete thinkers, to understand that their mother who loves and cares for them can also be the one to scold them and sometimes lose their patience. Andreas Johns explores this concept more thoroughly as it relates to Baba Yaga as a mother figure.

All children must, as they grow, learn to find their identity as independent of their primary caretaker, which in most cultures in history has usually been the mother, or other females. Interestingly, in Russia, peasant families often lived together in large houses with extended family. Although children weren't raised completely communally and still had a significant relationship with their birth mother, aunts and cousins and sisters would have likely played more of a role in raising children than in Western cultures. This could help to explain the multiple, and contradicting, faces of a mother figure.

The correlation between Baba Yaga and a mother is often made clear. Sometimes the hero of the tale refers to her as "mother," sometimes the text makes specific contrasts between the hero's mother at home and Baba Yaga-as the one weeps outside her hut for her son, Baba Yaga brings the boy to her hut to harm him. One version notes that Yaga "spoke like his mother," for she listened to how his mother spoke and imitated it.

The parallel between Baba Yaga and the mother is even more interesting with tales in which Yaga attempts to cook the hero in an oven. The oven has similarities to a womb, according to psychoanalysts. Russian customs support this idea. To ease the pain of childbirth, one trick was to open an oven door. Also, a wedding custom of a certain province included riding around with a broom and an oven door, to symbolize the loss of a bride's virginity. A Russian proverb states "the oven is our mother." It becomes clear that Baba Yaga, in attempting to put the hero of a tale into an oven, is also trying to put him back into her womb. This could be seen as a way for mothers to express the frustrations of raising children, or possibly represents the idea of a mother trying to prevent a child from growing older. "In many ways Baba Yaga is a reversal or inversion of the hero's mother. The mother is good, gives birth to a boy, and feeds him; Baba Yaga is evil, wants to force the boy back into the oven (a symbolic womb), and eat him."

There is a tale type in Russia that is similar to "Hansel and Gretel", only it features a male and not his sister. I referenced it a while ago, especially as it relates to an old Russian custom of symbolically "baking" children. What does it mean that this tale, and related stories in which Baba Yaga attempts to cook and eat a child, feature predominantly male heroines? Johns concludes that the tales must explore the complications that rise specifically in a mother-son relationship.

Johns says incest could be one of the complications of the mother-son relationship that this tale explores. I'm always wary of psychologists who automatically assume the meaning of every fairy tale relationship must be sexual, and statistically, far fewer boys are molested in childhood than girls (as far as we are aware, it's a difficult issue to get data on). Still, the fact is, incest does happen, even between mothers and their sons; even what isn't common still needs to be dealt with.

Another explanation for the emphasis on the mother-son relationship, and one that I think is more widely applicable, is the fact that, as children establish their own identity as mentioned above,it is more difficult for a son to separate himself into a separate gender than the one who raised him. This causes unique issues, and is sometimes expressed in negativity about the female gender (and probably part of the reason that even today, doing something "like a girl" is considered doing it poorly, while "being a man" has good connotations.

However, how does this line of thought compare to Western tales? Although we have Gretel, it isn't her that the witch wants to eat. Although you could really look at the Rapunzel tale as being a story about a mother trying to stunt her daughter's growth into a woman.

Also interesting to note: Russian lullabies tend to be especially morbid, often singing about the death of the child. Read more on the topic here, but here's a sample:
Bye-bye, bye-bye,
Quickly die,
On the morning will be frost,
And you’ll go to the grave-yard.
Grandfather will come
And will bring the coffin.
Grandmother will come
And will bring the grave clothes.
Mother will come
And will sing the prayer song.
Father will come
And will take you to the graveyard.

Art by Antonina Medvedeva

Monday, June 8, 2015

Princess and the Frog

Continuing on in my trend this week of reviewing Disney movies everyone has already seen...now we go even FURTHER back in time. Last weekend I saw one of the classic fairy tale cartoons that I somehow managed to never see around the time it came out, 2009, Princess and the Frog. At the time, as I remember, there wasn't that much buzz around it after it came out, and I assumed it wasn't that great.

Given my lower expectations, I was really impressed by the film! It wasn't the funniest Disney film ever but it had my group of friends and I laughing on several occasions. And even more impressive were the characters.

At first I was worried about Prince Naveen's character. I knew he would eventually end up with Tiana and I didn't see it. I thought it would be like Tangled-my main problem with Tangled was that I didn't believe Flynn Rider had really changed and that Rapunzel had any reason to trust him. So often in romances-and not just fairy tale romances-the audience isn't really supposed to think too much about the characters, and whether or not they could actually work together. We're just shown a guy and a girl and it's assumed we want them to be together. Yet, although Naveen's and Tiana's romance was short compared to reality, given the time constraints of a family friendly Disney musical, I thought they did a nice job. I believed the change in Naveen and found myself really rooting for them as a couple.

I really liked the fact that all the main characters came to a point where they had to make a choice and ultimately sacrifice their biggest dream for the sake of the other characters-Naveen was going to give up Tiana to give her her restaurant, she gave up her restaurant and later her humanity to be with Naveen, even Louis had to stop playing in a jazz band to help save them, and Ray! Don't judge me but I may have teared up a little when there were two stars in the sky...
This scene was gorgeous...

In fact it was kind of like the reverse of my thoughts on Into the Woods. In that film, the question is, how far will each character go to get what they want? "Princess and the Frog" shows the characters all giving up what they want for others. And that's pretty rare for Disney films (and most movies...) the only other Disney fairy tale I can think of where the characters make tough choices like that, instead of just responding to the situation around them, is "Beauty and the Beast" (Belle gives up her freedom for her father, Beast sacrifices his chance of being with Belle and becoming human to let her go home).

And speaking of BATB-the fact that Tiana became a frog was advertised in all the trailers at the time, and no secret. But it did provide a nice twist on the Animal Bride/Bridegroom tale to have both of them transformed-there's no wondering, like in BATB, if the Beast would have even fallen for Belle if she weren't the most beautiful girl in the village. Both of the characters fall for each other while they're frogs so the physical aspect of the romance isn't an issue at all.
Concept Art

Tiana is a strong, feminist character (if not a little extremely preachy about the value of hard work and judgmental at first, but that was part of her character's growth). I couldn't decide if showing a woman who is career focused and whose big lesson to be learned is that she needs love too is ironically unfeminist though...but I decided I didn't mind it. The reverse, a woman who only wants love, would be too much like her Princess predecessors. (We also had that character in Charlotte). Plus there are plenty of family movies out there in which the father has to learn to spend time with his family and not focus just on work. Tiana is clearly more mature and likeable than Naveen at first, but I'm really glad they both had something to learn and it wasn't all about spoiled rich people being selfish. To even show a female so career focused and uninterested in men was pretty unusual for Disney, and it does reflect the challenges women are facing now that we have more career opportunities to have to juggle work and family and try to find that tricky balance.

What did you guys think? According to Wikipedia, part of the reason the movie didn't do as well as the studio hoped is the fact that the word "Princess" was in the title of the movie, therefore it appealed mostly to little girls and not as wide of an audience (and hence the titles for more recent Princess movies being "Tangled," "Brave," and "Frozen"). And while critics liked it overall, the overwhelming response was to compare it to "Beauty and the Beast," "Lion King," and the other major animated films of the second Disney Golden Age in the 90s. That's part of the problem for any Disney movie, is people's expectations can be SO high they'll be disappointed with anything that won't be nominated for Best Picture ("Princess and the Frog" was nominated for Best Animated Picture, but lost to "Up.")

Friday, June 5, 2015

Faerie Magazine Spring Issue

Faerie Magazine's Spring Issue is now available as a free digital download! Past issues available for $2.50

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Into the Woods Afternoon Tea

Any of you live near London? Through this week, you can go to an "Into the Woods"-themed afternoon tea. (Anyone want to fly me out?...)

More information:
"sketch has teamed up with Disney's musical masterpiece Into the Woods, to create a limited edition run of its Afternoon Tea... 
Available from Monday 18th May - Sunday 7th June.

The inspired menu has re-created some of the classic afternoon tea elements and given them a fantasy, fairytale makeover - with items fit for any basket to take to grandma's house.
Included in the re-vamped tea is Little Red Riding Hood's Choux, Jack's Beanstalk Tart and a Prince Charming Green 'Sand-Witch', all complemented by the Baker and His Wife's selection of sketch pastries."

View the Menu Here
How fun is that?