Sunday, August 30, 2015

Mattia Biagi

Mattia Biagi is an Italian artist who did a series of tar sculptures that play with the idea of childhood objects losing their innocence. Among the collection, in addition to teddy bears, Mickey Mouses, and musical instruments, are a few fairy tale images. Dark and creepy, that Red Riding Hood image is definitely one that grabs your attention:

"Stay Out of My Closet"
(6 feet tall!)

"Before Midnight I"
fiberglass covered in tar
"Before Midnight"

"Den of Iniquity"

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Monday, August 24, 2015

One Book In The Grave, and Rare Fairy Tale Books

It's not a fairy tale retelling or one of the typical fiction books you'd find me talking about on here, but I saw this book in the mystery section at the library and just had to try it: One Book in the Grave by Kate Carlisle.
"There may be grave consequences for bookbinder Brooklyn Wainwright as she attempts to solve two murders tied to one book...

Brooklyn's chance to restore a rare first edition of Beauty and the Beast seems a fairytale come true--until she realizes the book last belonged to an old friend of hers. Three years ago, Max Adams, a renowned, brawny papermaker, fell in love with a stunning beauty, Emily, and gave her the copy of Beauty and the Beast as a symbol of their love. Soon afterward, he died in a car crash, and Brooklyn has always suspected his possessive ex-girlfriend and her jealous beau.

Now she decides to find out who sold the book and return it to its rightful owner--Emily. She believes a rare book dealer can assist her, but when she arrives at his shop, she finds him murdered. Is it possible the same couple who may have killed Daniel is now after his edition of Beauty and the Beast? With the help of her handsome boyfriend, Derek Stone, Brooklyn must unravel the murder plot--before she ends up in a plot herself..."

I don't usually have super high expectations of mysteries I find by authors I'm not familiar with. I thought that as a mystery, it wasn't especially well written (the characters don't cleverly put the clues together, they're just conveniently told pieces of the puzzle by other characters; there are no true red herrings or twists, because the people you suspect all along really are guilty, there's just an extra bad guy thrown in at the end to provide some sort of surprise, etc. The murderer's motivations seemed far-fetched to me). Yet, the book is pretty highly rated on Amazon, and it was an easy vacation read.
It was fun to read a book with an old fairy tale book at the center of it. The author doesn't go into the plot of BATB in detail, but one of the couples in the book sort of represents Beauty and the Beast and the book is a symbol of their love. Even the whole idea of restoring old books is compared to the story-the idea of taking something old and worn and revealing the beauty that is inside and that was once outside is very fitting.

As someone who loves old books and would take a musty-smelling, falling apart old copy of a book over a shiny new copy any day, it was also interesting to read a little about someone whose job is to restore old books and the tools and the process involved in that, or in papermaking, rare book selling, and that whole world. Although I'm not sure how accurate some facts are-one character paid $12,000 for the central book. I'm no expert in rare books, but that seemed a bit much for a book in poor condition (other copies of fairy tale books from the same era are going for around $15-20, like this one). But I guess it also depends on who's selling and buying, because for a whopping $48,000, you can be the proud owner of this 1937 illustrated Snow White book, signed by Walt Disney himself:
And this first edition of "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" with illustrations by Kay Nielsen is going for $6,200.
It's hard to research online, when typing in "rare Beauty and the Beast book" brings up an awful lot of Disney products-does anyone know more about the edition featured in the book cover above (does that particular copy even exist??) or how much a fair price for late Victorian-era first edition fairy tale books would be? This site seems to have its antique fairy tale books more reasonably priced, most at under $100. This first edition fairy tale book from 1890 is $142. And of course the price also depends on how many copies there are of the book in question, the condition, etc. It's a topic I'm not too familiar but would be interested in learning more about!

UPDATE: Heidi Anne Heiner of Surlalune has some information on the value of old fairy tale books in the comments! Thanks for sharing, Heidi!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

After the Ball

I heard about this new movie via Surlalune, After the Ball, a modern retelling of Cinderella set in the fashion world. It's such a natural setting for the story. Heidi warned that it was along the lines of a Hallmark movie, but I'm a sucker for all those "fashion" movies and shows that attempt to be like Devil Wears Prada, and of course a fun fairy tale retelling, so I was happy this was available on Netflix Instant Play. It only has 1 1/2 stars on Netflix, so I was prepared for less than stellar quality, but it ended up being perfect for a girls' date with a friend.

Maybe it was just because I had low expectations, but I liked it! Not like it's the greatest Cinderella retelling ever-I'd rate it under Ever After and Year of the Fish but way above Hilary Duff's A Cinderella Story. Some parts were annoying-like the way overused cliche of the protagonist who is so awkward she literally falls over things in every scene, or the stupid stepsister being too stupid.

But: I liked that, while it was clearly a Cinderella story, it was more subtle than some retellings. In fact, I thought the whole element of Kate's disguise was pretty clever. It was unique-they recognized that it was a nod to Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night," but I don't think I've heard of another Cinderella retelling where her "rags" are a disguise as a male (although her "rags" can also be seen as her less-than-cutting-edge-of-fashion wardrobe). It was a little painful to see her attempt to impersonate a male fashion designer so awkwardly, but I also liked the idea that sometimes a disguise or costume can be a way to gain confidence (and apparently once you've gained professional courage you stop tripping over everything in sight).
(Kate's disguise made me miss Christian Siriano and the early seasons of Project Runway)

I also liked the scene of the identification by shoe-because Kate's disguise is so unusual it was a unique way for her "Prince" to show that he knew her secret, not that he was so oblivious he couldn't recognize his true love without a ball gown on. The ending was also satisfying, the way Kate and her friends engineered a just punishment for the stepmother and stepsisters without going too violent (like birds pecking out their eyes) or too naively forgiving, which isn't very satisfying.

Also, Colin Mochrie?? Was surprised to see him show up as a rival fashion I want to watch "Whose Line is It Anyway?".

This about sums it up:

It's predictable and cheesy, but it's still a fun chick flick if that's what you're in the mood for-easy, girly fun.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Guest Post: 5 Strangest Things I Learned About Sleeping Beauty, by Amy Elize Brown of Willow Web

This summer has been full of travels, weddings, and other such things that, while wonderful, make it a little harder for me to do the research and blog work I'd like. But I'm thrilled to be able to bring you some guests posts as I transition back into a regular school year routine! First up is Amy Elize Brown of The Willow Web, although you may recognize her as the face behind the Blog Formerly Known As "Asleep in the Woods." I was so excited to find "Asleep in the Woods," which is where Amy shared some of the things she discovered as she was researching "Sleeping Beauty" for her dissertation! This Brit is very knowledgeable about fairy tales in general, and shares her insights with humor and personality, which makes her blog fun to read.
So as a special treat for Tales of Faerie readers, Amy has generously agreed to share with us 5 strange things she learned about Sleeping Beauty via her research!


When studying fairy tales, there are always little things to notice. A golden goose in one tale may be a swan in another, or you might find lots of enchanted necklaces. The fact that the princess must visit the troll three times is significant, because it’s like the part in another tale where another princess has to go to a ball three times…

The human brain loves to make patterns. Once you notice these details, you notice them everywhere. When you choose a specific story to investigate, this only intensifies. For me, this story was Sleeping Beauty and it’s variations, most notably Sun, Moon and Talia (Basile), Little Briar-Rose (Grimm) and The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood (Perrault). For the year I spent working on my dissertation, my brain was a constant mush of spinning wheels, cannibal ogres, and evil fairies/witches/wise women. I grew up with the Disney version of Sleeping Beauty, which I still love, but I’ve always felt that it was somewhat… lacking. Maleficent’s backstory and motive are never explained (well, not until the film Maleficent was released in 2014, but even that doesn’t do a great job!), and poor Aurora doesn’t get much choice in anything. She gets her happily ever after, but it could so easily not have turned out like that. As a writing device, the premise of ‘girl cursed to fall asleep for a century’ has so much potential. I wanted to use it.
Edmund Dulac

For my dissertation, I wrote the opening to a novel based on certain elements from Sleeping Beauty. Specifically, I used "Sun, Moon and Talia" as my source. But before I got to that final piece of writing, I researched Sleeping Beauty stories until I fell asleep at my desk. Multiple times. I devoured and version of the story and every critical text about it that I had time to, making notes on each to compare and contrast. Some things I learned were exciting, and made me squeal about my own story and write faster. Some were obvious, so I just glossed over them. Some were fascinating, and gave me a sense of the wider context of the story. Others were just a bit strange. And come on, let’s be honest, it’s the strange ones we’re really interested in, isn’t it?

Let me take you on a little tour into the strange side of Sleeping Beauty…

Strange Thing #1: Not all spinning wheels have points… And ‘spindle’ is not another word for spinning wheel 

That iconic scene, where the princess touches the sharp point of the spinning wheel and falls asleep? Not quite so easy to replicate in real life!

The sharp point of the spinning wheel is called the spindle. This is where the fleece (or whatever you’re spinning) gets twisted to make it into yarn. The wheel is attached to the spindle via a belt, and so when the wheel turns, it turns the spindle as well and that’s how the fleece/whatever gets twisted into thread.

However, few spindles have the sharp metal point on them, and ever fewer have it standing upright as shown in Sleeping Beauty. Most spindles are horizontal, and if they are sharp they are protected by the other parts of the wheel to prevent spinners from injuring themselves. Some spinning wheels have a vertical pole-type attachment called a distaff, which is where the unspun fibres are stored to stop them from getting in the way. So it’s more likely that the princess could prick her finger on that - except it’s not sharp!

1880s Oak Spinning Wheel

Spindles can also exist independently from spinning wheels - these are called drop spindles. A drop spindle is a straight spike, usually made from wood, with a round weight on the bottom which is called a whorl. Drop spindles come in different sizes, depending on how thick the spinner wants the yarn to be.

I actually bought a cheap second-hand spinning wheel to have a go with. Unfortunately, the bolt through the centre of the wheel is lose so it doesn’t work properly. I’m still looking for someone to fix it a year later. Spinning wheel repair people are few and far between! However, I was recently given a drop spindle to play with, too. I’m still figuring that one out.

Strange Thing #2: How witches came to fly broomsticks 

Not exactly Sleeping Beauty related, but this is one of the most peculiar and fascinating things I came across on my dissertation journey.

Every Halloween, we are inundated with images of women wearing pointy hats and flying on broomsticks. Magic, right? Actually, the reality is quite different…

Flying ointment. Not something made up of sugar, spice, and all things nice, that’s for sure! Flying ointment was composed of herbs such as henbane, belladonna, hemlock, and wolfsbane. If ingested, these are poisonous. But if heated to extract the oil and then mixed with animal fat, they become hallucinogenic. This mixture was absorbed through the skin (and… other places. Just look at the shape of a broom, doesn’t take much imagination!), and used before mounting broomsticks to simulate flying through hallucination.

Due to the toxicity of the herbs, to prevent the flying ointment from causing harm opium was used as an antidote. Opium’s properties oppose belladonna’s, and so taking it counteracts the effects of the poison. A variation of flying ointment including morphine and opium was also given to women during childbirth, to ease pain and encourage temporary amnesia.

Another version of flying ointment is the mould ergot, which grows on rye bread. Again, if ingested in large quantities it is lethal, but smaller amounts absorbed through the skin and ‘other places’ produce hallucinogenic effects.

I’m going to link you to Kristin’s post about drug use in fairy tales for more information and links about this topic. When I was doing my research, that was what led me to this topic!

Strange Thing #3: It’s not just princesses who sleep… there’s also a fairy tale about a sleeping prince!

Funnily enough, it’s called ‘The Sleeping Prince.’ And it does exactly what it says on the tin! Although, as well a being a gender-bent version of Sleeping Beauty, it also contains elements of Snow White and East of the Sun, West of the Moon.

A princess is sewing, and she pricks her finger and spills droplets of blood onto the windowsill. This happens three times, and each time a bird appears. The bird tells the princess about a prince who is asleep, and will awaken on St. John’s night. So the princess sets out to find him, wearing a pair of iron shoes because the journey is long and tough.

She meets three old women, whose sons are the winds. They give her directions to the prince’s castle. When she arrives there, she waits until the prince awakens and then they get married.

You can read the full story here

Strange Thing #4: Fairies, witches, and wise women can be interchangeable.

Depending on the version of the story, the beings which bestow gifts on the princess vary. It can be fairies, goddesses, or wise women. But ultimately, these are all variations on a theme. They are ambiguous, and magical. Many folklorists draw parallels between witches, fairies and goddesses from ancient mythology. Over time, they have evolved to become interchangeable terms for one another. Interesting, because in some cases this undermines the true natures and histories of witches, fairies, and goddesses, but in others it reinforces the sense of shared roots between the three entities. In "Sun, Moon and Talia", goddesses are present at the christening. In "The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood", it's fairies. In "Little Briar-Rose", it’s wise women - which seems to be a more polite way of saying ‘witch.’ Being a wise woman would still have earned you a trip to the stake during the times of the witch trials.

For further reading, I recommend Jack Zipe’s book The Irresistible Fairy Tale: The Cultural and Social History of a Genre. There is a whole chapter in here about witches, fairies and interchangeability.

Strange Thing #5: The moral of the story

Like all fairy tales, Sleeping Beauty has been interpreted in lots of different ways by lots of different people. Most commonly, it is seen as a story of warning against parents who try to prevent their children (particularly daughters) from reaching sexual maturity. Regardless of the king’s efforts, the princess pricks her finger on the spinning wheel anyway. Growing up, menstruation, and sex are inevitable rites of passage, and if parents interfere then they may cause more harm than good. Like, a 100 years worth of sleep type of harm…
Henry Meynell Rheam

However, Charles Perrault offers another moral to the end of "The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood":

‘Many a girl has waited long
For a husband brave or strong;
But I'm sure I never met
 Any sort of woman yet
Who could wait a hundred years,
Free from fretting, free from fears.
Now, our story seems to show
That a century or so,
Late or early, matters not;
True love comes by fairy-lot.
 Some old folk will even say
It grows better by delay.
Yet this good advice, I fear,
Helps us neither there nor here.
Though philosophers may prate
How much wiser 'tis to wait,
Maids will be a-sighing still --
Young blood must when young blood will!’

This poem varies from translation to translation, but the meaning remains the same. Patience is a virtue. If you wait for love, it will be just as good or perhaps better than if you rush into things. When the princess pricks her finger, she is not ready for commitment. Her long sleep is symbolic of waiting until she is ready to receive the prince’s affection. But many young women are impatient, and although he advises them to wait Perrault cannot quite bring himself to condemn them with his moral- ‘young blood must when young blood will.’ Although, In The Uses of Enchantment, Bettelheim says that 'to have to wait even a long time for sexual fulfilment does not at all detract from its beauty' (p231).

You can read more about my research on The Willow Web, under the label ‘dissertation.’


Thanks for sharing, Amy! I've loved having this fun peek into your research! There's a lot more where this came from if you're interested in her posts on fairy tales or want to read more about her Sleeping Beauty research, just follow the tags!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Hansel and Gretel Weather Houses

Check out these Hansel and Gretel German Weather Houses. These traditional houses are sensitive to changes in humidity; either the man or the woman will "come outside" and one of them means rain, another means it should be a clear day. This one has both the man and woman, as well as the fairy tale characters, which doesn't make as much sense story-wise; there are others below that only have Hansel, Gretel, and the witch.

(Is that a witch, or a clown?)

Another Vintage Toggili Hansel and Gretel House (already sold, so no link except to the image)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Very Tiny Children

Whether we're reading "Tom Thumb", "Hop-o-My-Thumb", or my personal favorite, "Thumbelina," people have been fascinated by stories in which the heroes are extremely small, sometimes only the length of an adult's thumb. Why do we tell stories that feature such impossibly tiny characters? The themes and motifs are different when featuring males verses females, so here's a brief look at the significance of a tiny heroine in "Thumbelina."

We had a cartoon version of it that I would sometimes watch growing up. I remember thinking that being kidnapped and forced to marry a mole (and toad) was kind of exciting but really creepy. I was repulsed by the idea and glad when she escaped, which is interesting from someone who was also very familiar with fairy tales like "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Frog Prince" in which I did root for the main character to fall in love with the strange husband.

Maria Tatar suggests that this tale is another commentary on unnatural arranged marriages (again, like "Beauty and the Beast,") which makes sense when you look at the story. Although, it's a little more unusual for Andersen, a male, to be making a statement about that (especially since Andersen was always rejected by the women he fell in love with).

Heidi Anne Heiner points out that a central theme of the tale is one that is prominent in many of Andersen's other stories-that of being an outsider trying to fit in, and finally finding a place to belong (such as "The Little Mermaid" and "The Ugly Duckling"). Andersen identified with many of his main characters, feeling like he also didn't fit in with the rest of society-and that's something we can probably all relate to at some point. Heiner also contrasts the characters such as the toads, mouse, and mole with the swallow who rescues Thumbelina at the end; the first all try to force Thumbelina to live in a world where she doesn't belong and is unhappy, such as the cold dark underground with the mole. The swallow recognizes Thumbelina could not live with him. Although the emphasis on Thumbelina finding the tiny Prince beautiful at the end makes it seem like a more shallow conclusion, I think there's something to be said for finding the right fit, and finding where you belong. I'm sure many of you can think of examples of people you've dated who, though they may have been great people, just wouldn't have been a good match-it would be like trying to force a mole and a tiny woman to live together.

Still, I wonder what the significance of having a very tiny heroine has, verses a swan among ducks, or a Mermaid among humans. Literary examples of tiny people were well known at the time, such as the Lilliputions in Gulliver's Travels. Heiner says that Andersen had a close friend, Henriette Wulff, who was "very small, very frail, and hunchbacked." He may have had her in mind.

To me, someone so extremely small is not only different from those around them, but extra frail, delicate, and in need of help. It's a bigger responsibility for the caregiver to keep them safe. Incidentally, Heiner also points out that the beginning of this story is one of the few examples in fairy tales of a mother and daughter living happily together (the other being "Snow White and Rose Red"), until Thumbelina is kidnapped.

I was reminded of this fairy tale recently-Tony and I are in the stage of our lives where friends and family are starting to have babies, and the other day we were introduced to our friends' month old baby for the first time. Whether or not you've seen newborns before, I think the overwhelming reaction to seeing such a small child is to comment, "he's so TINY!" I'm one of those people that even gets a bit nervous watching other people handle such little, fragile children; I don't feel comfortable holding babies until they're a little bigger, because I'm somewhat afraid I'll drop them. I wondered if, to some parents, fairy tales about tiny children reflect the way they all feel at first: "I'm responsible for this tiny, helpless, human being?"

What are your reactions to fairy tales with tiny protagonists?

Source: Surlalune's annotations for Thumbelina; annotations by Heidi Anne Heiner, Kathleen O'Neill, and Christine Ethier

Illustrations:    Maxwell Armfield,  A.W. Bayes, Mabel Lucie Atwell, Harry Clarke, Eleanor Vere Boyle

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Sarah Moon's Little Red Riding Hood

These Red Riding Hood photographs by Sarah Moon are so haunting. Many people tend to have a more romanticized notion of a little girl in red skipping through the forest, but these black and white images set in an urban and more modern setting evoke more dread and horror. Apparently Moon modeled her daughter as Little Red for this 1983 book.