Monday, October 30, 2017

Witches and Cats

Another post that comes to you courtesy of Surlalune and her latest collection, Puss in Boots and Other Cat Tales From Around the World. I have to say, of all her books this one might have interested me the least, because I'm not especially a cat person, but it's ended up being one of my favorites because of all the variety! There are so many tale types represented here, many of which I wasn't very familiar with before.

I knew I had to read some of the tales about cats and witches for Halloween! Several of the stories fit into the category, Migratory Legend 3055: The Witch That Was Hurt. They involve, in this case, a cat or group of cats that terrorize some location-but when someone manages to protect themselves and hurt a cat they away. Later, a local woman is found to have the same injury that was given to the cat, and it is thus revealed that the woman was a witch, in her cat form.  Sometimes the injury itself deprives the witch of her powers, other times she is killed. They're very entertaining stories, although it's always extra chilling to know that tales about witches were sometimes believed to be true, and that accusations of witchcraft led to many people losing their lives. I did notice that in a couple of these tales, the person who disenchants the witches are themselves practitioners of magical arts, so at least in some people's minds, there were good uses of magic as well as bad.

 There is a Russian tale, "The Witch," that is also a form of "Hansel and Gretel." The children are beaten and half starved by their cruel stepmother, who then sends them to visit her granny in the woods. The sister suggests that they first visit their own grandmother.

Their grandmother knows they are being sent to the witch in the woods (but for some reason doesn't offer to just let the children live with her). She does give them valuable advice: be civil and kind to everyone, and don't touch a crumb  belonging to anyone else. She gave them some food and sent them off to the witch.

This witch doesn't deceive the children like the Grimms' does-she tells them right away that if she isn't pleased with their work she will fry them in the oven, and then gives them impossible tasks. But there are animals in the house-mice, a cat, and a dog, and when the animals ask for food, the children give them the little food they had from their grandmother. In this way they are a stark contrast to Hansel and Gretel, who dig in to someone else's house. The children in this story even go above and beyond the advice from their grandmother-rather than just not taking what doesn't belong to them, they give away what does. I don't agree with the interpretation that Hansel and Gretel's actions means they are selfish, because the children were literally starving (and if you make your house from gingerbread it's asking to get eaten-by animals if nothing else) but I also like these tales that encourage selfless giving because I personally need reminders to be more generous myself.

Anyway, the animals then help the children with their impossible tasks, and gave them magical gifts that would help them escape. When the witch later demands to know why her animals let the children get away, they respond with "I have served you all these years and you never gave me so much as a hard crust, but the children gave me their own bread/ham/etc."

The witch pursues the children on her broomstick, but the magical objects from the animals block her progress and the witch eventually gives up and goes home. 

The ending of this tale is very satisfying compared to most tales of evil stepmothers and silent fathers:

"But the twins ran straight on till they reached their own home. Then they told their father all that they had suffered, and he was so angry with their stepmother that he drove her out of the house, and never let her return; but he and the children lived happily together; and he took care of them himself, and never let a stranger come near them."

Illustrations by Arthur Rackham

Monday, October 16, 2017

Recipe For Murder

Usually a fairy tale cookbook is a fun way to get kids to experience fairy tales with multiple learning styles, but this cookbook is clearly aimed for more mature audiences. Recipe for Murder: Frightfully Good Food Inspired by Fiction, by Esterelle Payany and illustrations by Jean-Francois Martin, features recipes inspired by morbid parts of literature, not just fairy tales. It features a recipe for Pigs in a Blanket inspired by "Three Little Pigs" and of course, the poisoned apple from Snow White.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Disney's 2017 BATB

Guess what I finally saw...?

So now the live action Beauty and the Beast is on Netflix (any major Disney film is usually available on Netflix within a few months). I know this movie was reviewed a ton back in March and I'm not sure if I'll be adding anything new. And I can never be unbiased about an adaptation of the Disney was my favorite movie as a child, I could probably quote the whole movie mostly accurately (but I've never tried to go from start to finish). It was my comfort movie-the one I watched when I was sick and always made me feel better. So really nothing could surpass the classic for this nostalgic girl...

But in the words of a friend, "It made me want to watch the cartoon." (To be fair, most of my friends really liked the new film.) Not that it was all bad, in fact I liked several of the changes they made. Biggest improvement by far was LeFou, who went from being the stock dumb sidekick (who wasn't even that funny, truthfully) to what I found to be the most likable character, funny and with more depth. And honestly...I don't know that I would have picked up the fact that he was gay on the initial viewing if everyone didn't make such a huge deal about it, it was so subtle. We (my husband Tony and I) also liked Maurice better, more realistic than the comically short, bumbling old man.

But the rest of the characters just...weren't that likable to me. One of the great tragedies of the film was how even excellent actors seemed to make the classic characters fall flat. Normally I would say Emma Thompson can do no wrong...but was it just me or was her accent really weird? And Ian McKellen's Cogsworth grew on me a little towards the end but I still wasn't crazy about him. He was much darker...the former Cogsworth was delighted to take Belle on a tour of the castle her first night there, complete with cheesy puns. This one wanted her to stay in her cell the first night in the castle. And I won't even get started on Lumiere...

But in order to make a BATB story work, you need a great Belle, a great Beast, and good chemistry. Normally I don't mind Emma Watson as an actress, but from her artificial sounding singing voice to her acting coming across as very forced in general, this was her most distracting performance I've seen since the first Harry Potter movies.

Then there's the writing too...the scenes with the villagers just seemed so random. Why are they so bitter about women reading? I'm no expert in French history circa the 18th century, but wasn't that not really a time period in which reading women were persecuted? Why did their dumping of her laundry on the street have barely any reaction from Belle? And if they're so unreasonable about reading, why were they all of a sudden much more civil when Maurice claimed Gaston, their hero, tried to kill him?

And speaking of Gaston-he was initally not really that bad of a character. A little shallow maybe, but from what we saw, he hardly seemed to warrant Belle's rude rejections. The cartoon Belle's "I'm sorry Gaston, but...I just don't deserve you!" was so clever yet a polite turn down, because that Gaston would never in a million years imagine she meant she was too good for him. And no matter how arrogant someone is, it still hurts to be turned down. Their interactions just reflected poorly on Belle's character and not Gaston's. Later, his cruel murderous actions seemed random and not as believable.

I think Dan Stevens did fine as the was so hard to tell underneath all the unnecessary CGI!

There were some subtle changes I enjoyed, like when Beast asks if Belle is happy and instead of "Yes...(moodily stares off into distance)" she replies, "Can anyone be happy if they're not free?". And then props to this Beast for then being the one to realize she might miss her father. And that scene, borrowed from the musical, where the objects are one by one turning into inanimate haunting! It was nice that the happy ending included a reuniting of villagers with the cast from the castle. Oh, and the rose request from the classic fairy tale! And the super subtle nod to McKinley (I think) with the Beast meeting Philippe. And...

There are so many little things I could mention but I feel like that was part of the problem. So many things here and there introduced but not fully developed. Plot holes from the original film were filled in but I feel like it left just as many questions. I think I'm beginning to realize that fairy tales, especially BATB, are really not well suited for film. They almost need the length and depth of a novel or tv show to fully get into backstories, side characters, and really develop such an unlikely romance realistically and steer away from Stockholm Syndrome. Or, it needs the beautiful simplicity of the bare bones classic fairy tale or children's picture book. (Aside from making me want to rewatch the cartoon, I also felt the urge to reread Robin McKinley's Beauty and my favorite picture book by Max Eilenberg and Angela Barrett).

Curious to see what you all thought!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Cinderella Pumpkins, Part VIII

Pumpkin decorating inspiration time!

I had thought, since I always feature Cinderella's carriage, maybe I could try to find other fairy tale inspired pumpkins. Turns out if you want non-Disney fairy tale carving ideas, they're pretty hard to come by! I did find this one: (Share a link in the comments if you know of other great fairy tale pumpkin ideas!)

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