Fairy Tales 2010

Friday, April 23, 2010

Into the Woods and Fables: what about the narrator?

I saw "Into the Woods" performed at my high school when I was in 8th grade and remember thinking that the first and second act are polar opposites, but the crucial link between the two was the narrator.
When there is no longer a narrator to tell the story of the characters, life doesn't fit together so perfectly--baker wives fall in love with Princes, Princes cheat on their princess, Cinderella is no longer happy living in the palace, Rapunzel abandons her family, and the fairy tale world as we know it gets turned upside down. The characters have to make their own decisions, and this seems to present more of a problem of finding the correct "ingredients" needed to help the baker's wife have a child.
As the witch says: "You're so nice. You're not good, you're not bad, you're just nice. I'm not good, I'm not nice, I'm just right. I'm the Witch. You're the world."
The characters in Fables face the same dilemma about making decisions about whether to do the "right" thing which may not always be good. There is no narrator directing the story--the only sense of the narrator is at the very beginning where it says "Once Upon a Time...In a Fictional Land called New York City," and at the end, where it says "The End--For Now." The entire story is run by the characters and there is no outside voice directing their actions, which is why there is so much conflict. The graphic novel form allows for the author to show different viewpoints of different characters that may be happening at the same time, and the musical form also allows for this as well. Multiple characters sing at the same time on stage, each telling their own story.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Fables vs. Into the Woods

Both retellings put a more modern spin on the fairytales they represent: restlessness, adultery, death. The princes are interesting characters in particular in both Fables and Into the Woods. Instead of giving us the typically suave, charming men we've read about who instantly fall in love with their fair beauties, these princes have no problem with cheating on their new wives with new women, some expected some not (like the Baker's Wife in Into the Woods). Both retellings seem to point out that the men who have been good-looking all their lives are the ones who will go down the wrong path, whereas the Beast in Fables is still a devoted, loving husband: his only complaint is that lack of money has put a strain on his marriage with Beauty. Both stories have put more power in the hands of the so-called "damsels in distress." Cinderella in both versions is a force to be reckoned with; she goes out and get what she wants.

Both retellings also stay relatively true to their originals, in the major details anyway: Rose Red and Snow White are still sisters, Cinderella's stepsisters' eyes are still plucked out, the young maidens end up with their princes at some point, Blue Beard's reputation precedes him. The Grimms would have never made their young women sexual creatures, nor would they have had their narrator gobbled up by a giant.

Fables and Into the Woods

Both of these "stories" were interesting and unusual. Fables seemed to be more modern than Into the Woods, but both incorporated a variety of fairy tale characters. In both cases, there were some elements of the fairy tales that were included to maintain the recognizability of the characters, such as Bluebeard's reputation and the wolf meeting Red Riding Hood in the Woods. But because the characters from different stories were interacting with each other, some details had to be changed. For example, no one tried to take Little Red Riding Hood's cape and Bluebeard did not marry Rose Red.

I guess in the sense that these were all originally fairy tales, a compilation of them must also be a fairy tale? Many details are left that would not coincide with the new story that is being formed with all of the characters in Fables, such as Snow White's evil stepmother or the seven dwarfs. That is made to be part of her past, so that instead of combining the fairy tales, they just use the characters to form another fairy tale that presumably occurs after the events of the original tales.

Into the Woods, on the other hand, more or less maintained the actions of the original tales, but had the characters interact with each other in the infamous forest that many stories use. Cinderella is still trying to get to the ball despite her stepmother and stepsisters and Red Riding Hood is still trying to get to her grandmother's house.

In a way, Into the Woods is more like a traditional fairy tale than Fables because it maintains the separate story lines, and Fables is a mystery, which is not typical for fairy tales. There is not a great deal of magic in Fables, and it feels more like "a day in the life of a fairy tale character." Though they both combine elements of well-known fairy tales, the end products are not the same.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sondheim and Willingham

I found both of this week's contemporary fairy tale encounters extremely interesting, not only because of the extensiveness of the characters portrayed but also because of the relatively accurate retellings of the Grimms' tales (Cinderella in Into the Woods suffered the same consequences as her Grimms counterpart and Rose Red - who is virtually unknown to most readers not familiar with the Grimms' "Snow White and Rose Red" - was included in Willingham's comic book). But I think what I found most interesting in both of these contemporary fairy-tale themed plots was the way in which Prince Charming(s) was represented.

A stark contrast to the fairy tale prince of perfection, both "Into the Woods" and "Fables" have cheating, untrustworthy princes who hurt the women that love them. In "Into the Woods," both princes represent this very idealistic stock type that falls head over heels exceedingly quickly but then once the chase has ended, they rapidly lose interest and move on, singing of "Agony" and "Moment(s) in the Woods". Similarly, in "Fables," there is only one Prince Charming who wedded and cheated on and divorced each of the female fairy tale characters whose fable ended with marriage to Prince Charming. He uses his skills in bed to trick women into giving him money and support.

Snow White's harsh attitude toward her ex-husband signifies scathing resentment and anger (hundreds of years after the fact) at his adultery with her sister. Into the Woods seems acutely aware of the fairy tale romance ideal and turns that on its head when Cinderella doesn't seem especially excited about being pursued, as well as when the Baker's Wife realizes that being with Prince Charming is not an ideal to long for. This new male prince character most likely results from a more modern feminist, cynical viewpoint that doesn't portray men as rescuers, or rather doesn't portray women as needing rescuers. The women in both of these contemporary versions are strong and independent, instead of the poor, silent female who is simply destined, so it seems, to wed a prince.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Hyacinth and Roseblossom

The fairy tale elements of this story are rather shallow. It could be said that the main character is a loner, a dissenter from social norm; he seeks solitude and worries others in his excessive time spent in the wild. This connection with nature is typical of a fairy tale hero or heroine, as is the first quality attributed to Hyacinth: goodness. Immediately, however, romantic elements are thrust into the story. Hyacinth is not only good, but thoughtful. That goodness does not entail thoughtfulness is important to note (and typical of “good” fairy tale characters who are simply such by virtue of their innate moral codes), but so is their being classified side-by-side. That thoughtfulness is suggested as in some way furthering Hyacinth’s goodness is an entirely romantic concept. As the reader, we thus know from the start that he will eventually reap benefits from his connection with nature.
Hyacinth’s home town is also set up in a somewhat fairy-tale like manner, in the sense that the townspeople and his parents are ordinary (they raised and treated him well, and are now concerned for his welfare), his lover is nearly perfect and likewise is their love relationship. Naturally, he embarks on an uncertain journey to escape this cookie-cutter lifestyle.
In Hyacinth’s search for deeper meaning, there are many references to the complications of communication; it is suggested that effective verbal communication between any two creatures is next to impossible. This, of course, represents speech and human contact within the real world; one can never express to another what it is that truly constitutes the human condition. So, at first we feel lost. As the reader, we expect that this uncommunicative world is a helpless one, that the only response Hyacinth can illicit is laughter or silence foreshadows doom, does it not?
Quite the contrary: as each individual perceives the world around him subjectively, this is the limit of his understanding and is thus—to him, and him alone—perfection. On this journey, Hyacinth does not gain new eyes, but rather renews the ones he has. He is transformed not because he has discovered anything revolutionary but instead he has rediscovered everything, “familiar yet filled with a brilliance he had never seen before” in its wondrous harmony– utterly confusing and imperfect, yet thrilling.

The Story of a Fairy Tale

This story is about 5 wise men who go out into the world to find Truth, which has apparently been lost. Each comes back, convinced of his own findings, which include: Science, Theology, Love, Gold, and Wine. They all begin to fight each other and end up in poor condition. Then, a little girl comes along, saying she has found Truth in the meadow. So, everyone follows her to find this being that cannot really be categorized in any human form, but is rather like, a god or an angel or some other supernatural being. This we learn is a Fairy Tale. The wise men leave to continue fighting but many people stay behind with the Fairy Tale.

This story resembles a fairy tale in that there is a problem and a journey to find a solution. As the story goes on, each of the men is referred to as whatever he considered Truth. Thus, the story is more about the opposition between Science, Theology, Love, Gold, Wine, and the Fairy Tale, than the people themselves. In addition, the description of the Fairy Tale was very perfect and inhuman. This contributed to the typical timeless, placeless, magical feel of the fairy tale.

I think Carl Ewald uses this story to make some kind of point about Truth and its interpretations. Although, the fact that he construes the Fairy Tale in the end as the "real" Truth is interesting. Obviously, fairy tales are not realistic, so maybe the fact that he compares them to Truth says something about his disbelief in a real Truth or that Truth cannot be interpreted in one single way or found in one particular place.

The biographical notes mentioned that he wrote to incorporate his views on social Darwinism. So, perhaps this can be included in the interpretation of his message?

Of Feminine Subtlety

The Gesta Romanorum is an anonymous collection of legends, fairytales, fables, et cetera, based on Roman history and medieval legends that can be dated back to the end of the 13th century. Most of these collected tales have either a didactic or Christian message: "Of Feminine Subtlety" is no different.

There are several elements in this story that could very well make it a fairytale: the repetition of the number 3 (3 brothers, 3 enchanted objects, 3 times Jonathan is outsmarted), the presence of enchanted/ magic objects, and the eventual torturous death of the manipulative, overly sexual woman. Jonathan, the protagonist of the story, is the youngest brother of 3. Each of the young men inherit things from their father: land, possession, and, in Jonathan's case, magic objects. Unlike his brothers, however, Jonathan is instructed to give his inheritance to his mother until he's mature enough and ready for them. He goes to university and excels in his studies, but when it comes time for him to start collecting his inheritance, his mother will only give him one object at a time and warns him not to give any of his to gifts to women because they will lead to his downfall. Being a didactic fairytale, Jonathan does not heed his mother's advice and ends up in the middle of desert.

But there's hope since Jonathan works his way back to his native city by claiming he's a physician and calls upon the woman who's bested him since she's dying:
Now the lady who had cheated him of the talismans was sick to death, and she immediately sent for him. Jonathan was so well disguised that she could not recognize him, but her remembered her very well. As soon as he came to her, he declared that the medicine would not be able to help her unless she confessed her sins...Since she was on the very verge of death, the lady admitted in a low voice that she had cheated Jonathan of his ring, necklace, and cloth and had left him in a desert place to be devoured by wild beasts...Then Jonathan gave her some of the fruit which produced leprosy, and after she ate it, he gave her some of the water which separated the flesh from the bones. As a result, she was tortured with agony.

This sounds very much like the end of stories like Snow White, where the evil mother/ stepmother must dance in red hot iron shoes until she falls down and dies. Like those stories, it's almost as if the "victim" forces a little too much justice on the party who has injured him/ her. Sure this woman, who after her initial meeting with Jonathan is referred to as "the concubine," was manipulative and did deserve her comeuppance. But the punishment did not exactly fit the crime because Jonathan had also intended to leave this woman in the desert to fend for herself against the wild beasts; she just beat him to the punch. Why should she be "tortured with agony" because this guy was too naive and stupid not to continually give away all his secrets?

The Day Boy and the Night Girl

I read George MacDonald's The Day Boy and the Night Girl which was published in 1879, so not too long after the Grimm tales. This story has an evil witch who keeps captive a boy and a girl. However, the characters have names that are very specific to their personalities, and MacDonald takes extra care to describe their physical appearance.
The tale starts out by describing Watho, who is an evilly beautiful witch with red hair, white skin and black eyes. She also has the ability (as found out at the end of the tale) to turn herself into a red werewolf. Clearly her hair is symbolic of the flames of hell.
Watho has two ladies "visit" her. One is Aurora, who has rosy skin, blonde hair and blue eyes, whose appearance clearly correlates to the day. The other lady is Vesper, who is blind and lives in an underground chamber. Her hair is black and she has black eyes, and her skin is described as being "silvery." Both of these women have children--Aurora has a boy and Vesper has a girl. Watho tells Aurora that her baby has died and so Aurora flees from the castle. Vesper dies in childbirth so the little girl never knows her mother. Who are the fathers? The boy (Photogen) is the son of a king, but Vesper's husband was dead, so there is a mystery of who the father of her daughter (Nycteris) is.
Watho has a "plan" for both children. She keeps Photogen in the sun all day and never lets him see night, and he is the embodiment of the strong and fearless male. When Watho forbids Photogen to hunt at night, the reader knows that he will not obey, which is a characteristic of the fairy tale. "Photogen listened respectfully, but as he knew neither the taste nor fear nor the temptation of the night, her words were but sounds to him."

Nycteris is kept in the underground chamber, so when she escapes and sees the moon because it gives off so much more light than her little lamp, she believes it to be the day.
The literary elements are that MacDonald places a lot of attention of the characters' thoughts, and he switches between characters throughout his story, it is divided into sections, and when Photogen and Nycteris meet and their stories combine, their story is divided into chapters. It is also much longer than a regular fairy tale.
Both Nycteris and Photogen have to rely on each other to survive because Nycteris fears the brightness and heat of the sun, and Photogen becomes a coward by night. Through their combined efforts, they defeat the werewolf form of Watho. Nycteris smells the beast on the wind because of her heightened senses, and Photogen strikes the wolf in the heart with his arrow.
I believe that what makes this more of a literary tale despite the characteristics of the fairy tale is that there is so much attention to detail, to the names (Photogen-sun, Nycteris-night), to the use of detailed images to describe the emotions of both characters upon their encounters with the night and day.
When Nycteris feels wind for the first time, it is described as such:

As she knelt, something softly flapped her, embraced her, stroked her, fondled her. She rose to her feet but saw nothing, did not know what it was. It was likest a woman's breath. For she knew nothing of the air even, had never breathed the still newborn freshness of the world....Still less did she know of the air alive with motion--of that thrice blessed thing, the wind of a summer night. It was pure spiritual wine, filling her whole being with an intoxication of purest joy. To breathe was a perfect existence. It seemed to her the light itself she drew into her lungs. Possessed by the power of the gorgeous night, she seemed at one and the same moment annihilated and glorified. (Zipes 437)

Of all the traditional fairy tales we have read, not one of them described a person, or nature in such precise detail. The description is beautiful and compelling, and definitely the work of literature, not of folk origins.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Rilke's How Treason Came to Russia

In Rilke's short Kunstmarchen, taken from "Stories of God," a greedy Czar demands 12 barrels of gold from neighboring princes who in turn require that he answer 3 riddles in 3 years time. The Czar asks all the wise men and counselors, beheading all those who do not know the answer. The time goes by in such a fashion and he must meet the princes, although he hasn't solved the riddles yet. On his way to the meeting place, the Czar encounters a peasant who knows the solutions to the riddles. The peasant, after some hesitation, requests one barrel of gold in return for the answers, to which the Czar consents. But the Czar is greedy and gives the peasant instead a barrel of sand and a little gold on top. The peasant sees through this, gives a moralizing lesson, and vanishes. The messenger describes this peasant as "God himself."

There are several characteristics that clearly demarcate this tale as a Kunstmarchen rather than a fairy tale. For one, the Czar is named - Czar Ivan Vassilievitch. As we know little about his character, it is interesting that Rilke would name him so specifically. This serves in contrast to the unspecified timelessness generally featured in fairy tales. Moreover, the violent repetition and pure selfishness of the Czar's persona inhabits something not typical to the fairy tale. He is merciless and greedy, similar to King Mark from the Philosopher's Stone, situating this tale with the later literary fairy tales that emerged. The character of God, as well, stems from a more contemporary Christian influence. As the Grimms 1857 versions compared to the 1812 version of their fairy tales indicates, Christianity started to be written into the original tales over the course of the 1800s. It is reasonable to understand, then, the importance of the God character in "How Treason Came to Russia" which was written at the turn of the 20th century.

In terms of the literary fairy tale having similar conventions and characteristics to the fairy tale, the title - "How Treason Came to Russia" resonates with the folk tradition of making the purpose of certain tales be to describe how a cultural belief, value, or tendency came into practice. The tale also parallels the common fairy tale motif of a riddle or series of riddles that need to be solved in order to receive a reward. Yet in this tale there is neither competition between brothers nor an obstacle keeping the Czar from solving the riddles. The peasant/God simply tells him. Thus, while literary fairy tales have some resemblance to fairy tales in shared motifs, similar titles, contrast between courtly life and peasant life, it is too parabolic and too attentive to literary stylistic devices and themes to be a true fairy tale. There is, in short, not enough magic (other then the vanishing act of God) happening to locate this text within the fairy tale genre.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Philosopher's Stone: Is it a Fairy Tale?

The Philosopher's Stone transfixes magical fairy tale storytelling elements within a less fairy tale-esque framing, ignoring or escaping different generic conventions in order to reconfigure what it means to be a fairy tale by taking certain literary, artistic licenses. The framework of the story with the Tristan and Isolde allusion and the embedded narratives of multiple plots within the same literary space differs from the traditional backdrop/lead-up to the fairy tale, at some points specifying a distinct moment in time and at others abstracting this conception of time and space.

At each moment independent of others, The Philosopher's Stone acquires the same thematic concerns and basic plot as the fairy tale. King Mark gets tricked. King Mark transforms. King Mark enters a robber's den. King Mark transforms. These are all things we've seen before - trickery, loss, transformation, helper/"fairy godparent" - in places we've seen before - castle, robber's den, peasant life (particularly once expelled from courtly setting). Yet this is intercut with less traditional motifs - greed, at least in the stories we've read, isn't a prominent theme... it's often featured but not the main event; adultery; gender swaps (Floribell is female); ethical decisions and lessons (the final one), often present in parables; dream sequences while still a donkey.

I could go on and on with this weird back and forth interplay between "Fairy Tale normative" and "Fairy Tale transgressive". Essentially the story uses the traditional, magical elements of the fairy tale to provide the reader with something that is easily understood and taken as normal, in order to present themes and ideas that are not part of the fairy tale world, and in fact, are extremely satiric and rational. In other words, the fairy tale tropes are only used to provide more cutting commentary on contemporary societal issues.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Philosophers' Stone

"The Philosophers' Stone," despite its seeming to have been a mixture of several folk tales, can be considered a fairy tale by our standards. It involves magic, though not completely outright since King Mark/ Sylvester dreams about how to fix himself, and several morals. This tale provides a sort of didacticism for its readers in making it rather obvious that greed, no matter what kind, will always lead to one's downfall. Hard work and generosity, however, will always ensure that one has a fulfilled and happy life. The Grimms would be proud.

It isn't until King Mark only wishes to achieve his needs, eating the lily when he's a hungry donkey, that he truly understands what it is to be a good man: "The food and drink had never tasted so good to him when he had been king, for he had never been hungry or thirsty. He had never slept so well, for he had never worked until he was tired... Indeed, now he was a real human being." This mindset seems to go hand-in-hand with the traditional folktale.

Wondrous Oriental Tale

Although it does not read like a typical fairy tale, A Wondrous Oriental Tale of a Naked Saint seems to contain many fantastical fairy tale elements. It begins, as Propp argues all fairy tales do, with a lack of something: a lack of peace for this saint. He is haunted by the constant rush of time that makes him feel desperate and uneasy, and leads him to judge others who are able to appreciate life despite this furious force. His situation is lonely, as is often the case with the fairy tale hero or at least a character in the story. Although the saint does not leave home on an excursion in order to actively seek fulfilling the void in his life (missing peace), he does embark on the adventure on a subconscious, spiritual level. He wishes so terribly to escape his situation; finally, nature casts its force in a most enchanting way in order to gain the saint’s entirely undivided attention and display that more exists than mere passage of time. Magic helpers then make their appearance, and nature is one with them, and they bring the additional gift of music.
Further, the fact that the naked saint discovers art (through music) is evidence of the self-awareness very typical of fairy tales as well as many other literary (and other artistic) forms. As stories are often embedded in stories, this one contains a song with a story of its own. It is through the discovery of this art—music— is what brings the saint to a place of peace; although time still rushes by, he is able to himself pause and take a new outlook on life.
The entire tale, brief as it is, reads much like a romantic tale. There is a build up to the moment of the sublime, and then a very satisfying peace to follow. What is interesting is how explicit these elements are made through the very course of the story and the character’s experience.

An Oriental Tale

This story is different from most other stories we have read. There is no moral, no good vs. evil, no king or princess, no helpful animals or other magic objects, no wishes to be granted. The story does have some kind of magic, but still, it is not the same as in other fairy tales we have read. Another difference in this story is that there is really only one character and he is developed more than usual. We come to learn more detail about the saint and his specific actions and feelings. It also feels like this story does not have the same timelessness that other fairy tales have. And it has a more spiritual theme. However, I guess it is still considered a fairy tale because of the magic and the broken spell. I don't know...it just has a different feel - it's different than other fairy tales but not enough to name it something else.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Devil's Three Golden Hairs

I particularly liked reading "The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs." The young boy marked with the caul whose destiny is to marry the princess is set against by the evil King. Much like in the robber bridegroom, the boy gets lost in the forest (a place that represents growth and discovery of one's self) and stumbles upon a robber's den. It is through the help of an old woman that he survives, and the "hard-hearted" robbers take more pity on this boy than the supposedly noble king. Even when the boy marries the princess, and she is happy, the King still attempts to get rid of him by sending him into hell on an impossible task. However, the boy proves he is worthy of the princess's hand by returning with the golden hairs AND more gold. His kindness to the people he met was rewarded, and once more, the figure of the old lady helps the boy out so he is not discovered by the devil. I think this story was meant to teach a lesson, not as a fable, but through the story of the boy's growth and development into a man, the reader sees two different kinds of men. One (the king) is greedy and evil-hearted, and ends up ferrying across the river while the boy's diligence and kindness rewarded him with a princess, a kingdom and wealth.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Wild Man

In the earlier, more simple version of the Grimm's "Wild Man," it seems to me that this beastly character holds a certain magical, superhuman quality-- though subtle, and in fact acts much like a mentor or helper to the young boy, similar to a typical fairy tale fairy god-parent. I say this for several reasons.
First, it seems that when the Wild Man takes the boy back to the forest with him, he is simply doing a kind gesture in order to save him from the consequences of his actions (setting the caged beast free). Thus, he helps him avoid conflict with his parents; further, he helps bring the boy into manhood, symbolized through his entering the vast forest in which he is alone and able to discover himself.
Second, when the boy decides he wants to go to war, he is supplied by the Wild Man with horses and an army. It is because of these elements that he is successful and treated as a hero by the king and townspeople. However, his sources remain a secret, thus implying that the boy takes credit for the humble deeds of the Wild Man.
Looking at the story in this way reminds me much of the story of the young woman who is not able to spin well and thus employs two old women to do her spinning so that she may impress the prince and be wed into aristocracy. The glamour of the boy in this story's rewards are certainly comparable.

Becoming a man

In two of the stories this week, Iron Hans and The Tale of a Boy Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was, young men who manage to mess their lives up in rather profound ways: The Tale of a Boy son being banished by his father and the son in Iron Hans getting kidnapped. Both end up making bad impressions on people whom they encounter along the way as well, as the Boy ends up upsetting or killing off the people he met, while the other son upsets Iron Hans because he cannot fulfill a simple task assigned to him. In the end of the two respective tales though, both young men end up with fame, fortune, and princesses for wives.

The two tales differ greatly though in how they are resolved. The "Iron Hans" boy with the help of Hans suddenly develops characteristics one easily identifies with a hero that allow him to bravely conquer in fierce battle. The boy in Iron Hans is somewhat more savage than the average young man though, as his exposure to the outdoors gave him long, light, messy hair and he found his superhuman strength there. The resolution in the "creeps" story is one of persistence rather than great change coming over an individual. The boy in this story is constantly defiant, refusing to do as he's told with regards to anything. This is turned in to his advantage when it comes to fear though, as he is able to do whatever he wants without regard to the consequences of this emotion.

He is born with a few other positive characteristics, as he is able to fight off monsters with intent to kill, but this is primarily a story of one strong virtue being able to defeat all other vice, as despite the boy's seeming incapability in other areas, his fearlessness takes him far in the world.

Dense vs. Dashing

It's interesting that this week is all about boys and how they grow up and mature, yet "The Boy Who Went Forth..." glorifies a young man who is a complete fool. He gets money, glory, and the girl. True, he shows no fear at all of the frightening things that jump out at him, but perhaps this is due to the fact that he doesn't have enough sense for these things to scare him. The whole premise of the story is that this boy wanted to find out what "the creeps" are and never actually experiences them. Just imagine what it must have been like to have been married to an imbecile like that: he constantly complains about never having found out what "the creeps" are. It's no wonder she has a bucket full of minnows poured on him in his sleep; at least he'd hush about it.

The wild man stories, on the other hand, exemplify the kind of man a boy should strive to be: hardworking, humble, and noble. The boy in these stories does what he's ordered to do to the best of his ability and earns his rewards: a kingdom, a bride, etc. The Wild Man/ Iron Hans teach him well and push him to be a good man. Perhaps this is what distinguishes the young prince from the boy in search of fear: the young prince has a mentor, someone to guide him, whereas the boy was simply a burden for his father and older brother.

Wild Men-Killers and Kings

In both Iron Hans and The Wild Man, the story begins with the wild man doing something evil. In Iron Hans he lurks in the bottom of a pool and comes out of the water to pull huntsmen to their deaths. This is a very terrifying, evil image. In The Wild Man, the wild man destroys all the crops in the fields so the peasants starve. This is less horrific in a horror movie kind of way, but even more evil than Iron Hans killing a few huntsmen. In both of the these stories, the wild man is a killer, causing pain and suffering to innocent people. Why then, does he help the little prince throughout the rest of the story?

I really don't have an answer to this question, but I think it's an interesting dilemma. The wild men are supposedly under a curse that makes them act wild and evil, yet they are still under the curse when they are helping out the prince. In The Wild Man there's a blatant about-face of the wild man's character as he destroys crops in the beginning and then tends the king's garden right after that. He has a sort of flip-flopping nature when it comes to his evil plant killing ways. Iron Hans is an even more interesting case because not only does he help the little prince and provide him with what he needs to win the princess, but he also forces the boy to grow up and learn to be a useful man. The prince gets kicked out the forest to fend for himself and learn how to survive like a normal man rather than royalty who are apparantly useless. Why does Iron Hans help the prince and contribute to his growth as a man? Why does the wild man go from destroying fields to being an expert gardener? I have no idea, but I would love to see some people's ideas in the comments!

Wild Man as Alter Ego

I'd like to take this week to do a psychoanalytical reading of Grimms' "The Wild Man" and other related tales. It seems that the strange anonymity of the Wild Man - we don't know where he came from, why he was under a spell, etc. - and the fact that the only person who really engages with the Wild Man is the boy enables the possibility that the Wild Man is really just an internalized outlet for the boy as he copes with becoming an adult.

The story begins with the Wild Man harassing the village and causing chaos. The Wild Man's outward acts of aggression and violence are manifestations of adolescents' anxious sexuality and confusion over where and who they are and what their role is as they begin to metamorphose into an adult. The Wild Man is, then, captured after imbibing too much alcohol. Because drinking/getting drunk is a right of passage, the Wild Man's inability to handle his alcohol signifies that the boy is not ready to be fully adult, and therefore must be constrained to childhood by his symbolic parents, the king and queen.

The spectacle of the caged Wild Man can then be understood as the boy's role as a passive agent. He is only the prince and cannot act fully nor have full power over anything. Rather, he is looked to and examined as the future heir to the throne, with the cage restricting the boy from acquiring his active kingly duties. The boy releases the Wild Man in order to free his own caged masculinity or caged adulthood - with the ball - a child's plaything - being lost, the boy therefore has room to become an adult.

The Wild Man and boy go off together and go straight to court. There is none of the time spent in the wild as we see in "Iron Hans" (the wild being a symbol for the hormonal instability of puberty). Instead, "The Wild Man" establishes the boy in a courtly space as the gardener. The very occupation of gardener parallels this concept of growth and change. The boy must blossom, and the Wild Man here becomes the cultivator. So we see the boy becoming extremely passive and almost lost as a character in that the Wild Man - the mad adolescent energy starts to become the primary agent contributing to growth (growth of the flowers and growth of himself into an adult).

When the boy goes off to war, he saves the kingdom, but only with the help of the Wild Man. His victory in battle is yet another rite of passage into adulthood - "war turns boys into men" - and it was only accomplished because the boy and the Wild Man merge into one, balancing the strengths and weaknesses of one another. So, the boy gets the princess and then the kingdom, and the Wild Man has the spell broken (the spell being his adolescent frenzied energy) and is able to reign his kingdom. Essentially, both boy and Wild Man end at the same place/on the same level because they are the same person. Thus, this story can be read as a coming of age in which the boy negotiates his boyhood with the increasing rise toward adulthood and is educated/indoctrinated by the Wild Man in order to become adult.

A Tale of a Boy

"The Tale of a Boy Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was" is a very intriguing story. The boy is rejected and considered ignorant because he "could neither learn nor understand anything." Of course, he ends up becoming the hero and marrying the princess who eventually shows him what "the creeps" are. But I think more important than his ignorance is his lack of fear. That is, after all, how he wins his bride. He is the only one who is able to stay in the castle for 3 nights without being killed because is not afraid of the ghosts and other creatures and can easily defeat or outwit them. I think this is mainly pointing to the fact that he accomplished great feats in the end because he had no fear; and fear tends to hold people back.

The one thing that I questioned most in this story is the ending. Supposedly, he learns what "the creeps" are because his wife dumps a bucket of cold water and minnows on him while he's sleeping. This doesn't make any sense. First of all, how does he suddenly think he knows what "the creeps" are after that happens? That's not even what I would really call "getting the creeps." I mean, is that the point - that he thinks he knows what the creeps are but he still doesn't because he's that stupid? And what does the fact that of all the people that have tried to show him what the creeps are, he thinks he's figured it out because of his wife? What are the implications of this given that she is female?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Huntsman

(I apologize for my tardiness. I don't mean to make excuses, but I have two tests this morning and this important thing slipped my mind.)

The Woodsman is a character who goes through changes in the different versions of Snow White. In the Disney version of Snow White, the woodsman is a burly character who somehow strikes me as unintelligent yet kind deep down in his heart despite being a hired hand. In this version, the Woodsman seems like a man who would otherwise certainly commit murder, but is overcome by the beauty and innocence of Snow White and lets her go for this reason. The scene with him has an emotional intensity to it.

In the DEFA version of Snow White, the Huntsman is very different. He is thin, seems intelligent, and actually looks and seems like a scoundrel. The scene where the Huntsman lets Snow White go is very different than in the Disney version. The scene is extremely unemotional. He seems to be going through a rational process when he decides not to kill her. Snow White also has to 'convince' this Huntsman to not kill her. While in the Disney he comes to the decision on his own.

The Grimms version of Snow White leaves much to the imagination, and that is why two very interpretations came to be. Snow White does ask the Huntsman not to kill her, but is only one sentence. He also has virtually no personality at all, except that he feels great moral relief when not having to kill Snow White, suggesting the more emotional Disney version might be a more genuine adaptation.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


In watching the DEFA version of Snow White, there was one dwarf in particular whom I took to be the equivalent of Disney's "Dopey." (The German name escapes me at the moment!) In both films, all of the 7 dwarfs are portrayed as both lovable and loving, genuinely caring, and safe. Further, they are efficient, industrious, and intelligent. I attribute this last characteristic to the lot of them as they are the group responsible for saving Snow White time and time again. They not only detect someone dangerous is lurking in the woods, attempting to harm Snow White, but they are able to quickly find the object that has inflicted her, putting her in a momentary dead-like state. What is especially endearing about Dopey and his alter ego in the DEFA version, however, is the fact that he retains this innate intelligence that is obviously the result of a caring heart and soul, and is able to contribute to the saving of Snow White despite his mental capacity showing signs of limited capacity. In Disney's film, a more overtly sweet and loving relationship between Dopey and Snow White is portrayed, as we see him return again and again for kisses... simply silly in love with the young girl, making the audience laugh-- more precisely, maybe is the word giggle?-- often. In the DEFA version, "Dopey" is funny, too, but as more of a jester-like comical character. The rest of the dwarves are always keeping him in check, as he is the one distracted or left behind, but only out of natural curiosity and a playful attitude. In this version, Snow White herself seems more distant (less motherly and more maid-like, perhaps) in her relation to the dwarfs. Accordingly, her relationship with them is not quite as deep as is Disney's princess with her own dwarfs.

The Dwarves in the Snow White Tales

In both, “Snow White” and “The Three Little Gnomes in the Forest” (in the Grimms book), the dwarf/gnomes expect Snow White to do things for them without question.

In “Snow White”, she is made to do chores in exchange for food and a roof over her head. This is pretty reasonable. The gnomes in “The Three Little Gnomes in the Forest” seem much more arrogant and demanding. She has only a small piece of bread to eat and upon meeting them, they demand she share it with them. They then demand that she sweep their back porch. After Snow White does these things without question, they bestow gifts upon her for being “so polite and kind”. Later, the other daughter is cursed after she refuses to take orders from the gnomes. She tells them, “Do your own sweeping! I’m not your maid.” (Exactly what I would have said). They describe Snow White as “obedient” and the woman’s daughter as “wicked”. Snow White’s role in the “Snow White” tale is very reminiscent of the old-fashioned housewife stereotype. She has to have the dwarves’ dinner ready and waiting for them when they return.

In this way, the dwarves/gnomes represent the patriarchy. Women are expected to be subservient and meek, performing all tasks asked of them by men, even complete strangers. If you dare to question them or stand up for yourself, you are “wicked” and “greedy”.

The Wicked Queen

In Snow White, the wicked stepmother, or queen, is known for her beauty and vanity. Despite some variations, in all of the Snow White stories the queen wants Snow White killed because she is vain and wants to be the most beautiful woman in the kingdom. Disney treats the evil queen's beauty interestingly, because she is vampy and sexual, but her hair, arguably one of the most important features a beautiful woman has, is never shown. She keeps her head completely covered by a sinister looking perversion of what looks like a nun's habit. It is only when she transforms herself into a hideous old woman that we get to see her hair, although at that point it is grey and stringy. The film opens with a shot of the queen looking into a mirror. It highlights the shape of her body and the cruel beauty of her face, as well as the covering over her head. By highlighting her sexuality and beauty, but hiding her hair, Disney makes the queen seem less womanly. She is a perversion of femininity, not only in her actions, but in her very physical makeup. After she becomes the old woman, she remains a perversion of femininity because her beauty and her hair are still absent. As an old woman, she is a an abberation of youth. At no point in the story does the queen appear totally human, with all the parts that would make her a complete woman. She is an unnatural woman on the inside, so she is presented as an unnatural woman on the outside.

In the silent film we watched in class today, the evil queen begins the film as an ugly woman who desires beauty. Instead of being vain and beautiful from the get-go, she has to ask an old witch to make her beautiful. The first thing she notices after her transformation is her long, thick hair. The operatic braids she lifts with excitement represent the ultimate in femininity. It wasn't until she became beautiful that she could have ultra-feminine hair. This version of the Snow White story emphasizes the queen's desire to be as truly female as possible, if femaleness is defined by beauty. It is different from the Disney version of the story because gaining beauty does not make the queen any less human. It actually makes her seem more feminine and complete by beauty standards. Her evil actions do not match her appearance in this story. The two different depictions of the queens in the films highlight Disney's propensity to make the characters look on the outside how they are on the inside. Disney's queen has to be beautiful to make the story work, but she doesn't have to be truly female. The traditional way the queen's beauty is portrayed in the silent film contrasts the way Disney portrays their villain.

Reflections of a Killer Queen

The presence, or absence, of the mirror, as well as its gender, in the Snow White tales makes an important distinction in the stepmother's paranoid narcissism. The Grimms' "Snow White," the 1812 version anyway, does not kill off Snow White birth mother which makes her narcissism and worry that her daughter will replace her within the household and her desire to kill her daughter much scarier. She utilizes a genderless magic mirror, which "she knew would always tell the truth" and informs her that even at the age of 7, Snow White has surpassed her in beauty. The mirror's very real and implants the jealousy in the queen's mind. Perhaps the Grimms didn't endow this magical entity with any sort of gender clues because its observations have such dire consequences: the ideal female has already been violated by making Snow White's own mother the one who desires her death and an upright male voice would never order such a thing.
Walt Disney endows his Wicked Stepmother's magic mirror with a male, Jewish voice, thus provoking both wise deception and a promise behind its observations. It's a mask that covers nothing, yet the Queen trusts it so. The fact that Disney made the mirror a male voice gives its observations more weight since more than likely, it is for men that a woman's beauty matters. It's also interesting to point out that a man would never feel threatened, especially by a woman, by telling a woman that she isn't the most beautiful thing in the world. A woman, on the other hand, knows better: they know how dangerous it is to their welfare to fight against anyone in power; they're supposed to be meek, docile creatures.

The Magic Mirror

To continue along with the discussion we started today in class, I'd like to further examine the "character" of the magic mirror, since "it" is one of the primary drivers of the plot, more so than Snow White, the prince, or the dwarves, and arguably more than the queen/stepmother (who may or may not be the same person). In all written texts, the magic mirror has no gendered voice, it is simply an inanimate object overtaken by some magical force. The same is true for the 1916 film version. The mirror has no voice, as indeed no character has a voice in this silent film. And while silence is only due to the contemporary filmmaking technology, let's pretend that this silence was instead thought-out and chosen a such. In my opinion, a silent mirror is in some ways more in keeping with the queen's psyche argument. We may not hear it, but the queen certainly does. The mirror does not need to speak because its visual image tells all. The mirror reflects its fair queen, but her reflection pales in comparison to Snow White's and that is obvious. No words even need to be spoken, for it is all internalized.

But what does internalized mean? If we want to continue with the queen's psyche argument, the Disney version could be seen as the voice of patriarchal society, which is the queen's own voice because she's been indoctrinated within that society. Therefore, the male voice refers us to the ways in which men in our society get to judge what is beautiful, so that women can only consider themselves beautiful when a male affirms their beauty. In contrast to the queen's psyche theory, however, the Disney mirror, rather than simply being magical as in the 1916 version, is also demonized with fire and smoke. "He" is a mask, not a person in and of himself, but an outward guise to hide a person's true appearance. So while he inhabits the most human form of any of the mirrors in film Snow Whites, the magic mirror is still not fully human, but rather some illusion to be summoned. It is also important to note that the queen's reflection is entirely lost in the mirror so that only the mask and smoke are featured. This separates the mirror from the queen's character to such an extent visually that it would be very difficult to extend the queen's psyche theory much further than I already have.

In the 1961 DEFA film, the mirror is portrayed with the queen's reflection, while its frame lights up and a female voice comes forth when asked its question. The magic mirror being coded female eliminates the patriarchal judge of beauty evident in the Disney version. Instead, the prince is the only male character who decides what is beautiful. The mirror then becomes more of an expression of female jealousy. She (the mirror) is perhaps entirely representative of the queen's own feelings, while at the same time being separate from her (the queen at one point asks her serving woman what the mirror said and the mirror possesses knowledge of Snow White's whereabouts that the queen isn't conscious of). The feminized mirror provides an objective female voice that tells us what beauty is, perhaps regardless of patriarchal society's views.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Bluebeard and Cannibalism

I hope it's okay that I'm a little late on this. I have a big project due today in one of my other classes, and this just slipped my mind.

From this week's readings, I was especially interested in "The Robber's Bridegroom" because it seems the least congruous with other Bluebeard tales, while still maintaining the basic theme of marital anxiety - the horror of marriage. In several ways, "The Robber's Bridegroom" presents a story more in line with the fairy tale than most other Bluebeard tales. It has the horror aspect of the bridegroom repulsing the bride for some uncanny reason and also of the bridegroom rightfully (in the sense that the girl is right to be afraid) presenting danger to the girl. Unlike the other Bluebeard stories, however, in this tale, the girl actually witnesses Bluebeard's horrible acts. It is not his past that is the problem, but the horrifying present situation. He was and certainly still is a threat; rather than wanting her to trust him and forgive/not know of his past, Bluebeard is presently a murderer and cannibal who most likely plans to devour her upon marraige.

"The Robber's Bridegroom" also differs in its notions of feminine curiosity causing trouble. Primarily, she does not want to go to his castle. She does not want to explore parts of her future husband that are hidden from her. She is afraid of him, trusts her initial instincts, and wants to stay away from him. It is only because of his continuous pleading and threatening that she is compelled to explore her bridegroom's dark side. She is not curious, and it is not her curiosity that can potentially cause her destruction, but simply the evil nature of her future husband.

Additionally, fairy tale elements set this tale apart from the others. The old hag in the cellar of the castle aids the girl by protecting and hiding her from the robbers. Cannibalism is also a major theme throughout various fairy tales, and so its inclusion here does not expressly shock us. Yet cannibalism in the context of other Bluebeard tales does become rather transgressive in that it creates another element of horror. She will be consumed, just as the other maiden is chopped up and consumed. So that, relating back to the theme of marital anxiety, this tale can theoretically be seen as purporting that marriage means that the female and her independence is threatened to be consumed and devoured by her husband and his dominant role over her. The evidence of the finger, then, provides the bride with the ability to protect herself from this consumption and avoid marriage and the problems it incurs and signifies.


Sorry this is late...on my computer that's still an hour behind!

In reading Bluebeard, I can easily see why one may not classify the story within the fairy tale genre. I had never read it, nor heard of it by name, before being assigned the reading in this course; yet, the story does not seem at all odd, nor unfamiliar. The idea of curiosity is absolutely a recurring theme in many tales, and so is disobedience. I can even think of another story in which the luring aspect is morbid in a similar manner: Sleeping Beauty. Yet, in this tale (which I now question whether or not it is a fairy tale), Princess Aurora touches the spindle while under the curse of the female villain Maleficent; there is no consideration of her disobedience to her (nonexistent) husband. Sleeping Beauty is surrounded by familial, maternal figures that wish to protect her thus making her draw to the spindle not at all her fault.
What is disturbing about Bluebeard is that the woman may here have agency; she may be seeking to find an answer about her husband’s secret past. Does this, along with he r intuitive knowledge of his unnaturalness, make her somewhat superhuman? One gains the sense that she perhaps has the intention to uncover the mystery of Bluebeard all along; why else would she consent to marriage to someone so uncanny and repulsive? This story seems to have a certain fate written all over it from the very start, suggesting that this female character likely does as well. I can thus see why Melies depicted the story through film as overtly fantastical, dreamlike—the tale itself seems to be much like a vision, perhaps a warning more than a lesson.

Bluebeard on film: Why it doesn't work

The 1905 version of Bluebeard made by Georges Melies is both entertaining and funny, but it lacks a certain something that makes it a real representation of Bluebeard. Bluebeard is a fairytale that one would not necessarily identify as such if it were not in a Grimms collection. This is because Bluebeard is grimly (excuse the play on words) realistic and has many thoroughly frightening dark characteristics that are rarely elements of fairytales. Outside of Bluebeard's ugly blue beard, there is really very little that is meant to make this fairytale magical. This is why it is odd that Melies's film has many magical qualities in the religious and individual realms. For example, Bluebeard gives his bride a key that enlarges and shrinks for some magic purpose. In contrast, though, there is no indication in this black and white film that Blue Beard's beard is actually blue! This is a sad shortcoming in my opinion. In Melies, certain dark creatures force the bride to take certain actions rather than her doing them on her own, representing a tempting force that does not exist in the short story.

Oddly, because of elements like that, where substitutes are put in the place of the maiden genuinely acting on her own, the Grimm version of Bluebeard can almost be interpreted more favorably by modern feminists than the more recent film. This is true in other senses as well. For instance, outside of not being able to save herself, the Grimms Bluebeard is a strong, independent woman. Her curiosity, and not so much one of weakness, shows independence and gets her into trouble. Outside of her mistakes though, she does certain things to save herself, such as warning her brothers that she may cry out, praying when the tides were against her, and fending off the monster and calling her brothers to help before its too late.

These features are gone from Melies. All of the maidens help comes from a sort of Deus Ex Machina, as outside forces come to her aid without her doing much to call for them. Her brother's come with out her asking, for example, and God helps revive the dead maidens without a scene of the maiden taking her own initiative in prayer. A petty Bourgeois ending is presented too, where many women are married off to men in a conformist fashion, as little reason for these bonds are explained unlike in Grimms fairytales. This replaces the more satisfying Grimm ending where true family bonds are emphasized as the brothers and sister come together after her rescue.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Questionable Morals...

At the end of Perrault's Bluebeard story, two morals are presented. One basically says that curious women always end up in trouble if they try to satisfy their curiosity. The other is a little more ambiguous, but seems to be saying that husbands are no longer unreasonable and jealous, and that women rule the relationship. The first moral is contradictory to the second. In the first, women are shown to be weak and "succumb" to their curiosity all the time. Clearly, this is a bad thing because we all know women should stay out of men's business and not go looking into locked rooms that aren't the kitchen or the nursery. Perrault uses this "moral" to show his view of women's place in the world and the consequences they will face if they step out of it. The second moral contradicts this by implying that women rule in relationships and make their husbands "toe the line". The only reason I can think of for Perrault to provide two very different morals at the end of the story is to make fun of the "curiosity killed the women" message in the story. The first moral is perhaps an ironic acknowledgment of the apparent misogynistic message of the story. Many people would look at the story and only see the moral as, when women go where men tell them not to, bad things will happen. Perrault added the second moral to show that this is a simplistic view of the story and an old fashioned way of thought. The first line of the second moral is "if you just take a sensible point of view". He is showing that a sensible person would see beyond that initial moral and understand that "this tale is one that took place many years ago". In "modern" or Perrault's time, women can be curious and question their husbands without fear of death. So the second moral is the one that Perrault really believes.

Women in the Bluebeard Tales

There seem to be a lot of stories throughout history that involve a woman’s inability to quell her curiosity, such as the story of Adam and Eve and Pandora’s Box, among others. These stories paint the female characters as easily tricked and lacking self-control. In the Brothers Grimm version of “Bluebeard”, though the maiden is forbidden from entering the one room, she is unable to resist her desire to see what’s inside. It is interesting that when her groom threatens to kill her and leaves her alone to pray, attempting to defend herself(something sharp, a blunt object perhaps?) or hide or run away aren’t even presented as an option in the story. She must instead rely on men (her brothers) to come save her.

In “The Robber Bridegroom”, the maiden is once again almost killed by her curiosity. She arrives at this house which she is afraid of because it is “so dark and dreary” yet still goes inside. A bird immediately warns her repeatedly that the house belongs to murderers who will kill her once they arrive home…yet she continues looking through the rooms. She is eventually helped by a woman BUT she is very old and therefore wise (though she was in possession of a sleeping potion and had apparently never tried to use it before to escape...). In each, the women are portrayed as somewhat naive and helpless.

Bluebeard....encroaching on reality?

What makes the Bluebeard stories so frightening is that the serial killing is very real, there are men like Bluebeard in the real world who have a habit of killing.
In the Grimms' Bluebeard there is the scene of horror that greets the young bride's eyes of all the previous wives hanging from the walls, a pool of blood underneath which means that the killing is fresh. Another creepy part to the Bluebeard stories is that he is not recognized as a monster, but maintains a regular appearance as a nobleman (usually) who is married. In contrast to the Beauty and the Beast stories, the Beast's physical appearance is threatening, but he is able to fall in love, and he has a gentle soul. Bluebeard, however, looks like a man, but on the inside is a monster, unable to feel or respond to any kind of love.
In Georges Melies film we watched in class Wed. March 17, the film seems innocent enough with lively music, and the characters never actually speak, but I found the image of the hanging women disturbing. While the entire movie seemed to be very surreal, the dead women seemed very real in contrast to the rest of the movie, as if something out of a horror movie today.
Perhaps all the gruesome stuff that has happened in other stories doesn't seem so horrible because I can't see it happening today, but Bluebeard is probably one of the fairytales that doesn't exactly fit the category.

Bluebeard Stories

There is an interesting difference in attitude towards women between Perrault's Bluebeard and the Grimm's Robber Bridegroom. Perrault uses the story to teach the moral that curiosity is a bad trait in women and that they will inevitably be faced with negative consequences if they allow the temptations of curiosity to overcome them. This portrays women as weak and mischievous. Perrault is sure to point out that this story took place long ago, and that while husbands are no longer so terrible, it is still clear that they are in charge of the women - "it is not hard to tell which of the pair is master."

The Robber Bridegroom has a more positive view of women. The girl quietly hinds behind the barrel when the robbers arrive at the cottage and cleverly keeps the cut-off finger as proof for when she tells her story to everyone. She also used the peas and lentils on the way to the bridegroom's house, not unlike Hansel and Gretel, so that she could find her way back. Here, the girl is portrayed as clever, thoughtful, not easily distressed, etc. She is able to handle herself (and get herself out of) stressful situations. The bridegroom has no power over her, as does Bluebeard in Perrault's version. In fact, she is able to have the band of robbers executed for their deeds. She is a strong, independent woman, unlike the one portrayed in Bluebeard, who is at the mercy of her husband.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Fairy Tale as a Means of Escape

In response to Alexandra Scott's post, I did not find this movie to be sweet. In fact, I was a little disturbed. While it is clear that her world view is shaped by fairy-tales, Laura-Anne seems very bent on the fact that she will not be happy if she does not have a man to protect her and love her. She goes through 3 boyfriends (Ben, she dates twice), despite the fact that they do not treat her well at all. Perhaps watching this movie was so strange because she is only ten, yet she feels her happiness depends on having a man in her life, and that she knows she is set for motherhood. This might not be so weird if she wasn't so young. Maybe I was also shocked by the very adult like demeanor behind these children's actions, but I feel like living in such a poor town as Siddick means that innocence is left behind very quickly, and I feel like this is where I felt there was a conflict. Obviously Laura-Anne has childlike fantasies of love and being a princess who is loved by a strong and handsome prince, yet the thing is that her "childhood" fairy tale is not innocent at all.
This makes the film more interesting, and I think Laura-Anne's entire worldview is summed up when she says on Halloween, "Laura Anne was too old for the children's party, and too young for the teens, she was stranded somewhere in between." (Or something to that nature.)
Laura-Anne lives in a place where there is no escape from the harshness of that life, but it is whenever she is outside playing in the surf or on the tree that you remember that she is still mostly a child, and that is why she dreams.
I believe that her fairy-tale fantasies are created because if she can't make her life seem like a fairy tale, even in its simplicity, the reality of her situation becomes very clear. However, she makes the story fit into her life, so that it is possible for her fairy tale dream of finding love to become a reality in the small and poor town that she lives in. The beauty of the movie is that her simple life can be transformed into a fairy tale with a few rhyming words.

Someday My Prince Will Come

In this short film, Laura-Anne narrates her life as though she is the princess at the center of a fairy tale. In some ways, this young girl does mirror the classic princess. She is at the brink of womanhood (or teenage years, at least), and naturally feminine in her desires for and direction towards a more mature sexuality. Though not exceeding gorgeous, we sense that she simply has yet to bloom, as is symbolized in the scenes following her learning about the transitions of puberty in which flowers are blossoming, and all sorts of plants are spreading their seeds in the blowing wind. Further, Laura-Anne has some understanding of children, as we see in her interactions with her infant sister and cousin, as well as a caring for animals such as the bunny rabbits they find; more obvious, however, is her closeness to nature shown through the film's landscape. The scenes in which Laura-Anne appears are remarkably beautiful and serene. Finally, the princess is undoubtedly a bride and mother to be, as she both verbalizes explicitly and demonstrates through her gentle care of the young boys in her town. Granted the fact that she has a crush on him, Laura-Anne gives her coat to Ben without question while they are together on the beach. He has been ignoring her nearly the entirety of the time, busily engaged in a most disgusting and boyish game of digging for worms. This scene certainly displays the gender role cliches of male as wild and vulgar, and woman as gentle, caring, and civilized.

There is a minimal presence of Laura-Anne's father in this film. It is evident that the familial masculine presence representing home and security which is replaced by an outside lover is her cousin, Steven. He cares for her in his initial concern for Ben's "two-timing" of Laura-Anne, and his desire for her to know the truth. In the latter part of the film, after Laura-Anne has learned of and begins undergoing sexual maturation (and her fertility is represented through the images of nature), we see Steven left without the young girl whom he once protected, and thus somewhat at a loss-- much like the father of a fairy tale princess.

I really enjoyed watching this sweet story unfold through beautiful pictures, and recommend it to anyone who wants to see something fresh and full of life!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Fathers and Daughters

Why is the parent so crucial in Beauty and the Beast stories, and more specifically, the father? It is in trying to gather Beauty's present that most of the time he encounters the beast, who is angered that his property is being taken. The father has to make a promise to the beast that he will give his daughter to die in his place. Beauty's willingness to sacrifice herself for her father is what shows her virtue and kindness that eventually lead her to loving the beast. However, I found one Beauty and the Beast rendition particularly interesting from the Ashliman site, the story of the Singing Rose from Austria. The father is a king, so the family is not in dire financial trouble, nor does Beauty want for nothing. The father sets a task for his three daughters, that whoever finds the singing rose will become queen. Of course "the youngest and most beautiful of all" ventures into the dark forest, where she gets the rose from an ugly old man. He makes her promise to return to the forest after 7 years. Much like in the Frog King, this girl disregards the promise and doesn't really believe in keeping it. Seven years later, the old man shows up, and the king (although he doesn't want to send his daughter away), makes his daughter keep her promise. In a sense, the father's role in this story and in the Frog King are teaching their daughters lessons of loyalty.
The old man tells the young maiden that if she cuts off his head in three blows, she will be free from his lonely castle. Since this story was in the Beauty and the Beast category, I thought that maybe under the skin of the old man there would be a young prince.
Big, big, disillusionment on my part.
When the queen cuts off his head "The old man's head rolled away on the floor. But behold! Instead of blood, a key fell from the head. It opened all the chests and doors in the entire castle. There the princess found many, many precious things, and she was rich and free forever."
There is no learning to love a Beast; Beauty's kindness and virtue and fidelity do not shine through. In fact, this character of the youngest daughter is not the heroine who gives herself up willingly to save her father and family.

So why is Beauty's father important? He not only "introduces" her to the Beast, albeit accidently, he is the reason she returns home to care for him when he is sick. The Beast can see Beauty's loyalty to her father, and her sadness at not taking care of her father causes him grief, therefore he allows her to visit home on the condition that she return to his care. In seeing her love for her father, the Beast comes to love Beauty, who in turn learns to love him. In most fairy tales the father figure is absent, and it is refreshing to have a tale where he plays a vital role.

Parents in Beauty and the Beast Stories

The parental figures in many of the Beauty and Beast type stories are portrayed as honest and loving. They love their children, especially the beautiful daughter, and show it by bringing her an impossible present-a rose in winter or a singing, springing lark. The loving father obtains whatever his child desires with the unfortunate result that he must die at a beast's hands. The fact that the father promises to come back to the beast in order to be killed for his transgression is intriguing. These fathers are so honest that when the beast tells them to leave and come back in a week, they never consider not going. The option to send a daughter in their stead isn't really an option to them either. They usually say they have lived a long life and have few years left anyway. Again this shows their great love for their children. When the most beloved daughter takes her father's place with the beast-out of love and a sense of guilt-the father grieves so much for the daughter that he almost dies. The role of these honest, loving, loyal fathers is to provide an anchor for the beauty's love. Living with the beast and marrying him would not be such a huge sacrifice if the girl's home life was not so wonderful and loving. She must move from the position of cherished daughter of a good man to beloved wife of a monster, which highlights the fear young girls have of leaving home and getting married. If the parents or father were horrible abusive men, the move to marriage with a kind but ugly monster would be no challenge at all. In that case the marriage-anxiety would not be present, but rather happiness at escaping a bad situation would be the predominant emotion.

Parental Roles in Beauty & the Beast

Tatar points out the theme of filial duty in the Beauty and the Beast stories. This theme reflects the cultural filial ideals of its time being transmitted to its audience (children). These stories also reflect the society’s views on parenthood. Each story emphasizes the importance and value of children. The father in “Hans My Hedgehog” is said to “not be complete”, because he doesn’t have children and is mocked by the townspeople because of it.

The fathers in each story are devoted to their daughters, buying them expensive, hard-to-find gifts. In “The Winter Rose”, the father dies from the grief of losing his daughter. The fathers are also supposed to be honest and willing to give their daughters up if this is agreed upon in a deal. This may have been a culturally relevant issue at the time this story was originally told. The fathers who are dishonest and do not honor the deals, end up being punished.

We also see parental acceptance of deformed or unusual children. In “The Pig King” the parents decide to accept and love their mutant pig-child and treat him as if he were a normal boy. All of the stories transmit lessons on what virtuous parenting is.

Role of Beauty's Father

It seems to me that the role of the parents is mainly, in the case of Beauty's family, a reminder of a child's duty to care for his or her parents-- an obligation certainly expected of young daughters, especially those who no longer have mothers caring for the family. It is very clear in both Madame de Beaumont's version of La Belle et la Bete and The Pig King that a daughter's priority should always be her family, and it is notably her parents to whom she essentially owes her life. Despite the center of the story being one of transformation and acceptance of those with horrifying outer appearances, the situation in which this lesson is framed does not even come about until after Beauty has done what every dutiful daughter in her position would do: sacrifice herself for her father. Not only out of expectation, Beauty is so moral a character that she genuinely insists out of love. She claims that, should she not give her own life so that her father may continue living his, she would die anyways, and it would certainly be a more painstaking death of despair and grief. This idea that the daughter cannot go on without her father also reinforces the idea of virginity and naivete in the sexual realm of the adult world. Beauty has never before loved another in the way that she does her father, and thus cannot imagine anything worse than living without him, nor anything that could plausibly replace him (or his role in her life). Therefore, the presence of the father in the story allows for the element of self discovery and sexual maturation later on, when Beauty falls in love with Beast and even remarks that she would be much happier living with him than with her own family. The story is thus not only one in transformation of the beast from hideous to pleasant, but that of Beauty from her young, dependent self (although moral and virtuous) to a woman and, accordingly, a wife.

Parents Just Don't Understand

Parents must play a role in the beauty and the beast stories just as much as any tale about courtship. In the Pig King, the mothers play a larger role in getting their children together than do the fathers or even the children themselves. This speaks a lot for how women were seen as matchmakers when these fairytales were written/ told.
In The Tiger Bride, the woman's gambling father, for all intensive purposes, sells her to the beast. This seems like an unconventional form of the arranged marriage, but weren't most arranged marriages made for some kind of personal or financial gain?
It's interesting to consider how all of these parents had some sort of material gain by allowing their children to be paired with the monstrous beings. Do they truly love their children as much as they claim to or is the siren call of material gain more appealing than guarding their daughters and sons? And would modern parents do the same thing?

Parents' Roles in Beauty and the Beast

The parents in Beauty and the Beast stories have different roles in affecting the plot. Usually, it is only the father that is present, but his role is either in getting the couple together or in revealing the human nature of the beast.

In de Beaumont's Beauty and the Beast, the Grimms' Frog King and the Frog Princess, the father is responsible for uniting the girl and the Beast. In Beauty and the Beast, the maiden's return home to visit her father results in her realization of her love for Beast. The parents play a similar part in Urashima the Fisherman who goes back to try to find his parents. However, this ends badly for him as he loses both his family and his wife.

In the Pig King, it is actually the mother who does more to find her son a suitable wife by negotiating with the daughters of a poor woman. It is also the mother who advises her son on getting his bride in the swan maiden.

In all of these stories, it appears that the parents play a significant role in bringing the couple together, and sometimes introduce conflict or help them see that they do love each other. When the lover's return to each other, it is then that the beast is transformed to a human.

Parents in the Beauty and Beast week stories

In the stories we have read for this week, two or several characters who assume roles as beautiful princesses and scary beasts play the key active roles in stories about marriage. By active roles, I mean that these characters are the only to have roles as true agents of action, as the story focuses on them as the purveyors of conflict and resolution, and the other characters in the stories play side roles. In these stories, the parent's always play the part of the main side roles, and although characters with side roles can be of a variety of types, (those who give advice, those who attempt to foil a particular resolution etc.) the parents in the stories always play a particular type of side role.

In these stories, the parents are always involved as part of the setting. What I mean by this is that they are involved in creating the plot that the Beauty and the Beast must resolve, and they do not play an active role in its decision much at all. In Beauty and the Beast specifically, it is the father's mistakes (his failure to maintain his riches and his bad manners towards the beast) that cause the Beauty to have to come in contact with the Beast. From there, the two characters work out their own problems, and the Father has only been involved in the action that set up their coming together.

Similarly, in The Pig King, the pig plays the active role of searching for a bride, while his mother plays the part of setting up princesses to come in contact with the Pig. And in the Frog King, the father plays the role of mediator, as he bridges the ongoing conflict between the princess and frog and ensures their conflict continues and that the princess cannot simply shut him out. He is part of the setting as well. In the Tiger's Bride, the father of course loses his daughter in a bet, and he is of course merely playing the setting part of a character as well, as any other variety of circumstances could have trapped the princess into her conflict with the tiger. And in the Swan Maiden, the mother is a mediator as well, as her imparting to her son the path to resolving his conflict, his need to possess the maiden, is merely part of the setting as well.

These stories reveal how parents can shape the settings that their children have to unravel. The parents conveniently are there to explain why their children must fall in love with strange animals.

Fathers and Daughters

I think it's important to specify who we're talking about when we say parents/in-laws. In the majority of the stories of this type, the only parent featured is Beauty's father. The mother is hardly, if ever, mentioned. The Beast's parents, as well, presumably a king and queen are only occasionally spoken of and always only at the very end of the story.

There may be a couple reasons for the prominence of the patriarch: 1) it develops Beauty's character and virtue by giving her someone to be obedient and dutiful to, 2) it creates a narrative engine - the father either becomes sick and Beauty must leave the Beast to see him, or, as in Frog Prince stories, the father forces Beauty to do as the frog says (tying back to #1), 3) it infiltrates every aspect of the story with men.

Why might fairy tales want to have men strewn throughout the plot? It seems that the presence of the father and of the beast creates a weird parallel between father-daughter relations and boy-girl relations, as though Beauty is passed on from father to husband... which I presume was fairly common for the time period these stories were told. This parental element, then, provides a sort of didactic training in which young girls are taught, from these stories, how to behave around men, and not too surprisingly, Beauty is meant to behave around both father and romantic interest almost the same way.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Python Parody


I find this interpretation absolutely hilarious because it doesn't take itself seriously. There's no "seduction" of Red Riding Hood as there are in many versions of the tale; the "wolf" doesn't even look like a threat to anyone, especially a 6 foot- something tall "girl" who's so weak she rips apart turkey legs while stomping through the dark forest and breaks logs over her thigh. Like the clip in class, the narration does not follow the action, except for the bit about NASA and Buzz Aldrin.
Old Granny doesn't die; she's not even in the cottage. The only reason the wolf dies is because "security shot him." This takes the interpretation to a new level because it makes fun of itself. A modern audience doesn't necessarily believe a girl would be as dumb as the traditional story makes Little Red out to be: a wolf looks very different than an old woman, especially one we can assume she's quite familiar with. Instead of simply going with the fairy tale canon, Monty Python makes LRRH a strong "woman" who can definitely take care of a dachsund-like "wolf." It's just ridiculous on the opposite end of the spectrum.

Little Red Riding Hood

This video, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZVBZTS2ntk&feature=related is interesting for several reasons. First, it is a sarcastic interpretation of the classic story that places the girl in a position to mock the wolf. Little Red Riding Hood is portrayed as a modern teenager with an iPod and the "superhuman strength of ten giant retards." When she sees the wolf in her grandmother's bed she mutters, "Give me an effin' break" and proceeds to subdue the wolf with her superstrength. In this story, the girl is heroic and cunning, whereas the wolf is seen as foolish and weak. Secondly, the punishment Little Red Riding Hood inflicts on the wolf reflects a macabre awareness on the girl's part of sexuality and the wolf's potential as a sexual predetor. She has him taken to the village veterinarian and castrated violently. At one point she flicks a piece of his scrotum off of her red hood, which is a very striking image symbolically. Little Red Riding Hood's immediate reaction to her power over the wolf is to take away his sexual potential and render him impotent. He is no longer a threat after being castrated, even though the beginning of the story never shows any signs that he was a sexual threat to begin with.
Finally, the characterization of adults and children in the story shows a lack of respect for adults. The three adult characters: the grandmother, the vet, and the wolf, are all portrayed in a negative light. The grandmother's only role is to get eaten, and at the end of the story the narrator laughs that the story ends happily for everyone except her...beacuse she was eaten. There is no huntsman that comes to rescue her. She is not redeemed in any way and dies having done absolutely nothing note worthy. The wolf can be considered an "adult" character because of his predatorial status. Unfortunately for him, he is easily overpowered by Little Red Riding Hood and visciously neutered. Not only is he portrayed as stupid and arrogant, he has his "manhood" taken away as well. The veterinarian moonlights as the village idiot. The narrator notes after the messy castration that he really is a better village idiot than a vet....poor wolf. The only non-adult character in the story is Little Red Riding Hood. She is portrayed as a teenager who is smarter, stronger, and all around more awesome than any of the other characters. In the Grimms version of the story, she is naive and innocent. She has to be rescued by a strapping male huntsman because she is too young and disobedient to keep herself safe. In the version I found, the child is the hero and the adults are the inadequate ones. This is probably due to the fact that the story is being retold by a teenager, in a time when teens, if not all children, are not quite so looked down upon by adults as naive or stupid.

Little Red Riding Hood

This rendition of Little Red Riding Hood is certainly a modern one, censored to an extreme degree in order to appease parents in not scaring their young children. One can immediately determine that the story has been modified in learning that the basket that Little Red Riding Hood brings to her grandmother is full of breads and cakes; no wine is to be found, ridding of any ideas of intoxication as well as any later references to bloodshed (or Little Red Riding Hood’s drinking of her grandmother’s blood). When the wolf appears for the first time, he is wearing human clothes, in order to demonstrate to modern children viewing the video why he may be attractive and deceptive. It is suggested that merely his hat and scarf disguise the wolf sufficiently.
During their first encounter in the woods, each time the wolf is shown in the same frame as Little Red Riding Hood, facing her and with his back to the viewer, he is a silhouette; entirely black, he is immediately portrayed as evil through this dark representation. But this is a gentle implication; despite the title the “wicked wolf,” this animal still has a gentle face.
Although the following scenes are more explicitly violent, it is in this latter part of the mini-movie that we see evidence of the creator’s effort to censor the original story. First of all, the wolf does not kill or even eat the grandmother (whole); instead he “bundles” her, connoting gentleness, not even harming her in any suffocating sort of way, and places her in the closet. Upon Little Red Riding Hood’s entering the house, reason is given to her confusion as we are told that the inside is dark; she is barely able to see, thus she is not unintelligent for not recognizing her grandmother. Nearly at the exact moment that the wolf exposes himself, the “wood-cutter” shows up at the door (note that he is not a hunter of any sort). Without any sort of warning, the wood-cutter is next referred to as “her father,” in order to reinforce the idea of familial unity and loyalty. This instantaneous appearance suggests that parents always stand behind their children and in fact have a sort of sixth sense that keeps them constantly in touch with the needs of their offspring and which intuitively triggers something in them whenever their children may be in danger. Thus, this rendition of Little Red Riding Hood is less a tale about the agency of children and their overcoming hardship, but instead one that strengthens the idea of the family unit, especially in times of despair, and reinforces the lesson of necessary obedience.

LRRH Commercial plays up Sexual themes

In class, we discussed the different elements of Perrault's characterization of Little Red Riding Hood and how these elements contributed to the image of Red Cap as a promiscuous, immoral character. We learned in this discussion that during Perrault's age, the color red was associated with these characteristics: that a woman who wore red was somehow not morally upright. Perrault's treatment of Red Cap is as such, he presents Little Red Riding Hood's death at the end as her own fault because of her curiosity and promiscuity. It is suggested that something takes place between Red Cap and the Wolf (while still maintaining that she believes it is "Grandmother" strangely enough) when she gets under the covers in his version.

The commercial I have uploaded certainly borrows from that depiction of Red Cap. The woman in question's hood is a burning-rose red color, which is played up with red lipstick and her short skirt to obviously create a seductive looking character. As Hood approaches the bed and finds her grandmother is really a wolf, it plays into the idea that Hood is initially but merely superficially shocked by the Wolf's appearance, and she quickly transitions to being interested in other things in this given situation. Clearly, only the Perrault version is referenced in this video, as in no other reading of the story is some sort of liaison suggested as in the commercial.

The commercial is for a brand of cologne called "Primal." In this way, the use of Little Red Riding Hood is loosely appropriate because of its involvement of the wolf. The music in the background provides an ironical theme to the whole scene, as it was likely designed for children's enjoyment, but takes on a very different connotation in light of the commercial. Lastly, the wolf taking the dummy head off and revealing a bearded hairy man fits directly with our discussion in class how the "Wolf" in the story fits a dual role as a literal animal and an outcast, uncivilized beast of a man.

LRRH Commercial

(I don't know how to embed a video so here is the link. It's not very long at all, only about half a minute.)

There were so many versions of Little Red Riding Hood on YouTube that it was hard to just choose one! However, I did find a pattern after searching around for a while. There were videos made for children, where the wolf doesn't look as scary, he doesn't end up eating the grandmother, he just shoves her in the closet, and where the entire video is just sing-song.
However, more often than not, modern re-interpretations of LRRH depict her as a symbol of seduction. In this video I posted, there is a song about Little Red Riding Hood by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, that is found in a lot of other videos. Usually this song is accompanied by a sexual video. In the commercial for this perfume, LRRH is not a child and she is dressed like a hooker. Or rather like a slutty halloween costume. She enters the cottage and immediately begins to climb onto the bed as if she knows what is waiting. A wolf mask pops out of bed, but instead of being frightened, Little Red smiles at him, she climbs onto bed, and the mask is taken off to reveal a man underneath.
What does this say about our culture, that we continually portray Little Red Riding Hood so sexually? She is no longer an innocent girl who wanders into the forest to her grandmother, but purposefully goes in search of the wolf to fulfill her sexual desires.
The line at the end of the commercial is selling a perfume, and it says "Get Primal."
This is a complete turnaround from any version told of LRRH. The Grimms and Perrault got rid of some of the more erotic elements, but earlier versions were chock-full of sexual innuendos. However, the girl was always a child physically, and her motive for heading into the woods was to go to her grandmother's house, not to have sex with a wolf. I feel like the figure of the grandmother has been discarded so that newer stories focus on the wolf and Little Red Riding Hood, and their primal desires.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Strange Twist on Red Riding Hood

I thought this was a very interesting spin on the story. The changes take away the moral of the story, and just make it...strange. The wolf uses the "What beautiful eyes you have.." on the Grandma. Then, they both hide and run away from Little Red Riding Hood, who goes back home to tell her mother. So, the mother comes and chases the wolf away.

The focus of the story is shifted away from Red Riding Hood, but it also changes the view of gender roles from other versions of the story, where girls are either disobedient, stupid, or innocent victims of male predators. Here, there's not really a clear stereotype of women... except maybe that they can do whatever they want. And the wolf, instead of being a vicious predator, is enthralled by the young grandmother's beauty.

So, this is a rather strange rendition of the story that changes the plot as well as the gender stereotypes in such a way that it now lacks a coherent message or moral. And it doesn't really end happily either.

Anyone else have thoughts on this one?

Sexualizing Little Red Riding Hood - A Video

This was one of the first videos I found on YouTube when searching "Little Red Riding Hood". I think it's absolutely bizarre. Created in 2007, this video blatantly sexualizes Little Red Riding Hood. Not only does it portray a vengeful, violent little girl, but it also proposes that the means for her to get her revenge is through selling her body with a striptease.

The strange masquerade is another thing to note. As a lamb, Little Red Riding Hood stays true to some of the fairy tale scholars' beliefs that these stories represent a male vs. female gender dynamic. Lambs are symbols then of the female while wolves are symbols of the male. Yet what makes the sexual relationship between the wolves and the lamb particularly questionable, aside from the fact that she's in reality a little girl who is stripteasing, is that it alludes to interspecies breeding and attraction.

Most of the attention of the video is given to the lamb's initial appearance and striptease. There's no getting lost in the woods. There's only this premeditated revenge plot to rescue the grandmother from the wolf by assuming a different identity (an allusion perhaps to the wolf stealing grandma's identity) and exploiting that identity's sexuality.

Although I'm a bit creeped out by the video, I am, at the same time, supportive that it gives Little Red Riding Hood complete agency and power in her relationship to the wolf and the situation. In this version, there's no hunter to save the day as in the Grimms', but Little Red Riding Hood must save herself.