Fairy Tales 2010

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Cinderella and Related Stories

I totally forgot about this last night, but for what it's worth, here's my post...

I agree with Tatar that Cinderella and Donkeyskin stories should be studied together. They do have some similarities in the plot lines as well as the intricacies of the parent-child relationships. For example, 'Katie Woodencloak' starts out as a story similar to Cinderella, where the father is absent and the evil stepmother tortures her. However, the ending is more like the Donkeyskin stories. After the bull leads her through 3 forests, she becomes a scullery maid at a castle and meets the prince at 3 different balls. With her shoe, he finds her, and they go about their happy lives.

Here the story overlaps somewhat with both tales. Nevertheless, in both Donkeyskin and Cinderella stories, one parent is either dead or absent and the other (including stepmothers and fathers who want to marry their daughters) are abusive, cruel, or otherwise cause the girl to run away where she becomes "Cinderella" and eventually finds her prince. It seems fitting that they be studied together, even if they are kept in separate categories (as they should).

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Gold Teeth

One story on Ashliman's site that stood out in particular to me was "Gold Teeth" from Italy, with Estella Canziani as the source. This particular tale was found on the "Father-Daughter Incest in International Folktales" site, not the Cinderella Ashliman site. The beginning of the story begins with the mother dying, and making her husband promise that he will not marry again unless the woman he marries has all gold teeth like herself. Of course, the only person who seems suitable is the daughter, and then it starts to get interesting. In this story she actually has a godmother who gives her three different dresses, and a fourth gown that was made of flea skins.
This particular "Donkeyskin" type of tale has a godmother in it, just as the Cinderella we are familiar with has a godmother. An outsider grants the daughter/Cinderella her wish.
All hope seems lost and it looks like the daughter is going to have to marry her father, and the godmother tells her to escape to the woods and change her appearance to that of an old woman.
Tatar mentions that the "heroine of Catskin tales is mobile, active, and resourceful" (105).
However, this story shares similarities to the Cinderella tales in that the prince searches for 3 years for the ring of the beautiful girl he dances with at the ball. What shocks me, or maybe I probably shouldn't be shocked, is that the prince kicks, punches and pinches the old lady when she asks to go to the ball, yet he is in love with the beautiful girl he dances with, (who is actually the same person.)
This gives some insight into gender roles, in that the girl in the story goes from one kind of abuse (incest) to another at the end of the story. She still ends up marrying the Prince, and I almost wish that she would leave, or get revenge on him because when she is an old lady, he physically hurts her. It seems like the ending is only made to fit the stereotypical "happily ever after," but it doesn't go with the story.
It is obvious that Cinderella and Donkeyskin overlap, however, I wouldn't read a story about incest to my little sister, if only the first reason being that she wouldn't understand why the father wants to marry the daughter, and I don't think she would understand the prince hurting the princess either. A child cannot make sense of these adult themes, and I think that is the main reason that Donkeyskin tales have fallen out of favor.


Maria Tatar proposes that Cinderella and Donkeyskin stories are the same because they both "produce an intrigue that corresponds to the oedipal fantasies of girls." Cinderella stories involve wicked step-mothers that the girl hates because she takes the father from the girl. Donkeyskin stories involve fathers who innapropriately act out the oedipal desire a girl has to sleep with her father. Both of these types of stories are related in terms of Freudian psychoanalysis, however they do not coincide beyond that one interpretation. In the Danish fairy tale, "The Green Knight", there are elements of both the Cinderella and Donkeyskin stories. There is a dying mother who asks her husband one last request, that he grant their daughter anything she ever asks of him. Out of love for his daughter and love for his dead wife, he gives his daughter everything she wants, including a new step-mother. In this case, the father is not engaged in incestuous desire for his daughter, and the evil step-mother is introduced at the daughter's own behest. There are no oedipal desires being played out in the story because the evil step-mother was not the result of either the mother or the father, but of the daughter herself. The girl wanted the new mother figure, and it was only after she got her wish that the wish turned sour and the woman revealed her true evil nature. This story is unquestionably of the Cinderella/Donkeyskin type, but it does not fit the oedipal label that those stories generally fall under according to Tatar. Because the story follows both story lines yet does not fall under the "unifying" category that Tatar attributes to the stories, it follows that the story types do not have to be related. Only when considered from a Freudian perspective do Cinderella and Donkeyskin fall under the same story category. Neither story type, however, necesarilly has to contain oedipal elements in order to BE a Cinderella or Donkeyskin story, as "The Green Knight" clearly shows.

Tatar's Cinderella & Donkeyskin

Tatar argues that the female character is almost always villainized in the fairy tale. The stepmother is often made especially evil; however, this problem of having a stepmother can ultimately be traced back to the biological mother’s death and the widower’s remarriage. Should he not remarry, still the mother is leaving her daughter with an incompetent or harmful husband when she dies, such as the case in the stories of incest. In reading these tales, Tatar notes that the male character remains victim, as he is still carrying out the wishes of his dead wife and thus fulfilling his rightful duty— even if this means pursuing his own daughter.
In the Italian tale Gold Teeth by Estella Canziani, the mother passes, but she is not at all portrayed as evil in a direct manner; neither does the father seem benevolent. Rather, the position of the parents merely sets up the story which is focused primarily on the daughter’s escape, her refuge in the prince’s palace, and his eventual realization that his love has long been living with him. This story provides no evidence to refute Tatar’s argument, but is instead a minimal, objective recounting of the tale, and in fact does well to support her point that Donkeyskin style stories should be read alongside Cinderella stories. They are essentially the same, though in one the peasant princess lives in a distant home and is the servant of her own family; in the other she lives and works as a servant in the castle. Further, the ball-room encounters of Cinderella are much more dramatic and make for a much more glamorous visual depiction of the tale (hence Disney’s rendition).

Donkeyskin vs. Cinderella

Tatar's thesis that Cinderella and Donkeyskin resemble one another rests on her sociological perspective on the two tales. Both deal with young women who transform from rags, or worse in the case of Donkeyskin, to beautiful maidens with beautiful clothing, both have parental problems that cause them to rebel, and both end up marrying in the end to a mystified prince or king who falls in love with them to everyone's shock. Although these similarities are agreeable to everyone, not much else is obvious, but Tatar sees more to it. She claims that even in Donkeyskin, an tyrannical mother is really being blamed for the unnatural situation because she made Donkeyskin's father not to marry anyone not as good as her. I don't agree with this assessment. I think the promise between the Queen and King would be seen as a basic condition of the story. It would be interpreted by audiences as an act of fate that is plain and simply unchangeable. The Germans fairytales were anti-psychological in nature, and they would not have read malice into it unless it was explicitly stated that the queen was evil.

On the other hand, I do find the dissimilarities between Cinderella and Donkeyskin interesting and worth a closer look. Cinderella succeeds by deus ex machina, as the tools to her success are granted by animals and the fairy god mother, which come to her because of her virtuous disposition. On the other hand, Donkeyskin succeeds in marrying through rebellion against her father, good wits, and even trickery. Also interesting to compare is the fate of Cinderella's father, who does not return, and her sisters, who are sometimes forgiven but other times blinded to Donkeyskin's father. In several versions of that tale, Donkeyskin's father is able to remarry and is easily forgiven of his past sins against the natural order. It is odd that he is not punished nor needing of penance.

Tatar's argument that fatherly figures cannot be seen as evil or needing of punishment but female figures can be unmotherly and wicked seems to add up here. Even when the father is wicked, he seems to be forgiven rather easily while a wicked female adult seems to be unforgivable. In other tales though, such as The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs, a greedy king is punished, but this is when dealing with a son-in-law as opposed to a direct daughter. Perhaps this comments on the nature of the relationship between father and daughter more than anything. Father's seem more likely to banish or fight with young men, but the father-daughter relationship seems to be treated with more care. I think by putting these cases of possible incest in the tales, folks were not intending to shutter at the horror of the situation, rather they were showing a situation where natural morality could be so strongly violated, and demonstrating one of the few situations where child rebellion was appropriate.

For my online tale, I chose to read the Scottish version of Cinderella. This tale was much different than one's I have been familiar with. In it, Cinderella's whole family is wicked, and Cinderella commits a brutal act of murder, chopping the head off of her "ugly sister," forcing her to flee her family. Also, although a prince falls in love with her and finds her shoe, there is no scene with a ball. Perhaps the Scottish, living under the yolk of the British, had little reason for tales about fancy dances and balls since they had no royal family to look up to for these things. In relation to Tatar's argument, since there is little of a disturbed relationship between the young girl with any family member in particular, it is difficult to fit into Tatar's argument. What is interesting though is that the Scottish Cinderella takes on characteristics like that of Donkeyskin, as the Scot must deceive, such as by killing her sister instead of her calf, and she isn't so much help by fate but instead marries by her own grace and virtue, as the prince can see through her rags and dirt that she is actually beautiful.

Cinderella + Incest= Donkeyskin

I'm going to stray away from last week's argument and say that Cinderella stories could benefit from being taught alongside Donkeyskin tales because of Bettelheim's belief in the didacticism of fairytales. Granted, most literary Cinderellas contain some elements that could frighten children and off-put parents (e.g. the stepsisters cutting off parts of their feet or their eyes getting gouged out), Donkeyskin has a truer, more real application. Like it or not, incest does occur; it isn't just a problem that people many years ago had to face.
Both tales lift up the beautiful, virtuous girl, but both have very different circumstances. Both are without mothers. Both have fathers who don't necessarily fulfill their familial duties. Both would benefit from being taught together because they bring together different aspects of the young virgin's reasons for rising above their state and leaving their families, whether that is an abusive homelife with no reprieve or a father that loves her just a little too much. Each has its own place in today's fairytale canon. Sadly, there will always be children who aren't appreciate, just as there will always be occurrences of incestuous behavior. If told side by side, perhaps a child (or parent) would see the problems in each and try their best not to repeat these behaviors or not allow themselves to be victims of these behaviors.

Cinderella and Donkeyskin

Cinderella and Donkeyskin stories have a few important similarities, all duly noted by Tatar: there’s the occasional “perfect fit” episode, the unnatural parent (lustful father or evil stepmother), and the beautiful, young heroine who must engage in domestic chores. And yet these likenesses pale in comparison to the endless array of differences that serve to wholly separate the tales from one another.

In Cinderella stories, Cinderella is usually from a family of middle to upper class stature. These stories polarize the women of the stories into two separate categories: young, beautiful, good, virtuous Cinderella vs. old, sexualized, conniving, evil stepmother. Her father is generally dominated by the stepmother or non-existent. A godmother, a bird, or some other fantastical creature that grants wishes aids Cinderella. The prince wants to marry her for her grace and beauty.

In Donkeyskin, the girl is almost always a princess, and thus comes from royal standing. That in mind, her story is not rags-to-riches but rather riches-to-rags-to-riches. Her father has incestuous desires, driving the girl from her home with his sexually deviant behavior. The girl is usually aided in her escape by some sort of household servant, but is given more agency, more choice than the girl of Cinderella stories. In other words, the girl senses danger and makes the decision to leave her father, instead of tolerating “danger” (the stepmother’s cruel designs) and wanting to attend the ball simply for fun or as a reward for hard work. There is a true threat in Donkeyskin stories, that the girl must escape in order to retain her pure innocence. Furthermore, in Donkeyskin tales, the prince takes notice of her for both her beauty and her domestic skills (she usually must cook him something or perform some other household duty for him). Thus, chores in this type are a driving force in why the prince wants to marry her, rather than being the activity hindering her from her chance of so much as meeting the prince.

To take a specific example, “The She-Bear”, Giambattista Basile’s version of Donkeyskin, eliminates the common element of the three dresses and instead focuses only on the animal-esque costume. The girl does not ask her father for unusual attire, and he does her no pre-wedding favors, but rather the girl escapes by transforming into a bear by placing wood in her mouth. In bear form, she is favored by a prince for her docile, tame behavior. He sees her as a maiden when no one else is looking and then, while ill, asks the mother to have the bear attend to him, cook for him, etc. The girl is never shown in exquisite finery (as she would be in one of the three unique dresses), but is herself instead – beautiful, tender, obedient, and domestically talented. Their wedding essentially restores her to the princess status that she gave up at the start of the story.

While I agree with Tatar’s belief (p.103) that it’s necessary to engage in multiple variants of both Cinderella and Donkeyskin stories in order to understand all of their similarities, I don’t see that studying these two AT types together is any more beneficial than comparing any two other mildly related AT types. In fact, I believe that initially looking at both tale types at once can cause the reader to lose sight of the myriad nuances prevalent within the same tale type.