Fairy Tales 2010

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?