Fairy Tales 2010

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.