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.