Fairy Tales 2010

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Into the Woods

This is the first time I have ever heard of Into the Woods but I enjoyed it very much. It clearly plays off of many popular fairy tales such as Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel. The new fairy tale insert with the Baker maintains further exaggerates fairy tale motifs. The characters in Into the Woods have an opportunity to grow (like the Baker becoming more open to his wife helping acquire said items), and there are plenty of magical elements to remind the audience of the fantastical world the characters reside in. During the mini intermissions when all of the characters are in the woods and saying their lessons learned, we understand the morality aspect of the fairy tale. All of the quirky twists make for a very interesting adaptation of fairy tales that still contain no place specificity, polarizations between good and evil, magic, nature and interlocking quests (subsets of various stories).


I think the most intriguing perspective of critically analyzing Fables: Legends in Exile comes from the way that the characters are translated. In a sense, what we have here is one type being exchanged for another. The Big Bad Wolf becomes the hard-boiled detective Bigby. Snow White takes the role of strong-willed female bureaucrat Mrs. Snow who helps him solve the case, instead of Prince Charming we get a misogynist cocksman. It's only appropriate that fairy tale characters, transported to a modern setting, would take on the role of types. They know nothing else. Their entire existence is based on playing a role, that of their fairy tale archetype. Although they've been shifted temporally, they have no choice but slip back into predetermined roles. The are incapable of creating their own original identities. Even the plot calls attention to its own recognizeability. It's the classic noir narrative. A grizzled, experienced detective tries to solve the case of a missing girl, searching through clues which point every direction, before one last clue finally solves the case. The entire story is so typical, in a sense, that during the "parlor scene", the creator admits its own lack of originality. But just as with the fairy tale characters which populate this story, whose identities have been adjusted, the "parlor scene" has been adjusted as well. Instead of inside a parlor, the scene takes place on the roof of a building beside a pool. These are characters whom have been ripped from their typical settings, so it would be appropriate that a classic scene of hard-boiled stories would too take place in an unusual setting. As

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Into the Woods

I would definitely consider Into the Woods to be a fairy tale in some ways. After all, the entire play is a compilation of well known fairy tales that all are centered around the main/ newly developed fairy tale. One could argue that this is a fairy tale in that contains many of the same motifs--there is a deep dark forest, and the woman and man want a child ( have a lack of something) and have to complete a task (getting all of those things). The structure is pretty similar. However, I feel like the entire point to the play is to make fun of fairy tales and call upon our common knowledge of these popular stories, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood. I would definitely say that this play is much more complex in that it makes us think about the fairy tale genre by poking fun and exaggerating elements. Arguably, it could be similar to the literary fairy tales that we have read, taking the fairy tale structure but also maintaining an underlying complexity that calls upon us to think about what we are reading or viewing on a deeper level.

Into the Woods

I must say, when it comes to Sondheim's musical, I'm a bit torn as to whether or not it counts as a fairy tale. My immediate reaction is that yes, it counts because of the instinctual "well why wouldn't it be if it includes all the fairy tale characters that I know?" but the more I analyze it, the more I realize that Sondheim had a bit of a different message. I don't think that Sondheim in any way wanted to mock or degrade fairy tales; instead, I think that he used famous fairy tales as a way to spark our imagination and to capture the intrigue of the audience. In successfully doing so, Sondheim is able to tweak the stories however he wants, even to the extremes that they really don't look like fairy tales anymore. The characters interact with the narrator; the songs and stories have violent breaks and pauses as the characters realize what's going on (almost as though from a third person perspective); the characters are modernized through sarcasm and speech. It's almost surprising that the audience doesn't get angry with Sondheim for so drastically changing what the audience has always believed to be a fairy tale. Even though I am typically one to get upset or at least surprised when tradition is broken, I too felll into Sondheim's lure. He was able to convince me through a balance of tradition and modernism that his characters are simply just modern day people encountering their own fairy tales (even through acknowledging the absurdities as absurd). No, I don't think that Sondheim would be able to convince an audience that the stories were true in reality, but he makes such an impressive argument for them that it seems hard to completely disregard the stories or characters. 

Into the Woods

Since Into the Woods clearly interacts with the fairy tale tradition as it was inspired by Bettelheim's 1976 book, The Uses of Enchantment, it clearly resonates with a fairy tale tone, especially as it intermixes the plots of some of the Grimms tales we have read. What I enjoyed about this play was that it delved further into the exploration of the consequences of the character's decisions and pursuits. When I did a little research it said the main characters were taken from Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstock, Rapunzel, and Cinderella which I thought was fascinating and gave me a little inspiration for my final paper actually. The plot of the a baker and his wife and their attempts to create a family of course tie into the tradition as well, of the poor humble family trying to make its way in a mystical and uncertain time. Where the production seems to depart and at the same time tie more into the fairy tale tradition is the ending. They are saying we should all try the woods (obviously a metaphor for trying new things) but never forget the past, which is perhaps both paying homage to and a departure from the tradition this production originated from . The show premiered at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, California in December of 1986 at a time when society was making serious shifts and technological developments were in their early stages but still trying to take off. The first PC virus began, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded seconds after it blasted off, Reagan signed off on an enormous reorganization of the US Department of Defense, in other words big changes were being made. Perhaps this production can be better understood when we see this need to cling to the past while also being force to look to the future, maybe this production was an indication of the struggle in identifying and situating within society's progress.

Into the Woods

Into the Woods really has to be experienced first and analyzed later, because there’s no way to piece together some consistent philosophy while the musical assaults you with enormous shifts in tone and perspective. Like many fairy tales, in fact, what seems to be important in the first act (getting a baby) is hardly of any consequence in the second—consider how the incest themes of the Thousandfur stories disappear when the plot starts to mimic Cinderella. Meanwhile, the figure that drives the second act (the giant) is barely set up in the first (we only obliquely hear about Jack’s exploits), much like the sudden appearance of characters like the prince in Snow White. On the other hand, the story’s volatility sometimes acutely contradicts the fairy tale tradition. Wives, fathers, and mothers are only supposed to die at the beginning of the story, for example, and a witch who becomes beautiful should really either lose her beauty or be killed off by the end of the story—poetic justice is completely scrambled. It’s as though the musical has the pieces, appearance, and structure a fairy tale needs, but refuses to act like one.

Of course, to say something like “acts like a fairy tale” implies that we know what their “true” function is, which leads me to what I thought was the most interesting way that Into the Woods interacts with the fairy tale tradition. Sure, self-referential genre humor (e.g. picking up the cow) immediately grabs attention, and the imposition of realistic reactions (“you can talk with birds?!”) makes for an entertaining show, but what’s most fascinating is how the characters themselves seem to have to learn the Bettelheim-style lessons they are supposed to be teaching the audience. The baker is overwhelmed with fatherhood issues, the witch has to reconcile interpersonal relationships with morality—hell, nearly all the characters have to cope with loss. But the musical as a whole doesn’t communicate these lessons to the audience; instead they’re kept within the fairy tale characters. Is this simply the product of an era when the entire genre has already been dissected and criticized to death—can we now sit back haughtily and subject these characters to the psychological underpinnings of their own stories? No, I think the revival of some playfulness at the end of the musical lets us know that nothing cruel or permanently depressing is going on here. It is a tribute to fairy tales rather than a fairy tale itself, and consequently must portray all sides of society’s interaction with these endearing and infectious stories.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Of Feminie Subtlety

"Of Feminine Subtlety" could not have a more typical fairy tale beginning. We begin with a king, and his three sons. The king finds himself nearing death, so he divides his fortune amongst the three sons, and then dies. Interestingly, we never see the other two sons again. In a "typical" fairy tale, moral weaknesses of the two older sons cause them to forfeit whatever advantages they've gained from their deceased father, only to have the cunning, earnest, youngest son hatch a plan to get these treasures back. In this case, the older sons are thrown to the periphery of the narrative, and it is in fact the youngest son's foolishness that drives the plot. The story does maintain the ambiguity in time and place typical for a fairy tale, other than the conspicuous naming of the lead character; Jonathan. As the end of the story is overtly Christian allegory, perhaps this is a biblical reference. The story is also fairy tale like in that it seems to be preaching a very specific moral theme, that man's desires for women can cause trouble and that the only happy life is one in service of the Christian God. The "concubine" whom cons Jonathan out of his inherited treasures does so with quite mundane tactics. For the most part, she just asks for the things and Jonathan the fool just gives them over. The first two instances are nigh identical. The third thievery, that of the blanket, is done after he falls asleep with his head in her lap. I don't know if this was meant as sexual, but the proximity between his head and her groin, analogous to his mind being preoccupied with sex, certainly calls attention to itself. The story does not end in marriage, Jonathan instead enacting violent revenge through the use of cursed apples and water. The viciousness of it rivals those gloriously graphic punishments from the Grimms, and the son does go back to his family. So while we don't get a marriage for the youngest son to end the story, very atypical, we do get a reunited family.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Where to Lay the Blame

This story by Howard Pyle is a fairy tale for a couple of reasons. Firstly, there is quite a bit of unexplained magic thrown into a very short tale. We start with a relatively typical character, a poor man who faces the daily problem of hunger. After a long day of fishing without success, he returns home to his wife who is cooking him dinner. Before he can eat, however, the magician enters his house and convinces him to go fishing one last time. On this bizarre trip, the man encounters an expanding palace in which the magician is king., but he is told that during the travels, he should neither speak nor see his means of travel. The man obeys the first time, but on the way back from the castle, he cannot resist but to look. Upon doing so, he notes that he is riding a billy goat, and cries out in exclamation of this. This is what causes everything to disappear such that the man is thrown back down into his own house without the promised gold. For some bizarre reason, the first thing the man says then is that he should not have listened to his wife's advice about going with the magician. I find this quite bizarre because I don't know why this man would blame his wife for his troubles when she is the one providing him with food. In a twisted way, this story reminds me of Bluebeard because there is a forbidden action which the main character is supposed to avoid. Here though, instead of the wife actually doing the forbidden deed, the man is, and he is allowed at the end to blame her for his own poor choices. The lack of food, the mysterious magic, and the wrong-doing all lead to the conclusion that this story is indeed a fairy tale, even if it is different from all others we've read before.

Gunter Kunert's Sleeping Beauty

Kunert's "Sleeping Beauty" is interesting not only because of how short it is but also because it is not told really as a story but rather as a summary of the themes usually associated with Sleeping Beauty stories. Furthermore, there is nothing beautiful about the girl in his edition. He describes the princess as follows: "her toothless mouth half opened, slavering, her eyelids sunken, her hairless forehead crimpled with blue, wormlike veins, spotted, dirty, a snoring trollop". Clearly not the portrayal of purity and beauty usually associated with this maiden in fairytales. The only elements that actually remind me of a fairytale in this story are the indications of a universality and a place far away. The characters and setting are unnamed. However, in every other respect I would argue this is not a fairytale. Kunert analyzes the genre from the beginning, twists the elements against the typical purpose of the story. I am not staying the story is without merit, on the contrary, I find it extremely interesting, particularly his last sentence, "Blessed be all those who, dreaming of Sleeping Beauty, died in the hedge and in the belief that beyond it there was a moment in which time for once and all stood still and certain" , it is as though he is condemning anyone who does believe in fairytales. Granted in the back of Zipes' book it was indicated that Kunert was a poet more than a storyteller but I still find his analysis fascinating even though I can't fully grasp it.