Thursday, April 22, 2010
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
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
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
The one thing that does jump out as thoroughly fairy tale-ish is the obscurity in the story’s message. It seems moralistic, but you’d be hard pressed to say what exactly the moral of the story is; instead, taking a note from Bettelheim, the author lets us play out various social and moral episodes in an imaginative setting, offering more mental resolution than actual lessons. Of course, I say “social and moral” episodes mainly because I don’t want to exclude the possible reactions of others—personally, I saw the story as a clever “narrativization” of many religious issues. The griffin’s “lordship” over the town, for example, creates a system of morality enforced by punishment, which the beast seems to see as a necessary evil but not the ideal. The legitimately good Minor Canon plays a sort of self-sacrificial, messianic role in the beginning of the story, but in the end it’s the more Old Testament God-ish griffin who lays down his life so that the MC can be honored. What do we make of that, I wonder? It’s as though the God who lays down the harsh Mosaic Law (threatens punishment) and demands sacrifices (gazes at his own statue) has recognized a much better relationship between mankind and the divine, and sacrifices himself to enable it.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
The first category of magic are the inexplicable, folksy kind of powers we often find in fairy tales: smelling treasure, hypnotizing ghosts, using divining rods. This magic may be "secret" in that the possessor does not always reveal his ability, but the actual mechanics are presumably straightforward--and they'd have to be, for we can't expect a fairy tale gnome or witch to have a bachelor's degree. Folk wisdom, superstition, old wives' tales--whatever you want to call it, this potential source of practical knowledge is quickly discarded, especially by those in the competing school of alchemy. Alchemy, with its strict measurements and matter-of-fact protocols for how this element mixes with that tincture, draws easy comparisons to science in general, which had seen no small boost in ego during the Enlightenment. In again dismissing this "magical" system as fraudulent, Wieland may be ribbing the science of his day for its impracticality. We discovered a great deal in the 18th century, to be sure, but not much of it served an immediate purpose for mankind--Hutton's "Theory of the Earth" wasn't exactly a farmer's almanac. The last school, then, the "disciples of the great Hermes" among whom Misfragmutosiris is clearly the most "adept," may stand in for any number of European mysticisms (Rosicrucianism? Freemasonry?) or may just represent religion in general. The fact that this system of thought gets the most attention and causes the most havoc in the story would of course be quite appropriate given the power of the Church in 18th century society.
What of the "real" magic, then? Its purveyors seem very much like the fairies that have already been repudiated, or even the angels whose reputation Misfragmutosiris drags down in his ploy. I believe it's most important to note that the only lasting effect "real" magic has is to give the King and Queen younger and, uhh, fuller bodies--a change which doesn't seem to be a prerequisite for true love anyway. If all this magic actually does is teach lessons, I wonder if we can't take it as a symbol of general common sense regarding your social and vocational endeavors. We may not be born into King Mark's wealth, and we may not have the benefit of a transmogrificative benevolent being, but Wieland's fairy tale encourages us that his happy ending is not beyond the reach of those who labor to behave honestly and intelligently.
Friday, April 2, 2010
Thursday, April 1, 2010
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
It shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to think of the “Wild Man” from the story who bears his name as a stand-in for some sort of masculinity rather than an actual character (like a father or father figure). From a very general perspective, then, the story involves the boy: 1. learning how this trait is socially maligned (man in cage), 2. beginning to express the trait himself but sensing the social repercussions (freeing man, running off), 3. struggling with how to live with this masculinity (living out a “secret marriage” in the garden), and 4. embracing the trait to vindicate his social worth (saving England). I’m no psychologist, but hopefully those four stages sound at least a little close to certain identity-development theories—I know I’ve heard a somewhat similar framework for how we come to identify ourselves racially.
Even with this framework in mind, though, the tricky question is what this sort of masculinity actually is, and why it would be somehow “unpopular” in a thoroughly patriarchal society. The first quality that jumps out is the difference between how others see it and how it interacts with the boy: it is captured and displayed as an unkempt drunkard, but its influence on the boy’s life involves cleanliness and hard work (keeping the garden). Other somewhat at-odds qualities include being altruistic (passing on money, saving England) without being entirely moral (stealing the key, stealing meat, bragging about martial exploits), and being both independent (fleeing from home, living in forest at start) and involved in the affairs of everyone around it.
The only way I see of reconciling these differences is by looking at how the boy grows increasingly more proactive and less dependent on others (not counting the wildness itself, of course); that is the masculinity the story wants to promote. The contradictions we see come from the tension of forcing a society-endorsed model into a story about a social outsider; for example, his two thefts may seem to be transgressions in the context of the story, but to the reader they are evidence that the boy is becoming resourceful. I think it’s clear that the masculinity the story wants to foster is, however “ruggedly individualistic” on the outside, ultimately one that acts for the benefit of existing institutions. Still, if we guys are going to have to adopt this masculinity one way or the other, we might as well think we’re being a rebel while doing it.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Having the witch as a character distinct from the stepmother was a fascinating innovation of the 1916 film. In some sense, it absolves the stepmother of a few crimes; in the Disney and Grimm stories, she simply wants Snow White dead, but here she is forced to collect the girl’s heart by the new witch character. Again, the witch plays an important role in the story’s rendering of judgment on the queen, literally making the stepmother pay the price for her vanity even while comically sharing that same character flaw (e.g., getting the “pigtails” or showing off her new hair at the end of the story”). However, the idea of the witch/hag being the true embodiment of the stepmother is weakened a bit in this interpretation. The queen does associate and struggle with the witch as she might with her own internal desires, but the fact that the witch herself points out the queen’s true ugliness (in the warning about not breaking the mirror) doesn’t make the viewer see the stepmother in a more evil light so much as it makes us pity her. So instead of reflecting viewer condemnation back onto the queen, the witch in this film seems to absorb it. Who, then, is the true villain: the beauty “addict” or her enabler?
(If the latter, it’s interesting that the patriarchal voice of the mirror plays the exact same role.)
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Bluebeard doesn't have a horrific dungeon in which he hides the hacked up remains of his past wives, but rather just a cabinet with women painted on the walls. He doesn't want his wife to go into the cabinet out of genuine concern that the images might frighten her. France legitimizes the idea that this is a history with his specific use of names. It reads at times like a genealogy chart. Bluebeard, for example, becomes Bernard de Montragoux, and his series of misguided wives are all also assigned titles of the privileged French. Anatole's repeated use of French titles also seems in itself a bit of a critique. The formalism of the French upper class comes across as fickle and sadist. Bernard becomes a tragic figure, in constant search of happiness but repeatedly exploited by those he tries to love. His wealth, which seems of so little value to him, prevents him from being happy, as it rather than himself is the object of desire for these women. The death at the end is not heroic. The brothers don't ride in at the last moment to save the day. Bernard's death is unearned and unjust. France fittingly ends the piece by reporting that the outcome of the story is identical to that of the fairy tale. The last wife inherits the wealth and honors that were her now deceased husband's and her companions whom helped her vanquish the previous lord become noblemen themselves.
I was pleasantly surprised by this story, and by Thackeray’s ingenuity in using a horrific fairy tale as a springboard for a humorous, entertaining, and complex social drama. It’s clear from the last paragraph (“Psha!”) that the author certainly enjoyed himself while writing this one, and I have to say that his brand of thoughtful playfulness shines through on every page. The story very quickly establishes that it is NOT, like the story it’s based on, a fairy tale—there are nuanced characters that Thackeray slowly characterizes through dialogue and oblique descriptions (Mr. Sly “never drinks anything stronger than tea,” sister Anne is hilariously often referred to as a “minx” or “hussy”). We have not quite left the realm of magic, to be sure, but the otherworldliness here is of the same sort found in, say, Irving’s Sleepy Hollow; the plot veers into a “spookiness” of natural origin, not the uncanny horror of the other Bluebeard stories. Thackeray thrills us rather than terrifying us, for by the time the “ghost” appears we’ve already been conditioned by the multiple foiled suicide attempts not to take even the serious things too seriously. (At times this approach to humor gets a tad too dark: Doctor Sly wonders why his nephew hasn’t tried to commit suicide again after being rejected for the last time.)
The shift in genre also allows the story to offer a different sort of commentary than the very primal/psychological take on male-female relationships in the original Bluebeard fairy tales. The apparent Stockholm Syndrome (this probably isn’t the right term) going on with Mrs. Bluebeard in the beginning of the story is particularly interesting, as there wouldn’t really be any need to venerate the old murderer if all she cares about is money (as hinted by the narrator’s line about throwing a grand funeral for whoever left him a fortune). The scene with Mrs. Bluebeard and her sister going through the former’s late husband is comical, of course, but I wonder if Thackeray is playing her “condition” for more than just laughs. There’s a similar conundrum in the character of Mr. Sly—his morbid attempts to win Lady Bluebeard’s heart are very funny, but there’s also something poignant and pathetic in his efforts to put on false masculinity (both figuratively and literally, with the Bluebeard costume). Even as I laughed, some surprisingly sober thoughts of gender constructions couldn’t help but bubble up in the back of my head.
Now, the old woman, the old crone, what's up with her? Why does she even decide to help the girl when she has clearly seen many females before her go probably without a second thought. As a matter of fact, I'm not even sure why the basin of blood is even necessary because the nobleman gave his wife the autonomy to explore the castle completely. I think he is a serial killer and recruits women to kill for his own sadistic pleasure. The old woman is responsible for telling the girl that only her and the nobleman are allowed to enter this death chamber but it's obviously too late at that point. Through the goodness of the old women, the girl escapes and tells the lord of the castle that she escapes to about the nobleman. The lord of the castle holds a great feast and the nobleman's attendance at that feast seals his fate to be imprisoned. The girl tells her story, the nobleman is taken away by the authorities and she marries the lord of the castle.
What an utterly unsatisfying story. There is motive driving the nobleman's desire to kill girls, the girl escapes without any proof so she could just be lying on the nobleman and to set all things right in the world, she gets married to the lord of the castle and obtains all of the nobleman's treasures. I'm not sure what to consider this story. Something about it is just distasteful to me. It seems like an incomplete fairy tale and one that the title does not easily translate. At least with the Bluebeard stories, there is no intermediary that helps the girl and it seems like she should have listened to the requests of her husband and now she has to suffer since she didn't (although she is exonerated). Here is a tale of a what you see is not what you get and now you'll die, the end. BUT lucky you, the old crone will be nice today and you get to imprison instead of have the psychopathic man killed. Oh, isn't that swell?
The Brothers Grimms’ Blue Beard type story, “The Robber Bridegroom” is the most fairytale-like of all the Blue Beard stories we have read. In class we discussed that Blue Beard stories are generally different from the other stories we have read because it is a horror story that takes fear into reality instead of displacing it with magic. What makes horror so terrifying is that it takes something that is real or within the realm of possibility of the real and turns it from something know-able and safe into something horrible and scary so that what is natural to us becomes unnatural and foreign and therefore disgusting and horrible. This version is a lot like the Mr. Fox Tatar version but still is more fairytale-like.
The miller’s daughter didn’t love him like she should, she shuttered when she saw the bridegroom. In this story we don’t get a blue beard or some outward indicator of evil or unnatural-ness, only a “shutter” to identify the bridegroom as bad. Interestingly we as an audience automatically side with her that since something is off he must be evil. Moreover, his house is in a dark forest which in fairytales is the typical place for evil and challenges. As in Little Red Riding Hood, the bridegroom lures her into the forest, and reminiscent of Hansel and Gretel he spreads ashes for her to follow. She follows the ashes but adds peas and lentils which is again like Hansel and Gretel. Unlike other stories nature comes to the maiden’s aid or tried to as the bird calls out to her that she should turn back. There is a magical response where nature helps heroine as in most fairytales, the peas and lentils grow up and guide her home . She also finds the typical fairytale old crone who warns her. Interestingly she gets out of the danger with evidence of her challenge, the finger with the ring which follows the fairytale motif of a heroine holding a body part of another girl which is excused because there is valuable jewelry attached to it.
Furthermore the maiden gets away without immediate confrontation. And of course as we expect with Grimms tales it reads that “she got safely through with the help of God” as is consistent with Christian morals and Protestant values of the times. She says she had a strange dream but retells fairytale, alike old oral tellers retelling tales to an audience. Key elements are repeated and by doing so at end everyone thinks they’ve heard a tale but the twist is she shows the evidence and proves the fairytale wasn’t a story after which of course the robber bridegroom gets punished and everyone lives happily ever after with order and justice in place.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
I loved this documentary it was like watching a mini soap opera with children. It was also sad though to see how the concept of a "happily ever after" fairytale ending was both a source of hope and a curse for Laura-Anne. Starting off with "Once upon a time in a faraway land/ lived a beautiful princess named Laura-Anne" immediately the viewer is saddened by the realization that this princess' world is actually a poverty-stricken area comprised of two streets in Siddick, a cold and harsh coal-mining town. What struck me most was how young these children were yet how old they felt they needed to act, and of course failed immensely and were extremely immature and hurtful. The children seemed to feel the need to grow up fast when obviously they, especially Laura-Anne, weren't ready. As she says, "Too old for the children’s party/ too young to be a teen/ Laura-Anne was feeling stranded/ stuck somewhere inbetween" after Jamie stands her up for the school dance. Ben he acts old enough to go out with multiple girls and give Laura-Anne pearl earrings, but still he is just a boy who find his greatest happiness in digging up worms. Jamie seems even older and is able to beat up Ben, as Laura-Anne says, Jamie was “a man of action, a man who could not be beaten” but later we realize that Jamie is so strong and grown up because his father beat him. Meanwhile Laura-Anne writes "I heart ___" in the sand for her boys and writes love notes like the one to Boston.
Of course as these children try to act as adults the perception of beauty as nearly a virtue comes into play. For example Laura-Anne talks about waking up early to make herself ‘look good’ and there is the interview with Boston as he looks into the mirror analyzing his hair, facial structure, eye color and says that he thinks girls like him for his cheeks.
My favorite lines were when Ben sent Laura-Anne a note saying he wanted to "take some space" (which is hysterical in itself for an 11-year-old) and Laura-Anne shows her dad. Laura-Anne then says, "There may be other fish in the sea/ that’s what her daddy taught/ which is all very well if she wanted/ to go out with a fish, she thought." She shows herself to be so wise and rational and yet is so willing to throw her heart after these three boys (Ben, Boston, Jamie). However of course reality confronts her in the end when she says, "I’ve no boyfriend, im so cold and glum, but ive heard things end happily in fairytales and I hope someday my prince will come" and there is a shot of her trailing behind Jamie and other peers. The fairy tale that gives her hope and the Disney - dream of unconditional easy love is the same fairytale that keeps her expectations so high at such a young age and sets her up for disappointment, as when she says, "All boys wanted, she realized/ wasn’t love, but to be fishermen".
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
In each of the stories the father figure is doting and kind but also somewhat meek, he serves as yet another foil for the Beast’s brutality and vulgar appearance. The father figure, though poor in many cases, represents the bourgeois that is supposed to retain the manners the Beast usually presents with. As per our discussion in class today, in Madame de Beaumont’s version, when confronted by the Beast after picking a rose for Belle, the father tries to apologize and calls the Beast “my liege” and tries to flatter the Beast as was and still is occasionally customary when faced with a more powerful foe. The Beast however is the one who calls realistic expectations to the situation and becomes angry and tells the father not to give him “an honorific” because he recognizes that he is an animal though the father feels it is more prudent in the scenario to act as though he can relate to the beast on a human, proper level. He assumes that Beast would want to be treated as human. This interplay between the father and Beast and the permanent fixture of fathers in the Beauty and the Beast stories of course draws up the question of the Oedipus complex.
As described in the Oedipus complex in which a child wishes to find a mate similar to their parent and dismiss the parent of their same sex. Girls look for traits reflective of their fathers when seeking a spouse. Accordingly, in many of these stories a mother is absent or evil as many older women are in fairytales, but the father is supposed to represent what Belle wants. As she says in Cocteau’s film to Avenant, she cannot leave her father in order to marry. The Beast seems to be the complete opposite of her father but when Belle talks to those around her about the Beast she always says he is “kind and gentle” just like her father in the stories and the Beast gets deathly ill just as her father usually does in the stories so that Belle has to return to them both after journeys away. Perhaps the father figure is there to give the audience context for the type of male figure Belle is supposed to want to be with.
In this way, Beauty's martyrdom was disobedient, yet eventually benefited her. In a similar fashion, it is not until she disobeys Beast and stays at her house for more than seven days that he finally transforms back into a man. For such a conventionally self-sacrificing girl, it's interesting that the two things which must lead to her happiness are in fact, when fully dissected, selfish. Both the Pig King and Beauty are rewarded for acting against the desires of their parents.
Anyway, getting back to my first statement, I was pleasantly surprised to find the father’s negligence aggrandized and thoroughly villainized in “The Tiger’s Bride”—quite honestly, Carter’s overwritten style made me worry for her relationship with her own father! From the opening line, all trace of “lovable” has been taken out of Beaumont’s/Disney’s lovably pathetic dad, to an extent that fundamentally transforms the story. The girl’s interactions with the beast, generally the focus of and driving force behind these stories, are cast in a weirdly reactionary light. I say “weirdly” because all the elements are there for this to be a straightforward and powerful allegory of sexual awakening (or identity-finding, or what have you), but instead the reader can’t shake the sense that the girl’s actions are born out of resentment rather than any internal vitality of character. Thus, in a roundabout way, the very act of “correcting for” the original father’s overlooked flaws turns him into a far more important character than he ever was in the early stories, and one has to wonder if that’s really what Carter was shooting for.