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.

Hyacinth and Roseblossom

Even though this story does not seem like a fairy tale at first glance, once I thought about it, I realized it has many characteristics of one. First, it starts describing main character as being good, so we know to like him. All of the heroes in fairy tales are good on the outside and inside. This is the same for Hyacinth. We know he is good because he communicates with nature which is another aspect of a fairy tale. Nature knows who is good and bad, so if you get along with nature, you must be a good person. This brings us to our next characteristic: a magical world. Hyacinth is in a world where plants and animals can talk and laugh and sing (of course). Another characteristic is that the story begins with Hyacinth experiencing a lack of something: happiness. Then, he must go on a journey to fix this. And, of course, it is a journey around the world, especially through forests. It is this journey that helps him find happiness in the end. And who is to send him on the journey? A mysterious old woman from the woods. We do not know who she is, but she is knowledgeable and helpful in mysterious ways, so the reader can associate her with a good witch. A sorcerer is also included in this story as well, so we have magical people too. Hyacinth lives in a magical world. Then, after Hyacinth's journey, he gets the girl, but she is not just any girl, she is the most beautiful girl. "She was so lovely that anyone who had ever met her yearned to be hers." This is definitely a characteristic of a fairy tale. So, there are clearly a lot of fairy tale characteristics within this short story that make it more like a fairy tale than you might originally think.

Of Feminine Subtlety

This story can definitely be described as a fairy tale. In the beginning, you have a king and his three sons. He gives his 3rd son, Jonathan, three riches with magical powers: a necklace, a ring, and a piece of cloth and is warned by mother that he must protect them. Already, we see the element of kings and queens, various representations of three, and magical objects. The son, of course, is mystified by a woman and ends up giving all three objects to the woman who in turn leaves him alone in the deep, dark forest. Here again, many elements of the fairy tale are seen. The unknown forest and the evil but beautiful woman figure are seen here. In the end though, Jonathan passes the test and gets out of the forest escaping burning water and leprosy. He ends up healing those that have leprosy, and then watches the woman who cheated him die in agony. He returns to his mother and lives happily ever after. It reads, " Then he recounted how God had saved him from various dangers, and after living many years, he ended his days in peace."
This story follows the structure of fairy tales very closely and includes an abundant number of elements which fairy tales also have. However, there is definitely a deeper message of Christian moral at the end, and importance of education over riches scattered throughout that make the story more complex than a traditional fairy tale.

The Fairy Tale of the King

The Fairy Tale of the King distinguishes itself as a fairy tale for several reasons. The opening, "Once upon a time there was" lets the readers know that all of this is occurring in an unknown realm. The tale will not possess any elements of specificity like who and where. Additionally, the tale clearly polarizes the good and the bad through a quest. By altering his outward appearance, the King is able to cover himself behind a mask to discover the truth behind his power. In fairy tales, the protagonist can self actualize through some sort of transformation (e.g. Beauty and the Beast). Although the King's transformation is not magical, it is merely a disguise, he is able to search for truth and learn an important lesson. This tale also has the classic happy ending where the King is deeply moved by something beautiful in the young woman that results in marriage. Morally, the King understands the implications of his declarations and behavior and correspondingly does something to write his wrong. In the end there is some sense of retribution which is also common in fairy tales. Lastly the King's founding of a new realm, the realm of love where fish were seen to mate in the air brings in some fantastical elements typical of fairy tales.

The Griffin and the Minor Canon

What a fascinating little story! In many ways its identity as a fairy tale shouldn’t be too controversial, given a general lack of specificity and the inclusion of a conspicuously magical creature. On the other hand, though, its title characters don’t fit all that well into the fairy tale canon. The griffin isn’t obviously good or evil, but he also doesn’t have that element of powerful, neutral mischief that characterizes so many other magical creatures. Instead, he’s rather consistent in his behavior, thoughtful—human, really, at least more so than you’d expect a giant winged beast to be. The Minor Canon isn’t quite the clever everyman of something like The Devil and the Three Golden Hairs or the Cinderella-esque model of honesty; in fact, he doesn’t seem that relatable at all, despite having a fairly attainable level of virtue. At the end of the day, the reader doesn’t identify with either of the main characters, so presumably we are part of the nameless townsfolk—a role I’m not sure I’ve been asked to play in any of the Grimm’s stories.

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

The Philosopher's Stone

I thought the use of magic in the Philosopher's Stone was really amusing because it is clear that he wrote the story in order to mock magic but it his story has such a classical fairytale taste that it reminds me almost of Tex Avery's films in which he mocks Disney's classical and exaggerated fairytale narratives. Just like Avery, this story begins using magic in order to turn a king into an ass whereas in the first part of the story magic was completely missing. The introduction of magic is introduced in such a sarcastic tone it is clear that it is being mocked as an 'inherent' and even 'required' part of the fairytale genre. I thought it was refreshing actually because even though there is good and evil and transformations and magical beings in a faraway place, the characters are also given names and the story also comes across as grounded and able to make fun of itself. It is a fairytale because it exaggerates what is supposed to make it a fairytale. It also distinguished itself in that it was so much longer than the typical fairytales we have been reading that are short sentences with simple phrases and blunt transitions from one scene to the next wherease here the sentences are so long and descriptive it shows a marked separation from the oral tales from which fairytales are supposed to originate.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Function of Magic in the Philosophers' Stone

The primary question that hung with me after the completion of "The Philosophers' Stone" was this: how can we reconcile the presence of magic in the later stages of the story when the first part of the story takes great pains to demean even the suggestion of magical influence. While my first instinct was that this conflict was indeed troublesome, a closer reading of the text was illuminating. The principal "magic" moment of the story occurs when the beautiful young boy appears in front of King Mark and offers him a stone with which he is to rub all over his body. Mark does so, and is turned into a donkey. The impact of the stone, which the boy promises Mark that his "wish will be fulfilled", is certainly comedic. It's sort of a foolish image to think of this befallen king rubbing a stone all over his chest and head, only to find himself in the form of an ass. I think it is this form that he takes that governs my reading. He doesn't become a horse, a bird, or a "noble" creature. He becomes a jackass. Wieland uses "real" magic to further strengthen his argument for the nonexistence of magic. If you believe in this nonsense enough to rub a stone all over your body, you don't just become a jackass, you are jackass. When Mark awakens from his dream discovers that he is still in his animal form, it furthers this idea that Mark's true form is indeed that of a donkey, and the human form is but a disguise. When Mark transforms back he does so by eating a lily (Note that eating a lily carries none of the ritual that his initial "stone-rubbing" paraded). He performs an act natural to a donkey. He grazes. He's accepting his identity as a jackass. The wife's analogues victimization and transformation suggests that she too was living on false beliefs. Perhaps Wieland was just trying subversively comment on the idea of the adulterous knight, whom is actually the maidens true love. That she disappears in the middle portion of the story suggests that her narrative/message was not as interesting to Wieland as was King Mark's.

The Philosopher's Stone

This story is different from a fairy tale, but it is definitely a fairy tale for a few reasons. First, there is magic. This story exhibits different types of magic throughout the plot. Therefore, this story exists in a world that is more suited for a fairy tale. Also, there is a transformation, which we have discovered is extremely fairy-tale like. There is also a predominate good and evil. The main character begins with a lack of something that he wants, and he must be tested before the story is over. There is a main theme that can be identified, and this is the lesson to be learned. Certain traits that King Mark exhibits are exemplified and respected (ex. when he is listening in the cave, it specifically says "If it were not for the limitless patience, a virtue most characteristic of the species of beast to which he now belonged, that lent him strength, it would have been impossible for him to prevent the fury that was boiling..."). It is easy for us to understand what is good and what is bad. We see the benefits and rewards of certain characteristics and actions. Therefore, even though this story is quite a bit longer than other fairy tales we have read, and it has more detail and development, it is still a fairy tale.

The Philosophers Stone

The Philosophers Stone has the length of a short story, but managers to maintain its fairy tail status by the way it is written and the random use of magic. The way that it is written still sounds like it could be told orally in many parts. its as if the author is telling us the story one on one. The first page alone sounds as if it should be narrated, with the exception of the difficulty of some of the words. At the beginning of the story, magic is viewed in almost a disdainful way, but suddenly after the king is taken for all he has, a fairy appears. This random and ludicrous appearance of the absurd lends itself to the fairy tale genre. The quest for happiness that the king continues on also lends itself to being a fairy tail. He transitions between every level of society in order to give himself a more well rounded worldly view. The path he follows is almost that of reincarnation. Because of his bad karma in the beginning, he comes back as a donkey. He then is able to progress his way to peasant. At the end he is offered the chance to become a king, once again following the idea of coming back higher than the last life. At this juncture, he makes the fairy tale decision and stays as the peasant, thus teaching us all that happiness doesn't necessarily come with title or possessions. The different transformations that occur in regards to identity and deception, especially on the fairies and peasant girl's part, give this tail a fairy tail feeling as well. The idea that nothing is as it seems in the real world, but everything will turn out okay helps make this a fairy tail.

the fairy tale quest for the philosopher's stone

When I read "The Philosopher's Stone," the only aspect that might have led me to believe that it's not a story tale is its length. This story happened to be much longer and more in-depth in its details than those that we normally read and analyze, but otherwise, I think the story is a true fairy tale, and I think that Vladimir Propp would agree with me. According to his 5 main functions within a fairy tale, there must be a lack of something which causes the hero to address it and go on a quest to overcome it. The hero will of course be subject to at least one test and after passing them, s/he will be rewarded. I think that this mapping can be easily applied to the story of the philosopher's stone. The hero is in this case King Mark, and the lack is his apparent lack of gold. Whether it be a true lack of gold or simply the case that he is never satisfied with the amount is trivial. King Mark addresses this lack by welcoming all of the bizarre magicians and scientists who claim that they can fulfill his desire for gold. Although the king's quest may not be much of a physical one (until his entrance into the pyramid), he does engage himself in many tests in order to try and find the solution. Even though most of the magicians and such end up being frauds, he does encounter at least 2 truly magical helpers, the fairies. His transformations may not immediately seem like they are beneficial to the king or his quest, but in the end, they help him to learn about what the true philosopher's stone is... not the ability to make gold, but the chance to spend one's life with someone he truly loves. Besides, the nice little twist on the end about the queen being the other peasant really amps up the theme of using magic for love.

Philosopher's Magic

Wieland's literary fairy tale The Philosophers' Stone is different from other fairy tales we have read in class. What helps to distinguish the difference between this fairy tale and other fairy tales has to do with character development. Magic is seemingly degraded in the beginning of the tale but emerges as the principal mechanism that helps the characters learn an important lesson. King Mark is unbelievably gullible and desperately believes in magic. His greed for the finer things in life and irrational pursuits to attain all that his heart desires leads him to inevitable failure. Wieland essentially critiques magic through King Mark but unpredictably consults magic to help move the story in the resulting direction. Ultimately, magic is used to help identify happiness. Although magic is the agent through which happiness can be experienced, it does not serve as the object that gives you happiness per se. Magic transforms King Mark as well as his wife into characters who are more susceptible to appreciating what they have. Misfragmutosiris, the Egyptian adept uses magic to redirect the lives of ungrateful royalty to show them what happiness does and can bring. Ultimately, happiness can exist for all especially the underprivileged through ambition and rationality.

A Wondrous Oriental Tale of a Naked Saint

This story by Wackenroader can be classified as a fairy tale in that it contains fantastical creatures, magic spells, and a short succinct story with a happy ending. The tale takes place in an unknown world. This fantastical creature lives in a cave and is perpetually haunted by this fear that is a spell that has been cast on him. He has no rest as he is constantly hearing "the wheel of time." The spell is broken when he hears the music of love. This has tremendous power as it breaks the spell and is is not constrained anymore by his fears. This story definitely has a lot of the characteristics of the stories that we have previous read; however, there is a much deeper meaning in this literary fairy tale. Wackenroader was a Romantic writer and these ideals are very much present in his work. The story is of a creature that is haunted in his dark cave. He is saved by music, love and aesthetic beauty of the world around him, ideas that are all typical of Romanticism. The author concentrates on the aesthetic, picturesque world as highly desirable, and something that this creature desires to grasp. There is this contrast with feeling nothing and being haunted by time and constraints which could be compared to the Enlightenment, as Romanticism was a movement away from these ideas that transcended rationality. Nonetheless, though this is like the fairy tales we have seen in structure, in some of the elements that it contains, and its reflection of culture at the time, there is a much deeper meaning pertaining to politics and intellectual movements that make this story more complex.

Magic in the Philosopher's Stone

It's difficult to draw any kind of unified voice on magic from this story for two particular reason: for one, Wieland purposefully differentiates between all types of magic and preternatural abilities, and secondly, the story spends its first half refuting the very idea of magic and then absolutely depends on it in the second half. Nevertheless, there exists at least one easy--if not necessarily accurate--way of interpreting all of Wieland's "schools" of magic that ties the story nicely into the a different moral allegory than the one we first expect. The Philosopher's Stone may seem to speak of the virtues of honest work and true love over lazy greed--and certainly it does do those things--but it also may illustrate the triumph of good old-fashioned social aptitude over various systems of thought.

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

Extrapolating Manhood from Iron Hans and The Wild Man

In the Iron Hans stories, the boy learns a series of lessons, and grows from a child to a man. If we were to extrapolate the lessons he learns to a general view on those values which were construed as masculine at the time, we would assume that society admired men who were physically able, capable of self-restraint, extraordinarily brave, and humble about their deeds. The descriptions of beauty in the story are absent, so it would be difficult to infer what qualities were considered physically beautiful (as opposed to in a story like Snow White where we are told lots of features which would have been considered beautiful). The stories promote the pursuit of physical ability by having the boy prove his muster in battle before finally achieving his ultimate success. For showing his worth as a warrior, he is ultimately rewarded. However, he must first deny being the able warrior. It would be unbecoming for him to boast about his feats. He is instead expected to deny them, until everyone finds out by their own accord. The understated hero is the more worthy hero. It's also interesting that the boy finds success from freeing the wild man, but in order to do so he must defy his mother. In both cases, the boy steals the key from his mother's possession, from under her pillow in Iron Hans and from her pocket in The Wild Man, and this seems to be the correct action. The boy is taught that defying its mother, aside from its immediate threat of punishment, can be a rewarding venture. This a far cry from the stories with female heroines (Red Riding Hood stories for example) where the defying of the natural mother seems to always be punished. It's surprising that this mother is not called a step-mother to suggest some amount of evil about her. The call for a man to have self-restraint, as evidenced by the punishment the boy receives for dipping his hand in the enchanted pool, might hint at a common problem of indulgent men at this time. While this idea certainly hasn't completely dissipated, I can imagine that in an agrarian society where populations were far further spread, as well as a society that was extremely patriarchal, abusive husbands and fathers were more common. Without proper means of policing, it would have been accredited to the man's self-control for him to resist sexual deviance and physical violence. Violence is only to be dealt in time of war or self-preservation. It's also interesting that the Wild Man's identity in terms of good and evil is not immediately expressed in Iron Hans. In the Wild Man, the story begins by calling him a "wild man who was under a spell" but in the Iron Hans story we have to deduce the character of the Wild Man as we go. In this way, it's much more literary.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Iron Hans

Iron Hans clearly reflects a male educational process because throughout it displays frequent references to our discussions of what 'manhood' and masculinity were supposed to be when the Grimms were writing these stories. For example when the gruff manly huntsman says to the king, "I'll go at my own risk. I don't know the meaning of fear", men are not supposed to be afraid of anything, they are supposed to be brave and courageous. However, the story is meant to distinguish between bravery and foolhardiness for instance when the boy "threw all caution to the wind" to get his ball back from the wild man's cage. He wasn't being brave, he was being foolish and didn't know what he was getting himself into. Likewise, when he stuck his finger in the spring and accidentally let his hairs fall in he was not being brave, instead it was impulsive, childish acts that got him in trouble because he could not restrain himself as a strong adult male should be able to. However, Iron Hans told him that "because you're not bad at heart" that he would continue to help him. Clearly a virtue of masculinity is being good at heart. As the boy grows up and learns to work in accordance with the governing Protestant work ethic of masculinity he also shows humility and unusual wisdom as when he brought the princess wildflowers instead of rare flowers because he knew, very practically, that they had a stronger scent that she would like more, and when he gave the ducats she gave him to the gardener for his children. Such displays of generosity are of course also part of what makes him turn into a 'man'. Similarly when the boy wants to go to war, his bravery is rewarded by Iron Hans' magnificent horse and army. It is here that the boy is starting to be called "a young man" as well, because he has learned to face and prevail against real danger, as he "did not stop until there was no one left to fight". Furthermore, after the war the young man returned the 3-legged horse to the gardener and did not say that he was the knight that saved the battle, instead he just replied, "I did my best, and without me things would have gone badly" a simple, truthful statement without boasting. In the end, he only tells his stories of bravery really in exchange for a wife and is also rewarded when Iron Hans is returned to his normal state as a king and gives him all his treasure. As usual in a fairy tale the education of the male comes through tales of hardship and bravery in which he must prove himself cunning, human/ handsome, extraordinary in some element, brave, and humble.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Iron Hans

The story of Iron Hans is that of a boy learning what it takes to become a man. At the beginning of the story he is a boy in his truest form, only focused on getting his ball back and not being punished by his father. He follows Iron Hans into the forest where he is given a charge. He is instructed to protect a stream. He acts childishly in regards to his duty, failing them three times, but he learns his responsibilities along the way. He ends up with golden hair that somewhat signifies his approach into manhood. This is only further exemplified when he takes up the manly acts of wooing a princess and slaying the enemies of his king. As he matures more and more with his actions, he also acts more and more maturely. His humility is so great that he constantly tries to keep his cap on and refuses any recognition or money. At the very end he is rewarded for his humble actions and receives not only the princess, but also all the treasure of iron hans.

Learning the Creeps

Even though we already talked about the story "The Boy Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was," I think it was one of the most interesting stories for the week, and I do see its relevance to the male education process. In fact, the whole reason that the boy has to leave home is because his father doesn't believe that the boy has any potential to earn a living. Everyone believes that he is too stupid to amount to anything, so of course he has to try and prove himself. I'm surprised about the fact that everyone thinks he's so stupid though. I mean, ok, not knowing what the creeps are is a little weird maybe, but I wouldn't think that a boy couldn't amount to anything just because he doesn't get afraid. What's probably most fascinating that the boy recognizes that a main part of his development will involve trying to learn how to get the creeps. That's exactly how the boy wants to earn a living. He thinks that knowing this will give him a "trick or two" so that he can earn a living. I think it's really interesting that the entire story would revolve around something that is presumably inherent. Learning how to be afraid is something that you wouldn't find in any other story (aside from fairy tales) because it is so out of the ordinary in terms of development. I also think it's amusing that he doesn't even learn what the creeps are (or thus earn a living) before he lives a comfortable lifestyle by marrying the king's daughter and living in a castle. To the outside world, it would seem that the boy had fully grown and developed, but even still, he is not completely satisfied with his own manhood until the minnows are thrown onto him. 

Iron Hans

In reading Iron Hans, there is a great transformation in the golden haired boy. This transformation represents the process of male maturity and education. From the beginning, we see the boy represented as very childish. He is playing with his ball, and it gets into the cage of Wild Man. Like all young boys, he responds in the childish and most immediate way to get what he wants (the ball) without really thinking about the consequences. He goes and retrieves the key from under his mother's pillow. After taken to the forest by the wild man, he is told to watch over the water. However, no matter how many times he is told not to do this he childishly and immediately responds to the first stimuli, whether it is his hurt finger, a lock of hair or his reflection. He is then sent off to go find work and ends up with a gardener. Here it is clear that he is becoming educated and learning to become a man. He starts showing signs of being a provider, and a courter as he brings the princess wildflowers and he gives the ducats to the gardener's children. He then goes to war, the ultimate test of manhood, and is quite brave and successful but remains unidentified for his good deeds. Finally, with the help of the Wild Man he catches the three golden apples for the princess while still remaining anonymous. Here the ideal man is represented as brave, strong, humble, a provider and courter. Throughout the process we see this movement from a childish boy only concerned with the immediate to a humble man that is not just looking out for himself but for others, and he ultimately ends up with the best prize, the princess and all of the treasures of the Iron Hans.

Iron Hans

Iron Hans is a story follows the life of a boy. First, he is childish and plays with a ball that he can't even keep track of. He lets it fall into the cage with the wild man in it. Then, we see the boy trying to be obedient by not letting the wild man out. Yet, he is still easy to convince because he is a child, and he lets out the wild man by going behind his parents backs. He does not think for himself at this point - he either listens to his parents or to the wild man. Then, he is afraid of punishment when the wild man escapes. We do not know if he wanted to go with the wild man or not, but the fact that he goes with the wild man without putting up a fight shows me that he did not mind because he was afraid of his parents. The only bad thing the boy knows about is punishment from his parents, so that is what he is most afraid of. Then, in the forest, he must learn self-control. He fails, but he learns of a new consequence and he is changed forever, which he clearly does not like because he tries to hide his golden hair. After being sent back out into the real world again, he learns hard work. He hides his identity and works in the gardens. If somebody were to discover him, what would happen? He tries to play it safe. He receives gold, but gives it away. He is content with the way things are because there are no other consequences. He doesn't know what other consequences are out there if he strays from the path. Yet, then he hears about the war, and he wants to help. He has learned that he cannot do everything by himself and it is okay to ask for help. Then, he saves the kingdom and truly learns how to be a man because he can fight and lead an army and is still humble about it. Once he finally recognizes that the consequences are not always bad, he owns up to his actions and everybody lives happily ever after. A lot of growing up for this boy was to look ahead at the consequences to decide if they are good or bad. Once he can do this, he is no longer a boy anymore.

Masculinity and The Wild Man

(I forgot to write it down, but I’m pretty sure the prompt was “wild man stories as a metaphor for the masculine growth/education process," so that’s what I’m going off of)

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.

Masculinity Ideals Extolled

Amidst the variety of fairy tales that we are reading this week, it is clear that they all are teaching males what a man is composed of. Traditional values or characteristics like curiosity, bravado, adherence to authorities of greater supremacy and cunning ability are all examined. Curiosity proves to be detrimental for many female protagonists but for males, it is encouraged because it will yield positive results. In the Godfather variations, it is clear that you should not push the limits of your cunning ability or you will be a happy soul for your godparent. Risk is, naturally encouraged especially in The Devil and His Grandmother variations since risk ends up being the saving grace for the young men. We also understand that a male is needed to maintain order since a woman cannot be held responsible for such precious order-keeping items. Even the Wild Man variations allow for redemption. The stars align for the males and teach the necessary skill sets through different tests what is honorable and what is not.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Magic Mirror Man

In the DEFA film the magic mirror does not have a face but instead glows and speaks to the queen whereas in Disney's Snow White the magic mirror is a dramatic face that as we discussed in class speaks to the heterosexual desires of the wicked queen. Of course it is a male · characterized with a deep voice and portrays something or some force almost demonic or evil. Literally surrounded by smoke and mirrors the mirror makes the audience question who the force is behind his decisions/ proclamations. Similarly in the DEFA film, there is no face or voice but the outer edges glow - this difference in personifying an object versus imbuing it with a voice and light change the tone of the messages but also keep alive the mystical and magical elements that are completely absent in the 1916 Marguerite Clark film. In both the DEFA film and Disney's we get the sense that there is a special force but only in Disney do we really feel that the mask is deceptive and wise but in service to something evil. In our Gilbert & Guber reading the mirror is the voice of patriarchy that judges women and creates self doubt/ self worth or lack thereof in woman – here its as though Disney wanted to dramatize their theory whereas in DEFA that component is absent besides the voice. The fact that this character is a mirror of course begs the question, are these the delusions of a crazy queen? Well yes partially but they also reflect the socialization of our society. You could arguet that the mirror is herself and what she has been hearing is herself saying these narcissistic things until day she looks in mirror and realizes her adolescant daughter is fairer and she can’t lie to herself anymore – her own voice no longer tells her she is beautiful. The self that is returned to her by the mirror is the person she gets back is what she hears with relation to male voice without something behind it – its not one person and its not behind her. In the DEFA film this is the same concept but the vivid personification that literally gives a face to our socialization is absent and actually further provokes the question- is it us?

The differences between the Grimm brother's magic mirror and Disney's are fairly stark. The mirror in the Grimm's version is mostly just that: a mirror. This mirror just so happens to have a voice and never tells a lie. Other than that it is perceived as just a mirror. The Disney version has a much more personified version of the mirror. It contains a mask surrounded by a veil of smoke from within the mirror. The mirror itself almost seems to contain another world. The mask itself is lit from underneath giving it even more of an ethereal effect. The mask's expression seems to move between comedy and tragedy, giving it yet another level of mysterious appearance. We need to ask ourselves why Disney would make these obvious and distinct decisions when he chose to animate the mirror. The unknown and constant fluctuation between tragedy and comedy lend the mask to take up an appearance of a shifty evil character. The light from below is that of fire, possibly implying that the mask is a spirit from hell. No detail of the mask that Disney added lends itself to being a good character. The mask appears as a tortured soul in the Queen's service. This is a fairly deep and twisted leap from for Disney to make from just a plain mirror.

The Pluralized Queen vs. The Disney Queen

Over the course of several different versions we see the Queen portrayed in wildly different fashions. Whether its the violent, sexualized version from the Disney film, or the more mundane, comedic, ridiculous version from the 1916 film, the way these different "authors" chose to portray the Queen reveals a lot about the story they were trying to tell, as well as reflecting the global context within which the films were made. In Disney's version, his Queen with her pale, striking features and blood red lips evoked the image of 1930's starlets. She was the manifestation of the dangerously irresistible woman, beautiful but dark. The Queen from the 1916 Lasky film was more a figure to be laughed at. She's not overly threatening, but rather just a bumbling fool. The threatening nature normally assigned to the Queen as one figure is given over to the Witch, while in the Disney film, the Queen retains both these powers. While the Queen's transformation proves horrifying, the 1916 film never reaches that level of horror. This is further shown in the end of each film, where in the Disney version the Queen dies in a terrifying scene when lighting strikes the cliff face where she intends to crush the dwarfs with a rock. The terrible storm emphasizes the danger of the sequence, one which terrified me greatly as a child. This ending though, legitimizes the Queen as a threat. She was so villainous, so powerful, that only an act of nature was enough to ensure her demise. The Queen from the Lasky film however never reaches this level of intimidation or terror. As her punishment, rather than death, she only loses the beauty that was never hers to begin with. In an odd twist, the evil witch attains her desire of long lustrous hair. It's interesting that by the end, the witch's success is supposed to be seen as an overall positive thing. This was the same women who ordered for the Queen to bring her Snow White's heart. This is more evidence of the Lasky film subverting the violence of the story through the use of pluralizing the "Queen" character. As their motivations are not combined, they can be reconciled, while in the Disney version, all evil is encapsulated in one figure which must be destroyed.

Magic Mirrors

I think that the different representations of the magic mirror in the Disney and the DEFA film are really interesting. As we talked about in class today, the mirror in Disney takes the voice of a male. This is an important distinction as a male's opinion is more meaningful in determining her beauty. The mirror in this film is very much humanized as the masks has eyes nose and a mouth that moves when he talks. On the other hand, in the DEFA film, the mirror just looks like a regular mirror that lights up and really has no human qualities except that there is a voice that plays when it lights up. I think that both of these representations of the magic mirror are reflective of the film in which they are apart of. DEFA films show the artificiality of the fantasy world. This can be seen in the fake looking sets and props that they use within the movie. There is no real attempt to create the illusion of magic and the viewer is constantly aware of this. The mirror within this film looks like an ordinary mirror. Though there is voice that is somewhat all knowing, there is not near as much of an attempt to create such a fantastical object. The mirror in Disney is also very reflective of Disney themes and of his desire to implement his own morals. The masculinity afforded to the mask along with the sexuality of the stepmother show the rigid gender roles that are present in his other films. Also, the fact that he uses caricature that was anti Semitic goes along with the idea that he was always trying to fit in his morals within his films.

She's a witch!

The transformation of the stepmother into an old hag has always been a bit puzzling to me, as it seems that such an intelligent woman could have chosen a more appealing disguise with which to ensnare Snow White. Nevertheless, the “character” of the hag (if she can be called a character) raises a number of interpretive issues for the reader/viewer. For one, it is easy to see her as the “true embodiment” of the stepmother, despite the fact that she contradicts one of the defining features of the queen (Grimms: “She was a beautiful lady”). The point seems to be that her concern for beauty literally drives her to make herself ugly (albeit temporarily, in her view); the Disney version metes out a rough condemnation of this behavior by killing the woman off in hag form. On the other hand, though, the old hag offers a much fuller expression of the stepmother’s craftiness and malice—whereas before she can just order proxies to kill off Snow White, the hag can (nearly) accomplish the deed herself. Ultimately, however, this brief display of increased power really only lets the queen heap more condemnation on herself, as it is through her actions that Snow White changes from a powerless refugee to a powerful new queen.

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.)

Snow White

I wanted to compare the character of the queen/witch in the movies. I found it interesting that these are separate characters in the 1916 version, they are the same person in the Disney version, and in the 1961 version, there is no witch. I believe that taking out the witch makes the film less fairy-tale like. I feel as if the witch represents evil magic. If you take this out, the story does not seem as magical or as evil. It is true that the stepmother does try to kill Snow White several times, but she does not seem as evil as the stepmother in Disney who is a witch. If you have an evil person, that sucks. If you have an evil person who also has magic powers that they can use for evil, I'd run and hide. So, I think that taking out the witch in the 1961 version takes away from the story. In the 1916 version, there are two separate people. This also takes away from the evil of the stepmother. As we mentioned in class, the stepmother just seems stupid to get herself into a dangerous deal. She must kill Snow White not because she wants to, but because she made a deal that she would. Therefore, she doesn't seem as evil. If the witch were the person actually going after Snow White, that would be more frightening than the stepmother. Yet, the witch simply tells the stepmother what to do, so this takes away from her evil as well. Having 2 separate people splits up the evil. Neither character seems as evil as they could be. This means that the ending is satisfying, but not as satisfying as it could be when good prevails over evil. Therefore, I like the Disney version the best. I could simply be biased because I grew up loving this movie, but the stepmother seems to be the most effective at portraying evil that must be overthrown. She is the same person as the witch. I would be most afraid of the evil stepmother trying to kill me who has evil powers that she could use against me than the other two stepmothers in the other films. I just found this interesting. I feel as if it is more rewarding that good prevails over evil if the evil is extremely frightening.

Snow White Characters

I really wanted to say something about the depiction of the mirrors because I thought that the mirror as the patriarchal voice of judgment or as a woman's voice of vanity was really interesting. Unfortunately, I suppose that the mirror isn't quite a character so, I'll just review the character of the huntsman. I couldn't help but admire the huntsman in the 1916 Snow White and the 1961 Snow White. In both versions, the huntsman regrets to have to inform Snow White of the Queen's intentions and resolves to kill a beast instead and return the beasts heart to the queen. Lasky's Snow White (1916) had a little more sustenance to him. You could see his devotion to his children reunited his family in and trapped the guard to retrieve the keys. In the 1961 version of Snow White, (if my memory serves me correctly), he told the prince Snow White's fate and set out with the prince to find Snow White. He helped the dwarf to blow the horn, showing his virility and masculinity in the same fashion that the huntsman in the 1916 version did. Even though the huntsman's character is relatively minor, he does his part to keep the story going and display some morality of character (since he is supposed to be the saving grace for the female).

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Castle of Murder

I must say, that after reading the other Bluebeard stories and discussing them in class, I was disappointed with this story. I do not even know why this is considered a bluebeard story. There are some similarities (forbidden room of death, drop key in blood), but it is still extremely different. The characters are different. The nobleman does not have a blue beard and is not unnatural. The girl is uneasy, but nobody knows why, so we do not know if it is because of the nobleman or something else. It seems very unspecific. Then, the nobleman gives his new wife all the keys to the castle and tells her to explore everything because it is all hers too. He never tells her what is forbidden, and therefore, she is not ruled by curiosity. She just happened to stumble upon a part of the castle that was partially hers anyways, so she had every right to be there. She meets a random old lady who works for the nobleman, knows what he does, but is nice. She is the person that claims that this is forbidden (only after she already entered the room) and she is the one who says that she would have been killed anyway. It did not matter if the girl entered the room or not: she still would have been murdered. There is no sense of punishment here. Then, there is one line in parentheses that adds that the girls two sisters died here as well... that is a bit unsatisfying. It does not give their story, it does not add to anything, and it does not give any explanation. It is as if the writers felt as if they had to mention the two sisters later in the story because they were mentioned in the beginning. And if they had the same fate as this girl, why didn't the old lady help them out as well? Why would the girl go live with this nobleman if he had already been with and killed her other two sisters? It does not make sense. Then, the ending is lame. Nothing happens with the key. The nobleman believes that the girl is dead. He finally gets to hear her tell a tale, and he never really knows it's her. The nobleman is simply stupid and makes it known that the tale she tells is true: she does not need proof. Nothing lived up to my expectations. I do not even know what the main theme would be for this story. For the other stories, it is about curiosity. I feel as if that is a main part of the bluebeard stories, but this story does not really even mention the curiosity of the girl, so I do not know what to make of it.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"The Seven Wives of Bluebeard" by Anatole France is a member of its own genre, an offshoot of the fairy tale; that of the role reversal. Midway through this story, I was reminded of "The True Story of the Three Little Pigs." This story, an important part of my childhood, gives the story of the three little pigs from the wolf's perspective, depicting the pigs as rude and blunt, and the wolf as a sensitive, civilized asthmatic in need of some sugar. That story captured my imagination as a child the same way that France's story did. I loved the idea of turning the princesses into lecherous, superficial courtly women, and Bluebeard into a woefully misunderstood protagonist. The decision to tell the whole story as it were the retelling of a history is also interesting. Much in the same vein as "The True Story of the Three Little Pigs" it plays on this idea that what we've read about these characters is fantasy, while in reality there exists a truth far different from popular perception.

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.
Given the choice of Bluebeard stories to write on, i decided to go with the Grimm's vanilla option. Their Bluebeard is the most streamlined and basic of all the other versions, even if it is lacking in certain fairytale elements. The most interesting part of the story to me is the three different roles of the male characters, the first of which is the father of the soon to be bride. His part, though brief, is very different from the other two. He wants only the best for his daughter, and because of this, he gives her away to Bluebeard, and is completely absolved of responsibility. It is also an interesting dynamic that the daughter approaches the brothers as a means of potential rescue as opposed to the father. The father essentially has no ties left to the daughter after he gives her to Bluebeard. Bluebeard himself is initially seen as a great provider for the wife. The only cruel action he commits is because he following through on his promise. Though it is an over reaction, in a strange sense, it can be perceived as a twisted form of justice. Bluebeard is only seeking to punish his wife for her transgressions. The brothers are the knights in shining armor in the tale. They are the idealized males, in that once the damsel becomes distressed, they immediately charge off to battle and rescue her.

Anatole France

Since we didn't discuss this version in class (and it was so raved about), I wanted to read it. I was expecting a fictional story of Bluebeard, not a "nonfiction" (in quotes because it is hard to know what is truly nonfiction) tale about the man behind the beard. First of all, by the sheer horror behind the stories, I would have never guessed that they originated from an actual man. Naturally, when I first read about how convinced Anatole France was that Bluebeard/Monsieur de Montragoux was an innocent and kind man, I was hooked through doubt. I have not yet determined my stance on how good or evil Bluebeard (the man) was. I'm torn for a few reasons:
First, I'm skeptical because of the intense terror revealed in the stories. Why Perrault would write a horror story about a man who truly committed no crimes, I'm not sure. I don't know why any writer/transcriber of stories would pick sides so drastically. Perhaps Perrault's version is simply the written version of the much-exaggerated of the truth? Again, I don't think we can truly know. The main reason that I'm skeptical, however, is because of Anatole's "evidence" about Bluebeard's innocence. I'm not doubting that Anatole has done her research; I'm just a bit shocked by some of her claims. She even quotes Bluebeard directly... how that might have happened is a mystery to me. She talks about the "papers in front of [her]" but I wish that she had explained her sources more in depth. That would have strengthened her argument in my eyes. Lastly, it just seems impossible to me that some man could love seven women (with greater intensity each time), and never think that after the first 2 or 3 that the next wives might try and deceive him....
On the other hand, Anatole does bring up quite a few relevant points. If Monsieur de Montragoux did have seven wives, it is no wonder that his story became exaggerated as it was told if no one knew of the wives' whereabouts. Wives don't just disappear, so murder is an obvious choice. Also, I can imagine that the more gruesome/horrific the story, the more it was told. Especially since horror was such a new genre, it's not hard to believe that a story so bizarre would be exaggerated and manipulated in order to better please the audience. Anatole also proves her case a little more as she does account for all of the names and backgrounds of each wife. I would love to know where all of these accounts came from, but it's an interesting point nonetheless. 
I'm happy that we were assigned to read Anatole France's argument about Bluebeard, but I have to say, it left me quite confused...

Bluebeard's Ghost

(edit: ha, forgot to add the title of the story I'm talking about...)
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.

The Castle of Murder

I must begin by saying, I was already expecting a horrific tale when I read "The Castle of Murder," but surprisingly, I was disappointed. The immediate difference between this story and "Bluebeard" is that there is nothing apparently unnatural about the nobleman. I guess it can make the story more interesting because the girl is easily duped since there is no inclination to suspect something wrong with a "rich gentleman." The nobleman questions if she feels doubtful to which she responds, no and proceeds as usual. The nobleman does have to make a trip and bestows all of the keys to the girl but does not restrict her access throughout the castle. I mean, this guy is careless. He knows that there is something horrifying in his castle but he doesn't even bother to prevent the girl from discovering it. Or maybe he's audacious and merciless and will derive the necessary satisfaction from killing her since her curiosity will drive her to fully inspect the residence.

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?

Grimms The Robber Bridegroom

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.

Perrault's Bluebeard

Perrault's Bluebeard is a story framed around the transgressive desire of the female. Throughout the story there is this clear element of horror that results from the wife opening the forbidden door. It is clear throughout, and made even more clear at the end when he explicitly states the moral, that curiosity in women is a negative trait to have. In the moral, he states, "You can see a thousand examples of it every day. Women succumb, but it's fleeting pleasure." Not only is Perrault saying here that curiosity in women is dangerous and looked down upon, but he states it in a way that makes it seem that women make this "mistake" most frequently.

However, I also found his "Another Moral" that is placed after the moral to be equally interesting. It seems here that he is trying to explain or make right his statement about women curiosity in the first moral. He states that the story, "took place many years ago. No longer are husbands so terrible, demanding and impossible.... It's hard to tell which of the pair is the master." He seems to be making the point that times have changed and that men and women are more equal. Women are not as pushed around by their husbands. There is a completely different tone in this moral than the first one, as men and women are seen more equally, and less negatively.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Someday My Prince Will Come

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

the parents of beauty and the beast

There are two main instances in which I was shocked by the behaviors of the parents (specifically, fathers) in the versions of the Beauty and the Beast tale.
First, I was very surprised by the way Disney portrayed Belle's father. In de Beaumont's version of Beauty and the Beast, Beauty's father is a simple merchant who had an unfortunate loss of his wealth. The main theme drawn upon this father figure is that he cares for his family above all else. This father is I think represented very well in Cocteau's version. The father cares for each of his children, even the terrible sisters, and hates to ever see them upset or bickering. In contrast, however, Disney completely changes this. Yes, Belle's father obviously still cares for her above all else, but there are no other siblings, the father is not at all rich, and he is in fact portrayed as being slightly looney (even Belle is considered to be "odd" by the village). This seems like a very bizarre thing for two reasons: 1) why would you include the threat of an asylum into a children's film? For the adult watchers? and 2) what was the real purpose of this? I don't see how it functioned to improve the film. 
Second, I was completely appalled by the behavior of the father in Tiger's Bride. The fact that any father would care more about his gambling than about his daughter shocks me greatly. I don't care how comfortable you are with your poker hand; that is a seriously risky bet. It also surprises me how well the daughter takes it. Obviously she's not too pleased, but she seems to give her father a lot more credit than he deserves, and the tiger not enough credit. After all, although the tiger's request was perhaps a little strange, he did not try to touch her, and once they revealed their naked selves to each other, he let her go. The daughter must have recognized some kindness in the tiger as she now willingly goes to him naked, but she still holds on to this belief that her father truly loved her more than gambling. In this case, I can't tell which character appears to be more weak/stupid: the gambling, poor father or the naive/ignorant daughter. 

The Purpose of Parents in Beauty & The Beast

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.

The father figure in the varied beauty and the beast tales is the parent that always sets the story in motion. The father typically has multiple daughters, with one naturally being the favorite. This love for the favorite daughter is what brings the story to a conflict. The father must gather items for his daughters and it never fails that his favorite daughter's is the hardest to get. Whether it is a rose in the middle of winter or a singing springing lark. When the father finally locates these treasured goods, he always gets caught by some form of beast. This beast stakes claim to whatever object is in question. In exchange for his life, the father promises whatever greets him first when he gets home. This inevitably ends up being the daughter he loves so much. This selfish sacrifice the father makes is always overshadowed by his daughter's good will and devotion to the father. Even if the father wishes to break the deal, the daughter is so pure of heart that she insists the promise must be kept. If the father shows up later in the story, it is generally due to an illness or a sister being married. Regardless the circumstances the daughter who is with the beast wishes to return home and see her father whom she still loves.

What do the Parents Want?

The father in Beaumont's Beauty and the Beast and the mother in Straparola's The Pig King have very different roles when it comes to the finding of mates for their offspring. Beauty's father in the Beaumont is an unwilling match maker. When he returns home, it is simply for the opportunity to see his children one last time before he is too be killed, but Beauty reverses his fate by demanding to go in his stead. Beauty does not go seeking a mate. In fact, it is her own death which she is led to predict. The mother in the Pig King brings princesses to her son to try and satiate his sexual desire. She seems beleaguered, frustrated, with their gruesome deaths at her son's hands, though not viewing the incidents as terrible tragic, for she immediately finds another princess as soon as one has expired. The parents of the princesses are not shown, even though their fathers would presumably have to give over their hands in marriage in order for anything official to go through. The Queen loses agency in deciding her child's mate as well, so in that regard, she shares a feature with Beauty's father. The both have lost control of the fate of their children to a large extent, something a suppose is a common anxiety among those with children. Neither Beauty nor the Pig seem to have any ability to view life from the parent's perspective. The father would have willingly died for her daughters, but Beauty sees the moment as an opportunity to show her sincere love of him, It would seem, however, that the truly loving thing would have been to allow the father the opportunity to sacrifice himself for his daughters. Even if he could not provide financially after the collapse of his merchant business, he could give them the gift of life.

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.

a beast in sheep's clothing

One of the most fascinating components of Angela Carter’s already interesting “Tiger’s Bride” was the story’s revisionist take on the father figure of the traditional Beauty and Beast story. Sure, some of the other “in-laws” have their time in the spotlight in this tale type (I particularly like the long-suffering and emotionally complex mother in The Pig King), but Beauty’s father has always been the important one. His character in early versions shows a confusing blend of sympathetic and condemning traits—he seems loving and lovable, but Beauty’s capture is ultimately his fault. Different adaptations try to obscure that fact a bit by focusing on Beauty’s virtuous insistence on replacing him (she escapes in Cocteau’s and is apparently quite persuasive in Beaumont’s), but the fact remains that a loving father probably shouldn’t have told his daughters about the “substitution” option in the first place (“ah yes, I will die—although, just so you know, one of you could save me *wink*”). The only acceptable way I see of dealing with this character flaw is to do what Disney did: have Beauty find out about her father’s state herself, and have the Beast make the offer to her.

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.

Beauty and The Beast Parents

The father figure in many of the Beauty and the Beast stories is the character with whom the story starts to unfold. It is because of his actions that he is led to the beast in the first place. I found the way that the father figure was depicted in Beaumont's version to be particularly interesting. The author makes a conscious effort to portray Beauty's father as a good and virtuous man and in no way responsible for the sequence of events that happen to Beauty. From the beginning the father is considered a "good man" and not only this but " a man of intelligence and good sense." It is because of him that his daughters are educated, and thus Beauty possesses the same wit of her father, characteristics that were well respected in that day. What I also found interesting, was although he is portrayed as intelligent and virtuous he is also portrayed as weak in comparison with his daughter. First, he looses his fortune and has very little as they live in seclusion. Secondly, although he says that he doesn't want Beauty to risk her life to save him, he still makes little effort to keep her from going. Beaumont writes, " There was no use arguing with Beauty. She was determined to go to the palace." In many of the Beauty and the Beast stories the father is described as old or may become sick of heart-brokenness. In the case of this story, Beauty is the one who steps up and makes the sacrifice, while her old and weak father makes very little effort to stop her or take her place instead. Though her father is portrayed throughout as a virtuous and good man, it doesn't really seem like he has the qualities that one would associate with a gentleman such as bravery and self sacrifice to family. I think that this is true of many of the Beauty and the Beast stories that we have read. I have found myself automatically liking the father and thinking of him as good, but at the same time thinking how could he have possibly let her go. In Cocteau's version as well as others, she escapes on the horse and I think that this allows the issue of her father's virtuousness to fade away.