Fairy Tales 2010

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.