Fairy Tales 2010

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.