Fairy Tales are often criticized for being simplistic, and for providing unrealistic happy endings. Of course, when you begin to familiarize yourself with more fairy tales, you realize this simply isn't true in all cases; however, many of the most well-known fairy tales do end happily, and happy endings remain true to the "fairy tale formula."
John Batten, "Tattercoats"
Beloved stories like "Cinderella," "Jack and the "Beanstalk," "Sleeping Beauty," "Frog Prince," and so many more end in the most traditional way: usually a wedding, while the villain gets punished. Yet even among the favorites, there are exceptions. There are unhappy versions of Cinderella (see here and here), Andersen originally wanted his Little Mermaid to end with her death and had to adjust the story to please his editors, Perrault's "Little Red Riding Hood" is eaten at the end.
Yet still, fairy tales that have become popularized are predominantly happy.
But the "happily ever after" stories aren't the only form of fairy tales. There's another category I would call "bittersweet." Although there is a form of resolution at the end, it isn't perfect; there is still some physical evidence of trauma left after the story is done. For example, in the tale Juniper Tree; while in the Grimms' version the bird is transformed back into a boy, in other versions, such as the English The Rose Tree or the Scottish "Pippety Pew", the child remains a bird. But they aren't completely tragic stories; the bird is a beautiful creature, who sings a song which reveals the truth, rewards the kind father and daughter, and kills the evil mother. There is still life after tragedy, but the life is different than it was before. There's a sort of comfort and realism in this fact-it's not an empty assurance that things will be fine, but hope that a horrible situation can be redeemed.
Eleanore Vere Boyle
Another fairy tale with a bittersweet ending is "The Wild Swans." The princess is united with the good King and her brothers transformed back into humans-all except the last one, who will forever remain with a wing for an arm; a reminder of their enchanted state, and the fact that curses will often have consequences. Andersen's "Little Match Girl" is another very sad tale in which the Match Girl dies, although the story makes it clear that her life is very unhappy, and in her visions she sees her Grandmother welcome her into Heaven, so even in that unfortunate tale, there is hope.
Then, there are the fairy tales that are completely tragic. You won't find these in collections of children's tales, but they abound in the collections of Schonwerth, the Grimms, and Andersen. Hans Christian Andersen just loves to feature helpless creatures with no control over their destiny; besides "Little Mermaid," which I mentioned before, "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" ends with him being burned in the furnace. Throughout the whole tale, he never makes a move or utters a word to help himself; I like to think Andersen was playing on the fact that, while he might have had feelings, at least in the eyes of the child who played with him, he was, ultimately, a toy; incapable of actually doing anything to defend himself.
Along the same vein, a random little story of Andersen's called "The Money Pig" is about a toy piggy bank. After describing some of the games the toys played in the nursery, the money pig falls off the shelf, shatters, and his pieces are swept into the dustbin. The tale leaves you with no sense of purpose or hope.
Of all the tales I've ever read, I still think the creepiest is the Grimms' "How children played Butcher with each other." It's not just that there's a tragic death, which happens in other tales-but there's no villain or motive; it's just children being shockingly ignorant and cruel.
Many of the stories in Schonwerth's collection weren't meant as much to entertain, but to warn people about local superstitions. You might find stories about certain events which were interpreted as foretelling doom or death; warnings about how to recognize Drudes or witches, or stories such as "Death of a Woman in Childbed" in which a woman dared to comb her hair after giving birth, on a Sunday while everyone else was in church, and died because of her unbelief. Or this other, very short and sad tale, "Till Death..."
"A girl had committed herself to being eternally faithful to her beloved; he died serving in the war, and she began a new relationship. One night, her former beloved appeared on a white horse and took her away to his grave where she was found dead in the morning."
I think there's a place and purpose for each kind of tale. Sometime we just need an escape: a happy, predictable tale to comfort or give us hope. Other times we want a little more realism, and sometimes we want send warnings, or just to be a little scared, which is a form of challenging ourselves/having fun with friends and giggling at ghost stories. It's unfortunate, though, that few people realize the spectrum of fairy tales that are out there; some people think fairy tales are too violent and old-fashioned and unsuitable entertainment for children; others think they're too simplistic and perfect, and not realistic enough. But whatever your preferences and purposes, there's always some fairy tale, in some version, that could be helpful.
"Have you been looking for the perfect way to combine your passion for Disney with your passion for overly elaborate home security setups? Well even if you’re not, it seems someone out there is, which is probably what led to the development of the M30P Magic Mirror system. At first glance it looks like a regular old mirror hanging on your wall, but the mirror finish actually hides a 30 inch LCD display that features a CGI character known as “Basil of the Mirror” who magically appears to alert you about any problems around your home. The Mirror does require you to have an already existing security setup, but a collection of over 100 different messages make it seem as if Basil is actually monitoring your surveillance cameras, motion detectors and other security sensors. Some of the more popular messages include:
• “Hmmm…most curious… it seems that we have a pedestrian approaching up our driveway”
• “For your information… a motor car has departed”
• “It appears that a pedestrian is exiting out of our driveway”
• “May I inform you that the motor car garage door has just been opened”
• “Pardon me, this is merely a reminder, but the motor car garage door is still not secure”
• “Will someone please greet our guests at the door!”
• “Ahh yes….. it seems the Jacuzzi is now at the selected temperature”
• “Pardon me, but isn’t it time to leave for practice”
• “Alarm! Alarm! The pool gate has been opened”
The Magic Mirror can also be used to monitor the video feeds from your surveillance cameras which will automatically be displayed whenever Basil is notifying you about one of them. And if for some reason you’re not a fan of Basil’s personality, the company (Themeaddicts Inc.) can even create a custom character for an additional fee."
What do we think about the transition from the magic mirror as one who pronounces judgements and rates beauty to one who alerts you when it's time to leave? The original mirror was clearly powerful in knowledge if he was able to scan every beautiful face, so rating beauty would be only one of the functions he'd be able to fulfill.
*All the information about Basil is several years old now, looks like it might not have sold too well. There are multiple sources so I don't think it's a hoax but you never know...
I like "The Sleeping Prince" because it's sort of a gender-reversed Sleeping Beauty. A beautiful Princess determines she will watch at the sleeping Prince's side for three years, three months, three weeks, three days, and three hours, without falling asleep herself, in order to wake him. But when the Prince awakens, he finds a slave girl who claims she is the one who woke him, and becomes the False Bride. The False Bride makes the True Bride into a goose girl, who requests a rope to hang herself with, but tells her story to the rope and is overheard and rescued.
In "The Sugar Man," a hopeful bride creates a man out of sugar and brings him to life by praying. Heiner notes that while other tales feature objects being brought to life, using sugar is unique. Maybe a play on the fact that lovers will call each other sweet, or give each other nicknames such as "sugar" or "honey?"
The Gingerbread Man from Shrek
Once the daughter has married her sugar creation, another Princess falls in love with the man upon hearing of him, arranges for him to be kidnapped, and marries him. The True Bride hunts him down, and as in, many other BATB stories, trades valuables to the Princess in return for staying one night with the King. The Queen drugs him so he can't hear what the True Bride says, but when a friend of the King's tells him the truth, he avoids the potion on the last day. Yet I don't know that I find this King worth all the trouble-he didn't seem to have any problem marrying a second wife so quickly (in other similar tales, the wife's disobeying of a command separates the lovers, and usually some cruel witch or enchantress is behind it; he may later be engaged to another woman but not married. It's sometimes implied that he was under a spell/had forgotten about his past).
Last but not least, "The Enchanted Head"-after providing money for an old woman and her two daughters, a disembodied head demands that the old woman go to the Sultan and ask for his daughter in marriage (not the old woman's daughters, as I initially expected). When the Sultan sees the strange suitor, he is disgusted, but his daughter "placed her head gently on his arm. 'You have given your word, my father, and you cannot break it...Yes, I will marry him. He has a beautiful head, and I love him already.' "
After they are married, the bride, and only the bride can see his true form-the rest of his body; an unusual feature, since usually the transformation is hidden from the world at first but later he is completely himself.
Definitely some strange, weird things in these versions. What did you like/not like about the stories from this post and Part I?
As usual, these stories are summarized and a lot has been left out; to get the whole flavor and pick up on many of the other elements of the story, I highly recommend you get a copy of this book yourself. Another great feature is that Heidi has included an ATU index with descriptions of the different tale types, and the tales in the book that correspond; very helpful when trying to narrow down which of the 188 stories to read!
Sometimes reading through a collection of versions of the same fairy tale may seem daunting, because many times versions are so similar it feels like reading the same story over and over again. Yet I find my Surlalune Fairy Tale Series books invaluable-not only for comparing and contrasting similar tales, but because there are so many unexpected and surprising versions of the tales. These samples from Greece are just a few examples of the different versions of "Beauty and the Beast" that will provide interest to even those who are familiar with most standard European versions. (Many of these are closer to "Cupid and Psyche" than BATB: there may not be a rose, and the husband may not be beastly at all, but supernatural-the classification is technically "Search for the Lost Husband" and not "Animal Bridegroom").
In "Donkeyskin," (which is not the Donkeyskin tale as we usually know it, an incestuous Cinderella variant,) two mothers are childless. The noble mother claims that if she had a daughter, she would not mind marrying her to a donkey; the poor mother wishes for a son, even if he were a donkey. The two children were born, a girl and a donkey, and promised to each other. The girl was very upset and cried at the thought, but after the wedding he was revealed to be a handsome man.
The girl's parents had conspired to kill the donkey after the wedding, to keep their daughter from such a husband, but when they found she was happy, they let him live.
The enchanted donkey warned his wife not to let anyone know who he was. However, when his wife was attending a wedding, he came to her in human form and danced with her. Everyone thought it was a pity she was married to a donkey and not this man; but when her mother questioned her she revealed the truth. As a result he was carried off by three fairies, his sisters, and his bride had to find the fairies and her husband. However, a false bride claimed her husband, and shut the true bride in a donkey's stall. However, a friend heard the girl telling her story to herself, and told the husband, who found his wife and punished the false bride.
This version is interesting because of the involvement of the mothers-it is incredibly hard to find a version of BATB in which the mother is present at all; usually it is the father who controls his daughter's fate and mothers are absent. As in other fairy tales, such as Snow White or Rapunzel, the wishes the parent makes about their child end up determining the child's fate. In almost every version of BATB the bride is cautioned against either looking at her husband, revealing who he is, or not returning to him in time; yet the husband never really makes this easy for her to fulfill.
In "The Lord of the Underearth," the father of three daughters comes across the servant of the Lord of the Underearth. He demands that the father bring him his eldest daughter, and serves her a rotting human foot, which he wishes her to eat. She cannot. The second daughter cannot eat the rotting human hand, but when presented with a stinking human stomach, the third daughter asks for cloves and cinnamon to season it. When the stomach is found in her own, she pleases the servant, who brings her to the Lord of the Underearth, where she is given drugs in her coffee so she doesn't remember her husband coming to her at night.
(this image is of a prop, not an actual human hand)
Her sisters come to visit, and tell her not to drink the coffee, and to turn the key in his navel, which will enable her to see the world. She does so, but because of this she is forced to leave. She trades her clothes with a shepherd, and disguised as a man, becomes a servant for the King and Queen of another country. However, the Queen falls in love with the servant and tries to seduce him/her. When the bride/servant doesn't comply, the Queen accuses the servant of trying to rape her, and he/she is sentenced to be hung. Only then does the Lord of the Underearth come to rescue her. He asks the Queen the reason she is hanging the servant, and upon being told, asks, "And if this man is a woman, what shall we do to you?" to which the Queen replied that they should hang her instead. When the servant is revealed to be a woman, the Queen is hung, and the Lord of the Underearth took his bride away. The story ends with "I was not there, and neither were you, so you need not believe it!"
The episode of the daughters being given rotted human flesh to eat is so unusual and disturbing. Is there some historical precedent for a wife's value being found in eating disgusting food? The cross-dressing feature is rare, but presents a wife who is resourceful in disguising herself (although you wonder why she can't tell the King the truth herself).
I had mentioned that the first half of Franz Schonwerth's Folktales didn't really fit into the category of "fairy tales": they were more like legends and ghost stories. But towards the back there are definitely fairy tales; stories that echo the structure of fairy tales we know, and many that could be considered versions of well-known fairy tales.
For those who need a refresher, Schonwerth collected tales from Bavaria around the same time as the brothers Grimm, but the stories in this book are actually from people native to the region, and remained unaltered throughout the years, unlike the popular Grimm's tales. From my archives, you can read about the mermaid tales and witch tales in the collection.
When we think of fairy tale dwarves, we are sure to remember "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", and some people may be familiar with "Snow White and Rose Red". From these two tales we see the dual nature of dwarfs in folklore; they can be helpful and kind, as they were to Snow White, yet rude and ungrateful in the latter story.
Dwarves in Bavaria could be secretive and helpful; much like the elves in The Elves and the Shoemaker. Many dwarves would inhabit farms and living spaces of humans, and come out at night to do hard work; yet they were so quick and nimble they would accomplish much more than humans could, and produce superior work. Yet the dwarves were incredibly sensitive-if their privacy was broken or any oaths humans made to them broken, they would leave and never come back. They also wouldn't accept gifts of money or clothing-they would interpret anything more than food as a final payment.
Like the dwarves in "Lord of the Rings", dwarves often lived in mountains, creating a system of tunnels, and were known for their work with precious metals. In one story they made a necklace that would make anyone who saw it love the wearer-this was for a wife who was afraid she would lose her husband's love. Yet in payment for this treasure, she had to give herself to the Dwarves. When the woman's husband found out what she had done, he left her-ironically bringing about the fate the wife had tried to avoid. The husband did eventually reconcile himself to his wife, but it's a reminder that powerful magic often comes at a price...
Some dwarves could be very helpful to kind humans-they helped Little Rose gain money to marry her true love in one tale, and assisted a maid named Eve with her chores, and even helped disguise her pregnancy from those around her with magic to avoid her being shamed. They took care of her baby when it was born, gave them gifts, and in both cases the dwarves remained lifelong friends with the women they helped in their time of need.
Yet not all dwarves were as friendly-one castle was known as haunted; the dwarves there would scatter the sheep at night, causing them to fall off the mountain, so the castle was avoided.
Two stories in particular reminded me of traditional fairy tales. "Beautiful Bertha, the Red Shoe, and the Golden Needle" is essentially a Cinderella tale. A beautiful nobleman's daughter, Bertha, and a shepherd's daughter, Hylde, were switched at birth. Bertha became a maid for Hylde, and being jealous of Bertha's beauty, Hylde gave her the hardest chores, and humiliated her as often as possible. A prince came through looking for a bride, but passed by their castle. But Dwarves came, bringing with them a red shoe and golden needle, saying that the one who owned both things would be the prince's bride. When the shepherdess, Hylde's true mother, revealed the truth, Hylde threw herself from the tower, and Bertha became the prince's wife. So in this story we have the elements of persecuted heroine, aid from magical helpers, and recognition by a shoe. (I had recently done a post on red shoes in fairy tales, so we can add this to the list of significant red shoes!)
"Tale of the Forest Dwarf" is very similar to Rumpelstiltskin, yet the dwarf in this version seems kinder overall. A very poor man with many children to feed came across a dwarf clad in green, who led him to a cave of treasures. The treasure could all belong to the poor man, if he could guess the dwarf's name in three days. The dwarf was under a spell and had to guard the treasures until someone could guess his name and say it out loud. The man went home and told his wife.
She prayed and went to find the dwarf herself. She overheard him lamenting about how easy it would be for them to guess his name because of his little pointed beard. So she came in her husband's place and guessed, "Little Pointed Beard!", and the dwarf turned into a dove and flew away; the poor family was able to enjoy all the treasures.
On my recent post on how little girls often identify with specific Disney Princesses, reader Cou shared this youtube video of Nostalgia Critic discussing Princess culture, the backlash it's gotten (see the new book The Princess Problem as just one example), and his analysis of the situation. (Be warned, he says the f-word, but only once.)
It's really relevant to many of the things I've been discussing here and thinking about lately, and he rightly points out that while all the Princesses get criticized for being passive and wanting nothing more than a man, that stereotype is only really true for the original three, and even then those Princesses, as well as others, have admirable qualities that really aren't bad for little girls to emulate (kindness, cheerfulness, etc.). He points out examples from Disney as well as other popular entertainment (Disney is so often the convenient scapegoat for culture-wide problems) and comes to an interesting, yet I think true, conclusion-the reason people are rubbed the wrong way by Princess culture is because, while boys may desire to be King, girls want to be Princesses and NOT Queens. Queens are virtually all evil, whereas Princesses are good. The image of a Princess indicates more youth and lack of responsibility than Queen, so it's more a wording choice that reflects the fact that culture values youth and women who don't hold all the power.
New Yorker Magazine-Feb 2014
Also, I've been thinking lately about this whole idea that passivity=BAD, especially when it comes to females. And obviously passivity and complacency can be negative, and people should be empowered to act and take a stand against evil; no one should be treated unfairly or taken advantage of. At the same time, we all have to accept and expect some level of unfairness and frustrations in life. But often, actually, if you're stuck in a horrible situation and being mistreated, although you may fantasize about telling off the Powers that Be and stalking off righteously victorious, most times that would not actually accomplish what you want it to.
I've been reading/watching two examples lately that reminded me that sometimes,passivity is actually a wise choice for the time being. I was reading a biography of Jackie Robinson this summer (I had quoted him a little while ago when he mentioned fairy tales in regards to his career); part of the reason his story is so inspirational is that, in addition to the rigorous activities of being a professional baseball player, he had to face racism throughout his whole life, yet he did so with great integrity. When he got accepted into the Dodgers organization, he was warned that no matter how awful the insults were, he couldn't lash out in anger. Really, the whole Civil Rights movement depended on blacks swallowing their unjust treatment and peacefully protesting-violence would have just made it worse (although no one can blame them for being angry and wanting to act out).
Yet no one is criticizing Jackie Robinson for being passive-he's a hero in the athletic world, and the Civil Rights movement.
Not quite as deep, but this summer I've also been rewatching through the show The Office (the American version). And one thing that impressed me about the characters (notably Jim and Pam) is how often their coworkers or bosses treat them unfairly, yet they don't argue the point or talk back, they just take it on most occasions. Sometimes they do stand up for themselves, but in most cases, arguing or insisting they were right wouldn't have done any good. And again, they're seen as the heroes of the show-pretty much the only normal people in the crazy world of the Office, and with them we can appreciate the humor or all the ridiculous situations around them, and hopefully find humor in our own ridiculous worlds.
Anyway, it just struck me that we can even be sexist in how we interpret passivity. If a woman is doing household chores under a domineering boss, she's a horrible example for children, yet when other people swallow their pride we recognize their inner strength and self control. Not that feminists have no reason for concern; many women today still are treated unfairly, and there are still many harmful gender stereotypes out there. But when we start to see passivity as only negative, or only negative if it's displayed in females, we can get into dangerous territory too. Wisdom is sometimes just knowing how to pick and choose your battles, yet our current brand of feminism that is a backlash against years of suppression would lead us to believe that wisdom is taking an aggressive, fighting stance. The goal is to find balance and not get too far into either extreme-passivity or aggression.