Friday, April 17, 2015

Fairy Tale Hidden Treasures: The True History of Little Golden Hood

(Surprise! Gypsy and I are switching places, if you've been following the blog tour)

My fairy tale hidden treasure is technically a variant of "Little Red Riding Hood", but Adam graciously said I could share it anyway. I myself only stumbled upon this little tale rather recently, and I was surprised I hadn't read about it before. So when this opportunity came up to share a fairy tale hidden treasure, I thought this story would be perfect! It's really a shame that "The True History of Little Golden Hood" isn't more well known, especially considering its rather authoritative source (it's a French tale from Andrew Lang's 1890 Red Fairy Book).

The story begins: "You know the tale of poor Little Red Riding-hood, that the Wolf deceived and devoured, with her cake, her little butter can, and her Grandmother; well, the true story happened quite differently, as we know now. And first of all the little girl was called and is still called Little Golden-hood; secondly, it was not she, nor the good grand-dame, but the wicked Wolf who was, in the end, caught and devoured.
Only listen.
The story begins something like the tale."

The plot is very much like the classic tale, until the part where the wolf tries to eat Little Golden-Hood, and doesn't succeed, because of the magical hood that protects her.

Although this little girl isn't quite the modern heroine that whips out a gun to shoot the wolf-she is still tricked by his deception and frightened like a normal little girl might be. But the hood, which when red is so often linked to one of Red's faults and therefore her downfall, ends up being her salvation instead. Her grandmother is completely capable of trapping the wolf on her own and there is no need for a huntsman to save them. This tale is surprisingly feminist considering the time period and reads like one of the more modern twists on the fairy tale, yet sadly has been largely forgotten (much like second ending to the Grimm tale in which Little Red and her grandmother cleverly outwit the wolf without any help).
Jean Paul Gaultier, A/W 2008

I especially like this tale because of the positive light it gives fashion. Personally, I think fashion can be a beautiful art form, and if we all have to wear clothes anyway, why not have fun with them? However, in traditional fairy tales, women who like fashion are generally determined to be vain, and often harshly punished, and anything fashion-related is a temptation-especially in Hans Christian Andersen's stories that involve red shoes. Even in my favorite tale, "Beauty and the Beast," Beauty is contrasted against her sisters for preferring simpler, better gifts (a rose and her father's safety) than her sisters (who only care about dresses and jewelry). Although the older French versions make it more clear that Beauty's choice is directed not because she wouldn't like a wardrobe update necessarily, but because she's smart enough to realize her father probably won't gain back his former wealth, most versions tend to emphasize Beauty's innate goodness is linked with her simpler desires, and the sisters' selfishness is linked with their taste in fashion.
Gustav Dore

This story, in contrast, links the fashionable golden hood with power and familial ties (it was made by her grandmother and had some of her grandmother's magical powers). There is no need for a male to come and save the women in this story. And even though the hood is no longer its famous red color, it is linked to fire, the sun, and "red-hot coals." Read the complete tale to get the full effect!

In case you missed it, here is the beginning of the Fairy Tale Hidden Treasures blog tour:

Fairy Tale Fandom - The White Cat
Asleep in the Woods-The Valiant Blackbird

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Seasons in Beauty and the Beast

This winter was extra cold in the American Midwest, so the changing of the seasons is even more welcome than usual. In fact, multiple season changes is an aspect of the fairy tale "Beauty and the Beast", and the seasons are symbolic, according to Betsy Hearne in Beauty and the Beast: Visions and Revisions of an Old Tale.

Edmund Dulac

"The seasonal cycle is either signified or fully developed in every version of "Beauty and the Beast." The merchant sets out in reasonable weather, but his trip carries him into winter-the winter of his old age and to some extent, defeat. His is unable to recoup his losses or satisfy Beauty's request for a summer rose." (emphasis mine)
Marianna Mayer

"Lost in a snow-storm, he finds the Beast's palace surrounded by summer, the proper age for courtship. Before Beauty makes her decision to return to the Beast's palace, the Beast's world begins to die with him and turn to winter." Then, of course, the happy ending is always associated with spring. Just as spring is the time when barren branches bloom, seeds turn into flowers, and caterpillars will begin their metamorphosis into butterflies, the Beast's transformation is echoed by the season of growth and renewal.
Angela Barrett

Saturday, April 11, 2015

P. L. Travers' About the Sleeping Beauty

I was thrilled to discover a copy of P. L. Travers' (author of the "Mary Poppins" series) book "About the Sleeping Beauty."

P. L. Travers

It begins with her own retelling of the classic fairy tale. Set in the Middle East, it follows the traditional plot but is a very thoughtful retelling. She emphasized the role of the parents, making it more of their story than the Princess'. It is the parents who have to deal with the grief of being unable to bear children; how each parent reacts to the fairies' gifts reveals what they value most, and how they respond to the curse and the last fairy's blessing are what moves the story along. Neither the Sultan or Sultana is perfect, but they are both given the chance to grow and learn through the experience of what happened to their daughter. The Sultana becomes wiser, but the Sultan seems to be just as oblivious as before.

"It did not occur to him to remember that had he been truly sagacious he would also have sent an acknowledgement to the Thirteenth Wise Woman [the fairy who cursed the Princess]. A wise man would have recognized that it was she who, by putting the situation in danger, called forth the rescuing power. Light is light because of the dark and the Sultan should have known it." (emphasis mine, in this and following quotes)

As for the Sultana, "From that day forward, since she now had time and leisure for it, she pondered and dreamed and questioned. And the more she thought about it, the more it seemed that her daughter had stepped, as it were, into another dimension-into, in fact, a fairy tale. And if this were so, she told herself, she would have to look for the meaning. For she knew very well that fairy tales are not as simple as they appear; that the more innocent and candid they seem, the wilier one has to be in one's efforts to find out what they are up to. So pondering, she would sit under the cypress tree, secretly telling herself the story and hoping that the story at last would tell its secret to her. Who was the maiden, who was the Prince, and what the thorny hedge?"

I love this definition of a fairy tale-thinking of it as a journey into another dimension, but one that has purpose and greater meaning. It is not a journey devoid of danger-several princes died in their attempts to breach the thorns-and "not as simple as they appear," for they have indeed inspired generations of people to muse on them in attempt to nail down their meanings.

Travers also includes an Afterword in which she muses on the nature of fairy tales and how the world appears to children. When we retell fairy tales, "The shock they give not of surprise but of recognition." Fairy tales give children lenses through which to piece together the strange things they observe in the world around them.

Travers then provides a section with several retellings of the Sleeping Beauty tale-the most famous historical ones from Basile, Perrault, and the Grimms, and two others; Bradley-Birt's "The Petrified Mansion" and Jeremiah Curin's "The Queen of Tubber Tintye." Travers sees the Grimms' version as, if not the "true" version for she recognizes that no such thing exists, but the one that is the most essential version. Other authors elaborate and add their own musings, details, and meanings, but in the Grimms we have the starkest version-the most simple retelling and thus "the story emerges clear, all essence." It is the Grimm story that Travers uses as the basis for her own.

Travers also explains the decisions she made in her own interpretation-a fascinating and rare look into an author's mindset in creating the elements of a fairy tale. For example, she muses on the nature of the Thirteenth Fairy-really the only fairy tale villain that elicits sympathy for the reader, for she was left out of the christening. In this episode that revolves around etiquette (how to serve thirteen fairies with only twelve gold plates), the Sultan is the one that shoulders some of the blame. For even though the Thirteenth Fairy's reaction is extreme, Travers reminds us that she is also needed to move the plot of the story along.

In this fairy tale, neither the hero or the heroine has to actually do anything. The Prince was merely at the right place at the right time; the Princess sleeps for most of her part of the story. But "she is not merely a pretty girl waiting, after an eon of dreams, to be wakened by a lover. That she is a symbol, the core and heart of the world she inhabits, is shown by the fact, clearly stated...that when she sleeps, all about her sleep, when she wakens, her world wakes with  her. A symbol indeed. But what does it mean? Who is she, this peerless beauty, this hidden sleeping figure that has kindled the imaginations of so many generations and for whom children go about on tiptoe lest she be too soon wakened?"

Travers makes it clear that there is not one authoritative meaning to the fairy tale, but many possible meanings. In fact, "to give an answer, supposing we had it, would be breaking the law of the fairy tale. And perhaps no answer is necessary. It is enough that we ponder upon and love the story and ask ourselves the question."

Illustrations by Charles Keeping

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Disney Princesses in the News

Saw this article that caught my eye-

When a four year old was nervous about dressing up as a princess to see Cinderella, her 25 year old uncle, Jesse Frank Nagy, dressed as a princess as well to give her confidence. "If it's going to make her happy, I'll do it," he said. Just look at her face-

Then at the bottom of that article, these images of Disney Princesses with realistic waistlines:

(Hmm..maybe to this collection we could add Lily James in the Cinderella costume in the movie, with and without a restricting corset in which she was unable to eat solid foods?)
I should note that in Hollywood, it's considered completely normal for many actors (of both genders) to diet severely for a part, especially one with a particularly revealing costume or if the character is supposed to be especially thin. It's not something that's limited to Disney movies, but something that is of concern across the board where media is concerned.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Mothers Who Kill Their Children

I've mentioned before the surprise and wonderment that occurred when I discovered, several years ago, the existence in my library of an entire section devoted to books of and about fairy tales (which really initially spurred this blog into existence, as after I read so much I wanted to be able to remember and store the information).

On a recent trip to my local library I stumbled across another section that shouldn't surprise me-the murder section.  In the midst of various books on serial killers and famous murders, I found a title that piqued my curiosity; Mothers Who Kill Their Children by Cheryl L Meyer and Michelle Oberman, with Kelly White, Michelle Rone, Priya Batra, and Tara C. Proano. Although morbid and disturbing, I found the subject of infanticide by mothers to be fascinating, and incredibly applicable to fairy tales. The rate of mothers who abuse their children and either attempt to or succeed in killing them in fairy tales is frighteningly high. In the past, psychologists have explained this by saying it's young girls' playing out their Oedipal fantasies in which their fathers desire them and mothers are their rivals.

And while this is true on some levels-especially for those of us who were never abused, it's somewhat flattering to imagine yourself as someone else's rival, and the simplistic cast of fairy tales don't usually allow for complications like love triangles so family members tend to get in on the action-but the fact is, child abuse has been around for centuries and is not going away any time soon. Not that every fairy tale is based off of fact, but when those stories of mothers harming their children reach the public, they are sensational and tend to spread quickly. So it's not unheard of to think that the famous fairy tales such as Snow White, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, or Juniper Tree could have been inspired by people trying to understand how such acts of violence could have been committed by the one who is supposed to nurture and protect.

In fact, with all this discussion about the new Cinderella movie and whether or not it's feminist enough, it disturbs me a little that all of the heated debates about this tale of child abuse center around the faults of the young girl who did or didn't act too passively. (To clarify, I'm not referencing any of the reviews by my fellow fairy tale bloggers, but other ones around the internet like this one, or the whole discussion that generally circles around Cinderella). This is blaming the victim, which you should never, ever do in cases of actual abuse (read more on how to respond to someone who has been abused here). The book specifically negates any ideas that women allow abuse, or that they must all be weak and passive to have been abused.

Now don't get me wrong: I'm all for versions in which the heroine is not passive, and uses her wits and courage to creatively get out of horrible situations; I realize we apply fairy tales to situations in our own lives and patterns of passive females can be dangerous precedents. In the world of Faerie, taking risks that might be dangerous or foolish in real life are often rewarded. Plus, certain versions can make Cinderella appear extra dumb and helpless, which doesn't help matters. I still have yet to see the new movie so can't speak to how well it handles Cinderella's character and situation. Still-with all this talk over whether or not Cinderella should have rescued herself, why aren't we talking about how the stepmother could have gotten to the point where she would inflict such pain on her husband's daughter?

The truth is, abuse is something it's hard to escape. People who have been abused tend to gravitate towards abusive situations-it's all their used to, and they may believe it's all that there is or all they deserve. There is also the tendency for abuse victims to become the abusers later in life. While it's possible to escape from the cycle, the majority of abusive parents were once abused themselves. We should be asking where the stepmother came from and what her childhood was like and what factors lead to such extreme treatment of Cinderella. Research indicates that those who have been harshly punished are more likely to act violently. It's fairly common to see Snow White as a generational warning, that if Snow White is given worth for being young and beautiful, she is almost destined to become the stepmother as she grows older. The same could be said of other tales-Hansel and Gretel are more likely to be neglectful parents because of their trauma, and Cinderella is more likely to abuse her own children some day and/or end up with an abusive partner.

Not only that, but we should be looking at the whole culture. Laura J. Miller's comment on the back of the book states, "This carefully researched account shows how social forces can contribute to both the causes and cures for infanticide. Readers will find themselves shifting from asking, 'How could she do that?' to 'How could we have let that happen to her?'"

Take Cinderella. A stepmother comes in and starts dressing and treating her stepdaughter like a slave. This would have been obvious to other people in the community-they would have seen her clothes and her actions, knowing she was the true heiress to the estate, yet nobody did anything to help that we are aware of. Friends, family members, neighbors-in some versions the father is still alive, and simply passively allows his wife to treat his own beloved daughter like this. The person who is supposed to be providing Cinderella the most support and love is the one inflicting all the pain, and no one else in her community has attempted, or been successful in, stopping her. Why should Cinderella assume anyone else would be supportive?

So how do society and culture feed our understanding of why infanticide happens? From the book's introduction, "Infanticide is not a random, unpredictable crime. Instead, it is deeply imbedded in and is a reflection of the societies in which it occurs. The crime of infanticide is committed by mothers who cannot parent their child under the circumstances dictated by their unique position in place and time. These circumstances vary, but the extent to which infanticide is a reflection of the norms governing motherhood is a constant that links seemingly disparate crimes."

In short-in order for mothers to get to the point of killing their children, they have already been feeling various pressures, and get to the point of feeling completely overwhelmed. Some people dismiss all crimes of this nature as being committed by moms who just "went crazy," but this is actually very rare. When you start to look at the individual situations each of these women came from, you feel strongly sympathetic (although it doesn't, of course, justify what they did-the book is careful to never excuse their crime, but to explain why it happened and how we can prevent it).

Cultures have gotten, overall, much better in understanding the pressures of motherhood and giving women more rights. The book begins by a quick overview of the history of infanticide and the different cultures that gave women little to no value, and it seems like a miracle some societies survived at all under those conditions. Yet still, females bear the brunt of childrearing and face unique pressures. It is so strongly assumed that women want to get married and raise children, and that females are naturally nurturing and loving, that when women do struggle they're afraid to admit it, feeling guilt and shame. Obviously, the pregnancy and birth are responsibilities of women, but in cases of single parenthood, only 4% of children were raised by fathers at the time of the writing of the book (2001)-meaning 96% of single parents were mothers. Society tends to blame women for domestic violence, even when the father was the one doing the abuse.

A typical person convicted of infanticide will have several disadvantages in life. They might have gotten pregnant as a teenager and have been threatened by families or religions who don't support premarital sex. They are more likely to have been abused in the past, more likely to struggle with depression or suicide, and more likely to struggle with poverty. They were more likely to be minorities and/or lack privilege, and feel powerless in their own situations and to help their children's futures. The vast majority of women in the book were single, or if they were in relationships, were likely unsupported, abused, or going through a difficult separation. These women may not have had the education to know good parenting techniques or how to find support. Those who gave birth at younger ages were not mature enough to bear the responsibilities of parenting along with the pressures of adolescence and early adulthood, especially since nearly all of them felt unsupported by any member of their communities.
John B. Gruelle

The book divides infanticide into categories, depending on the circumstances and motivation behind the killings. One category is that of neglect-not necessarily intending to kill the child, but failing to meet their needs. This would be the case of the mother in "Hansel and Gretel". She didn't actually attempt to kill them herself, but to get them out of the picture because there was not enough food for all of them. Many have pointed out before that this fairy tale reflects earlier times when, if crops were not good, the people did go hungry and struggled with starvation, in Germany and around the world. The mother's acts were selfish, but not unheard of. Mothers who feel that they and their children have no hope and that they might save their children from suffering might attempt to kill them simply to spare them from suffering, or sometimes combined murder/suicide.

Snow White's mother/stepmother makes multiple attempts to kill out of jealousy of Snow White's beauty, and therefore assumed increased attention from the husband and father. This category is one that virtually never happens among mothers, although the authors note that sometimes males kill out of jealousy-it is men who are actually more motivated to kill a stepchild (one killed his wife's baby because he wanted to avoid the shame of raising a child that was not biologically his own).

The mother in "The Juniper Tree" appears the most evil of all. She has no apparent motive for killing, and she is the only one who actually succeeds (although the boy is transformed into a bird, and in some versions becomes a boy again). Her method of death is violent and cruel and she even goes farther than any of the disturbing cases in the book by having the boy's father eat his son's flesh.

The book may not shed light on all fairy tale characters' motivations, but will shed light on tragic circumstances that often hit too close to home. The authors surveyed 219 cases of infanticide that occured in the United States between 1990 and 1999 (and many cases undoubtably went undetected). This does not include child abuse that does not lead to death-according to, more than 3 million cases of child abuse are reported each year, and clarifies that even though there are more than 3 million reports of child abuse, they affect the lives of more than 6 million individual children. (The book contains statistics, but being published in 2001, are not as up to date). These numbers are sobering. I can't help but wonder how our discussion of blaming Cinderella for "allowing" her abuse affects these people who have suffered and already experience feelings of guilt and shame.

The book was fascinating, although it was very difficult to read simply because of the material. The worst was reading the descriptions of how certain mothers killed their children. But the book suggests ways that culture and the government can provide more support to mothers and prevent these things from happening. Parenting is difficult even in the best of circumstances; and the more certain families suffer, the more difficult raising children becomes. Even in our own communities we can do our best to encourage and care for mothers who face troubling circumstances and their children. It may be true that many of the murders in the book could have been avoided if there had been a friend willing to lend a hand and show these mothers that there was hope for themselves and their children.

Cinderella illustrations-Frederic Theadore Lix, Valentine Cameron Princep
Snow White illustration-Charles Robinson
Juniper Tree-Warwick Goble

*Note-all the information about cases of infanticide and abuse were taken from the book; but the book had no application to fairy tales, so those are my additions

Friday, April 3, 2015

Bluebeard as English Comic Theater

Most scholars agree that Perrault was being tongue in cheek when he added his moral to the end of Bluebeard that condemned the wife's curiosity over the husband's serial killing. Yet despite his intentions, the public eventually interpreted this fairy tale as a literal warning against female curiosity. The story was spread and retold in the form of children's chapbooks, all carrying very heavy didactic and preachy lessons, warning girls of the consequences if they were not completely obedient. 

Yet with any popular phenomenon, the Bluebeard story eventually went the way of parody and satire, which actually provided the most healthy way of looking at the story in decades. Bluebeard became a popular subject for English Harlequinades and Pantomimes. Harliquinades followed a series of stock characters through versions of the same plot, where two lovers try to find happiness despite the scheming of fathers and other suitors.
Harlequin and Columbine by Degas

Being comedies, Bluebeard the character was seen in a different light. He was made fun of and audiences laughed at his antics. When the fairy tale characters were fit into traditional roles-hero verses villain; wanted verses unwanted suitor-it became obvious that Bluebeard was indeed a villain.

Gone from the pantomimes were the heavy preachy language. In the words of Michael Booth, "Thus the harliquinade was...psychologically escapist, offering audiences a release from sadistic impulses...Melodrama, however, idealized morality...The same audiences enjoyed both genres, and both found common ground in the hostility toward constituted and inherited authority. In melodrama this was largely a matter of class conflict, bun in pantomime the same hostility manifested itself in vicious treatment of an oppressive father-figure."

The Bluebeard plot was altered in many ways as it inspired multiple productions. Extra supernatural characters such as fairies or devils may have been inserted as they engineered Bluebeard's downfall. In Offenbach's opera Bluebeard, the wife is absolved from all guilt. She does not transgress by using a key she was forbidden not to, but Bluebeard orders his alchemist to poison each of his wives as soon as he desires another. The alchemist, however, has secretly been keeping the wives alive, and at the end they are all released and marry courtiers.

Yet in this case, the more forward thinking about Bluebeard and the story's meaning did not translate into long term renewed thinking about the fairy tale. Children's versions were still very heavy handed in insisting on the "no curiosity" moral. Bluebeard as a play was even done at home, in productions where the whole family (including children) were involved. Those scripts followed the traditional plot and morals, such as the title to Francis Gower's 1841 play Bluebeard; or, Dangerous Curiosity and Justifiable Homicide. (Justifiable?!?!?)

Pantomimes were actually very common at the holidays, considered traditional parts of Easter and Christmas. So for a traditional English Easter, why not gather all the kids together to make this suggested backdrop for the Bloody Chamber??

*Black and white illustrations by A. H. Watson
*All information from Casie E. Hermansson's Bluebeard: A Reader's Guide to the English Tradition

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: A Modern Cinderella?

Okay, I still haven't seen the big Cinderella movie (but I've read multiple reviews). But one thing I HAVE seen recently is season 1 of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix. Bearing the mark of one of its creators, Tina Fey, people are comparing it to a "better version of 30 Rock."

It's a comedy that loves to stretch the lines of appropriateness, but underneath all the ridiculousness and the characters' antics is a show that's getting a lot of positive buzz. Multiple times the characters make references to Kimmy being Cinderella. She works for a rich spoiled woman, and it's clearly referenced in episode 7, "Kimmy goes to a party!", in which Titus is the unconventional godmother who gives her a makeover, she is mistaken as being one of the guests at the party by an attractive rich male, and ends up leaving a shoe behind when he finds out she isn't what he thought.

Although I'm sure the creators didn't intend to reinvent the story of Cinderella, the clear allusions and the twists and turns make it a refreshingly modern twist on the fairy tale. More detailed discussion in the spoiler version below:


In Kimmy's job as a "nanny" (does she...ever actually take care of Buckley?) for Mrs. Voorhees (Jane Krakowski), she is clearly taken advantage of and often treated rudely, and other characters observe the connection between her and Cinderella. And while she does stay at the job, it's not because she's helpless and won't look for another job. She realizes early on that, despite their flaws, Jacqueline, Xan, and Buckley actually need her help. Rather than seeing herself as a victim, she recognizes the power she has to help other people, and her relationship with Jacqueline ends up being mutually beneficial (although it will take Jacqueline a while to get out of her classist mindset and truly respect Kimmy). Jacqueline helps Kimmy figure out modern life while Kimmy is her emotional support.

Then the classic Cinderella episode (episode 7), where we find that Logan is Prince Charming. We're so happy he sees past Xan's immaturity and wants to date Kimmy instead. Only...after a few episodes, Logan's true colors are revealed. Kimmy dumps him for someone else. I like how the show bypassed the two initial "obvious" choices for a love interest, Charles and Logan, and subverts stereotypes to find someone who is better for Kimmy.

Another issue people have with Cinderella is the emphasis on physical beauty. While no doubt Ellie Kemper is pretty, the way she dresses reflects her innocence and the fact that she was last in the real world 15 years ago-bright colors and things that young teenagers would have been wearing around Y2K. She doesn't conform to the fashionable world  of the Vorheeses, but has her own unique way of expressing herself.

And especially with all the buzz about the new Disney movie, people are revisiting the subject of Cinderella being a victim, debating how passive she is and what kind of a role model she is. The show addresses the issue of Kimmy's being abducted and trapped in a bunker:

"It’s a relentlessly upbeat sitcom that also has a lot of smart stuff to say about the way we treat people we perceive to be victims, surviving, and reclaiming your identity. The trauma experienced by these women is never mocked. Instead, it informs the characters in believable and powerful ways. The pilot immediately, directly, and repeatedly challenges the notion that Kimmy is a victim. As the mole women leave their interview with Matt Lauer, a production assistant hands them gift bags and says, repeatedly “thank you, victims!” It’s a perfect example of how the pilot script uses jokes to uncover smart truths: People only see these women as monolithic “victims,” which reduces their identities and obscures the complexity of the trauma they endured. “Everyone in Indiana is just going to look at me like I’m a victim, and that’s not what I am,” Kimmy tells her fellow mole women directly...the writers already have found ways to make Kimmy look innocent but never dumbAnd don’t mistake her childlike wonderment for weakness. Kimmy is, after all, unbreakable. "

-Review by Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya (emphasis mine)

Anyone else seen the show? Did you find any other Cinderella or fairy tale connections?