Saturday, January 6, 2018

Disability, Deformity, and Disease in the Grimms' Fairy Tales

I got a new book for Christmas! Disability, Deformity, and Disease in the Grimm's Fairy Tales by Ann Schmiesing. I had heard about it on Surlalune and the topic is one of special interest to me-although I'm mostly a stay at home mom now, I also teach a couple music classes to adults with intellectual disabilities. And I'm now amazed I've never realized how common a topic disability is in fairy tales before!

I've only read the introduction so far but I'm really excited to read more. As Schmiesing points out, there are very few studies done on the topic of disability in fairy tales, despite how often it occurs (think the birds pecking out the stepsisters' eyes in Cinderella, or thumbling tales, or many other examples the book will explore). In fact, disability usually functions in one of two basic ways: it sets a protagonist apart and gives them an extra challenge to overcome (such as thumblings) or is indicative of a villain, either by nature or given as a punishment. In fact, some form of disability is often the impetus of the story itself. David T. Mitchell suggests that the purpose of stories is to explain that which has "stepped out of line", and that understanding differences in people are one of the things that "propel the act of storytelling into existence."

Thinking of disability in broader terms, it's not surprising that it appears so often in the Grimms' collection. Wilhelm suffered from poor health, and his first son grew very ill and died in infancy. Because of poorer living conditions, illness and other disabling conditions were far more common during the Grimms' lifetimes, when the average life expectancy was only about 35.

Of course, the stories often treat disabilities in ways that aren't exactly politically correct today. Most people are aware of some of the issues in fairy tales when it comes to gender studies, but not as many people are aware of issues when it comes to people with disabilities in literature. The Grimms were a product of their time, as were their storytelling sources. When folklore scholars have attempted to tackle these issues they often lack sensitivity and awareness,  but many disability scholars may not have a proper grasp of fairy tale studies (Schmiesing cites one article that mistakenly assumed that the Grimms were not two collectors and editors, but one author, "B. Grimm"!!! I'm extremely intrigued as to where that "B" came from...) Interestingly, as Wilhelm edited the stories over the course of the editions, he tended to (probably unintentionally) enhance or add portrayals of disability.

Other authors, in Schmiesing's opinion have taken disability in folklore a little too literally, attempting to give various characters a specific diagnosis. This is often just speculation which ultimately misses the point of how the disability functions. Yet others don't take it literally enough-treating the disability as only a metaphor representing something else and ignoring crucial parts of the story. Fairy tales are certainly a challenging genre to study because of their nature, taking place in "a world in which metaphors take on literal meaning.," as she quotes from Maria Tatar. But from everything I've read so far, I think Schmiesing will strike that much needed middle ground, as someone who is aware of both disability and folklore study. Can't wait to read more!



Friday, December 29, 2017

Santa: Evidence Wanted

I had another Christmas post planned for last week, but then...Baby decided he had other plans (that involved refusing to nap for a while).


Thomas Nast

But I did want to share this fascinating article from npr (which I found via this post by Maria Tatar, which includes other links to interesting and related articles). Researchers studied how easy it was to get children to believe in a fantastical creature, a made up "Candy Witch" who would swap candy for toys at Halloween. It certainly applies to children who believe in Santa Claus, a topic that has been more pertinent as Tony and I wonder how we'll navigate the issue when our son gets older, as well as fairy tales in general and how they are perceived.

The article states, "Children are generally pretty sophisticated when it comes to differentiating fantasy from reality, even though they often have rich fantasy lives populated by imaginary friends, fueled by fictional stories, and used to generate the diverse make-believe worlds that form the backdrop to imaginative play and pretense. As early as preschool, children begin to understand that appearances can be misleading." (emphasis mine)

In their experiment, they found that children were more likely to believe in the Candy Witch if they had evidence to prove it (such as overhearing their parents making a call to the Candy Witch and finding some candy swapped for toys). Also, younger children (around 3 or 4) were no more likely than slightly older children (up to 7) to believe-evidence was more important than age, until around 8, when belief in fantastical creatures significantly decreases. But not every child believed, even those told about the Candy Witch by their teachers and parents.



Norman Rockwell

So not every child will just accept everything told them, even young ones, or from trusted sources. Children observe and weigh evidence as they conclude what is or isn't real. Personally I think that Christmas movies, which usually tend to be all about how Santa Claus is real and portray believers as "good" and skeptics as villains, are a pretty significant influence as well.

Parents, how do you handle Santa Claus in your house?

Monday, December 18, 2017

Mrs. Claus: Not the Fairy Tale They Say

World Weaver Press has a new Christmas collection this year! Mrs. Claus: Not the Fairy Tale They Say, as the title suggests, features Mrs. Claus in several different reimaginings. I knew I wouldn't have time to read  it this year (I'm still working on my Krampus stories!) but it may be of interest to you readers. I'm fascinated with the evolution of the Santa myth, and it's interesting that St. Nicholas managed to gain himself a wife as he became the family friendly figure he is today. I've read a bit on the history of Christmas traditions and Santa Claus, but Mrs. Claus doesn't feature much in those books and now I'm even more curious about her history.


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

St. Lucia's Day

Happy St. Lucia's Day! Most Americans don't celebrate (or even necessarily know what it is) and I probably wouldn't either if it weren't for my beloved American Girl Doll stories featuring Kirsten, who appealed to me because I'm partly Swedish too.

The celebration involves the stories of St. Lucia, who supposedly gave all her wealth to the poor and was martyred for her faith. It's also a celebration of light, as most celebrations around the Winter Solstice tend to be, and would be especially appreciated in Scandinavia with so little sunlight this time of year. The traditional costume involves a wreath of candles worn on the head, because St. Lucia needed both hands free to bring food and supplies to Christians hiding in the catacombs.

Yet there's a different Lucy character in Scandanavia, Lussi. From Wikipedia: "Lussinatta, the Lussi Night, was marked in Sweden 13 December. Then Lussi, a female being with evil traits, like a female demon or witch, was said to ride through the air with her followers, called Lussiferda. This itself might be an echo of the myth of the Wild Hunt, called Oskoreia in Scandinavia, found across Northern, Western and Central Europe. Between Lussi Night and Yule, trolls and evil spirits, in some accounts also the spirits of the dead, were thought to be active outside. It was believed to be particularly dangerous to be out during Lussi Night. According to tradition, children who had done mischief had to take special care, since Lussi could come down through the chimney and take them away, and certain tasks of work in the preparation for Yule had to be finished, or else the Lussi would come to punish the household. The tradition of Lussevaka – to stay awake through the Lussinatt to guard oneself and the household against evil, has found a modern form through throwing parties until daybreak. Another company of spirits was said to come riding through the night around Yule itself, journeying through the air, over land and water."


The article later suggests that the folklore of Lussi and the traditions of St. Lucia combined to become the modern festival, but how interesting that there would be two opposite sides to the tradition. Riding through the air and coming down the chimney punishing children, Lussi sounds a lot like a combination of Santa Claus and his many scarier counterparts, such as Krampus. It seems that older traditions recognize the duality of powerful forces more so than our current cultural myths which usually only emphasize the friendly halves (at least in America. Other cultures still observe the punishing figures as well, I'd be curious to learn more about how they're celebrated!)

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Fairy Tale Pets

If you're Christmas shopping for children this season, one of the Parents Magazine's top 10 Children's Books of 2017 was Fairy Tale Pets  by Tracey Corderoy and Jorge Martin. Looks pretty cute!
Description:
Bob has decided to be a pet-sitter. He just can't wait for all the cute hamsters and bunnies to arrive! But when Goldilocks asks him to look after her grumpy baby bear, the fairy tale chaos begins... Spot your favourite characters misbehaving in an all-star cast as the golden goose, three billy goats gruff and - yikes! - a troll arrive at Bob's door. Whatever will he do? A hilarious new picture book from award-winning author Tracey Corderoy (Squish Squash Squeeze!, Now!, Why?, More!) and talent illustrator Jorge Martin. Perfect for anyone who has ever wondered what fairy tale pets get up to in their spare time!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

From the Archives: Marina Warner on the Silence of Women in Fairy Tales

Fairy tales are often accused of portraying negative female stereotypes, encouraging young girls to become passive and silent and obedient to men. 

In one sense this is true-when men such as the brothers Grimm collected fairy tales, they tended not to include stories which existed in folklore that featured strong, clever female heroines, and instead gravitated (however consciously) towards stories with active males and passive females. Not only that, but as Marina Warner cites from Ruth Bottigheimer's analysis of speech patterns in the Grimms, as the Grimms published their later editions, the female heroines used less and less words and the female villains spoke more. Thus girls tend to subconsciously receive the message that to be good and desirable like the female heroines in the stories, they must be quiet.

There are two famous examples of females who aren't simply reserved, but are completely unable to speak--Hans Christian Andersen's Little Mermaid, and the sister from "The Wild Swans" and its variants. 

The Little Mermaid stands in direct contrast to the sea maidens of antiquity, the sirens. Sirens used their voices, beautiful and alluring, to draw men to them and cause their death. Their voices are therefore powerful, and evil. The Little Mermaid gives up her voice willingly for the chance to win the love of a prince and her immortal soul. Now the desire is hers, but it is she who is forsaken. 

The Disney version makes Ariel, in Warner's words, "a fairytale heroine of our time." She knows what she wants (another word count fun fact-the word "want" is spoken by Ariel more than any other verb) and will go through anything to get it, but this time hers is a happy ending. But in this version, according to Warner, "female eloquence, the siren's song, is not presented as fatal any longer, unless it rises in the wrong place and is aimed at the wrong target." The female voice is now powerful like the siren's, but not inherently evil.

The sister in the Wild Swans is silent by choice (in a way)--if she speaks one word before the shirts of nettles are made and placed on her enchanted brothers, they will stay swans forever. In one sense, this can be seen as yet another example of encouraging women to be quiet and submissive, but although she is rewarded for enduring, the silence is clearly meant as a hardship--the happy ending includes a return of her voice. Other tales have forms of silenced heroines as well, such as the heroine from Goose Girl, who gave her word (under pressure) not to tell the truth of her situation to a living being--but she is able to find a clever way for her to reveal the truth anyway.

It's possible that, as women throughout the centuries were frustrated at their own lack of voice within the community and family, they told stories such as "Wild Swans" to express their own frustration. Yet there is also something to be admired in the self control and determination of the heroines. This is Warner's personal memories of reading the Wild Swans, one of her favorite childhood stories: "it still seemed to me to tell a story of female heroism, generosity, staunchness; I had no brothers, but I fantasized, at night, as I waited to go to sleep, that I had, perhaps even as many tall and handsome youths as the girl in the story, and that I would do something magnificent for them that would make them realize I was one of them, as it were, their equal in courage and determination and grace". The actions of the sister are indeed impressive-there are different forms of heroism, not all that are as easy to recognize. 

Fortunately, we are not as constrained by the severe gender expectations of the Victorian times, but that doesn't mean these stories or even these particular versions have to be thrown out and completely replaced with new "girl power" tales. There are times when we all feel silenced-we don't feel like our opinions are being taken seriously at work, we feel overlooked in a certain relationship, etc.--and even today people of many races, faiths, and sexual orientation are still being denied basic rights. It can be encouraging to read stories that give us hope that there will come a time when we will be able to speak again and the truth will be revealed.

Illustrations of Little Mermaid by Margaret Tarrant, Six Swans by Elenore Abbott
Information from Marina Warner's From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and their Tellers

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Fairy Tale Sushi


I'm no sushi expert by any means, but Tony and I do enjoy it every once in a while for a special dinner. We were out for a date and I was thrilled to discover something I had never seen before: a Beauty and the Beast roll! Of course I had to get it.

Most sushi menus will feature a Snow White roll, with snow crab and white tuna, also on the menu above. I liked that this restaurant also topped it with "cherry kiss cream" which I don't think is usually part of the description.

I thought that the BATB roll would be only a local specialty but it turns out there's a somewhat standard recipe for it-this picture is from a restaurant in Orlando.

I did find one restaurant, Thelonious Monkfish, that has a specialty fairy tale sushi roll section. It's fun, and although mostly random, you can see some connections between the tale and the ingredients. The menu even includes little descriptions/snippets of the tales too. Fairy tale menu below.

Has anyone else come across any fairy tale rolls?

Sleeping Beauty Roll $18.95

Like Princess Aurora asleep in her chamber waiting to be woken with a kiss, this blonde roll is prepared with white tuna (escolar)*, crushed pineapple + tempura flakes wrapped in yellow soy paper + sushi rice, draped with salmon, sliced ripe mango + drizzled with refreshing pineapple-lime mayo. (Ten pieces.)

Red Riding Hood Roll $18.95

Ambling through the dark forest with innocence as her only weapon, she leaves the trodden path and encounters the blackest, hungriest of wolves. Our roll is reminiscent of this ancient folk tale: spicy tuna, shrimp tempura + cucumber ensconced in sushi rice + green soy paper, draped with pared scallop + strawberry medallions, topped with black tobiko + drizzled with red berry coulis. (Ten Pieces.)

The Frog Prince Roll $18.95

In one version, the princess flings the frog against a stone wall; in another, her kiss precipitates its transmogrification into prince; but what to do if your prince is actually a frog and not the other way around? The interior:salmon, mango + tempura crunch; the exterior:layered with avocado + crowned with spicy snow crab + tobiko salad.

The Snow Queen Roll $16.95

Benumbed & blue in the ice palace, Kay feels nothing, for his heart’s a lump of ice; only Gerda’s tears can warm his frozen heart. Our roll evokes childhood memories of grandmother’s tales. Shiitake, green apple, cukes & asparagus wrapped in seaweed & rice, draped with young coconut meat, drizzled with pineapple mayo, garnished with coconut flakes. (8 pieces)

The Rumpelstiltskin Roll $18.95

Three times, he spun straw into gold, then awaited his prize. Under a coverlet of dark branches, round a smoky fire he danced a jig. “Today I brew, tomorrow I bake; then the Prince child I will take; for no one knows my little game: that Rumpelstiltskin is my name!”Inside: wok-roasted balsamic-glazed shiitake,yellowtail, asparagus tempura + green apple. Outside: fresh tuna, drizzled with wasabi mayo; topped with spring onion confetti; crowned with crispy yu mein noodles.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Muggle Fairy Tales are Mad

If you have time you should check out Muggle Fairy Tales are Mad by Meltha. I heard about these on Megan Kearney's BATB tumblr. They're fan fiction imagining Hermione telling Ron and Harry Muggle Fairy tales as a way to pass the time during their search for Horcruxes in the seventh book. It's fun for fans of Harry Potter, but also gives us a way to imagine hearing our own classic fairy tales for the first time. Hermione confuses the different versions, combining Disney, Perrault and/or Grimm, which is natural for most people who piece together what they've heard over time, but it's really Ron's reactions which make these so funny yet thought provoking. Here's an exerpt from the Cinderella story:

“Just then, though, who should appear but her fairy godmother.” 
 “Her what?” Ron said in disbelief. 
 “Her fairy godmother,” Hermione repeated. 
 “Who in their right mind would pick a fairy as a godmother? Don’t they know how dangerous those things are?” Ron said. “I mean, really, why not just give her a banshee godmother; they’re about as deadly.” 
 “Muggles think of fairies differently,” Hermione explained. “They don’t really understand them.” 
 “Yeah,” Harry chimed in. “They think they sneak into the house in the middle of the night and swap kids’ fallen-out teeth with money.” 
 “Now there’s a comforting image: one of the fae walking in and stealing body parts. Don’t they know how much trouble giving a magical being a body part can lead to?” Ron said, still flabbergasted. “Everyone knows that!” 
 “Well, Muggles don’t,” Hermione said. “Besides, the Tooth Fairy is something only children believe in. Mostly Muggles just think of fairies as tiny, cute, pudgy things with wings to put on greeting cards with flowers and bunnies.” 
 “There really ought to be a public service campaign for them, then,” Ron said pityingly. “So how’d Cinderella’s Muggle mum and dad even know a fairy to make a godmother to begin with?” 
 “Well, I… I don’t know. They never really explain how she wound up with a fairy as a godmother,” Hermione said, tilting her head to one side in consideration. “It is sort of an odd loose end to leave, isn’t it?” 
 “No kidding,” Ron agreed. “Hermione, no offense, but this is a really weird story.”
Rita Fetisov

Monday, October 30, 2017

Witches and Cats

Another post that comes to you courtesy of Surlalune and her latest collection, Puss in Boots and Other Cat Tales From Around the World. I have to say, of all her books this one might have interested me the least, because I'm not especially a cat person, but it's ended up being one of my favorites because of all the variety! There are so many tale types represented here, many of which I wasn't very familiar with before.

I knew I had to read some of the tales about cats and witches for Halloween! Several of the stories fit into the category, Migratory Legend 3055: The Witch That Was Hurt. They involve, in this case, a cat or group of cats that terrorize some location-but when someone manages to protect themselves and hurt a cat they away. Later, a local woman is found to have the same injury that was given to the cat, and it is thus revealed that the woman was a witch, in her cat form.  Sometimes the injury itself deprives the witch of her powers, other times she is killed. They're very entertaining stories, although it's always extra chilling to know that tales about witches were sometimes believed to be true, and that accusations of witchcraft led to many people losing their lives. I did notice that in a couple of these tales, the person who disenchants the witches are themselves practitioners of magical arts, so at least in some people's minds, there were good uses of magic as well as bad.

 There is a Russian tale, "The Witch," that is also a form of "Hansel and Gretel." The children are beaten and half starved by their cruel stepmother, who then sends them to visit her granny in the woods. The sister suggests that they first visit their own grandmother.

Their grandmother knows they are being sent to the witch in the woods (but for some reason doesn't offer to just let the children live with her). She does give them valuable advice: be civil and kind to everyone, and don't touch a crumb  belonging to anyone else. She gave them some food and sent them off to the witch.

This witch doesn't deceive the children like the Grimms' does-she tells them right away that if she isn't pleased with their work she will fry them in the oven, and then gives them impossible tasks. But there are animals in the house-mice, a cat, and a dog, and when the animals ask for food, the children give them the little food they had from their grandmother. In this way they are a stark contrast to Hansel and Gretel, who dig in to someone else's house. The children in this story even go above and beyond the advice from their grandmother-rather than just not taking what doesn't belong to them, they give away what does. I don't agree with the interpretation that Hansel and Gretel's actions means they are selfish, because the children were literally starving (and if you make your house from gingerbread it's asking to get eaten-by animals if nothing else) but I also like these tales that encourage selfless giving because I personally need reminders to be more generous myself.

Anyway, the animals then help the children with their impossible tasks, and gave them magical gifts that would help them escape. When the witch later demands to know why her animals let the children get away, they respond with "I have served you all these years and you never gave me so much as a hard crust, but the children gave me their own bread/ham/etc."

The witch pursues the children on her broomstick, but the magical objects from the animals block her progress and the witch eventually gives up and goes home. 

The ending of this tale is very satisfying compared to most tales of evil stepmothers and silent fathers:

"But the twins ran straight on till they reached their own home. Then they told their father all that they had suffered, and he was so angry with their stepmother that he drove her out of the house, and never let her return; but he and the children lived happily together; and he took care of them himself, and never let a stranger come near them."

Illustrations by Arthur Rackham

Monday, October 16, 2017

Recipe For Murder

Usually a fairy tale cookbook is a fun way to get kids to experience fairy tales with multiple learning styles, but this cookbook is clearly aimed for more mature audiences. Recipe for Murder: Frightfully Good Food Inspired by Fiction, by Esterelle Payany and illustrations by Jean-Francois Martin, features recipes inspired by morbid parts of literature, not just fairy tales. It features a recipe for Pigs in a Blanket inspired by "Three Little Pigs" and of course, the poisoned apple from Snow White.