Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Arthur Rackham's Rare and Revolutionary 1917 Illustrations

I saw this link on Tabled Fables to a brief article on Brain Pickings with the intriguing title: Arthur Rackham's Rare and Revolutionary 1917 Illustrations for the Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales, by Maria Popova. Rackham illustrations are some of the most classic and iconic and you've probably seen his beautiful images before, so it's nice to read a little of the history behind the illustrators who helped redefine our mental image of fairy tales.
Rackham first illustrated Grimm fairy tales in 1909, and then "In 1917, amid the thickest darkness of World War I, Rackham returned to the Grimms — those supreme patron saints of the magical inside the macabre. This time, he interpreted the centuries-old tales differently: Where his first edition had been unapologetically violent and grim, the new one radiated what the human spirit most needed amid the hopelessness, destruction, and desecration of the war — beauty, enchantment, charm, hope, even humor."
I wish the article included more examples of this, comparing and contrasting the darker earlier illustrations with the more hopeful later ones. There are lots of illustrations, just not ones that show this concept-most didn't even say which edition they were from.
The article has more on his life and different publications but is a pretty quick read, mostly beautiful images.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Fairy Tale Retellings on SFF Book Review

This post was from a couple years ago, but blogger Dina over at SFF Book Review has gathered quite a comprehensive (although not exhaustive) list of Fairy Tale retellings. They're sorted by fairy tale, and the ones she's read include a brief review. I'm sure I'm not the only one who's found themselves overwhelmed by all the fairy tale books out there, but skeptical of quality! I find it helpful to read people's honest opinions (although, she thought Robin McKinley's "Beauty" was boring, so clearly we don't have exactly the same tastes...) but still, a great resource with titles I wasn't aware of!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

New book: Dreamless

Sleeping Beauty never had troubles like this
For most princesses, a sleeping curse means a few inconvenient weeks unconscious followed by a happily-ever-after with their true love. Seventeen-year-old Elena's curse, however, was designed without a cure, which means that she's getting a century-long nap for her 18th birthday whether she wants it or not. After years of study she's still no closer to finding a cure, even with the help of an undead godfather and an enchanted mirror-turned-therapist. With only a year until the deadline she's learned to accept her fate. Sadly, there's one prince who doesn't seem to have gotten the memo and who’s continually trying to activate the curse so he can be the one to wake her up again. Only slightly less annoying is Cam, her new bodyguard and former childhood acquaintance who disagrees with Elena at pretty much every turn. When the curse threatens to come early, however, they both realize that fate is a lot more complicated than they'd ever imagined.

Although it's a Sleeping Beauty retelling, I'm tagging it as "Snow White" as well because of hte enchanted mirror. Jenniffer Wardell is also the author of other fairy tale themed books: Beast Charming, Fairy Godmothers, Inc., and Huff and Puff. Amazon reviewers largely tend to rate her books highly, calling them fun, witty, and humorous.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Gala Nocturna

This came to my attention via Meagan Kearney's Beauty and the Beast tumblr, I saw images from Gala Nocturna's Belle et la Bete and was curious as to what it was!

Gala Nocturna is a "world famous dark romantic costume ball" held every year in Belgium. The pictures look absolutely amazing, it's clear the attendees take it very seriously and all dress in elaborate costume. Each year they have a theme, and 2014 was "La Belle et la Bete" (Beauty and the Beast).
The evening involves not just dress and dance, but the story is partially acted out. Here's a personal account of the Bella et la Bete Gala, to give you a better idea of what goes on.

Cela Yildiz played the Beast

Opening dance between Beauty and the Beast

Gala Nocturna has a different theme each year; some non-fairy tale themed (2016 is "The Age of Redemption") but 2015 was "Swan Princess," inspired by Swan Lake:

And 2012 was "Russian Fairytale"
Photography: Viona Ielegems

What an incredible way to experience immersing yourself in a theme and a story!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Joffrey's Cinderella

Joffrey's 2006 Cinderella

I thought this review in the Chicago Tribune on the Joffrey Ballet doing Sir Frederick Ashton's adaptation of the ballet "Cinderella" was interesting. Ballet and Cinderella fans alike might enjoy reading about the challenges of the dancers playing the stepsister roles, and attempting to make them more than just comic relief.
Rory Hohenstein and David Gombert rehearsing their stepsister roles

An excerpt: (emphasis mine)
"Male roles inspired by British pantos, the Stepsisters epitomize the ballet's gentle, hopeful vision. Quarrelsome, jealous, deliciously foolish, they must go beyond comic relief. "At the end of the ballet," says Wheater, "we have to have some feeling for them, empathy for them."
Dancing the bossy older Stepsister for the first time, paired with returning Joffrey member David Gombert as the younger one, Rory Hohenstein says that at first he was intimidated by the part: He'd heard "legendary stories of some of my friends' really funny performances." Plus he knew how important it was to get these character roles, so crucial to the story, right.
However, it's "harder to get your point across when you're covered in ridiculous clothing," he says. Despite being men in dresses, the Stepsisters are coached not to be too over-the-top. That can be "a hard line to walk — literally in heels," Hohenstein says. "You're jumping around in them so much, at the end of the day your feet hurt. But sometimes it's easier in the heels because you naturally walk a different way."

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Fairy Tales About Contentment

The Grimms' tale "The Fisherman and his Wife" tells the story of a magical fish that could grant wishes, and the wife who was never satisfied and ultimately ended up back where she started, in a poor little shack by the sea. It essentially imparts the classic moral "be careful what you wish for," which has good uses, although it might bother modern readers because of what the tale seems to say about women (the wife in the story is the greedy, never satisfied one; although the pushover husband is not the most admirable character either).

There is a similar Japanese fairy tale I learned about via the Myths and Legends podcast that both I and the host Jason Weiser prefer to the Grimm version, The Stonecutter. (This tale can also be found in Lang's "Crimson Fairy Book".)

It tells the story of a poor stonecutter who, for many years, was content to work hard, knowledgeable and strong from his years of experience. But one day, delivering a gravestone to a rich man's house, he became envious of the large, cool mansion, allowing him to escape from the heat of the day. He wished out loud that he could be a rich man, and the spirit of the mountain granted his wish.

He lived for a while, happy to enjoy his new wealth. But one day, he saw a prince ride by, and realized that despite his riches, a royal prince had more power than he. So he wished to be a prince.

Yet he was not content as a prince, and he realized the sun had more power than he to give discomfort. He next became the sun, and relished his power, until clouds blocked him from scorching the earth, and he wished to be a cloud.

As a cloud he felt powerful, as he covered the earth with rain, but he realized that though he could drown people and plants, there was a large boulder that remained unaffected by his storms, so he wished to be a rock.

As a rock, he was immovable and powerful-until one day, a poor stonecutter came away and chipped away his pieces. He wished to become a stonecutter, and ended up as his former self, and was content to do his work again.

I like the cyclical nature of power as shown in this fairy tale. First of all it challenges our perception of power, as it shows that all natural forces have their own influence. Also, the stonecutter actually learns his lesson from experience. The fisherman's wife simply climbs up the ladder, is never satisfied, and then is sent back down to the lowest rung of the ladder when she wishes to be like God. She never experiences what that might be like and learns there are negatives to the things we long for, and there's no sense of empowerment to the poor working person. (Note: this is not just in the Grimms' collection, but in another German tale, "Hanss Dudeldee," with essentially the same plot.)

There is a Russian tale that is very similar, but with a slight twist at the ending; rather than wishing to be like God, the fisherman's wife-turned-czarina wishes to have power over the oceans and fish. It makes sense that the magical fish would rather not be at her mercy.

"Fisherman and his Wife" illustrations by Kay Neilsen

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Snow White Picture Book Illustrations

Two picture book versions of Snow White with absolutely stunning illustrations-the first by artist Nancy Ekholm Burkert:

And these by Manuel Sumberac and Zdenko Basic:

(More from this book can be viewed here)

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Lives of the Writers of BATB Stories

"Beauty and the Beast" emerged from a long line of Animal Bridegroom tales in France around the 1700s. Some sources credit Madame de Beaumont as the author of the tale, but her version is heavily influenced by other stories that preceded her. In a tale that revolves around marriage ideals, it's a story that can be very personal, and the lives of the authors influenced their versions of the classic fairy tale.

1696-1698- Marie-Catherine d'Aulnoy's The Ram

Beauty and the Beast Image 3 by DulacAt the young age of 15, d'Aulnoy was married off to a man notorious for a reputation as a gambler and extramarital lover. She took some lovers on the side herself, but it was a very unhappy marriage. d'Aulnoy attempted, later in life, to have her husband hung for high treason, but the attempt failed; her husband retaliated by charging herself and her lover. She fled to Paris where she became a successful writer.

d'Aulnoy wrote several fairy tales, but her Animal Bridegroom tale, "The Ram," ends tragically, with the Beast figure/Ram dying of heartache just outside of the castle gates, where his wife was attending his sister's wedding. d'Aulnoy wrote other stories with happier endings, but it's interesting that her attempt at killing her actual husband found outlet in this story. She certainly wasn't naive about what could happen in marriage when she penned her version of this romantic line of fairy tales.

1712-1714-Jean-Paul Bignon's Princess Zeineb and King Leopard

Beauty and the Beast Image 4 by Dulac
Jean-Paul Bignon was a priest and a scholar. Perhaps not surprisingly, the emphasis in his Animal Bridegroom tale seemed to be on sexual restraint; King Leopard spends every night in bed with Princess Zeineb but does not touch her, while the villains attempt to have one night stands (but are hypnotized by Princess Zeineb into doing monotonous tasks through the night instead-although the other "morals" in this tale seem a little more arbitrary, that scene is very humorous).

Jack Zipes estimates that it was very likely Villeneuve knew this story. Interestingly, in her version, there's an episode that was removed later by Beaumont, in which after Beauty accepts the Beast's proposal, there's basically a repeat of the initial bedroom scene from Princess Zeineb-the Beast comes in to bed, lies down, but makes no move.

1740-Madame de Villeneuve's "Beauty and the Beast"

It's difficult to find much information on Villeneuve, even the very excellent books exploring the tradition of Beauty and the Beast by Betsy Hearne and Jerry Griswold gloss over her life and version of the tale and instead focus on Beaumont, which is a shame in my opinion.  Villeneuve certainly borrowed from tales like the ones above, but she clearly created the story we know of today as Beauty and the Beast, so knowing more about her would seem to shed more light on the tale.

Beauty and the Beast Image 5 by DulacVilleneuve was married at 21 but requested a separation after only 6 months, because her husband was squandering all of their wealth. Just a few years later, at the age of 26, she was widowed. She lost her fortune and had to work for a living. She lived with a boyfriend for the rest of her life and worked as a writer, a lifestyle virtually unheard of for the time.

Her version of the story set up the essential details we associate with the BATB tradition, with lengthy descriptions of what went on in the castle and detailed backstories included for the Beast and Beauty that tie together all the details. One emphasis of the tale was on marrying for kindness and not looks, wit, or class. Having experienced two significant relationships, Villeneuve had more perspective on what helped relationships work better in the long run-character and equality.

1756- Madame LePrince de Beaumont's "Beauty and the Beast"

Beaumont, like Beauty in her tale, was very well educated. She (like the women above) also entered into an arranged marriage with a womanizing man, and the marriage was annulled after 2 years. Beaumont moved to England and became a governess, also writing more than 70 books. At the age of 51 she returned to France and remarried, this time resulting in a happy marriage.

Beaumont simplified Villeneuve's longer story to create the beloved classic (without giving any credit to Villeneuve, incidentally). Her version (as well as Villeneuve's) empowered the female to have choice in marriage, yet did not go to the extreme of most French salon writers whose characters were swept up in passion and love at first sight (more on this in my post Beaumont on Arranged Marriages).

Beauty and the Beast Image 7 by Dulac
And of course, there are countless other tale tellers and audiences, whose life details we will never really know. How interesting, though, that in the French fairy tale salon period, perhaps the most influential versions of BATB were written by those on the outside of happy marriages (for most of their lives). Their stories contributed to the then-new idea of marrying for love and not just for social standing, and helped to make one of the most female empowered fairy tales that remains well known today.

Jerry Griswold, "The Meanings of Beauty and the Beast: a Handbook"
Jack Zipes, "Beauties, Beasts, and Enchantments: Classic French Fairy Tales"
Wikipedia article on Villeneuve

Illustrations by Edmund Dulac