Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Whooping Cough Wolves

Talk about effective use of fairy tale imagery-this ad definitely caught my attention and is still a little disturbing to look at. This is a Walgreens ad in Family Circle magazine

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

From the Archives: Swan Lake and Gender Perceptions

The Royal Ballet 

Though the plot of the ballet Swan Lake is pulled very loosely from a few existing tales, it was basically created for the ballet itself. Given that it reflected the values of a few men in 1895, the gender roles in the ballet are very cliche. In fact, the last time I saw the ballet I found myself bored with Odette and Siegfried's characters-Siegfried spends the vast majority of his time looking perplexed, or trying to find Odette, who looks scared and woeful the whole time. My favorite character was Odile, who has not only the flashiest moves but at least looks like she enjoys dancing.

From this site, by Aaron Green:

"We do know that Tchaikovsky had much control over the stories content. He and his colleagues both agreed that the swan represented womanhood in its purest form. The stories and legends of swan-maidens date as far back as ancient Greece; when the Greek god Apollos was born, flying swans circled above their heads. Legends of swan maidens can also be found in The Tales of the Thousand and One Nights, Sweet Mikhail Ivanovich the Rover and The Legend of the Children of Lir. "

So I guess according to Tchaikovsky and his colleagues, "womanhood in its purest form" is a fragile and powerless creature, with no real personality or depth, defined by being a victim (Ironically, Tchaikovsky was a pretty fragile creature himself-more on that here.)

This view of women is frowned upon by most people in Western culture today. The ballet has been reinterpreted by Matthew Bourne with a corps of male swans, challenging preconceived notions (this is the production Billy Elliot stars in, if you saw the movie). Bourne said, "The idea of a male swan makes complete sense to me. The strength, the beauty, the enormous wingspan of these creatures suggests to the musculature of a male dancer more readily than a ballerina in her white tutu." It's true that the power of the male dancer is extremely impressive-while the female can acheive the affect of defying gravity by dancing en pointe, the male can do so simply by the strength of his jumps, seeming to linger in the air for longer than humanly possible.

Then of course there's the Mercedes Lackey novel, Black Swan, which I've mentioned multiple times before, but I really prefer Lackey's compelling characters. Though the prisoners of Von Rothbart are still victims, Lackey's females have depth and dimension and her unique take on Odile's character is just wonderful.

The original ballet ended tragically, and each production comes up with its own. I think happy endings are the most prevalent these days (ballet people out there, correct me if I'm wrong!). Although, listening to the music-the famous minor theme is major at the end, it seems hard to believe it could accompany the death of the two main characters...

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Around the Web

I had never seen some of these Arthur Rackham silhouettes for Cinderella before! Just gorgeous, but also humorous-that poor mouse's expression! Via Pook Press

Fairy Tale Cannibals-fascinating read at Writing In Margins!
Gustav Dore

This post by Jeana Jorgensen clarifies the difference between a version and a variant of a folktale (or other form of folklore). I'm sure I've misused those terms before and probably will again in the future but I will try to use them correctly! Jorgensen studied folklore under Alan Dundes (!!). I wasn't familiar with her blog before, but I can't wait to read more of her FolkloreThursday posts.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Solar Eclipse Myths

Anybody else getting excited for the solar eclipse coming on August 21? Over at timeanddate.com, they have not only a countdown  but a list of world folklore related to solar eclipses.
The Hindu deity Rahu, who causes eclipses

Here's an example:

The Pomo, an indigenous group of people who live in the northwestern United States, tell a story of a bear who started a fight with the Sun and took a bite out of it. In fact, the Pomo name for a solar eclipse is "Sun got bit by a bear". 

 After taking a bite of the Sun and resolving their conflict, the bear, as the story goes, went on to meet the Moon and take a bite out of the Moon as well, causing a lunar eclipse. This story may have been their way of explaining why a solar eclipse happens about around 2 weeks before or after a lunar eclipse.
Many folk beliefs involving eclipses foresee doom and destruction, but not all. Many attributed the phenomenon to mythical creatures stealing or eating the sun or moon.

That one shows a connection between science and folklore, and here's one that encourages peacemaking:

The Batammaliba, who live in Benin and Togo, used a solar eclipse as a teaching moment. According to their legends, an eclipse of the Sun meant that the Sun and the Moon were fighting and that the only way to stop them from hurting each other was for people on Earth to resolve all conflicts with each other.

Click through to read more legends as well as modern superstitions! This page on historical eclipses also has some interesting information on different beliefs/results from eclipses.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Merfolk of Scandinavia

Merpeople are such a fascinating study- I've been reading all about different tales and beliefs about the Sea Spirits of Scandinavia in Surlalune's Mermaid Tales From Around the World.

*The children of merpeople are called Marmaeler in Norway. If caught, they can give you knowledge of the future, but it's still best not to seek them out-seeing a Mermaid or Merman is a sign of a coming storm, and harming them is dangerous

*On the other hand, they can also help to protect people who have shown them kindness. There's one story from Norway in which a fisherman saw a merman shivering from cold and gave him his hose to wear-later the same merman warned him of a coming storm and he got to shore just in time.

*The River Spirit is called a Neck. He might sit on the water with a red cap on his head (interesting potential connection to Red Riding Hood??), but may also appear as a centaur, horse, or an old man with a long beard. They might punish cruel humans, such as haughty women who spurn their lovers, but may also themselves fall in love with a human woman and be a kind suitor.

*Necks are also excellent musicians, playing gold harps. It's possible to get lessons from them, if you present them with a black lamb and the promise of salvation.

*Sea creatures seem very concerned about their salvation in Scandinavia. There are multiple tales in which a neck cries and flings away his harp when told he will not be saved, but they cheer up if told that the opposite is true. In one story, a Neck asks a priest if he will have salvation, and the priest replies, "sooner will this cane sprout flowers." However, later on, his cane DOES sprout flowers, so he goes back and tells the Neck. This sheds some light on the motivation of Andersen's Little Mermaid-we often forget that she sacrifices her voice and the pain of her legs not just for the chance of love, but also to gain immortality.

*There is a tale in Sweden with many variations, "The King's Son and Messeria." In it, a Mermaid has power over a young boy, usually because she tricks his parents into promising him to them (using the old "promise me what is under your girdle" trick to a woman who doesn't yet know she's pregnant, "promise me the first thing you meet on land," or just plain old "give me your firstborn or you'll die in this storm at sea.") They attempt to keep the boy away from the Mermaid, either keeping him in a high tower or away from water, but of course he eventually ends up close to the water and she drags him into her underground kingdom.

There, he meets a beautiful young girl, also a captive of the Mermaid, and falls in love. The Mermaid gives him impossible tasks to do. Usually, impossible tasks in fairy tales are made possible because the protagonist was kind to animals along his or her journey, and they help them, so it almost feels like they were really a test of character-anyone who shows kindness will succeed-but these were truly meant to be impossible. Only by his lover helping him with magic, unbeknownst to the Mermaid, does he succeed. Mermaids in these stories are kidnappers; cruel, and unambiguously villains, functioning as a witch would in similar tales. The lovers manage to escape her, and sometimes she dies in spectacular ways-bursting because she tries to drink the sea (because the lovers transformed into ducks) and took in too much water, or splitting in two when she sees the sun.

*There's a creepy Sea Nymph in Sweden whose hand will appear through a door in a fishing hut where the fishers are all asleep for the night. Wise fishers know to ignore the hand, but a boastful man claimed he wasn't afraid; he took the hand and it drew him out, and he disappeared for three years. He returned on the day of his wife's remarriage, for he was presumed dead, but disobeyed the Nymph's warning not to step inside the church, and he died three days later.

Like any creatures, Sea folk can be kind, cruel, or neutral; but their supernatural abilities and elusive nature make them alluring and mysterious. If you happen to be in Scandinavia, especially around the water, watch out for the Sea Nymph, take cover if you spot any merpeople while out on the water, but assure any Necks who ask you that they can indeed have salvation :)

Illustrations by John Bauer

*I have already posted on the Danish mermaid tales found in this book, if you want to read about more Scandinavian sea creatures!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Jazzmeia Horn: East of the Sun (and West of the Moon)-Fairy Tale Titles

I was excited to see a fairy tale title-and a refreshingly not overused one at that-as the title of a new jazz song by Jazzmeia Horn. The lyrics don't really have much to do with the plot, other than being a love story-other words repeated throughout the song are "closer to the sun in the day and nearer to the moon at night." Still, it's a great song if you're a fan of classic jazz, and there's some level of fairy tale inspiration.

Although it is interesting to use the title but seemingly nothing else of the story...sort of like David Bowie's "Beauty and the Beast," although that title has more mass appeal than "East..." does. There's probably many more songs, and other forms of media, with this phenomenon that I'm not even aware of (share in the comments?). The vague idea of being "fairy tale inspired" is also popular in fashion but rarely has specific references. Why does the title itself appeal to people? You would think those who were drawn to a fairy tale name would also want other connections? Or do we just like the vague connection to folklore? (Or are the artists themselves aware of the fairy tale, or do they just use the name for the sound of it? "East of the Sun and West of the Moon" is a very poetic phrase, but Jazzmeia Horn seems a little more likely to research titles than other pop artists.)

Friday, July 21, 2017

Fairy Tales Illustrated by Carl Offterdinger

Just discovered the illustrations of Carl Offterdinger, 1829-1889. I think my favorite might be the one focusing on Hansel below, dropping the stones while the rest of the family walks on ahead. Puss in Boots looks so natural putting on his boots, too. 

Hansel and Gretel

Little Red Riding Hood

The Wolf and the Seven Kids

Little Brother and Little Sister

Puss in Boots

Snow White

The Wishing Table

Sleeping Beauty

The Pied Piper

The Valiant Little Tailor

The Nutcracker

Hop O' My Thumb

Friday, July 14, 2017

Around the Web

Really enjoyed this post on Visualizing Wonder by Heidi Grether, What Are You So Afraid Of? A Rapunzel Analysis. Grether shares that Rapunzel is underrepresented in television compared to other household name Princesses, yet explains how the fairy tale can be very powerful and symbolic even to modern audiences. I've never thought about how the tower can represent fear before.
Rapunzel from OUAT

Gorgeous Harry Clarke illustrations for Perrault tales over at Pook Press. Hadn't seen some of these!
"Truth to tell, this new ornament did not set off her beauty"-The Ridiculous Wishes

A friend posted this on Facebook, thought the English fairy tale title parts were interesting:

At Raven's Shire, Nukiuk shares more about the fairies/Zwerg of German traditions that may have been influences on the Dwarves in Snow White.
Carl Offterdinger

And, anyone else looking forward to hearing more about this Swan Lake movie?

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Advice Wanted: Best Fairy Tale Books for Young Children

We were given a book of Disney nursery rhymes and fairy tales for Pearson. One story in there is that of "Little Red Riding Minnie." It tells of Minnie, who is going to take cookies and cough drops to her sick grandmother, and how the big bad wolf is out to steal the cookies (no hint of actually wanting to harm anyone). Rather than eating the grandmother, he just takes her clothes off the clothesline and waits for Minnie outside. Then, he accidentally eats all the cough drops instead of the cookies, and runs away with eyes watering.

It's kind of humorous if you think of it as a parody, only it's not meant as a parody-it's meant to be safe for young children. (For more on this, check out Gypsy's post and contribution to this article on why children's theater dumbs down fairy tales). I used to have my own opinions on not dumbing down fairy tales for children, but I have to admit, now that I have my own child, I kind of get it-I'm not sure I want to be reading him bedtime stories about people being eaten. Of course, he's still a baby, and as he goes through different phases of development, hopefully I'll adjust too. (And I have to remind myself of the dangers of shielding your children too much, as Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel remind us-it's better to educate your children about spindles than to pretend they don't exist, and keeping a teenager in a tower can't really keep them from growing up!)

I have my own collection of versions of "Beauty and the Beast", including some picture book versions, but other than that we don't have other fairy tale books for Pearson yet. He's still in the stage where in order to sit still for a book, it needs to have very little text on each page, and he needs to have a toy on hand to chew on, but I would love to get more fairy tales in his library. So, what would you recommend? I'm happy to start getting recommendations of books for when he gets older but would also like to have some on hand for now as well. I'm certainly not as familiar with children's books as I'm sure I'll get over the next few years, but one book I heartily recommend for kids of all ages (and adults!) is Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reverso Poems by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Josee Masse. Each fairy tale is told from two different perspectives, with the second poem a reverse of the first, line by line-with only clever changes in punctuation to change the meaning. Long time readers may be sick of hearing about this book by now...(there is also a follow up, Follow Follow, that I have seen but don't own)

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Diamonds and Toads and Cats

I was surprised to find, in Puss in Boots and Other Cat Tales From Around the World, a category dedicated to "The Kind and Unkind Girls", also known as "Diamonds and Toads".

In a couple tales from Greece and Italy, the cats are actually the ones who reward/punish the girls! "The Cats" from Greece features a household of cats that reward an old beggar woman-refreshing to see a heroine who is a different age. "Little Convent of Cats" from Italy includes the detail that it was from the time when all animals could speak, and the cats were very rich (in some of the tales the cats speak, in others they use actions to show the heroine what she should do).

In the other tales, though, the cat is a friend that helps her because she is kind enough to feed it. Sometimes there's a cat and a dog who are provided for her as helpers at the house where she takes up service for the old witch/benefactress figure. In an Austrian tale, the cat and dog were an enchanted Prince and his sister (and the Prince marries the heroine). In the others they appear to be regular animals who just appreciate being shown kindness and help her fulfill impossible tasks and/or choose her reward for service wisely; when the unkind sister shows up and is cruel to the animals, they simply let her suffer.

Reading several "Diamonds and Toads" tales back to back, certain themes emerge. One theme that's very prominent in many fairy tales is that, if you are kind and compassionate, those who you help will return the favor when you need it. The animals that the heroine gave food to helped her accomplish tasks like fill a seive with water, or provided her with food and drink when she needed it. The animals were also key in the episode at the end of her service when she was given a choice as to her reward-they showed her which box/basket to choose that would really be full of treasure, no matter how unassuming it looked at first. And of course, whatever the good heroine does, her wicked sister does the opposite-mistreats those she comes across, is a lazy worker, and chooses whichever payment she thinks will bring her the most rewards.

It's clear that the kind sister is also rewarded not just for being kind to people, but also to animals and nature. In some tales she helps and respects various other things, from a fence, to trees and a brook, which also help her in some way later. The whole idea of being kind to the earth is even more pressing in our current day and age, and certainly we and future generations will benefit it we make wise choices now.

Another key difference between the sisters is their expectations. The kind sister is rewarded because she is kind no matter what-even when it seems like it won't benefit her at all, but because that's who she is. She also doesn't assume that she deserves a large payment for her services and is surprised to find treasures (which in these stories, never came out of her mouth as in "Diamonds and Toads," which would really be  quite unfortunate). The other sister only goes out in order to get the same treasures, is a lazy worker who doesn't share her food with the less fortunate or respect the earth around her, and doesn't suspect that it was the kindness that led to the original reward.

In fact these tales love to come up with various ways to torture the cruel sister and her mother. The box/basket she chooses as her payment is filled with everything from snakes and beetles, to devils and demons, to flames that burn her and her house down. Sometimes there's a bear that knocks on the door and wants to eat the girls, and the wicked sister from "Little Convent of Cats" ends up with a donkey's tail growing out of her forehead.

Other notable features of these stories: One features a girl being curious and doing what she shouldn't do, but rather than being punished it's seen in a positive light-she was told never to open the pots in her house of service. But before she leaves, she wonders what's inside and opens them, and poor souls fly out and thank her for releasing them.

Another story from New Mexico has an interesting parallel to Little Red Riding Hood. It's one of the tales where a bear comes knocking each night-the kind sister is told by the cat how to avoid it, but the unkind sister lets the bear in, and there follows a series of "What big X you have," which the bear follows with "The better to X with" and all accumulating, of course, with the big teeth that are all the better to eat you with (although this cat saves the unkind girl for her sister's sake).

Illustrations by Margaret Evans Price