Thursday, April 17, 2014

Maria Tatar in Faerie Magazine

I bought a subscription to Faerie Magazine years ago and I'm not sure how long I'm going to keep getting them for, but there is a new issue out. When I flip through, I'm always a little confused at how random some of the articles are. With such a specific reader base-those who are interested in faeries and lore-why have such generalized topics such as spring umbrellas, berry pie, 10 ways to laugh more, and ways to spend a rainy day? There is also some fairy fiction scattered throughout. I remember one past issue had an article on cotton, which I never understood.
Not to bash the magazine or anything. Beautiful pictures, and some people would enjoy being inspired by faerie-like things, but I personally would prefer something a little more academic overall.

But every issue has one article which I find really interesting. This time it was an interview with Maria Tatar, well-known fairy tale scholar and author. I like everything I've read by her and have great respect for her opinions. In addition, I found the questions they asked to be very relevant-topics that have gotten a lot of discussion on this blog and others, and are very pertinent for our culture. Tatar talks about her favorite tales, the issue of the violence in tales, advice for parents reading fairy tales to their children, the appeal of mermaids, and the overall popularity the tales have in today's culture/Hollywood. Her answers were succinct and yet managed to address each topic well.

Here's an excerpt:
"Faerie Magazine: How do you account for the recent surge of fairy tale-related movies and television shows and books? Why are we reconnecting with fairy tales now?
Maria Tatar: Culture is marked by crisis, and every age is seen as a time of turmoil...In times of crisis, we need the consolations of imagination more than ever-in particular the tried and true. Everything feels unstable these days...It's comforting to go back to stories from the culture of childhood or from the childhood of culture. These are the stories told by our ancestors, and they are also the tales we grew up with. And they are compact and action-packed. They give us small doses of large effects. We have never stopped refashioning fairy tales, but it's more obvious today than it was fifty years ago...We now understand that Disney appropriated the tales for a time, but they have always circulated in popular culture-now we own up to it."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Princess of the Midnight Ball

Although "Twelve Dancing Princesses" is one of my all time favorite fairy tales, I rarely/never see critics writing on it the way they love to delve into other fairy tales and their significance. Surlalune's Twelve Dancing Princesses Tales from Around the World is pretty much the only exception I'm aware of, which includes a brief history/overview of the tales in addition to supplying several variants. Although in a way it's good, because it's one of the few fairy tales I can still read and make entirely my own, not having voices of various other interpretations in my head telling me what each symbol and plot point supposedly means.

Fortunately there are several fictional versions for fans of the story, and there's really so much you can do with the mysterious underground kingdom. Just looking through the descriptions of the plots (Modern Interpretations via Surlalune) each author handles the tale quite differently. As I discovered from Surlalune's book in Underground Kingdom: Parts I and II, even variants of the tale don't agree on what kind of Kingdom it is. It can be evil/neutral/good, and the women in question can go there willingly or as victims.

I decided to check out the novel by Jessica Day George, Princess of the Midnight Ball. It's a fairly traditional retelling of the story but I like how it fleshed out the characters and the plot. It was found in the teen section of my library although it could just as easily have been in the children's section. The writing was easy to follow, and the clues to the mystery a bit obvious, but at the same time it was kind of refreshing to read such an innocent version. The current trend in fairy tales is to explore their darker, adult roots, which I enjoy as well, but sometimes I notice that in order to combat the frilly and saccharine stereotype that fairy tales have, I/the fairy tale community in general tend to get defensive and point out the horrific parts: "fairy tales have VIOLENCE and SEX!" Which is certainly true, but is that why we like them or what makes them good stories?

Anyway, considering the younger audience the writing was pretty good (I would reserve "excellent" for books like Narnia or the early Harry Potters when it comes to children's books). One of my favorite descriptions was of King Under Stone, the ruler of the Underground Kingdom, who was pale and tall and gaunt and had "eyes like chips of obsidian." Doesn't that paint such a vivid picture in your mind?
Ruth Sanderson

And if you're wary of it being too close to the traditional story, George expands the mystery of why the sisters go to the Kingdom every night, and the ending isn't quite as simple as in the Grimm fairy tale, so that part does get a little more exciting. If I were to critique the gender roles-which didn't particularly bother me when reading it-I would wish the girls were a little more proactive, because in this story it's Galen, the soldier, who does all the discovery of the mystery and the ultimate solution to the problem. It's kind of ironic actually-in this old post from 2010 I reflected on the fact that the soldier in "12 Dancing Princesses" doesn't actually do much except for follow the old woman's instructions. It's the females who are having the adventures, and you can surmise that it took something proactive for them to discover the Kingdom in the first place, although that's left up to your imagination. The romance was also too love-at-first-sight for me, especially for a novel in which there is plenty of time to develop a love through multiple conversations.
Errol le Cain

 Overall I would definitely recommend it to adults who either are looking for a light and easy read, and/or are wanting to explore some different interpretations of this fairy tale. And I would absolutely recommend it to a younger reader, it could be a great introduction to the world of fairy tales. Traditional novel retellings are great because the stark and odd details of a fairy tale can seem more realistic and personal.

Anyone else who's read it have anything to add? And what other novel versions of "Twelve Dancing Princesses" would you recommend?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Little Red Writing Hood

This would really fit as a part of my recent post "Fairy Tale Lesson Plans," but one of my students was just telling me about the play her class is putting on. When I heard it was a fairy tale mashup I was of course fascinated.

The play (which may be this one? I don't think so though) begins with Little Red Writing Hood, who has the script to her own story and others, and she uses her pencil to make changes to the script. When the wolf comes, she doesn't want to be eaten, so she changes him into a ballerina to make him harmless (although, ballet dancers are STRONG and have incredible endurance, so I wouldn't necessarily choose that but, you know, fourth grade play). When Goldilocks is being chased by the bears, Writing Hood changes her into a bear cub and the family adopts her. Writing Hood introduces Prince Charming to Little Miss Muffett, etc.
Harry Clarke

At first I was thinking, all right, a play that encourages empowerment and learning from other people's mistakes, and hopefully inspires a love of writing and the ability to create your own stories, that's great. But then in the second half, Writing Hood's changes have begun to get out of hand. Goldilocks doesn't want to be a bear any more, Charming wants to take Miss Muffett to the ball so now Cinderella is all alone, and none of the solutions were as simple as she thought-and now she's run out of eraser. Enter the FBI-the Fairy tale Believers Incorporated (haha). They take over and change the script back to what it was supposed to be, because "fairy tales shouldn't be changed." When Writing Hood protests that she doesn't want to be eaten by the wolf, the FBI reminds her that she knows she'll get rescued.

Does this ending possibly contradict the empowerment/learning from mistakes that I thought at the beginning? Maybe. Whenever there's a story that involves magic or supernatural abilities, I think it is important to address the possibility of such powerful forces getting out of our control. The world of Faerie is dark and the creatures there are known for being tricksters and not bending to the will of humans easily. And there is definitely truth to the concept that we can't just avoid all unpleasant experiences in life-sometimes we just have to endure things, although I don't blame anyone for wanting to avoid being eaten alive by a wolf.
*Fairy Tale Mashups-Christian Lindemann

I just think the conclusion is very telling. Many people have this idea that fairy tales are sacred and don't realize that the versions we now know as "traditional" underwent many, many changes to become that way. With all of these new versions of fairy tales coming out, it can be so tricky to  reinterpret the tales in a way that isn't ignorant of the tale's history or other modern versions. People grew up with traditional tales (whether Grimm or Disney or probably a combination thereof) and some people are resistant to the idea of changing these stories that resonated with us so much in childhood.

Being an elementary school play we shouldn't read into it too much, but it still reflects how people interact with fairy tales, and to any kid who is ever in that play, the story will probably stick with them for a while.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Using Fairy Tales for Conflict Resolution

The Relationship Triangle is a way to understand how people act within conflicts, and hopefully to avoid future conflicts. There are three potential roles people fit into: that of the persecutor, the victim, and the rescuer. People tend to assume at least one of these roles, often multiple ones in the same drama, shifting in and out. Example: Say someone is pressuring you to make a certain decision. They may think they are rescuing you from making a bad decision, yet you may perceive them as persecuting you and see yourself as a victim. Then a friend of yours may try to rescue you instead of you dealing with it yourself-etc. There is an article in Psychology Today that will describe it much more thoroughly and accurately for those of you interested.

So what does this have to do with fairy tales? One look at the three roles above and you can easily fit the most famous fairy tales into this kind of drama. Cindrella=victim, stepmother and stepsisters=persecutor, and prince=rescuer. In fact, in the youtube video below on using this idea to understand and solve drama in the workplace, the speaker refers to Little Red Riding Hood as a way to understand these roles.

One of the many reasons fairy tales have been around for so long and continue to resonate with us deeply is their ability to be a model for so many of our own issues. They can apply to whatever problems we're going through at different times in our lives, so we can turn to them time and time again for solace and hope that the problem will eventually be resolved.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Thoughts on Frozen

To preface, I actually still haven't seen Frozen yet (our church was having a family movie night and showing it, and we were planning on going even though we would have been the only adults there without kids, but out of town family trumped that in our plans). But reactions to it have been everywhere-in the fairy tale blogging world, as well as all of my adult friends and students asking if I've seen it yet and saying I need to because it's so good and I'll love it.

First of all it kind of brings up the issue we had some really good discussion about in my post Fairy Tales Sell: the popularity of fairy tales and whether or not that's a good thing. There's two sides: on the one side, people are being exposed to fairy tales and thinking about them in new ways. With Frozen, it's especially exciting because "Snow Queen" is not a tale many people could converse about and now people are at least familiar with the idea that Hans Christian Andersen wrote such a tale.

However, in the specific case of Frozen, and with many other Disney and otherwise produced modern fairy tales, the stories being made are very different than the fairy tales they are based on. Which in itself is not a problem: all fairy tales have been evolving and changing-the Grimms and other fairy tale collectors did their own editing, as did Disney. Although in the case of Frozen I believe the writers went beyond "editing" and into "vaguely inspired by" territory...

Nora Stasio did an article for Enchanted Conversation a while back entitled The Aftermath of Frozen: Its Staggering Success and its Imminent Impact in which she discusses this very topic. I found this to be poignant: "Whenever a movie is as successful as this one was, there are always copycats. The worst of them try to rip off certain iconic elements of a famous work while generally lacking the heart and the overall cohesion of the original. Most of these rip-offs are low-budget productions, using gimmicks to increase sales, instead of striving for an excellent product."

This is definitely true, and highlights the danger  in fairy tales becoming a formula for money. As reader Amy Willow pointed out in the comments to my previous post Fairy Tales Sell: "  fairy tales being used to market products isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it re-packages them for different audiences and keeps them alive in the public eye. However, I think that it distracts from the original tales and creates a stereotypical fairy tale image, which forgets most of the traditional content of the stories and just uses common motifs associated with them. So whilst it make them popular it doesn't stay true to their nature."

(emphasis mine in both quotes)

When I first discovered the world of fairy tale fiction, via Robin McKinley's Beauty, I desperately searched for similar books. I devoured all the Robin McKinley I could find, and went to the library searching for "Beauty and the Beast" and similar books again and again. Then after I discovered sources like Surlalune I learned how much fairy tale fiction is out there-yet I'm not adamantly looking up each book anymore. Partly because there's just so many new books coming out it's kind of overwhelming, but in large part because the quality overall is lacking in most of the new books. I haven't really been able to match the emotional power I found when reading Beauty for the first time. Other authors are very good-I enjoyed Shannon Hale, Francesca Lia Block, Gail Carson Levine, and the anthologies put out by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, for example. But most of those actually came out when fairy tale fiction wasn't such a trend.

Before, if someone wrote a fairy tale inspired book, it was usually because they had a vision-to reinterpret the fairy tale in an original way. Now, authors are realizing that Harry Potter was widely successful, as were many other fairy tale and fantasy books, and as Stasio said in the article quoted above-they want a piece of that success. They turn to fairy tales not necessarily out of love, but to make a profit. Now that's obviously not true in every case, but it's probably so hard just to keep up with every fairy tale inspiration it's getting harder and harder to have an original idea.

Going back to "Frozen". Again, haven't seen it, so can't speak to its overall quality, but if you have a Disney music Pandora station, the songs will come on fairly regularly. I had heard so much about "Let it Go" and how great it is, but I heard it and thought, that's it? Apologies to anyone who absolutely loves this song, but with all the hype my expectations were higher. The song just lacks the character of most hit Disney songs. It's a rock song, but one with predictable chord progressions and a very basic drum beat. No fantastic orchestrations that build to a really exciting climax.

And I noticed, at least on Pandora-generally when playing a Disney song, the artist would be the composer. The Sherman brothers, Alan Menkin-people known for creating a variety of fun and upbeat songs as well as beautiful romantic ballads. Yet for "Let it Go" the artist is the singer, Demi Lovato. Has Disney music become more about a beautiful and already popular singer (among the preteen Disney channel watching crowd) than creating quality music for them to sing?

Anyway, Ink Gyspy of Once Upon a Blog just sent me this cover of Let it Go. She says, "There are SO MANY covers of Let It go out there it's a bit like drowning but this one made me think: "Why on earth didn't they have an ice/glass/crystal toned music base for the song in the movie?" I remember being quite jarred by the piano starting out in the middle of nowhere - it was just bizarre."

Which demonstrates what I had been thinking just yesterday about this song. This cover has character that shows creativity and sets a unique mood that matches the movie, whereas the original was just kind of predictable.

What do you think? Am I being too critical? I know I can be very picky when it comes to fiction, and music. Especially when something is built up for so long, my expectations are really high and they're likely to be disappointed (the reverse is true too-if something is widely criticized I'm usually like "it wasn't that bad!" Case in point: Indiana Jones 4). So have you noticed that fairy tale fiction/movies in general are lacking in quality? Does the danger of reinforcing bad stereotypes of fairy tales outweigh the positives of keeping fairy tales alive, and potentially inspiring a few people to look into their history?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Fairy Tale Rituals: Snow White

Another library book, which if nothing else shows how vastly differently two people can interpret the same fairy tale!

I was instantly intrigued by Fairy Tale Rituals: Engage the Dark, Eerie and Erotic Power of Familiar Stories by Kenny Klein. I knew if nothing else it would be an interesting read, and so far that is absolutely true! It's fascinating in one way just because it's a new way of looking at fairy tales for me. Again, I don't agree with everything, but very interesting concepts to ponder.

Klein takes a look at several fairy tales, analyzing the Grimm versions but also looking further back to older tales. He believes that the stories came from beliefs in Faerie creatures-the dark and powerful kind and not the tiny cute kind-which may very well be true in some cases. Many people did used to believe in Faeries, changelings, and all sorts of mischievous Beings that interacted with humans and explained away certain phenomenon.

Klein goes even further, though-providing with each tale a ritual based on Wiccan magic that the reader can practice and perform to enhance change in their own lives. I had to keep reminding myself that he was my experience, magic spells and wands are things you only find in fiction such as Harry Potter. But although it's something I've never come across in my own life, I know there are a lot of people out there practicing Wicca and other forms of magic. A commenter here once enlightened me that there is even a branch called Faery Wicca. Which I would guess is what this book is all about. Klein says, "As a distant memory of actual Faerie beings, these characters are real, and inhabit this world as we we will evoke these ancient Faerie creatures...for aid in achieving our real-world goals."
"Winged Fairy," Brian Froud

Klein's theory about Snow White is that she is actually a Nymph, or a nature being. First he uses Changeling as almost interchangeable with Nymph, and says "stories of beautiful changeling children are quite common throughout Europe." Really? I've only come across stories where changelings are ugly/disabled.

But to think of Snow White as a Faerie with otherwordly beauty actually makes a lot of sense when you think about it. First of all, Klein points out that the Grimms changed Snow White's natural mother to a stepmother, to make it less disturbing. So in the versions where her own mother is trying to kill her, she was also the one who made the wish for a child as red as blood, white as snow, and black as ebony. She therefore is trying to destroy the very child she wished for. So is it just a case of "be careful what you wish for?"
Trina Schart Hyman

Klein goes even further back in Snow White's history to versions where the mother did not wish for a child at all. In one he quotes (with no source,) it is the king who wishes for a child upon three ravens. Snow White is not born to the mother, but just then appears by the side of the road. This story makes a lot more sense as far as imagining why the mother might be so jealous of this strange child's beauty.

I was curious as to how prevalent versions like this were, because this really could change how we view Snow White and her mother/stepmother. I went to my copy of Surlalune's Sleeping Beauties: Sleeping Beauty and Snow White tales from around the world. I only found one story where the father wishes for a child-but actually in the vast majority of them, there is no wishing scene at all-the beautiful child simply exists as the story begins. However, pretty much all the tales were from sources after 1812, when the Grimms' famous version had already been published. I would be very curious to learn if there are more versions like the one Klein referred to, especially ones that predate Grimm.
Margaret Tarrant

Klein also points out how curious it is that absolutely everyone is overwhelmed by Snow White's beauty. She isn't merely beautiful-she motivates a mother to kill, a huntsman to disobey his Queen, dangerous animals to leave her alone, dwarves to protect her, and a prince who absolutely needs to possess her dead body. Not only that, but each of those categories of people would be looking for something different in a female-yet they all find what they most want (or fear) in Snow White. A sexual threat, a homemaker, a ravishing beauty, a lover. It really makes more sense if she is indeed a Faerie or Nymph of unearthly beauty-what else would cause everyone to lose their heads over one woman?

The temptation scene analysis is a striking contrast between Klein and the author I most recently read, Sheldon Cashdan. Cashdan believed that fairy tales help children overcome their sinful tendencies through 1. identifying their sins in the sins of the main character, and 2. also identifying with the villain. I simply don't think that happens in the vast majority of cases. Anyway, to Cashdan, when Snow White accepts gifts from her stepmother in disguise, it's proof that she suffers from the sin of vanity.
Trina Schart Hyman

Klein sees the scene as the stepmother/mother trying to undo Snow White's beauty. By putting the laces on Snow White, the witch is "tightly binding the Nymph's breasts." Only...don't stay laces tighten your waist but support the breasts in a way that makes them look larger, much like a corset? Like above?

But anyway other than that fact he does have a very interesting point. The three objects the mother uses-laces, a comb, and the apple-are attempts to destroy the three parts of the mother's wish: skin as white as snow (the laces which bind the skin), hair as black as ebony (the poisoned comb) and lips as red as blood (the apple).

Then the sleep episode. This is where feminists of today are outraged, because to have famous fairy tale princesses sleeping indicates that men want their women passive. It was kind of refreshing to hear a different take. Klein says, "While we appear to be dead in sleep, our minds are quite active, connecting us to the Underworld through dreams." He says Snow White goes through a near death experience which enables her to become fully human and later accept a lover. He cites many world religions which involve a ritual that is symbolic of death and rebirth-from pagan beliefs to Christian baptism (although, some of the things he says about biblical passages and/or the Christian faith are incorrect, which makes me wonder how accurate some of his other facts are).

Anyway, it's an interesting thought, and encouraging to think that maybe Snow White (and Sleeping Beauty) are being anything but passive in their sleep. In fact, Klein also points out that the Beast, a MALE fairy tale character, has a similar unconscious/sleep phase-can't believe I hadn't thought of that before. And though, in the Villeneuve version, the sleep is not directly connected to his transformation, in most other versions it's after Beauty revives the Beast from his near death that he has his rebirth into humanity. Hmm...

Then follows an actual Wiccan-inspired ritual detailed for the reader to follow. It involves calling the spirit of Snow White to make you feel beautiful and desirable, and the cutting of an apple, on the New Moon, and an alter and a wand and all that. I kept thinking of Willow from Buffy...
*Also-this post from Ravens Shire/Fairies and Fairy Tales is on the remnants fairy tales have from ancient religions, and is very applicable to the above

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Interview with Once Upon a Blog's Ink Gypsy

I am so excited to bring you this next post!!

You are all probably familiar with the fantastic Once Upon a Blog, but just in case, let this be your introduction. And really, you should add it to your bookmarks RIGHT NOW if it isn't there already, because if you are interested in learning about fairy tales, InkGypsy is the one of the best sources out there for what is happening currently in the realm of fairy tales-in Hollywood, art, and other media. As you begin to learn more about fairy tales you realize there's no right or wrong, or "authentic" or "original" versions-it really all boils down to how each culture interacts with and shapes the tales. So as fairy tale students, we shouldn't be ignorant of how our own culture is perceiving and interpreting these stories!

Gypsy was gracious enough to answer some questions I had for her to share with you-and to be honest, I was just curious myself. After following a blog for so long and admiring her writing and respecting her opinions on the subject, you really start to wonder who is behind the scenes!

1. What first sparked your interest in fairy tales?
I have loved fairy tales since I was really young. I had quite a few fairy tales on records (75 RPM!) which I loved but one in particular was my favorite. It was Snow White. I think this was partly because it was a record with a book attached (I only remember one other, which was Hansel & Gretel) and the book had a lot of pictures. It was a Disney record too so it came with narration, voices, songs and full color film stills.

What really sparked my imagination though was the "working drawings" scattered throughout. These had the black lines of the final drawings with blue 'working' lines underneath and I was fascinated that there was a creative process behind the story - someone created this, made it up, decided what it looked like and perhaps decided what parts to tell us about the story and what not to. I was maybe 4 (?) when this captured my attention and started thinking this way. I also remember being particularly drawn to fairy tales from that time on.

I continued to be a keen and advanced reader and at age 9 borrowed CS Lewis' "Till We Have Faces" and was floored that there was an alternate telling of the Cupid and Psyche story. That's the book that started me on the study path, looking at why stories are told the way they are, what the motifs are, how different stories told from different points of view can still be rooted in the same story etc, etc. I also realized, thanks to that book, that fairy tales in particular had layers that could be understood in different ways by children and adults alike (I noticed Disney, the person, employed the same idea of layered storytelling in his films as well). I was well and truly hooked on fairy tales at that point and have continued reading and studying fairy tales avidly in one form or another ever since.  The more I did, the more I realized how helpful they were to me in every day life as well, though not necessarily in terms of morals,which is how many people think of their 'usefulness'. Rather it told me about people, human behavior, the importance of wise choices, of hope and in not needing to understand absolutely everything to find a way through. I guess you could say it's a pretty long term obsession, er, interest. :)

2. What prompted you to start a fairy tale blog?
I do believe part of it was zeitgeist. I started mine, only to see that Heidi Ann Heiner, who's SurLaLune website and forums I had been following since the first few weeks they appeared, started her own blog that same month! My personal reasons, though, were just that I couldn't believe how often I saw fairy tales being used, retold and referenced in the news and in popular culture and yet the people who seemed most passionate about them didn't seem to realize this - or be able to connect as a result. I was home taking care of my new baby and, since I wasn't writing or consulting much for work any more, decided to channel my thoughts into blogging. Despite the general idea that fairy tales were outdated or "diluted beyond return by Disney", to me, fairy tales were everywhere, globally, and alive and well. The main problem was that there were fewer in circulation than ever due to the melding of pop culture and movies across nations and that the same ones were getting used/retold over and over. I hoped that by highlighting how often fairy tales were being used by 'regular' people that it would encourage other fairy tale folk to do more, create more, be more active in whatever their fields were, and maybe connect and join forces somewhat to help spread the wealth of this amazing resource society is sitting on top of, but is barely aware of.

I'm very much one of the people who see fairy tales as 'alive' and that they grow, morph, change, adapt through over time and across cultures yet still keep their roots. In tracking even a little of the activity in fairy tales today -both by 'pros' and laymen, it proved to me just how important - and how much a part of us being human - they are. That in turn reinforced the importance of encouraging work, creation and storytelling in this field and so I now see the blog as a way to help keep fairy tales alive and vital. 

My hope is that those working in and with fairy tales will adapt their study, research and creativity to the main forms of communication today so that fairy tales, and all they have to offer, can enrich society and make a difference.
Sleeping Beauty * Errol le Cain

What do I think fairy tales have to offer? 
3 things: 
1) they show us our history and our roots, and highlight our commonalities amongst all peoples
2) they provide touchstones of wisdom for our present - by this I don't actually mean morals (though they can be included). I mean fairy tales show us what people are like, the choices we really have in any situation (even if they are sucky choices, any sort of choice makes us less of a victim of others and circumstance) and path options for our personal -and collective- journeys.
3) fairy tales also show us the possibilities for our future - again individually and collectively,both positive and negative

Fairy tales describe human nature, both at it's best and and it's worst, mankind's hopes and dreams, tendencies and weaknesses but strengths as well. While the stories don't always show the best outcomes, including that of the 'protagonists', they tell us a lot about how people work and cope (or not). It's not about fairy tales having answers so much as learning about human nature and benefiting from the patterns and histories so we can be best prepared for our own "wolves" and "woods".
3. What is your process for finding blog material/what sources do you use?
I guess "everywhere" is going to be too vague an answer, despite that it's true. :)

After my long time obsession/interest, I now have a sort of "fairy tale radar" that causes me to pay attention to the possibility of fairy tales being used or referenced or patterns of the same. I am, unfortunately, not one of those people who can quote you the AT tale type numbers, motifs etc at work in any given situation. I wish I were. I feel like I miss so much! But I also try to be aware of fairy tales being referenced and in 'morph-form', or incomplete form, if you will. That's where some of the most delightful discoveries are. I will be the first to admit, though, that I need a better system for finding and tracking fairy tales. 

Practically speaking, if I have my ducks in a row I will check all the major Entertainment News Outlet headlines, the 'geek' headlines, social media buzz on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr etc and choose the one for the day/time of writing that I feel will be most interesting to my readers (and me too - I have to be interested in it as well!). I also sign up to receive newsletters where I think I'm likely to see a fairy tale pop and I have approximately eighty key word searches I run through regularly to search out the more obscure postings. It takes a serious amount of time to do this though and, sadly, I rarely get time to do more than a quick and cursory search but I keep trying. 

Baba Yaga's Hut * Jan Pienkowski

When things are going smoothly I do my best to pre-schedule posts a few days in advance, and scatter some in the future as well, so that the days I can't get to research and blog (which are almost always the weekend and any days I am helping with my son's school, among other things) there will be new content and all I will need to do for that day is check for any 'breaking news' that a large cross section of the public is interested in (this is often movie, music or event news). I try to mix it up a bit so I'm not always posting on the same topics, or only Hollywood/movie news, or just art either (I do love that particular rabbit hole though!). Of course, real life happens and researching alone takes a huge chunk of time every day (I try to make sure I have legitimate sources and more than one) so things rarely go as planned! I miss posting on many things (so many things! Argh!) and my draft posts are almost as numerous as my actual posts as I do try to get them all in, but it all comes down to time. This could easily be a full time job for a team... 
Perhaps one day I will work in that fairy tale newsroom I've envisioned since the beginning... I can dream, right?

And now you know all my secrets. ;) 

Thanks, Gypsy! Your blog is an inspiration to many people, myself included!

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Witch Must Die

Tony and I finally made it to our new library, and of course the first place I went was to check out their fairy tale section.

And fortunately this new library has several interesting books I haven't read yet! Some of them were ones I was wanting to read anyway. Others are ones I wouldn't necessarily have bought for myself, but it's good to be exposed to other ways of thinking about fairy tales, even things I disagree with (often that which is controversial brings about the most interesting discussion anyway!).

Such is the case with The Witch Must Die: How Fairy Tales Shape Our Lives, by Sheldon Cashdan. (The link goes to the same book, I believe, but with the subtitle "The Hidden Meaning of Fairy Tales", which is interesting especially how it relates to my points below). Though I overall disagree with his thesis (and several of his supporting points...) that's not to say that he didn't have some really good points as well and interesting food for thought, so I'm certainly not discrediting everything he's written or anyone who happens to really like this book.

The two different subtitles 

Cashdan takes a psychological approach. It is somewhat similar to the psychoanalytic, which holds that fairy tales are meant to shape the subconscious lives of children, guiding them to different stages of development. Only psychoanlaytic approaches see everything in terms of sex and sexual development, and Cashdan claims that fairy tales help children deal with "the seven deadly sins of childhood."

I find it very odd that this is the conclusion he reaches, because in his own preface he states that fairy tales were NOT originally meant for children, and were NOT originally meant to teach lessons. He also acknowledges that fairy tales, or similar stories, existed for hundreds of years before the "traditional" versions, and in many different forms.

Yet throughout the book, he sees fairy tales as primarily being tools in children's development, extracts what he says the "lessons" or morals are, and though he references some older versions, draws specific conclusions from the details of Grimm versions. In fact, he often references modern versions and stories that are not even fairy tales, such as Disney movies, the "Wizard of Oz" series, Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are," even using Oscar Wilde's "Dorian Gray" and Star Wars. Usually when psychologists see fairy tales as having an overarching purpose and speaking in a similar way to all children, it's because they believe that fairy tales were handed down from generation to generation, being honed and developed by thousands of tellers and listeners into stories that are essential for human development-they were created by the collective humanity and that's why they continue to speak so deeply to humans. Yet specific versions are just one person's idea of a good story, and it's easier to disprove that a certain moral was their intent. In fact sometimes his examples make me wonder if his book should have tackled storytelling in general and not just fairy tales (he has a whole section on transitional objects such as stuffed animals, and mainly cites "Toy Story").

One of the issues with psychoanalytic views of fairy tales is that it puts all the blame and room for growth on the children in the stories, and the children who are listening, when it is clearly the adults who are the villains. This approach is similar. In fact, using the seven deadly sins to categorize all fairy tales seems downright creepy to me-maybe just because of the movie Se7en. Cashdan seems to see some things as "sin" that I would never categorize that way. He breaks it down:

Vanity-Snow White
Gluttony-Hansel and Gretel
Lust-Little Mermaid
Greed-Jack and the Beanstalk

Take Snow White and vanity. Cashdan details how both the stepmother/mother and Snow White struggle with the sin of vanity. In the witch's case it's pretty obvious; in Grimms' Snow White, the heroine is tempted first by laces and a comb, signs of vanity, before the infamous apple. Cashdan says that "vanquishing the queen represents a triumph of positive forces in the self over vain impulses." Yet Cashdan had just told us that Snow White suffers from the same temptations. In fact, time and time again she is found to have worth because of her beauty-from the huntsman ("she was so lovely the huntsman had pity on her") to the dwarves ("what beautiful child is this!") to that creepy prince ("I cannot live without looking upon Snow-white"). Snow White is never punished for wanting beautiful things-in my mind those episodes where the witch tempts Snow White shows more how tricky the witch is, or the pattern of threes in fairy tales, more than how Snow White is sinning. Plus, the object that actually knocks her out is an apple, not the laces or comb. It doesn't make sense that Snow White is sinful like the witch, and also that killing the witch is what conquers vanity while Snow White lives on happily. Many adults now muse on Snow White as a never ending cycle-Snow White is destined to become like her stepmother.

Cashdan maintains that children identify their own "sins" with those of the villains. "The encounter with the evil presence in the story forces children to come face to face with unwholesome tendencies in themselves by casting these tendencies as concrete characteristics of the witch. Confronting the witch becomes an act of self-recognition...If children hope to overcome bothersome thoughts and unwholesome inpulses, the witch must die." Really? Honestly, has any of you ever identified with the witch when reading a fairy tale? I'm positive I never did. Seeing the witch as one side of a mother's personality makes more sense to me, but not yourself.
Kay Nielsen

The chapter on gluttony really angered me. It reminded me of Carl-Heinz Mallet's similar psychological take on Hansel and Gretel, one which produces extreme amounts of condemnation on the children of a fairy tale who were abandoned by their own parents. Cashdan accuses both Hansel and Gretel of suffering from the same sin as the witch-gluttony. To which I would point out, they were LITERALLY starving to death, not the 21-st century American version of starving which means we haven't eaten in about 4 hours. He says, "one cannot fault the children for indulging themselves after wandering about for days with nothing to eat." Very true. But then, the fact that they take LARGE PORTIONS is just inexcusable-"the children know what they are doing is wrong, that it is sinful, but they cannot control themselves. What started off as 'nibbling' has turned into a feeding frenzy. Ordinary hunger has given way to gluttony."

All he quotes from Grimm, by the way, is that Hansel takes a great piece of the roof and Gretel a large window pane. Okay, eating a large portion once does NOT make  you a glutton. ESPECIALLY IF YOU WERE LITERALLY STARVING TO DEATH. Gluttony is a habit of overeating. Gluttony wasn't even an option for Hansel and Gretel, or the majority of German peasants at the time, or really for most people at most periods of history. You ate what you farmed, and when there was a bad season, everyone went hungry. To eat your fill was a dream many people wished they could experience.

Yet once again, children supposedly identify themselves with the witch. "She is the children; she is the sinful or bad part of Hansel and Gretel, the part driven by gluttony. This is not lost on the children. At a deep intuitive level, they know the witch is a part of them, and that the voice that calls from within the house is their own." Really? That's quite a claim to make. Why even bother writing a book about it if it's so intuitive? (And is the meaning really hidden, as the subtitle claims?)
Walter Crane

Believe me, I work with kids and am the first to admit they're not perfect, but some psychologists seem way too overeager to condemn children in general, and victimized characters, for their evils. For example, Cashdan thinks Rapunzel and the prince deserve their harsh punishment for their sexual recklessness. Yet Cashdan gives the witch a pass. Forget the fact that she kidnapped someone else's child and gave her no chance at meeting friends or knowing her family-"she is not evil through and through. Her decision to keep Rapunzel in the tower flowed not from malice but from maternal concern." Sure she's a more complex witch than some, but how can he excuse her actions and condemn the ones of Rapunzel, when it should have been the witch's maternal responsibility to educate her?

If the "psychological mission" of fairy tales is indeed to "combat sinful tendencies in the self," would fairy tales really be as popular as they are? This approach is pretty preachy and normally doesn't make for very good storytelling. Cashdan even points out that sometimes sins, such as lying, can be rewarded in fairy tales (he mentions Frog Prince and Puss in Boots-there are many more that reward those who are intelligent enough to trick the villain). He explains that away by the fact that the ability to lie is an important step in child psychology. Again, this might make more sense if fairy tales were always told primarily for children, and by child psychologists, but that's not the case.

I have many more underlines and notes from the book but you get the idea of Cashdan's approach to fairy tales. Many of his arguments bring up good points for discussion even if his conclusions often seem out of place for the context, in my opinion. Do you have memories of reading fairy tales in childhood/interacting with children and these stories, in ways that would confirm or deny Cashdon's claims?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Article: Reaching My Autistic Son Through Disney

Via Megan of The Dark Forest, I just found this New York Times article: Reaching My Autistic Son Through Disney. Though it may sound like blatant Disney promotion, it struck a more personal chord with me.

The article tells of the Suskind family, one of many affected by autism. At age 3, their son Owen regressed into a nonverbal state and was largely unresponsive. One of his passions remained watching, and rewatching, and rewinding and watching again and again, classic Disney movies. You'll have to read the full article for the whole story, which is really stunning, but because of Owen's connection to Disney movies, he was able to gradually connect to the world around him again. His family took to communicating with him in Disney quotes and through Disney character voices and it was the only thing he would respond to at first. Now he is flourishing in the world around him, although his attachment to Disney remains.

I've made mention of my jobs through the years, which are always slightly complicated to explain and the simplest thing is to call myself a music educator/special educator, although I have done little teaching in schools aside from my student teaching and the occasional subbing. But for the past 9 years I have been helping in my former church's disability ministry-I went from volunteering to holding a part time job and now I'm back to volunteering. I did various things from running weekend events to working in a group home, but my main passion there has always been teaching music classes.

So many of the stories in the article reminded me of my own students and friends. Through the years I remember acting out Princess scenes with my friend Christy while babysitting her; she would tell me, "okay, you Beast, I Belle" and we would quote her favorite scenes from Beauty and the Beast (the West Wing scene was the favorite, but so was the library). Another student, Tim, who also has Down Syndrome, is really into Disney as well. He and I have a game we play where we'll quote Disney lines and songs to each other, and we have to guess which movie it's from. Just this weekend he was asking me where my Disneyland book was (I brought it to class for a Disney-themed summer music camp I did last summer) and when he could look at it again :).
Image from here

So many of my students with autism and Down Syndrome love Disney. It's familiar to most of them and a way they can connect with other people, and the vast merchandising available for Disney products certainly helps, but is that the only reason people with disabilities have a passion for the Mouse? From the article:

"Owen’s chosen affinity clearly opened a window to myth, fable and legend that Disney lifted and retooled, just as the Grimm Brothers did, from a vast repository of folklore. Countless cultures have told versions of “Beauty and the Beast,” which dates back 2,000 years to the Latin “Cupid and Psyche” and certainly beyond that. These are stories human beings have always told themselves to make their way in the world.
But what draws kids like Owen to these movies is something even more elemental. Walt Disney told his early animators that the characters and the scenes should be so vivid and clear that they could be understood with the sound turned off. Inadvertently, this creates a dream portal for those who struggle with auditory processing, especially, in recent decades, when the films can be rewound and replayed many times."

This is not the first time I've heard someone else make a connection between Disney and people with disabilities, either. I posted back in 2010 about David Koenig's book Mouse Tales: a Behind the Scenes look at Disneyland. From that post (and it's not a Disney endorsed and published book, by the way):
" Koenig lists two incidents which have to do with children with autism-one boy was there who had never spoken in his life. Mickey Mouse was being mobbed, and the autistic boy broke away from his father, rushed over, and said "Mickey Mouse"- his first words. The second incident I'm a little skeptical of-it sounds like a boy with autism "snapped out of it," meaning, I assume, his autism in its entirety, after repeated trips to Disneyland, because "he realized it was better living in Disneyland than in his head." "

I also attended a workshop at a disability conference once entitled "How to use Disney movies to help your child speak." The premise was similar to that of the article-since Disney movies are so popular among the population of people with disabilities, we can use them as education tools to help motivate and engage children. People with autism struggle with social interactions-they often connect with objects, toys, and/or movies better than they do with other people. By entering into their world, we can often communicate better with them.
The original article quoted cited several instances where people with autism felt personally connected to Disney characters-one young man felt like Pinocchio, because he felt like he was made of wood and wanted to feel things like a real boy; Owen himself identified himself as a sidekick, someone there to help the hero fulfill his destiny, scrawling "no sidekick left behind" on paper as he was held back in school, watching his classmates succeed.
Disney movies are not the most popular among fairy tale fanatics. Yet it's important to realize, though they may not be your favorite and you might actively dislike them and disagree with many messages they send, how powerful they can be. Disney and its characters and toys won't be going away any time soon. Parents with fond memories of Disney movies and theme parks are able to share those with their children as together families experience the new hit Disney movies.

So instead of writing off Disney and everything they've produced, maybe we should try to work with it. We can use common ground to help educate people about other fairy tale versions, while being aware of the potential issues associated with their storylines. It's a good reminder to be sensitive too-Disney movies were a core part of many people's childhoods and many of us (myself included!) have strong emotional ties to them.
(This image, found here, is pretty precious...a little girl with autism wanted to see Princess Tiana, but nearby fireworks started and she covered her ears, overstimulated. So this Tiana joined her, covering her own ears, and they had a special bonding moment.)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Anton Konashuk's Mermaid Tale

These pictures by Anton Konashuk portray a rather depressing take on a mermaid tale, and perhaps a statment about marriage and how it often turns out far differently than expected for many. It's also one of those interpretations that most audiences probably see as a clever, "modern" or "realistic" take on fairy tales, when it actually echoes fairy tales older than the Hans Christian Andersen idea of the mermaid, and much older than Disney's (whose influence is so strong most people don't even realize Andersen's "The Little Mermaid" ends without true love). This story portrayed is closer to the selkie tales in which human men steal the sea maids' seal skins and the maidens agree to marry him...but as soon as they recover their seal skins they return to their home in the sea. The photographer's site doesn't mention his inspiration though, so his hearkening back to such tales may or may not be intentional.