Sunday, July 24, 2011

Spike: A gothic failure?

Saw this at Blockbuster and wondered why I hadn't heard of it before. I was planning on getting it through Netflix and writing a review of it here, but the reviews on Netflix were possibly the worst movie reviews I've ever read. So, I'd probably advise you not to waste money on it, although I'm still slightly curious as to how they actually treat the plot. Has anyone seen this?

Netflix's description: "Beauty and the Beast gets a grisly retelling in this phantasmagoric horror fable that begins when four young people crash their car deep in the forest and soon find themselves at the mercy of a human-beast hybrid with a gory agenda. The creature's motivations turn out to be more complex than simple bloodlust, but the terrified kids being stalked in the darkness only know that any one of them could be the next to die."

However, for a possibly awesome Beauty and the Beast movie in the works, I heard through Surlalune about a movie directed by Guillermo del Toro starring Emma Watson as Beauty. I literally let out a very loud gasp when I saw that post. Guillermo del Toro?? Writer and director of Pan's Labyrinth, and producer of one of my all-time favorite ghost stories, The Orphanage? And Emma Watson will be so much better than Vanessa Hudgens in Hollywood's last Beauty character, from Beastly...

Friday, July 22, 2011

Thoughts on Princess and the Pea

It intrigues me to think of certain fairy tales that are well-loved in almost every time and culture, as opposed to other tales that fly under the radar, yet manage to survive in common knowledge. I'm almost awed by how well-loved Cinderella has been for centuries and among peoples from all over the globe. On the other hand, I've been thinking about Princess and the Pea lately, and it struck me that in the books and blogs I read I've come across very little on that tale. There are a few modern versions of it, but it doesn't hold a candle to some of the more standard fairy tales.

W. Heath Robinson

Why the lack of love? The most obvious reason seems to be that no one can relate to the heroine's task of being unable to sleep because of the presence of a pea underneath a sea of mattresses. Like many fairy tales, the specifics have been exaggerated and can in this case be found humorous, but the main character's only virtue is her inability to live a life other than that of utmost luxury. While we might pine for that kind of wealth ourselves, to have that as a moral standard makes me a bit indignant.

However, similar tales that came both before and after Hans Christian Andersen's famous version have the heroine successfully pass a test like this not because of actual royalty or sensitivity, but because of cunning or outside help. This kind of story makes the heroine more appealing while tending to villainize the queen who makes the ridiculous standards (in Andersen's version, the Prince himself desires to wed only a real princess).

Margaret Tarrant

But this take on the fairy tale hasn't skyrocketed its popularity. Even though, when you think about it, the princess' sensitivity to peas under a mattress is really just as unattainable as Cinderella's conveniently being far and away the most gorgeous woman in the whole kingdom and thus attracting the attention of the Prince. Yet most girls dream more of being a head-turning beauty than sleepless nights due to the slightest of different sleeping arrangements. Some similar tales, according to wikipedia, involve characters that really just have super sensitive skin-a hair that leaves a red mark and a jasmine petal causing a woman's foot to be bandaged. Obviously we're supposed to interpret this as exaggeration, symbolically representative of well-breeding and an appreciation of the finer things in life-but literally this sounds like an awful disease. If one hair leaves a red mark, what does your actual head of hair do to your neck and shoulders? Imagine what raindrops would do, or heaven forbid, an actual event that would cause an injury to a normal person?

But I think another reason this poor princess has never been really popular is that she's probably the only fairy tale heroine who never really suffers. Well, okay, she turns black and blue because of the peas, but nobody really feels that sorry for her for that. Other heroines are abused, many of them have attempts taken on their lives, they may be abandoned, lose a loved one, or go through other traumatic experiences. Many other princesses have to go through strange tests before their ultimate unveiling as the true princess-silence and nettle shirt making, journeys to the four winds and sun and moon, cooking things and leaving tokens in the food, etc.-but those princesses already have our sympathy because of all the evils they've suffered.

Kay Nielsen

Talk about unpopularity-I had no idea this fairy tale was originally from Hans Christian Andersen until I looked it up, because I have two collections of Andersen tales, and neither includes this one-despite the inclusion of other much lesser known tales such as "What the Old Man Does is Always Right" and "The Galoshes of Fortune." Yet, even those who don't claim to be fairy tale fans know the plot to this tale. I do have a bit of respect for any fairy tale that manages to stay alive despite its lack of Disneyfication-in this case, the only major media from this tale is the musical Once Upon a Mattress.

Do you like this tale? Why or why not?

Peter Pan at Pittburgh Ballet Theater

Ballet and fairy tales are no strangers to each other (classifying Peter Pan as a fairy tale is rather liberal, but I include classic fantasy literature that is often thought of as a fairy tale in my personal definition). But the thought of pairing ballet, the dance form created to appear as if the dancers were defying gravity, with the flying of Peter Pan intrigues me. Showing in Pittsburgh this October.

By the way, I meant to post this a while ago and forgot, but for Midwesterners like myself, Peter Pan is showing in Chicago through August.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Historical Evidence for Mermaids?-Part II

Like I said before, Surlalune has really inspired me to learn more about mermaids.

The thing about mermaids that fascinates me is that, more than any other fairy tale creature or story, throughout history people have believed, or tried to make others believe, that mermaids really do exist. Modern scientists would scoff at this idea, and there's no actual evidence to support their existence despite the many hoaxes claiming to prove otherwise, as I referenced in my original post, Historical Evidence for Mermaids. However, Christopher Columbus himself claimed he saw a mermaid. Christopher Columbus! If he claimed he saw anything else, we'd believe him without question.
The book Incredible Mysteries and Legends of the Sea by Edward Rowe Snow includes several accounts of supposed mermaid sightings. Snow himself admits he doesn't believe they exist, but it's fun to entertain the idea. And after reading so many detailed accounts, one begins to wonder...
I included most of the sightings found in chapter 10 of the book. I left out some that had less details or were more confusing to me, and honestly, I got tired after typing out so for your reading or skimming pleasure:

-November 16, 1822-British publication, The Mirror, listed ten different mermaid appearances on the sea
-1531-Merman caught in the Baltic and presented to King Sigismund of Poland
-1610-Captain John Whitbourne reported sighting a mermaid in the harbor of St. John's, Newfoundland.
-1614-John Smith saw a mermaid, swimming "with grace," having large eyes, finely shaped nose that was "somewhat short," and "well-formed ears that were rather too long." Also "long green hair imparted to her an original character by no means unattractive."...had begus to experience "the first effect of love" until he realized that from the waist down, she was a fish.
-1673-John Jocelyn reported that his friend, Mr. Miller, had sighted a merman in Maine's Casco Bay. The merman put a hand over one side of his canoe, threatening to capsize it. Miller chopped off the hand with a hatchet, and the merman disappeared into the water, "dyeing the water purple with its blood."
-1730-A French ship's crew spotten a merman off Newfoundland, for several hours. This account was signed by all in the crew who could write and sent to the Compte de Maurepas.
-Unknown year-Gloucester, Massachusetts-mermaid boarded a fishing craft, clinging to taffrail with one hand, which was amputated much like the story from 1673. The mermaid was supposed to have heaved a "human" sigh before disappearing. The men examined the hand and found it to be exactly like that of a human woman's.

-Early 18th century-mermaid sighted off Nantucket Island from passing vessal.
-Date not given-fishing boat off the island of Yell got a mermaid entangled in its lines. Mermaid was reported to be three feet long, the face, forehead, and neck short and resembling those of a monkey, the arms small and folded across the breast, the fingers distinct (not webbed), with a few stiff bristles on top of the head and extending down to the shoulders, which could be erected at depressed at pleasure. The lower, fish-like part of the body was smooth and grey. The creature offered no resistance, but uttered a low sound. When released, she dove perpendicularly into the sea. No gills were observed, nor fins on the back or belly. Tail like a dogfish, breasts and mouth and lips resembling human features.
-Eric Pontopildon, in his Natural History of Norway-about a mile from the coast of Denmark, near Landscrone, three sailors came upon what they thought was a dead body, but then moved and came nearer to them. The creature appeared like a strong-limbed old man with broad shoulders, with short curled black hair and a black beard, and from the body downward was pointed like a fish.
-May 1, 1714-Francois Valentyn, captain of a ship, came upon what he believed to be a shipwrecked person, but saw a man with a "monstrous long tail" that dove into the ocean.
-1758-Mermaid featured at a fair in St. Germains, France
-1775-Mermaid exhibited in London with three sets of fins
-1797-Schoolmaster Willian Munro of Thurso, Scotland spotted a mermaid combing its hair. Same mermaid supposedly spotted later in 1809 in the parish of Reay in Caithness, Scotland.
-1822-Captain Dodge announced after he sailed into Boston Harbor that he had captured a mermaid and put her on an island where he intended to educate her in human ways. He claimed he would return with her, but when he returned without her, he claimed she had died. This incident sparked a local interest in historical accounts of mermaids, including those from Pliny and Pausanias, Theodore Gaza, 1403 in Holland (a mermaid supposedly succesfully converted to human culture), 1554 in Poland, the 11th century in Sicily, in 1712 in the Dutch East Indies (a mermaid taken captive, 59 inches tall and with green hair, refused to associate with the natives and died). Captain Dodge returned with the body of the mermaid in a glass coffin (whoa, Snow White reference) and refused to let anyone remove her from the coffin. He later took the body with him and no one knows what happened to the mermaid. (This one I had to look up online. This is a scan of the New York Mirror from 1824 that mentions Captain Dodge and the mermaid on page 375. This newspaper clearly thinks the so-called mermaid body was a construction of other animal and child corpses.)
-Antarctic explorer James Weddell, in a book published in 1825, told of a sailor hearing a musical voice, and finding a human form with long green hair and a tail resembling that of a seal, who disappeared the moment she realized she was being watched.
-1834-writer Hugh Miller tells of John Reid, a "shrewd, sensible, calculating" man who heard singing and then spotted a mermaid with long yellow hair. He caught her and forced her to grant him three wishes-that neither he nor his friends should perish in the sea, that he should be fortunate in his undertakings, and that he should be married to the fair Helen, his beloved.
-1881-Dr. Karl Blind, in the Contemporary Review, tells of the habits of mermen and women of the British Isles, who wear seal skins as disguise, but shed them and act like humans on land. Any human who obtains the skin has power over the creature.

-August 11, 1812-Mr. Toupin of Exmouth, Scotland spotted a singing mermaid a mile from Exmouth bar, whose neck, back and loins were covered with feathers.
-April 15, 1814-merman and mermaid sighted by fishermen near Portgordon, Scotland
-1819-Mermaid spotted off the coast of Ireland, size of a girl about age 10, but with "a bosom as prominent as a girl of sixteen. She had long dark hair, and full dark eyes." Dove into the ocean with a scream when a man tried to shoot her.
-1834-brig Yankee Doodle came across party of merpeople off the Riding Rocks in the West Indies
-Date not given-merman in Epirus, Greece would come ashore and hide in order to catch women. He was caught, but did not eat in captivity and died
-1870-Man conversed with mermaid under a great cliff off the Bullers of Buchan, Scotland

Images #1 and 2 by Warwick Goble, #3 from here

Politically Correct Bedtime Stories

I found a copy of Politically Correct Bedtime Stories by James Finn Garner at a resale shop and snatched it up. It's great for an easy read and lots of laughs. Garner pokes fun at well-known fairy tales, as well as those who get too easily offended.

Book description: "Once upon a time, in the olden days, heavy-set middle-aged men would congregate in their elitist clubs, sit in overstuffed leather chairs, smoke air-choking cigars, and pitch story ideas and plots to each other. Problem was, these stories, many of which found their way into the general social consciousness, reflected the way in which these men lived and saw their world: that is, the stories were sexist, discriminatory, unfair, culturally biased, and in general, demeaning to witches, animals, goblins, and fairies everywhere.
Finally, after centuries of these abusive tales, which have been handed down-unknowingly-from one male-biased generation to the next, James Finn Garner has taken it upon himself (that's right, yet another man) to enlighten and liberate these classic bedtime stories and retell them in a way that is much more in keeping with the society in which we live today."

An exerpt from Garner's take on Rapunzel:
"Now, this witch was very kindness-impaired. (This is not meant to imply that all, or even some, witches are that way, nor to deny this particular witch her right to express whatever disposition came naturally to her. Far from it, her disposition was without doubt due to many factors of her upbringing and socialization, which, unfortunately, must be omitted here in the interest of brevity.)...the witch took the child deep into the woods and imrisoned her in a tall tower, the symbolism of which should be obvious. There Rapunzel grew to wommonhood. The tower had no doors or stairs, but it did boast a single window at the top. The only way for anyone to get to the window was for Rapunzel to let down her long, luxurious hair and climb it to the top, the symbolism of which should also be obvious."

Also by James Finn Garner:

Once Upon a More Enlightened Time: More Politically Correct Bedtime Stories

Politically Correct Holiday Stories: For an Enlightened Yuletide Season

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The work of a fairy godmother?

A friend of mine was showing me pictures of her recent trip to Portugal and I of course loved the pictures from the Carriages Museum-or Museu Nacional dos Coches in Lisbon. If Perrault's version were true, then perhaps Cinderella's magical pumpkin coach looked something like one of these-

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Dog Bride

Kate over at Enchanted Conversations shared an Animal Bride tale, The Dog Bride. It's related to the group of selkie tales where creatures that are thought to be animals shed their skins and are really beautiful women, and men steal (or in this case burn) the skins and basically force them to become a bride. This tale is unusual in that, initially, the other villagers laugh at the man who wishes to marry a dog (he is the only one who knows the dog's secret). It may be disturbing that the other villagers eventually allow him to do so, but in other animal bride and bridegroom tales, marriage to animals seem to happen with little reaction from the outside world. Fathers give their daughters over to bears and other beasts with frighteningly little resistance in many Animal Bridegroom tales. Of course, that could also be due to the style of fairy tales themselves, which generally represent any emotion or inner conflict through action or symbol, as Max Luthi describes.

The story also ends with a friend of the main character's who marries a dog, hoping to get the same kind of surprise as his friend did-but he is only met with humiliation. So, the moral of the story is, don't marry a dog unless you know for sure she's secretly really hot.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Beauty and the Beast altered book

What a fascinating art piece...part of me is enchanted and part of me is heartbroken that a book from 1897 had to be partially destroyed to create this. Available on etsy for $550...

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Quiz at has a special Fairy Tale character feature, including a quiz you can take. It's pretty simple, especially for this audience, but there are some lesser known characters in there, like Anansi the Spider from a Caribbean tale (I only knew that one because it was featured in a Gargoyles episode...)

Image by Walter Crane

ABT's Swan Lake by Adult Beginner

Came across this post on the blog Adult Beginner, written by a woman who started ballet later in life, which is a really difficult thing to do because ballet itself is very demanding and in order to become any good at it a girl is expected to start at a very young age, devote her entire life to it, and age out by her 30s.
Adult Beginner went to see ABT's version of Swan Lake, and even if you know the plot backwards and forwards it's a very funny read. But she also has some insights into the plot, such as Odile's character, included below, which is on everybody's mind thanks to Black Swan.
"Started thinking about Odile. Why is this considered the sexy bad girl role? The music is not giving me any evil cues like it does for Rothbart. It’s fun lively music. Perky. Maybe this is an issue of how old the music is? Like maybe it’s kinda dated? Like when you watch Jaws and you expect heavy horror movie music but other than the dahDuh shark music it’s kinda bouncy like, hey! Two dudes on a boat! It’s a fishin’ movie!
It feels more like Odile is the confident, triumphant counterpart to Odette’s downtrodden earnestness. Odile is a sassy-sassafras. Love it when she burns Siegfried, pulls her hand away before he can kiss it. Seems like the music and choreography and performance were all in agreement that she’s not the sensual dark creature a post Black Swan audience has come to expect.
And for that matter, what is Odile? Is she Rothbart’s daughter? If so, why is she beautiful while he’s a swamp monster? And does she live with him in the lake? Or does she live with her mom in Long Island City?
Did Rothbart call and say, “hello my Princess! I have a job for you, sweetie!”
Or did he create her? Is she like The Flesh from Doctor Who? Did he make this sassy, full, real person, just to fulfill this one purpose and then throw away?
Found myself really feeling for Odile."

Click through to read the whole thing!

The Mariinsky Ballet's Ulya Lopatkina (image from here) seems to be exuding the same playful vibe Adult Beginner sensed and not the "I will lead you down a dark road that ends in insanity and murder" vibe from Black Swan the movie. (I've mentioned it before, but I can hardly recommend Mercedes Lackey's book Black Swan enough as a fascinating look into Odile's character...)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Starbucks Siren

I have been very inspired by the mermaid posts happening at Surlalune this month and want to learn more about them. And I became curious about a well-known mermaid symbol, the Starbucks logo.
From wikipedia:
"In 2006, Valerie O'Neil, a Starbucks spokeswoman, said that the logo is an image of a "twin-tailed siren".[68] The logo has been significantly streamlined over the years. In the first version, which was based on a 17th-century "Norse" woodcut,[66] the Starbucks siren was topless and had a fully visible double fish tail.[69] The image also had a rough visual texture and has been likened to a melusine.[70] In the second version, which was used from 1987–92, her breasts were covered by her flowing hair, but her navel was still visible, and the fish tail was cropped slightly. In the third version, used between 1992 and 2011, her navel and breasts are not visible at all, and only vestiges remain of the fish tails. The original "woodcut" logo has been moved to the Starbucks' Headquarters in Seattle."

Original version


Current logo

These are the three images available on wikipedia-but according to the text, also from wikipedia, there should be two images from 1987-2010?


Sirens-enchantresses who haunt the seas and, by the beauty of their voice, lure men to destruction. Those who hear the sound of their voices cannot help but become obsessed with finding its source. (I seem to remember a story where sailors, knowing they were travelling dangerous waters, put in earplugs to save themselves from this fatal enchantment-but I don't remember the source of the story, does anyone know?)
Melusine-feminine water spirit

EDIT: Surlalune has expanded on the Starbucks Siren-read more here. Also, thank you to therealycats in the comments for identifying the above story as from the Odyssey. At some point I plan to look up that part and post more details about it.

Sunday, July 3, 2011


In some cases, like Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, traditional fairy tales have been made into successful ballets. In others, like Swan Lake, the ballet version gave it popular fairy tale status. Other ballets, however, have plots that are essentially fairy tales yet are only known to the ballet crowd and not as much in the fairy tale world.

Giselle begins in a small village tucked away in a forest, where a lovely girl loved to dance. She loved to dance so much that it worried her mother, who knew that Giselle was not very strong, and she did not want her daughter to become a Wili-the spirit of a girl who died of a broken heart. Each evening they rose and came to dance in their white dresses, and if any man came along their path, they surrounded him and forced him to dance until he dropped down dead.

But happy-go-lucky Giselle did not heed the warnings; she just loved to dance.

Giselle was in love with a young man who called himself Loys, but unbeknownst to Giselle, he was really the Count Albrecht in disguise as a peasant. He had fallen in love with Giselle, but was already engaged to someone else.

That did not stop the lovers from flirting. Albrecht pledged his love to Giselle, and to test it, she picked up a flower to play "he loves me, he loves me not"-and was dismayed when the last petal revealed "he loves me not." But Albrecht claimed she had made a mistake, and invited her to dance.

Their dance was watched, however, by another-Hilarion, who was also in love with Giselle, and jealous of Albrecht. As Albrecht took the liberty of kissing Giselle on the lips, Hilarion broke them up-just as the other villagers started to arrive, celebrating the harvest. They urged Giselle and Albrecht to join them in dancing, and Giselle was spinning and laughing, until she began to sway and stumble and fall. Albrecht caught her, and Giselle claimed she was fine and wanted to continue dancing, but her mother stopped her.

The village was joined by a hunting party from a nearby castle, including an exquisite lady named Bathilde, who was kind to Giselle, and Giselle was in awe of her riches. Giselle told her she loved to dance, and Bathilde asked her to dance for them. Giselle was only too happy to oblige-though her mother was not-and afterwards Bathilde rewarded her with her own necklace. Giselle was also crowned Queen of the Harvest, and urged to dance again for the villagers. Giselle begged her mother to oblige them, and her mother finally relented. Giselle danced, ending by taking Albrecht's hand-but Hilarion came forward to reveal that Albrecht was not like them. He had a nobleman's sword and hunting horn. It was then that Bathilde recognized him and revealed his true identity, and his betrothal to herself.

Giselle screamed and ripped off the necklace and stumbled into her mother's arms.

Then, she flung back her head, rose, stumbled, and laughed the joyless laugh of a madwoman. She slowly began to dance, imitating all the actions between herself and her lover earlier in the day. She fell down, exhausted, but surprised everyone by grabbing Albrecht's sword and trying to kill herself, but he grabbed it from her.

Giselle began to dance again, wildly, getting faster and faster. Finally she fell, and pointed to something in the distance. "How pretty they are in their long white dresses," she whispered. She died.

That evening, Hilarion placed a cross of wood at Giselle's grave, and hurried away before darkness fell. Shortly afterwards emerged Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, and she called the other Wilis out to greet their newest member. Giselle emerged, now one of them, and leapt across the clearing.

Albrecht came then, with lilies for Giselle's grave. Giselle stepped forward. Albrecht sensed something, but could not see her. But the other Wilis were returning, dragging in Hilarion and throwing him at Myrtha's feet, who ordered him to be danced to death. They encircled him, forcing him to dance until he was exhausted, but they forced him to dance still. Finally they herded him to a nearby lake and pushed him over.

The Wilis turned on Albrecht next. Giselle pleaded for him, but the other Wilis would not relent. Giselle lead Albrecht to the cross on her grave, which would protect him. Myrtha urged Giselle to dance, and then watched as the dance drew the lovers further from the cross. They danced together, and then Myrtha ordered him to dance alone, faster and faster until he too fell. Again Giselle pleaded for his life, but Myrtha had no mercy. Giselle urged Albrecht to last until sunrise, when the Wilis would scatter, but he could not. He fell, moments before morning bells rang out and the Wilis disappeared. But he was still alive, saved by Giselle's love.

Images from here, here, here, and here

This story was summarized using the book Of Swans, Sugarplums, and Satin Slippers by Violette Verdy, a former dancer.