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

Monday, June 19, 2017

Christophe Gans' Beauty and the Beast Film

I'm thrilled that Christophe Gans' Beauty and the Beast, starring Vincent Cassel and Lea Seydeux, is available on Netflix, since that's basically my only source of entertainment. I had really been looking forward to seeing this version of my favorite fairy tale.

To be fair, I wasn't able to sit down and enjoy the whole film in one go, or purely focus on it, but catch bits and pieces over a week and jot down notes in between. It's nice to see a retelling of the traditional French version, but with clear nods to Cocteau and Disney. But overall, I would say this film is worth watching for the visuals, but has an incredibly disappointing romance.

One thing I appreciated in this film, compared to other versions, was more realistic sibling relationships: I would love to read/see a version of BATB someday that really explores the relationship between Beauty and her sisters more. The traditional fairy tales has them painted extremely black and white; the sisters ugly and evil and Beauty beautiful and often annoyingly perfect. There's so much potential character depth that could be explored from their reactions to losing their wealth, and a lifetime of your younger sister being your father's favorite (not to mention obviously prettier than you). On the other extreme, there's the Robin McKinley novels, which I adore-but in those the sisters are all a little too perfect; neither they nor Beauty has any real flaws. The Gans version tended to be on the traditional fairy tale side, but you do get a sense of pity for the sisters as their neighbors laugh at their disgrace in their poverty, and when their father comes back from the Beast one of them says "this is all our fault," taking ownership rather than blaming Belle. Belle is more human-she admits she sulks when she finds out her father is going to recover his ship, and the request for a rose isn't made in the "I just want my father to be safe because I'm perfect but to make everyone feel better I'll make a super simple request" way, but as a kind of protest.

Then when Belle returns home, we feel sympathy for the sisters again, for how much worse their life has gotten because of their brother's debts. They aren't spiteful to Belle at all, in fact the brothers' storyline provides an interesting twist in why she didn't return to the castle as intended-and the sisters are honestly glad to see their father doing better.
The Romance (or lack thereof) (warning, spoilers ahead:) But then we come to the introduction of the Beast. I find it interesting that the filmmakers, while working primarily from the classic French Villeneuve/Beaumont tale, chose to keep the "angry selfish" Beast made so popular by Disney and not the gentlemanly Beast who wants Belle to be as happy as possible in the castle. Especially given that Disney's tale has been mostly criticized for its Stockholm Syndrome similarities, and that since then our culture has been obsessed with other troublingly abusive relationships (50 Shades of Gray comes to mind), I would expect a heightened sensitivity to the character of the Beast, and avoiding those pitfalls. Yet I find this Beast to be far worse than the Disney (and when I refer to the Disney Beast I mean the 1991 cartoon, still haven't seen the live remake, although I've read all the fairy tale bloggers' reviews and am somewhat familiar with the major changes). 
So he starts out creepy and cruel, which most people have grown to expect from the Beast. Maybe they figure it's better cinema to get you scared at first, so the romance is more dramatic later on. To be fair, the Beast does apologize the next night, although he doesn't say what for (and there is so implies he's only sorry for jumping on the table, not necessarily for, say, imprisoning her for life and cruelly telling her to forget her family because there's no chance she can ever escape). 

Then Beauty makes a deal with the Beast, she'll dance with him if he allows her to visit her family again. And all of a sudden she's resting her head on his chest (an homage to the Disney ballroom scene?) and it seems she has affection for him, based on...what?? It seems not only unwarranted but way too sudden. 

In the Disney, Belle shows no hint of affection for the Beast at all for a long time. The first turning point is when she tries to escape, and the Beast gets hurt protecting her from the wolves. This is the first time that he actually sacrifices something for her. She makes the decision to return and take care of him, fulfilling the promise she made to stay there in place of her father, but still no hint of romance-she thanks him for saving her life and that begins a montage indicating that a long span of time is spent getting to know each other, playing together (snowball fights), reading, and the Beast really trying to be better-relearning to eat with silverware, giving her the library, etc. Only after this, in the famous ballroom scene, does she lean her head on his chest and indicate the least bit of attraction to him.
The Gans sort of has a scene similar to the wolf scene, where Belle attempts to run away, only the Beast doesn't run after to protect her, but catches her. She falls down backwards on the ice, and after he attempts to kiss her, she falls into the ice. Then, after she's back safe and dry in the castle, he says she can go home, and all of a sudden she seems flirty and playful with him-as if he wasn't merely keeping the promise that she herself bargained for. It was hardly the act of selflessness that the Disney Beast shows when he lets her go, permanently, expecting to never see her again and therefore remain a Beast. 

Along with that, the Disney Beast's backstory, although it has holes, indicates that his selfishness, although inexcusable, stems from him being a young, spoiled Prince. This Beast's backstory, while interesting, is really more troubling than anything else. What was the purpose of revealing the backstory? Usually it's to make the Beast more sympathetic/human, but he just seems like he's always been a jerk. He had more interest in hunting than spending time with his wife, and broke his promise to stop hunting the Golden Deer. You might think he would have learned his lesson, and become more sensitive to his partner's needs, but the opposite happened. Plus, the fact that he's older and previously married, compared to Belle's situation-has only lived under her father's house, and to all appearances has never dated before, just makes their relationship seem more unbalanced and disturbing. Not that relationships like that can't work, but they require a lot of intentional communication as you work through what would be a lot of baggage. 
I kept expecting the relationship to continue and show the Beast growing and changing, like in the Disney, but Belle's return to her family is so abrupt (after only...2 days?) and somehow on her return, her one wish is to be with him again. It's so out of the blue. 

To be fair, the Beast has a few (minor) redeeming qualities. When he lets her go, even though he's just keeping his word, this shows growth because he broke his promise to his first wife. He sends Belle with the healing water, and later stops the giant statues from killing her and her brothers (which also means...that he and the stone statues were stomping on a bunch of people like bugs, for looting the castle. The thieves were jerks but that doesn't excuse murder. Or at least I'm assuming people died? It looked like it but was hard to tell and didn't seem like there were that many people to begin with). Still, that's hardly enough to warrant trust and a confession of love, which is what happens next. 
I don't agree with everything in this review from Indiewire (clearly I enjoyed the introduction), but this excerpt seems pretty accurate: "The love-crossed pair at the heart of the story share little screen time, and the precious few moments they do occupy even a frame together are marked by a decided lack of chemistry and mostly screamed threats from the Beast that often verge into territory that has the unnerving undertones of sexual assault. At the very least, the Beast is mostly intent on capturing Belle’s heart (or maybe just her body) by alternately threatening her with physical (and sexual) harm and greasing the wheels with some jewel-covered gifts and impressive gowns"

In fact the whole relationship was so baffling to me I was even wondering if somehow it was supposed to be exaggerating to make a point, sort of like how Cocteau meant for his ending to be disappointing, but it doesn't seem like this was the intent. Who else has seen this movie? What did you think?

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Prince(s) and the Pea

I've heard of tales related to Princess and the Pea in which other women were so delicate that even flower petals, moonbeams, and sounds gave them bruises, but this story from Csenge Virag Zalka's Tales of Superhuman Powers is the first story I've heard of that gives us a gender swapped version of delicate skin!

"Three Critical Men" from India tells of three brothers who are all trying to avoid fetching a turtle for their father to sacrifice, each using his sensitivities as an excuse, the eldest to food, the middle to women, the youngest to beds. Since they couldn't decide who was the most critical, their father gave them each a test. The eldest found the smell of a gourmet feast to be repulsive, smelling like corpses, and it was discovered the rice had been grown in fields that were close to a funeral burning place. The second son couldn't stand the smell of a beautiful woman that was sent to him, saying she reeked of goats, and it was found that the woman had been raised on goat's milk. And when the youngest had a bruise on his side from his bed piled with seven mattresses, a single strand of hair was found under the mattresses. In the end each brother was given gold and said to be equally critical, and the turtle was forgotten about.

There are other related tales to this around the world, Zalka shares. The sensitivity of the Princess in Andersen's famous tale could be seen, if not as a literal unfortunate condition, symbolically or satirically. In "The Three Critical Men", the sensitivities are really more like really refined tastes-each is a connoisseur in his respective field, and at the end they are referred to as "abilities" (although it seems like they would just make life more difficult for the brothers).

There is also The Tale of the Dragon, from Greece, in which a King tests a young man by putting ragged bed covers on his bed, to see if it will interrupt his sleep and reveal if he is truly rich or not. The man tosses and turns all night, satisfying the King-but not because of the covers, but because he was afraid of losing his pea with which he was to start his fortune. (Interesting way to connect a pea with loss of sleep...)

UPDATE: The Earl of Cattenborough is a Puss in Boots tale in which the young man is tested to see if he is really royalty by being given a "mean truckle bed." It's the cat who spots this potential red flag and tells the hero to refuse to sleep in it. (Thanks, Aster Haiku, for the link in the comments!)

Are there other gender reversed versions of "Princess and the Pea"?

Illustration by Kay Nielsen

Monday, June 5, 2017

Myths and Legends Podcast

Normally, I prefer to read old fashioned, physical books over any other form of reading-including from a Kindle or listening to audiobooks. But now that a good chunk of each day (and night) is spent nursing my baby, hands-free listening is the way to go to pass the time! I had shared the Myths and Legends Podcast earlier and I've been listening to more episodes. Some ones that I particularly enjoyed:

Episode 56-Nepali Folklore: Hope You Guess My Name-From the title I thought this might be a sort of Rumpelstiltskin tale, but it's a sort of Cinderella story, only with a completely different ending. There's no Prince Charming, and after the main character thinks she has escaped her horrible life, she ends up returning home and confronting her problems rather than marrying and magically erasing past issues! A great alternative to the traditional Cinderella tales to tell to modern audiences

Episodes 5A and 5B: Two fascinating stories about Koschei from Russian folklore. He's a fascinating villain I was eager to learn more about. The first tale has a gender reversed Bluebeard element to it, but with a very different result! Also an opening scene in which bird magicians fly in through a window and ask for brides, which made me wonder if David Bowie's entrace as the Goblin King in Labyrinth was a nod to this story?

In the second tale, Jason, the narrator, expands a little on Koschei's character and motivations. In fact, the way he tells it, I not only felt sorry for him, but realized Koschei has an uncomfortable resemblance to Disney's fact, he's less abusive than Disney's Beast...

Episode 32-Tricksters: Wager-I'm sadly ignorant of trickster tales; they tend not to be as common among people who rewrite or analyze fairy tales. The tales can have troubling moral implications but are highly entertaining if you don't take them too seriously. There are several shorter tales in this episode from around the world, including a version of a Tortoise and the Hare race, in which the Native American Coyote races a turtle; there is also a story about Anansi the Spider, and Loki and Thor.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

From the Archives-The Evolution of Rumpelstiltskin

Although the significance of names is a topic of interest in the tale Rumplestiltskin, Jack Zipes sees the main connecting point in versions of the story to be their connection to spinning. Not all versions even have the famous name guessing scene, but all reveal common attitudes towards spinning. A good spinner could gain a reputation that would result in a better marriage, so spinning was very important to many women; however, the tales also reveal that the spinners may long to end their monotonous task if possible. Many of the stories "were probably originally told by women in spinning rooms [and] reveal how the spinners would actually like not to spin anymore, but use their spinning to entangle a man and to weave the threads and narrative strands of their own lives."

Basile's story "The Seven Pieces of Bacon Rind" from 1634 feature a girl who is lazy and a glutton. Her mother gave her seven pieces of bacon to make into soup, but the hungry girl ate all the bacon, and put old shoe leather in the soup to cover up what she had done. Her mother was furious when she found out and was beating her when a merchant walked by and demanded to know what would cause a mother to beat her daughter. The mother claimed that her daughter was so industrious, she had filled seven spindles, despite the fact that it was harmful to her health. The merchant offered to take the daughter home as his wife, where he would be happy to allow her to spin so enthusiastically.

The merchant bought twenty rolls of flax for his wife, expecting twenty rolls of spun flax from his wife when he returned from the fair in twenty days. His wife did no work whatsoever, but ate the merchant's food. Finally she realized she had nothing to show for the time her husband had been gone, so she squirted water onto passersby until a group of fairies were so amused they did her work for her. When her husband returned, she feigned illness because of her hard work, and her husband declared he would rather have a healthy wife than a sick and industrious one and told her not to do anything to exhaust herself. 

In this version, though the main character is lazy, she can be at least credited with being clever. This may not have resonated with the Victorian values of hard work and industry, but modern audiences are probably more sympathetic towards someone who can figure out a more efficient way to get the job done by thinking outside of the box. Also, the husband is very kind compared to the future cruel King who threatens his new bride with death.

L'Heritier's "Ricdin-Ricdon" of 1705 is bogged down by descriptions of how beautiful and perfect the heroine, Rosanie, is, and how everyone else at the palace is jealous of her. Rosanie is not lazy and a glutton like her Italian predecessor, but simply a slow spinner with an abusive mother. Later it turns out there was a whole switched-at-birth thing and Rosanie is actually royalty although she was raised by simple folk, (actually kind of like Villeneuve's backstory for Beauty in her 1740 version of Beauty and the Beast). But here Rosanie is granted a magic wand that will spin for her, and if after three months she can remember the name which Ricdin-Ricdon told her, she would be free and out of his power. She forgets, and is all distressed until the prince reveals that he overheard a demon disguised as an old man telling him how he traps women who don't know that he is Ricdin-Ricdon. She safely returns the wand and has a "perfect union" with the prince and "extreme happiness." 

The Grimms have multiple versions of spinning tales in their collection. Most people are familiar with "Rumplestiltskin," which lays the blame on the father who claims his daughter can spin gold, and the King who demands gold or death from the maiden. 

"The Three Spinners" is closer to the earlier French and Italian stories-a mother tells the queen her lazy daughter can't stop spinning, and she is expected to turn out more spun yarn than she can possibly manage. Three odd women offer to do her work for her, as long as they are invited to her wedding (she will win the Prince for her work). As they arrive, the groom is horrified by the girl's "ghastly looking friends," and asks how they came to have such a flat foot, drooping lip, and immense thumb; the three women reply it was from treading, licking, and twisting thread. The Prince declares his bride shall never spin again. 

"The Lazy Spinner"  shows a wife trying to trick her husband into getting out of spinning, first by scaring him (becoming a voice in the woods who calls, "He who chops wood for reels shall die in strife. She who winds yarn shall be ruined all her life") and then by substituting the skein of wool with a clump of tow, and allowing her husband to think it was his fault because he had done something wrong, so he doesn't mention it again. 

I think "The Three Spinners" is my favorite, which is yours?

Illustrations by Charles Folkard, Warwick Goble, and John B. Gruelle. Information from Jack Zipes' The Great Fairy Tale Tradition

Monday, May 15, 2017

Tales of Superhuman Powers

I'm a big fan of the blog Multicolored Diary, run by storyteller Csenge Virag Zalka. When I heard about her book, Tales of Superhuman Powers, I was immediately intrigued and put it on my wishlist. For anyone who wants to learn more folktales, and also enjoys a good superpower story, this book is SO MUCH FUN.

Which is not to say that all the tales it contains are "feel good" stories- there's a good mix of happy endings with tragic tales and chilling warning tales. But the concept is so enjoyable-she has the tales organized by superpower, so you can choose to read about people with superhuman strength, speed, invisibility, elemental manipulation, etc. Before each tale, Csenge includes information on the ability, the source of the power, origin of the tale, teachings, age groups it's appropriate for, information on tale variants, and a list of popular heroes with that same power from Marvel, DC, etc. After each tale she provides comments, which I especially like. So often a tale will have really bizarre, or disturbing, elements and you're left wondering what to make of it. With her vast storytelling experience, I'm beginning to see that often, stories with puzzling or hard to read parts are the ones that lead to better discussions afterwards-something that has been lost as our own fairy tales have become printed in books or translated to the screen rather than told orally. Many tales were probably meant to prompt the listener to say "that's not fair!" or ask questions, not to be its own neat little morality guide as many printed fairy tales around the Victorian era were.

All the tales are interesting, but so far some of my favorites are the ones about the power to make drawings come to life-not a power you run into often! I highly recommend this book to anyone-it's great for those that know nothing about fairy tales beyond pop culture, because superpowers are a pretty universal interest, but it also contains really unique tales that are probably new to all but those who have thoroughly researched world folklore. Almost every single tale in the book was completely new to me (although some are familiar from being referenced on Multicolored Diary).

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Karl Simon BATB Concept Art

Weekend eye candy, found via Megan Kearney. Concept art for the 2017 Beauty and the Beast by Karl Simon (go to the linked site for larger, and more, pictures-).

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Around the Web

Fairy Tale Roundup Newsletter-have you signed up yet? Get monthly highlights from Enchanted Conversations, World Weaver Press, Timesless Tales, and Once Upon a Blog delivered right to your inbox!

Fairy Tale Footnotes-everyone's favorite fairy tale news hound, Ink Gypsy (of Once Upon a Blog), has started another blog with more of her personal reflections and day to day encounters with fairy tales! Lots of great posts are already up. I particularly enjoyed reading about C.S. Lewis and Tolkein's thoughts on Disney Dwarves, and seeing the matroyshka doll based off of Koschei's hidden heart!

At Multicolored Diary-I've been loving Csenge Zalka's series on folktales around the world-she brings her impressive knowledge to shed light on folktale collections from all around the world, lots of fascinating stories and patterns of stories! She also just finished her A to Z challenge, WTF, Weird Things in Folktales. Some really bizarre, and very amusing, tales to read about!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Sleep in Fairy Tales

With my son Pearson almost 2 months old now, I have never been more sleep deprived in my life. Sleeping during the day when the baby sleeps, the advice you're usually given, is not as easy as it sounds-especially when you've always had a mild case of insomnia. I always used to think the main character in "Princess and the Pea" was too unrelatable-who wants to be a Princess who's too pampered and sensitive? But when I started to think of the pea as being the thoughts that keep me up at night, or a brain that takes a long time to relax, I now think of it in a whole new light.

Viktor Mikhaylovich Vasnetsov

I also find it very ironic that "Sleeping Beauty" begins with the desire for a child and then involves a supernaturally long sleep. By now, the mere thought of getting a full 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep is a longed-for fantasy, so rather than seeming like a curse, the idea of a 100 year's nap sounds wonderful.  Maybe the sleeping princess isn't a way to condition little girls to be passive, but sometimes simply the parents telling a story expressing their own desire for sleep after that beloved baby finally arrives.

Yet, sleep functions very differently in other tales. In Animal Bridegroom stories, such as "East of the Sun and West of the Moon," the heroine disobeys the warning not to look at husband while asleep, and must go on a journey to find him. In many versions, she often then finds him engaged to another woman, where she finds a way to come to him at night but he is in a drugged sleep. Sleep is a source of temptation and an obstacle to be overcome in these instances.

Sleep can also be a dangerous, unguarded time, for heroes and villains. In "Hop o' My Thumb," the titular main character tricks the ogre into killing his sleeping daughters instead of himself and his brothers, and they use the rest of the night to escape. Many protagonists must escape a villain's house during the night, under the cover of darkness-so what is risky for one character is protection for another.

In the "Twelve Dancing Princesses," their lack of sleep part of an ambiguous curse; it's the Prince's avoiding sleep that allows him to find the truth. Same with Hansel and Gretel-they overhear what their parents intend to do to them overnight, and Hansel gathers the pebbles while their parents are sleeping. Later, it's while they sleep in the forest that their parents abandon them, sleep once again functioning as danger.

What other fairy tales are there that feature sleep/lack of sleep?

Illustration-William de Leftwich Dodge, 1899

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Basile's The Seven Doves

The "Wild Swans" tale type, mostly known now through the stories of Hans Christian Andersen and the Grimms, has an older literary precedent in Basile's "The Seven Doves" (1634-6).

Adam of Fairy Tale Fandom had done a post not too long ago on Basile's Tale of Tales and how they are much cruder than fairy tale versions we're usually familiar with, which is certainly true (for example, at one point in this tale a cat doesn't just put out a fire, it pisses on the fire to put it out). But I never really realized how Basile is often very funny, in his specific yet delightful imagery. Some of my favorite examples:

   -The tale opens: "Once upon a time...there was a good woman who gave birth to a son every year so that, when the number reached seven, the boys resembled the flute of Pan with seven holes each a little bigger than the next. As soon as the sons had grown and lost their first set of ears..." (Zipes notes that this implies that children lose sets of ears like they do teeth)

   -"Finally, one morning, when the sun was using his penknife to scratch out the mistakes that the night had made on heaven's papers..."

   -[the heroine] "felt like a plucked quail for the mistake she had made"

   -"...the sea was beating the rocks with the stick of the waves because they did not want to do the Latin homework that had been assigned them"

   -"she arrived at the foot of a killjoy mountain that poked its head through the clouds just to annoy them"

Basile seemed to have an imaginative, almost childlike way in which he viewed the world with humor and personification.

The tale itself begins with the seven brothers demanding that their mother, who is again pregnant (Heaven help her), give birth to a girl this time, or else they will leave. This element of the tale always perplexes me-in the Grimms' "Twelve Brothers," they changed their original plot in which the King threatens to kill his wife is she gives birth to a girl, to the King desiring a daughter and threatening to kill his sons if he doesn't get one. And here we see the brothers themselves determined not to have an eighth boy. I'm not sure what the intention of each author was in each of those strange and sad scenarios, but I'm beginning to wonder, given the extremity of each threat and how different each one is, if maybe this scene could represent the foolishness of putting pressure on a woman to give birth to any gender?

Anyway, the mother does give birth to a girl, but it's the midwife who was distracted and gave the boys the wrong signal, so they left. As the girl grew up, she demanded to go find news of her brother, and went on a journey. She finally found her brothers, who had taken up residence with an ogre who was friendly towards them, but hated women, since a woman had blinded him. So they put her in a room and instructed her to never show herself to the ogre.

Yet, one day, her fire was put out by her cat companion since she didn't share half of a nut that she ate with it (she usually gave it exactly half of all of her food), and she went to ask the ogre for fire. When she realized the ogre was going to harm her, she barricaded herself in her room, and when the brothers returned, they shoved the ogre into a pit, where he died. They scolded their sister for neglecting her instructions, and told her never to gather grass near the spot where the ogre was buried, or else they would be turned into doves.

But of day the sister, Cianna, came across an injured man, and used rosemary from that spot to make him a healing salve. The brothers-turned-doves came and berated her, going on and on about how foolish she had been and how there was no hope for them unless she found the Mother of Time.

So Cianna went on another journey, this time to find the Mother of Time. She came across many creatures who all pointed her in the right direction, if in turn she would ask a favor of the Mother of Time for them-a whale, a mouse, an army of ants, and an oak tree. Eventually she came across the same man she had helped with the rosemary from the ogre's resting place, who gave her final instructions and then decayed away as soon as he told her everything she needed to know.

This time Cianna followed the instructions perfectly, although the Mother of Time tried to deceive her. She received an answer for all of the friends who helped her along her journey as well as the solution for her brothers to regain their human form-they must "make their nest on the column of wealth," which they unintentionally did anyway when they landed on the horn of an ox, since the horn, Basile tells us, is a symbol of plenty.

From there they journeyed backwards. The oak told them to take the gold treasure that was buried underneath him in thanks, but theives took their gold and tied them all up. The other animals all helped rescue the siblings and get them their treasure and to safety.

Although on the surface, the tale seems to have a strong message about Cianna learning to follow instructions, the plot seems to contradict this a bit. And frankly, just reading the tale, there are so many sets of specific instructions she gets, it's almost tiring to read them. If she hadn't showed herself to the ogre the brothers wouldn't have become the lords of his castle (and she would never have been free). And the old man she helped heal with the rosemary was instrumental in freeing her brothers later, although that was helping to solve the problem she created by helping him-but clearly compassion was credited to her as a virtue and not a weakness, both in her desire to help him and then all of the other creatures who repaid them with help. In fact, the story ends: "Thanks to Cianna's goodness, they enjoyed a happy life proving the truth of the old proverb: Good things happen to those who forget the good they've done."

The text of this tale can be found in Jack Zipes' The Great Fairy Tale Tradition. There is an online text at Surlalune although some of the translation is different

Illustrations-Giambattista Basile (from wikipedia); "The Seven Doves," Warwick Goble

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Runaway Pancakes

Sarah Allison at Writing in Margins had referenced the Runaway Pancake family of tales a while back and I realized, other than the classic "you can't catch me, I'm the Gingerbread Man" line, I'm not familiar with these stories at all (although my brother and I did used to love saying the line from Shrek, "Not my buttons! Not my gumdrop buttons!"). I wasn't even sure how the classic tale even ended (a fox caught the Gingerbread boy and ate him). So I went over to the list of Runaway Pancake tales at D. L. Ashliman's site and had myself a virtual pancake brunch (no Saturday morning is complete in the Tales of Faerie Kingdom without pancakes and coffee!).

It seems the story tends to go like this: A pancake escapes its original maker, and as it makes its getaway, encounters lots of other animals who express their desire to eat it. Not surprisingly, the pancake doesn't grant their request and keeps on running. It isn't until an animal, usually a fox (but sometimes a pig), claims that he doesn't want to eat it, that he is able to trick the pancake into getting into its mouth. So it's a strange, depressing tale that seems to encourage deception, unless you look at it as cleverness, depending on if you have sympathy for a talking pancake. It's that strange tension again that exists in the fairy tale world, in which characters have to eat, but even food has the potential for being anthropomorphized and given its own desires. Yet especially in a world where food was more scarce, you might feel less sympathy for a pancake whose sole purpose is to be eaten, as opposed to animal tales (in which a character might be rewarded for compassion for an animal, and yet also eat meat, sometimes of the same animal!) And although most of the breakfast pastries that are consumed, at least on Ashliman's page, are pancakes or loaves of bread, it also makes sense that the American Gingerbread Boy would be seen as sentient, since he is at least modeled after a human.

Some notable exceptions: In the Scottish "Wee Bunnock," the bunnock (small loaf of bread) is caught not because it was tricked, but simply because it became dark and it fell in a fox's hole. And the compassionate "Thick Fat Pancake" from Germany allowed itself to be eaten because it came across three hungry children.

And some slightly less related tales: the English "Dathera Dad" is about a fairy child trapped in a pudding. The Russian "Devil in the Dough-Pan" is a warning about the consequences of failing to bless your food while making it, because otherwise a demon can inhabit it-and if you bless it after the demon is there, he'll be trapped! (Although the woman still lost her loaf, it was the demon who regretted entering the bread in the first place).

Illustrations by Robert Lumley anybody else hungry now?

Monday, April 3, 2017

From the Archives: Juniper Tree Variants

Juniper Tree Variants

The Juniper Tree seems to have a deep appeal to many fairy tale lovers, despite its darker elements. The traditional version is found in the brothers Grimm.

Kay Nielsen

The Rose Tree is an English variant, by Joseph Jacobs, in which the children are gender-reversed -which struck me as odd when the bird gives the brother a present of red shoes. Having the mother hate her daughter seems so predictable in fairy tales, but in Rose Tree some of the elements are especially reminiscent of Snow White.

In "Juniper Tree", the mother has no reason to hate her son other than the fact that he came from her husband's first wife. In "Rose Tree", the hatred comes from jealousy. As the wife combs out the hair of the daughter, she "hated her more for the beauty of her hair." She sends the girl to fetch a comb, then a billet of wood, then " 'I cannot part our hair with a comb, fetch me an, lay your head down on the billet whilst I part your hair.' Well! She laid down her golden head without fear; and whist! Down came the axe, and it was off. So the mother wiped the axe and laughed."

Later, the mother cooks the heart and liver of the girl, which is reminiscent of Snow White's stepmother's attempted cannibalism-only this evil mother is successful.

As monstrous as this mother is, the mother in the Scottish tale "Pippety Pew" has no reason at all to murder her son-who is her full blooded son, not a stepson-other than to hide the fact that she tasted the stew she made for dinner "till she had tasted it all away, and she didn't know what to do for her husband's dinner. So she called Johnnie, her son, to come and have his hair combed. When she was combing his head, she slew him, and put him into the pot."

Warwick Goble

Then as the father unknowingly eats his son, the scene is more disgusting than the other variants. The father comes across the different body parts, saying, "surely that's Johnnie's foot" and "That's surely my Johnnie's hand" and yet still eats, implying this father is either incredibly stupid to confuse a human foot with a hare's, the explanation given by his wife, or knowingly feasts on his son.

In the Grimms' version, the bird is transformed back into a boy at the end. In neither the Scottish nor English counterparts does the bird ever regain human form. But I personally like the idea that there can still be redemption and hope in ugly situations, despite the fact that things won't magically be the same again-it's almost more comforting in its realism. Which ending do you prefer?