Saturday, May 5, 2012

Last Fairy Tales Blog!
Well, three months of Folk and Fairy Tales Around the World later, we’re down to our last blog! I’ve learned a lot this semester: we’ve looked at motifs, symbols, similarities, and differences between versions of well-known tales, such as “Cinderella” and “Hansel and Gretel”, and versions of ones I’d never heard of, such as “Bluebeard”. While I read all of the stories, I wish I had read some of the optional readings, such as the criticisms that individuals read for their presentations. I think I would have gotten a lot out of those, and maybe they would touch on ideas that we didn’t talk about in class. The guest speakers were an added bonus! Dr. Ochieng and Dr. Rust were definitely my favorites—they were so entertaining!

Reading the fairy tales was really enjoyable, and I’m glad that I can now say I’ve read some of the classics. I liked our class atmosphere—although we all got a little out of hand at times—and I’m going to miss your enthusiasm (and chocolate), Dr. Esa! Dankeschön für ein großes Semester!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

El laberinto del fauno

Ofelia in El laberinto del fauno
Dr. Deveny’s lecture on the film El laberinto del fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth) was different from any of our other lectures in that we did not discuss a fairy tale, per say. The movie is a combination of fantasy and history, and unlike fairy tales, it was not originally a written work. Nevertheless, we found many of Propp’s 31 Functions in the movie. For example, Ofelia wanders off from home (Function #1), she disobeys the Faun’s interdiction to not eat anything from the Pale Man’s table (#2 and 3), she acquires the magical help of the Faun and the fairies (#14), and she has a birthmark of a crescent moon (#17). These, and many more of the 31 folk tale functions, are in El laberinto del fauno.

This movie also differs in that, unlike most other fairy tales, its female protagonist is incredibly independent. Ofelia willingly leaves her mother’s side to follow the directions of the Faun, an unknown, scary creature, and never loses faith that he will lead her to her kingdom. Ofelia is also willingly disobedient, as she refuses to let the Faun have even a drop of her baby brother’s blood in order to open the labyrinth. It’s so nice to see a young, strong, female protagonist, in contrast to the passive ones we see in many fairy tales.

What I love about this movie is its historical context—1940’s Spain under Franco’s dictatorship. This historical aspect makes the movie more plausible, and gives the viewer a reason not to dismiss it as simply a fantasy film. This is definitely one of my new favorite movies and I’m glad I got the chance to watch it.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Fairy Tales from Bangladesh

Dr. Shabbir Mian visited our class this week to talk about folk and fairy tales from Bangladesh. Bangladesh is a small country, surrounded by India and the Bay of Bengal, with lots of rivers and other bodies of water. Because water is such a prominent feature, it tends to be incorporated into fairy tales there. Dr. Mian also explained that, as we’ve seen in many other cultures, most fairy tales—known as “Rupkotha” in Bengali—are passed on orally. Many however, are recorded in two important books: Jataka (fifth century B.C.E.) and the Panchatantra (550 C.E.). Unlike the Western fairy tales we’ve studied, Indian tales do not usually feature redemption. As Dr. Mian said, “If you’re bad, you’re dead.” There is no theme of forgiveness. Also, the wicked stepmother we see in Western tales is equivalent to the “co-wife” in Indian tales. In other stories, an ascetic often comes along and helps a person in need, or a ruler seeks the advice of a wise, talking animal.

For Dr. Mian’s lecture we read a story called “Blue Lotus and Red Lotus”. One thing that comes up in this fairy tale that might not in a Western tale is having a half-sibling. In the story, Lalkamal and Neelkamal are half-brothers, yet, as Dr. Mian pointed out, are still very close and love each other.  The story also directly states that one of the king’s wives is a demon; in Western fairy tales, the characterization of a mother as evil is never this strong or direct. The two birds that help Lalkamal and Neelkamal, however, are similar to the magical animals we’ve seen helping other protagonists, such as the birds in “Cinderella” and “Hansel and Gretel”. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Hans Christian Andersen

“The Little Mermaid”

This week we read two tales by Hans Christian Andersen: “The Little Mermaid” and “The Red Shoes”. Andersen’s stories are very unique in a few ways. First, his use of detail in “The Little Mermaid” is out of this world. He describes the setting in such detail that we haven’t seen before in fairy tales. He uses lots of colors, and the reader gets a very vivid picture of the under-the-sea life; for example, Andersen writes, “Outside the palace was a large garden with trees of deep blue and fiery red; the fruit all shone like gold, and the flowers like a blazing fire with stalks and leaves that were never still” (217). I love description, so for me all of these details helped me become more absorbed with the story. The Christian motif is also much more prominent in Andersen’s stories than in others we have read. In “The Little Mermaid”, her desire for an immortal soul—like humans have—motivates her desire to marry the Prince (although she fell in love with him even before she knew marrying him would give her this soul) (220). Sadly, the Little Mermaid does not marry the Prince and therefore doesn’t get an immortal soul. The story ends when the Little Mermaid dies and meets the “daughters of the air” and learns that by “three hundred years of good deeds” she can gain an immortal soul for herself (232). 

The motif of suffering in order to earn the forgiveness and salvation of God is also seen in Andersen’s “The Red Shoes”. In this story, a young girl named Karen wears her shiny red shoes to church and to a ball, against the will of her elderly caretaker. As punishment for her vanity and pride, an angel condemns Karen to perpetually dance; Karen repents for her sins and has the executioner cut off her feet so that she may free herself from the possessed shoes. When the church service comes to Karen, alone in her room, “Her heart was so full of sunshine and peace and joy that at last it broke, and her soul flew on the sunbeams to heaven, where there was no one to ask about the red shoes” (245). Andersen condemns his two female protagonists to suffer, physically and mentally, so that they may earn God’s mercy and go to heaven. The motif of repentance is much more explicit in Andersen’s stories than in other fairy tales.

An illustration of “The Red Shoes”, by John Patience.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Dr. Ochieng's Visit to Our Class

Apparently "Monkey and the Shark" is a variant of this tale,
"The Monkey and the Crocodile".

Dr. Ochieng was by far our most entertaining guest speaker yet! He definitely knows how to involve the audience—I could not stop smiling while we were singing the call-and-response song! Dr. Ochieng taught us that Africa has an oral culture, and that the people use stories to tell about a community’s origin, social foundation, and for affirmation. African folk tales tend to be witty, contain values and beliefs, and often have a moral. For example, Dr. Ochieng’s first story was about a monkey outsmarting a shark. Shark takes his friend, Monkey, for an unsuspecting ride on his back, when all of a sudden Shark reveals that he needs a monkey heart in order to cure his leader. Monkey, thinking quickly, lies to Shark and tells him that he must go back to shore to get his heart, for he hangs it on a tree during the day. Shark believes him and takes Monkey back to shore, where Monkey remains, safe and sound, while Shark swims off without a monkey heart. As in this story, Africans value wit and quick thinking—tools of survival that are often incorporated into folk tales. I especially liked how Dr. Ochieng told his stories in the dark; he said it helps to get rid of distractions and to concentrate on the voice. This is a great technique, and really helped me to visualize the stories better, since my eyes were not looking at other things and I had to focus on the sound. I loved listening (and participating!) in Dr. Ochieng’s lecture, and hope to hear one again sometime.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Cinderella: A Story of Transformation

Step #1: Cinderella is a maid

In almost all of the Cinderella-type fairy tales that we read, the Cinderella of each story transforms from a poor, lowly servant into a wealthy, beautiful princess, envied by her stepsisters and stepmother alike. This transformation is possible with the help of a fairy, animals, or some other magical helper who aids Cinderella in running away from her father’s incestuous desires, completing ruthless tasks demanded by her stepmother, or the like. In real life, our form of “magic” can be considered to be money. In these fairy tales, whatever the fairy helps Cinderella to do could easily be achieved by money in the real world. Paying for a taxi and a hotel could substitute the fairy magically bringing Cinderella’s trunk along with her as she runs away in Perrault’s “Donkeyskin”; the white doves pecking out the rotten lentils in the Grimm Brothers’ “Cinderella” could be replaced with a hired maid; the fairy that gives Cinderella advice on how to cunningly avoid marrying her father in Jacobs’ “Catskin” could be replaced by a therapist. In the ways that magic helps these Cinderellas of the tales, money can help people in real life. Of course, just because you have money and can pay for assistance, doesn’t necessarily make you happier or more fulfilled; it can still be a very superficial “fix”.

Step #2: Cinderella gets fairy godmother

In these tales, the end goal of the fairy’s help is Cinderella meeting the prince and getting married. In life, it is also possible to marry a rich spouse and have your financial needs met; however, if this is your sole reason for marrying him/her, a divorce is probably in your near future. Of course, none of the tales tell us what happens after the prince and Cinderella wed, except for the occasional consolatory sentence, “they lived happy ever afterwards” (“Catskin”). In reality, a marriage based on wealth isn’t likely to last long; however, in these stories, the weddings of the prince and Cinderella aren’t completely superficial—there is the element of their character. For example, in the Grimm Brothers’ “Cinderella”, the prince is willing to marry Cinderella even as he realizes that the woman he danced with is a maid. In Perrault’s “Donkeyskin”, Donkeyskin “watched him [the prince] with tenderness from a distance… ‘What a grand manner he has, even though he is dressed casually. How agreeable he is,’ she said to herself” (113). Many times there is mention of “love” and the inner character of the prince and Cinderella, which draws them to each other. Perhaps this is the part of their marriage that ensures that they live happily ever after. More so than in these fairy tales, however, marriage in real life needs love, commitment, and friendship to last.

Step #3: Cinderella is married and lives happily ever after

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Fairy Tales and ASL: Dr. Rust

Dr. Rust’s presentation was awesome! He’s very funny, animated, and easygoing; it makes me want to take a class with him. Before this lecture I knew almost nothing about deaf culture—the closest I’ve ever been to ASL was when I learned to fingerspell the alphabet in elementary school. It was completely enthralling to watch him and the people in the videos signing, especially when they were telling a story. Unlike written fairy tales, there is no textual history of fairy tales in ASL. What we do know about how ASL has changed throughout the years is due to video; this, and perhaps pictures and drawings, is the only way to document it. 

A common aspect of storytelling in ASL is the use of facial expressions. In the videos we watched, the storyteller’s face was very animated and showed the emotion corresponding to the action. For example, in a classic story about a little boy and his gum, every time the lady made the sign for picking up the gum, she would have a disgusted look on her face—as one would expect touching someone else’s gum. Signers can also change the speed at which they sign to indicate slow motion and excitement, among other things. Like in written fairy tales, the interpretation that the “author” or performer has in ASL affects the story. As Dr. Rust said, you have some poetic license when translating between ASL and English. Many things in ASL are expressed conceptually, versus word for word; therefore how someone signs a written story will be differ from person to person.

Dr. Rust also introduced us to several different types of storytelling in ASL. In ABC storytelling, you must tell a story making the sign of every letter of the alphabet. In finger spelling story telling, you use the hand form of individual letters to animate the actions of the story. For example, Dr. Rust acted out golfing by using the hand signs for the letters G O L and F to imitate four actions—setting up the tee, putting the ball on the tee, hitting the ball with the club, and the ball flying through the air. Now that was cool.

It’s amazing how much we individually picked up just by watching people sign stories, even though few of us knew ASL. It just goes to show the importance of body language for everyone, whether it’s ASL, or just daily life.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Sarah's Blog!

For each blog post I was really impressed by how well Sarah laid out her responses.  In the post comparing “Beauty and the Beast” and “Cupid and Psyche”, I really like how she explained the similarities and differences following the chronology of the story.

Sarah’s definitions of folk and fairy tales were great.  Sarah seems to have a knack for writing: she knows how to pull out the main points and pose them succinctly, never losing the reader’s interest.

Gorgeous hair...but what a creepy mother!
I also enjoyed learning about Sarah’s favorite storybook as a kid, “Rapunzel” by Paul O. Zelinsky. I feel like it’s helped me understand her obsession with the movie Tangled now! P.S. I looked up some of the pictures in that book—Rapunzel’s hair is gorgeous! 

Sarah made some great points about Rammstein’s music video “Sonne” that I never would have thought of.  She made the point that parts of the story of Snow White can be seen as sexual in nature, such as Snow White lying on the dwarves’ beds, or the dwarves washing her.  I was really impressed with her idea about the use of black and white versus color in Rammstein’s video.  That was a great new point.

Hmmm, what to suggest…I really like the way the posts are now, but if anything, maybe Sarah could elaborate a bit more, I’d like to know more of her ideas.  I definitely look forward to reading what Sarah writes in the future.  

Sunday, March 4, 2012

"Sonne" by Rammstein vs. "Snow White" by the Brothers Grimm

Scene in "Sonne" by Rammstein

Wow.  “Sonne” by Rammstein is quite a music video. It’s very…different. First, the music video focuses exclusively on Snow White’s relationship with the dwarves, whereas the written story has the plotline about the evil queen trying to kill Snow White.  In the music video, Snow White clearly displays her sexuality—she tempts the dwarves by revealing her skin, and appears to be sadistic while smacking the dwarves’ bottoms.  In stories, dwarves are usually considered to be asexual, so this was quite a change. The dwarves worship her, but she is hard to please.  When one dwarf hands her a piece of gold, she throws it back at him, unsatisfied.  This aspect of Snow White is not present in the literary versions: there is no clear display of her sexuality, and the dwarves are delighted to have her at their cottage, but certainly do not worship her, as she is their housemaid.  The motif of gold is, however, present in both the video and the story.  In both, the dwarves are confined to the monotonous task of mining each day, with their goal to find gold, something of great worth.  On a side note, I thought it was interesting that Snow White was snorting gold flecks at the dinner table. 

The motif of the apple is also present in both versions.  In the video, a dwarf is laboriously shining a treasure chest full of apples with a cloth, while another dwarf brushes Snow White’s hair, and two more hold up a mirror.  In the story, the Queen gives Snow White a poison apple, causing her death.  The way I interpreted her death in the video, however, was that she died from an overdose—presumably from an injection, as the dwarves come in and questioningly pick up an empty syringe.  Snow White seems like a very troubled person, and her drug use results in her death.  It is interesting though, that an apple is what saves Snow White in the video’s end.  The last apple falls off of a tree in the middle of winter and breaks open her glass coffin.  This contrasts what happens in the story, in which Snow White is saved only because the apple dislodges from her throat.  So the apple appears to be an evil object in the story, but one that saves in the music video.  
It’s hard to say whether the dwarves have any desire to worship Snow White, or whether she has completely imposed herself on them.  When Snow White arises out of her casket—and very angrily, at that—the dwarves appear to be disappointed, more than anything.  The video ends as it begins, with the dwarves back to the same old, same old, drilling away in the mines.

I appreciate Rammstein’s creativity, but ultimately it doesn’t compare to the story for me.  It is a very interesting take on an old tale, but it is too modern and twisted.  I prefer a more traditional form of the tale, like that by the Grimm brothers.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Comparison of Two Beauty and the Beast Stories

Cupid and Psyche by Jean-Baptiste Regnault
In both the Greek tale “Cupid and Psyche” and de Beaumont’s “Beauty and the Beast”, the female protagonists, Psyche and Beauty, incur the wrath of another by no fault of their own. The goddess Venus is jealous of the mortal Psyche’s beauty, and so, essentially dooms her to marry a beast. In the other version, Beauty is condemned to live in the beast’s castle forever because her father “stole” one of his roses. In these two versions the woman’s fate is determined by others, not by herself. In both versions Psyche’s and Beauty’s sisters also cause conflict in their relationships with the beasts. Psyche’s sisters convince her to sneak a peak at her husband by candlelight and determine if he is in fact a beast, although he has instructed his wife never to do so. As punishment, Psyche is banished from the heavenly palace and forced to prove her worth to Venus by completing nearly impossible tasks. In de Beaumont’s version, Beauty’s sisters convince her to visit for longer than her allotted week, despite her promise to Beast that she would return in a week. This leads to Beast nearly dying from self-starvation, brought on by his broken heart. The sisters’ actions lead to negative consequences for Psyche and Beauty in both of these stories.   

Although “Cupid and Psyche” deals explicitly with the divine while “Beauty and the Beast” does not, both versions incorporate the idea of a higher power. In the former, the goddess Venus and her son Cupid determine Psyche’s fate, and Psyche spends a good part of the tale trying to please Venus and win her forgiveness. Ultimately, she is transformed into a goddess. In the latter, it is a fairy who breaks Beast’s curse and rewards Beauty with a handsome and intelligent prince.  In this way, both stories convey the idea that a supernatural power controls one’s fate. 

Along the lines of transformation, in “Beauty and the Beast” it is the beast who is transformed, while in “Cupid and Psyche” it is the beauty, Psyche, who is transformed. This brings up another point: by transforming into a prince, Beast is now the equivalent of Beauty—he is beautiful on the outside, and intelligent on the inside. Psyche also gains equal footing to her husband Cupid, a god, by drinking a potion and transforming into a goddess. I found this fascinating that in the end, both spouses transform into a type of equal to the other. 

Beast's transformation

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Little Red Riding Hood

Scott Hilburn,

This cartoon uses the story of Little Red Riding Hood as a framework to poke fun at the issue of whether overweight passengers should have to buy two seats on an airplane.  The airline­, Red Riding Air, is forcing the wolf to purchase two seats (someone has eaten one too many little girls), and in turn the wolf is considering changing his diet.  Beyond this ticket desk, you can also see a sign for “3 Pigs in an Airplane”, which also references the idea of children’s stories.  I read up a bit on the issue, and found that currently most airlines’ policy is that a passenger must fit into the seat with the armrests down and with their seat belt fastened.  Some companies try to accommodate overweight passengers by placing them next to an empty seat when possible, but if not, they must buy another seat.

This cartoon mostly drew my attention because it made me laugh, unlike some of the other ones I looked at.  The artist, Scott Hilburn, takes a comic approach to the matter, and makes it the wolf’s (or overweight passengers’) priority to change his diet.   

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Psychology and Fairy Tales
Psychology can be useful in finding a deeper meaning in fairy tales.  The ideas of two prominent psychologists, Freud and Jung, can be applied to fairy tales.  From the perspective of Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis, the conflicts the characters struggle with in fairy tales are seen as conflicts between the id, or the pleasure principle, the ego, or reality, and the superego, or morality.  For example, in Hansel and Gretel, the children’s id drives them to eat greedily away at the witch’s house, while they ignore their superego, which tells them that it is the wrong thing to do.  On the other hand, Jung had different ideas, including that of the collective unconscious—shared memories that all humans have.  Along with this is the idea of archetypes, or universal models of types of characters.  For example, as Dr. Mazeroff mentioned, in Hansel and Gretel there is the archetype of the primeval forest: mystery and evil abounds, and death threatens Hansel and Gretel unless they succumb to temptation and eat the witch’s house in the forest.  Each psychological theory provides a new insight into a fairy tale.

Dr. Mazeroff also mentioned the idea of using fairy tales in psychotherapy.  When a patient reads a fairy tale that applies to what they are struggling with, it can be easier for them to accept, recognize, and deal with their problems.  This is not the case all of the time, but it can be useful to help the patient confront their problems through the more subtle form of a story, rather than directly.

For me, much of this interpreting raises the question—Did the authors write these fairy tales with symbolism and hidden meaning in mind, or are we just reading into something that isn’t there?  One could say that the most important part of the story is the reader interpreting it for herself.  As we get older, it’s likely we see the story less for its face value and more for what individual parts of it may mean.  It’s interesting to see how far you can go with interpretations, but I’d maintain that it’s still nice to read a fairy tale for what it is once in awhile.
Just a little bit of humor

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Definition of a Fairy Tale

A fairy tale is a written story with a universal theme.  It is simpler than other stories, allowing the reader more room for interpretation.  In every fairy tale there is a conflict that a character must overcome.  Some of the characters may represent an archetype such as the villain, hero, helper, or princess, among others (Vladimir Propp).  Fairy tales also contain the element of magic, whether it is a talking wolf or a fairy godmother, there is some supernatural aspect to them.  No one is quite sure where fairy tales come from, but there are two prevailing theories: monogenesis and polygenesis.  The first says that a fairy tale came from one, specific place and spread from there; the second says that any given fairy tale came from multiple places in the world at the same time.  Whatever the origin, we know that there are many versions of each fairy tale, adapted by different authors to fit the times and motives of the present.  

Friendship Cottage by Thomas Kinkade

Sunday, January 29, 2012


I’m sure I’ve read a couple of fairy tales as a kid, but for the most part my notion of what a fairy tale is comes from the movies I grew up with: Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast.  I chose Folk and Fairy Tales Around the World because I want to read the written works that the stories I know come from.  There are also tons of fairy tales I’ve never heard of, and I want to get the chance to read them and see how versions differ from each other.
It’s a close call between Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, but I’d say Cinderella is my all time favorite.  Other than for her gorgeous dress, I love Cinderella for her story of starting out as a humble maid, and like in other fairy tales, living happily ever after.  What especially draws me to Cinderella are the little mice she spends her time with: Gus-Gus and Jacques. They’re full of comic relief, help her out of bad situations, and are overall just adorable.  I also love having an excuse to wear a fancy dress—I was Cinderella for Halloween 10 years ago, and as a college student—it never gets old.