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.