Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Article: 10 Creepy Details Glossed Over by Modern Versions of Fairy Tales

The Girl Without Hands  by *SJ-Ash

This article by Cyriaque Lamar (awesome name BTW) in Io9, 10 Creepy Details Glossed Over by Modern  Versions of Fairy Tales, was delicious! Usually when people talk about "dark fairy tales" they talk about the usual bits: pushing the Witch into the oven in Hansel and Gretel, the fact that Little Red dies. These are ones not often discussed, but make you go "oooh yeah, that is pretty creepy!"

10. Rumpelstiltskin commits suicide like a deranged gymnast
It's common knowledge that after the miller's daughter-turned-queen guesses Rumpelstiltskin's true name, he's tremendously unhappy and disappears thanks to some unspoken magical restraining order. But in Margaret Hunt's 1884 translation of the Brothers Grimm, the impish gold-spinner leaves this plane of existence in a truly conversation-stopping manner:
"'The devil has told you that! the devil has told you that!' cried the little man, and in his anger he plunged his right foot so deep into the earth that his whole leg went in; and then in rage he pulled at his left leg so hard with both hands that he tore himself in two."
 The story then abruptly cuts off at this point, leaving the reader wondering how the Queen cleaned a bisected dwarf out of her royal carpet.
 This one always bothered me (enough that I wrote a fanfic about how the sister of the bitchy princess gets the frog prince in the end):

8. The Frog King has the magic beat out of him
True love's kiss doesn't always break amphibious curses. No, some earlier versions of The Frog King saw the princess chuck the needy croaker against the wall as hard as possible. Other iterations had the slippery sovereign transform after being burnt or decapitated, because nothing dispels dark magic quite like cruelty to animals.
And lots of people talk about how the Little Mermaid dies, but no one really touches on how sucky her life was before then:
 3. The Little Mermaid is in constant pain, contemplates murder, dies
Hans Christian Andersen's 1837 original tale of The Little Mermaid was completely devoid of calypso-singing crustaceans and a conventionally happy ending.
Instead the protagonist mermaid trades her tongue (it's chopped off) and fins for human legs that feel like they're constantly being stabbed with knives.
After the prince marries another woman, the mermaid considers stabbing him to death so that his blood will magically transform her back into an icthyosapien.
I shouldn't get so much glee from this, but I do. To see the rest, click here!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Movie: "Why We So Desperately Want Snow White and the Huntsman to be Good"

Oh fairy tale movies and tv shows.... to be honest, so far, none of you have really been good. None of you have lived up my to the expectations. Granted, we have a bazillion more coming our way in the next few years, but I am already feeling a bit jaded. I have (gasp) Fairy Tale Fatigue.

In a smart and spot-on rant in Io9 called "Why We so Desperately Want Snow White and the Huntsman to be Good," Meredith Woerner examines a thought that is on every fairy tale lover's mind: please dear God, let Snow White and the Huntsman be as awesome as it looks, and not a huge pile of poo. Let it be the chosen one to save us from bad fairy tale adaptations. She gives us several reasons why it could be good:
"Evil Queen Appeal: Charlize Theron's character doesn't just suck the life out of people — she stares her victims in the eye while slowly draining them of their youth. She doesn't just take a stylistically cool white paint bath. She takes the milk bath with her motherfucking crown on. She keeps the crown on.
This is the asshole we want thrusting a sword into the gullet of a Disney princess. This is the evil Maleficent type beast we only saw with pointy hats and green faces. Now she's real, and damn beautiful. We're rooting for this horrific creature. Bring on the pain, bring on the youth sucking and screaming (oh the joyous screaming!). She's a militant female leader without being a "bitch". She doesn't want to toy with Snow White and torture her — she just wants to eat her heart. Hoorah.
New Twist: The look, the feel, the black magic ooze that the queen literally splatters all over her prey — it's all very different from the fantasy we're being currently fed, with the exception of Game of Thrones. In our interview with Huntsman director Rupert Sanders, he revealed he was inspired by "Pre-Raphaelite paintings, Victorian fairy painters who had been locked up in mental institutions," and it shows.
No Cheese: Grimm, Once Upon a Time and Disney have ushered in this strange mandatory cheese policy with the latest batch of fantasy. Storylines don't need to be dumbed down for children just because someone puts a giant stag into it. Screw the kids, don't they have enough?"

Amen to all of that. Give me darkness and blood and hold the cheese. Not in real life, though, cheese is delicious. She also mentions our beloved dwarves, Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones...and she doesn't mention Nick Frost for some reason, but BAM Nick Frost is in it and he is awesome.

She then examines how it might actually be awful.
"All that Awesome Queen Stuff Is Already in the Trailer: Our biggest fear is that all the best evil queen moments have already been presented in the trailers. After all, this movie is titled Snow White and the Huntsman, two characters we've seen maybe 10 seconds of in released clips and various trailers. Did the studio hype up the Evil Queen character's online screen time after the positive response Theron's screams received? Totally possible. But then again, we won't know until we see the film."
This is a legit fear. We keep seeing the same evil queen clips: queen sucking life out of girl, the "Mirror Mirror" oozing reflective man bit, the turning into birds, the white paint bath. Granted, we have not yet seen the iconic "have an apple" moment. Don't forget, in the fabulous Io9 article How To Tell from a Trailer that the Movie is Going to Suck, one of the tell-tale signs is "You've seen five trailers for the same movie, and you've noticed there are only three cool bits, repeated over and over." Luckily, it doesn't seem to fall for any of the other classic blunders listed. 
The other fear in everyone's minds? Kristin Stewart:
"While io9 remains pretty pro K-Stew (Twilight haters to the left, please) the actress has her limitations. Can she play an awkward, lip biting teenager, yes (and very well). A Middle Earth type sword-swinging revolutionary, we're not so sure. Add that to the fact that Stewart is tackling an English accent in this film (which we've yet to really hear thus far) and well, it makes us nervous. The movie has her character's name in the title, and we've seen so little from her in just about anything marketing related. Feels like someone is trying to hide something."
Confession: I have never seen Kristin Stewart act in anything. Never saw Twilight, never saw Adventureland, or The Runaways. I'm basing my opinion on trailers and other people's opinions. However, I do not find it encouraging that I have never seen her facial expression change.

One fear that was not mentioned that definitely concerns me is the really dark evil grungy tone of the world counter balanced with the "Bright Forest" which seems to be populated with pink fairies, flower covered turtles, and possibly the Forest Spirit from Princess Mononoke.

Will they make it work, or will it have the tonal dissonance of Once Upon a Time? Fingers-crossed everyone!

In the mean time, all we can do is watch the two trailers again and hope that it is really as good as it seems:

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Movies: Imelda Staunton and Miranda Richardson in Maleficent

Movie news! Two of my favorite actresses, Imelda Staunton and Miranda Richardson will be in the new Disney movie Maleficent. According to Io9:
"Staunton and Another Year's Lesley Manville are playing Knotgrass and Flittle, respectively, two of the three pixies who end up taking care of Aurora. (They were fairies in the original tales.) Richardson will play Queen Ulla, a fairy queen who is Maleficent's aunt — and dislikes her niece. Hot Fuzz's Kenneth Cranham will play the human king who plots to conquer the fairy kingdom. Brighton Rock's Sam Riley takes the role of Diaval, a raven who changes into human form and is Maleficent's right hand." (Full article)
 Imelda Staunton is an amazing actress, and a perfect good fairy, though many might have a hard time accepting the "good" part if they have only seen her as Professor Umbridge. Some of my favorite Imelda Staunton moments:

Polly in Shakespeare ReTold's A Midsummer Night's Dream:

Sense and Sensibility

Nanny McPhee

Miranda Richardson is one of those actresses who is in everything, though most people will know her as Rita Skeeter from Harry Potter. She does evil queen very well. Here are some of my favorite roles for her:

Queenie from Blackadder

Queen Mab from Merlin:

Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland (1999)

Article: Maurice Sendek and the Frightening Children's Story

Oh my goodness, I am so behind. Thanks for sticking with the blog, even when I am MIA!

As many of you know, Maurice Sendek, beloved children's author responsible for such wonderful books as Where the Wild Things Are, Outside Over There, and In the Night Kitchen, died recently. Everyone has been doing touching retrospectives of the man, and one theme that jumped out at me was something we have addressed about scary fairy tales: children are capable of more than we give them credit for. Children need to be told the truth. Children need to address scary concepts, because childhood is frightening. It is a time of scary changes, where everything is new and uncertain. They know bad things are happening, but no one will explain it to them. Sendek didn't pull punches in his books, and addressed issues that sometimes made parents squeamish.

Amanda Katz, in in the NPR article Who's Afraid of Sendek's Stories? Adults, Mostly, discusses her personal experience with Outside Over There, and how it's dark material gave narrative form to concepts she already experienced:
"In 1981, when Outside Over There was published, I was an older sister to a round-cheeked 1-year-old boy who looked not unlike Ida's baby sister: big eyes, silky blond hair. Little wonder that I was fascinated by these stories of girls working out their loyalty to siblings in a bewildering world. The duty to watch a baby, perhaps too much for a child who would rather play her horn, or read; the sense of dark forces brooding at the edge of the picture, like the incomprehensible adult tensions and constraints that float over the head of every child (those goblins are present from the very first page); the terrifying feeling of making a mistake, but also the hope that even a grievous error was one you yourself could remedy; even Sendak's surreal illustrations of goblins melting into water or Ida twisting in the sky: All of this made intuitive sense to me. It was a vision of the world that was not only comforting, by the end of the book, but somehow illustrative — of how to be responsible, of how to be brave, of how to live surrounded by the incomprehensible.
When I look at this book now, I feel that same haunting familiarity — and I also see why adults who did not grow up with it might suppose it a bizarre and even slightly creepy choice for children. A child abducted when you fail to watch, an impostor baby that melts in your arms, an absent father and a seemingly depressed mother, goblins, infant brides, children tumbling out of the house into midnight thunderstorms: Is this what you'd buy for your kid? ... Is this really what children want? For me, the answer was yes....
Sendak himself — who told Stephen Colbert in an interview this January that he did not write for children but simply wrote — somehow escaped our sentimental notions about the need to protect kids from the loss and peculiarity of life. In his books, children learn about things that are orderly — alligators all around and doing dishes, or the niceness of sipping chicken soup in January when slipping on the sliding ice. But he also shows them disorderly worlds beyond their own, ones full of goblins and wild things, that they can visit and still go home. Meanwhile, he reminds adults — even those of us who were once those young and fascinated readers, but who are grown now — to trust our children, who may in the end be less fearful of climbing outside than we are to watch them do it." (my emphasis)
Maria Konnikova, in the Scientific American article The Power of “Once upon a Time”: A Story to Tame The Wild Things, analysed the idea of the "once upon a time" in fairy tales as a way of distancing the reader from the story, so they can look at difficult situations safely. She then uses Sendek's books as examples of how stories let us live out our fears and anxieties safely so that we can be more prepared for them in the real world:
"[I]n a broader sense, I would argue that modern psychology has borne Sendak’s view of openness out repeatedly, in the development of cognitive behavioral therapies and the recognition that fantasy, play, the realm of the imaginary are just the right place to deal with “basic anxiety.” That in writing things down, talking them through, constructing distancing scenarios, we become better able to handle our fears and our anxieties, to deal with the problems of our everyday existence. For, Sendak didn’t just offer the darkness. He showed how Max and all his other creations could see past it and overcome the anxieties that were unavoidable in life. “His narrative is almost always about a child in danger whose best defense is imagination,” notes Cynthia Zarin notes in her 2006 New Yorker profile."
Michael Dirda agrees, in his Washington Post article Maurice Sendak’s imagination took him into the wild, and beyond. He discusses how frightening stories let children navigate dangerous situations safely, and learn from them.
"There’s darkness and violence and complexity throughout Sendak, just as there is throughout the fairy tales of Grimm and Andersen, just as there is in life. Sendak’s work allows children to come to terms with their fears and nightmares. The Wild Things can be tamed, turned into big teddy bears, no longer frightening monsters of the id.
It’s hardly an accident, then, that Sendak’s major works so often take the form of quests. The story opens in the “real” world, but the heroes or heroines soon journey into a strange fantasy realm populated by bizarre creatures; there they perform a daring act of courage and eventually return to where they began. Such tales clearly image aspects of “growing up.” But they are always initially unsettling."
Land Filler leads off her article in NewsdayMaurice Sendak stared down kids' fears, with one of my favorite G.K. Chesterton quotes:
"'Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist,' Chesterton wrote. 'They already know that. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed.'
Fear is integral to our childhoods. Everyone else is bigger, and much of each day is new. We fall, and bleed. There are ferocious dogs, and strange noises in the dark, and nightmares, and the contempt of other kids, and the screaming of angry adults.
And there is the news, on television and around the kitchen table, that a whole bunch of people in office buildings in New York City died, that a family was shot by its daddy, that there's a war on. Children know they aren't entirely safe.
That's why it's better to give a child a book full of fears to be faced than one that pretends there's nothing to be afraid of."
Johnathan Cott, in his fantastic Rolling Stone article Maurice Sendek, King of All the Wild Things, examines fairy tales and Sendek's work, and quotes Sendek's acceptance speech for the 1964 Caldecott Medal for Where The Wild Things Are:
 "[There are] games children must conjure up to combat an awful fact of childhood: the fact of their vulnerability to fear, anger, hate, frustration – all the emotions that are an ordinary part of their lives and that they can perceive only as ungovernable and dangerous forces. To master these forces, children turn to fantasy: that imagined world where disturbing emotional situations are solved to their satisfaction. Through fantasy, Max, the hero of my book, discharges his anger against his mother, and returns to the real world sleepy, hungry and at peace with himself.
Certainly we want to protect our children from new and painful experiences that are beyond their emotional comprehension and that intensify anxiety; and to a point we can prevent premature exposure to such experiences.
That is obvious. But what is just as obvious – and what is too often overlooked – is the fact that from their earliest years children live on familiar terms with disrupting emotions, that fear and anxiety are an intrinsic part of their everyday lives, that they continually cope with frustration as best they can. And it is through fantasy that children achieve catharsis. It is the best means they have for taming Wild Things.
It is my involvement with this inescapable fact of childhood – the awful vulnerability of children and their struggle to make themselves King of All Wild Things – that gives my work whatever truth and passion it may have."
Joe Fassler, in his article for The Atlantic, Maurice Sendak Scared Children Because He Loved Them, discussed modern parenting in light of this discussion:
"Sendak railed against what he perceived to be an insidiously overprotective parent culture. The evidence does suggest we adults sometimes take our good-natured desire to protect children from unpleasantness to perverse depths. I see it in the phenomenon of 'helicopter parenting,' for instance—the misguided attempt to thwart all potential pitfalls through hovering omnipresence. We seek to foil internal darkness, too, by plying young people with antidepressants and anxiety medication. And we're highly sensitive about showing children any sort of 'challenging' material, even in cases when censorship verges on absurd. The new documentary Bully, which depicts the brutal realities of life in the hallway and playground, was initially deemed "too violent" for children, the very audience it portrays, and attempts to reach."
He also frames the conversation in fairy tale terms:
"Psychologists, child specialists, and literary critics alike argue that stories allow children to tame threatening feelings that might otherwise overwhelm them. In The Uses of Enchantment, child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim suggests that fairy tales help children externalize, and ultimately diffuse, their deepest anxieties. 'The child must somehow distance himself from the content of his unconsciousness and see it as something external to him [if he is] to gain any sort of mastery over it,' Bettelheim writes. This is why so many fairy tales take place in the deep and mysterious woods--it is the realm of the subconscious, where the wandering child-mind can encounter its fears and wants in reified form, then neutralize them.
Bettelheim offers the folktale classic 'Little Red Riding Hood' as one example. 'The kindly grandmother undergoes a sudden replacement by the rapacious wolf which threatens to destroy the child.' It's a terrifying transformation—unrealistic and, some might say, unnecessarily scary. 'But when viewed in terms of a child's way of experiencing,' Betteheim asks, 'is it really any more scary than the sudden transformation of his own kindly grandma into a figure who...humiliates him for a pants-wetting incident?' In other words, the wolf and grandmother are two sides of the same person, the physical embodient of a parent's bewildering duality. The fable helps the child reckon with the sudden, confounding changes that scare her."

I leave you with this conversation between Maurice Sendek and Stephen Colbert:

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Guest Post for The Book Rat for Fairy Tale Fortnight!

Hello everyone! Yes, yes, I am a bad, non-updating blogger. End of semester, end of work year blah blah blah.

However, here is something to tide you over!

The Book Rat has created this wonderful blogevent called Fairy Tale Fortnight, where guest bloggers from all over the bloggoverse write posts about fairy tales. I was one of the lucky chosen! Granted, my post was eaten, and so they have only just been able to tag it on to the end, but even though the fortnight is over, you should check out some of the great posts to get your fairy tale fix while I am scrambling to get my life in order.

My post is about the particular bee in my bonnet that you are all familiar with: relentless repetition in fairy tale movie and tv show adaptations. In my post, I suggest several alternate fairy tales for producers to consider.
Check out my post here.