Thursday, May 9, 2013

Final Class Review

Throughout my life I did not read many classic fairy tales.  I've read oodles of adaptations, watched films, and maybe read one or two fairy tales repeatedly, but I was not well read in a variety of them, specifically non-Western.

With this background, reading such a large amount of fairy tales at once was troubling.  I wasn't used to the vague non-descriptive format and had trouble pushing through the material.  I liked the stories overall, and after gaining some help from class discussions, I was able to re-read the stories and have a better understanding of them and enjoy them more.

My favorites were probably the tales from Kenya.  Dr. Ochieng had a wonderful storytelling voice, not to mention the stories themselves were interesting, captivating and easy to understand.  They were also very new to me, which made them more exciting and new, like I was discovering the unfamiliar (even though the stories employed the same techniques, morals, and plot devices).

The Hollow Kingdom was one of my favorite books as a child.  I must've read it over 4 times.  I consider it as an adaptation of Cinderella.

I feel like I spent more time analyzing other stories and films that I read for other classes (or pleasure) than this class's required fairy tales.  I liked the tales and was excited to apply what I learned to other materials.  I wish I had spent more time reviewing our fairy tales multiple times, but I feel confident in my knowledge of them from our discussions over the semester.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Nature, Women, and Religion in Native American Folk Tales

In contrast to tales like Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, and some Cinderella stories, Native American folktales seem to have a far less “fearsome” theme to the concept of traveling into nature.  While both regions’ tales use going into the wilderness and surviving as a rite of passage and growth, there is more willingness among the Native American tales to do so.  For instance, in the “Deer Hunter and White Corn Maiden” and “The Orphan Boy and the Elk Dog” tales, the titled characters fearlessly embark on their journey out of their village.  Nature and the unknown is also used to some characters’ advantage, like “The Flying Head” tale, where the villagers hide outside of the village because they know that something far more terrifying will be inside the village.  Also in “How Mosquitos Came to be”, the hero willingly sacrifices himself to the giant by lying outside of the village.

Native American Patterned Blanket
Comparable to "The End of the World" tale of the White River Sioux

Something else notable between European and American Indian tales is the approach to women in their societies.  While in European tales, women occupy either the devil-woman role (such as the evil step-mother in a handful of tales) or the innocent virgin (usually the heroine, like Snow White or Cinderella), the Native American tales have more of a sense of equality between the two represented genders.  While tales like “The Orphan Boy and the Elk Dog” have a strong sense of patriarchy, (“if you don’t do it, I’ll take a stick to you!”), the tale of “How Men and Women Got Together” discuss the importance of both genders working together to make a harmonious way of life.  “The End of the World Tale” also places the power of maintaining Earth and life itself in the hands of a woman finishing a blanket.  This reinforces the archetype of “Mother Earth” in several cultures, not just Native American, but also contrasts with the typical Christian-European beliefs in Revelations and the return of the male Christ.

wc: 325

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Crocodiles, Westboro, and the Doctor

African-American folktales are probably the most relevant tales to modern society that I have read yet.  They capture the familiar (but unfortunate) Zeitgeist of oppression in America that applies beyond race, especially in the twenty-first century.  Specifically, the story of “How Mr. Crocodile Got His Rough Back” has a general and powerful message about taking control of your life, and not allowing yourself to feel oppressed just because someone thinks they are superior.  Although the tale may originate from Africa and was intended for the “children of the sun”, it nurtures the collective unconscious idea of inferiority for children – regardless of background.

Modern oppression goes beyond race.  There is always an oppressor - anyone can feel unworthy.

Furthermore, the African roots of folk and fairy tales with the all-knowing griots are a new concept in my knowledge of fairy tales.  The most recent episode of Doctor Who (“The Rings of Akhaten”) actually introduced character acting in a similar role – the “Queen of Ages” – passed down to her by her family.  She knew the history of her planet, every song, every story, and had to recite them for her community to ensure proper balance in her world.

Mary [center], the "Queen of Ages", in Doctor Who s.7 e.7 "The Rings of Akhaten"

Since most languages in Africa were not handwritten or recorded, many stories and tales rely on the oral tradition and have maintained their simple quality for easy memorization and recitation.  While European and some Eastern cultures were capturing a solid rendition of a tale on paper to never change again, African stories continued to evolve (and still do) until reaching America, where they are altered for the audience and recorded, frozen in time.

wc: 254

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Blue Beard - The Best One Yet

Before this week, Bluebeard was a fairy tale that I had never heard of.  I was under the impression he was a crazy pirate - some estranged relative of Blackbeard or the Flying Dutchman.  After the first words of Tatar's introduction, however, I was in love with the concept.

(Some version of what I thought Blue Beard was)

Out of the tales we read, Mr. Fox resonated most with me.  The heroine was intelligent, clever, proactive, "a brave one, she was," and saved herself.  It also seemed the most realistic of the tales, one that I could easily relate to.  It applies not only to potential romantic relationships, but any new person that you could meet.  It is the classic "skeleton in the closet" idea - you may think you know someone until you accidentally stumble upon the most unattractive hidden part of them.

Perrault's version of the tale was certainly my least favorite.  I have a problem with Perrault in general, providing not only a forced interpretation of his tales, but a sexist one at that.  It may be part of the Zeitgest, and his aristocratic stance, but it certainly doesn't flatter his writing.  The moral he includes at the end was the worst of it for me, with his generalized assumptions that "no longer are husbands so terrible," and that "with their wives they toe the line … it's not hard to tell which of the pair is master."  Marriage should not be thought of as a hierarchy with a master and a subordinate, but rather a union where the two work together as equals to help each other out - this is my own personal definition of marriage anyway.

I really like the creepiness of the tale, setting it apart from the blunt violence in the others we have read.  For instance, in Hansel and Gretel, the heroes' death by fire is avoided, with Snow White, she awakens from her poison, from Beauty and the Beast, the Beast transforms from his spell.  The corpses in the bloody chamber, however, are assuredly dead, and have no chance of reanimation (with the exception of the Grimm tale).  These corpses represent untold tales where the heroines don't make it out alive, and they have no "happy ending".  The idea that there is no hope, no turning back, no happiness for these ladies gives a sense of sadness to the reader - a moment more.  Tatar mentions in her introduction about the horrid nature of the scene, how some are "unable to erase the graphic impressions," haunting readers with a negative image far harsher than any other tale we have read.

wc: 490

Sunday, March 10, 2013

"Sonne" and Snow White

The two versions of the Snow White story, but more dominantly the Grimms’ version, parallel quite a lot with the Rammstein “Sonne” video.  We see the obvious representation of the seven dwarves as seven small, dirty miners; we see the presence of the apple, Snow White as a maternal figure.  The presence of the apple, however, probably represents Snow White’s addiction to drugs (snorting glitter, using needles), as both are seen as poison.  Snow White, as a maternal figure, rather than caring for the dwarves and mothering them, she disciplines them when she is spanking their bare rear ends.  This is a suggestion of eroticism, and further identifies her as a sex symbol, even beyond when she sensually adjusts her garters and pouts her full lips.  To further this, the video incorporates the famous glass coffin, which puts the female on display, to be admired for her youth and beauty, preserving it, which is a cultural theme both during the Grimms’ time, the time of the “Young Slave” story, and our own time.

Snow White adjusts her garters, suggesting her as a sex symbol.

In the Grimms’ tale, the dwarves appear to be calm and protective of their adopted Snow White, suggesting a give and take relationship from her.  However, in the music video, they cower in fear from her, offer her their hard day’s labor (the gold piece) and she throws him back, admiring the piece thanklessly.  Snow White’s character, too is very different.  The Grimms portray her as young, sweet, innocent and na├»ve, but here, she takes, absorbs, gets what she wants like the evil stepmothers featured in both the Grimm version and the “Young Slave” story.  She embodies both characters, with the innocent and beautiful Snow White as the exterior, even though there is a drug-addicted and greedily expectant monster inside.  They work hard, brush her hair, polish her apples, and she appears to do nothing in return for them.  They worship her although she has nothing to offer them.

Disney's and the Grimms' Snow White would not behave so rashly.
The lighting here, too, suggests her position as "the Sun" for the dwarves.

“Sonne” suggests that Snow White is the sun, but not in the way that she brightens the dwarves’ world.  Instead, they revolve around her, absorbing and worshipping her cold, unforgiving light, when she offers them nothing but grief in return.

I enjoy, but maybe not prefer the modern-ish adaptation of the tale.  I think it is an interesting spin, but I can't really compare the two as artifacts.  They are equal representations of the "Snow White" story in their own way, both of which I respect and like.

wc: 410

Monday, March 4, 2013

Jungian Psychoanalysis and Fairy Tales

The most important aspect to take away from fairy tales is the journey and transformation that the hero (or heroine) must achieve.  Without this element, the fairy tale has practically no moral for us to learn from.

The idea that fairy tales are also manifestations and representations of the collective unconscious is another element important to Jungian psychoanalysis.  The formulas and patterns that fairy tales use is not by coincidence, but because those telling the tales all have something in common to share: the human experience.  This underlying part of mankind cannot be shaken off, such as the concept of having a mother or parents, as well as the “coming of age” story.

The Beast's Transformation in Beauty in the Beast.  Without his transformation, their would be no physical or obvious evidence of Belle's effect on him.

Furthermore, archetypes resonate heavily in Jungian theories, with such power given to numbers like 1 (unity), 3 (balance and tension), and 4 (perfect balance).  The presence of alchemy and metal is also said to tell us something about the fairy tale deeper than what is in the surface.  Since alchemy focuses on the transformation of something into gold, the correlation between gold objects and colors associated with the process (red, black, white) put more significance onto the hero’s transformation.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Red: "2 Stupid Dogs"

Little Red Riding Hood, or Red, in the cartoon “2 Stupid Dogs” was probably my favorite part of the show.  She was an obnoxious little girl with a loud voice, horrible eyesight, and a poorly functioning thought process – she was definitely stupider than the two stupid dogs.

Little Red Riding Hood in "2 Stupid Dogs" created and designed by Donovan Cook, produced by Hanna-Barbera.
Red voiced by Candi Milo.  Shown on Cartoon Network and Fox Kids.  Circa 1993.

While she was a modern rendition of the classic tale, her new features emphasized her character rather than changed it.  For me, at least, her stupidity and insufferable attitude answered some questions I had about the fairy tale itself.  For instance, she skips along in this clip absent-mindedly, slamming into trees and flailing off cliffs.  Of course she couldn’t help but stay off the trail when she acts like this!  It only seemed natural that she gets herself into trouble on the path.  Also, the cartoon gives her a sight problem, hence her enormous glasses.  Even small children can understand that glasses = poor sight, so she may very well mistake a hairy life-sized wolf for her grandmother just because she is practically blind to begin with.

This rendition of Red is the modern application of the tale to our current understanding.  In enhancing her character with modern features, we are able to excuse her otherwise confusing and nonsensical motives throughout the story.  It almost functions as the “light bulb” moment when you realize the reasons behind her actions (although this is just one adaptation to excuse her otherwise ridiculous behaviors).

wc: 238