Fairy Tales 2010

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Sondheim's Into the Woods

This musical is, on the one hand, a modern interpretation of the fairy tale in a different genre than its original creation. On the other hand, Into the Woods can also be called a modern day oral tradition. Oral tales with as much fervor and imagery as fairy tales probably demanded theatricality from the storyteller. I think that this play addresses a lot of interesting aspects concerning fairy tale structure. Firstly, just the setting of the interactions of characters—its always someone running into someone else in the woods. There are tons of chance encounters and run-ins, but even when the characters are at home, they all share a split stage. I think that this constant saturation of characters and disjointed scene structure comments on the inability to effectively mash these stories into one cultural context. According to the plot of Act II, Sondheim believes there are dire consequences to lumping all of these wonderfully rich, vastly different cultural stories into a boiled-down, condensed version for an end.

Willingham's Fables

In the graphic novel Fables, Willingham relies mostly on characters for its merit as an adaptation of fairy tale literature. There is a magical element to the story, as the wizards have the ability to make small apartments hold castle-sized rooms. But Willingham makes great use of the audience's previous exposure to popular fairy tales to further the plot by alluding to them. The story is full of winks and nods to characters we have studied inside class and outside in society. Detective Bigby Wolf; Snow White, director of operations; Jack from jack in the beanstalk; Mrs. Beauty and Mr. Beast (who have marital problems); Prince Charming as a don juan; even creepy old Bluebeard who killed his wives before "the amnesty." The scene of the invasion of fairy land is particularly interesting: dwarves and magical creatures, little red riding hood and the three pigs, it reminds me of the characters in Shrek (3 blind mice, gingerbread man, etc) getting together and singing and dancing in the swamp. All of these references weave together for a funny mash-up of characters we would never picture interacting together otherwise.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Into the Woods & Fables

I found Into the Woods interesting because it seemed to stay in line with the fairy tale tradition more so than Willingham's Fables. Both seem to have a sort of modern day twist with Fables in particular placing fairy tale characters in the modern world. Into the Woods was relatively true to the originals, but there was always a hint of "We know this is silly and wouldn't really happen in real life" to them. The actors were great at making jokes about their characters without making it seem as if they were in fact mocking them.

I think it is quite clear that both Into the Woods and Fables are more recent pieces because neither takes fairy tales as they were originally intended to be interpreted. Fables places fairy tale characters into a more dramatic world. Fairy tales typically aren't dramatic, at least not to the level of a comic book so seeing the characters in such a dramatic way is intriguing. Into the Woods is truer to the originals than Fables. It is lighthearted and is more aligned with the way that we think of fairy tales today. It's silly and fun while also teaching a lesson.

Collision Course

This might be a little bit of a non-sequitur comment, however, what interests me is how the two pieces play with both what is known about fairy tales and also edits how it ends. Both are based on a very basic assumption that anyone reading the comic or viewing the play knows fairy tales, to some extent or another. Sondheim does provide an very, very basic overview that more or less lays out the plot of the play, not the plots of the fairy tales. There is this basic assumption that people know who the characters are, just by their names alone, and this is particularly the casein Willingham's Fables. This produces an interesting dynamic, for both "into the woods" and Fables, we know the character's back stories, we have a sense of what the arc of their stories should look like, and then both pieces undermine those original story lines. The major difference is that each fairy tale, as they are contained in the Grimm's work, is separate, unique, maybe with overlapping motifs, but there is never a temporal or spatial placement of the characters or events. Both these pieces assume that all the fairy tales happened in the same place at roughly the same time. Fables is a bit different, since there seems to be the implication that the fairy tales as we (or the creators) know them happened "once upon a time", but in both pieces there is this wild collision of multitudes of fairy tale characters that allows the creators to subvert, or just generally play with the original story lines in a serious manner, because the result is somewhat humorous, but at the same time you are watching lives of "real" people collide, not the lives of one-dimensional fairy tales. The advantage of the fairy tale is the fact that there is almost no need for the set up the characters, but there is plenty of room to explore the ins and outs of the characters. This is because we know the plot, we know the general arc of all the characters lives from our own readings of fairy tales, but there is simply not enough psychological development in fairy tales that authors who want to flesh out the characters have to contend with. The fun becomes how one interprets the characters, and what they actually make the characters into, and how that affects their interaction with the other characters.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Fairy Tale About Common Sense

This story is about an nice old gentleman that understands common sense over all else. He goes in front of a panel of nondescript heads-of-state to lay out an argument for town reform. His proposal includes a six bedroom home for every family, extravagant schools, and new hospitals built in densely populated areas. He asks the heads-of-state for one hundred thousand billion dollars to complete his proposal. They laugh him almost out of the room. He cleverly replies that one hundred thousand billion is the exact amount spent on the war. Why can't that amount be spent during peace time? They tell him that he is crazy--"war is something entirely different".
This story can definitely be considered a fairy tale. The protagonist is a nondescript old man that is full of virtue. We are instantly on his side because he believes in virtuous, common sense thought--not that poisonous manipulative thought. The old man goes on a journey of sorts to get to where he can impart his knowledge. Obviously, the rulers are inept an cannot listen to sound logic. Logic does not flourish in the aristocracy. The rulers are characterized as demonic and self-serving.

Also, this tale ends with a little "real life" paragraph. The author directly addresses the audience to tie his story to a relevant point in history. Its like a Perrault-ian fable at the end of the tale.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Shadow

by Hans Christian Andersen.

First, "The Shadow" is set in a non-descript location, some sort of village with a lively main street and friendly townspeople. The village is in a very hot country that suffers from a heat blazing from the sun. It is the kind of heat that "turns the people a deep mahogany brown," and the man suffering from the heat is a "young and clever scholar from the colder north." The story interestingly personifies the man's shadow, which stretches and grows and regains strength.

The supernatural element is not very magical in this story, it's more just... strange. One day the man wakes up and says: "Look at this, I haven't got any shadow!" And years after a new shadow had grown in its place, the old shadow comes back wearing flesh and clothes, gold watches and rings. They sit down for a meal and story-telling time. The shadow had left him to be with Poetry herself. She lived in a brilliantly lit home. For some reason the shadow is very arrogant, insisting he not be addressed as "old friend" and reminding the man that he knows all. Years later, the shadow returns and asks the man to become HIS shadow! He is careful to take the place of the "master" and calls the man by his first name while he must be addressed by last.

Lastly, the story includes a princess. She is lovely, but considering that her malady was "seeing too clearly," the shadow fools her without problem. The shadow woos the princess with the unknowing help of the man, and they are prepared to elope. The man refuses to say he is his shadow's shadow, so they throw him in prison, kill him, and live happily ever after! But the lack of a happy ending for the poor scholarly man was a grave departure from normal fairy tales.

This tale dramatizes Anderson's mixed feelings toward the patronage of the upper class, according to Zipes. But the strangeness and simplicity of the story, as well as the unfair ending, are rather different than other tales.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Chinese Fairy Tale

I read A Chinese Fairy-Tale by Laurence Housman. He was an Englishman
who wrote this story in 1904 (about half way through his life). The
story is about a little servant boy name Tiki-pu whose master was an
artist/ art teacher. He was treated very cruelly by his master but had
an intense desire to become an artist himself. Each night he was
locked in the art studio to cleanup and then sleep on the floor.
Finally he got the idea to try his hand at painting by stealing bits
of candles and scraps of rice paper, etc. and working at night. At one
end of the art studio there was a very famous painting by the most
highly revered artist, Wio-wani. The legend was that he had painted
the place he wanted to rest after he died and then just walked into
his painting one day and went through the back door of a castle. One
night while Tiki-pu was painting, Wio-wani came out and invited
Tiki-pu into the painting with him so he could teach him to paint.
Tiki-pu joined him in the painting each night for a while, before his
master caught him and painted a brick wall over the door in the
picture so he could not come back out. Tiki-pu stayed in there for 5
years, until one day him and Wio-wani took down the brick wall.
Wio-wani came out of the picture with him and beat the master with a
brick from the painting, killing him, then returning to the painting.
Tiki-pu was a great artist after that and no longer had to suffer
under his cruel master.

I think this story has some of the usual fairytale elements, such as the mistreated child being the hero of the story and the cruel master being brutally killed in the end. The concept is very interesting and honestly something that I have thought about before. The magical ability to enter and operate within paintings. While this story does claim to be a fairy tale and possesses some of the usual characteristics, I think it is actually more of a legendary type of story or myth. Just as we have been discussing in class about Eckbert the Blond and how Bertha talking about a fairytale directs our attention to the relationship between the overall story itself and a fairytale, this story discusses the legend of Wio-Wani entering the painting he had created within the story, which brought my attention to the legend genre when considering the overall story. I think there is almost a power of suggestion by mentioning things like that within the story.

As a side note, as someone who has spent time extensively studying Chinese culture, history, language, etc. I felt like this was not a very accurate story (especially considering the names); which brought up an interesting point of how fairy tales are written to encourage us to at least mentally escape to far away places, which was perhaps Housman's intention in writing about China (without what appears to be any personal experience with the country).

Of Feminine Subtlety

This story is a fairy tale because it starts out with a king on his death bed with three sons. Each son is going to be awarded some kind of posession. The youngest son is to gain three different magical items; a ring, a necklace, and a piece of cloth. Magical items being left to a son in the first place is a common element among fairy tales. Another common element that comes into play shortly after is the female figure. In many fairy tales, there is a female figure that is evil and deceitful, many times a witch. In this story, she is a concubine who is trying to beguile the son out of his posessions using her feminine sultry and charm. It works and each time she tricks him again gaining the objects in her control. Eventually, the woman is punished for her behavior, as in other fairy tales. She suffers an agonizing death which in many fairy tales is also the suitable punishment for witches. Lastly, everything works out and there is a peaceful ending. This is the traditional "happily ever after" element that is represented from fairy tales. There are many reasons from this story that can classify it as a fairy tale. On the other hand though, there are many examples in this story that stray from the traditional fairy tale elements.

The Tiger's Bride

So, technically, I did not find this story on my own, we were assigned it for class, but I think it is my absolute favorite story we have read all year (the Juniper Tree comes in a close second), and I was very interested to find it in both the Tatar and the Zipes books. The first time I read it, in the Tatar book, as a variation of the "beauty and the beast" tale type, I read it very much as a fairy tale. Partially because i had read several stories before it that are considered "fairy tales" so I mentally compared it to the other beauty and the beast stories, and my main conclusion was what made it unique was the fact that the beast, the animal, wins in the end over the humanity, and rather than transforming the tiger into a human, Beauty is transformed in to a tiger. Reading it as a literary fairy tale, I obviously still saw the underlying Beauty and the Beast story, but there were so many layers on top of it that made it magical and fantastical, but altered the feeling of a fairy tale. First and foremost, the story is narrated in the first person, by Beauty, and the story is very specifically located: Beauty comes from the Russia, the Beast lives in Italy, we know details that are far more specific than any other fairy tale. I think the psychological insight into Beauty's thought process is far more intimate, and literary, than anything in Grimm's tales. Also, the ending, as mentioned, is a decided twist on the fairy tale marriage/happily ever after. What fascinates me is how the mechanical becomes part of the fairy tale, eeriely, in the house where nothing is human. There seems to me, in the mechinization of most of the house, to be a hint of what I would be more inclined to call science fiction. On the one hand, I think the only thing that makes this story a fairy tale is that it is based in a fairy tale, or at least that it draws the general arc of the plot from a fairy tale. On the other, I think not calling it a fairy tale is creating too narrow of a definition of fairy tales. This sort of brings me to a strange conundrum, but I think it shows how, even in a story that is not written like a fairy tale, if there is even a hint of a fairy tale somewhere in the story (either in the plot or the style, like "The Happy Prince") will still, to some extent, "sound" like a fairy tale in the end.

The Story of the Fairy Tale (pg. 564)

I was drawn to this story mostly because of the title, but I think it also answers the question of "what makes a fairy tale?" while being a fairy tale itself. In the story, Truth disappears from the world and five wise men go in search for it. The wise men argue and try to figure out what Truth is with each wise man believing that it is something different from Science, to Love, to Gold, to Truth, to Wine. The wise men end up physically fighting each other and they all suffer their own individual bruises. A little girl comes to the men and tells them that she has found Truth. Upon seeing Truth, however, the wise men all call out that "It's a Fairy Tale" and walk away from it leaving only a few people with Fairy Tale.

In this brief story, Fairy Tale is given a description that allows it to encompass so many different aspects. It's neither male nor female, adult or child. It's as soft as a mother while also being as strong as the hand of a king. It has a smile that is bright yet quivers with sadness that is indescribable. A fairy tale is all of the above. It's a story that takes no sides and is whatever you want or need it to be.

The wise men of science, theology, love, gold, and wine all dismiss Fairy Tale and fight among themselves until the world is "shaken to its center." The wise men dismiss Fairy Tale because it is not serious. It isn't meant to solve the world's problems, and yet, somehow it seems to help. It gives people an outlet through which they can believe in the unbelievable. This story is a fairy tale because it doesn't claim to be the truth or anything serious, which is the entire point of a fairy tale.