Fairy Tales 2010

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).

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