Fairy Tales 2010
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
But as a matter of fact, not all Cinderella stories contain this part. Regarding the Italian version of Cinderella, a mother or stepmother is completely absent. The father simply has three daughters, and he treats one of them different from the others, or rather one of the daughters behaves different from the others – for no obvious reason. Like the Cinderella in the Grimm’s version, the father brings them a gift before the ball and the two other daughters ask for a dress whereas Cinderella just wants a special bird. As she doesn’t have a dress, she can’t go the ball - but it is her own decision that she doesn’t want to go. Again it is the bird which provides Cinderella with three different dresses for the 3 balls. And again her sisters and father don’t recognize her at the ball because she looks so much more beautiful than at home where she is always dirty from the ashes. Like in the Grimm’s version she is found at home after fleeing the third time from the ball and marries the prince.
Comparing both Cinderella plots, it becomes obvious that they are much more similar than Grimm’s Cinderella version and Perrault’s Donkeyskin. It is obvious that both stories are unmistakably Cinderella stories. But this also means that the bad stepmother drops out as a distinctive feature of the Cinderella tale. And as soon as this feature misses, that the condition Cinderella finds herself in isn’t the fault of the bad stepmother or rather of women in general, the plots of Cinderella and Donkeyskin suddenly are much further away from each other – and are not anymore similar enough to be read with each other. Consequently, it depends on which versions you choose if Cinderella, Donkeyskin or even Thousandfurs should be read together.
To discuss an example from the syllabus, I would like to draw upon All Fur, a tale that would most certainly be censored to an american audience. After a three-trialed themed obstacled plot line, in the end, the king finally gets the fair maiden, but the reader is supposed to forget that the fair maiden is indeed his daughter. In the Grimm's version, the story is set up for a daughter to escape her crazed father who wants to marry her. But after the tale unfolds and a series of events unfolds, the dad marries her and "they live happily ever after." I was confused about how the reader was supposed to feel upon finishing such tale and I would think that if All Fur was to be intended for an American audience, it would most certainly be censored according to Tatar.
Tatar’s inquiry into Cinderella and Donkeyskin tales really made me think of what I perceive as traditional gender roles in fairy tales. I will admit, as a child, I found myself sucked into the camp of the righteous by design. As Tatar points out, Donkeyskin stories have not persisted in our cultural canon as much as Cinderella stories. Fathers do have a very limited role in fairy tales. Perhaps this is a mild attempt at averting masculinity through fantastical tales. What really struck me was the cited passage from Warner. She explains that fathers marrying daughters hits too close to home for some people. It’s when the tales actually coincide with experience (cultural) that they begin to suffer from censorship. This is the transformative measure that turns the evil gender role in a fairy tale back onto the mother—an attempted violation of forbidden lust. Contemporary audiences should read these tales together because this insistence of evil stepmothers has pervaded far too long. I guess I am jaded and/or cynical, but I feel like I was done a disservice as a child because I didn’t have to confront these horrible scenarios and cautionary fairy tales.
I read the tale “Ass’-Skin” on the Ashliman website. It is basically a retelling of the Grimm’s “All Fur”. Instead of incest, though, the king/girl relationship remains outside the family. The girl is an outsider that had been accused wrongly of robbery and forced to wear an ass skin suit. She then finds a new menial job and with the help of her mistress (surprisingly loving mother figure) gets dressed for the royal ball where the king falls for her. At the end, the main variant is that incest is hinted but never confirmed. The king and girl marry and have kids and then die happily. The king in this instance is violent to Ass Skin when he believes that she keeps running off the beautiful girl her meets at the ball each night. This violence is then counterbalanced by Ass Skin’s mother figure that is benevolent and offers wonderful clothing for the royal balls. After reading this variation, I agree with Tatar that these Donkeyskin stories should be read with the Cinderella stories. I actually found this more compelling than a Cinderella story because the supposed romance and marriage in the end is tainted with a moral gray area. It’s more of a literary tale with stronger ethical dilemmas.
Along with observing the oedipal aspects of these two tales, I think they are an interesting comparison also because the heroines are so vastly different. From the Ashliman site I read an adaptation of the Cinderella story titled "Fair, Brown, and Trembling" from Ireland. At first I thought that these were three attributes of the Irish Cinderella, but they're really the names of all three daughters! It's kind of like the old joke with the panda who eats shoots and leaves. Unlike the Cinderella included in the Grimms book, virtually all details regarding family life or stepmother/stepsister cruelty are removed. This diminishes the suffering the reader has to read about, but also removes virtually all reason to really sympathize with such a flat, unchanging Cinderella.
Throughout the tale Trembling remains a completely passive character. She follows the henwife's instructions down to the last detail, relies on her help to provide beautiful dresses and horses, gets pushed in the sea by her sister and even swallowed up by a whale. Her passivity and total inaction directly contrast the heroine of Donkeyskin! Tatar describes this princess as "mobile, active, and resourceful... inventive, energetic, and enterprising." She comes up with a clever scheme to escape the creepy advances of her dad, survive disguised in the forest, and win over the prince.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
The most notable discovery between the two stories is the relationship between Cinder Maid/Donkeyskin and the father in the two stories. The version of Cinderella that most people are familiar with only mentions her father within the first few lines and then he dies. These two stories actually include the father and he plays a rather significant role. In The Cinder Maid, her father never meets that ending, but he does seem to willingly allow the step-mother to abuse his daughter. Finally, in the end, in what I'm assuming is supposed to be his redeeming moment (although I didn't feel any compassion for him) Cinder Maid's father finally steps up and brings his daughter into the moment which will ultimately allow her to be with the prince. While in The Cinder Maid her father is present for the duration of the story, Donkeyskin shows a very different relationship between father and daughter. Here, we see a wealthier Cinderella whose father is really a pedophile of sorts. He longs to marry Donkeyskin after his own wife makes him promise to marry someone of equal beauty before she dies. Donkeyskin doesn't want to marry her own father (for good and obvious reasons) so she then becomes the poorer Cinderella that we are more used to seeing.
I like the idea of these stories being studied together because it allows the reader to think beyond the story and wonder "what if?" Cinderella's dad dies but what if he had lived? Would he stand up for her or would he begin to lust after her? What if Cinderella was actually royalty to begin with? Would we even have a story? Studying the tales together doesn't answer the questions because there really isn't a definite answer for fiction pieces, but it does give the reader some sort of satisfaction to have other possible scenarios from which they can pick and choose their own beginning, middle, and end. By censoring the "juicy" details of the story, the reader is never forced to go beyond what they are given.