Fairy Tales 2010

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

So It Is Written

In reading Tartar's argument on Cinderella, Donkeyskin, and what censorship has done to them, I ran into one point that rang clear of her entire thesis yet somehow tied in perfectly at the same time.

When she wrote of Warner's argument on the evolution of Cinderella's story (psychological realism, difficult to accept, censoring occurs when fairy tale coincides with experience, and so on), Tartar came to the conclusion that these story edits likely occurred "as the tale made its way from an oral culture to a literary tradition" (Tartar, 104). And that idea, boys and girls, got me thinking. If it's true that people really began editing stories in earnest only once the literary tradition began, then what exactly made them start? Is there some fundamental difference in hearing about a father who lusts after his daughter and reading about a father who lusts after his daughter? Pushing the point further - is there a difference between hearing the story and seeing it on a 30 ft x 70 ft screen?

I'll take the initiative to answer, "Yes. There is a difference."

In shifting from an oral to written (and then filmed) culture, I'm hypothesizing that the "ugly" parts of fairy tales became difficult to document simply because those very "ugly" bits would be the most difficult to accept. One can spin a spoken story whichever way one wants, but a written story has a finality to it that the oral story does not. So it is written, so it must be. (The same goes for film.)

Now, attempting to tie this epic aside back to this week's prompt, Tartar insists a number of times that censorship of the stories is "not surprising," and I do agree that is a good point. However, it seems that the admittance of censorship's unsurprising nature goes directly against her main argument. On the other hand, I say that Tartar is completely right in her counterargument: why indeed would anyone want to anthologize an incestual tale? And particularly for audiences uninterested in its historical capital? Wouldn't we rather contain the evil stepmothers to a realm in which mice can talk and birds can sew?

Cinderella and Donkeyskin

I can understand Tatar’s argument that Cinderella and Donkeyskin stories should be read together - at least as long as we regard the Cinderella version of the Brothers Grimm and the Donkeyskin version of Perrault. The basic principal is the same: A daughter becomes poor because her real mother dies. But the daughter’s destiny is not the father’s fault. In Cinderella, it is the bad stepmother’s fault who uses her sexual power over the father to keep him from invading, and in Donkeyskin it is the mother’s fault as she makes the father promise that he will only marry a women that is better than her in every way – a task only her own daughter can fulfill. After becoming poor, each marries to a prince after dancing with him three times at a ball and loosing an item that only fits her – which is finally also the way how both princes find them again after having lost them at the ball. Thus, what actually makes both stories so similar is that the father is not the real cause for the bad condition of their daughters, but it is the fault of their wives – which is also a very important aspect of Tatar’s argument that both stories should be read together.

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.
I agree with Pharra's point on Tatar's argument on censorship. To begin with, an author's original intention does not come across, because their work becomes interpreted from another point of view the second it is read. People assign their own meanings and interpretations from the given medium instead of realizing what the author intended. Therefore, once censorship occurs, this miscommunication gets further elaborated upon so people can never understand the author's original intention.
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.

Ass Skin

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.

Study the two for richer comprehension

Because I had never heard of Donkeyskin before this week, it seemed a strange juxtaposition to learn about a skinned donkey, incest, and Cinderella in the same week. But Tatar proves that the two stories complement each other, not because they are alike in plot but they "conveniently [dovetail] to produce an intrigue that corresponds to the oedipal fantasies of girls." She explains that in fairy tales, wicked stepmothers are inwardly very jealous of beautiful daughters that may attract their husbands and want to kill them. Both Cinderella and Donkeyskin suppress oedipal components: either "love for the father or hatred of the mother." Yet only the former tale has endured in popularity today, because the idea of an unnatural, evil stepmother is much easier to put into a children's story than an erotic love from a father to a daughter..

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.
I think that Tatar makes an interesting argument in claiming that these two types of stories should be read together. Although she makes this claim, she also makes sure to tell the reader that within these two types of stories, there are many other elements that can be differentiated or can be claimed as similar. There are different types of each story that are worth looking at together. In doing so, it is evident that the story types are similar and related. It is also worth comparing them because there are specific gender and father type roles in each story that differ but also share the same attitudes toward cinderella. Both father types are either not present in which case they cannot protect their daughter from her hardships or the father is chasing her in pursuit of a relationship.

The story that I read to compare to this was Fair, Brown, and Trembling. This story starts out similar to the classic Disney cinderella that we know today except that she is the daughter of a king. There are three sisters and one is the most beautiful so she is made to stay home from everything. There are a few differences in this but the major differences come later in the story. She first is attending church instead of a ball, which I definitely think signifies something about the importance religion in Irish culture. Each variation of fairy tales that we read show differences within cultures and what is important among them. This particular example was very evident. To relate this to Tatar's argument, this Cinderella story should be related to others like it as well as Donkeyskin tales. One element that is evident and relatable to both donkeyskins and this Cinderella story is the element of the daughter being born of a king. I think this is a notable difference and proves once again that there can be incongruencies as well as similarities among both the types of tales.

Katie Woodencloak

I must say I found Tartar's argumentation for the reading of Cinderella and Donkeyskin together, while I believed her argument about the connection between the two stories as the story of the abused daughter makes sense, but I thought the difference between the two situations seemed a little tenuous. It is not so much that I thought the ideas of abuse are not irreconcilable, and I was able to see the connection between the riches to rags to riches story arc. Nevertheless, something about the connection seemed too academic to me, too contrived, to be honest it seemed very...Bettelheim to me. I know that sounds strange, however I couldn't really shake that feeling, while I didn't mind the connection being made, I didn't think the connection was really in the stories, rather it was just superimposed over the stories, and I was just unable to draw the full connections. That is, until I read "Katie Woodencloak," because I felt like the story actually connected the dots for me, because the story was simultaneously a Cinderella story and a Donkeyskin story at the same time. I am not sure that the story isn't a purposeful combination of the two, seeing how it was written in 1888. I think what I found so helpful was the fact that it helped mix the two for me, and made me see that the stories as not artificially connected through scholarship. Despite the fact the talking ox and the travels through the woods sort of threw me off, the three dresses, the help of the "fairy" ox (okay, that sounds strange) and the arc with the prince also really helped me see the plot connections between the two stories and how they are actually very, very similar despite the differences between two parts that are often compared, ie the roles of the neglecting stepmother or the incestuous father.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Cinderella & Donkeyskin

I agree with Tatar's point on censorship. By censoring or cleaning up the Cinderella stories readers are missing out on a lot of interesting details that really change how we interpret Cinderella. Therefore, I think Cinderella and Donkeyskin should be studied together because being able to draw comparisons between the two tales helps readers to make new discoveries within the stories and to push further than what they are given. For my post, I will be drawing from The Cinder Maid by Joseph Jacobs.

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.