Fairy Tales 2010

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Golden Goose

In seventh grade, I acted in production of “The Golden Goose” at my middle school. I was the King. I didn’t have a name. Nor a character, really. The king was only supposed to be really cranky with anything his daughter said. He also hated Simpleton with a passion. This translated to me furrowing my brow for the 20 or so minutes I was up on stage. That is, until the last scene, in which I give over my daughter to Simpleton. He proved virtuous, so he gets a wife. Standard stuff.

Reading the Golden goose tale makes me see the Simpleton character in a completely different light. I know that we car studying this story in conjunction with other men stories. Simpleton, though, is truly a fool. Not that he has any more sense than any other man in a fairy tale, but he is especially stupid by comparison to his cleverer brothers. But wait! His stupidity actually gets his somewhere. His cleverer brothers refuse to share their food with a dwarf. Simpleton doesn’t really know how to say no or consider that he is being taken advantage of, so of course his shortsightedness is rewarded. This is really the only proactive thing he does in the story. So, in one sense, maturity can be achieved through one virtuous or selfless act. Simpleton is already thinking about marriage, so its not physical maturity that he requires. Manhood is simply a state of mind that is somewhat given by a wiser more virtuous man.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Iron Hans

It is interesting to see how battle and war has finally made its way into the fairy tale genre, and I don't think it is a coincidence that it is present in the story about "wild" men. Violence and war stems from the uncontrollable nature of man and perhaps the Grimm's brothers have illuminated this aspect of peasant culture in these Iron Hans and Wild Man stories. Hair is also an interesting motif to study in the fairy tale genre, and in Iron Hans we have a slight inconsistency within the motif. Hair usually represents health and stature rather than beauty, but the "golden hair" of the boy dazzled and bewildered everyone in the story, including the young princess who actively pursued her attraction to this glowing golden hair. It is interesting to see how the gendered nature of hair here has been reversed as golden blond hair is usually sexualized and characteristic of the female gender. Yet this youth, this naughty boy who couldnt control where his ball landed, who couldnt properly guard a well, rose to military and popular fame all as a result of his roots back to his wild nature and his bond to Iron Hans. Perhaps the inner beast in man can be a good thing when tamed.

Do Boys Ever Really Grow Up?

The stories we have read this week are supposed to reflect the progression of boy growing into men. Apparently there is no smooth transition that does not include a variety of mistakes. In some of the stories, Clever Hans for example, he never grows up or learns anything. For the most part they don't tend to repeat the exact same mistakes, but pretty close. In Iron Hans, the boy learns not to put his finger back in the pool, but he still ends up putting something in it each time. So he learned from his mistake, but not enough to prevent him from messing up the same task again. I was surprised in the story of Bearskin that the main character did not need to make a series of mistakes to learn his lesson or acquire his wealth, but then again, he had already been an orphan and had gone to war, so he was not exactly a child just being introduced to the world. The same goes for the 3 soldiers who had to outsmart the dragon/devil to keep their freedom. I think the stories we have read where the characters truly were children, they would have made more mistakes (like in Iron Hans).

I think Iron Hans was the most interesting story of the most complete progression through the boy's life, but I still felt like there was interesting information missing. If the boy's hair was so beautiful and he was the rightful heir to a kingdom, why did he pretend to have scabs on his head and not want anything to do with the money the princess had given him. By participating in the war and contest, he clearly shows a willingness to be a part of the kingdom and win the princess over, but she doesn't know that he is giving the money away, etc.

I don't know that these stories give young boys much direction about how to become a man because it seems like most of what they have is somewhat magically provided for them. I also feel like the missing story of the wild man complicates this by having no explanation whatsoever of why he had been enchanted and why he was suddenly a king. Boys can't just suddenly be kings with no explanation. I think the Grimm's the wild man story had the most practical lesson to it, don't become a drunk vandal that is vulnerable to temptations and eventually ends up ridiculed in a cage... of course until the end of the story when he is suddenly a king after his giving "redemptive acts" toward the boy. I don't know what to make of all these stories and the progression of the boys growing up. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn't.
After reading Clever Hans and Wild Man as well as discussing them in class, it is evident that there are many similarities as well as differences. Clever Hans, does not develop throughout the story. He is the same at the beginning as he is at the end. It seems that since there is no age or time progression throughout the story. In Wild Man, there is development of the boy because of his urgency and want to leave his parents and be on his own. One thing that I thought of upon reading both of these stories, which may be a stretch, is Peter Pan. While Peter Pan never wants to grow up, time passes and he stays the same. He consciously does not want to grow up ever. In these stories, the concept of time and age is unsure. Also, the conscious decision to not develop or move forward is not evident. It seems to be under the surface. The man in Clever Hans acts like a boy, not a mature figure that his age should resemble. This also relates back to the fact that subconsciously, he is not maturing or developing.

The Wild Man

Grimms the Wild Man starts with a boy getting independent from your parents. Disobeying the kings (who is also his father) orders is his first step to get away from his parents - a decision that is just followed by another much further reaching decision that makes him finally independent from his parents. Instead of taking his fathers punishment, which would probably not have been as bad (he would have be beaten), he chooses to leave the protection of his fathers kingdom and goes with a complete stranger. It seems as if he consciously tries to get away from his paternal safety and start his own life in a world he doesn’t know and understand yet. Still, taking the risk of leaving ones parents definitely is the advice for young men this story conveyes.
The second advice is how to get a wife. He takes a job and starts working. But instead of working on his own, the wild man does all the work and all he has to do is to take care of his appearance – which finally also guarantees him the princesss attention. Paired with his refusal to take her money and giving it to the wild man instead, we can see three basic manners how men should be: they should take care of their appearance, they should be willing to be only rewarded for the work they do which is basically honesty, and generosity, as he gives the money to somebody else even though he could have needed it himself. All these points finally influenced the princess to marry him.
Even though these features helped him convincing the princess, he couldn’t convince the king and the queen. He had to war to be accepted and appreciated by them, which is probably the final advice for young men who want to gain success in life. It reminds me of the rags to riches story: the only possibility for a regular man to be accepted by the higher society probably was great services in war. Thus military service was another important factor in a mens education.

Clever Hans

"How does a particular story reflect boy's progression into manhood?"

"Clever Hans" is interesting to me because while I was reading it, I assumed that Hans had to be a young boy due to his blatant stupidity and lack of common sense. Upon reading the final line of the tale, "That was how Hans lost his bride," I was surprised to discover that Hans, at least by the end of the tale, was an adult. I think this story says a lot about how men are perceived. Hans' lack of growth from the beginning of the tale (it's unclear as to how old he is at the beginning) to the end implies that man's ability to discern logically is somewhat stunted. Hans listens to his mother's suggestions and always utilizes them "next time," but never grows wise enough to discern when her suggestions are appropriate. Hans grows from a stupid boy to a stupid man who ultimately loses his bride because of his inability to use common sense.

In addition to lacking common sense, Hans continues to faithfully listen to his mother as if he were still a child. Whatever his mother tells him to do, Hans obediently does it. His growth into manhood is so stunted that there really doesn't seem to be a difference between his childhood and adulthood. It's difficult to discern any change and really makes the reader wonder if there is any progression into manhood at all for Clever Hans, which makes him an interesting choice when studying the progression from boyhood to manhood.

De wilde mann

Robby Bly based his book Iron John on the stories of rugged, wild men that we read in class. These same innocent fairy tales ignited the "Men's Movement" of the 90s to rescue masculinity and give men purpose in a society that was empowering women but leaving typical male gender roles very confused. Bly uses Iron Hans as an example of what real men should be like! LOL. But the story does successfully showcase a variety of characteristics of REAL MEN.

1. The Huntsman
The hunter, like in many fairy tales (i.e. LRRH), is a pretty burly and competent guy. The hunter looking for the Wild Man is fearless and intelligent (He lets his dog get dragged into the pool before he does). He valued teamwork, had manly friends, and wasn't afraid of hard work (three guys use buckets to empty out the pool). And the hunter nobly protects the safety of the peasants by putting the wild man into captivity.

2. The Wild Man
The wild man is persuasive and uses his leverage well (golden ball <--> cage key). He knows how to get things done. But he is still kind to the boy, teaches him the value of hard work (in the castle with the cook/gardener) and the value of the dollar ("There you shall know poverty").

3. The boy
The boy is willing to learn, help, fight in a battle, humble (doesn't want to take credit for saving England, prefers his cloppity horse), attracts a pretty woman, and work hard in the kitchen and garden. He is generous with his money with the gardener's children, and Iron Hans knows that he has a good heart.

So, what does this all mean for the roles that men should play in society?

Of Kings and Curses

I am curious about the fact that in both The Wild man and Iron Hans, the story ends with the character in the wilderness, the wild man, being transformed into a King. We talked in class briefly about the difference between the King, the boy's father, someone effectively in control of civilization, and Iron Hans, a humanoid who has rejected, and, if you assume the forest belongs to the normal (awkward word) King, invaded civilization. And yet, it is Iron Hans who gives the boy the tools to become a great man, not his father, although by birth his father has made him part of the nobility. What I wonder about is why the King who, at some indeterminate point before the story takes place, upset someone or something with supernatural powers that turned him into Iron Hans, is ultimately the great teacher and benefactor of the boy. On the other hand, his father the other King (I'm sorry for the excess of rather vague male pronouns and generic names, I blame the Grimms and the fairy tale tradition) is almost the source of his trials, since he demanding that the forest be his, and brought Iron Hans into the castle and put him on display in the first place. So he, the King who attempt to bring civilization to the forest and make it "safe" for people to enter ends up, at least in the life of his son, causing more trouble; while the wild man, who at some point defied the natural (or supernatural) order of things so much that he was effectively turned into a beast for his transgression, ends up being the one who is able to educate and vastly aid the son in ways his father is simply unable to do. I guess on one level one can argue that boys, in order to be raised into "good men" need to face a stint in "the wild" and need to learn from the wilderness in order to become strong, yet I think it also suggests the fallibility of parents (a shocking revelation for a fairy tale), and highlights their inability to teach or protect their children when the time comes for them to grow up. There is a great power, however, wielded by the man who has rejected civilization (by his own wish or by force) in teaching a child raised in the security of civilization. I also think it is interesting that it takes a curse to transform a king from, I assume, any other king into the type of king who can create the ideal situation to create the ideal prince...and have armies appear at his command...