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.