Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Metaphorical Roses of Success

It seems foolish to me to consider it utterly impossible to achieve success purely through marriage or charm, especially when there is an entire class of people devoted to this concept. Social climbers, as an example, achieve success and work their way to high society purely through their relationships with people better off than themselves. In fact, in the general sense, the question proves true more often than false. The capability exists in our society for anyone to marry or relate to almost anyone else, and someone who charms their way into a marriage with someone who is more successful than them will instantly be a living, on some level, a more successful life. The events of Pretty Woman are probably not necessarily directly likely. For example, in most cases, the gap in social status is unlikely to be so vast as a multimillionaire company owner and a prostitute with basically nothing, and a gap that wide would actually cause any number of greater problems with their relationship. Yet, it seems that real life might not need to necessarily mimic fairy tales exactly for someone to achieve happiness and/or success through marriage. There are many social tiers, and many people demonstrate how relatively easy it is to join a higher one simply by relating to the right person.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Magical Ethics

The character of Bluebeard, though he is only called that in one of the tales, is fairly similar across all of them, in personality and actions. However, minute differences provide, in my opinion, a fairly vast gap between interpretations of him. In most of them, particularly the actual Bluebeard tale, the reasoning for his actions is a bit puzzling. The original tale makes him out to almost be "just a murderer", in many ways, stating that he had a heart harder than rock that the woman's pleas could not move, and similarly painting him as just a psychopath that kills his wives. This makes his actions in, firstly, giving the woman the key in the first place, and in giving her uncountable amounts of extra time for her brothers to arrive, seem utterly irrational. In Mr. Fox, and The Robber Bridegroom, the woman sees something she was not supposed to, and when the murderer tries to acquire a ring by cutting off another girl's finger or hand, the object flies into the air and lands with the betrothed. Why the murderer would not seek out the object they were just trying to get off of the dead girl's hand seems inexplicable. Further, both murderers kindly allow their associated women to complete full confessions of their deeds under the guise of a dream, even when it must be obvious that she somehow does indeed know for sure. For this reason, Fitcher's Bird is my favorite tale. The very act of making the psychopathic husband a sorcerer turns him into a magical creature, and easily allows us to accept that he is bound by some code of conduct: he conducts himself in a downright methodical way, repeatedly capturing girls and putting them up to the same trial, until he finds his bride, at which point "he no longer had any power over her and had to do her bidding." The act of making the murderer a sorcerer makes the story both more interesting, and more acceptable as a reader.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

7 Abused Coal Miners

The video "Sonne" by Rammsteinn is a slightly disturbing, very different take on the Snow White tale. In both this and the Snow White tale, the titular girl meets a group of dwarves, miners who welcome her into their home and help her out. However, whereas in the original story, Snow White enlisted the help of the dwarves through helping with menial chores and such, and was in refuge from an outside threat (the queen), in the music video, it appears that Snow White is a drug addict who enslaves the dwarves for the purposes of helping her feed her addiction. Subsequently, the dwarves somehow put her to sleep with an apple, though she is freed later, likely to their dismay. In fact, in the video, no queen or outside force seems present at all, and Snow White looks to in fact be the antagonist. She clearly abuses the dwarves in a myriad of ways throughout the video.

I personally prefer the original story over the video-- the tale that the video weaves is a bit too warped and sordid for my tastes. Though it is somewhat interesting to see a different version of the story in which Snow White is a villain, it is portrayed in a very sadistic way that I personally didn't enjoy. In the original story, the alliance of the dwarves and Snow White helps to deliver a moral about friendship and teamwork. In this video, however, that is sadly lacking, and I feel it detracts from the story.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Master of Both Blogs

Jungian analysis may be a very good way to try and understand fairy tales. In Jung, archetypes are fragments of psychic ideas, which when put together into a story, can help to point to aspects of the Self. In Jung, the unconscious is divided into the collective unconscious and the personal unconscious, where the collective unconscious is genetic and shared by all humans. Both of these include multiple aspects, sharing the concept of the Ego, the Shadow, and the Self. Further, Jung believed that archetypes reside in the collective unconscious. The idea is that these archetypes are unconscious ideas that are pointed to by aspects of fairy tales. Examples of archetypes of the collective unconscious include the wise old man, who appears in many stories as a guiding figure for the hero but always dies or leaves the hero alone before the final act of the story, or the woods, which apparently symbolize an awakening or the start of a journey. Similarly, the villain in many stories represents a darker version or side of the hero, namely, the shadow, or the part of our consciousness of which we are not aware.

One concept which seems to be important is that when a hero goes a journey, in some fashion, they are immersed in a world which is not their own. By the end of the story, they have executed actions which not only make that world familiar and comfortable, but also made their original world better. They have become master of both worlds.

Jung thought that the archetypes of any given fairy tale together point to some greater unconscious concept, a piece of the Self. Fairy tales in Jung are the ultimate way of expressing the collective unconscious physically.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Little Red Clearly Needs Bigger Eyes

-Mark Parisi,

This cartoon seems to be a direct commentary on the story, namely, Little Red's surprising inability to distinguish her grandmother from a wild animal. This is one of the things that Thurber commented on, noting that someone's grandmother doesn't really look like a wolf at all. This strikes me as a very good point, and one of the major things that pulls me out of the story. To an extent, for fairy tales, the reader suspends disbelief about things that don't quite make sense. There are times that I believe the tale can go too far in its disregard for logic, and this moment might be one of them. If we go with Perrault's interpretation that the wolf is a man, it still doesn't exactly make sense, though it almost becomes a point that is being made. The little girl is apparently foolish enough as to not be able to distinguish the rapacious gentleman from a close family member.

I find this cartoon to be amusing, if you look at the story from the grandmother's perspective. Especially if the grandmother is assumed to have survived being eaten, as in Little Red Cap, she then has to listen to her granddaughter essentially saying that she looks like a wild animal. That's just absurd enough to be funny.

Also, it raised an interesting point in my mind that the story is often not examined from the grandmother's perspective. Symbolism aside, if the grandmother is just a grandmother, she definitely gets the short end of the stick in all the versions of the story. In some, she seems to have some of the same problems as her granddaughter, easily believing that the wolf's voice is that of her granddaughter and allowing him entrance. Regardless, the grandmother definitely was eaten by a wolf, and then had her granddaughter mistake the wolf for her, and didn't even get any of the goodies that Little Red was bringing her. We should all take a moment to pity the grandmother.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Children Are Heroes Too

Somehow, it is natural to not only accept a child as a possible hero of a story, but for me at least, to accept a child as the default hero of a story. All kinds of fairy tales and even ordinary fiction have child heroes, even those that might not necessarily be intended for children. Why this is is somewhat puzzling, but easily explainable. In my opinion, so much fiction is intended for children, in which the authors of the fiction or the progenitors of the fairy tales want the audience to sympathize with the protagonist. As a result of this, even tales intended for adults sometimes follow the trend of choosing a child hero, perhaps to invoke a sense of nostalgia, or perhaps just because that's the way fantastical stories have always been. A child protagonist can also be a blank slate: in many regards they can learn lessons and morals throughout the story that no adult could easily survive without already having a grasp on.

That being said, children have varied roles as protagonists in stories. Take "Hansel and Gretel", the most well known of the stories we discussed in class. The children in this story are clearly the heroes, but they fulfill the blank slate role. They make mistakes and allow themselves to be tricked, they are completely fallible and subject to the same desires that any other starving peasant children would be. Though they attempt to use their wits by leaving a trail to find their way home, they make it with breadcrumbs, a mistake that would cause their adventure with the witch. However, the children learn their lesson, and eventually trick the witch to defeat her, and then escape using their newfound cleverness, I suppose. Though exactly what character aspect improved through their experience at the witch's house is questionable, it is clear that they have more initiative than they did at the start of the tale, and the treasures they bring back allow them also to foil the poverty that launched the story. This would be an example of one kind of child protagonist.

Another would be that of "Molly Whuppie", which is a very different type of child protagonist. Molly Whuppie is a child in name only, executing theft and successful plans near infallibly. In fact, this is notable in that her age is hard to pinpoint. There are no clues based on her behavior, and she gets married at the end of the tale. In a lot of ways, Molly Whuppie seems to be a child simply for the purposes of allowing children to sympathize with the story. She executes a plot to force the ogre to kill his own children, to escape, and then returns to steal his belongings and force him to kill his own wife for no reason other than she was promised rewards if she did so. All the while, she shows a remarkable prescience about how many times she will be returning to the ogre's lair, seemingly not showing any emotion in response to the ogre's plight or the fact that she was just chased by an ogre. Molly Whuppie represents in many ways the other type of child protagonist: the one who exists specifically to spoon-feed the tale to children. Her being a child is not relevant to the tale, and at the end, considering she gets married, she must no longer be a child.

Freud, through Bettelheim, would explain Hansel and Gretel through the idea that the children at the beginning of the story are completely at the mercy of their id. They are walking, talking bundles of primal desires and oral fixations. The development that they eventually experience is a transition, that leads to them embracing the ego and thinking rationally, allowing them to escape the witch and the forest, with this common sense manifested symbolically by the treasures they bring back with them. Molly Whuppie is harder to place, since Bettelheim doesn't describe her directly. Further, it is hard to describe her with Freud's ideas about child psychology, because in so many ways, she is not a child.

Overall, children appear to be the heroes of stories for the purposes of making those stories palatable to children, whether the purpose of making it palatable is to deliver a moral or not. Children can be used to make fundamental character development more believable, or simply to make the hero seem more plucky and brave for the acts they commit, regardless if the acts are any different than those of an adult.

Picture shortly.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Shifting Fiction

A fairy tale is a story that is passed from person to person by word of mouth, a story that consistently changes when it is retold. Whereas normal literature is recorded physically, and is essentially immutable, by the time any given person hears a fairy tale, it likely bears signs of any number of people's additions. Though fairy tales may have their genesis in one specific part of the world, they resonate with people in many profound ways, especially since they are intended for children, and so are read to children. They may act as ways to teach lessons to a child, or a child may find parallels to problems in their life in the story, but either way, when the child is grown, it is likely that some fairy stories will be at their core. So when these people move around, they take the stories with them.

This essentially becomes a requirement for fairy tales, then: they must be a form of literature comprehensible to children, and in fact one that they can seek greater meaning from, whether it be in the form of Aesop-like morals or in that of particularly meaningful symbols. This allows the children to build a love of the stories, and in turn pass them throughout the world. A fairy tale not designed to be accessible to children is then, at its heart, not a fairy tale. A fairy tale that recounts real events, blurred by time, is also not a fairy tale, but a folk legend. Though fairy tales may have their start in these legends sometimes, they can only be considered to have ascended to the status of fairy tale when they spread beyond the region where they are born, and when they become an abstraction of themselves, where real emotion and probable character action fly out the window in favor of action and fantasy.

It is also, as I mentioned before, deeply important for a fairy tale that it not belong to any one storyteller or place of reference. Fairy tales must be relatable, and often, those who retell them will alter them a little bit for the listener or from their own experiences. This allowance for retelling and changing is actually crucial to fairy tales, for I would say that defining a fairy tale as a story which is transmittable by word of mouth and utterly protean would be the simplest possible definition. This is why, if you ever discuss a story, say Little Red Riding Hood, with someone else, you may find yourself having a disagreement as to how the story goes. Everyone assumes everyone else knows these basic stories, but one person might have heard the version where everyone was eaten by the wolf, and another where they were somehow saved by the woodcutter, or another where Red simply escaped. It is this idea that every telling is slightly different that is at the crux of these fairy stories.