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.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Generic Introductory Post

Let me first start off with a note on creativity. It was noted in class that it would be important that we spice up our blogs with images or videos. However, I have little talent in terms of online media. I have no skill at drawing, and in terms of video organizational skills, I am sadly lacking. I do have an idea for something I could do, but I need to figure out if I can make it work. It'll be awesome, I promise.

But this one isn't. This blog post is pretty text based. I hope to have something more interesting next week.

So, why did I choose this class? Because fairy tales are fascinating. In a way, they are the first opportunity many of us get as children to immerse ourselves in a fictional world, the first opportunity to foster imagination. In so many ways, they are integral in shaping children into who they are as adults, seemingly with the consequence that many folk tales end up with an overriding moral, in the style of Aesop's Fables, that transforms the tales into a vessel by which to teach children various aspects of life. The idea that a single tale could have any number of variations or versions, based on who is telling it is also fascinating. You always feel like, in some way, the stories belong to you. They are so diffused through modern culture, now, that iconography and such from the stories pervades many aspects of life. Being that I think that fairy tales are important in making people who they are, and that they are a greatly enjoyable topic, I thought that an SIS on them would be awesome.

There's a lot I'd like to learn from the class. Firstly, it's interesting just how powerful folk tales are, and how much staying power they have. One would think that, given a comparison with classical literature, where classical literature is recorded and folk tales, through their nature, cannot be, that literature would be much harder to forget. However, for something as intangible as a tale, so many of the classic tales seem to be incredibly difficult to avoid running into. Their symbolism and ideals permeate society seemingly on a very basic level. I'd like to try and learn why this is true.

I'd also like to learn exactly what, academically, qualifies as a folk tale. Certain things are obvious, the "classical tales" such as Little Red Riding Hood or Snow White. Are more recent tales qualified, and if not, is it because a folk tale requires time to get a hold, or because society has fundamentally changed since the genesis of the classical tales? Are mythologies valid folk tales? The mythos of different cultures is generally passed directly through word of mouth, and though they would have been considered legitimate theology by the cultures that believed in them, nowadays they are so often adapted and changed that it seems they might be considered fairy tales. This raises an interesting thought I had in class. It seems the fundamental requirement for a folk tale is that it passes by word of mouth and gets a hold of some number of people. With the advent of the internet becoming the cultural phenomenon that it is today, it is possible for an idea or tale to spread across the world very quickly, mutating and shifting at unfollowable speeds. Certain tales find their origin in some forum or place on the internet, and are quickly adapted and changed as others retell them to other parts of the internet. It seems there could be valid arguments for and against these being folk tales. The internet allows direct communication with other people for the purposes of telling a story, but in doing so, forces you on some level to write that story down. There will be records of folk tales that started in the internet, but those records, like the tales, will change quickly. Determining the exact definition of a folk tale and what counts is something that very much interests me.

Given this confusion, naming my favorite folk tale becomes somewhat difficult. Of the classical tales, Little Red Riding Hood is my favorite, simply because I've always liked the imagery and symbolism of the story. In a way, I guess I consider it the archetypal fairy tale. It has all the elements that can sort of be extrapolated to any story: there's a lesson that the child protagonist breaks, a monster that chases her, it is set in the same forestlike environment that so many fairy tales seem to be, and so on. If the definition of a fairy tale is broader, my answer would change a little bit.

So, with that in mind, I'm ready to move onward to the rest of this class. I'm eagerly anticipating learning more about folk tales.