Tag Archive for fairy tales

Excellent Article Series: Grimm Surrealities

Little Red Riding HoodIn keeping with my interest in folklore and mythology–and, coincidentally, my various blog posts about fairy tales and related story and myth–I’m really enjoying a series on these subjects, written by a friend of mine whose nom de plume is Jas Faulkner. Her series is called Grimm Surrealities, and she’s exploring fairy tales in their original forms (do we even know those?) as well as the more modern resurrections of the same stories. Why did they resonate back then–and why do they still resonate today?

As Jas says in her first column, Shake Paws With Your Lunar Powered Best Friend:

There’s nothing pretty or princessy about the characters you’ll find in the stories as collected by the Grimm Brothers and others. Even Andrew Lang’s allegedly nursery-bound Colour Fairies series of books is far darker and redder in tooth and claw than the Golden Books of our childhood.

In upcoming columns, we’ll take a look at sources that have preserved and shaped how we view those tales.

Her second column is just out: Grimm Surrealities: My, what big eyes you have! In this one, she tackles the tale of Little Red Riding Hood. Now, there’s a whole can of worms! I’m amused at her description of how people hae handled this story:

The story of Little Red Riding Hood is littered with psychosexual landmines that have rendered two centuries of lit-crit pros and archetypal psychology scholars into quivering masses of self-doubt. Once fierce verbal gladiators of the classroom and the seminar tug at their collars and swallow hard while they wonder when they left the shining path of dashing young turk academia for the more shadowy back alleys inhabited by a thousand lupine Humbert Humberts.

Lots of good stuff there about the telling of that tale, both in the past and in more recent treatments. And the squirming of the critical and psychological interpreters of the story. (And then there’s the latest interpretation I’ve seen, on the TV Series, Once Upon A Time, which turns the whole story entirely on its head.)

If you enjoy explorations of fairy tales and the rich subconscious, interpretive ocean from which they arise, keep watch for more of Jas’s columns. Can’t wait to see what she does with Cinderella! Or with Prince Charming — who really gets around, when you think of it.

Little Red Riding Hood - French depicition

French depiction of Little Red Riding Hood, by Fleury Francois Richard - painting in the Louvre

The Historian: a great, sweeping Odyssey but an unfortunately tame ending

Despite the title of this blog post, I liked Elizabeth Kostova‘s book, The Historian, a lot. A lot.

You need to be pretty dedicated to read it, though. While I have no problem whatsoever with Very Long Books, this one builds fairly slowly from the beginning. It really gets going in a big way only by the time it’s already reached the length of some entire modern novels–so if you’re looking for immediate, intense action and a quick resolution, this is not the book for you. If you love history, though, and you love the idea of studying the history of folklore, especially the folklore of Eastern Europe and the Ottoman Empire, oh my, you will love this book!

It focuses on the story of Vlad Tepes, the prince of Wallachia (now part of Romania) whose story morphed into the tale of Dracula. A sixteen-year old girl traces the steps her parents took before her birth, searching for the tomb of Tepes by unearthing legends and histories all over Eastern Europe. We learn both their history and hers, as her progress is intertwined with excerpts from her scholar father’s letters. And before long, we realize that that there’s a reason why the folk tales and legends about Dracula and others like him have appeared in many different places and times: it’s possible that he was real, and that he is still alive. In finding his tomb, the characters in this book might find more horror than they bargained for.

This sounds like “just another Gothic novel,” or perhaps a “horror story lite.” There are threads of both in this book, but it’s so much more than that. I suspect that all the tales and legends that Ms. Kostova explored along the way are genuine stories from the times and cultures she sets them in. Which does raise the question: why do they appear everywhere and everywhen? With the explorations in The Historian, Kostova takes us on an actual scholarly exploration. Which I, being that sort of scholar at heart, lapped up eagerly. And the closer the protagonists get to their answers, the more unnerving and tense the novel gets.

The only disappointment I have with the book is that the ultimate problem the characters face is resolved fairly simply and with such brief work. And the reason that most of them were, in fact, chosen (unbeknownst to them) to set out on this quest is kind of a lame one. With all the difficulty of their search, over so many years and across half the continent of Europe, I would have hoped it would be for a more powerful reason, and I would also have expected the resolution to be a lot harder and take longer.

I did love the journey, though. Following the history of the Dracula story (or tales of vampires) through time and through all those lands was like a big feast for me. Despite the rather disappointing ending, I’d say Kostova did a great job of her first published novel.

New Fairy Tales Discovered!

Title page of old Grimms Fairy Stories bookThis is very exciting news, to me: Five hundred new fairytales discovered in Germany. Even just reading the headline, I thought, “Ooooh, like the Grimm brothers!” And then, reading farther along, I discovered that Franz Xaver von Schonwerth had made his collection at around the same time as the Grimms did.

Which means that, whatever that article says about the Grimms’ fairy tales “charming children,” these tales are likely quite dark. Most of the Grimms’ tales were pretty dark too, before they were sanitized and often turned into sentimental pap in more recent generations. (There was not always a happy ending, I can tell you that.)

Here’s one of the early translations of the tales that were found: The Turnip Princess. It’s a bit confusing, but that’s the thing about the real thing: fairy tales, the real original ones, are indeed a little dark and confusing. They’re like dreams, a society working out the great subconscious matters. They are not neat and tidy. But they can be and are very profound, nonetheless.

I hope these are published in English translations at some point! I am also very amused that there’s a version of Cinderella in this collection. What does that make now — 366 separate versions?

[And looking for the image of the Grimms book, I discovered this wonderful site and a discourse on the Grimm brothers’ work: Grimms’ Fairy Tales. Looks like a great read!]

RE-ENCHANTMENT: If you Love Fairy Tales, Go Here

Visit the beauty parlor and click on the sections to learn about Rapunzel and her hair! Learn the significance of Cinderella’s cleaning the ashes, which are connected with death. And discover why fairy tale women so often get involved with beast-men!

Re-Enchantment site bannerDo you love fairy tales? Either in their own right as interesting stories, or because of their fascinating psychological aspects and history? That’s why I love them: I love exploring their manifestations of the psyche, and discovering how these stories manifest in different cultures and in different times.

Well. If you love fairy tales for any or all these reasons, you must visit this interactive site, pronto: RE-ENCHANTMENT.: An immersive journey into the hidden meanings of fairy tales.

It’s based in Australia, and is connected somehow to a TV documentary about fairy tales. But you don’t really need to know about any of that, because the site itself is so fascinating. It’s very interactive, and delves into the psyche, history, symbolism, and anything-else-you-can-name in connection with a few major fairy tales. (Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Bluebeard, Rapunzel, Cinderella, and Hansel & Gretel)

I was particularly interested in the Cinderella constellation of information, because I know from my own myth & folklore studies that there are at least 365 versions of the story — one for every day of the year! And the basic story is almost always much darker than the sanitized Disney version or one that might appear in children’s books today. (The original Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale books were quite true to their family name.)

The Uses of Enchantment, by Bruno BettelheimIn fact, the origins of most fairy tales tend to be quite dark, and the reason is that they seem to be the means of working dark things out of our psyches so we don’t act them out in reality. And that applies to children too.

That theory was propounded by psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim, who specialized in working with problem children that no other doctors could help. He wrote the most fascinating book — The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales — on the subject, and in fact, it’s referenced occasionally in the bits of the website that I’ve visited so far.

So anyway. Have a visit! I bet you’ll get as engrossed as I did.

[This production was written by Sarah Gibson, a practising Jungian Analyst and a Senior Lecturer at the University of Technology, Sydney, Australia. It was produced by award-winning screen and digital media producer Sue Maslin, of FilmArtMedia. To learn more about this production, visit the RE-ENCHANTMENT FilmArtMedia site.]

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