Fairy Tales 2010

Friday, April 23, 2010

Into the Woods vs. Fables - Fairy tale or not?

In Into the Woods, there is an interesting split between the first and second acts. In my opinion, the first act is clearly a fairy tale. It follows the stories of Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, LRRH, and Rapunzel to their traditional ends with traditional, happily ever after stories. Even the invented story, that of the baker and his wife, ends happily with a baby. The woods, also, retain the fairy tale motifs of a mysterious place of magic and change. However, the second act departs grievously from the first act. The second act, perhaps because of the loss of the narrator, becomes somewhat chaotic and un-fairy tale-like. Good characters die, which never happens in fairy tales, and the characters are also forced to re-think how they actually liked their happily ever after endings, usually to a negative conclusion. This half of the play ends somewhat unhappily, with everyone having learned a valuable lesson but with sadness and disillusionment all around. So, the first half is definitely a fairy tale, the second half definitely not.

Fables, although it retains all the fairy tale characters, retains them in name only. These characters are far too deep, especially Snow White and the Big Bad (Bigby) Wolf, to be fairy tale characters. The plot, too, is not at all reminiscent of fair tale stories. I would have to conclude very decisively that this, although playing off the fairy tale motifs, is not a fairy tale.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Into the Woods and Fables: Fairy tales or not?

Into the Woods: This musical certainly has some fairy tale elements... for one, it combines several fairy tales into one grand production. Most important, however, the "woods" are explored in the musical as a source of excitement, danger, and mystery. LRRH, Jack, Cinderella, and others go into the woods either in search of something or take it as a path in order to deliver and/or receive items. Into the Woods presents the woods as a sort of test or battle ground. Characters are dealt tasks and it is up to them to make it safely through the woods. The woods can be scary, like when the giant wanted the boy who killed her husband, or exciting, like when the childless woman and the prince had their intimate meeting. This is a fairy tale because it follows the stories visually. Even in viewing it, the musical presented itself like a read, for me at least.

Fables: I don't know if I would call this one a fairy tale. It was an interesting read, however, it's comic book genre strays it away from the fairytale genre. Fables offers a cool spin to fairy tales. It's funny and it gives some of the fairy tales characters a more invloved voice in their stories. Some things are more of the author's voice, of course, and we loose the fairy tale quality.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Into the Woods and Fables

Both Into the Woods and Fables contain elements from different fairy tales. They are both mash ups of various story lines. Into the Woods contains plots from Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and jack and the Beanstalk. Fables has characters from all sorts of different fairy tales. The characters have been forced out of their homelands and are living in New York.
Since both have characters and stories from traditional fairy tales, surely they can be considered fairy tales themselves. There are however, some key differences between Fables and Into the Woods and traditional fairy tales as well as between the two of them.
In Into the Woods, the basic story lines and endings of the various fairy tales are the same as the traditional ones. Also, there is a narrator as in many traditional fairy tales. The movie also opens with the line "Once upon a time." In Fables, the tales have been altered and they are in a modern setting rather than the setting in which they were originally written.
A difference that both fables and Into the Woods have from the traditional tales is the role of men in the stories. In both the men are not typical examples of princes from fairy tales. In fables for example, Snow White and her husband have split up because he was cheating on her. In Into the Woods, the Princes married to Cinderella and Rapunzel end up getting bored with their respective marriages and start to lust after new princesses and show a fickle nature not generally associated with fairy tale princes.
The differences in these representations and the traditional fairy tales from which they were adapted are I believe a reflection of the times that each were produced. Clearly, Into the Woods and Fables both have modern twists like the infidelity of the princes.

Sexuality in the Modern Fairy Tale

Both the Fables series and the Into the Woods production have modernized the fairy tales we have been learning about. The creators of both adaptations have chosen to make the allusions to fairy tales obvious while still inserting their own artistic voice into the final product. There are certain obvious modernizations in each version: Snow White talking about her divorce in Fables and the narrator making side comments to the audience about the improbability of certain plot lines in Into the Woods. However, while I was looking at these two modern fairy tales, it was the sexuality that struck me most fiercely. As we have discussed, many of these tales were devoid of obvious sexuality. While it may have been insinuated, it was never outright stated. The modern adapters are not so prude. In fables there are multiple comic sex scenes, complete with the woman's feet thrown up in the air and wrapped in sheets whilst in bed. The approach to sex may have been most shocking in Into the Woods. The wolf, who is admittedly the most threatening sexual character in the Grimms' stories, is taken to a new level. In Into the Woods, the wolf took the time to put on his socks and jacket, but unfortunately forgot the undies. During his entire scene with LRR he was bouncing around with his "junk" flopping to the rhythm. I don't know that Soderheim could have made this threat anymore obvious without tearing across the line of obscenity. Also of note, the wolf's phallus is not a wolf phallus. It is a human appendage, just slightly grayer and hairier. The modern audience is more tolerant of, and expects more sexuality in their entertainment. The creators push the boundaries because that is what the consumers want; something shocking and memorable.

AGONNNYYYYY, misery, and strife.

I love this song, and I can't really even put my finger on a reason why I love it more than any of the others in the play. Nonetheless, even when I first saw a production of Into the Woods years ago, I was immediately drawn to this song. Sure the song is amusing, but so is the rest of the play. I think more than anything it is the tongue-in-cheek misogynistic humor and the interaction between the two princes that draws me to this scene.

The two princes share their problems with their women, problems drawn directly from old fairy tales. Rapunzel's prince is saddened because he must climb a tall tower to reach his love, while Cinderella's prince is distressed because his damsel continues to flee from him into the woods. Both princes are absolutely perplexed as to why ANY woman would spurn the advances of such dashing young men. This confusion only deepens their heartbroken agony, and, being a musical, they are therefore required to sing about it.

The scene is amusing not only because of its absurdity, but also because of the shared confusion these men feel because their "loves" are not jumping directly into their waiting arms. As fairy tale princes, they are physically perfect in beauty and bearing, but unlike more traditional princes who are wholly flat, static characters, these two are not only confused by their predicaments, but also somewhat offended that these women do not see how beautiful and perfect the princes are. All these two poor men want is to be able to be with their beautiful princesses, but they cannot.

If only there were doors...

You've got the cape!

While I think Fables is more a murder mystery using fairy tale characters than a fairy tale itself, it nonetheless can be considered a fairy tale. It begins with "Once upon a time" and follows Propp's five functions of a fairy tale.
1. lack (unknown murderer)
2. quest (to find murderer)
3. encounters magical helper (wolf, pig, etc.)
4. tests (eliminating suspects and all the obstacles, ex. stopping the murder of Jack by Bluebeard)
5. reward (well, I guess Snow White got her sister back and she could've had her wolf-prince if she wanted)
Into the Woods definitely appears more like a fairy tale, at least initially. It is spoken in the form of a fairy tale by a storyteller. It relays classic fairy tales in the Grimm tradition and invents its own that follows the same style. Morals are clearly spelled out at the end of each act, and although things totally change after the narrator is eaten, the stories still end in their traditional way (ex. Cinderella's eyes plucked out by birds), so the lack of narration changes the way the story is relayed but not it's content.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

So as not to spark any controversy...

As a lover of peace and despiser of conflict, I have chosen only to present a completely factual and therefore in no way hostile or biased exposition on the series "Fables" by Bill Willingham et al.

The graphic novel has been in circulation for the past eight years, making its debut in 2002. It is a monthly publication which boasts 93 issues currently, 85 of which have been collected into trade paperbacks. From this series has spawned a novel (Peter and Max), another unique comic book series (Jack of Fables), and multiple related comic book miniseries. The series has won a Hugo award and 12 Eisner awards.

Now close your eyes because this is where the controversy starts...
It is a brilliant rethinking of the characters from fairytales, placing them in a much more realistic psychological set of motivations as well as making the characters relatable and coherent. Willingham creates a unique and intriguing world that resurrects the value of fairytales for the modern reader, allowing thought and analysis to drive the reader as opposed to a need for release--not that he fails to provide this. His work examines psychological motivations and extrapolations of the characters that we have known for many years (or forgotten with the passing of time). The fluid writing styles of Willingham and Sturgis further contribute to the brilliance and coherence of the series. The only limitation which vexes me is that of the nature of monthly issues, which limits the length and breadth of that which can be discussed, but with this, the writers and artists work brilliantly and do not allow the limitations of the genre to have an ill effect, sometimes even using these minor limitations to their advantage. Also, the formating and style are beyond compare... If only modern writers of fiction novels had such a grasp of style or literature...

But alas, I have said too little...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Lady and the Merman, by Jane Yolen

This story is a fairy tale in a number of ways. It begins with an unnamed father and mother receiving an unwanted child into the world; because the father does not want the child, the mother dies soon after. This is true in many fairy tales, where the mother dies/is killed and the child is left to be raised by the father only. It also follows the course of many fairy tales in that the child (named Borne) is ignored by her remaining parent and is forced to live life almost entirely alone. Borne ends up lamenting her failed relationship with her father while on the beach, and she happens to see a merman. This is another very fairy tale-esque feature of this story: the magical creature, and the hope for a 'happily ever after' ending. Borne cries to the merman, requesting him to "come up and be [her] love". However, the merman doesn't appear until the very end of the story. When he does, the jumps up on her rock and motions out to sea, suggesting that she follow him to some unknown kingdom of merpeople. If this was a traditional fairy tale, the ending from here would be clear: the unloved girl would join the merman and they would live happily forever under the sea. However, Jane Yolen takes the story in an entirely different and decidedly non-fairy tale direction: Borne jumps into the ocean to follow the merman, and promptly drowns.

This story has the fairy tale elements such as the dead mother, familial issues, and magical creatures, yet the ending gives it a much more modern twist (the story was written in 1976). The ending implies that the merman is all an object of deluded fantasy, and Borne kills herself out of depression at never having a true relationship with her father.

How's That A Fairytale! Episode 97: Hans Christian Andersen and "The Little Match Girl"

doo do doo dee do dee doo (*This is the theme song, Ladies and Gentlemen*) doot doot doooooo. What do you get—doot doot doo—when you put a writer in a blender and puree him too then add a little fairy dust? What's that do? It gives you something—doodily doo—but not just anything. No! It gives you something that's something like a fairy tale, but maybe not a fairytale even if the writer says it’s a fairy tale. So what do we—doot doot—do? We ask the question. Yes, we ask the question. What's the question that we ask? (*You are supposed to shout this next line with the TV screen so as to add to you experience*) HOW'S THAT A FAIRYTALE!

Host: Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is that time again. Time for everyone's favorite show that answers the question that everyone's asking: How's that a fairytale? Today we'll be discussing—or maybe I should say listening to me lecture about—


Host: The Little Match Girl. This story chronicles the death and redemption of a poor child whose livelihood and family's security is contingent on her ability to peddle matches to the public a penny apiece. On the night of New Year's Eve, the time over which our entire acquaintance with her takes place, we learn that life has been a cruel mistress to the child, who fears the beating and reproach she is destined to receive upon returning home to her father without having sold a single match the entire day and not having earned a single penny. Her dread is compounded by the lack of heat in her house which is so very similar to the cold of the streets as it starts to snow. In irony, she holds the matches, a source of heat unconsumed as she slowly freezes to death. It is in this revelation that she chooses to warm her numb hands by expending but a single match and letting her body and soul be relieved of their plight. The light afforded by the match incites the young girl to dream and imagine, in short, to be uplifted to a higher plane of existence wherein her suffering does not matter and she can overcome the world. Unfortunately, the single match lasts for only a short while and the girl is left cold and wanting in the snow, so she, of course, lights another. Then, when it is spent, she lights the remainder of the matches in order to truly transcend the material world—by dying… She is found in the morning by the townspeople frozen to death and everyone thought that the girl's death was a tragedy because they couldn't understand or know of the radiant visions she had had or her transcendence. She died with a smile on her face. The end… Wow! That was a doozy. Sorry about the uncharacteristically long exposition, and especially the lack of humor involved. To make up for it, I'll try to refrain from listless gravity for the remainder of the show. I know I'd turn me off if I were as boring as that last bit!


Host: Well, it appears that I have, here, my work cut out for me today. How could I ever hope to prove that this unusual allegory is a fairytale? … I can't. … Just kidding!


Host: I tricked you! How naïve! Of course I can prove it is a fairytale and why, otherwise I wouldn't be the host of this show. But if I'm going to answer the question, I'm going to need your help. I need you to ask it.


Host: How's that a fairytale indeed, Folks. Well, let us start off by analyzing from this tale some of the important markers of the author's project. He wants reevaluate our perspective in order to do two things: emphasize a very aesthetic value system wherein the imagination and creativity are considered in their own right as worthy ends and convince the poor to commit suicide…


Host: No, but really, his other objective is to present a very Christian set of values and considerations of such things as poverty and suffering—which suggests that the poor should commit suicide in order to evade the hardships of the world…


Host: Now, with these aims in mind, we can understand the very clear project Hans Christian Andersen saw in this piece. As an extension to the fairytale genre which he was attempting to found in his collection of works, this was one of the less characteristic stories. Good thing too…


Host: In this particular story in spite of its rarity, Andersen does still utilize magic. He uses, however, magic in a very unique way among fairytale writers such that the magic is from only one source, God in the Christian tradition. Even the magical transformative powers of the imagination in this story are implicit of the power of God. Luckily for fireplaces everywhere, however, God chose not to inspire any other match girls.


Host: So it really utilizes magic in a very traditional way as the solution to the problem and ends with the positive resolution rampant in the fairytale genre… It just has a really twisted interpretation on what those are… And That, Ladies and Gentlemen, is how "The Little Match Girl" is a fairytale!


Host: Goodnight, everybody. Thank you for watching, I hope to see you again next week when answer the question