Fairy Tales 2010
Friday, January 29, 2010
"Walt's formula" is a very important concept that is used, not just in fairy tales (especially now, and especially in Hollywood) and is a list of necessary actions and devices utilized in order to activate internal biases of the populace and, in turn, make successes out of the productions. One in particular that makes me laugh is, for those of you who have seen it and those that have not as well, Dexter, a series on HBO if I'm not mistaken. Anyhow, as a brief overview for those unaware of the cultural pop icon—although you clearly have bigger problems that I cannot fix if you are not in tune with your own generation's pop icons—Dexter is a relatively new show that was meant to be provocative and edgy. The way the creator achieved this was by making the title character, Dexter, a sociopathic (formerly termed psychopathic for those of you that have better acquaintance with one term over the other) serial killer.
Problematic Aspects of the Premise:
1) The main character must be a protagonist. People get distressed if they follow a negative character or insignificant character for too long.
2) Protagonists must be likeable and have generally good qualities. Bad qualities in any protagonist should be mitigated and justified as much as possible, lest the protagonist become unlikeable by a greater demographic.
3) The villain(s)—in this context a different category from antagonist—must be clearly less likeable and less desirable than the protagonist.
4) The protagonist must be able to be related to by the audience.
Application of the Formula:
These are very difficult problems to overcome when the main character is a man who can feel no emotion and is a murderer by trade. The first is quite simple to overcome: simply have Dexter be the protagonist. This creates the problems of the second and third. In order to make a serial killer likeable, they go to absurd lengths to develop his character (not in the literary sense of the word but in the moral sense), making him a murderer of murderers. They also make him into the victim, taking away the possible blame, since it was his father's act of slaughtering his mother among others in front of his very eyes in a highly traumatic moment in his youth that makes him into the person that he is. This shifts the blame so that the audience pities him and he is justified in his sociopathic tendencies and his intrinsic need to murder. He also goes to inexorable lengths to prove, at least to himself, that the villain of each episode (another serial killer) is, in fact, an evil person and murderer and unable to be successfully be convicted and prosecuted by law. On more than one occasion, he even waits until after the legal proceedings fail. He also typically must prove "to himself" that the murderer he kills murders innocent people that are good and has no intention of changing. Thus, having taken care of the first three problems, the only difficulty left is the final challenge: making the protagonist, a sociopathic serial killer, relatable. Clearly, the station wants to relate to a much larger audience than the people who kill and have no emotion, so they have to take care of this by inserting feelings into the character in a way in which the audience will fail to realize them as feelings but rather as universals expressed in themselves. To this end, they utilize long expository monologues wherein Dexter tells the audience about his feelings of not belonging and awkwardness and how he longs to fit in but just cannot do it no matter how hard he tries and how even though he can smile when he is supposed to or perform the other necessary actions not to be marked be others, he feels alone and outcast because normal people have those things come naturally to them but for him it is nothing more than a formulaic regurgitation of necessary motions that he has learned. These minor emotions are able to be generalized enough to fit almost anyone (anyone except, perhaps, a sociopath), solving all of the problems, and now we have a TV show…
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Although I disagree with some of the reasoning of Tatar, I do believe that “Cinderella” and “Donkeyskin” can legitimately be read together. Tatar admits that the two stories seem superficially unrelated. The title character in each is very different in nature, and “unlike Cinderella, who endures humiliation at home and becomes the beneficiary of lavish gifts, the heroine of Catskin tales is mobile, active, and resourceful” (105). "Cinderella’s” plot revolves around biological family jealousy and forced domesticity, while “Donkeyskin’s” plot includes a father’s sexual desire and a daughter running away. In the first kind, focus is on “the unbearable family situation produced by a father’s remarriage,” yet the father’s responsibility is suppressed and the emphasis is placed instead on the evil doings of his wife. In the latter, stepmothers and daughters are nonexistant, yet the mother’s words drive the father’s desire by giving him strict requirements that only her daughter could fulfill. In this way, the catalyst for both stories can be read as the mother. However, this parallel is not enough to place the two stories in the same category, because mothers as villains are ever-present in fairytales (ex. Snow White). Nevertheless, Tatar does make a convincing argument for their connection in that both stories illustrate “the way in which the path to happy heterosexual unions depends on a successful transfer of filial love and devotion from a father to a ‘prince,’ on a move from a false ‘perfect fit’ to a true ‘perfect fit’” (105).
The two can be read together, because the similarities outweigh the differences. In each there exists a fairy godmother, a prince’s quest of fitting (either of the glass slipper or of the ring), beautiful gowns, and the girl wearing rags and performing menial labor. While there are no literal stepmothers or stepdaughters in “Donkeyskin,” the general populace fills these roles, echoing the evil characters of “Cinderella” in declarations like “It’s only Donkeyskin” and “only wolves are uglier than she is” (113).
However, Kashmir’s “The Wicked Stepmother” is read as a “Cinderella” tale, yet its birthmother is prevalent and there is no prince. It does, however, relate to “Cinderella” in a major way that “Donkeyskin” does not: there exists a wicked stepmother who is the driving force of evil in the story. There is also the fitting of the ring that's found in "Donkeyskin" but not "Cinderella." Therefore, which stories are read together depends on the specific classification. In the category of tales of finding "the perfect fit," all three stories are in harmony.
Most of the elements of literature are completely irrelevant to determining types of tales, because these are the very differences that folklorists seek to exploit in order to understand the mentalite of a culture group. Elements like tone, voice, and character motivations or dilemmas are entirely indicative of the individual culture from which the tale was attained and the specific storyteller from which it was recorded. In order to better illustrate this point, I have devised a "better" form for children of an old-time classic.
Onceuponatime there was a girl. The girl's mother never died and still adored her quite thoroughly and she had an elder sister who was also adored, but they were poor and thusly unable to support the extravagant lifestyle they were used to. Instead, the could only afford to dress one of the two daughters well and so on and naturally chose the elder daughter for her being of marrying age, since her marriage to a wealthy man could bring them great fortune as a family, making it necessary for them to present her in proper fashion. Here again, the girl has to do the cooking and the cleaning because her mother and sister must put on airs in order to appear the more wealthy and cannot, therefore, be seen to slave over chores. When the ball happens and the younger wishes to go, it is out of pity for her that the mother denies her and gives her an impossible task to complete--the removal of a bowl of lentils from the ashes in an excessively short period. Having completed this task and asking the mother again for permission to attend the ball, her heart is broken by the mother, whose heart equally breaking, must tell her child that she still cannot go to the ball even after having finished such a ridiculous task because the family could not afford to purchase her a dress worthy of the ball and their family would be shamed arriving with a daughter attired so meagerly. The mother leaves with her elder daughter to attend the ball as the girl cries at length until her fairy godmother arrives and provides her with a beautiful dress and shoes and carriage ride to the ball with the caveat that no one is to find out her identity lest the spell be broken. At the ball, she dances with the prince and they fall in love even though she is slightly younger than the age at which most girls get married, and then she has to leave without being able to so much as hint at who she is to her new love. As she makes her exit, she is accosted by a guard who is ordered by the king to find the identity of the maiden, and loses a shoe in the struggle. It is by this shoe that the prince is afforded the means by which to locate the beautiful maiden that he had fallen in love with, and he goes from estate to estate, trying it on all of the maidens in the land. When he arrives at the appropriate one, the mother, ashamed of how she has had to clothe and treat her younger daughter and spurred as well by the fact that she is not quite to marrying age, hides her in the pantry as the elder tries on the shoe but it does not fit. The girl makes her way out of the pantry and approaches the prince and he realizes it is her before even trying the shoe on, but he does so anyhow. Despite his confusion at her garb and appearance, he still loves her and decides to honor her and promise himself to her. Aware now, however, of her family's position he chooses to bestow them with the necessary wealth to restore their estate to its former glory, and likewise aware of his love's youth, elects to wait until she is of appropriate marrying age to wed the young girl but sooner arranges a propitious marriage for the elder sister...
Clearly, despite the gross alterations to tone, voice, and character motivations, this is a Cinderella fairy tale.
P.S. If you at all care about the father, you can imagine him either dead or away all the time on business as he struggles to support his family…
Although the two stories are very similar, the differences of the oppressive parental relationships cannot be dismissed. Even stories from other literary traditions, such as “The Story of Tam and Cam” from Vietnam, are more similar to Cinderella than the Donkeyskin tales. Cinderella, as in “Tam and Cam,” presents the oppressor as the evil step-mother, who commands the household and oppresses Cinderella in order to promote her own biological children. Donkeyskin, however, presents an incestuous, lustful father who desires his own biological daughter. The main conflict in the story is one of unnatural incest rather than a mother supporting her biological offspring over an adopted daughter. The intended lessons these relationships present are therefore vastly different. The step-mother is evil and suppresses Cinderella, who is virtuous, out of jealousy for her daughters. The father in Donkeyskin, however, lusts after his own daughter, a sin which is not only unnatural, but wholly against the morals of the readership. Whereas readers can on some level understand that the step-mother loves her own offspring more than Cinderella, the Donkeyskin father’s incestuous lust is utterly abhorrent.
In comparing the story of Cinderella with Conkijgharuna, the Little Rag Girl, I realized some important variations. First in Cinderella, the father dies early on in the story, but in Conkijgharuna, the Little Rag Girl, the father is alive. He is non-existent so metaphorically dead and portrayed as very weak due to the fact that he is unable to provide and protect his child himself. Conkijgharuna is treated badly by her stepmother whom has one child while Cinderella is treated badly by her stepmother who has two children. The "fairy godmother" for Conkijgharuna turns out to be a talking cow that leads her step by step to a better life where her hair becomes golden blonde, she acquires beautiful clothing, and is able to meet her king. Little detail is given about the King. All that is known is that he is a King, not a prince, and finds the glass slipper in a stream instead of at a Ball. Harm comes to the daughter of the stepmother when she becomes as dark as an African and grows a horn on her face. This creates a moral parallel that good comes to those who are good and bad comes to those who act badly because as the harm is done to the stepmother's daughter, the stepmother also experiences the pain.
The stories should be studied together because the censored and glamorized Cinderella illustrates a one sided view of things. If the point of the story is the moral take home message, then it'd be best to show the different possible outcomes of the story just as in those books where you pick your action and see the outcome change relative to each action. Giving the reader two sides of a story allows them to open up their mind and think of a possible third or forth outcome and to realize the reality of certain actions and outcomes. I think an important message that Conkijgharuna, the Little Rag Girl tells is when the cow said, "In one of my horns is honey, and in the other is butter, which you can take if you want to, so why be unhappy?" I feel like that means if you are unhappy where you are then you have the power to change that. Therefore its good to ask yourself why your unhappy where you are and realize what you can do to be happy.
Looking quickly at the tales, we see a 1) princess who is 2) working domestically. I agree that when I think of princesses cleaning and baking, I immediately think of Cinderella, regardless of whether or not they are wearing a donkeyskin coat. However, I do not agree with Tatar's claim that both princess types have entered into this role through persecution by their parents. Cinderella is obviously the victim of bad circumstance. She once had a loving mother who then died, and is unfortunate enough to have a spineless father who is completely entranced by his new wife. The stepmother, now wanting to assert her power, relegates Cinderella into a maid before she can be rescued by a fairy godmother/matchmaker who send her into the outstretched arms of the Prince. It is obvious throughout the stories that her stepmother does not love her and is deliberately trying to make her life miserable. In the Donkeyskin stories it is not persecution by her father, as Tatar claims, but the overwhelming combination of love and grief that sends Cinderella into domestic servitude. The king is usually still distraught about the loss of his wife and is trying to replace her more than find a new wife. Unfortunately, Donkeyskin is the only woman who will fit the bill. The king is never mean to her, he never beats her or treats her poorly or makes her do chores. He just loves her and wants her to marry him. It's Donkeyskin's moral compass that leads her to the kitchens of the castle. Tatar is wrong to call it "erotic persecution". It is more of a misguided affection.
Later, Tatar accurately points out that in the modern proliferation of fairy tales, the blatant theme of incest is difficult to overcome. She also points out that these tales may have stayed on the back burner because they so clearly endorse disobedience of your parents. However, when I raise my children, I hope they know that it is wrong for a father to want to marry his daughter. Tales like "The Princess Who Would Not Marry Her Father" could easily make it into my bedtime story repertoire. It has the same mystical intrigue with fairy godmothers and jewels and dresses, without any endorsement of tolerance of abuse at the hands of a wicked stepmother. I think I would be okay with a little assertion of independence if my kids were the victims of incestuous advances. I would rather have a role model that lived far away from her perverted father than complacently under the nose of a sadistic stepmother.
Let's look at "Cinderella." Her mom dies in the beginning and her father remarries. She then has an evil stepmother and stepsisters. A sort of magical element in the story is that she has animal friends that understand her speech. In the Grimm's version she weeps under a tree where her mother is buried and cries out, "Shake and wobble little tree! Let gold and silver fall all over me." A bird then drops her wishes over the girl and Cinderella has a dress for the wedding her sisters were invited to. Cinderella attends and the prince only dances with her the entire night. The same routine took place for two more nights, and on the third night Cinderella left a slipper behind. After searching for the young lady whose foot would fit the shoe it was finally discovered to belong to Cinderella. She lived happily ever after with the prince and her stepsisters were blinded by birds.
The Grimm's "All Fur" resembles "Cinderella" in some ways, and in others is totally different. The good and beautiful wife dies in the beginning just as in Cinderella, but the man vows to only marry again if the lady be as lovely as his former wife. The king soon realizes that his daughter is the only women in the kingdom that can fill her mother's shoes and declares he will marry his own daughter. She escapes after procuring dresses and a coat made of fur (she said these were necessary to wed her father). She becomes a cook and too goes to a dance as did Cinderella.
Now what are the morals of both stories? For sure in Cinderella we are left to think beauty triumphs ugly, both inside and out. Cinderella, like Donkeyskin, was domestic and another moral of the tale is that hard work pays off. The Grimms also include in their tale that piety is a virtue and will be rewarded. On her death bed the mother tells Cinderella to "Be pious. Then the dear Lord shall always assist you..." (79). And what about All Fur? Her beauty too triumphs the evil of her father and her hard work as a cook pays of in the end. Christian beliefs/morals are also present in this tale because we can understand her escape being motivated from a pre-existing belief that incest is a sin. So really, the two can and should be read together if you really consider how related the two are in their overall message. The Ashliman site for All Fur stories includes a German tale entitled "Cinder Blower." Of course the mother dies and the father "falls in love" with his daughter. She agrees under the condition that she is given three dresses. The magic here is that the daughter can transport herself and by this, she flees just as in traditional Donkeyskin tales. She wears crowskin, but changes into her dress when she goes to the dance. She is given a ring by the prince, and upon being asked to make him soup she drops the ring into his food. He finds it and orders her to look at his scalp because it itches. It is then that she steps up to look at his head when he discovers her dress under the crowskin. He now knows this is the same girl from the dance and they live happily ever after. The main reason I chose this tale is because of its title: it includes the word cinder which automatically makes you think of Cinderella. However, it is read more like a traditional Donkeyskin tale and in this way fuses both tales together. It's title further suggests that Maria Tarter was right when she said that the two tale types be read together.
Although there are important distinctions between the two types of tales (uh… duh… the focus on incest), in the majority of the tales, there is a very similar flow of events. In the majority of Donkeyskin tales, the second act runs directly parallel to the majority of Cinderella stories. The key distinctions here are that it is the MAJORITY of each of the tale types and that it is a SIMILAR flow of events.
Within each of the tale types there is a great deal of variation, however, and when comparing these outliers with the other tale type it seems almost like a nonsequitur, but this is not very different from seeing these outliers in comparison to the bulk of their own tale type, although there will be notably more relation. For example, when comparing Donkeyskin tales in general to Doralice by Straparola, the two seem quite foreign to each other. In Doralice, when the title character is informed of her father's intention, she is hidden by her nurse in a chest that the father eventually sells. Then she sneaks out of her chest to clean the quarters of the king that later possesses the chest every day. Eventually, she is caught doing this and marries him. Then the father shows back up and kills their children and frames Doralice. She is convicted and tortured until the nurse reveals to the king the whole truth, at which point she is nursed back to health. Then, they go to war and torture her father into confession. This tale is very divergent from the typical Donkeyskin tales where the princess purposefully flees and attends balls or festivals of some kind, thus meeting the prince and eventually being found out, but this difference within a tale type is to be expected since, over the transition of centuries and cultures there is expected to be some large amount of variation. This variation is similarly seen in the Lin Lan version of Cinderella in comparison to the average Cinderella tales. Just as these outliers are completely out of sync with the opposing tale type, they are not directly in sync with their own tale type, which is one of the major issues of creating tale-type categories, along with determining what aspects of a story are important enough to warrant a new tale type. Still, the basic flows of the tales are predominantly the same, and the only real distinction is in the beginning of the stories, which allows for a separation of the two due to the cultural saliency of incest and fact that the divergent beginnings contribute to a slight overall shift in tone and content that becomes the major defining feature between the two, but the distinctions are still not great enough in quantity or quality to warrant an entirely new tale type. This makes the distinction 510A and 510B (a subdivision within a single overarching tale type) appropriate.
These distinctions are very similar to those of race and what constitutes a "valid" difference to "justify" separating humanity into races. I posit that the difference between 510A and 510B is comparable to the difference between black and white people. (This will at least add some interesting controversy to my paper.) Although there is a very noticeable difference between the average of each of the two groups, which can allow for a distinction, they are all still human in both groups and have a sweeping amount of similarities. The differences only appear great when you compare the two groups to each other or themselves. When you compare those difference with the differences between Hans My Hedgehog or Clever Else or The Bright Sun Will Bring It to Light, it becomes apparent just how insignificant these distinctions really are for determining tale type (or else every tale ever told would be its own unique tale type in the ultimate reduction which allows us to learn and understand nothing).
If you do not understand the race analogy or think me small-minded for it or would like more clarification on it, go ahead and comment with your inquiries. I will end here however because I am wont to pretend at the moment that I have some inkling of care for you and your desire to have this ended already.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
By popular demand, I have chosen to address the problematic tale of Clever Else and why, despite her name, she appears so dimwitted. Unanimous consensus was acquired from the one person that was surveyed that I should cover this particular topic. Due to the importance of anonymity of the subject(s) of any random sample in order for it to remain a random sample, I will protect the identity of the one in question, so for all you, the reader, know, I am the one surveyed. If you simply must know, then prepare to live the remainder of your life in complete emptiness and painful unrest because I do not plan to reveal my source.
In order to understand the name "Clever Else," we must first gain a more holistic view of the Grimms' fairy tales and their use of titles. Although in Cinderella or All Fur there is a direct description of the character in the character's name, for many when they are preceded by an adjectival modifier, this becomes either an ironic or first person descriptor. Such is the case with Lucky Hans, Clever Hans, and Clever Else. For Lucky Hans, he believes himself lucky since any time he realizes that what he holds is a burden, it is taken off of his hands and replaced with something that he thinks is better but the reader, or listener, is meant to clearly distinguish as a negative gain, making him actually unlucky. The Grimms here do not take the more abstract view of luck wherein Hans actually is lucky because he is happy with his lot in life and takes pride in his poor trades. Instead, they use the label from an ironic third person perspective since he is continually swindled by the people he meets. Likewise, in "Clever Hans," the title character continually misappropriates the lessons that his mother tries to teach him and eventually loses his fiancé as a result (as a broad over-simplification of the tale). Despite the perception that Hans has of himself as being clever, he clearly is not, making it as well an ironic title.
In "Clever Else," there is an added layer that seems to confuse the matter, in that the people in the story address her as Clever Else and call her clever independent of her name. This oddity is explained easily by two parts of the story, both unwritten and contextual to the time of the transcription. First, the context of the word "clever" in this case is more of a meaning to say "thoughtful," realizing that, in those times, very few were educated, especially from the peasant class, which was the purveyor of these stories. Thus, they had a very different view of cleverness, especially in the context of women. The second main idea here is that a woman who is clever (thoughtful) is a poor choice of wife because they will spend too much time distracted by their thoughts and will not be hardworking.
The question of her cleverness is answered by her revelation that the pickax could, in some conditional set of occurrences, possibly kill a hypothesized child in the event that the child were to fetch some beer. It is answered in that she reveals herself as a very thoughtful person and, under the condition that thoughtfulness is important, as Hans initially posits, she proves herself a worthy bride. It is then realized by Hans that "cleverness" is not a worthwhile trait because it leads to laziness and makes her not do work. Thus, he chooses to use her own cleverness against her and she is punished for her thoughtfulness by a loss of identity.
Another argument that Tatar makes in her essay is that the second half of Donkeyskin tales inevitably have the same basic storyline as those of Cinderella stories. While this is the case in many tales, there are also tales where there is no happy ending for the young girl. Looking at tales such as "Pigskin" and "Kniaz Danila Govorila", in which the object of the father's lusty attentions falls into a pit in the earth and does not come out again, I can see that there are indeed some tales that fit the Donkeyskin type without even touching on any part of a Cinderella type tale.
Lastly, the difference in the female characters sets these two tales apart the most. In Cinderella tales, the girl simply takes what is given to her; she has the help of a fairy godmother, or perhaps the help of her dead mother's spirit to give to her the clothing and ideas with which to win the prince's hand. In Donkeyskin tales, the girl in question takes it upon her own initiative to gain the dresses and go forth into the world to escape her father's paternal evil. Never in Cinderella tales does the Cinderella figure think about escaping her current position under the heel of maternal evil. Also, towards the end of many Donkeyskin tales (such as "Ass' Skin" and "All Kinds of Fur") the girl takes it upon herself to actively tempt the prince with actions such as putting the ring in a loaf of bread or a golden spinning wheel in his soup. Cinderella characters do not show such initiative.
Although there are many similarities between parts of the tales, I would say that overall the Donkeyskin tales and Cinderella tales should be treated as two distinct types of tales.