Fairy Tales 2010

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Sister is My Girl

After reading tale after tale encouraging female servitude and general obedience of men, I was wonderfully encouraged by the Twelve Brothers/Seven Ravens/Six Swans stories. These are my kind of stories. First, there are lots of brothers. I have brothers; I can relate. Second, the sister likes her brothers. I like my brothers. Third, the sister is both devoted and independent. She is my kind of role model.

In "The Twelve Brothers", the sister leaves her life of leisure in a kingdom fit for twelve princes to go save a group of boys whom she has never met. She is happy to live in the forest, as long as she can be with her brothers. She is independent with solid family values. She seems a little ahead of her time. Even when she accidentally the boys into ravens, she was only trying to bring them small gifts. After realizing her mistake, she is ready to continue her devotion to her brothers by initiating an almost decade-long Silent Treatment.

Now, as she is sitting thinking about how she can never talk or laugh because it's what's right for her brothers, a prince comes along offering kingdom number two. The sister, still not one to be swayed, continues to keep her mouth shut while still exuding the siren-esque sex appeal necessary to woo royalty. She endures years of blasphemy from a jealous mother-in-law, and on her death pyre is finally able to reveal to everyone how she has been perfect for the past seven years. Last but not least, she gets to stick it to the wretch and subject her to snakebites as she boils in oil.

The sister's independence, loyalty, romantic prowess, and sense of vengeance make her my kind of girl, and this is my kind of tale.

A Reduction of Reductionist Approaches to Literature

I have no illusions regarding the nature of this blog post. It is a rant, pure and simple. I know this, I acknowledge this, but nonetheless, the "abbreviated" Functions that we discussed in class today just rub me the wrong way. While Propp's original thirty-one Functions were at least somewhat meaningful in the study of fairy tales, the so-called "Abbreviated Functions" are nearly meaningless. Reducing the structure of thousands of tales into generalizations that somehow encompass all of the genre, in effect, also reduces the genre. The five abbreviated functions only very loosely apply to fairy tales or folk literature at all.

1. There is a lack of something
2. The lack forces the hero on a quest to address this lack
3. The hero encounters a magical helper
4. Test(s)
5. Reward for the test(s)

With the notable exception of number three, all four other functions could easily apply to almost any tale of any genre. And even then, depending on how loosely one interprets a "magical" helper, even the third function could conceivably apply to more mundane stories. For instance, the "magical" realization of a heroine that she truly does love the man who has been courting her, or the "magical" happenstance of coincidence that favorably affects events.

Although these Abbreviated Functions were designed for folk tales and certainly apply to folk tales, they are simply too general in focus. Rather than defining the genre, because of the breadth of folk literature the functions instead are so generalized that they could nearly universally apply to any form of literature. Propp's Thirty-One Functions are useful because while they are general enough to encompass the genre of folk literature, they are also specific enough to actually apply directly to the genre. Not all thirty-one functions were intended to apply to every single tale. However, in the case of the abbreviated functions, which were designed such that all of the functions apply to every folk tale, the functions are simply too general.

I am, perhaps, being too critical of these Abbreviated Functions. If the third function is interpreted literally, the range of literature to which the Functions can apply is sharply reduced. Additionally, the Functions do not necessarily need to define the genre of folk literature. Rather, if they are used internally as a lens to study folk literature they provide a solid structure around which all folk tales hold common ground. As a tool, the Abbreviated Functions serve as a structural rubric, rather than as conditions that define the genre.

The Princess and the Frog and Zipes

After reading this week's articles and viewing the movie The Princess and the Frog, I could not help but wonder at their connection. In the article "What Makes a Repulsive Frog So Appealing: Memetics and Fairy Tales," Zipes argues that "The Frog Prince" enlightens its audience on mating strategies and courting practices across cultures. He also explains that the austere father of the story embodies the Grimms' moral code. In this tale, "the frog knows that the only way to court and bed the princess is through the authority figure of her father." The moral of the story is derived from the fact that the daughter actively rebels against her father by following what is best for her (refusing the frog in its animal form), and ironically ensuring that she follows through with her father's initial wish. This inability to woo the princess in the frog's present form, as well as the father's influence, are the vital components to this story.
Neither of these are present in The Princess and the Frog, a supposed variant of the fairy tale. Rather than waiting for the frog to become a prince, she ends up falling in love with him in his frog form. Furthermore, her father is not even alive during any of her encounters with the frog. However, everything that happens to the princess could be seen as a result of the father's wish, since the wish of opening her own restaurant was the father's wish as well.
The Princess and the Frog claims to be based, if only loosely, off the brothers' "The Frog Prince". However, if the themes explored by Zipes are what make the story appealing and applicable, where does this new movie fit in? If it even is considered a fairy tale would it be grouped with The Frog Prince? What do they have in common besides a frog to human transformation?

A few questions

Since we hadn't had a lot of time to talk about the individual tales in class, I thought I would bring up some things I was thinking about when reading "The Three Spinners." Just to remind you of what this tale deals with I'll give a quick summary:

There's a maiden who did not want to spin. Her mother is so angry with her that she beats the maiden, and as she screams, the queen just so happens to be driving by. The mother is ashamed to admit to the queen that her daughter is lazy, and instead lies and says she can't get her to stop spinning, though she is very poor and cannot afford so much flax. Delighted, the queen asks the mother if she can take the maiden to her kingdom to spin as much flax as she wants. The mother consents. The maiden is promised the queen's oldest son as her husband if she completes a tasks. Instead, the maiden gets three old women to do her job for her and promises them to be claimed at cousins at her wedding. When her new husband learns that the women had either a flat foot, a drooping lip, or a huge thumb form spinning, he declared that his wife would never spin again. So in the end, the maiden got out of the "terrible task" of spinning.

So I guess I wanted to look at what we are to gain from this fairytale. One one hand, the maiden did no spinning and yet got a prince as husband. Unlike most fairytales, it contains no element of hardwork to allow for her reward in the end. On the other hand though, it makes one consider her cleverness and that just maybe, her wits plus the fact that she kept her word to the women, allowed for her to reap a reward.

At the same time, however, I begin to wonder what the purpose of a fairytale is. Is it similar to a fable in which we are suppose to gain some sense of morality from it? Or should we consider that fairytales exists in a world in which rules are different and simply enjoy the story? For me at least, probably because I am so accustomed to Disney's version of fairytales, I often look for some moral message to be transmitted through the tale. But because it appears that "The Three Spinners" may lack some ethical code, we should maybe enjoy them for what they are and not assume them to need some moral agent. Some fairytales do of course teach lessons, but maybe that's just a plus, not something necessary by all means.

Just to clarify, I am not a fairytale expert and don't read them for fun. The ideas in the blog are really just questions that came up when reading. Please share your thoughts and opinions. How did "The Three Spinners" strike you all?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Formulation of a Fairy Tale

In Vladimir Propp's essay "The Method and Material", from his Morphology of the Folktale, he goes into great depth about a method for organizing and classifying all tales. Although there will be some exceptions, naturally, I think that Propp managed a fantastic feat in deducing the so-called 31 functions of a fairy tales. In doing so, he determined that the folktale, with fairy tales in particular, are truly formulaic in nature. Walt Disney managed to portray this formulaic quality in the fairy tale movies that he chose to make; the 'Disney Effect' is merely a different formula used to create lasting imprints on society. Propp also applies his mathematical method of thinking to the characters in fairy tales, and again I agree with him. Fairy tales, especially ones in the same general category of tale, are virtually identical in the characters used. Disney, again, takes this to the extreme. In the Disney fairy tale movies there exist, without fail, the prince, the princess (or princess-to-be), the villain, and the helpers of both the princess and the villain.

Propp takes an extremely rational approach to classifying tales. He breaks them down into discrete segments, gives the segments a broad overview, and then shows how they inter-relate with other tale types. In doing so, he provides yet another definition for what may be called a fairy tale, and his definition is much longer and more specific than many. Vladimir Propp recognizes that tales all have similar properties, and that these properties are all present in a distinct order in almost every tale; thus, his definition is simply all folktales which have some or all of the elements he deems necessary in the order he has provided (his 31 functions). I think that Propp's ideas are much more rational and objective than many folklore specialists because he analyzes only the formula for a fairy tale, not the actual content of the tale itself. While fairy tales can be interpreted infinitely by anyone, his formula for a fairy tale is stable through the throes of dispute over meaning.

Why Evolution Is a Lie and Other Traipsing Trails through the Plunderous Paths of Academia:

Observation 1: Fish eat stuff. This is irrelevant to the argument at hand but was on my mind so I felt the urge to say it.

Note 1: All existing social structures and personal psychological structures are inherently adaptive or else they would fail to remain in existence. Only adaptive systems and traits survive and prevail. The current system is the product of innumerable generations of experimentation, adaptation, and selection.

Conclusion 1: As the note specifies, all must be adaptive. Observation 1 is an adaptive trait.

Argument 1: It is beneficial for species to be able, in their interactions, to clearly communicate ideas, concepts, and beliefs as a natural structure in order to promote the transmittance of knowledge and support the collective conscience of the species. In order for such a structure to successfully incorporate itself into the evolutionary structure, it is required that the communicated ideas, concepts, and beliefs be of a candid, unreserved truthfulness. Thereby, it can be seen that in all societies wherein Observation 1 is apparent, there is a positive adaptation for open communication of truthful metarepresentations in order to promote the propagation and continuation of the genetic code associated with the trait assumed in Observation 1.

Observation 2: I must be the only one that believes that fish eat stuff. Since no one else has said it, I am the only one who holds this opinion.

Note 2: Outliers are bound to exist in any structure or system. This verifies the contention that although certain beings do exist, they are not necessarily the most well-adapted nor are they bound to house adaptive traits. It is an ever present reality that mutation of the genome can result in maladaptive, or conversely, robust traits exhibited in the given specimen.

Conclusion 2: The subject of Observation 2, as clearly demonstrated by the latter half of the observation, is an outlier. The inverse of observation two is an adaptive trait.

Argument 2: It is beneficial for species to only communicate that which is entirely necessary to their survival, propagation, and everyday interactions. It would be maladaptive for any given member of the species to incessantly recite irrelevant trivia as this would necessarily introduce an overwhelming amount of data into the everyday interactions of the species. This extraneous data would serve only to distract and otherwise debilitate the neural pathways of those in contact with the maladapted individual. It therefore becomes adaptive to socially exclude such members as would create Observation 2, thus removing their phenomes from the gene pool.

Point 1: Although the concept of evolution itself may be completely correct, the use of evolutionary reasoning is an irrational attempt at rationally justifying the superiority of the current age and its inhabitants.

Point 2: The method behind the argumentation is flawed directly by its means of argumentation. As is demonstrated above, the use of evolutionary reasoning forms the conclusion prior to its argumentation which in turn invalidates any justification given for the conclusion. Anything is justifiable post hoc.

It is all-too-easy for Academia to forget in its formulations that the theoretical explications that it generates in reference to any real or imagined artifacts of existence are nothing more than mental exercises and acrobatics—nothing more than a game of sudoku in its effectuality. This problem is the same problem that psychoanalysts have in their theories. It is the problem of almost any overarching structure applied to all meaning patterns—evolutionary reasoning included.

The End