Fairy Tales 2010

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Castle of Murder

We've discussed in class how many of the Bluebeard stories are more closely related to the horror genre than that of a fairytale. "The Castle of Murder," despite its horrific and straight-forward title, however, has a lot of tropes of a fairytale. For one, it begins with "Once upon a time..." and ends in a marriage (which is unlike other Bluebeard tales where the maiden lives happily ever after with her family).

What's interesting is that Bluebeard himself, asks the maiden if she is "feeling any doubts," and although she does feel a "certain uneasiness" she replies no. Not only does she say no, but she provides an explanation for her answer. Also interesting, in this tale the man is not called Bluebeard, but the rich gentlemen is referred to as the "nobleman." It's amazing that we don't get an image of the man as being old, ugly, or having a Bluebeard. Judging from his physical appearance, we have no reason to assume he is not a suitable match for the maiden. While his physical appearance does not seem harmful, the maiden still senses something is not quite right...but she hides her uneasiness.

The nobleman also does not tell of a forbidden room, which suggests he is willing to share everything with the maiden. At the same time, it too seems like maybe he wanted her to enter, which seems more likely when we meet the old woman sitting in the cellar. Her existence is very unique within the Bluebeard tales and her character is some mix between good and evil. On one hand she's scraping intestines, and on the other she helps the maiden escape from this horror.

Upon escaping and telling the story of the madness inside the castle, the maiden does not need a finger like in other tales. Her words are believed without evidence and the castle is destroyed. The maiden then goes on to marry the lord's son, which says something about how marriage is viewed. She could not be tricked into marriage, despite that the nobleman seemed normal, but marriage is only reserved for two non murders...good people.

Even though "The Castle of Murder" may seem by it's title to contain awful things, it really does not. It does not even explain the maiden's sisters' deaths, it merely puts this info in parentheses. There are no horrific death scenes with elaborate descriptions. For me, even with it's violence, it is more of a fairytale.

Why doors make for more interesting fare than women.

Although the opera version of "Bluebeard" only very loosely follows the narrative of the more traditional tales, it presents, at least in my opinion, a more interesting social dilemma. The more traditional tales generally fall into the horror genre and present chilling warnings against women being overly inquisitive, in particular when it comes to their husbands' secrets. However, the opera focuses on the psychological aspects of human intimate relationships, rather than presenting a horror story of a murderous husband.

In the opera, Bluebeard presents his wife with seven doors, representative of the elements of his psyche or soul. These seven doors mirror the seven dead wives of the traditional tales, but serve a much different purpose. Although the scenes presented by the doors vary from macabre torture chambers to gentle gardens, Bluebeard freely presents them all to his new wife - up to a point. When they reach the sixth and seventh doors, Bluebeard is reluctant to reveal their contents, urging his wife to be content with what she has already seen. Nonetheless, much like the wife in the tales who insists on opening the forbidden door, the wife in the opera insists on seeing the last two rooms. Their contents - the husband's deepest sorrows and his blissful memories of former loves - are the undoing of the couples' marriage, and the new wife joins the women of the seventh room, yet one more memory of love gone by.

The obvious, although somewhat pessimistic, moral is that there are certain things that are best kept hidden. Rather than hiding the corpses of past wives, the operatic Bluebeard is hiding the much more mundane memories and sorrows that all humans hide - however, because his wife insists on unearthing these hidden parts of his soul, their marriage is compromised. In this case her curiosity does not lead to her death or near-death, but nonetheless it does destroy a relationship that otherwise would have been happy and fruitful.

Even Men with Blue Beards Have Feelings...

Almost all of the classic Bluebeard stories that we have read, with the notable exceptions of stories by Anatole France and William Thackeray, have focused on the actions of Bluebeard and their result: Bluebeard has 7 wives, the first six are killed and the seventh discovers him and leads to his death. However, two versions have similarities despite their vast difference in time period and media; "Bluebeard's Egg", by Margaret Atwood, is a modern written rendition of the fairy tale, and "Bluebeard's Castle" the opera written by Bela Bartok in 1911. These two interpretations of the life of Bluebeard focus on an almost entirely internal conflict; they seek to see within the soul of Bluebeard to make his inner sanctum the forbidden door.

In "Bluebeard's Egg", the story is told through the perspective of Ed Bear's (the Bluebeard character) wife. She seeks to understand her husband more fully, and although she believes that he is very simple, in the end her metaphor of an egg alludes to the fact that there may be much more under the surface of Ed Bear. At the end of the story, she is left lying in bed contemplating the egg, which can be seen as a symbol of Ed's mind and soul. The egg is "pulsing", "glowing softly", and "alive", and Sally's final thoughts are about what could possibly be further inside this egg.

In the opera "Bluebeard's Castle", Bluebeard's newest wife meets her downfall by exploring too far inside the metaphorical egg. This opera is set in a series of rooms in the castle, each representing another part of Bluebeard's soul. Although after 5 rooms (of the total 7), Bluebeard feels as though he is completely understood, Judith longs for more. Sally, from "Bluebeard's Egg", is at this point in her understanding of Ed: she is contemplating what lies further inside the egg, but hasn't yet ventured that far. Judith makes the mistake of going into Bluebeard's unwanted memories and destroying their relationship.

I find these two stories most interesting because they delve into the psychological aspect of the story simply by taking it from another point of view and another tactic of understanding. These tales provide the most opportunity for in depth analysis because they are, themselves, analysis of previous Bluebeard fairy tales.

A Short Something or Perhaps Nothing that Has a Little to Do With Bluebeard...

It is at least slightly interesting that most of the stories of Bluebeard in some way make the victim the one at fault, when clearly the man is the bad guy for being a serial killer... and even the later rewritings of the tale attempt to make Bluebeard into a good guy and demonize the wife. Victim blaming is bad.

That being said, I would like now to focus on a minor detail that I didn't really find fascinating but am able to fixate on because I feel like it: the urgent trip that the master of the house invariably must take... It is at least slightly noteworthy that the wife is only ever trusted with any of the keys when the husband has chosen to leave and that the husband never so much as shows her the rooms of the house of his own accord.

The fact that he chooses to allow her the key to the room with the corpses also suggests that he is testing her to some purpose, which is made explicitly clear in Fitcher's Bird when the evidence not existing inspires the man to remain faithful to the woman...

An actually interesting thought is that the sorcerer in Fitcher's Bird suddenly lost all power over the girl and had to do as she requested when he decided to actually marry her... Marriage is enslavement for a man and will bring about his demise in the event that he is not careful enough to find a trustworthy bride, which she was not... Clearly, marriage is evil.

The Fitcher's Bird: morals and vitrues

After reading the Fitcher's Bird, I feel the story is laced with several morals and virtues. First off, the sorcerer gave the first two daughters any and everything that they wanted. He only asked for them to exercise obedience in not opening one door of his house and protecting his egg. He even gave them the keys to everything. This was a test of morality, temptation, and trust. These were shown through the fact that he gave them everything they asked for and the keys, so he was trying to see if they possessed greed in their hearts to the point that they had to have everything. The trial of temptation was incorporated to show whether or not they possessed restraint. The trial of trust was incorporated through the fact that he gave them the keys and an egg symbolizing his trust and his heart that they needed to protect. When they willingly accepted everything but did not obey his only wish, they had to pay the piper. I feel this is a lesson to not take on a responsibility that you aren't strong enough to see through. The fact that the sorcerer, his family, and his friends were burned alive is incorporated to show that two wrongs don't make a right. He took lives so he had to pay with his own.

"Sweet love, are you feeling any doubts?"

"The Castle of Murder," while superficially similar to the other Bluebeard stories, is fundamentally different. Like many other Bluebeard tales, it begins with a man who seems to be good. He is a "well-dressed nobleman" who "appeared to be very rich" with "a splendid carriage and servants," and in the fairy tale realm we would assume his innards equate his outer goodness. However, the girl who "gladly agreed to ride off with him" "did feel a certain uneasiness," although this nobleman does not even have a blue beard, immediately different from those of the other Bluebeard stories.
This story appears to be a possible continuation of another Bluebeard tale. It mentions a shoemaker who had three daughters and the protagonist of this story is the third daughter who enters the bloody chamber, noting "one must indeed know that this was the way her two sisters had lost their lives before her." Like the others of this tale type, the girl's curiosity endangers her when, despite her being completely satisfied, she wants more. However, this Bluebeard gives the girl the keys to the entire castle, yet, unlike the others, never tells her that there is any door she cannot open. She therefore never betrays her love because he never restricted her. Her punishment does not arise from disobeying orders and overstepping boundaries, but the simple act of curiosity itself in her asking the old woman what she is doing in front of the cellar door. The old woman vividly tells her that she is scraping intestines and tomorrow she'll be scraping the girl's. Curiously (uh oh), this gruesomeness contrasts with the nonviolent conclusion of the mild and logical imprisonment of Bluebeard. Furthermore, this woman represents another break from typical fairy tale's outer and inner parallelism. Although old, mysterious, and practicing violence, this character aids the protagonist in her escape.


The aspect that stands out the most in Charles Perrault's version (and many other versions) of Bluebeard is the violence. Bluebeard is not a typical fairytale in this respect. In the beginning of the story Bluebeard is introduced as an outsider because his beard is blue. He is feared by the townspeople because of that and the fact that no one really knows what became of his first seven wives.
When a woman does agree to marry him it is not a Beauty and the Beast like ending where he sheds the qualities that made him different. In fact, the woman finds out some even more sinister about him when she enters the forbidden room. That is where violence is introduced to the story. The woman finds the bloody corpses of Bluebeard's seven wives.
Then, when Bluebeard returns, he finds out she has been inside the room and tells her that she will now join the rest of his wives in that room. Even her crying and pleading have no effect on his heart that is described to be harder than stone.
The aspect that Bluebeard does share with other fairy tales is its happy ending. The woman's brothers arrive just in time to save her and kill Bluebeard. The woman inherits all of Bluebeard's wealth and she then marries a worthy man.
To me the most interesting part of the tale is the end where two morals of the story are given. The first moral implies that is it always women who give into curiosity and that it always leads to bad situations. The second one, however, goes in a very different direction and says that it is women who are always in charge in a relationship and that men must "toe the line."