Fairy Tales 2010

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The role of magic in The Oriental Saint

In "A wondrous Oriental tale of a naked Saint", by Wilhelm Wackenroder magic takes on the role of a natural event. In romantic style, Wackenroder highlights an ideal of nature surrounding the remote cave of saint. He described how the land around the saint changed, as if by a magical transformation, into the setting where the tortured genius could be released from his terrible duty turning the wheel of time. In effect, this is the same as any other fairy tale: a magical transformation, helped along by the actions of supernatural or magical beings, enable the change of the main character. The only major difference is that in this case the magic is nature, and the 'supernatural beings' are two young lovers engaged in a song so magical that it releases the saint from his torture.

This really emphasizes the theory of the romantic era that nature is idealized. Wackenroder, in this tale, is making nature into all the magic that supernatural beings normally create. The idealization of young love and all things natural is enough power to release the tortured soul of the saint.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


After reading "A Wondrous Oriental Tale of a Naked Saint" by Wilhelm Heinrich Wackenroder, I have come to the conclusion that magic exists only in the story as a sort of bridge to freedom. The saint is stuck in a roll of winding the wheel of time. He sits and critiques the pilgrims that he observes as they visit with a disdain. He does so because he views the world differently than them. Magic comes into play when one night when "the homes of the people were transformed into the dark shapes of boulders and dusky supernatural palaces." He says from that point "the people, no longer blinded by sunlight, lived with their eyes fixed on the firmament, and their souls were mirrored beautifully in the heavenly glow of the moonlight night. The magic freed the people to see what they could not see before when they were blinded by the light. They were freed to add additional perspective to the world they once knew. This too goes with the saint. After the people sing the song that magically releases the saint from being imprisoned in his job, and his imprisoned human form. He goes from being full of disdain to a grander feeling of happiness related to freedom. Magic serves to open people's eyes to a new world that they either did not pay attention to at first or never really knew.

Magic in the Philosopher's Stone

In the Philosopher's stone magic is regarded in different ways by different people. The King clearly is in awe of magic since he is looking for the Philosopher's stone which will enable him to have all the gold he desires. However there are others that "regarded magic with disdain." It could be said that they had the right idea since his pursuit of magic caused the King such grief throughout the story. However, it does all work out in the end.
First, the King gets swindled by scores of people who know how gullible he is. They offer him outrageous ways of getting the stone and wind up taking his money and running. Then a man comes who the King is sure is the real deal. He believes he is friends with this man and spends all sorts of money to make sure the man has all that he desires. Then when the man tells the King that he only needs to provide a few hundred precious gems to make the stone the King rapidly agrees and the man ends up leaving with all of the gems.
Magic strikes the King again when a man gives him a stone and tells him to rub it on his chest. Believing it to be the Philosopher's stone the King does and is then turned into a donkey. While in donkey form the King sees the error of trying to get the stone and then eventually is changed into a peasant man and falls in love with his former wife. When given the option to be the King again he says no because he now sees what a terrible life he had. So in the end, magic has made him happy which ties in with most fairy tales with a magical element.

Allow Me, If You Will, the Express Opportunity to Establish the Validity of My Tale So that You Will Not Overlook It as Inauthentic and Therefore Un-

worthy of Your Time Since All Credibility Originates in the Source of the Work which I Feel Compelled to Defend for Your Sake Lest You Refuse to Benefit from the All-Important Message for which this Tale Is the Vehicle…
A Comedy

(My apologies for part of the title getting cut off... Aparently there is some sort of a word limit--note to self or any aspiring bloggers: 150 characters--to this thing... Who knew? Guess they don't deal in Academic Writing with much frequency...
But now that that nasy business has been settled let us embark on the actual purpose of this particular presentation, the project of the article in question)

One interesting thing to note about literary fairytales, depending in part how you define the genre, is the inexorable lengths that the authors go to in efforts to establish the credibility of the source and the authenticity of the tale(s). Barring, for the sake of argument, such examples as Giambattista Basile's The Pentameron—wherein the individual stories are presented within the structure of a frame story that creates the "authentic" storytellers as the "sources" of the individual tales so as to legitimize the tales presented—and the Grimm brothers' versions of tales—where, in the interest of presenting themselves as authentic sources for fairytales catalogued with great detail their own sources while simultaneously partaking in certain actions as changing the style and presentation of the tale (by their own hands) for the sake of making them seem much more rustic and therefore credible—literary fairytales often tend towards an incomprehensible drive to prove their non-existent pedigree even when it is clearly the case that no such pedigree exists (the reason it becomes necessary, for the purpose of this explication, to ignore the types of examples above described).

Both "The Philosopher's Stone" and "A Wondrous Tale of a Naked Saint" present cases for their own authenticity and significance—though notably by different means which link in turn to their particular and exact projects in the genre. Because I feel like it, I am going to start by discussing the case of Wieland. I am going to pretend that this is due to the chronological perspective, which is in faith the order of Zipes' arrangement and therefore also presumably the order in which I read them, but is actually because I know that it is better form in writing (for the sake of seeming coherent and structured to and of elucidating and simplifying for the reader by means of a much easier style to follow which in turn will increase my reputation with said reader increasing, in turn, my credibility as well—or at least not harming either, which would be a likely outcome of using inconsistent ordering of the same subjects) and when I started writing the paragraph I already wrote "Both 'The'" before referencing the text to determine recall the precise titles of the two tales and it would have been too much effort for me to have deleted that extent of my progress or to reorder them by the time I actually explained that I was going to discus them individually. In Wieland's case, the tale begins by referencing, in historical form, the recounting of the lives of Tristan and Isolde, a well-known detail in the tapestry of tales—and also a tale which, itself, claims to be historical—beyond mere name-dropping to the point of presenting a thorough knowledge of the history—accurate or otherwise—in depicting some of the more a-contextual details, as the alternate name of the fair Isolde. Of course, this lends itself well to his own period and style of writing, in the mode of Enlightenment, since it presents a very rational and precise type of account of the tale's pedigree. Simultaneously—and also in the name of the Enlightenment—he undermines his own fa├žade in the purposeful insertion of inaccuracies to the end of acknowledging and advertising to the reader that the tale, though it fits keenly into a tradition, is by no means a truth, most likely because of the irrationality that is presented in it (of magic and transformation).

Because I really don't feel inclined to write any more on the topic right now, I am strongly tempted to just give up and call it quits right now without even attempting to discus the way in which Wackenroder employs similar techniques to a different ends, but I do not want to take all of the extra energy necessary to delete and rework the first couple of lines in the preceding paragraph. Of course, I could always simply request of you, the reader, a slight favor, that you might indulge me by pretending that I did discus and reveal to you this truth since it should be evident when you read the text, but then I am reminded that you cannot be trusted in such an event, so I cannot achieve my desire. I am relegated to following through on my promises and actually answering the expression of Wackenroder's credibility. The credibility comes, in this case, from its "foreignness" since, by Wackenroder's time, the Enlightenment had made great strides in eliminating any sense of mysticism in Germany—to which Romanticism was the direct answer—and the Middle or Far East, source of the One Thousand Nights and A Night and numerous other tales that would just have been getting published and translated, was considered to be a place where magic was still believed in—and perhaps even possible. By linking to that tradition, the newness and inconsistencies with the European folktale genre would not be taken into question, and because the "Orient" was considered to be a place engulfed in mysticism, the absurd tale secures more credibility than if it were to be successfully accounted for as a traditional German folktale.

I am going to sleep now.

The Sorcer- er, Philosopher's Stone

In Christoph Martin Wieland's The Philosopher's Stone, the story initially appears to debunk what I love about fairy tales: the magic. It ridicules wonder and science and, even more, those who buy into either. However, this perception changes as the story within the story changes. The king is magically turned into a donkey and his wife into a rose-colored (how necessary) goat, a types of transformation extremely common in the magical realm. Also, while it initially seems that the old man tricks the king by donning a false beard (a very non-magical disguise), his female counterpart is able to change herself so much as to make her convincingly male in every sense (a very magical disguise). This paradox of the simultaneous existence and non-existence of magic makes this story very different from the traditional tales. I don't fully understand the satirical dichotomy of magic as real and utterly ridiculous, but I like to think of it as conveying the magic that exists in our real world. The fact that the male and female fell in love with each other even in their newly peasant forms reflects the magic of love and belief in a soul-mate. Also, while there is no such thing as the tangible philosopher's stone of tales, there does exist the philosophical equivalent that comes with understanding of what's important in the world. Furthermore, there is the magic of fate or the idea that everything happens for a reason. The ones who appeared to be traditionally evil in the story are "those who took it upon themselves to make you happy... at a time when you both considered yourselves the unhappiest creatures in the world." This is real magic.

Welp...now you're a fairytale, there's a transformation story

In the very beginning of Wieland's literary fairytale, we learn that King Mark is "arrogant without ambition, sensuous without taste, and greedy without knowing how to be economical." Yet by the end of the tale, we have been introduced to a new character, someone by the name of Sylvester - "I'm the happiest creature in the world just as long as you remain Sylvester." And Sylvester also adds that he is the "happiest of men just as long as you (she) never stops being Rosine." And who is this Rosine? Could she be the wife and former Queen of King Mark? Is she the same woman Sylvester has called "too monotonous, too tender, too virtuous, and too jealous"? What gives here? How can Sylvester and Rosine possibly be former royalty?

In between the first and last pages, one of the most important things to consider is the transformation of the two into donkeys. Now it all makes sense. For many fairy tales, a transformation signifies some lesson that must be taught...and it is as if transforming a person into a nonhuman object is the trustworthy method in bringing about some needed change. For example, in a lot of Beauty and the Beast stories, Beast, once a handsome prince, has some negative quality (perhaps he doesn't help an old woman in need) that turns him into a frightful being. Or even with the Wild man stories, the man is not quite human and only turns back into his natural form when he can prove to be a good father. Although we don not know why exactly he was transformed, we do know it had to be for some reason (based on numerous other stories).

It seems in the case of King Mark, simply put he was stupid. Of course this is mixed in with other negative attributes, but it covers a wide range of reasons why it was necessary for this transformation to occur. This transformation links this tale to the fairytale genre. In the end, Sylvester has a sense of work ethic and does not his royalties. He and Rosine can live happily ever after, as all good people do in fairy tales. Perhaps, if he was a jealous sister or evil stepmother though, things might not have fared so well.