may_lily: (Rapunzel's hair)
Saturday, December 29th, 2012 10:36 am
From my tumblr.

Continuing from Forgotten women writers of popular fairy tales.

‘Rapunzel’ began as a literary fairy tale called ‘Persinette’ written by Charlotte-Rose de la Force. There are similar fairy tales that existed before ‘Persinette’ was written, exemplified by Giambattista Basile’s ‘Petrosinella’. ‘Petrosinella’ goes like this: a pregnant woman has a strong desire to eat parsley and steals it from the garden of an ogress. The ogress catches her and demands her baby as payment. When the child, named Petrosinella, is seven, the ogress takes her away and keeps her in a high tower with no doors. She enters the tower by climbing up Petrosinella’s long hair.

Eventually a prince discovers the tower and he and Petrosinella fall in love. They decide to flee and steal three magic acorns from the ogress. As they run, the ogress chases them. They throw back the acorns which turn into wild animals, and a wolf eats the ogress.

Certainly Mlle de la Force based her story on this tale or one related to it, since the first half is more or less identical. The second half, however, is entirely her own. The pregnancy, the haircut, the prince’s fall and blindness, the twins, and the magic tears were all her own invention. This is why I will always refer to the story as Persinette/Rapunzel. Mlle de la Force deserves credit for her creation.

Read more... )
may_lily: (Beauty and the Beast Love)
Thursday, December 27th, 2012 06:48 pm
From my tumblr.

Nearly all of the fairy tales that are best known today were written by Charles Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, and to a lesser extent Joseph Jacobs and Asbjørnsen and Moe. What do these writers have in common? They’re all men.

Many women were writing fairy tales at the time of Perrault. The best known of these is Madame d’Aulnoy. But her stories don’t get constant picture books and big-budget movies. There were women fairy tale writers around the time of the Brothers Grimm as well, but I know less about them.

Three fairy tales written by women have managed to achieve fame: ‘Beauty and the Beast’, ‘Rapunzel’, and ‘Snow White and Rose Red’. Of these, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is the only one regularly credited to a woman (when it’s not being erroneously credited to a man), albeit to the woman who wrote the adaption rather than the woman who wrote the story in the first place. ‘Rapunzel’ was first written by Charlotte-Rose de la Force as ‘Persinette’, and ‘Snow White and Rose Red’ was written by Caroline Stahl as ‘The Ungrateful Dwarf’.

‘Beauty and the Beast’ was first written as a very long, complex story by Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve. I’ve already written quite a bit about it: see Serpent Fairies, Disguise, and Princess or Peasant. Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont took this story and simplified it. It’s this simplified version that gained popularity.

Several of Madame de Beaumont’s other fairy tales have been translated into English over the years, but I have been unable to find a website that makes them easily available. None of them ever gained the popularity that ‘Beauty and the Beast’ did. It seems that there is something in the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ story that captures the imagination in a way that her original stories didn’t.

Coming soon: my thoughts on Persinette/Rapunzel and Snow White and Rose Red.
may_lily: (Beauty and the Beast Love)
Wednesday, December 19th, 2012 02:47 pm
From my tumblr.

Among those who’ve read Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve’s Beauty and the Beast, it seems to be a fairly popular opinion that the revelation of Beauty’s royal heritage is a ‘cop-out’. I’ve already written about why I don’t agree. In a nutshell, appearance vs reality is a repeating theme, and Beauty, her parents, and the Prince all must deal with loving someone who appears to be beneath their station. But I got to thinking: what if everything else was the same, but Beauty’s father wasn’t a king? Would the story have the same effect?

A powerful, supernatural woman falling in love with a handsome shepherd is an existing literary trope: think of Selene and Endymion or Henriette-Julie de Murat’s Jeune et Belle. The fairy got in trouble for marrying a mortal, so she’d be in just as much trouble if she married a shepherd as if she married a king. I wonder if the Wicked Fairy loving the king would turn out the same way, however – and this sub-plot is necessary to get Beauty away from her original family to be brought up by the merchant. Would the Wicked Fairy’s pride not allow her to woo a shepherd? Or would her rivalry with Beauty’s mother cause her to want to take her husband, no matter who he was?

Beauty’s aunt insists that the Prince’s mother accept her as a merchant’s daughter before revealing her as a princess. The mother does become considerably happier after the reveal, though. Suppose the revelation had been ‘she’s actually a fairy’s daughter, which is better than a princess’ (from the point of view of the fairies, anyway)? Would the queen have accepted that?

I find it significant that four characters agree to marry below their station: Beauty to a Beast, the Prince to a merchant’s daughter, the fairy to a mortal, and the king to a shepherdess. If the king was a shepherd and married someone of the same rank as him (or so he believed), would it have been worth losing that extra parallel to his daughter’s story? I don’t have an answer.
may_lily: (an angel among us)
Saturday, December 15th, 2012 02:36 pm
From my tumblr.

Contrary to popular belief, Cupid and Psyche is not a Greek myth. It was written by Apuleius in his Latin novel the Golden Ass in the 2nd century AD. I am not aware of any ancient Greek sources that refer to a story of Eros and Psyche.

It’s debatable whether the story is even a myth at all. To the best of my knowledge, it’s not found anywhere else – you won’t find it mentioned in Ovid’s Metamorphoses or Virgil’s Aeneid, for instance. In Fairy Tale in the Ancient World, Graham Anderson suggests that Apuleius took a folktale and reworked it to include mythological characters.

This is similar to what the French conte de fées writers did. In fact, some took their inspiration directly from Cupid and Psyche, as it had been translated into French around that time. This is particularly clear in Madame d’Aulnoy’s Green Serpent, in which the heroine reads Cupid and Psyche in an attempt to learn to curb her curiosity (it doesn’t work; she still peeks on her husband).

The story has proved to be enduring. There are quite a few fairy tales that follow the basic plot: a girl marries a mysterious, supernatural husband; she breaks a taboo and the husband must leave her; she goes on a journey to find him; she must complete a near-impossible task to win him back. One of the most well-known is East of the Sun and West of the Moon, but there are plenty more. But I wonder, are these tales direct descendants of the folktale that inspired Apuleius, or were they inspired by the French literary fairy tales that were inspired by Apuleius?
may_lily: (Tiana and the frog)
Monday, December 10th, 2012 03:15 pm
From my tumblr.

The most well-known version of the Frog Prince or the Frog King is the one the Grimms published in their Children’s and Household Tales. A princess is playing with a golden ball and loses it in a well. A frog offers to return the ball if she promises to let him eat with her and sleep in her bed. She agrees, but when she gets the ball she she leaves him behind. He arrives at the palace and tells the king about their agreement. The king insists that the princess keep her promises. She reluctantly does so, until she finally throws the frog against the wall, which turns him into a handsome prince (the curse-breaking kiss didn’t appear until much later).

But there is another version that the Grimms included in the footnotes to this tale in early editions of Children’s and Household Tales. You can read it at SurLaLune (after the main story). A king is sick and needs water. His daughters try to get some for him, but cannot get clear water without the help of a frog. The frog asks each daughter to be his sweetheart. The first two refuse, but the youngest agrees. The frog asks to sleep in her bed for three nights. The princess isn’t keen, but agrees to keep her promise. After three nights, the frog becomes a prince.

This second version of the Frog Prince story appears quite a lot. For example: the Maiden and the Frog, the Queen who Sought to Drink from a Certain Well, the Well of the World’s End, the Wonderful Frog, and the Paddo. A parent asks for water, the daughter cannot get the water without a frog’s help and makes a bargain, the frog stays in her house for a certain amount of time, sometimes the frog asks her to kill him, and then he becomes a prince. By contrast, I don’t know of any ‘lost ball’ versions other than the Grimms’ main story.

Compare the characters of the two heroines. In the first story, the princess just wants to play. She refuses to keep her promise without constant prodding from her father. The death of the frog is due to her getting angry with his demands. In the second story, the princess is trying to help her father. She chooses to keep her promise without any prompting. In versions in which she kills the frog, it’s because he asks her to.

The story the Grimms chose to highlight, the one that overshadows all the others, is about a frivolous girl who needs her father to keep her on the straight-and-narrow. The brave girl who does her duty for her family and keeps her promises has been forgotten. (That said, I do rather like the ‘I have had ENOUGH of this!’ attitude of the princess at the end of the first story.)
may_lily: (Jade in the snow)
Monday, December 10th, 2012 10:07 am
From my tumblr.

I wanted to get my thoughts down on the trailer for the Snow Queen from Wizart Animation (not Disney’s Frozen). It turned into my thoughts on Hans Andersen’s story as well.

I initially thought that that it looked too slapsticky for my taste, but that’s probably just the marketing. I’m not sure how I feel about the Snow Queen being a threat to the world rather than a personal threat to Kay. However, one aspect of Andersen’s story that I’m not keen on is the Snow Queen and the mirror shards representing ‘cold reason’. It’s just too much of the ‘scientists can’t appreciate beauty and wonder’ trope, which couldn’t be further from the truth. (It does make me giggle to think of Gerda going ‘Fuckin’ magnets, how do they work?’) So I can’t say I’m surprised at the film-makers choosing a different interpretation.

I do hope that the Snow Queen does actually affect Kay’s heart/mind and doesn’t just turn him into ice, though. I love the part in the story where Gerda melts Kay’s frozen heart. No doubt they will need a final confrontation with the Snow Queen as well.

Honestly, it bothers me that the Snow Queen just disappears from the story and there’s no final meeting with her. My vision for the ‘personal threat’ version of the confrontation: Gerda makes it to the Snow Queen’s castle, meets the Queen, and says she’s there to take Kay home. The Snow Queen says she’s welcome to speak to Kay, but he’s there of his own free will, and she cannot take him if he does not wish to leave. Gerda melts Kay’s heart and the ice shards form ‘eternity’. The Snow Queen must honour her promise and give Kay his freedom (and the new pair of skates helps them leave the icy castle more easily).

Kay and Gerda being siblings: I like it. I appreciate that their relationship in the story is ambiguous, rather than clearly romantic, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing for adaptors to decide they want to take the focus off romance. (Plus if Kay’s out of the running as a potential love interest, it’s easier to ship Gerda with the Robber Girl!)

The troll: I don’t like him. The Snow Queen is Gerda’s journey that she travels alone. She finds friends, advice and assistance along the way, but in the end she has to do it herself. Even the reindeer leaves her, and she’s left without boots or gloves in the Snow Queen’s domain, with nothing but her faith and love for Kay to keep her going. The trailer implies that this is the troll’s journey as much as Gerda’s, and he needs to find the courage to stand up for himself to the Snow Queen or some such. In fact, the trailer focuses on him even more than Gerda, but I suppose we can’t possibly expect people to come and see a movie if they think it’s about a girrrrl.

Hopefully the major episodes will all appear: the old woman with the flowery garden, the Princess, the Robber Girl, and the Lapp Woman and the Finn Woman. Certainly the flowery garden seems the be there, but the old woman seems rather more violent than in the story! There also seems to be a castle and knights involved, so hopefully that means the Princess will be there. The Robber Girl seems to have become a pirate. She still has her reindeer, so no objections here. The ‘About’ page on the website has a picture of what appears to be the Lapp or the Finn Woman. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see them combined into one, no point in Gerda having two near-identical encounters at that point.

Overall, I’m looking forward to it. They’ve made some interesting choices and it’ll be great to see how their interpretation works out (I can’t see myself ever liking the troll, though). I’m pleased to see the story getting some attention after Disney decided they didn’t want to bother with an adaption after all.
may_lily: (Snow White in Spring)
Friday, November 23rd, 2012 05:02 pm
From my tumblr.

I’ve been reading the Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. What’s great about this book is that it includes stories that were left out of later editions of their Children’s and Household Tales, that were only in the annotations, or that were found in their notes and never made it into the book at all.

There’s a super interesting version of Snow White included. The version in which Snow White’s persecutor is not her stepmother but her mother (from the first edition of Children’s and Household Tales in 1812) is relatively well known. D. L. Ashliman has a translation on his site. However, it turns out that an even earlier version was included in an 1806 letter from Jacob Grimm to Friedrich Carl von Savigny. This version has several significant differences to the version that is best known today.

- Snow White doesn’t have black hair, but golden hair. It’s her eyes that are ‘black as ebony’.
- Like the 1812 version, her persecutor is her mother, not her stepmother.
- In order to get rid of her, the queen takes Snow White into the forest in order to pick roses, and leaves her there to be eaten by wild beasts. There’s no huntsman to take pity on her, nor any attempted cannibalism.

The ending is the most interesting part for me. Instead of a random prince happening along, it was her father! Naturally, she wasn’t revived with a kiss (that wouldn’t get attached to the story until much later). However, it doesn’t seem to be the ‘knock the piece of apple out of her throat’ method either. I found it somewhat difficult to interpret how it was done. The king got some doctors, and:

"When they took the body, they tied a rope to the four corners of the room, and Snow White came to life again."

The story does end with Snow White marrying a prince her father found for her, and the queen is forced to dance in red-hot shoes at the wedding.

Does anyone know if it was Disney that first added ‘revived by a kiss’ to the Snow White story? I’m pretty sure it had been done that way in Sleeping Beauty for a while, but I haven’t found any version of Snow White prior to Disney that included the kiss.
may_lily: (Beauty and the Beast Love)
Wednesday, November 21st, 2012 10:51 am
From my tumblr.

On re-reading Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve’s original Beauty and the Beast, I noticed some remarkable similarities between the characters of Beauty, the Beast/Prince, and Beauty’s parents. I realised that the theme of apearance vs reality goes even deeper than the ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ message of the commonly told tale. In Madame de Villeneuve’s story, Beauty is revealed to be a hidden princess, and her mother is a fairy who disguised herself as a shepherdess and married a king. I know of two English translations of Madame de Villeneuve’s version online: one by Ernest Dowson and one in Four and Twenty Fairy Tales by J. R. Planché. Planché’s version is slightly bowdlerised; he changes ‘Will you sleep with me?’ to ‘Will you marry me?’

It’s a common enough story - a prince falls for a commoner, but they are not permitted to marry. The commoner turns out to be long lost royalty, the marriage is on and there’s a happy ending. Beauty and the Beast appears to follow this plot, but there’s a twist - every marriage is agreed to before the reveal of the apparently lower-status person’s true standing.

The King is the only character out of the four (Beauty, Beast, Fairy, King) who does not wear some sort of disguise at any point. He falls in love with a shepherdess. He never knows that she is a fairy, and thus higher in rank than him. Beauty’s aunt (the fairy shepherdess’s sister) makes a point of emphasising that everyone in the kingdom may marry who they love, regardless of social status. It’s a little strange to me that the Queen (the Beast/Prince’s mother and the sister of Beauty’s father), presumably having come from that culture, makes a big issue out of the Prince marrying a commoner, but her objection and eventual acceptance was necessary to emphasise the point about love regardless of social status.

The Fairy falls in love with the King. As a mortal, he is below her station, and she suffers severe penalties when the marriage is discovered. Her marriage is finally sanctioned when she firstly performs a service for the Queen of the Fairies, and secondly undergoes the serpent test, rising in status among the fairies so that she may marry who she pleases without penalty.

I wrote about the serpent ordeal earlier. Perhaps it is meant as a parallel to the Prince’s experiences as a beast. The fairies must first lower themselves to the status of a lowly crawling creature before rising in status among their peers. The Prince goes through his ordeal and meets his beloved Beauty, while the Fairy goes through something similar in order to finally be with her husband.

The Beast appears to be, well, a beast. Beauty, as a human being, objects to marrying him and prefers the Fair Unknown of her dreams. Her gradual realisation of his gentle nature and her adopted father’s advice lead her to accept him before she is aware of his true nature as a prince.

Beauty appears to be a commoner. The Prince doesn’t care one bit about her social status and is determined to marry her. His mother objects, insisting that he should only marry royalty, and the Prince is in such despair that he asks to become a Beast again, so that his social status should be no obstacle to his marriage to Beauty. Luckily, Beauty’s fairy aunt convinces the Queen to accept their marriage. It is only after the Queen agrees the Beauty’s aunt reveals that Beauty is a princess.

There is one more character who wears a disguise - the Wicked Fairy who transformed the Prince into a beast. She falls in love with the King, Beauty’s father, and disguises herself as a queen in order to win him. A queen would be a suitable match for a king, but he is having none of it. He forever loves his shepherdess wife. A good match in rank is not necessarily a good match in love.

Beauty, the Beast-Prince, and the Fairy all hide who they are, appearing to be lower in social status than they were born to. All of them find love while in their disguised state, and their lovers do not learn the truth until after agreeing to marriage. These parallels and musings on status were lost in Madame de Beaumont’s simplified adaption. I wish that Madame de Villeneuve’s fascinating work was better known.
may_lily: (Rapunzel and Pascal)
Tuesday, November 20th, 2012 01:27 pm
I have to wonder if Disney chose Pascal as the chameleon’s name in Tangled because of Pascadozzia in Petrosinella, or if it was just a coincidence.
may_lily: (Beauty and the Beast Love)
Tuesday, November 20th, 2012 10:34 am
From my Tumblr.

While Beauty and the Beast gained popularity from its adaption by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont, it was originally a lengthy literary fairy tale written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. I know of two English translations online: one by Ernest Dowson and one in Four and Twenty Fairy Tales by J. R. Planché. Planché’s version is slightly bowdlerised; he changes ‘Will you sleep with me?’ to ‘Will you marry me?’

Madame de Villeneuve’s story contains a lot of details that do not appear in later adaptions, including information about the Prince and why he was cursed, Beauty’s secret family history, and fairy politics. One aspect that I always found puzzling was an ordeal that fairies would go through to gain power and prestige: they would ‘become a serpent’. Supposedly this was an extremely dangerous undertaking, but I never understood exactly why. Did they become a dragon or a normal snake? Why was it dangerous? Did they have to fight someone or something? Well, I was reading Prince Lutin (translated as Prince Sprite, Prince Ariel and various other names) by Madame d’Aulnoy and I may have found a clue.

I found Prince Lutin to be a rather unpleasant tale with an unlikeable hero. The main character, Leander, courts a woman names Blondine because it is expected of him. She is uninterested in him and never gives him any indication that she likes him. He discovers that she has a rival and sneaks into her bedroom when she is meeting him. Furious to see her favouring someone else, Leander beats up the rival and leaves the court, reproaching Blondine as if she’d been unfaithful to him.

Later, when Leander meets his ‘true love’, he basically turns into Edward Cullen. He spies on her invisibly and leaves presents around, causing her to fear that she’s being haunted. Naturally, it’s all just fine and she falls in love with him without even properly meeting him.

However, what interested me about the story was the fairy helper. Early on, Leander comes across a snake about to be killed by a gardener. On a whim, he decides to save and look after it. The snake turns out to be the fairy Gentille. She explains that everyone in her race must become a snake for one week when they turn one hundred. They lose their magic powers and cannot protect themselves.

Was this what inspired Madame de Villeneuve’s serpent test in Beauty and the Beast? Is it so dangerous for the fairies because they no longer have powers, and because as feared and reviled creatures, snakes were in danger of being killed if a human being came across them?

A similar circumstance occurs in Anguillette by Henriette-Julie de Murat (also in Planché’s Four and Twenty Fairy Tales). In this story the transformation occurs for a few days every month, and can be any animal. Anguillette, the fairy of the title, becomes an eel. Like Gentille she is captured and in danger of being killed, but is rescued by a kind princess.

I’ll be keeping my eyes open for further disempowered fairy-animals in literary fairy tales.
may_lily: (The Last Unicorn)
Sunday, November 11th, 2012 09:37 am
(Crossposted from my Tumblr)

Time for another fairy tale! Yet again I go searching backwards through various languages. This time it’s Andrew Lang’s the Girl who Pretended to be a Boy from the Violet Fairy Book.

In this story, a king is expected to send a son to serve the emperor, much like in Mulan. He has no sons, so his daughters volunteer to go instead. The eldest two daughters fail to prove themselves, but the youngest succeeds with the help of a magical horse. She takes the name Fet-Fruners.

The emperor wants to marry the fair Iliane, who is currently being held captive, so he sends Fet-Fruners to rescue her. Iliane starts falling for Fet-Fruners and doesn’t want to marry the emperor, so she sets the emperor a bunch of difficult tasks to complete before she gets married. The emperor has Fet-Fruners do them all.

The final task involves stealing a bottle of holy water from a church. Fet-Fruners succeeds, but the hermit guarding the water casts a curse in revenge. The curse is ‘If you are a man, become a woman; if you are a woman, become a man.’ Fet-Fruners gains a male body, and is delighted.

Iliane has had enough of the emperor and kills him with her own magic horse. Fet-Fruners ascends to the emperor’s throne and marries Iliane.

Andrew Lang took this story from Sept Contes Roumains, a French book, but the tale itself is Romanian: Ileana Simziana. There don’t appear to be any major changes between the Romanian and English versions. Lang chose to use the French ‘Iliane’ instead of ‘Ileana’ and dropped her second name, and the hero Făt-Frumos became Fet-Fruners. I thought that was an odd spelling choice since the French was Fêt-Frumos, closer to the Romanian.

Făt-Frumos, Wikipedia tells me, is a Romanian type of Prince Charming. Ileana (with a variety of second names) is the princess he rescues and marries, and he often has a magic horse to aid him. Ileana Simziana seems to follow those tropes well, and I recognise other fairy tale motifs too. For example, the three daughters who attempt to disguise themselves as men is similar in Madame d’Aulnoy’s Belle-Belle. However, while there are several stories about women disguised as men, I’m not aware of any other fairy tales in which the hero literally changes sex.
may_lily: (Damsel)
Saturday, November 10th, 2012 10:03 am
I've been writing a few posts about interesting fairy tales I've come across on my tumblr, so I thought I'd cross-post them here. First: Kisa the Cat.

I’ve been looking into the little known Icelandic fairy tale Kisa the Cat from Andrew Lang’s Brown Fairy Book. It’s an interesting story.

In a nutshell, a magic cat, Kisa, is friends with a princess, Ingibjorg. One day, the princess meets a giant who cuts off her feet. Kisa tricks the giant into leaving his house, steals the feet, and magically reattaches them to Ingibjorg. Ingibjorg chooses a husband and Kisa asks to sleep by her bed for one night. The next day Kisa becomes a beautiful princess.

I’m always seeking fairy tales about women helping each other. They’re out there, but not a popular as they should be. Kisa the Cat reminds me of Biancabella and the Snake. In Biancabella the heroine’s magic snake-sister, Samaritana, magically restores her chopped-off hands and changes into human form, though she was not under a curse. The cat sleeping by the princess’s bed in order to get uncursed also reminds me of the Frog King, making an f/f interpretation of the story possible. Ingibjorg does have a husband (who really seems to be there becauses princesses are supposed to get married, that’s what they do) but I did like that he was Ingibjorg’s choice and he wasn’t given any quests or tests - she picked him because she liked him.

Lang’s version came from a version in the German book Neuislandischen Volksmarchen. I wasn’t able to find this book, but I did manage to find a version of the story in Icelandic. I’m only able to read it with Google Translate, but even that reveals some interesting differences to Lang’s version.

The title seems to be the Story of the Cat Princess. As far as I can tell, the cat is not given a name - kisa is the Icelandic word for kitty or female cat. The princess’s mother wants a child and is directed by a witch to two trouts. In true fairy tale fashion, she is only supposed to swallow the white one, but she accidentally swallows the black one as well. She gives birth to a human daughter and a black cat. This makes me even more convinced that the story is a version of Biancabella and the Snake.

The giant has a whole family, and after tricking them the cat drowns them all. This is also very fairy tale-esque - I was a bit surprised that the cat didn’t kill the giants in Lang’s version.

The end, when the cat explains her backstory, is the most intriguing part. Ingibjorg and the cat had once been sister princesses, but their stepmother cursed them into trout. They needed to be swallowed by a woman in order to be reincarnated. Ingibjorg forgot her past life but the cat didn’t. In the end they go back to their orginal kingdom. I’m not sure if I’ve ever read a fairy tale that features reincarnation like this before.

In my searching, I also found this lovely modern short-story adaption: One Ear Back by Tina Connolly. I think it’s a fairy tale that deserves more attention.