Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Jerry Griswold on Walter Crane's BATB

Jerry Griswold reminds us in his wonderful book The Meanings of Beauty and the Beast: A Handbook that "Illustration is also interpretation". Each illustrator has a powerful hand in how readers through the generations have viewed the fairy tales we know.

To begin with, Griswold has some general observations about the way various illustrators have chosen to show "Beauty and the Beast". It is an unusual tale and would be challenging to present artistically because of the lack of specific descriptions in the text. The illustrator has to decide how to portray a woman who represents beauty itself, and a man/animal hybrid that is beastly and hideous, yet the audience can come to know and love like Beauty does. Though there would be many ways to show the Beast, nearly universally, illustrators have chosen to give the Beast clothing, to make him bipedal (to transform an animal that would normally walk on all fours to an upright, walking form), and to represent his humanity by his fine surroundings.

But after that, illustrations of the Beast tend to fall into one of two categories: those that were meant as a romance, and those that were meant for children. Those meant as a romance, such as the versions illustrated by Eleanore Vere Boyle and Edmund Dulac, show a more frightening, animal-like Beast. Vere Boyle's walrus-like creature is "so devoid of human features that he is striking in his complete 'otherness' ".
Dulac's characters are Orientalized:

Yet illustrations of the Beast in stories intended for children fall somewhere between inoffensive and downright comic or cute.
Jessie Wilcox Smith

Margaret Evans Price

Griswold then goes into depth about the illustrations of two artists: Walter Crane, discussed below, and Mercer Mayer (in a post to come).
I highly recommend viewing a larger version of the image above, such as on this site. Crane's illustrations are filled with details that keep the eye moving and drinking it all in, but also some symbolism I never noticed before. In this centerfold illustration, there are numerous references to animals (lion's heads and claws on the center couch, leapord skin at their feet, bird legs holding up the middle table). To the left behind Beauty are various instruments and music references, which indicates that "music soothes the savage beast." Again, you can barely see it here, but right behind the Beast's head is a drawing of Cupid on the wall, a reference to Cupid and Psyche.

Griswold also suggests that Crane imbued sexual meaning into his illustrations of this story. In this same picture, the gaze of Beauty and the Beast appear to be on each other's genitals , and somehow the lace on Beauty's sleeve and the Beast's hat, which hide the genitals, serve to draw your attention to them.

And in this drawing:

Griswold says that the monkey page who seems to be winking with the reader and the illustration of Eve consorting with the serpent on the wall are also clues to what has happened between Beauty and the Beast. But I don't know of any version of the Bible where Eve's "consorting" with the serpent is the kind that Griswold is implying here...

At first I thought these sexual readings of the illustrations were stretching it a bit too far. But Griswold says Crane kept it ambiguous intentionally, to defend his own innocence, which still sharing an inside joke with the adult readers. Also worth noting: in the first Crane image and the one directly below, the Beast's sword is shown hanging between his legs, not beside:
And in this famous scene, right before the Beast transforms, Beauty's one leg is hidden, leaving you to wonder if she is really on top of the Beast:
Griswold also says the expressions on the monkey's faces indicate that they were shocked to find their master and mistress consorting with each other in such a way, but I always thought they were showing their concern for the fact that the Beast was dying. So I don't know, Crane may or may not have been intentional about sexual references, the biggest question in my mind about this last picture is: how did Beauty's hair go from extremely dark brown to red all of a sudden?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Historical Mermaids

In his essay "Melusina" from Curious Myths of the Middle Ages by Sabine Baring-Gould (which can be found in Surlalune's Mermaid Collection), Baring-Gould describes some of the history of mermaids before the more well-known Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen.

He links mermaids and mermen to solar gods. Sun and moon gods and goddesses were often depicted as having fish tails, because in the view of ancient people, the sun and moon appeared to arise from the sea each day, and then plunge back into the sea. A creature spending half of their time in water and half in the air would have to have a body to accomodate both.

Early mermaid history also contains stories such as that of Melusina and Undine. Baring-Gould gives us the skeletal outline of such stories:

1. A man falls in love with a woman of a supernatural race
2. She consents to live with him, subject to one condition
3. He breaks the condition and loses her
4. He seeks her-and at this point the story can go one of two ways, he either finds her and secures a happy ending, or loses her.

This storyline strikes me especially because I'm also in the midst of reading Maria Tatar's Secrets Beyond the Door: The Story of Bluebeard and His Wives, in which Tatar points out that most versions of Bluebeard, as well as older myths and stories such as Cupid and Psyche, Pandora, and the biblical Eve, condemn women who are too curious, and associate knowledge with sin, but only when applied to women.

Yet here we have the opposite storyline-much like a role-reversed Cupid and Psyche or Animal Bridegroom tale, the man is usually forbidden to look at his beautiful wife under certain conditions. Just like Psyche, he is eventually persuaded to break his promise and satisfy his curiosity, and just like Psyche he suffers for it. Although I doubt anyone would conclude from the tale of Melusina that men are condemned who seek knowledge...(largely because tales such as these are the exception and not the rule, although I wonder how widespread this tale type was in earlier centuries compared to those that either imply or outright condemn female curiosity?)
Elenore Abbott

One of the things that always fascinates me about mermaids and faerie stories are how widespread belief in them was at one time. Baring-Gould says that belief in mermaids is universal. In my earlier posts Historical Evidence for Mermaids, I list several supposed "mermaid sightings" that have been recorded in history, with specific times, locations, and people. I won't do that again, but Baring-Gould lists several other similar "sightings", from as early as 1187 and through the eighteenth century. Interesting reading, even for the skeptical...

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Classical versions of Ugly Duckling

I was watching the show Dance Academy on Netflix instant play because I will watch pretty much any ballet movie or show that has ever been created, and they referenced variations from Ugly Duckling, so I had to try and find it online.

Didn't find that many details-wikipedia says a company in Florida did it in 2009, but I couldn't find that on youtube. I did find these excerpts from Redding Dance Theater:

I don't know if the two versions even have the same music or choreography, or just inspired by the same story. Either way, when people combine ballet and fairy tales, I drop everything and watch them.

Then I also found this soprano solo by Prokofiev. Normally I LOVE all things Prokofiev, but to be honest this music wasn't really doing it for me. Other students at my Conservatory probably would have judged me for saying that, but...there you have it.

And then just for fun, I grew up watching this 1939 Disney version of the Ugly Duckling

I remember finding it slightly traumatizing. I felt so sorry for that little duckling. Mainly the big wooden duck at 5:38 terrified me as a young child...especially that moment at 6:21 when it's coming at him! And then his pathetic crying right afterwards! Maybe it's just childhood emotions but I teared up just now, rewatching it...

Also, for fans of musicals, I was in Honk! in high school. It's a pretty cute family musical. Interesting fact as I look back: I was in 6 musicals in school, and three of them happened to be versions of fairy tales.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Werewolves and Little Red Riding Hood

So werewolves are really trendy right now-

Although I have to admit I prefer werewolves that are about to break into 80s choreographed dancing
But as it turns out, werewolves were prevalent in early versions of Little Red Riding Hood. We all remember witch hunts, if not from history class then from Monty Python-

But I had no idea that a similar set of trials happened where men were accused of being werewolves and killing children in werewolf form. These werewolf cases occured more in France than any other country in the Middle Ages. In one case cited by Marianne Rumpf, two men, Pierre Bourgot and Michel Verdun, admitted to having killed children in wolf form in 1521. People in certain parts of France were afraid to go through fields or woods alone because of the possibility of wolf/werewolf attack.

But interestingly, "wherever oral versions of the Little Red Riding Hood tale were found later in the 19th and 20th centuries, they were primarily discovered in those regions where werewolf trials were most common in the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries."

The story before Perrault created his classic version of the tale consisted of certain main motifs-the blood and flesh of the grandmother which Little Red is invited to eat, a "familiar animal" that informs the girl of what she is eating, a "ritual undressing" in which she takes off her garments and asks the wolf where she should put them, and a happy ending-usually brought about because the girl cleverly pretends she needs to go outside to relieve herself and then unties herself from the rope the wolf ties around her (some versions of the tale are more blatant, but Jack Zipes uses the more dignified "scatalogical overtone").
Warwick Goble

Also noteable is the lack of the classic red colored hood in previous versions. So much has been read into about the symbolism of the color red in this story, but that element started with Perrault, not ancient myths of sunrise and sunset as scholars used to think, or ideas of female maturation/seduction as more recent people have interpreted.

Over time this fairy tale has become associated with being a warning against men who are predators in the symbolic sense, but it probably initially came out of the more literal fear of wild animals, and the superstitious fears of werewolves.

*Information taken from Jack Zipes' The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood

Friday, May 10, 2013

More Fairy Tale Shoes!!!

Surlalune already linked to these and these, but for those of you who enjoyed my Princess Shoes post, you have to check these out! Charlotte Olympia 2013 fairy tale-

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

When Grimms' Fairy Tales Came to England

Sometimes in the academic world, the Grimms tend to be cast as villains. Despite their claims of authentic oral folk tales, they actually took most of their tales from wealthy family friends of French descent and edited them throughout successive editions of their work.

And I'm not saying that there isn't something to be said for integrity, but the reality was, the Grimms were getting pressure from casual readers and academics alike to alter the form and content of their tale collections. Their editors and publishers wanted to make money, and so the tales were altered as time went on.

However, this is only the beginning of the story. As we know, the tales continued to change and morph over time, but a very important part of their evolution that is often overlooked and forgotten are translators. I think I always used to take it for granted that translation could be trusted, but I've recently learned that there are issues even with the most modern and respected translation of Villeneuve's Beauty and the Beast. Similarly, when Grimms' Fairy Tales was first translated into English, the Edgar Taylor continued the process the Grimms had already started and the tales resembled their original forms even less, as they became more an more an ideal for the moral education of children, which was never the purpose of oral folklore.

Grimms' Children's and Household Tales made its first appearance in England in 1823 under the title German Popular Stories, under publisher Charles Baldwyn, translated and adapted by Edgar Taylor. According to Jennifer Schacker, "With a focus on humor, justice, and romance, this little book encapsulates the themes and worldview that have since come to be associated with the genre of the fairy tale. Indeed, no one has done more to shape contemporary conceptions of the fairy tale-its content, tone, function, origin, and intended audience-than English solicitor and amateur folklorist Edgar Taylor."

In an age of increasing industrialism, the old German tales seemed to hearken back to "the good old days"-the times when women actually spun wool as opposed to fabric being created in a factory; the times when simple peasants lived in the rural countryside. The book was presented as a quaint and picturesque look into German history.

But of course, the tales were not as authentic as people thought they were. The Grimms themselves admitted that one of the aims of their collection was to "bring pleasure," as well as being "a manual of manners." In Taylor's hands the stories became even more so. Thirty-one out of 161 tales made up the first edition of German Popular Stories, which he shortened and adapted.

Many of Taylor's changes were to eliminate or tame "episodes of gory retribution, dangerous villains, premarital sex, and even references to the Devil." Snow White's stepmother does not dance herself to death in red-hot slippers, but choked with passion and fell down dead. The Princess of The Frog Prince does not wake to find a handsome prince in bed with her, but standing at the head of her bed. Devils become giants. The song that the bird sings in Juniper Tree no longer says "My mother she slew me, My father he ate me" but "My father thought me lost and gone"-taking away the eeriest part of the song, the relish the father has in unknowingly cannibalising his son. The bird goes on to sing of how he "roves so merrily" as if he enjoys being a bird, and being murdered by his stepmother wasn't so bad after all.

To be fair, Taylor never claimed absolute fidelity in translation, but admitted to editing the tales with children in mind. Donald Ward believes that had the tales not been edited by the Grimms, "no one other than a handful of philologists and narrative researchers would have heard of them today." Hard to imagine a world without knowledge of Grimms' fairy tales...

Part of reinforcing the image of fairy tales as harmless and light were the illustrations provided by George Cruikshank, who drew all the illustrations in this post. The scenes he chose to illustrate are very telling. Villains and supernatural creatures are not presented as threatening, but only seen at the moment of their humiliation-for example, Rumplestiltskin below, in the scene where he gets his foot stuck in the floor (very different than the original tearing his body in two out of rage).
The illustrations lend themselves to that same idea of the idealised past-peasants in the countryside living a simple and quaint life. The fronstpieces to the different editions, of narrators orally sharing the tales, help the illusion that the Grimms collected the tales from German peasants and not their middle class neighbors-as well as a frame narrative added in later volumes that describe how Gammer Grethel (who was supposedly Dorothy Viehmann, one of the Grimms' informants) told her audience a group of tales each night at Christmastime.
The public loved the editions of German Popular Tales, and later writers looked back with fondness on the collection that they believed represented "the true unadulterated fairy tale", in the words of Charlotte Yonge. Yet the tales had only begun their process of becoming idealised and directed at young children, a process which is still happening today, although many writers and artists are trying to combat those preconceptions (some, ironically, think they are the first ones to turn the tales into violent, sexual adult tales).

*All information taken from National Dreams: The Remaking of Fairy Tales in Nineteenth-Century England by Jennifer Schacker. This was the other book that Heidi Anne Heiner of Surlalune was kind enough to give me when I had the opportunity to meet her earlier this year! Thanks again, Heidi!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Happily Ever After Starts Here

You may or may not have noticed I disappeared for a little longer than usual...not only has it been a crazy busy month at work, but I GOT ENGAGED!!! The above sign is one that my Prince Tony used to decorate the gazebo where he had originally asked me to be his girlfriend :) A nod to my love of fairy tales...

So, in addition to juggling part time jobs and trying to spend time with friends and family and my Prince who lives in a (somewhat) distant kingdom, I will also be planning a wedding and possibly moving. Therefore posting will probably be slowing down here for a while. Partly I'm publishing this just so I don't feel guilty about posting less, but although I usually don't share too much of my personal life on here, this was too exciting not to share!