Saturday, May 5, 2012

Happily Ever After

This semester has been a wonderful journey! It all started with a blog post about our experiences with fairy tales as well as our expectations which I must say have been met fully and beyond.
We’ve learned so much about what makes a fairy tale vs a myth, the interpretation especially from the  Freudian perspective to historical context of tales that lead to many revisions of tales and influence movies like Pan’s Labyrinth. Then we learned about the importance of and difference in fairy tales from different cultures. It was very nice to see that although cultures are so different, story telling can always be found in it and it usually fulfills the same function of teaching lessons as well as containing similar elements. Last there was the interesting experience of interpreting Rammstein’s Sonne video and explaining the Red Riding Hood Cartoon. Oh the things you, Dr. Esa, had us do! But they were really great and challenging learning experiences; sometimes they were even fun XD  
            One of my favorite aspects of this course was the fun and informative guest lectures. It is really difficult to decide which one I liked best but I think the ASL presentation wins… Though, I also liked the call-and-response stories that Dr. Ochieng told us. Another great part of the course was all the different fairy tales we got to read and especially when it was they all had the same theme. It was very manageable and usually ended before I got too bored with the repletion in the stories. I liked finding the differences in the tales when they were all one theme. The only reading I had a lot trouble with was the Arabic one. It just seemed like the information was repeating and the history was a bit difficult to keep track of. I appreciated that the stories were so short though!
            I really enjoyed taking this class and what I have learned will stick with me for a long time. I’m sorry to say good-bye to the class, especially my neighbors Nick and Steven, and Cassie. Thank you Dr. Esa for always being so enthusiastic and leading our interesting class discussions and for keeping your cool when the class went a bit crazy. Also thank you for the chocolate and my Ue-Ei birthday present! The apples you brought in were delicious as well! You throw awesome parties with yummy food!!!
I wish we had expanded on the idea of fairy tales and music. Maybe a potential essay topic or guest lecture?  Here are two songs that go against the ideal of the submissive female: 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Pan's Labyrinth

            The guest lecture by Dr. Deveny on the movie and history behind it was very different from our usual lecture. While we would often mention the background of the story and setting, we never drew that many connections between a tale and the historical meaning of it.
The movie reflected fantasy, historical, and coming of age elements which are also found in fairy tales but fairy tales use these elements in a different manner and not as expressly stated. For example the fantasy element translates to the use of magic found in a giving tree or talking animals. The historical context is found in the moral values the story incorporates as well as setting, but most often the morals of fairy tales are still applicable in any age. Last is the coming of age element which is found in many stories especially the Cinderella and Snow-White themed stories. In most cases a young girl has to leave her family, does some growing up, and is rewarded at the end.
Anyways, for Dr. Deveny’s lecture we looked at the movie plot as if it were a fairy tale, a tale that happened in the real life setting as well as the fairy world. Another interpretation of this could be that one is Ofelia’s imaginary world or unconscious while the other world is the real world. Either way, the political situation in Spain in the 1940’s gives the whole background of the story. The conflict between Capitain Videl’s soldiers and the Guerrilla fighters is what pushes the whole plot forward as well as influences the other characters’ roles. Ofelia’s violation of the induction not to eat in the underworld (Propp’s function 3) even reflects the historical idea that no one will go hungry in Franco-Spain. Other than incorporating historical facts in the movie, the director also uses a lot of fairy tale elements such as the three quests which Ofelia has to do to enter the fairy world (Propp’s function 10), as well as his use of fairies as guides (function 14) and the faun as a talking man/animal.
All together it was a very interesting take on how fairy tale elements and historical ideas are incorporated in movies. The movie actually included almost all of the functions.

Saturday, April 21, 2012


The lecture by Dr. Mian on “Folk and Fairy Tales from Bangladesh” was a wonderful glimpse into tales from a whole different culture and very entertaining. I liked that rupkotha translates to beautiful words told to children which mimics how fairy tales in the western world are often told to children as bed time stories. As with all other tales we have looked at, fairy tales from Bangladesh have been passed on orally as well and are seen as part of folk tradition. The traditional value is also mimicked in the collection of rupkothas titled Thakurar Jhuli that translates to Grandmother’s bag in English. Like western fairy tales, rupkothas are full of life lessons that look at the conflicts between good and evil, greed and generosity, virtue and vice but one important difference is that evil is punished while evil is redeemed in western tales. Other differences are that the characters are often monsters and demons but also include the familiar witches and kings as well as elements of magic, talking animals and the transformation of people. It was interesting to learn that the evil stepmother from the western stories became the jealous co-wife in these stories while the mermaid remained unchanged. Another interesting thing was that the witches are shown as smart while the monsters who were largely male were depicted as dumb in stories. Despite the differences, Dr. Mian’s presentation showed that basic structure and function of fairy tales is the same in every culture.   

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Oscar Wilde's Fairy Tale Writing

            Oscar Wilde is best known for his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray and play The Importance of Being Earnest so it might be a surprise to some that he also wrote a couple of fairy tales. Though not as well known as the classic fairy tales made popular by the Grimm brothers and other writers in the past, they still contribute an important aspect in the study of fairy tales.
What makes Wilde’s stories unique from the other stories we have read so far is the use of Christian motives of sharing with and suffering for others which usually results in death. This can be seen in The Selfish Giant, when the giant realizes that he has to share the garden with the children and thus becomes selfless but then dies at the end under one of his trees. There is one child of particular importance, a little boy who at the end has wounds in his hands and feet and invites the Giant to come to his garden which results in the giant’s death. This child resembles Christ inviting the Giant to come join him in Paradise. Another example of the use of Christian motives can be found in the story of The Nightingale and the Rose. Here the nightingale sings her heart out while pricking her heart with a thorn to create a red rose for a scholar who needs a rose to impress a girl. At the end, her selfless sacrifice of her own life so that the human can find love is in vain for the rose is carelessly discarded.
Wilde’s writing is marked by these sacrifices by the protagonists which ultimately end in death can be taken as a commentary on how people’s selfless actions for others is futile since it only brings temporary happiness at best and results in the ending of a life. Not a very happy moral to take from a reading!  

Friday, April 6, 2012

Mushrooms and Fairy Tales

While doing my Botany reading I found something interesting fact that kind of relates to our class. The book I have to read is called Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart and has short descriptions and/or stories of poisonous plants. Though mushrooms are not a plant, they still cause many illnesses and deaths so she decided to include them.

Anyway, the interesting entry is about the fly mushroom (Amanita muscaria). This mushroom is reddish orange with white spots which is often used in illustrations of fairy tales. In fact, the mushroom that the caterpillar sits on in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland might be a fly mushroom. Stewart even says that the symptoms Alice experiences after nibbling on the mushroom are similar to the kind of hallucinations that mark the first signs of poisoning from this mushroom species.

Just thought this was interesting so I wanted to share this!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

"Paukwa" - "Pakawa"

Dr. Ochieng’ K’Olewe’s guest lecture was an amazing experience with many laughs! I really enjoyed that all the stories were oral stories which reflect the teller’s version of the tale and so becomes a unique story every time it is told. Another thing I really liked about the African fairy tales is that they involve the teller calling out to the audience and the audience responding that they are ready for the story. The dark environment mirrored the way these stories are told traditionally and also allow the listeners to fully concentrate on the teller’s voice and especially the emotions he expresses. I even found myself picturing the scenes in my mind that he described.
I thought it was interesting to see examples of how general stories can actually reflected a specific culture’s beliefs, attitudes, and values. For example the story where the mouse tries to get the other animals to help him get rid of the mouse trap stresses the importance of interconnectedness. While people may feel that “it is not my problem”, not doing anything might have negative effects on you later. Caring for others and their problems is especially important for small African communities were one person’s problem can affect everyone. This example also reflects the importance that African people place on blood relations. As Dr. Ochieng’ said, people are often distantly related so everyone is family and thus if one person has a problem, the whole family should help out.
Another interesting thing I learned is how songs and especially call and response songs are part of stories or even tell a whole story. Other things I learned from this presentation is that the setting of the tales are very important which helps transmit information about the community’s origin, social foundation, and helps to affirm the community and its history. Often a story is also used to correct behavior or keep the natural order of things instead of giving a lecture on behavior. This is similar to fairy tales were the reader after reading the story has to come up with his own moral and thus gains his own insights. Thinking for yourself is always better than being told what to do or think.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Bluebeard Meets His Match

“Lady Mary was young, and Lady Mary was fair. She had two brothers and more lovers than she could count.” And so begins Joseph Jacob’s story called Mr. Fox which is my favorite Blackbeard story. This story seems different from the other stories because Lady Mary, though young and beautiful like the other women, is not a virgin and overall seems to be more active in her life. First, her title indicates that she is not just any woman but a woman with some societal standing and thus has a greater expectancy for who she wants to marry. Indeed it seems as if she is the one who chose Mr. Fox as her husband, not the other way around, and just because he was her favorite. The story continues with her looking for his house, not him inviting her, and relying on her own wits to escape the bloody scene. After all, “Lady Mary was a brave one”. The next day she recounts her dream, after being prompted by her soon-to-be-husband-and-murderer-of-young-ladies, brushes off Mr. Fox’s multiple attempts to stop her, exposes his true nature, and gets her family to cut him into pieces right then and there! I also thought it was kind of funny that he died because of his greed. If he had not cut off the girl’s hand to get to the diamond, Lady Mary would not have had the proof of his hidden nature and thus he might have been able to escape his death.
Lastly, in this story the villain figure/Bluebeard is Mr. Fox but he seems to have a very minor role compared to Lady Mary’s actions. Through out the story there is very little description to his actions or person, even his death is a fast one! He is pretty much an unknown and only becomes active in the night when he kills the poor girl. This story supports the interpretation of women not knowing the nature of men before marriage but at the same time it suggests that women should also stand up for themselves and be selective when choosing their husbands. Honestly, I am a bit surprised that Mr. Fox does not have a more active role considering the story is named after him!

(Not many good images for Blackbeard :( )

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Hey Cinderella~

Last week our reading looked at the Cinderella type of fairy tales. What they have in common is that the protagonist, usually a female, leaves her former happy and comfortable life either because she has to escape her father’s desires or because the stepmother is pushing her own motives. Even though Cinderella has to do the lowly housework and be subservient to others her perseverance and passiveness is rewarded at the end when she gets to marry the prince who restores her former glorious life while the wrong doers are punished by death, misfortune or loneliness. It is also important to note that in most of these stories an object, often a ring or shoe, is the cause of Cinderella and her prince meeting. Often these items are obtained trough a fairy-godmother or other element of magic such as a tree.  Thus taking these commonalities in consideration it is easy to say that the Cinderella theme is one that encourages the idea of “rags to riches through magic and marriage”.  
But how realistic is this idea? After all, in our daily life there is no such thing as a fairy-godmother or a bird who gives us an object that will help us find our soul mate. Furthermore, waiting around, doing nothing today will not get you very far. Today’s world rewards the active people that take their own future into their hands instead of patiently waiting for the prince to save them. Still the idea that success or riches can be reached through marriage has some merit since marriage unites two people who hopefully will support each other, piles resources and thus increases their changes of success. Even the definition of success is objective. For some it may be raising a family in comfort for others it might mean making a lot of money. Still, one has to have some kind of resources or extreme luck, which in the right cases can seem like magic, to succeed. That said, overall, I think it is possible that the idea of “rags to riches” is possible though unlikely in everyday life.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

ASL Story Time

The presentation on ASL story telling by Dr. Rust was an amazing and funny experience. I think he has been the best guest speaker I have ever had the pleasure of watching and one of the most education lectures in my school career. Honestly I have never thought about deaf culture or story telling in ASL so seeing this presentation was truly eye-opening.
            I thought it was especially interesting that stories in ASL are more like folktales than fairy tales. Stories in ASL are told from person to person and are only now beginning to be told world wide and to be recorded thanks to video technology and the internet. So in deaf culture literature is digitized video instead of fairy tales that are written down in books. I also found it interesting that stories in ASL often start as personal stories that are modified by others to transmit morals and the views of the ASL culture. Thinking of the driver’s story it shows that deaf culture uses personal stories to strengthen the power of the deaf community as well as building their sense of pride. This transformative nature of stories in ASL reminds me of how folktales are modified to reflect cultural values and norms.
            It was a lot of fun to watch the ASL videos and Dr. Rust when they were telling stories because their facial expressions and body position communicated a lot of the story. Story telling in ASL incorporates the whole body and creates a very active connection between teller/author and the audience. ASL is a very active and creative language! 

Anybody inspired to make their own alphabet story? :)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Spring Midterm Assignment

As part of the midterm we have to comment on another classmate’s blog and I am very happy to have gotten Nick’s blog :) Let me start this entry by saying that I agree with Nick that the snorting of the gold in the Rammstein video made me cringe as well!
            Going through Nick’s blog entries I think my favorite part is how his feelings and opinions come through in his writing. At the same time he is also very honest and humorous; though I must say that his background is slightly creepy to me. I can’t even tell what it is!
Other than that, Nick always fulfills the given requirements of the blog entries as well as doing a good job at answering all questions. His pictures and videos for the blogs are very appropriate as well. I like how he sometimes uses questions to tie his thoughts together and also make the reader think about the material. I also liked his summary of Dr. Mazeroff’s lecture because it was easy to understand and all concepts were well explained. Another thing I liked was his comparison between the “Cupid and Psyche” and “Beauty and the Beast” story because he stressed the differences between myth and fairy tales.
I really enjoyed reading Nick’s entries again though I wish he had elaborated a bit more on the cartoon blog entry assignment. Though he made some good points and incorporated a lot of our class discussion in his blog, I would have liked to read more about his thoughts and opinions as well as any different interpretations he had.

Rammstein and Snow White

The Rammstein version has some interesting differences but also shares similarities with the Snow White fairy tales. Unlike the stories we read were most stories began with the death of Snow White’s mother, the video begins with the “dwarfs” using power tools to mine gold. They sing about waiting for the sun which in my interpretation is the woman/Snow White. This idea is supported by them counting as if they were anticipating someone and then Snow White entering their house while they are eating. Again this is different from the story because in the stories we read the dwarfs discover Snow White when she is asleep.
Another major change is that Snow White seems to be the driving force in the story that makes all the action happen while in the stories she is shown as passive and being the housekeeper. The video on the other hand shows her as being very powerful which is done through the camera angles which make the dwarfs look tiny as well has her being the only thing that is colorful; the dwarfs and their surroundings are all in gray and black as well as looking dirty. This idea is also supported by the dwarf offering her the gold as soon as they meet almost as if he were giving a gift to a goddess. Furthermore she also strikes the dwarf that offers her the gold and then proceeds to spank one of them while the others are cowering in the corner. But one dwarf also seems strangely eager to be the next one since he’s lowering his pants. She also is the one sitting at the head of the table. While Snow White was subservient to the dwarfs in the stories we read, here the dwarfs are the ones brushing her hair and going to her for affection. They are also doing hard, dirty work while she gets to relax in the bathtub. 

In the video it looks like Snow White dies because she has or was injected by something so the dwarfs put her in a class coffin and like in the stories, carry her to the top of the mountain. Like the Snow White story by the bothers Grimm, an apple still plays an important role for the rest of the story. But while it first causes snow white to die in the fairy tale, the apple falling on the coffin in the video frees her. This is similar to the apple pieces being dislodged from her throat.  
A HUGE difference in the video is that there is no prince to save her! Which is what I like about the video a lot because waiting on a man to save you is just a dumb idea. I also found the video more interesting than the stories for that reason. That said, I think I prefer Rammstein’s video because it is something different and more adult (she’s taking drugs) or in other words not all about her cleaning the house and being stupid by letting the witch trick her three times.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Comparison of Cupid and Psyche by Lucius Apuleius and The Tiger’s Bride by Angela Carter

Cupid and Psyche

The Tiger's Bride

“Cupid and Psyche” and “The Tiger’s Bride” are stories  written at very different times and while there are some differences the similarities of both stories outweigh the differences. Both stories follow the same outline of all the other Beauty and the Beast themed stories we read. In all of the stories a person, usually the woman or girl, meets the beast, falls in love with the beast, and spends the rest of her life with him.
            These two stories are similar because both Psyche and Bride willingly sacrifice themselves to the unknown beast. While Psyche seems more willing to accept her fate to be delivered to the beast for the good of her family and only because she does not have any other marriage prospects, Bride seems angered at her fate and especially her father who has lost her to the beast. Though their reasons for meeting the beast are different, it does not change the fact that both accept their fate to continue their lives with the beast and away from their families. Also both are obedient to their parents.
            Both stories also deal with the women’s fear of the unknown and mystery of the beast though in slightly different ways. Psyche is warned by her sisters that her husband is supposedly a beast which leads to her taking a closer look at him at night despite his warning that she should not do so. In the other story, Bride remembers her nurse maid telling her to be cautious of beasts because they will “gobble you up”. Overall Bride seems less frightened and more active and head strong than Psyche who lets others help her with her tasks rather than challenging the beast to strip first. 
            On another note, both stories have an element of magic. “Cupid and Psyche” has the interchange between the divine and mortal world as well as Psyche’s travel to the mountain and her life there. In the story of “The Tiger’s Bride” there is the fact that the beast is a tiger-man, the look-a-like doll of Bride, and her transformation by licking of the tiger.  
            All these common themes as well as the fact that both Psyche and Bride are praised as being very beautiful women, which for Psyche was the cause of her bad fortune, make it possible for them to be viewed together and characterized as a Beauty and the Beast type of story.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Red Riding Hood in cartoons

This cartoon by Kes is a different from other red riding hood cartoons because it has the grandmother as the central figure. Here she is complaining that her granddaughter rarely visits anymore which is interesting since the grandmother almost never speaks in any of the stories we read except for the one by the brothers Grimm. Also this is one of the view glimpses we get of her before she gets eaten by the wolf.
But this cartoon is also similar to the other cartoons I saw as it depicts the grandma sitting in bed and an image of little red riding hood. It seems like this image of wolf/grandma in a bed and little red in the room is the typical depiction of the fairy tale – the one image that makes the story unique.
I thought it was interesting that grandmother says that little red would not be able to tell her apart form a wolf since little red has not visited in so long because this is exactly the issue I had with the story of Little Red Riding Hood. Children of almost any age are pretty good at telling apart humans from animals so why would little red not realize that the figure in the bed is not her grandmother….

When looking for cartoons I also had another thought. Why is the story knows as Little Red RIDING Hood when there is no mentioning of riding horses in any of the stories..? Riding has a more sexual meaning especially if one takes into account all the other sexual implications…

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Fairy Tales and Psychology: Freud and Jung

Psychodynamic analysis began in the 1900s and even today is still used by some psychologists. As it is, psychodynamic theory has influenced the field of psychology a great deal, especially Freud and Jung. Their theories can even be applied to the analysis of fairy tales as both believe that how we identify with fairy tales can tell us about our thoughts and dreams.
Freud believes that humans suppress their fears, sexual desires, and inappropriate behaviors in the unconscious and purposed that we have an ego, superego, and id which rule all of our actions. Thus as Bruno Bettelheim describes using Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, the story of Hansel and Gretel deals with children’s suppressed anxieties of abandonment and their fears about independence.
Jung, on the other hand, believes that we have a collective unconscious where memories and experiences are stored that are shared by the whole human race. This translates to idea of love, hunger, and parents. His theory helps to explain the universal nature and the recurring themes such as abandonment by parents and the search for food in fairy tales.
Psychological theories are useful for therapy because how a person identifies with a particular fairy tales can sometimes reveal their own fears, anxieties, and struggles. What parts they like can even reveal their dreams and hopes. Even if that is not the case, talking about a fairy tale in a therapy session can lead to open discussion and thus bring therapist and patient closer.
Dr. Mazeroff’s lecture was very educational and interesting as it gave a good overview of both theories as well as their similarities and differences. The part about the different archetypes identified a lot of commonalities as well and helped explain the potential meanings behind them.The section on the hero's journey was very interesting as well as I had never thought about almost any story includes most of these elements in the same order. While I am still doubtful about psychodynamic theories in general due to their unscientific nature, I can see the appeal in them as well as their usefulness. Thank you Dr. Mazeroff for this new perspective.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

My working definition of what makes a Fairy Tale

From our class readings and discussions we established that a fairy tale or Maerchen is distinct from myths, legends and folk tale in a few key aspects. First, fairy tales are stylistic in nature and often begin and end in similar ways. For example in all the fairy tales that I have heard, there is some type of hero who overcomes a negative event and ends up receiving a good fortune or “lives happily ever after”.  Another important part for a story to be classified as a fairy tale is an element of magic such as talking animals, fairies and of course curses that change a prince into a scary animal. In many cases, fairy tales are also written, fictional works though some are based on oral folk tales that the author has combined into a story. This leads to another important aspect of fairy tales which is that fairy tales have a universal quality to them. Every culture finds resonance in fairy tales – otherwise they would not be as popular all over the world as they are now or have been in the past. Lastly, fairy tales in their pure form let the reader interpret the tale by themselves without giving a moral or suggestions. Thus how a fairy tale is interpreted is all based on the reader's experiences and views which leads to it's ageless character.        

Sunday, January 29, 2012

This class is going to be fun!

Today my parents and brother came down for an early Birthday dinner. Near the end of our yummy Thai meal I asked if they ever read us stories. ‘We read stories to you all the time!’, my mother answered and proceeded to mention many that I could not remember. But as she started to elaborate on one of them called “The Story About Ping” by Marjorie Flack and Kurt Wieseand  I felt as if I could see the illustrations in my head. As I am writing this blog I’m listening to an audio version of it and it is really bringing back memories of sitting next to my mother and reading it with her. While I am unsure if this is my favorite folktale or even if this story counts as a folktale, I do remember liking it. I especially enjoy the beginning and ending of the story when they mention all the family members because it reminds me of my family. Also a little duck getting lost form his family and then arriving safely at home is adorable. I also have vague memories of sound effects…
Another book I remember enjoying a lot is called “The Moon Lady” by Amy Tan. I love the colorful pictures and the mysterious figure of the moon lady. It was also a longer story meaning I was allowed to stay up longer!
After listening to the beginning of the story I'm starting to realize how many elements of Chinese culture are embedded in this child story.  
Like I mentioned before, I do not remember reading or watching a lot of fairy or folk tales as a child. I spend a lot of time outside and never watched many Disney movies. But fairy tales are very interesting to me as parts of them appear everywhere in our daily life. As others have mentioned I am also interested in seeing how children’s fairy tales are a variation from the ‘original’ stories and am also interested in the history of fairy tales.
I see this class as an opportunity to be a kid again and reading stories I don’t remember or haven’t read. Finding the actual function behind these stories seems like an interesting thing to do as well.  I would also love to have class discussions where students share their experiences with fairy tales and their interpretations because each student interprets stories differently.