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.