Sunday, April 28, 2013

Kenyan Folk Tales

Kenyan folk tales, like many fairy tales, have roots in oral tradition.  The biggest difference here is that the majority of Kenyan folk tales are still oral, told through the mediums of speech, song, and dance.  Additionally, while many fairy tales are centered around humans, Kenyan folk tales are centered on animals, where one is particularly clever.  The stories tend to have certain central themes, but still vary between regions, villages, and families.  The tales are important for expressing the history of the people.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Jewish Folk Tales vs. Eurpean Folk/Fairy Tales

Up until now, the focus has primarily centered around European fairy tales.  Most of those tales are centered around wronged children, innocently curious wives, and evil witches/step-mothers.  Jewish folk tales, on the other hand, are centered around Rabbis, magical objects, and antisemitism.  That isn't to say that there aren't similarities between the two.  The magical objects, in particular, are similar.  For example, the ring in The Rabbi Who Became a Werewolf and the mirror in The Magic Mirror of Rabbi Adam.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Female Aggression and Gender Roles in Cinderella

"A Stepsister;" design by:  Alyssa Zell
"A Stepsister;" design by:  Alyssa Zell


"Cinderella;" design by:  Alyssa Zell
 In many versions of "Cinderella" tales (i.e., Yeh-hsien, Cinderella by the Brothers Grimm, etc.) there are aggressive, dominant women.  Not unlike the older sisters in De Beaumont's Beauty and the Beast, the stepmothers and stepsisters in these "Cinderella" stories are vain and forward.  At the time many of these stories were written/recorded starting in the 1600s; this was a time when women were expected to be meek, focused on childbearing and taking care of the house.  The stepsisters, under their mother's influence, are focused on their beauty and getting a rich husband, whereas Cinderella herself is used to doing housework, having been forced into it at a young age.  By this reasoning, Cinderella is the ideal wife, while the sisters would be considered almost scary to men of the time, coming across too strong.

Further evidence of this comes from what happens with the golden slipper in Cinderella by the Brothers Grimm.  When the prince visits the house of Cinderella's father, the stepmother encourages her daughters to do whatever it takes to become the bride of the prince.  First, the older stepsister tries on the shoe, but her big toe is too big.  So the step mother says to her daughter:
The toe is removed and the foot forced into the shoe.  Symbolically speaking, shoes are seen as feminine; feet are seen as masculine.  By forcing her foot into the shoe, the sister was essentially taking on the masculine role of being aggressive and forceful.  The prince starts off with the first stepsister, only to be informed of the deception by two birds in tree above Cinderella's mother's grave:
"Bloody Gold Slipper" by:  Alyssa Zell
Personally, I prefer the wording used in Sondheim's Into the Woods, where it is the spirit of the mother, contained in the tree, which tells him to check the shoe:
 The prince returns and tries the shoe on the second stepsister, but her heel is too big.  Again the stepmother encourages her daughter to mutilate her own body to get the prince:
ASIDE:  Ironically enough, beauty was also heavily sought after.  Although the requirement was the shoe fitting, upon discovering the mutilated foot, as would most likely have happened anyway, the prince would have been likely to cast his bride aside.
Again the prince is told of the deception.  Finally, Cinderella is brought before him, despite protests from her stepmother, stepsisters, and her own father.  She is docile, timid, before the prince, as one should be when in the presence of royalty (or in the presence of one's husband, as was the general practice at the time the story was recorded).  In reality, a prince would have been surrounded by women like the stepsisters, constantly vying for his attention.  Thus, Cinderella, being different, would be the natural choice.
"Golden Slipper" by:  Alyssa Zell

Monday, April 1, 2013

Bluebeard as a Villain

"Bluebeard" by:  Alyssa Zell
           Of the Bluebeard tales I’ve read, I’d have to say that Bluebeard by Charles Perrault is my favorite.  If you can disregard his ridiculous morals, Perrault has an excellent writing style that is entertaining and easy to understand.

"Bloody Egg" by:  Alyssa Zell

"Bloody Key" by:  Alyssa Zell

"Her Severed Hand" by:  Alyssa Zell

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Filling Space

Unfortunately, I was absent when we were learning about this in class, but wanted to post something anyway.  Since this week's reading was "Beauty and the Beast," I was going to post some of my art that relates to the story, but that will have to wait until next week's post.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

"Little Red Riding Hood" (LRRH)

Image courtesy of

            The wolf ate Santa!  Silly, stupid wolf.  I guess it's a good thing I don't celebrate Christmas.  This entertaining, social cartoon shows the real reason the wolf hatched up the plan to beat LRRH to Granny’s house.  Consider this story:
Granny makes her granddaughter a red riding hood, which suits her so well that everyone calls her that.  Every day, her mother sends her on some errand; and every day the wolf sees her and wants to eat her.  One day, Santa is cutting through the woods on the way to the woodshop.  The wolf sees the red walking by and, thinking it’s LRRH, eats Santa whole.  Then LRRH walks by, and the wolf realizes his error.  A week later, he meets LRRH on her way to Granny’s house…
And the rest is well-known “history.”

Cartoon URL:

 Since I always like to add some related art of my own, here's a piece I did specifically for this blog post:

"LRRH and the Wolf" by:  Alyssa Zell

Sunday, February 17, 2013

"The Child as a Hero"

"Hansel and Gretel" by:  Alyssa Zell
In real life, children are often seen as week, easily victimized, and in need of constant protection.  In the world of fairy tales, however, children are often viewed as a threat to/means of another character's survival.  Despite the world seeming to be against them, these children rise up and become heroes in their own right.
Just look at “Hansel and Gretel,” and “Little Thumbling.”  In both stories, Famine is running rampant throughout the country; so one parent decides that the children must be abandoned in the forest.  At least one child overhears the conversation and decides to fill his pockets with little white pebbles, which he drops along the way and uses to successfully guide himself and his sibling(s) back to the house.  When the second attempt to return home fails, the children do not give up hope.  Here, the stories begin to differ.  Either way, without any assistance from an adult, the children manage to defeat their enemies, and return home with treasure that keeps the family well fed for the rest of their lives…as far as we know.
Then you have “The Juniper Tree.”  This story is about monetary greed instead of food.  Now, which child is truly the hero of the story can be debated.  While the son is the main focus of the story, it is the daughter who thinks to bury his bones.  This shows that she knows she is currently too young to truly defy her mother, but there is hope for her yet.  The way the story is written, the “Little Sister” can’t be more than five years old.  It takes a lot of bravery and heroism to stand up to a woman like that.
Aside from the actual examples of children being heroes, there is also symbolism and psychological perspectives to idea itself.  Bettelheim, who uses Freud’s school of thought, feels that “Hansel and Gretel” is all about oral fixation and regression.  Instead of fending for themselves in the forest, which would indicate maturity, all the children can think about is returning home, which is indicative of regression.  In a way, the whole story is a rebellion against the mother (step-mother), who has cast them out of the house, therefore denying them nurture.  “The child must learn that if he does not free himself of these [destructive desires], his parents or society will force him to do so against his will, as earlier his mother had stopped nursing the child when she felt the time had come to do so.”  But “the child” at that age is infatuated with the mother.  Keeping in mind the focus on the male child, I present the following quote from Bettelheim:
“Having overcome his oedipal difficulties, mastered his oral anxieties, sublimated those of his cravings which cannot be satisfied realistically, and learned that wishful thinking has to be replaced by intelligent action, the child is ready to live happily again with his parents.”
Thus, the children have matured and are ready to rejoin their father in order to live “happily ever after.”
            Bettelheim’s point of view takes away Hansel and Gretel’s triumph over the witch and turns it into hate towards the mother figure.  Just because Freud, and possibly Bettelheim, had mommy issues doesn’t mean that fairy tales have to revolve around such ideas.  For me, the most important part of “the child as a hero” is the fact that children can be heroes, they can succeed!  That is the point that renews a little bit of my faith in humanity…                        Now, if only we could get the world to listen to children a little more often.