Tag Archives: fairy tale nerd

The Issue With Rumpelstiltskin

quill and qwerty

Rumpelstiltskin-Crane1886

I have a heck of a time typing “Rumpelstiltskin” – the “ltsk” combo in the middle is really hard to get, as no other word I can think of has that sound sequence in English. For some reason, the German “Rumpelstilzchen” flows much easier from the fingers.

However, that’s not the main issue with this fairy tale. The real problem, I decided on re-reading it yesterday, is that the beautiful miller’s daughter (that’s the beautiful daughter of the miller, not the daughter of the beautiful miller – there’s English grammatical ambiguity for you) is screwed coming and going.

I used to like “Rumpelstilzchen” when I was a child. It has an ending that I always found quite satisfying: The nasty manipulative gnome is found out, and in his fury at being thwarted he tears himself in half. Happily Ever After, The End. It never occurred to me that…

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Beauty and the Beast: the Movie

Every self-respecting blogger who ever uses “fairy tales” as a tag has to have a post about the new “Beauty and the Beast” movie, don’t they? Uh, actually, no. There is no law in fairy land about liking or even watching Disney movies. You’re free to despise and/or shun them as much as you like, and I might even agree with you on many of your reasons.

However, with this movie – well, I did something I’ve never done before: I watched it twice in as many days. That’s right – that’s how much I loved it. I’d been looking forward to this movie ever since they first announced it, and the excitement was building with every fresh piece of news about the casting, with every new image and trailer. I don’t think I’ve ever been as keen on seeing a film as I have this one (which, admittedly, isn’t saying much, as I grew up more or less movie-and-TV-less; up until age 20 or so, I could literally count on one hand the number of films I’d seen in a theatre. But I’ve kind of been making up for it since).

And, I’m happy to say, the movie didn’t disappoint. One of the things about writing a review for this is that I don’t have to tread carefully to avoid giving spoilers – Disney filmed a giant spoiler for this twenty-six years ago; if you’ve seen the cartoon, you’ll know the movie. It is a live-action remake of the 1991 cartoon, and it is just that – a remake. The dialogue, the songs, even much of the setting, are identical to the older film. (This is in contrast to the 2015 live-action Cinderella, which, while referring to the 1950 cartoon in many ways, was a whole new movie in its own right.)

But it’s not entirely identical. With the dialogue, for example, while much of the cartoon’s spoken lines are present in the new movie, there are whole new sections or additions, and more than once, iconic lines have been given to different characters or are moved to different scenes.

Others are left out altogether, and the effect is emblematic of some of the differences between the films. For example, one piece of dialogue, or rather scene, that is missing is one of my favourites from the cartoon: the Beast is leaning on the balcony railing, watching Belle with her horse. “I’ve never felt like this about anyone,” he says. “I want to do something for her. But what?” “Well,” replies Cogsworth the Clock, “there’s the usual: flowers, chocolates, promises you don’t intend to keep…” (We love quoting that around our house when it comes to making suggestions for presents on a special occasion.)

As funny as that line is, it wouldn’t fit the new version of the Beast – or of Belle, for that matter. Interestingly enough, in the new movie it’s Belle who watches the Beast from the window of the castle, as he walks in the snowy courtyard with Philippe, her horse (and, if you watch carefully, the Beast is gesticulating, obviously having a quite intense discussion with the horse). The Beast is not as much of an ineptly bumbling boy who just has a bad temper and needs to be parented and coached on relationships by his faithful household retainers. Yes, there is a little of that still, but for the most part this is a much more grown-up version of the Beast – a man who has a dark side to his character that he needs to overcome.

But, at the same time, Belle isn’t just a sweet bookworm who is all goodness and light. The cartoon Belle is pure heroine – she has hardly any character arc, does not change from the beginning of the film to the end; the Beast is the one who does all the changing. In this film, Belle changes significantly. She starts the story as a farm girl (her own words), looking after her father, feeling a vague sense of dissatisfaction at her life in this “poor provincial town”; then she sacrifices herself for her father (literally pushing him out of the prison cell against his will), but makes several attempts to get away from the castle; she does not passively submit to her imprisonment. But then she learns that there might be more to the Beast and to the situation of the castle than she initially thought. As in the original story, her agency is what brings about the change in the Beast – but in herself, as well.

The relationship between her and the Beast grows slowly, as both of them discover they have more in common than they suspected. As in the cartoon, a major turning point is the Beast “giving her” his massive library – but here, he is not an illiterate boor who has never cracked the cover of one of his many volumes, but a nobleman with “an expensive education” who knows to quote Shakespeare, and leads her into his library to score a point (namely that there are so many better books to read than Belle’s favourite, Romeo and Juliet).

Belle grows up in this film. Here, she truly finds a partner who fulfils her wish “to have someone understand”. One particularly poignant scene is when the two talk about being the odd one out whose appearance in a room makes the laughter of the common people fall silent, and they begin to realise that in each other perhaps for the first time in their lives they have found a friend. The dance scene in the ballroom is as gorgeous as expected – but one additional piece of dialogue I particularly appreciated comes right afterwards: “Do you think you could be happy here?” asks the Beast (note: “could be“, not “are“), and her response: “Can anyone be happy if they aren’t free?” Beast, of course, being now a changed Beast, gets the message – it was the last tiny nudge he needed. (Take that, “Stockholm Syndrome” naysayers!) Belle goes from Hermione-in-a-dirndl to a woman who is a true equal to a changed prince, with all that implies.

But the greater depth and rounding of characters does not mean there is not plenty of laughter in the film. Here, much of the humour comes from the characters and visual humour. As in the cartoon, one exhilarating and utterly hilarious scene is the battle between the household objects and the villagers (look out for Chip the Teacup’s frisbee shooting of his stack of saucers, counting off his hits as he fires). The laugh-out-loud moments come thick and fast during much of the movie, all the way to the end.

There is much more to be said on this, but for now, just one more thing: the visuals are out-of-this-world mind-boggling. Utterly astonishing. The CG graphics are as real as they can possibly be; Lumiere, for one, is a genuine, live, walking and talking metal candelabra – how can he not be real? And the mise en scène is fantastic. The setting places the story firmly in 18th-century France: the prince (Beast) at the beginning is a ludicrously powdered and patched macaroni, and the interior of Belle’s castle bedroom, with its pale blue and silver gilt walls, looks just like the Amalienburg in Munich:

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Incidentally, there is one tiny little verbal Easter egg that you have to be a hardcore fairy tale nerd to appreciate: Belle’s village is called Villeneuve (Newtown), which just happens to be the name of the author of the first version of the “Beauty and the Beast” story. Cute, eh?

I’ll leave it there for now. As I said, this movie was worth the months of anticipation – if you haven’t seen it yet, do. I’ll come along; after all, I’ve only seen it twice in the four days it’s been out…

Life, the Universe, and Beauty and the Beast. A Tale As Old As Time…

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What I Did On My Holidays, or: A Visit to Storybrooke

On my holidays, I went to Storybrooke. Yes, the Once Upon a Time town. No, really!
As I mentioned before, I just spent a couple of weeks with family, and we went to the big city (aka Vancouver). And while we were there, I got a chance to go to Storybrooke. Yes, I know they tell you it’s in Maine, but actually, it’s in BC (the geographic location, British Columbia, not the time period, Before Christ). See?

Storybrooke (1)On the map, it’s actually called Steveston (which, contrary to the opinion of a certain family member, is not named after a small stuffed bear). Steveston is a really cute fishing village on the outskirts of Greater Vancouver, with a nifty harbour and an old cannery just down the street from the relevant places.

So, here I am in front of Mr. Gold’s pawn shop:
Storybrooke (2)And it really is proof that I was there myself – if I had photoshopped myself into the picture, I wouldn’t have chosen such a hideously unflattering shot of me. But because I like you, and need to show you that I was, indeed, there in the flesh, I’m letting you see this photo of me (take note of the Cinderella’s Coach pin on my shirt – I was even dressed appropriately).

This, I think, is Granny’s Diner.
Storybrooke (4)There wasn’t a single werewolf in sight, though, nor indeed any Evil Queens, Princes (Charming or otherwise), Princesses, Pirates, Dwarfs, Fairies, or Bondsbailpersons in yellow VW beetles. And the only teenagers around were, alas, Not Henry. If I’d stuck around a few weeks or months, though, I might have been able to get a glimpse of one or two of them; apparently Season 5 is slated to start filming soon.

And here is me going into the Storybrooke Library.
Storybrooke (3)Well, actually, it’s me pulling on the handle of the locked-up building which is falling apart and for sale. Anybody want to chip in to buy it?

Life, the Universe, and a Visit to Storybrooke. That’s what I did on my holidays.

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Cinderella, the Movie

If anyone doubts that the “Cinderella” story is a perennial favourite, they have obviously not been attending a movie theatre in the last week since the release of the live-action film. We went on Tuesday evening, the first cheap Tuesday after the movie came out, and the theatre was packed – the show must have been nearly sold out.

One of the things I loved about it was the demographic of the audience. Sure, there were lots of families with young children. But the middle of the front row was occupied by a group of half a dozen seniors, and they were by no means the only grey heads unaccompanied by grandchildren there. We originally sat at the end of a row beside two more empty seats; we gave up our spots and moved to a different row so a foursome of young adults – again, no children in sight – could sit together. The full age range of viewers was represented in that theatre. There was noise, bustling, rustling, chattering – and then the film started to roll, and it got quiet. A little voice somewhere in the front of the theatre piped up “It’s Cinderella!”

And so it was. This movie is a beautifully quintessential rendition of the Cinderella story, a straight-up, classic fairy tale version. No attempts here to modernise, to give tragic backstories to the villains to make them into non-villains, to make Cinderella into a 21st-century feminist icon, to subvert the base story into a lesson in, umm, the moral-du-jour. I found that aspect of the film quite refreshing – it’s a fairy tale. The characters are as flat as they are in the printed versions. Cinderella is sweet, beautiful and picked-on; the stepmother and -sisters are mean bullies; the prince is charming; the fairy godmother is magical. That flatness, what the folklorist Max Lüthi calls depthlessness, is one of the key characteristics of folktales, and Sir Kenneth Branagh did a fantastic job making a film that retains this one-dimensionality while harnessing the full empowering force of this tale.

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Yes. I wore this to the movie.

But you probably just want me to get down to it and tell you what I thought. Well, here it is: I loved it. This is hands-down my favourite “Cinderella” movie yet. The visuals and special effects are stunning. The way the film plays with colour is especially striking – in fact, I wonder if they cast Richard Madden as the Prince purely for the way his brilliantly blue eyes match Cinderella’s gown. Every pretty girl ought to have a prince with matching eyes to accessorize with. (To which my daughter commented: “Good thing Cinderella doesn’t have a penchant for wearing red.”) The visuals, the acting, the storytelling, the sheer fairy-tale-ism of it all – it’s a wonderful movie.

Speaking of acting, one pleasant surprise was Sir Derek Jacobi in the role of the Prince’s father (or, I should say, one of the pleasures of the movie; it wasn’t really a surprise, this being a Branagh film). Now, this is a Disney movie, and as such, gives more than a nod to the 1950 animated version (more on that in a minute). But the King, whom the older movie portrays as nothing more than an old-fashioned buffoon obsessed with getting grandchildren, is a changed character here. Oh, Derek Jacobi would be more than capable of bringing a comic role like that to the screen. But the King he plays in this film is a very different character, and in fact (SPOILER ALERT!), the scene of him lying in his great big bed dying, with his grown son curled up against his chest begging him not to go, is one of the most touching parts of the movie.

Dying parents do feature rather prominently in this version of the story. Having Cinderella’s mother die is, of course, a prerequisite to the whole plot. But like in almost all other film versions (and as opposed to the written tales), her father is killed off as well (today’s society can’t deal with the idea that he might still be around but perhaps doesn’t actually care that his second wife abuses his daughter); and then here we have the new twist of a deep, loving relationship between the Prince and the King, only to give the latter a death scene, too. All of those scenes are played very sensitively and deeply emotional, with beautiful acting on everyone’s part. However, because of this I’d be cautious about taking really sensitive young children to see the movie – I know I would have found those aspects of the story quite disturbing when I was little (yes, I hated Bambi, too). (Note: if your kid is okay with watching The Lion King, they can probably handle this. If not, I’d wait for it to come out on DVD so you can fast-forward.)

However, this is “Cinderella”, and we all know how this story goes. The Ball!! The Fairy Godmother!! The Gown!! The Prince!! The Slipper!! Oh, yes, this movie delivers on that – does it ever! It’s every fairy tale fantasy brought to life on the big screen in glorious oversized colour. The slipper alone is a dazzling piece of facetted crystal, and in spite of appearances, as the Fairy Godmother says, “You’ll find it’s really comfortable!”

Said Fairy Godmother is wonderful, as was fully to be expected – she is played by Helena Bonham Carter. The transformation scenes of pumpkin and mice and lizards to coach and horses and footmen are the most hilarious parts of the whole movie. Fairy Godmother isn’t the brightest – the pumpkin in question is inside a greenhouse, and she decides that that’s a perfectly adequate location for casting the spell to change it into a coach. Let’s just say that, contrary to expectations, getting the finished product out the door actually isn’t a problem.

I enjoyed this movie on so many levels, not the least of which is that it makes quite a few references to the various versions of the “Cinderella” story. The main source text, as I mentioned before, is (of course) the 1950 Disney cartoon, which in turn is based on the Perrault version of the written tale. However, there is also a reference to the Grimm’s tale (Cinderella asks her father to bring her back a branch from a tree), to the Czech/German cult classic film Drei Haselnüsse für Aschenbrödel, to Gail Carson Levine’s book Ella Enchanted… Perhaps I’m reading those references into the film and they are actually unintentional, but as a bona fide fairy tale nerd who just wrote a Master’s Thesis on this very thing I enjoyed spotting them.

I could go on and on about this – I haven’t even mentioned some of the other fabulous characters, such as Cate Blanchett’s deliciously wicked stepmother, or the gorgeous score (it’s by Patrick Doyle. Patrick Doyle, people! Branagh’s Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing! The Emma Thompson Sense and Sensibility!). But I think it’s time to stop gushing – I think you get the picture. The motion picture, no less. If you want to immerse yourself in one wonderful fairy tale experience, get thee to a cinema.

Life, the Universe, and Cinderella. Now I want to go watch it again.

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Prince Charming vs. Edward Ferrars

(We interrupt our current spate of information about the forthcoming release of Cat and Mouse to bring you these rants – uh, sorry, messages. Advertising will resume shortly.)
(SPOILER WARNING: this contains details of Season One of the Once Upon a Time TV series, and of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. But seeing as I’m way behind the times in my viewing of OUAT, it’s all seriously old hat anyway. And if you don’t yet know the plot of S&S, you need to get a life. But don’t say you haven’t been warned!)

fairy talesSo as I mentioned the other day, I finally got around to getting Netflix and watching Once Upon a Time. As of yesterday, we made it up to episode 11, so half-way through the first season. Yes, yes, I know, you’re all way ahead of me and watched this stuff three years ago when it first came out, so you know all about it and have long had these discussions and thoughts. But just bear with me as I give you my reactions to the show as I watch it.

Just upfront, let me say that I do like this show (if I didn’t, I wouldn’t keep watching). It’s a really interesting twist on fairy tales, particularly the modern part of the story; the premise of the series is very innovative and well realised. So take what I’m about to say with a pinch of salt – it might sound like a big rant, as if I despised the show, but if I didn’t actually like it, I wouldn’t bother putting thought into it. But if I think, by definition I think critically, and not infrequently find something to criticise (which are not the same thing by any means).

So here’s one of the things I was thinking: I’m finding myself increasingly annoyed by Mary Margaret and David, aka Snow White and Prince Charming. Oh, they’re cute and all, and of course I want them to be together, and I know that it’ll come about – they are, after all, S.W. and P.C., and even someone who hadn’t written a big fat grad school paper on their story would know how it’s supposed to end. So, yes, of course their love story has to end happily, else what’s the whole point of retelling the fairy tale?

But what’s getting to me is the way they conduct their relationship. Oh, don’t give me the “It’s only a fairy tale; don’t take it so seriously” line. They’ve put these characters in a ‘realistic’ setting (for a given value of the term), made them modern people like you and me; the whole point of this series is for us to identify with them and feel as if we’re them, for the duration of the movie. So let’s just establish right off the bat that for what I’m talking about here, these characters are real. During those fifty minutes I’m watching the episode, they exist, and they need to be taken seriously.

And taking Mary Margaret and David seriously, I’m seriously shaking my head at those two. Okay, so he wakes from his coma, and deeply falls in love with the woman who’s woken him, or rather, rediscovers his love for her from a previous life. But then his wife shows up – that’s right, the woman he is married to. And he goes back to her – in fact, repeatedly chooses to go back to her (it’s one of the plot points I find tedious, his repeated decision to stick with his wife only to promptly go make sheep’s eyes at MM again – once or twice would be fine, but after about the fourth time I’ve had it with that idea). He’s got a commitment to one woman, reaffirms that commitment, has memories of his love for her – and then breaks that commitment over and over by going after the woman he has stronger feelings for. Meeting her at the coffee shop every morning at 7:15. Organizing a romantic picnic with wine and stuff for her by the bridge where they first met. Smooching her right out in the middle of Storybrooke’s Main Street (in full view of the evil eye of the witch, of course. Duh-duh-DUM!).

After watching that particular episode yesterday, I was assailed by a powerful craving for a dose of Sense and Sensibility. If you’ll excuse me, I’d like some Edward Ferrars, please (in print, Hugh Grant, or Dan Stevens, doesn’t really matter). You see, it’s the same story­ – but Edward makes a very different choice. He’s made a commitment to one woman, back in the past before he woke up from his coma (well, not really, but in another part of his life when things were very different). Now circumstances have changed, and he finds himself having powerful feelings for another woman, one who is his match, who is the woman who can make him happy, and who loves him back with the same passion – his ‘true love’, in fact. Edward and Elinor belong together; they are right for one another. But he has made a commitment to Lucy. And even though his love for her is only a memory while his feelings for Elinor are more and more powerful, even though being faithful to Lucy garners him very serious economic and personal disadvantages, he sticks it out. And that is what makes Edward into a hero.

And over here, we have James Charming, Esq. He’s made a stronger, more binding commitment to Kathryn than Edward has to Lucy (although whether Regency engagements and Post-modern marriages are about on par commitment-wise is a point worth considering). But he chucks it all because there’s those FEELINGS he simply cannot RESIST (press back of hand to forehead, strike manly chest with fist).

The Wikipedia page for Season One of the show says that “Unable to deny their love, David and Mary Margaret soon begin a secret relationship…” Unable to deny their love, my foot! Mr Princely Hero Guy, kindly take a page out of the book of a plain country gentleman, who’s so boring that generations of (ignorant) readers have considered him a bit of a wet dishrag. Prince Charming can slay dragons, but obviously he can’t keep himself under control. And Snow White is no better – she can wield a spear and kick butt with the best of them, but can’t hold a candle to a sampler-stitching, water-colour-sketching Regency lady when it comes to keeping herself from acting on her feelings – actions that seriously hurt someone else (Wikipedia again: Mary Margaret and David’s relationship “upsets Kathryn” – no, really? You don’t say).

In fact, Once Upon a Time not only teaches, but incessantly flogs, harps on, and hammers home the Marianne Fallacy: if your feelings are really strong, you cannot resist them. They sweep you away, and there is nothing you can do about it. If you are, in fact, doing something about it, resisting that rush of emotion, then your feelings must not really be strong in the first place. If you can keep yourself from falling into the arms of your girl in the middle of Main Street, then she’s probably not your True Love. That’s where the Marianne Fallacy morphs into the Disney Fairy Tale Fallacy: True Love, we all know, is the highest power there is (cue the dreamy voice of Giselle from Enchanted: “True love’s first kiss – it’s the most powerful thing in the world!!!”). So if you do have strong feelings for someone, if you have found your True Love, it is your moral obligation to pursue that relationship, no matter what the cost to you or, more importantly, anyone else. Who cares if there is a wife waiting in the wings to whom you’ve just promised to try to make this marriage work? She cannot be allowed to stand in the way of True Love.

Don’t get me wrong. Of course I’m rooting for David and Mary Margaret, and want to see them together sooner rather than later – just as I would hate Sense and Sensibility if Edward and Elinor didn’t get their Happily Ever After. And for that to happen, the guy has to get away from the girl who’s wrong for him. But what gets my goat about David and Mary Margaret is that he doesn’t make an effort to get away, but pursues his True Love anyway, and she encourages him in it. Edward is faithful to Lucy while he still has a commitment to her, even though he does everything he can do honourably to get out of the engagement so he can act on his love for Elinor. David keeps telling Kathryn that he’ll try to make the marriage work, that he’s still committed to her – and then does the exact opposite. I’m sorry, I just can’t respect that – that particular hero has failed to establish himself on a proper pedestal for me.

Marianne learns the error of her ways, lets herself be persuaded out of her fallacy, and the end of the book has her patterning her values on those of Elinor and Edward. I’m not sure how much hope I hold out for David and Mary Margaret to do the same, to be honest and make a clean break with Kathryn and apologise for their treatment of her. Oh, of course they’ll wind up together properly. And maybe the next few episodes will even show them having some insight into their behaviour as less than healthy and honourable. Who knows? It’s a fairy tale; strange things are possible.

Life, the Universe, and Two Very Different Heroes. Let’s see what the next few episodes bring.

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