Thomas Czarnecki’s “From Enchantment to Down”

Firstly, let me apologize!  It has been way too long since I updated this blog.  My life has been pretty crazy with a new job and another move, but I’m going to try to jump back on this horse.

I’ve been wanting to return to the Beanstalk for quite some time, but Thomas Czarnecki’s photo shoot (called “From Enchantment to Down”) of murdered Disney princesses is actually a large part of what spurred me to action; I had to rant about it.

Czarnecki's Little Mermaid lays dead on a beach.

As many of you likely know by now, I’m usually a big fan of macabre fairy tales.  Unfortunately, I’m just not feeling this particular project.  Czarnecki claims that his goal here is to juxtapose “the naive universe and the innocence of the fairy tales” with the “much darker reality that is as much part of our common culture,” presumably as a result of violent media.  However, this goal betrays a deep misunderstanding of fairy tales and their roots.

In the above  image from Czarnecki’s photo series, the Little Mermaid is dead.  My question, here, is “how is that original?”  Hans Christian Andersen, who first wrote the story, also ended “The Little Mermaid” with the heroine’s demise.  As I have mentioned before, nearly all of the fairy tales we know and love today had violent beginnings.  If this photographer had done even the barest amount of research, he would’ve known that.

If Czarnecki wants to tackle Disney’s censorship of fairy tales for modern children, that’s fine.  It just peeves me, as a fairy tale enthusiast, that he incorrectly lumps all fairy tales together as “naive” and “innocent.”

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Fairy Tale Halloween Costumes: Why So Scandalous?

As someone who loves candy, costumes, and stories of the spooky and supernatural, Halloween has always been my absolute favorite holiday.  Throughout the year, I gleefully dress up for Comic Conventions, movie/book openings, costume parties, and plays (I am an actor, after all.), but Halloween is the one time of the year when I can convince my friends to don their own costumes and take goofy photos with me (The exception is my husband, who humors me year-round.).

Last year, some of my friends and I went as characters from the video game "Left 4 Dead."

Needless to say, when I received a Halloween-themed Victorian Trading Co. catalog in the mail, I was pretty excited.  I couldn’t wait to scan the pages for costume ideas!  Imagine my delight when I spotted their lovely Little Red Riding Hood cape.

The Victorian Trading Company's "L'il Red Riding Hood Cape" is gorgeous.

Although the item itself was a little out of my price range, it inspired me to consider fairy tales as a theme for this year’s Halloween fun.  A quick search of the internet, however, convinced me otherwise; for whatever reason, a huge portion of fairy tale Halloween costumes are really trashy.  In the 2004 movie “Mean Girls,”  the main character (Lindsay Lohan) learns that “Halloween is the one night a year when girls can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.”  Still, I was pretty surprised by some of the results my costume search turned up.  For instance, the photo of a Cinderella costume below (which I can only assume is modeled after the Disney character) bears almost no resemblance to Cinderella.

It's funny, but I remember Cinderella a little differently...

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.  Admittedly, the original versions of fairy tales had a lot of violent and sexual undertones.  For instance, in the earliest versions of “Sleeping Beauty,” the princess isn’t awakened from her slumber by a romantic kiss; instead, she’s raped by the prince  and awoken when she goes into labor to bear twins.

Despite the fact that the original versions of many fairy tales were pretty racy, I think it would be a little far fetched to claim that barely there costumes like this one signify some sort of return to fairy tale roots.  I’m still not decided on what I’ll be going as for Halloween, but I will say one thing; if it’s fairy tale themed, I think I’ll try my hand at making it myself.

Advice from a Cartoon Princess – Snow White

As some of you may recall, I started a recurring feature earlier this week wherein I respond to the Second City Network video series, “Advice from a Cartoon Princess.”  Previously, I responded to their “Beauty and the Beast” video, showing which of their criticisms were valid critiques of the original fairy tale and which were only relevant to the Disney film versions.  Today, I’ll be doing the same with their video about Snow White.

In this particular video, there are several criticisms which apply to the original story and several which fit in only with the Disney retelling.  Oddly, I also noticed a few that don’t seem to fit with either.

Criticisms that Don’t Fit with Either Disney OR the Original:

  • One of the video’s criticisms is that Snow White marries the prince rather than one of the dwarves, claiming that she ruled them out as romantic partners because of their small stature.  Honestly, this seems a little ridiculous.  I don’t believe that she was unattracted to the dwarves because they were short, but because they were a different species.  In fairy tales and fantasy, dwarves are not simply small humans but a different creature altogether.  A suggestion that Snow White should have married one of the dwarves is akin to saying that Eowyn from “Lord of the Rings” should have married Merry (one of the hobbits) instead of Faramir; frankly, it’s a little ridiculous.
  • The video also says that Snow “loves mirrors,” suggesting that she is vain.  This seems a little ridiculous because the princess never seems self-absorbed in either story.  The only vain character is the antagonist, Snow White’s evil stepmother.
  • The clip interprets the statement “fairest of them all” to mean “whitest of them all.”  Although the word “fair” can mean “pale,” this is really taking things out of context.  In the story, a different definition of the word is being used; “fair” is not meant to mean “white,” but “beautiful.”  This is an intentional misinterpretation rather than a legitimate criticism of the fairy tale’s message.

Criticisms that Only Apply to the Disney Version:

  • This video suggests that Snow White’s choice to let the wild animals help her with cleaning is not something to be encouraged.  After all, encounters with wild animals can pose various dangers to children.  Of course, the original story included none of Snow White’s animal friends, so this one is all on Disney.
  • Next, the clip criticizes the fact that all of the dwarves are given nicknames that describe their most obvious features, not unlike frat boys.  However, the dwarves in the original fairy tale were not given names at all.  In fact, no names were mentioned until the story was turned into a Broadway play in 1912.  They were renamed for the Walt Disney movie, so the dwarf names most people are familiar with (Dopey, Sneezy, Doc, Grumpy, Sleepy, Happy, and Bashful) are purely a Disney creation.
  • The video also criticizes the fact that Snow White interprets attractive older women as evil, but assumes ugly older women are trustworthy.  This is definitely only a problem with the Disney version.  In the original fairy tale, the evil queen makes three separate attempts on Snow’s life, disguising herself differently each time.  It is only when Disney eliminated the various disguises that this appeared to be a comparison involving levels of attractiveness and perceived trustworthiness among older women.

Criticisms that Apply to the Original Fairy Tale

  • In all versions of the story, Snow White lives platonically with seven men she met in a scary forest.  As the video points out, this is maybe a little creepy.  After all, Snow is a teenage runaway.
  • Similarly, the video clip criticizes the way Snow White wanders into a random house and goes to sleep in a stranger’s bed.  Clearly, she has never had a talk about stranger danger and seems weirdly okay with breaking and entering.
  • The Second City Network also points out the fact that the princess’ priorities seem to consist of cooking, cleaning, and men.  Admittedly, the dwarves in the original story agreed to let her stay with them in exchange for her doing their housework, but it is perhaps a little odd that she never seems to do anything else. Despite this, it seems like a weak criticism.
  • Next, the video suggests that the story is saying “you know you’ve made it as the prettiest person when everyone around you wants to kill you.”  Indeed, if people interpret the message this way, it is negative.  However, this is clearly not the intended moral of the story; Snow White’s goal was never to be the fairest of them all.  In fact, only one person in the story has that goal; the evil queen.  The more likely message here is “vanity and conceitedness are never attractive.”
  • Finally, the Snow White in the clip instructs kids not to eat fruit.  This was actually my favorite moment in the video.  I guess it would be possible for a young child to become suspicious of apples after hearing/watching this fairy tale!

Although Second City Network’s criticisms of “Beauty and the Beast” were almost exclusively geared toward the Disney version, their critique of negative messages in “Snow White” is divided fairly evenly.  In fact, more criticisms relate directly to the original than the retelling.  I guess my response to their “Little Mermaid” clip will have to be the tiebreaker!

Advice from a Cartoon Princess – Belle

Hello, everyone!  First, let me apologize for my lack of updates, this summer.  I was a little busy getting married.  We also made several moves, so our internet often wasn’t that dependable.  Hopefully, you’ll forgive me as I get back into the swing of this blog.

I’d like to start back up by taking a look at some Second City Network videos with a fairy tale twist.  Many of you may be familiar with my favorite Second City Network character, Sassy Gay Friend, wherein a sassy, gay guy stops literary characters from making huge mistakes.  Their new series, “Advice from a Cartoon Princess,” features a woman who dresses up like princesses from various Disney films, then points out the negative messages these movies depict.

My goal with this recurring feature is to pick apart these videos, documenting which of the negative messages appear in the original tales and which can only be found in their modern versions.  The first video I’d like to discuss is about Belle from “Beauty and the Beast.”  For easy reading, I’ve divided my response below into criticisms that only apply to the Disney version and criticisms that apply to both.

Criticisms that Only Apply to the Disney Version:

  • The video’s first criticism of this French fairy tale is that the Beast is violent, but rich.  It suggests that Belle stays with the Beast because she feels that she can change him.  Interestingly, this is not a problem that can be seen in the tale’s original version.  Although all versions of the story depict the Beast as ugly, the original never suggests that he is in any way violent or threatening toward her.  This element was added later, most likely to make the story more exciting.
  • The second criticism relates to the Beast’s orders that Belle must eat with him or not at all.  This is almost a direct quote from the Disney film and does not appear in the original story.
  • Second City Network cites the Disney character, Gaston, as a “hot, successful man who was very goal-oriented and wanted to marry” Belle, but suggests that she resisted his affection because it was not a challenge.  This character does not even exist in the original story.  As far as I can tell, the character was added so that the film would have a clear antagonist.
  • Belle’s imprisonment by the beast is also pointed out.  Interestingly, the original fairy tale handled this quite differently.  Belle’s father steals a beautiful rose from the beast.  When the beast sees this and threatens to kill him, Belle’s father pleads for his life, saying that the flower was meant as a gift to his daughter.  The beast agrees not to kill him, and actually offers the man great riches in exchange for sending one of his daughters to live with him.  The beast specifies that he will only accept the trade if the girl comes of her own free will; he does not want to imprison her.  If none of his daughters will return, the man must come back to the castle himself.  Belle, who is the least selfish of her sisters, offers to go because of the great benefit to her family.
  • The video points out that Belle’s only friends are inanimate objects.  The original tale, however, contained invisible servants, not talking furniture.
  • The princess in the video says that Belle tolerates everything the beast does to her.  This obviously only applies to the Disney movie, seeing as the beast in the original story is never mean to her.

Criticisms that Apply to the Original Fairy Tale

  • The video summarizes the story by saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder as long as the woman is good looking.  This is a flaw that can be seen in the original version of this fairy tale and many others; while women consistently fall in love with men who have been transformed into hideous creatures, the opposite is rarely true.

Overall, it’s clear that the Second City Network is specifically targeting the Disney version of this story rather than the fairy tale itself.  Although many of today’s fairy tales have been censored because of their potentially violent or disturbing themes, it’s obvious that these changes were accompanied by questionable messages of their own.  At least in the case of “Beauty and the Beast,” the uncensored original seems to be the more appropriate version.

Tangled: Something Old and Something New

Well, I finally got around to watching Disney’s new Rapunzel flick, “Tangled.” I have to admit that it was pretty cute.  It bears little similarity to the original tale, but there are a few consistent plot points.  I’ve divided the film up into two lists for easy reading; similarities and differences between this story and the original a.k.a. “something old” and “something new.” Warning: SPOILER ALERT.

Something Old

  • Rapunzel was kidnapped when she was a baby and has been kept in a tower her entire life.
  • She believes Dame Gothel to be her mother and uses her long, golden hair to pull her up into the stairless tower daily.
  • She falls in love with her rescuer.
  • Her tears magically heal the wounds of her lover after he is injured by Dame Gothel.

Something New

  • Rapunzel’s parents are royalty, rather than the peasants of the original tale.
  • Gothel is just a vain old woman, rather than a witch.
  • Rapunzel’s parents did not steal any vegetables (i.e. rapunzel) from the witch that were traded for the baby, so her name is unexplained and bizarre.
  • Rapunzel’s hair has magical healing powers.
  • She is rescued by a rascally thief, rather than a prince.
  • Rapunzel does not become pregnant.
  • Gothel does not learn of Rapunzel’s lover and cast her out into the wilderness.
  • Her lover does not attempt to commit suicide when he fears he will never see her again.
  • He is not blinded by thorns during a fall from the tower.

As you can see, there is more new to this story than old.  Not much about this retelling relates to the original story.  Admittedly, the Grimm version contained some racy themes, so I can’t say I’m surprised by Disney’s choices.  Whether or not their changes were good for the integrity of the story, they were likely good for profit.

Once Upon a Webcomic: A Softer World

It’s time for another “Once Upon a Webcomic.”  This one centers around another comic I adore, “A Softer World.”

First time I've ever wished for a Disney version.The alternate text of this comic on its original page is fantastic.  It reads “First time I’ve ever wished for a Disney version,” and Joey Comeau (He’s the writer of the series, but not the photographer; that would be Emily Horne.) has a great point.  Because our culture has censored so many of these old stories for modern children, we often forget that fairy tales are almost never truly happy stories, and it is only ever through great hardship that characters are sometimes (but not always) able to find their happy endings.

Take, for instance, the familiar story of Rapunzel.  In its original version, Dame Gothel (the witch) cuts off Rapunzel’s hair and casts her out into the wilderness upon discovering that Rapunzel is pregnant and must have been consorting with a man.  When the prince comes for Rapunzel, the witch tells him that he will never see her again.  In despair, he attempts to commit suicide by leaping from the tower, but instead blinds himself when he lands face first in the thorns below.  Confused, disoriented, and in pain, he wanders off into the wilderness.  Rapunzel gives birth and eventually finds the prince.  Her tears heal his blindness and they live happily ever after.  Of course, this happy ending is only achieved after the couple has experienced great trauma and misfortune.

In many cases, fairy tales are darker than our culture seems to remember.  Like Comeau, I always find it interesting when people express a desire for a “fairy tale” romance, because it reveals, as he points out, that they have probably never read any actual fairy tales.

Harry Potter and Fairy Tales

J. K. Rowling puts a lot of emphasis on fairy tales in her famous “Harry Potter” series.  In fact, she suggests that fairy tales often hold more truth than we imagine.  This is true especially in her final book, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.”

The symbol of the Deathly Hallows comes from a wizarding "fairy tale" that turns out to be true. These hallows help Harry to defeat Voldemort.

In this book, Dumbledore bequeaths mysterious objects to Harry, Ron, and Hermione in his will.  To Hermione goes a book of wizarding fairy tales, one of which is “The Tale of the Three Brothers.”  This so-called children’s story describes three magical objects that can’t possibly exist: an invincible wand, a stone that can raise the dead, and an invisibility cloak that renders its wearer completely invisible and endures eternally no matter what spells are cast at it.  Whoever controls all three of these objects would find himself the master of death.

Of course, not only does the story turn out to be based in fact, but all of the objects actually exist.  With some help from each of them, Harry is able to overcome his greatest foe.  Although he could use these objects to master death, his wisdom matches that of the brother who chose the invisibility cloak.  Harry recognizes that he was meant to possess these items for a time, but that wielding the Elder Wand or the Resurrection Stone can only bring trouble to his life.  In the end, he learns the same lesson the fairy tale was meant to teach.

Not only did Rowling provide us with an example of a fairy tale that turned out to be true (not unlike the stories of Robin Hood and King Arthur), but she also published the full book of fairy tales that Hermione received from Dumbledore: “The Tales of Beedle the Bard.”  This book contains five beautifully imagined stories that clearly draw on recognizable fairy tale themes. For instance, the tale of “Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump” bears some resemblance to Hans Christian Andersen’s story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

While this is a way for Rowling to flesh out the fantastical world of her books by providing a peek into wizarding society’s cultural knowledge, it is more than that.  In Rowling’s books, Ron is the least capable of finding deeper meaning in the fairy tales because he, having grown up in a wizarding family, has heard them all his life.  Rowling has already told us that there was deep truth behind one of the stories.  What might the others be hiding and, what indeed can still be gleaned from the fairy tales that we read as children?  If we refuse to look deeper, as Ron did, we might really miss out.  This is especially implied because Rowling also uses more familiar fairy tales in her books as well; Hans Christian Andersen wrote a fairy tale called “The Philosopher’s Stone.”  While he did not invent the concept, his mention of it seems relevant in this context.

“The Tales of Beedle the Bard” also manages to bring some witty critique to the fairy tale table.  Many of today’s fairy tales have been doctored and made less violent for modern children.  In her book, Rowling discusses how the best story it contains, “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart,” has been rejected by some wizarding parents for its violent and disturbing nature.  She portrays those who wish to alter and censor this story and others like it as utter fools, betraying her own opinions on the subject; children may be heartier than we give them credit for, and if the only stories we read them are about happy puppies and beautiful butterflies, they can never hope to find deeper meaning within them.

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