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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Once Upon a Webcomic: Jim Benton

This post marks a return to my recurring feature, Once Upon a Webcomic.   Although Jim Benton‘s work is not technically produced as a webcomic, it is a comic I discovered online.  Because of this, I’m lumping them in together.

This comic from jimbenton.com starts off with a fairy tale scene we all recognize, but quickly takes a different turn.

As in my previous posts in this series, this comic uses our cultural knowledge of fairy tale norms to make a joke that people of all ages will understand.  Today, we remember the Frog Prince being cured by a princess’ kiss, so it’s alarming (and potentially amusing) to see the princess refuse in this way.

Interestingly, however, this violent reaction isn’t far off from the princess’ response in the  earliest versions of “The Frog Prince.”  The original princess, who was disgusted by the frog, threw him against a wall; this ended the spell and returned him to his human form.  In various similar tales involving princes enchanted into frog shapes, the women must actually behead the frogs to trigger their transformation.

What’s most interesting here, however, is that Jim Benton was probably not making an attempt to return the tale to its roots.  In all likelihood, he was trying to get a laugh from his princess’ unexpected response.  Instead, he brought the tale almost full circle.

Warehouse 13 and Fairy Tales

If any of you watch the SyFy Network’s original series, “Warehouse 13,” you might have noticed the following lines in this past week’s episode (“Insatiable,” season three, episode ten).

Myka: “We deal with artifacts, not fairy tales.”

Pete: “Well, a lot of those artifacts come from fairy tales…”

For those of you that aren’t familiar with the show, the basic concept is this; the Warehouse agents (most of whom are in the Secret Service) travel around the world collecting dangerous objects imbued with  supernatural powers.  Many of these artifacts are historical in nature and get their power from contact with now well-known historical figures or situations.  For instance, a piece of driftwood from the Titanic can give people hypothermia, and Edgar Allen Poe’s pen allows its wielder to bring Poe’s stories to life.

This is far from the first time the show has hinted at fairy tales.  In fact, as you can see in the clip below, a shot of “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” appeared in the season one opening theme.

Although this episode was more about zombies than princesses, “Warehouse 13” has previously confirmed that in the world of the show fairy tales are based in reality.  This is evidenced by Cinderella’s Knife, an artifact the team chases in season two, episode ten (“Where and When”).  According to Artie (Saul Rubinek), the story of Cinderella and her glass slippers originated from the real Cinderella’s use of the knife, which turns its victims into glass.  The show has also played with artifacts and ideas from other fictional stories, such as Carlo Collodi’s “Pinocchio” and Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”  Although these are NOT true fairy tales, they often get lumped in together.

Considering the fact that this season’s main villain is after a Pinocchio themed artifact (author Carlo Collodi’s bracelet), it seems that Pete (Eddie McClintock) and Myka’s (Joanne Kelly) conversation may not just have been simple banter.  Although Myka is skeptical, Pete recognizes the potential for truth behind fairy tales.  They’ve encountered one fairy tale item (Cinderella’s knife), so why not others?  After all, the Warehouse did introduce them to “a world of endless wonder.”  I can’t help but think that more fairy tale artifacts are in store for the Warehouse agents.  There’s just too much foreshadowing and suggestion here for this not to pan out.

What do you think?  Are there more twisted fairy tale artifacts to come in this season of Warehouse 13?

Hermione and the Beast

As some of you may have gathered from my previous post on the role of fairy tales in “Harry Potter,” I absolutely love the series.  I also happen to be a huge fan of director Guillermo del Toro.  In light of this information, I was ecstatic when I heard that del Toro and Emma Watson, who played brainy heroine Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films, are teaming up for a fairy tale film.

Although the details have not yet been fully publicized–or even posted to IMDb–it was announced in July that Watson is set to star in a del Toro directed retelling of “Beauty and the Beast.”

At age 21, "Harry Potter" alumna Emma Watson already has what it takes to score the lead role in "Beauty and the Beast."

Unfortunately, no more information on the film itself has yet been released.  There’s no telling exactly what kind of retelling this will be.  It could be anything from a modern story, like this year’s teen flick “Beastly,” to a campy adventure movie reminiscent of 2005’s “The Brothers Grimm.” My money, however, is set on gritty and macabre, thanks to the director; Del Toro is notorious for his dark yet beautiful films (see “Pan’s Labyrinth,” 2006) a tendency which has made him one of my all time favorite directors.  His penchant for mixing sinister and whimsical elements is exactly what it takes to successfully retell a fairy tale.

Watson’s involvement is almost as squee-worthy as del Toro’s.  Although she has spent the last decade contractually locked into one role, I’m reasonably confident in her ability to resist typecasting.  It will be exciting to see the talented starlet try other roles on for size, and this movie will definitely give her room to grow as an actor.

Let’s just hope this movie turns out to be as lovely as it sounds.

Supernatural and Fairy Tales

I’ll admit it; I’m a sucker for shows about fighting fantastical/demonic creatures. “Buffy,” “Angel,” “Lost Girl,” “Torchwood,” and “Doctor Who” are all on my top ten list, as is Eric Kripke’s creation, “Supernatural.”  Not only do these programs give me the dark fantasy/sci-fi fix I’m always on the lookout for, but they often allude to fairy tales, whether subtly or blatantly.  The latter is true of “Supernatural” season 3, episode 5 “Bedtime Stories.”

In this fairy tale themed episode, demon hunters Sam and Dean Winchester are shocked to find a town plagued by incidents reminiscent of the Grimm classics.  The familiar stories of  Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, The Three Little Pigs, and Hansel and Gretel are all mirrored in violent incidents cropping up all over town.  At first, Dean does not see the connection between the ancient stories and the violence, but Sam knows better; he explains to his brother that fairy tales were not always the bright, happy stories for which Disney has become famous.  Although many in our culture have no knowledge of the original tales, Sam is aware of their formerly sinister nature.

In an important way, fairy tales are a great metaphor for the world in which the Winchesters live; although knowledge of the evil creatures they fight has long been lost to the general public, they are aware of the world’s darker nature.  They know that their world is not the scientific, sunny place it might seem at first glance.  While others see the happily-ever-after Disney version of the world, they see it for what it truly is; ancient, violent, and full of things that go bump in the night, just like the original versions of many fairy tales.  They know that a happy ending is not guaranteed.

Although this episode most directly addresses fairy tales,  folklore (the root of many fairy tales) and urban legends (their more modern cousins) can be found in nearly every one.  Lovers of fairy tales and dark fantasy alike are sure to find “Supernatural” to their liking.

Leatherbound Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales

I have been trying to get my hands on a copy of the Barnes & Noble exclusive leatherbound “Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales” for several months, but the book has always been sold out.  In fact, when my fiance tried to order it for me, we were later contacted and told that the order was canceled because the book would not be restocked in the foreseeable future.  Today, however, I received this beautiful tome as an early birthday gift.

As you can see, the book itself is gorgeous.  The craftsmanship of it is fantastic; each page is decorated with gold edges.  It contains more than 100 stories and many beautiful, full color illustrations, plus a great and informative introduction by none other than Jane Yolen, a frequent reteller of fairy tales.  I’ve only had it for a few hours, but I would already recommend it to any lover of fairy tales.

To my delight, Yolen touches on the continuously evolving nature of fairy tales in her introduction.  Yolen explains that, although the Brothers Grimm collected these old stories and sometimes penned them in a more grisly fashion than today’s versions might suggest, even they softened the original tales for their perceived audiences, removing the most erotic scenes to avoid offense.  Once they realized the tales were being read to children rather than studied for their academic value, they began to make their stories altogether tamer.  While some of the tales recorded by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm may seem dark in comparison to the Disney versions of more recent years, it is fascinating to remember that even older, more sinister tellings are at the root of the oral fairy tale tradition.

Fables 15: Rose Red

As fans of the series may know, the fifteenth Fables trade paperback came out earlier this week, on April 11, and it contains the series’ 100th issue.  The collection, titled “Rose Red,” follows the Fables community as it rallies to fight a new enemy, Mister Dark.  Of course, with Rose Red still in a deep depression over Boy Blue’s recent death, and all of the New York Fables living at the farm due to Mister Dark’s destruction of Fabletown, many different Fables and factions are vying for power.

I’ll try my hardest to not to give too much away,with this review, but I must warn you that there may be some SPOILERS.  If you don’t want to know anything about what happens in this story arc, stop reading now.

Rose Red

One thing I really enjoyed about this collection is that we finally had the opportunity to hear Rose Red’s whole back story.  We have known for years that Rose ended her sister Snow White’s marriage to Prince Charming, but this book shows us why and how.  It also shows us that this event was not actually what tore the sisters apart to begin with.  It was nice to be able to put Rose’s choices over the past few centuries into context.

Another thing that I loved was getting to see Frau Totenkinder unleash her full magical power to battle Fabletown’s newest adversary, Mister Dark.  Their battle is fantastic, and I always love plotlines that involve her.  Seeing as she’s one of the series’ richest and most interesting characters, I was saddened by this edition’s suggestion that we won’t be hearing any more about her.  The witch of the Black Forest will be greatly missed.

A few plotlines appeared in this collection that I’m really looking forward to hearing more about.  For one thing, the ever unpleasant Nurse Spratt appears to be more than just a bitch; she’s on her way to great betrayal.  Secondly, it seems like Snow and Bigby’s secret seventh child, Ghost, will finally be featured in the story that’s been hinted at for years, now; his grandfather, the North Wind, has discovered his existence.

One thing that got a little frustrating in this story arc was its overuse of twist endings.  In quick succession, a character dies, returns, and kills another character who also returns several pages later.  The last fifteen pages of the story are unnecessarily roller-coaster-esque.  While interesting, it was frankly a little ridiculous.

Overall, however, this collection was fantastic, and I loved the opportunity to read more about Fabletown’s most terrifying enemy to date.  This is a must-read for any fan of the series.

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