Review: “The Fairies Return Or, New Tales for Old,” Compiled by Peter Davies

First of all, I must ask the forgiveness of all my readers.  I have a confession to make.  I’ve been a little selfish with this book, and that’s why the review has been a bit of a long time coming.  Allow me to explain.

I received a review copy of “The Fairies Return” last month.  The book, which is (in its current edition) published by Princeton University Press, is a collection of retold fairy tales.  What sets it apart from most retellings, however, is that these stories were written and collected in 1934 in England.  Although we tend to think of fairy tale retellings as a recent phenomenon, this is a false assumption.  For as long as the oral tradition of fairy tales has existed, the stories have been changing and growing.  It only makes sense that present day writers aren’t the first to twist these stories around and view them through new, often modernized lenses.  However, it’s still rare to come upon a collection of older retellings like this one.

The uniqueness of the collection will make you want to savor it, just as I did.  With slow satisfaction, you will find yourself reading and reflecting upon each tale. This book must be devoured as might a particularly delicious meal, with the care and pace each succulent story deserves.  You will feel drawn to inspect each story closely, not only because of the tales’ fanciful nature, but also because of their fascinating historical placement and significance.  Although I regret that my slow savoring has delayed your knowledge of this wonderful little find, I am certain that any readers of this text will surely understand.

Each story–even a retelling of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”–comes across as unquestionably British.  The various writers are talented in their abilities to transform these familiar tales into stories of a very different sort.  However, even when the topics are closer to parliament and the stock market than magic, the skeletons of the original fairy tales are easily recognizable.

Although the stories themselves are diverse and offer many different tones and topics for closer inspection, perhaps the most interesting part of the collection is its ability to give readers a look at what fairy tale enthusiasts were up to almost 100 years ago.   The references and settings offer clear signs of the times in which the tales were retold, making this book a fascinating piece of history as well as a must-have for any fan of fairy tale retellings.

If your interest is piqued, then you’re in luck.  There’s a giveaway going until Oct. 26, in which entrants are eligible to win a free copy of “The Fairies Return.”  Five winners will be selected to receive this one-of-a-kind book.

For more information on “The Fairies Return,” check out this description from Princeton University Press.

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“Once Upon a Time” Pilot Released; Let the Fairy Tale Battle Begin!

Although Oct. 23 is the official release date of ABC’s new fairy tale series, “Once Upon a Time,” I was delighted to see IMDb offering the full first episode for free viewing today.  As I’ve been excited for the upcoming battle of the fairy tale shows since March, I eagerly settled in to watch the pilot.

To quickly summarize the show’s concept, all of the fairy tale characters we know and love have been transported to the modern world by spell of an evil witch (Lana Parilla).  To further complicate things, they no longer remember their true identities, giving them no way to fight back against this curse.  Think “Fables” plus amnesia–an easy criticism of the show’s plot.

Despite the similarities to “Fables,” however, the pilot was relatively solid, striking a good balance between an angsty and mysterious present and flashbacks to the characters’ magical pasts.  Although this episode didn’t delve particularly deep (Few pilots do.), many scenes teased the audience by suggesting future twists and upcoming conflict.  I’m not a true fan yet, but if the show makes good on the potential the pilot hinted at, there’s a good chance I’ll become one.

I was interested to see that the show is not simply focusing on true fairy tales.  Many references were made to Carlo Collodi’s “Pinocchio,” which I’m willing to accept.  Although this story is not a true fairy tale, it is getting closer to becoming one; few people seem to know the name of the original author (Carlo Collodi), and there have been tons of adaptations, many of which bear little resemblance to the original story.  Lines were further blurred, however, when the book that represents the characters’ past lives briefly showed an illustration of some flying monkeys.  Likewise, the magical wardrobe capable of transporting people to another land was clearly a Narnia reference.  “Pinocchio” may be halfway to a fairy tale, but “the Wonderful Wizard of Oz” and “The Chronicles of Narnia” are not.  Although many audience members will likely ignore this, some will know enough about fairy tales to make this a little wince-worthy.  If the writers expect to get away with this kind of line blurring (something of which “Fables” is wildly guilty), they’ll have to make their plot compelling enough that pickier audience members will be willing to let it slide.

Overall, I found the pilot pretty enjoyable.  I’ll admit, however, that I remain excited  for the Oct. 28 premier of  “Grimm,” which is sure to be this show’s greatest competitor.  Let the fairy tale battle begin!

A Beastly Review

Some of you may remember a post I made a few months back wherein I discussed several upcoming fairy tale films, and made predictions about them.   Having now seen these movies, I suppose I should share my findings in review form.  Today, I’ll be tackling the first of these: “Beastly.”  Instead of a full blown article, however, I decided to slim it down to the basics for a quick read.  I present you with the best and worst three things about this “Beauty and the Beast” inspired teen flick.  Warning: SPOILERS AHEAD!

The Top Three:

  1. Just as I initially predicted, Neil Patrick Harris was as hilarious as always. He’s a fantastic actor who can shine in any role.
  2. The dialogue was actually pretty snappy.  It was no “Brick,” but the writers clearly put some effort into the film’s quirky language.
  3. It was interesting to see the witch character (Mary-Kate Olsen) get more involved.  In most versions of the story, she casts her spell and clears out (if she’s even mentioned at all).  Here, she seems to have a legitimate interest in how the story ends.

The Bottom Three:

  1. The plot was insanely predictable and not just because it was a retelling of a familiar story.  A little more creativity would’ve gone a long way.
  2. It was way too easy for Kyle (a.k.a the beast, played by Alex Pettyfer) to convince his love interest’s druggie dad (Roc LaFortune) to make his daughter (Vanessa Hudgens) come live with him as a captive.  I know the man was on drugs and owed money to some sketchy dudes, but it seems wildly unlikely that any father of a teenage girl would think it was in his daughter’s best interest to send her to live with a creepy, hooded stranger.  It was honestly unrealistic enough to be distracting.
  3. Although I understand that the writers wanted Kyle to look like a jerk, his speech in the opening section of the film just seems over the top.  Sure, tons of popular high school jocks are tools, but the student body’s enthusiasm for his shallow sentiments seems kind of impossible.  I don’t know about you, but even in high school I would’ve associated cheering for this guy with a loss of personal integrity.  The clip below contains his speech; could you have stomached this in high school?

Even though it wasn’t the most original retelling I’ve ever seen, it was well worth the $1 I spent renting it from Red Box.  If you’re looking for a thought provoking evening, “Beastly” won’t fit the bill.  If, however, you’re in the mood for a cute, slightly fanciful film with some witty banter, this could be your happily ever after.

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.

hitRECord’s Not So Tiny Story

I’m excited to announce that there’s a really cool fairy tale themed project going on at hitRECord.  For those of you unfamiliar with hitRECord, it’s a collaborative, artistic, online community started by avid member Joseph Gordon-Levitt a.k.a. RegularJOE, where any project posted can be remixed by any other member as long as credit is given.  The community has produced tons of incredible, original projects, and gives artists of all media (theatre, writing, graphics design, video, music, painting, etc.) all over the world a chance to work together.

Right now, the community is looking for a “classic, timeless story” that’s in the public domain that they can use for a large scale artistic collaboration.  Basically, they’re putting out a call for fairy tales.  Right now, the community is still in the submission and decision making process, so anyone can submit a story idea!  I actually have a few things that I’m considering submitting.

For a better idea of the project, check out the project page.

RegularJoe a.k.a Joseph Gordon-Levitt wants you to hitRECord!

Even if you don’t have an idea, that doesn’t mean you can’t join in the fun.  Get yourself an account and help out with the collaboration, or just keep an eye on the project.  Whatever fairy tale is chosen is sure to flourish in this artistic environment.

Lost Girl and Fairy Tales

I love “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” so whenever I hear about a show that bears some similarities, I give it a try.  Recently, on the search for something to fill the Buffy void, I had the good fortune to find one of my new favorite shows: “Lost Girl.”  This Canadian program, which has only aired one season so far, got fantastic reviews.  In fact, there’s talk of it being picked up by a U.S. network, as well.

The story centers around Bo (Anna Silk), a benevolent succubus who must feed off the sexual energy of humans to live.  She is part of the world of Fae, which is hidden to most humans.  Fae are basically all of the mythological creatures of fairy tales and legends; wolf-shifterssirens, banshees and more all exist in “Lost Girl.”  Although most Fae use their powers for themselves and their clans, Bo is different; she uses her powers to work as a supernatural P.I. (“Angel,” anyone?) fighting evil, solving mysteries, and protecting humans and Fae alike.  The script is filled with funny moments and quirky dialogue despite the dangerous, life-threatening situations the characters find themselves in every episode.  Basically, it’s “Buffy” or “Angel” with a lot more sex.

Although this show has only been around for a little while, fairy tale connections are sure to crop up.  Not only are mythological creatures from the legends and fairy tales of various cultures already included, but one character has even appeared by name: the Morrigan.

Emmanuelle Vaugier plays the Morrigan on "Lost Girl."

According to Irish legend, the Morrigan (played by Emmanuelle Vaugier on the show) is a goddess or female monster of battle, strife, and fertility.  She is often considered extremely warlike and can change into various creatures, including a cow, a crow, an eel, and a wolf.  On “Lost Girl,” she appears as the leader of the Dark Fae.  So far, little has been revealed about her nature and powers, save that she is combative and manipulative.  My guess is that she will soon be more directly linked to the legends that surround her.

Either way, I would recommend this show to anyone who enjoys fairy tales, “Angel,” or “Buffy.”

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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