Peter & Max: A Fables Novel

Although I have been a fan of Bill Willingham’s “Fables” comic series for years, I only recently had the opportunity to read the series’ first ever full-length novel, “Peter & Max.”  The book centered around the characters of Peter Piper, his wife Bo Peep, and his evil brother Max Piper.

 

Here is the beautiful cover art from Bill Willingham's novel, "Peter & Max."

Because the name “Peter” crops up in so many familiar fairy tales and nursery rhymes, Willingham is able to combine all of these stories into the life of one individual, masterfully placing the stories of “Peter and the Wolf” (which is not actually a fairy tale), “Peter Piper,”  and “Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater” on a logical time-line.  These stories are also woven around the tales and misadventures of Max, who is the Pied Piper of Hamelin.

As with his Fables comic series, Willingham’s book offers us a seamless blend of magical and modern.  He describes both the skyscrapers of New York in the twenty-first century and the intricacies of ancient and mystical worlds with ease.  Not only that, but he brings his customary twist of darkness and tragedy to every familiar tale he incorporates.  Although they retain their flavors, these stories are anything but predictable.

Willingham also makes it possible for both old fans and new readers to enjoy his book.  The details of the Fables world are quickly described at the start of the novel, making this a book I would recommend to any lover of fairy tales or fantasy.

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Buffy and Fairy Tales: Spike as Pinocchio

Joss Whedon loves making pop-culture references, and fairy tales are no exception to this rule.  As I mentioned in a previous post, there were more than the average number of fairy tale references in both “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel.”  Buffy even went as Little Red Riding Hood for Halloween in season 4, episode 4 “Fear Itself.”  Today, I’d like to take a look at a handful of these references and do a bit of dissection on them.

Hansel and Gretel show up in Sunnydale.

Before I get started, I’ll knock the most obvious reference out of the way.  In “Gingerbread,” season 3, episode 11, Sunnydale is visited by a demon that takes the form of two dead children in order to create strife in a town.  The Scooby gang soon realizes that these “children” are none other than the Hansel and Gretel of fairy tale fame, and narrowly avoid getting burned at the stake for witchcraft.  In this episode, Joss seems to be revealing an opinion shared by J. K. Rowling; fairy tales had to come from somewhere, and there may be more truth in them than we imagine.

Interestingly, the character who seems to make the largest amount of fairy tale references on these shows is Spike.  Although it’s true that Spike and Xander are the two characters who tend to gravitate towards pop culture references, Xander just does not have the same proclivity for fairy tales in particular.

The story Spike most often refers to is actually “Pinocchio.”  While it’s true that this is not a fairy tale in the truest sense, it has started to become one; few people seem to know the name of the original author (Carlo Collodi), and the number of adaptations written is nearly preposterous.  Either way, Spike refers to becoming a “real boy” on many occasions.  Here are a few for your consideration.:

  • In “Buffy” Season 6, episode 7 “Once More with Feeling,” Spike says, regarding a puppet-like demon who appears in the episode, “someday he’ll be a real boy.”
  • In “Angel” season 5, episode 4 “Hell Bound,” Spike is still a wraith after sacrificing himself to close Sunnydale’s Hell Mouth and save the world.  In discussion with Fred about how he might become solid again, Spike refers to her “making [him] a real boy again.”
  • In “Angel” season 5, episode 10 “Soul Purpose,” Angel has a hallucination in which Fred suggests that Spike “deserves to become a real boy,” right after Wesley just mentioned that, after being such a hero, Spike deserves to get what he’s “always wanted.”
  • In “Angel” season 5, episode 22 “Not Fade Away,” Spike asks Angel if he thinks one of them will “get to be a real boy” when their battle is all over.

That is not to say that Spike never makes non-Pinocchio references;  in season 5, episode 19 “Time Bomb,” he references Paul Bunyan when he calls Illyria  “Babe the Blue Ox.”  Still, Spike’s continuous comparisons about Pinocchio are odd and, when studied closer, a little uncanny.

The thing is, Spike really does want to become human again.  He worked hard to regain his soul, but he’s aware that something about him is not true.  When Spike considers himself, he does not think of himself as a “real boy.”  Angel, on the other hand, clearly feels whole already.  Certainly, something about humanity seems appealing to him, but he doesn’t really have the taste for it; in “Angel” season 1, episode 8 “I Will Remember You,” Angel becomes human after being infected with another demon’s blood, but rejects that life because it is more important for his purposes to be a hero.  Spike, who is motivated by love above everything else, relishes such a chance in a way that Angel, whose ultimate goal is not love but redemption, never can.  Spike wants to be human to love and feel as humans do.  Angel wants to receive humanity as a reward so that he can know for sure that he has been redeemed.

Not only that, but Spike has the opportunity to become a “real boy” in a way that does not exist, for Angel.  While Spike’s personality is essentially the same with or without his soul, Angel’s is completely different.  In fact, in  “Angel” season  4, episode 14 “Orpheus,” Faith realizes, when she enters Angel’s mind that Angel himself is the curse.  Angelus sits inside Angel at all times, observing the good his body is doing and being furious about it.  That’s why his personality is so dependent upon the soul.  Angel is, in fact, not a real person at all.

Of course, there are plenty of other fairy tale references in these shows, if you watch for them.  For instance, Fred has a really cute line in “Angel” season 3, episode 5 “Fredless,” in which she mentions “dumb old fairy tales,” and the ways in which her life has both reflected and deviated from what those stories taught her.

Have fun searching for more fairy tales in the Whedon-verse!

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.

Steampunk Fairy Tales Part Two

Since my previous post on steampunk fairy tales was so popular, I decided to do a second entry on the subject.  As before, I’d like to share a few of my favorite steampunk fairy tale images as well as some reflections on them.

“Snow White” by Craig a.k.a. ~xiwik

This steampunk rendition of “Snow White” is fantastic.  The artist kept some of the traditional Snow White elements, such as the dwarf, the apple, and the short dark hair, but was not afraid to branch out.  I love that Snow’s traditional Disney garb was ignored completely.  I also adore the details on Snow’s belt.  Those hanging gears remind me of this steampunk harness I spotted on Etsy.  The pick-axes and striped arm-warmers are beautiful details, while the goggles, shoulder armor, and gears give this image a truly steampunk flavor.  To see more of ~xiwik’s art, visit his deviantART gallery.

“Steampunk Fairy Tale Goldylocks” by Lavah

I can’t get enough of this gorgeous steampunk Goldilocks!  Since her story is so rarely retold, it’s a special treat to see this fairy tale character re-imagined.  My favorite part of this drawing is definitely the bears; their steampunk-style helmets are fantastic.  I also like Goldie’s goggles.  To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of her nearly completely revealed bum, as I don’t feel it really adds anything to the picture, but it doesn’t really detract, either.  Overall, this is a wonderfully detailed image, and I’d love to read a retold fairy tale based on it.  To see more of Lavah’s work, visit her deviantART gallery.

“Steampunk Fairy Tale: Red” by Paul Reck a.k.a. ~o ding raphics

Not only is this an awesome piece of art, but it comes with a story concept as well.  The artist had this to say about it: “This is Red Riding Hood.  She has to get the basket, a revolutionary power source, to ‘Granny’s House’ before the Big Bad Wolf gets her.”  Best of all, he says he might do a short comic starring these characters.  Red’s outfit is incredible, and I love the wolf’s stilts!  The idea of dressing the wolf up in steampunk garb even makes sense; even in the original version of the tale, the Big Bad Wolf is prone to dressing up in other people’s clothing.  For more of Paul Reck’s (~o ding raphics) work, visit his deviantART gallery.

As I mentioned before, the only thing I love more than these two genres is seeing them mixed.  Hopefully, we’ll keep seeing more combinations of the two.

ABC’s “Once Upon a Time”

It looks like NBC’s upcoming show “Grimm” is going to have some competition.  ABC is developing their own fairy tale show, “Once Upon a Time.”  The show, which comes from the writers of “Lost,” features a star-studded cast; Jennifer Morrison, Ginnifer Goodwin, and more are listed on the official cast list, and “Pirates of the Caribbean” veteran Lee Arenberg announced his involvement on Twitter less than 24 hours ago.

 

Jennifer Morrison of "House" is set to play Anna Swan, the star of "Once Upon a Time."

“Once Upon a Time” centers around a town called Storybrook where fairy tale characters exist in the modern world.  Although this has the potential to be a great show, it also feels a bit like a rip-off of Bill Willingham’s comic series, “Fables.”  Since ABC got the rights to a “Fables” television show in 2008, one wonders why they seem to be abandoning it for such a similar concept, especially since the comic series has already proven its success; “Fables” has won 14 Eisner awards during its nine year run and it does not seem to be losing any steam.  It really makes me wonder if ABC and Vertigo might be having some trouble with their deal, after all.

I also think it’s fascinating that two fairy tale shows are coming out at once.  In fact, NBC has another show in development with an equally mystical plotline: magical cop drama “17th Precinct.”  I have not heard any fairy tales mentioned in association with it, but with all the fairy tale films that have been cropping up lately (Snow White especially) I wouldn’t be surprised if a few found their way onto the show.

To see a collection of the other tweets and stories I consulted while writing this post, check out the story I created with them on Storify.  I’ve included everything from concept summaries to tweets from the actors themselves.

Cinderella’s Eigenvectors: An XKCD Fairy Tale

One of my favorite webcomics is XKCD, which I religiously read on its post days (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday).  Imagine my delight, this morning, when I got online to read my emails and daily webcomics and saw the comic strip below.

Goldilocks' discovery of Newton's method for approximation required surprisingly few changes.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that XKCD has combined fairy tales and math; the webcomic proclaims itself to be about romance, sarcasm, math, and language.  It was only a matter of time before fairy tales, as an integral part of our pop culture language, found their way into the mix.  Even if you don’t know enough about the mathematical and scientific concepts referenced in this comic to fully understand the jokes, everyone can recognize the fairy tales and dredge up some childhood memories of occasionally distracted parents.  Once again, fairy tales help to create a joke in which all members of our culture can participate.

The Year of Snow White: 2012-2013

There’s quite a buzz on the web about not one or two, but three upcoming Snow White film projects. Here’s a quick scoop on all three, along with my initial responses to what we know so far.

“Snow White and the Huntsman” – Universal 2012

What we know: This story is going to center around the often overlooked huntsman character, rumored to  be played by Viggo Mortensen.  There’s also talk of Charlize Theron as the Evil Queen and Kristen Stewart as Snow herself.

My response: One thing I truly love about this film is the concept; I find it irresistible when retellings focus on characters that were largely ignored or vilified in the original stories.  I am also excited to see Viggo Mortensen’s name associated with the movie.  Whatever the role, I know he will do it justice.  I am, however, a little skeptical about Kristen Stewart as Snow White.  True, this film would place her in a supporting role, but I have yet to be convinced that she has more than one facial expression.  Everything else about the project sounds great, though, so I hope she proves me wrong.

“The Brothers Grimm: Snow White” – Relativity 2012

What we know: This version of Snow White is set to include Julia Roberts in the Evil Queen role.   It is also rumored to be the darkest and edgiest of the three upcoming films, with the seven dwarves depicted as thieves.

My response: Talk of a dark, edgy fairy tale retelling always brings a smile to my face.  I’m not particularly familiar with the director (Tarsem Singh) but a quick internet search assured me that he has a real knack for beautiful yet unnerving imagery (See photo below.), which is what I think every dark fairy tale needs.  I have no complaints about Julia Roberts.  In fact, I’m excited to see her tackle a darker role.  I am a little unclear on the title; is this supposed to be associated in some way with 2005’s “The Brothers Grimm“?  Either way, let’s hope this movie is just as awesome as it sounds.

Tarsem Singh’s “The Fall”

 

“Snow White and the Seven” – Disney 2013

What we know: In this version, the seven are not dwarves; they’re a band of traveling warriors from various cultures.  When Snow White (an English woman in China in the 1800s) meets them, they teach her their martial arts skills.  Natalie Portman is rumored to be involved, but this is nowhere near confirmed.

My response: This retelling sounds inventive and original, at least, but it sounds so different that it may not be recognizable.  Of course, if the talented Natalie Portman really is involved, it’s bound to be awesome.  Not to mention, the martial arts should at least be fun to watch.

Those are my thoughts on the films, but what do you think?  Take this poll and let me know which Snow White project you’re most looking forward to!

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