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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Aside

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.”

“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!

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.

Lost Girl and Fairy Tales, Part Two

Last April, I started getting into the Canadian TV series “Lost Girl.”  Excited by the potential for fairy tales on the show, I wrote a post called “Lost Girl and Fairy Tales,” predicting their appearance in the series.  Yesterday, my predictions came true; “Lost Girl” finally aired “Mirror, Mirror,” a fairy tale themed episode!

For those unfamiliar with the show, it stars Bo (Anna Silk), a succubus who, having been raised by humans, only recently realized her Fae nature.  Now, she works as a sort of supernatural private investigator, helping others in the Fae community.  Meanwhile, she is still searching for answers about her own mysterious heritage, navigating the murky waters of Fae politics, and doing her best to have a personal life.

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

Best friends Bo and Kenzi are forced to face Baba Yaga in this week's episode of "Lost Girl."

Still hurting from her breakup with Dyson (Kris Holden-Ried), Bo decides to join her human pal, Kenzi (Ksenia Solo), for a drunken girls’ night.  Unfortunately, Kenzi invokes Baba Yaga (a witch of Slavic fairy tale fame) while she’s under the influence and asks her to lay a curse on Dyson.  Once sober, however, our heroes seek to get the curse reversed.  Baba Yaga agrees, but takes Kenzi as payment, leaving it up to Bo and Dyson to get her back.

While the episode paid tribute to the Baba Yaga fairy tale stories, some of the details were changed for the show.  For instance, the old stories depict the witch’s house as a cottage with chicken legs; in the world of “Lost Girl,” however, Baba Yaga lives in some sort of alternate Fae dimension of her own and only travels by way of mirrors (kind of like a Fae version of the Bloody Mary urban legend.)  My guess is that a house on chicken legs probably sounded a little too far-fetched for network television.

Although parts of the Baba Yaga story were altered, “Lost Girl” stayed true to the original tales in many ways.  Just as in the old stories, the “Lost Girl” version of Baba Yaga is both powerful and scary.  She has the ability to grant wishes and offer wisdom, but is also known to kidnap and eat young people.  Seeking her counsel is considered extremely dangerous.  Not only that, but both versions depict her using human bones as building materials; in the fairy tales, her fence is often made of bones, and the show claimed she built her entire house out of them.

The episode also made reference to several other fairy tales.  At one point, Kenzi references Snow White by speaking rhyming commands to a mirror.  She even starts these commands with “mirror, mirror” (also the name of the episode). There are hints of “Hansel and Gretel” to be found, as well.  For instance, the witch tries to fatten her victims up before eating them, but is defeated when Kenzi closes her inside her own oven.  Of course, I can’t say I’m surprised that the writers went in that direction; in some Polish fairy tales, witches living in gingerbread houses are called “Baba Jagas.”

All in all, Bo’s first fairy tale encounter was a delight to watch.  I can only hope that more such episodes crop up in this and future seasons of “Lost Girl.”  In fact, I’m sure they will; the end of the episode suggests that Baba Yaga may have survived the fires of her oven.  Who knows when she’ll be back for revenge?

Want to learn more about “Lost Girl,” or discuss the latest episode with other fans?  Visit the “Lost Girl” subreddit (r/lostgirl).

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?

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.

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