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.

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Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

Hollywood just can’t get enough of retelling fairy tales, right now.  Not only are they tackling “Beauty and the Beast,” “Snow White,” and “Little Red Riding Hood,” but “Hansel and Gretel” are getting a makeover, as well; on March 2, 2012, Paramount Pictures will release “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.”

According to this article on Screen Rant, the film will center around the now adult siblings (Gemma Arterton and Jeremy Renner).  Comingsoon.net suggests that the film begins 15 years after their original incident with the witch in the gingerbread house. The plot is basically that they have now become professional witch hunters, as a result of the initial encounter.  Although no trailers have yet been released, I was able to find some footage of the filming in Germany.

So far, photos and descriptions of the film have led people to compare it to everything from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to “Van Helsing” to “The Brothers Grimm.”  It’s a little too early for much analysis, but it’s definitely a film I’ll be keeping my eye on.

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!

Blog Preview: Upcoming Post Ideas

I’ve been brainstorming about my upcoming posts and decided to post a list of them, as a sort of preview.
1. Fairy Tales in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel”

Joss Whedon loves making pop-culture references, and fairy tales are no exception to this rule.  I’ve compiled a list of “Buffy“/”Angel” fairy tale references and will post them along with some analysis.

2.  Fairy Tales in “Harry Potter”

J. K. Rowling shows us, in her Harry Potter books, that fairy tales often hold more truth than we imagine.  In fact, she found them so important that she created a whole book of wizarding fairy tales (“The Tales of Beadle the Bard“).  After all, each culture has its own, unique legends and fairy tales.  I will take a look at what these mean in the world of Harry Potter.

3. The Path: A Contemplative Fairy Tale Video Game

I will review “The Path,” a contemplative video game based on the popular fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood.”

4. No More Disney Princesses:  Is This Good or Bad?

Disney has decided to stop producing its famously retold versions of classic fairy tales.  I will analyze the situation, discussing its positive and negative effects on the fairy tale medium.

5. Andrew Lang’s Colored Fairy Books

Although these books are out of print, I am lucky enough to have a bunch of them.  I will describe these books and their origins, comparing them to some of their original sources, and updating their sparse Wikipedia story synopses.

6. What are Fairy Tales, Anyway?

In this post, I will explain why “Alice in Wonderland,” “Peter Pan,” and “The Wizard of Oz” are not fairy tales.  I will also explain why the works of Hans Christian Andersen and Madame D’Aulnoy are “half fairy tales.”

7. Fairy Tales in Popular Music

Fairy tales, as part of our shared cultural knowledge, are more ingrained in pop-culture than we often realize.  Using song lyrics and clips, I will show how fairy tales have made their way onto all of our mp3 players.

8. Pan’s Labyrinth

Many of us are familiar with director Guillermo del Toro‘s haunting 2006 film “Pan’s Labyrinth.”  This beautiful film was deeply inspired by fairy tales.  This post will take a closer look at del Toro’s inspiration.

9. King Arthur and Robin Hood as Fairy Tales

In this post, I will show how stories based on actual historical figures can and have evolved into fairy tales.

10. Sondheim: Fairy Tales and Urban Legends

Stephen Sondheim has based several of his hit Broadway musicals on fairy tales and their close cousins, urban legends.  In this post, I will detail the ways in which Sondheim was clearly inspired by these stories, as well as what he did to further and expand them.

My plan is to create all of these posts on my blog, but I can not promise that they will all appear.  If there’s anything on this list that you’re particularly excited to see, feel free to let me know.

Buffy/Angel Producers Create Fairy Tale Show

As someone with a love for both fairy tales and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” I was thrilled to find out that David Greenwalt and Jim Kouf, who produced “Buffy” and its spin-off, “Angel,” are now working on a fairy tale themed show for NBC.  I first heard news of this development on the Sur La Lune fairy tale blog, which led me to this article by Entertainment Weekly’s James Hibberd.  Supposedly, the show (“Grimm”) will be a crime drama featuring Grimm’s fairy tale inspired characters, and it looks like it will be pretty dark.  As far as I can tell, it sounds like a combination between “Angel” and Bill Willingham’s amazing comic series, “Fables,” in which the characters from fairy tales are actually real, and now reside in New York City.

I can’t pretend the project comes as a complete surprise, though.  “Buffy” and “Angel” always did have more than the average number of fairy tale references.  The photo below is a great example of this; in season 4, episode 4 (“Fear Itself”), Buffy dresses up as Little Red Riding Hood for Halloween.

Sarah Michelle Gellar dresses up as Little Red in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

 

Either way, NBC’s “Grimm” definitely sounds like something to get excited about.

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