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?

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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.

What Exactly is a Fairy Tale, Anyway?

A problem I’ve noticed a lot, when discussing fairy tales with others, is that many people don’t quite seem to know what that term really means.  Indeed, if you haven’t spent time researching and rereading fairy tales, as well as learning their origins, it might be difficult to truly know.  For this reason, I’ve done my best to explain what this term means to me, as well as all the grey areas that may crop up.

 

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm traveled around and recorded folktales from the oral tradition.

True Fairy Tales

Generally speaking, fairy tales have no discernible authors and are deeply rooted in oral tradition.  Certainly, someone must have invented them at some point in the past, but they spread by word of mouth and became ingrained in cultures.  These stories were passed down through generations and evolved as they spread, which led to many versions of some of them.  For instance, Cinderella, Allerleirauh, Cap ‘o Rushes, Donkeyskin, The King Who Wished to Marry His Daughter, Catskin, The She-bear and many others are all different versions of the same (or an extremely similar) story, and are all classified as Aarne Thompson fairy tale type 510B (the persecuted heroine).  By the time they were actually collected and penned by people like Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm and Charles Perrault, no one could be sure where any of them had truly come from.

Half-Fairy Tales

This is a term I use to classify things written by people like Hans Christian Andersen and Madame d’Aulnoy.  This is because, although we can trace specific stories back to them, they were literally attempting to create new fairy tales.  They were inspired by preexisting folk tales and wanted to create some of their own.  Not only that, but some of their stories are based on fairy tales that existed before; a good example of this is “The Princess and the Pea,” which Andersen claims to have heard as a child.  Although these are not fairy tales in the truest sense of the word (Although inspired by the oral tradition, they did not emerge from it.), it is difficult to completely separate them from the genre, especially when some of them do have roots in it.

Common Misconceptions

That being said, the number of adaptions of certain stories (both by Disney and otherwise) has led some people to mistake them for fairy tales.  The following is a list of stories that are often incorrectly assumed to be fairy tales.

Although it can sometimes be difficult to figure out what is a fairy tale and what is not, the easiest way to decide is by doing a little digging; if you can find an author, it is not a true fairy tale.  Certainly, there are some in-between areas where people like Andersen and d’Aulnoy are concerned, but these are few and far between.

Once Upon a Webcomic: Dinosaur Comics Fairy Tales

Since last week’s post on XKCD fairy tales was so popular and many of my favorite webcomics have referenced fairy tales in the past, I decided to start a new recurring feature called Once Upon a Webcomic.  My second webcomic post centers around another of my favorites: “Dinosaur Comics” or “Qwantz” by Ryan North.

Although Dinosaur Comics has referenced fairy tales on a number of hilarious occasions, the following comic is my favorite example of this.

As you can see, this comic takes a humorous poke at fairy tale retellings.  While many of them are interesting and inventive, some do seem a little silly.  For instance, take a look at the plot of Disney’s upcoming film, “Snow White and the Seven“; if Snow White is a British woman in China in the 1800s and the dwarves are actually not dwarves but international warriors teaching her how to fight, is it really even the same story?  Sure, the concept sounds pretty cool, but at what point does it begin to distract from the actual story and become a little pointless?

I can’t help but feel the same about Maureen McGowan’s new books “Sleeping Beauty: Vampire Slayer” and “Cinderella: Ninja Warrior.” I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and read them on the off chance that they may actually be cool and funny mash-ups, but frankly they sound a little ridiculous.  Hopefully, that’s intentional.

When retelling fairy tales, it can be easy to get caught up in trying to make everything “totally sweet” and forget about what you were actually trying to do in the first place; breathe life back into an old story.  Of course, that doesn’t mean space travel and fairy tales should never mix; in her book of short fairy tale retellings “Red as Blood,” Tanith Lee masterfully reconciles these genres in “Beauty,” a futuristic retelling of “Beauty and the Beast.”

To see some other fairy tale references in Dinosaur Comics, check out the comics from November 20, 2003 and May 31, 2006.

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.

Ferret Fairy Tales

As a well-known branch of pop culture, fairy tales can pop up in all kinds of weird places.  Since we all know a ton of the classic fairy tales, they can easily be used to make jokes that people of all ages will understand; I mentioned this before, in my post on the hipster Little Mermaid.  This can be seen in Ferret Frenzy’s 2o11 calendar, “Ferret Tales.”

Ferret CinderellaI discovered this bizarre calendar in the mall, a few months ago.  The whole concept seemed so singularly weird that my friend had to buy it and has been keeping me updated on the “ferret tale” that graces her wall each month.  The calendar, which is comprised of ferrets photoshopped into easily recognizable fairy tale settings, includes ferret versions of many of our favorite fairy tale characters.  Snow White, Goldilocks, and even Little Red Riding Hood have ferret doppelgangers.

Unusual as this calendar may seem, there’s something about it that is truly hilarious.  I know I’ve often said that the dead fairy tale medium manages to keep growing in all sorts of ways, but this may actually be the weirdest of them all.

Steampunk Fairy Tales

Steampunk and fairy tales are two genres that really seem to mix well together.  As the steampunk subculture of cogs, goggles, and zeppelins becomes more popular, more and more artists are combining the two.  Examples of this can be seen all over the internet, but I would like to share a few of my favorites.

“Steam Piper of Hamelin” by Timothy Terrenal

 

This steampunk rendition of “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” is absolutely gorgeous and takes advantage of what steampunk does best, combining magic and clockwork/steam technology.  The children’s tiny goggles and top hats show that Terrenal has done his steampunk research and is not simply a fan of soul-sucking robots.  I admit I would love to read a Pied Piper retelling based on this amazing illustration.  To see more work by Timothy Terrenal, visit his DeviantArt gallery.

 

“Steampunk Fairytale” by ~AkaiSoul

What a fantastic version of Little Red!  I sometimes get tired of fairy tale heroines who are little more than damsels in distress; this one, however, looks like she can defend herself.  In fact, one of her hands is behind her back, so she might even be holding some kind of steampunk weapon just out of sight.  Although this style is a little less realistic than that of the Pied Piper, I love the attention to detail and the air of whimsy.  I know I said this about the last drawing, but it would be incredible to read a retelling based on this image!  More of ~AkaiSoul’s work can be viewed at her DeviantArt gallery.

“Steampunk Cinderella” by ~HelleeTitch

 

Deviant artist ~HelleeTitch does steampunk princesses in a different way; instead of focusing on fairy tales in general, she works specifically on steaming up the classic Disney girls.  Although I generally prefer my steampunk (and my fairy tales, for that matter) a little darker than this, her work is fun and lighthearted.  Plus, it’s interesting to see what she does with all the different characters.  To see her other princesses, check out her DeviantArt gallery.

As time goes on, I hope to see more crossover between these genres.  Of course, plenty already exists, as can be seen above.  There are some especially lovely renditions of Alice, from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”  Too bad that’s not actually a fairy tale; they’re gorgeous, and I would have loved to include some!

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