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.”

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.

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.

Fairy Tale Recipes: Little Mermaid Cupcakes

No matter which version of “The Little Mermaid” you prefer, if you love the story you’ll also love these adorable Little Mermaid Cupcakes.

Since cupcakes are my favorite dessert, I couldn’t resist posting these.  If I ever plan any kind of fairy tale themed party, you can bet these will be on the menu.  Thanks to the mermaid’s resemblance to Ariel in the Disney version of the story, they’re easily recognizable.

Five Summaries of the Little Mermaid

Ever since my recent post on the possible discontinuation of Disney fairy tale movies, I have been wondering how much influence these films have had on the fairy tale genre.  In an attempt to figure out if people were more familiar with the original versions of fairy tales or their Disney counterparts, I interviewed five students at my university, and asked each of them to summarize the story of “The Little Mermaid.”

Although I expected more people to tell me about the happily ever after Disney version, I was surprised when three of the five students summarized the original Hans Christian Andersen story in which the mermaid dies.  Obviously, I did not have a large enough group of participants to draw conclusive evidence, but it is interesting to see that many people are actually familiar with the original versions of fairy tales despite their exposure to Disney retellings.

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.

Hipster Little Mermaid

Fairy tales are so embedded in our shared cultural knowledge that when someone uses them to make a joke, everyone gets it.  This is part of what keeps them alive in our society.

A good example of this is the hipster Little Mermaid, a web phenomenon which uses a photoshopped image of the character from the Disney film to make jokes about hipsters.

Hipster Ariel
Although hipster Ariel makes reference to specifically the Disney versions of these well-known stories, it’s an interesting study of fairy tales as something to which everyone in our society can relate.  Even though we cannot see her fins in this photo, we know that this is a picture of a mermaid.  Likewise, the phrases make reference to lines from the movie that many are familiar with.  Even though the Disney films do not depict the original versions of these tales, these movies have been an important part of their continued evolution.  Our ability to reference them in jokes is proof of that.

Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: