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).

Advertisements

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.

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!

Breadcrumbs. Gingerbread. Flesh.

This is a writing exercise I did, for a class.  We spent ten minutes listing what a character of our choice saw, heard, and stood upon.  I chose Gretel of Hansel and Gretel.

Breadcrumbs.  Gingerbread.  Flesh.

I saw the bread crumbs my brother dropped behind us.
I heard the crows cawing as they carried these away.
I stood in the forest, mud soaking into my shoes.

I saw less animals in that part of the woods.
I heard the voice of my father and couldn’t believe he would let this happen to us.
I stood in awe of the giant gingerbread house that loomed before me.

I saw candy of every kind imaginable and didn’t know where to begin.
I heard the ominous creak of the door.
I stood inside the house and saw everything change.

I saw the witch’s true face.
I heard her plans for Hansel.
I stood near his cage.

I saw him getting fatter–getting ready for the stew pot.
I heard the beginnings of a plan in my dreams.
I stood near the oven and waited for the witch.

I saw her bring my brother into the kitchen for her meal.
I heard his cries, likes sounds of a wounded animal.
I stood behind her as she sprinkled pepper on Hansel’s head.

I saw my hands reach out and push her in.
I heard her screams and felt almost guilty.
I stood watching as she burned.

I saw her flesh blacken and peel.
I heard my brother calling for me, ready to escape this place.
I stood in shock of what we had done.

I saw the world change.
I heard our story being retold through the ages.
I stood still in time and was a child forever, always with bread crumbs, and gingerbread, and baking flesh.

Top Four Best Retold Fairy Tales

When I was ten years old, I discovered retold fairy tales.  Since then, I have read tons of them–probably hundreds–and written many of my own.  That being said, I’ve come to know a good retelling when I see one.

Although there are many fantastic novel-length retellings of these stories, there are an equal number of amazing short story versions.  This is a good place to start if you’re not sure about reading retold fairy tales, but you’re willing to give them a try.  Here, you will find a list of what I consider to be the top four best retold fairy tale short stories.

1. Wolfland by Tanith Lee

Nearly every story in Tanith Lee’s retold fairy tale collection “Red As Blood or Tales From the Sisters Grimmer” is pure fairy tale gold.  “Wolfland,” however, is by far the fairest of them all.  This fantastic retelling of the classic Little Red Riding Hood takes place in nineteenth century Scandinavia, where “little red” is not a helpless child but a teenage party girl whose wealthy grandmother hides a supernatural secret.  The collection is, unfortunately, out of print; if you can get your hands on a used copy, do not hesitate to do so.

 

2. Hansel’s Eyes by Garth Nix

This story is also part of a larger collection; “A Wolf at the Door” edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling contains retold fairy tales by many well-known authors.  “Hansel’s Eyes,” however, has all the marks of a truly great retelling: an original spin on the story, an engaging writing style, and a macabre twist.  This modern version has Hansel and Gretel abandoned in the inner city, where an organ harvesting witch lures them into her video game shop.  Not only is it the best story in the collection, but it’s the best reimagining of Hansel and Gretel I’ve ever come across.

 

3. Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman

Just like everything else on this list, “Snow, Glass, Apples” can be found inside a bigger book: “Smoke and Mirrors,” a collection of short stories and poems by Neil Gaiman.  Interestingly, the theme of Snow White as a creepy little girl with an aversion to holy things is not as unusual as one might imagine; this story, however, does it better than any of the others I’ve read.  In it, Snow is a blood sucking princess who is slowly killing her father.  Her benevolent stepmother plays the story’s heroine.  Although it’s not quite as original as the others on this list, it is the most beautifully written of all of them, and my absolute favorite version of Snow White.

 

4. The Bully and the Beast by Orson Scott Card

This particular retelling of popular French fairy tale Beauty and the Beast is hidden within a large collection of Orson Scott Card’s short fiction, “Maps in a Mirror.”  Card’s writing style is a joy to read, but what really makes this a great story is the cleverness of it.  The title the “beast” is also fascinating here, because it could easily be applied to several characters in the story.  Add a beauty that doesn’t love the unintelligent man that rescues her and a dragon with a power that will make you think, and you’ve got a surprisingly unique version of one of the most commonly retold fairy tales around.


Although these are a few of my favorite short fairy tale retellings, there are many more out there.  Happy reading!


%d bloggers like this: