Fairy Tale Halloween Costumes: Why So Scandalous?

As someone who loves candy, costumes, and stories of the spooky and supernatural, Halloween has always been my absolute favorite holiday.  Throughout the year, I gleefully dress up for Comic Conventions, movie/book openings, costume parties, and plays (I am an actor, after all.), but Halloween is the one time of the year when I can convince my friends to don their own costumes and take goofy photos with me (The exception is my husband, who humors me year-round.).

Last year, some of my friends and I went as characters from the video game "Left 4 Dead."

Needless to say, when I received a Halloween-themed Victorian Trading Co. catalog in the mail, I was pretty excited.  I couldn’t wait to scan the pages for costume ideas!  Imagine my delight when I spotted their lovely Little Red Riding Hood cape.

The Victorian Trading Company's "L'il Red Riding Hood Cape" is gorgeous.

Although the item itself was a little out of my price range, it inspired me to consider fairy tales as a theme for this year’s Halloween fun.  A quick search of the internet, however, convinced me otherwise; for whatever reason, a huge portion of fairy tale Halloween costumes are really trashy.  In the 2004 movie “Mean Girls,”  the main character (Lindsay Lohan) learns that “Halloween is the one night a year when girls can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.”  Still, I was pretty surprised by some of the results my costume search turned up.  For instance, the photo of a Cinderella costume below (which I can only assume is modeled after the Disney character) bears almost no resemblance to Cinderella.

It's funny, but I remember Cinderella a little differently...

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.  Admittedly, the original versions of fairy tales had a lot of violent and sexual undertones.  For instance, in the earliest versions of “Sleeping Beauty,” the princess isn’t awakened from her slumber by a romantic kiss; instead, she’s raped by the prince  and awoken when she goes into labor to bear twins.

Despite the fact that the original versions of many fairy tales were pretty racy, I think it would be a little far fetched to claim that barely there costumes like this one signify some sort of return to fairy tale roots.  I’m still not decided on what I’ll be going as for Halloween, but I will say one thing; if it’s fairy tale themed, I think I’ll try my hand at making it myself.

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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.

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.

Steampunk Fairy Tales Part Two

Since my previous post on steampunk fairy tales was so popular, I decided to do a second entry on the subject.  As before, I’d like to share a few of my favorite steampunk fairy tale images as well as some reflections on them.

“Snow White” by Craig a.k.a. ~xiwik

This steampunk rendition of “Snow White” is fantastic.  The artist kept some of the traditional Snow White elements, such as the dwarf, the apple, and the short dark hair, but was not afraid to branch out.  I love that Snow’s traditional Disney garb was ignored completely.  I also adore the details on Snow’s belt.  Those hanging gears remind me of this steampunk harness I spotted on Etsy.  The pick-axes and striped arm-warmers are beautiful details, while the goggles, shoulder armor, and gears give this image a truly steampunk flavor.  To see more of ~xiwik’s art, visit his deviantART gallery.

“Steampunk Fairy Tale Goldylocks” by Lavah

I can’t get enough of this gorgeous steampunk Goldilocks!  Since her story is so rarely retold, it’s a special treat to see this fairy tale character re-imagined.  My favorite part of this drawing is definitely the bears; their steampunk-style helmets are fantastic.  I also like Goldie’s goggles.  To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of her nearly completely revealed bum, as I don’t feel it really adds anything to the picture, but it doesn’t really detract, either.  Overall, this is a wonderfully detailed image, and I’d love to read a retold fairy tale based on it.  To see more of Lavah’s work, visit her deviantART gallery.

“Steampunk Fairy Tale: Red” by Paul Reck a.k.a. ~o ding raphics

Not only is this an awesome piece of art, but it comes with a story concept as well.  The artist had this to say about it: “This is Red Riding Hood.  She has to get the basket, a revolutionary power source, to ‘Granny’s House’ before the Big Bad Wolf gets her.”  Best of all, he says he might do a short comic starring these characters.  Red’s outfit is incredible, and I love the wolf’s stilts!  The idea of dressing the wolf up in steampunk garb even makes sense; even in the original version of the tale, the Big Bad Wolf is prone to dressing up in other people’s clothing.  For more of Paul Reck’s (~o ding raphics) work, visit his deviantART gallery.

As I mentioned before, the only thing I love more than these two genres is seeing them mixed.  Hopefully, we’ll keep seeing more combinations of the two.

Once Upon a Webcomic: Ryan North Strikes Again

Some of you may recall last week’s Once Upon a Webcomic on Ryan North’s “Dinosaur Comics.”  Apparently, since that time, Ryan North has become determined to blow my mind.  His last three webcomic posts have been a fantastic series on fairy tales.

The first of these retells “Little Red Riding Hood” including some of the more disturbing details from older versions of the story.  Yes, in some versions, Little Red actually did eat her dead grandmother and escape because she told the wolf she had to poop and didn’t want to have an accident in the bed.

In his next comic, North addresses “Sleeping Beauty.”  Some of the information he gives us is true; the Prince really did rape the title character, causing her to give birth to the twins who woke her from her slumber.  Of course, he also provides us with some false information.  “Sleeping Beauty,” while it describes the character, is not her name.  She has been known, in different versions of the tale, as Talia, Aurora, Briar Rose, and more.

Finally, North writes a comic strip in which T-Rex tries to write his own less disturbing fairy tale.  Of course, he fails when he creates a story with a gender-confused protagonist (reminiscent of Ozma) who uses magic to enable her friends to cannibalize an evil wizard.

With any luck, Ryan North will keep reflecting on fairy tales in their grisly, original forms and make comic strips about even more of the old favorites.

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.

The Muffin Tree

Here’s an example of someone using the patterns they learned from fairy tales to create something new: “The Muffin Tree.”  This silly video, which was created by independent animator Amy Winfrey, aligns itself with fairy tales right away when it opens with the iconic fairy tale phrase “once upon a time.”

The story then draws on further fairy tale norms; the main character discovers something magical, but does not respond in the way she should.  She is greedy and takes advantage of the tree, eating too many muffins and becoming fat.  Then, she makes matters worse by being ungrateful and complaining that the tree does not meet her needs.  The girl, however, should have remembered to be careful what she wished for; her wish was granted with a new kind of muffin that was delicious but poisonous.

This story, which is a morality tale, models itself after a common type of fairy tale.  Although not all fairy tales have morals, many of them do.  For instance, “Little Red Riding Hood” encourages children to listen to their parents and “Snow White” discourages vanity by associating it with the villainous Queen.  Fairy tale characters who are lazy, ungrateful, or otherwise wicked often end up as dead as the little girl in “The Muffin Tree.”

“The Muffin Tree” is especially similar to a Swahili story called “The Story of a Gazelle,” which can be found in Andrew Lang’s “Violet Fairy Book.” In this story, a foolish man is rescued from poverty by a magical gazelle.  The gazelle makes him rich and gives him everything he desires.  Once he gains wealth, respect, and power, however, he becomes ungrateful and neglects the gazelle.  The creature becomes ill, but the foolish man pays him no heed.  Soon, the magical gazelle dies and, with him, takes all the gifts he gave to the foolish man, leaving his former master impoverished and homeless once more.

Even though new fairy tales cannot truly be created, stories like “The Muffin Tree” show us that fairy tale patterns can still be used effectively.

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