Happy Wicked Stepmother Day

Mothers' Day, a day to show appreciation and reverence for the women (and motherly men) who makes our lives a little brighter. But what about all of those wicked stepmothers? Where's the Hallmark card for them? Without them being awful, their mentally and physically abused fairy tale children would have never have found their happily ever afters.

Therefore, here's to you!

To the poisoned apple makers: Poisoned apples take a long time to create and a lot of ingredients that you can't just get at the grocery store. That takes time and effort. Good for you!

To the overbearing, task masters: You taught time management, cooking, cleaning, and other skills which could have been so much more useful than simply singing to birds. Here's a thumbs up for you!

To the power-hungry manipulators: You planed out your perfect marriage to that rich man to the smallest detail. It wasn't your fault that he had kids and that those kids refuse to obey simple little orders like turning into animals or marrying someone equally manipulative to increase your power. Don't let the selfishness of others get you down!

To the insanely jealous and homicidal psychos: Sure, you murdered and lost stepchildren on purpose, but you did it with style. You deserve some you-time!

So, wicked stepmothers out there, tighten the restraints on your burning iron slippers and tell your ugly birth children to give you some room to dance..until you fall over.

In Defense of Rumpelstiltskin

Brief history: This is another old one which is primarily German in origins. For those of you who don’t know it, a big-mouthed miller accidentally condemns his daughter to death by claiming she can spin straw into gold. Locked away in the palace by a greedy king, the daughter is met with a little man who for 3 nights does the impossible task for her. However, each night his fee gets worse, first taking the only 2 items she had left of her dead mom and then insisting on taking her first born. The girl agrees, probably assuming the king will end up killing her anyway. He didn’t seem like a very sound mind. Then, with all of the straw spun and the king, thinking she has this great power, marries her and she gets pregnant. Oops. Just to recap: her dad almost got her killed, her husband is a gold-crazed psycho, and a little man was coming to take custody of her kid (why? No one knows). The little man makes her a deal that if she guesses his name within 3 days she can keep her offspring. The new queen uses her regal resources to find out the man’s name (actually in most versions a solider learns it for her, but she delegated it). After speaking the odd word “Rumpelstiltskin”, the little man gets so angry he stomps a hole in the ground and is swallowed by Hell.

Analysis: This is a tale of a woman surrounded by manipulative men and wins against each of them in some way. Okay, so she’s screwed if the kingdom ever goes into an economic depression and her husband demands she spins more straw into gold, but otherwise she manages to beat the main antagonist by being resourceful. The only analysis I’m never sure of is why Rumpelstiltskin wanted the baby in the first place. I get that it was a frightening overall idea - practitioner of magic kidnapping babies for nefarious deeds - but from a modern point of view it feels like it needs more backstory.

Blame it on the Victorians: Tom Tit Tot was an English version of the tale written down by John Jacobs in the late 1800s. In that version, it’s the girl’s mother who was singing about how that morning her daughter had eaten 5 whole pies. But when she realized that royalty was passing through the town, she changed her song to “she spun 5 skeins today” in order to make her daughter sound impressive. Then, the whole thing continues from there in the same way. The point is that in the English version all blame is upon the women. It’s the daughter who ate the pies in the first place (which in itself is a negative character trait making the story open with an idea that she deserves punishment for gluttony) and it’s her mom, not her dad, that gets her locked away by the king. I confess, I did like this version as a child because if the rhyme, “Ninny ninny not- my name is Tom Tit Tot”. But really Victorians - you had to make the main character earn her intelligence, didn't you.

Last thoughts: Best Rumpelstiltskin – It’s a toss-up between Billy Barty and Robert Carlyle (admit it – he’s one of the top 3 reasons to watch Once Upon a Time).

*If you want know any of the places where some of my research comes from, just contact me.


Character Study – The Chatter Boxes

You know those characters who take-up a majority of a page with rambling. As with the characters around them, you start to feel annoyed by their constant dialogue and wonder what the author could have been thinking in creating a person in this way. Were they trying to drive away the reader? Didn’t they deal with enough people like this in reality? As a person who talks too much myself, even I sometimes found these constant natterers aggravating in some books. But sometimes, they made me feel better about my own flaws. Instead of focusing on one such character, I am going to focus on three and why their talkative personality trait was important to the author’s purpose. In this case, all three will be female characters for comparison purposes.

The first is, of course, Anne Shirley, the imaginative redhead of Green Gables fame. The first two books of the series give focus on her run-away tongue. L. M. Montgomery molded a young girl who is depicted as unusual by society’s standards and down-right annoying to some of the adults dealing with her. In a time when novels for girls were meant to only show innocence, polite behavior, and the occasional moral lesson, Anne made a generation realize that their own actions and thoughts weren’t that strange. Despite being very intelligent, Anne’s jabbering is a sign of her imperfections. Although she does eventually try to better herself against it, this character aspect drives the plot. Throughout each misadventure that Anne has to talk her way out of, usually using long-winded apologies and a vast vocabulary, the reader sees reactions of those around her. The other characters of the story are defined by how they react to her and her talking. Her best friend, Diana, sometimes mimics Anne’s speech pattern. Her guardian, Marilla, scolds her, yet secretly enjoys Anne’s talk. And of course, her other guardian, Matthew, listens with pride at his smart girl. The characters who do not accept this part of Anne are the antagonists of the story, the people who represent how society just wanted children, young ladies especially, to be seen and not heard. As a writer, Montgomery may have held this mirror up to her world without even realizing it.

The second is Miss Bates from Jane Austen’s Emma. I read this the first time when I was thirteen and got extremely tired of Miss Bates’s pointless dialogue. I confess I started to just skim the page every time she started to talk. However, this was Austen’s purpose in creating the character. Miss Bates the subject of sympathy by all in the town, a poor spinster who was once a part of higher society. She lives with an elderly mother who rarely speaks. Emma, the wealthy main character, visits Miss Bates out of social duty, not enjoyment of her company. As frustrated you as the reader might be with Miss Bates, Emma is that much more so. You wince along with Emma each time this character enters the story. And this was Austen’s plan. The growing annoyance towards this character results in a downfall and turning point for Emma, who is different than other Austen heroines as she is a snob who does not recognize her own faults. It is a mistake that she makes towards Miss Bates that changes her, making the character’s pages of ranting a catalyst to the plot.

Lastly, Princess Eilonwy, one of the side characters of the Chronicles of Prydain. Lloyd Alexander wanted to write a series based around Welsh mythology, but to have characters who readers could relate with. Eilonwy is the token girl of the series which means she had to stand out. Like many princesses in modern fantasy novels, but unique at the time she was written in, she is feisty, able to fight, and extremely stubborn. These are all traits which both exacerbate and are admired by the hero, Taran, who is close to her in age. And, just like relationships between many men and women I know in reality, Taran is annoyed by how much Eilonwy talks. She is sarcastic and loves to make-up strange similes to describe every danger they meet with. Like many intelligent people, she’s also scatterbrained, where her rambling will taper-off or be inconsequential to the situation at hand. Although her talking is not important to the plot in these stories, it is important to Taran’s development as a main character. It is the part of her that he complains about, yet is what he misses when they are apart. The way he reacts to her constant chatter as they grow up shows his maturity and how he is becoming a leader. Alexander is revealing the hero’s personality change in a way that is subtle, yet more entertaining for the reader.

In Defense of the Twelve Dancing Princesses

Brief History: A German tale with way too many underdeveloped characters. The story consists of a king who locks his daughters in their room each night, only to discover their shoes full of holes every morning. The king, who can’t just communicate with his kids, declares that any man who can figure out how they go out dancing without leaving their room will have his pick in marriage. If the man can’t find out the secret within three nights (because it’s always three), he’s executed. . . because the king can’t just be a jerk to his daughters. Enter our hero on his way to the palace, sometimes a shepherd or shoemaker apprentice but usually an aging soldier returning from an unnamed war. He is gifted an invisibility cloak from the cliché mysterious old woman who he’s kind to. The woman also gives him conveniently useful advice – don’t drink the wine. Long story short (too late), the soldier figures out that the wine she’s referring to is roofied by the princesses each night to keep their secret safe (obviously not caring that their dad is going to kill this men when they fail). So, he pretends to drink it each night then uses the cloak to follow the princesses into a magical world under their beds. That’s right. The princesses are literally going each night to a party probably held by the boogie man. He collects evidence of the magical world and witnesses the women dancing happily with enchanted princes.). After the third night, he reveals everything to the king, marries the eldest daughter, and the rest of the princesses are put under a temporary, unnamed curse for their deceptions.

Analysis: So. . . this. The princesses in this aren’t heroes. They’re awful, selfish creatures who were raised by an equally awful man. One the one hand, they are trying to assert their independence and have some small control over their lives. On the other hand, they are allowing their dad to kill each of the potential suitors just so they can go dancing. Not really sure how I can fully defend them.

Blame it on the Victorians: I have to agree with the Victorians on this one. As the story was told and retold through the 19th Century, the king stopped killing the suitors, the soldier/hero becomes more age appropriate, and he manages to get the eldest or youngest princess to trust him a little (they don’t exactly fall in love, but she doesn’t seem to mind marrying him in the end).

Last thoughts: So. Many. Characters. So. Little. Personality.

*If you want know any of the places where some of my research comes from, just contact me

In Defense of the Princess and the Pea

Brief History: Hans Christian Andersen (of Little Mermaid, Little Match Girl, and other depressing tales) wrote this simple story of an unconventional princess. She appears on the castle door of a prince in search of a bride without an entourage and soaked from a storm. The prince is instantly taken with this quirky young woman. The queen suspects that she’s a fraud and, although offers her a bed for the night, places a single pea under 20 mattresses and 20 quilts. She tells her son that only a true princess would be sensitive enough to feel a pea under such a high bed. The next day, the princess politely reports that she didn’t sleep well and that something in the bed bruised her. The prince marries her right off and they put the pea under glass in a museum.

Analysis: This concept creates many questions. When the queen was a princess, was she that sensitive which was how she knew this? Now that she was queen, was she still that sensitive? Did the princess really feel the pea or was she just freaked out all night by being so high up? On the positive side, this is a princess who is purposely unusual. She had to be quirky to make the queen suspicious, yet she is the one the prince wants. This is also sweet because he wants her even if she wasn’t a true princess.

Blame it on the Victorians: What! Andersen wrote a happy story? This must’ve been an off-day for him. As far as Victorian writers go, let’s face it, most of his stories are the pits.

Last thoughts: Best version is the Faerie Tale Theatre episode staring Liza Minelli. Anyone remember that?

*If you want know any of the places where some of my research comes from, just contact me.

Snowbirds - A People Watching Study

Instead of a study of a particular fictional character, this month I'm going to take a look at a real group that I have had many opportunities to people watch over the years - Snowbirds.

For those of you who don't know, a "Snowbird" is person, usually of retired age, who escape the harsh Midwestern winters by living in the Southwest for 3 to 5 months out of the year. Some who fall into this category are awesome human beings - the type who exude kindness, intelligence, and a good sense of humor towards this mess we call life.

Then, there are those who think they need to prove some kind of stereotype. It's like they step off the plane each year and are handed a checklist of annoying habits. A few things that are observed year after year include:

1. The number of people who wear perfume instead of deodorant goes from non-existent to 1/3 of the gym population.

2. Complaints about the youth of the world in a tactless, hypocritical way

3. Complaints about not being able to use coupons which are designated for stores that only exist in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois

4. Making constant, unflattering comparisons between their state of origin and the state in which they are visiting

5. Staying in crowded restaurants for a very long time and wearing down the servers who are just trying to seat the waiting public

6. And of course, most notably, the traffic. From November to March, rush hour traffic (both am and pm) is infinitely more crowded. It becomes an epic tale of driving woe at 6:30 in the morning, when all you want to do is merge, but the elderly man in the Buick beside you is too busy listening to his wife to notice your turn signal. Where are they even going so early in the morning?

And again, this not meant to be a generalization, it's more of repeated behavior I have witnessed (especially when I used to work retail near a retirement community). Why is this way it is? If we were to breakdown these actions in the same way we would a fictional character, what would we find? What creates a sense of privilege when you are a place which is only your home half of the year? Is this what Persephone was like when she was in the Underworld? Did she always insist that the pomegranates from the surface world we sweeter than the ones Hades gave her? And why couldn't he just bring pomegranates from the surface? Would that me so inconvenient?

People watching is one of the best tools in a writer's trade. Even if the subject is driving you nuts, let your mind wander as you watch.

April Suggestion

Since Easter and April Fool's Day landed on the same day this year, pulling a prank on the actual day would be too obvious. However, pulling the prank the following weekend would be a "joyful" scene your family would never see coming. Here are a list of suggested pranks (*Disclaimer: I do not actually recommend you try any of theses unless you have unlimited funds, too much free time, and don't think they would leave any permanent emotional scarring):

1. Set-up all of the Easter decor once again and let your family wake up to think they've gone back in time.

2. You can keep repeating #1 to make everyone think they are trapped in a Groundhog's Day scenario.

3. Fill your house with rabbits. Then make everyone else clean up after them.

4. Have Night of the Lepus playing 24-7 on every TV, then hide all remotes and make the TVs impossible to turn off (*Side note: Look up Night of the Lepus if you have no clue what I'm talking about. It's magical)

5. Glue frilly Easter Bonnets to everyone's head while they sleep

6. Cover the front lawn of every house with plastic Easter Grass and replace the street signs with "Welcome to Fluffville."

7. Hide extra eggs which have not been hard boiled, then don't tell anyone about them. When the stench starts, pretend you smell nothing.

8. Replace the chicken eggs with lizard eggs and wait for them to hatch.

9. Give out only licorice jelly beans.

10. Take away the children's candy and tell them that it must be sacrificed or Spring will never come.

11. Paint everything in pastel colors. Ev-er-y-thing.

It will all be so full of the chocolate, egg, Christian, Pagan, and April Fools spirit. Everyone will be impressed that you cared enough to prank them as a surprise. And isn't that real meaning of whichever holiday we're talking about? No. Seriously. I already forgot.

In Defense of Puss in Boots

Brief History: The idea of a clever cat who tricks others in order to help a master is a common theme in many cultures across Europe, Africa, and Asia. This idea is thought to have started in Indian folklore and traveled to Europe. The most popular versions come from Italy or France. Despite what they try to convince you of in Shrek, this is how the story goes: A miller’s youngest son inherits a cat from his dad and the cat (who can of course talk) promises to make him wealthy if the young man gets him a pair of boots. No pants or shirt or cape. Just boots... for his back paws. With the confidence which only a new pair of boots can give, the cat then makes several trades throughout the town until his dealings lead him to the king. He presents the king with gifts sent from an imaginary master, the Marquis of Carabas. In order to introduce his real master to the king, he tells the miller’s son to pretend that his clothes were stolen by bandits. The king then wants to help the young man who he thinks has been sending him so many goodies and wants to match up the “Marquis” with his daughter provided that the lord show them his holdings. The cat then sets up other illusions to make the king think that the miller’s son is a kindly lord, beloved by his people (people who are actually people under the control of an evil, shape-shifting ogre). Not really sure how being the tenant of an ogre works? Would they still pay taxes or would the ogre just demand sacrifices? Off topic. Where was I? Puss in Boots also manages to fool the ogre into turning into a mouse, eats him, and claims the ogre’s property for his master. So, miller’s son, princess, and cat get to live in luxury for the rest of their lives, while the poor people on the ogre’s land wonder who the heck all of these people living in the castle are.

Analysis: Clearly, this is about listening to your cat. Need I say more?

Blame it on the Victorians: In some earlier versions, the cat is a fairy in disguise, is a female cat who is like a replacement mother taking care of the main character, or is secretly trying to play his master for a chump then has a change of heart. By the time Charles Perrault wrote it down in the 1800s, Puss was simply a talking cat. The role of a cat in Victorian society differed based on your social status. To farmers, cats were yet another animal to help around the house and keep down on the best population. For wealthy households, they were simply pets. Still, cats held a stronger sway over women of the time than men. Women who were trapped home all day long relied on the love and distraction of pets to keep them sane. This was when cat funerals, which is something we think of as being more sentimental and modern, came back into “fashion”.

Last thoughts: Stop giggling at the title. It means cat, you sicko.

* Side note: You ever watch the Puss in Boots with Christopher Walken in it? It's so magical you might not be able to stand it.

*If you want know any of the places where some of my research comes from, just contact me.

An Ode to Spring

(Clears throat)

Oh Spring, bringer of life

How I hate thee

With both of my watery eyes

I curse each blossoming tree

With my nose which runs like a river

I despise thy flowers in bloom

Due to thy lack of mercy

I may never be able to leave my room

You Scream, I Scream, We All Scream for Banshee

Let’s just take a moment to recognize the lack of banshees used in popular media. Sure, Supernatural used it, as did several other “monster of the week” style TV shows. There are a few times cheesy horror movies have tried to bring back the Banshee without success. Darby O’Gil and the Little People made a good Banshee, which is pretty impressive for a Disney movie where they let Sean Connery sing. In honor of St. Patrick’s Day (and because I’m sick to death of Leprechauns being everywhere) let’s give a little love to the Banshee.

First off, what is a Banshee (for those of you unfamiliar with the creature)? Long answer, it’s a spirit of a woman, sometimes young and sometimes a hag, who combs her hair and wails by the shores of rivers— Eh. Nevermind. Short answer, it’s a spirit that warns of or predicts death by shrieking.

Therefore, let us all shriek, long and loud, in honor of a piece of Irish culture that doesn’t get colored by first graders. Deep breath in and…

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa (gasp) aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

And done.

In Defense of Jack and the Beanstalk

Brief History: This is another one that most of you know: cow traded by dumb kid for magic beans, beans sprout giant beanstalk, beanstalk leads kid to a life of crime, giantess becomes a widow with no magic treasures for economic support. This story is pretty old. Even the earliest written version was published before a lot of other popular tales. Fee Fi Fo Fum can be found in Shakespeare’s King Lear. The English especially loved giant stories and ones where a guy named Jack kills a bunch of them were always the most popular. Sometimes elements from Jack the Giant Killer legends would find their way into the beanstalk story. Sometimes Jack even gets a last name – which never happens in fairy tales.

Analysis: Sometimes people like to look into this story from a Biblical aspect – ascending to Heaven and all that. Sometimes people like to read into the fear of man-eating giants who could have had the strength create some of the United Kingdom’s more impressive stone structures. Then there’s Bruno Bettelheim  who claimed the beanstalk was a phallic symbol. Gross. I’m going to focus on the fact that, although Jack the Giant Killer is always portrayed as an adult (who is constantly marrying different members of King Arthur’s court as a reward), this Jack is a kid. On the one hand, he’s a screw-up who betrays the trust of a giant wife that hides him each time despite his stealing from her. On the other hand, he’s a kid who gets a second chance to show his mom that he can do something to take care of her, an idea that was prominent in past time periods.

Blame it on the Victorians: As the story was retold/republished through the 1800s, Jack’s crimes of taking the harp, the goose, and the life of the giant are softened with added backstory. To keep their hero from becoming a villain or a bad influence on children, the writers start to add in ideas of revenge. A story of how the giant had killed Jack’s father or been the cause of the drought on his farm are told, usually by Jack’s suffering mother. Because it’s okay if little boys steal and murder as long as it is an act of vengeance... I mean justice.

Last thoughts: Fee Fi Fo Fum, I smell a near rhyme that really only works if you have a thick English accent.

*If you want know any of the places where some of my research comes from, just contact me.

Character Study: Nemo

Once a month I’m going to do a writer’s blog. This will be stuff like advice, victories, woes, and reasons why I love great well-written characters from books, movies, and TV. Those blogs will include a breakdown of the character and why I admire the way that character was created.

For example, and let’s go old school for this short one, Captain Nemo from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Ever read it? Well, you should. I’ve read it twice in my lifetime. The first time was when I was little, according to my mom, although all I really remember from this first reading is my disappointment over there being no sea lion named Esmerelda (you lied to be again, Disney). The second time was several weeks ago over my winter break. I was in a cephalopod-esque mood and, let’s face it, there are very few fiction books that aren’t written by H.P. Lovecraft which can quell such a mood.

Jules Verne, besides being credited as one of the earliest science fiction writers, wrote a man who is both hero and villain. One side of the story, this mysterious captain is a great man. He believes in a better world and sees the beauty in nature. He even makes a comment about animal species going endangered when the harpooner Ned Land wants to hunt whales for fun. This blew my mind. This was such a progressive idea for Verne to include that despite it being only a single sentence it stuck with me. Nemo admires the main character and invites him into his private world of wonder and marine study. To the main character, the knowledge he gains is worth more than any treasure.

However, like the main character, you spend your time having to remind yourself that Nemo is also a terrorist. He built his submarine, the Nautilus, with the intention of destroying ships from various nations. He kills hundreds of people both before the start of the novel and during the time in which the main character is with him. He believes that what he is doing is noble. You never fully know the reasons behind this, but you can get a sense from obvious clues left by Verne.

This is the other reason why this character is so brilliant. Verne never fully explains Nemo’s background. The name Nemo literally means "nobody". He considers himself a man without a country and encourages his crew to be the same. He both values the life of his crew and endangers them constantly for his purposes.

The dude was a conflict wrapped in a plot twist, the sort of character writers didn’t bother to use for “fantasy” novels since they were considered to be tripe. Verne created something to make people think hidden in an adventure story, a concept which science fiction movies will use for the next century.

Nemo was the start of a grand tradition of making science fiction smart. He’s a non-villainous villain. You almost root for him… especially when he’s played by James Mason.

In Defense of Goldilocks and the Three Bears

Brief History: You all know this one. Little girl breaks into house, little girl messes with food, chairs, and beds until they are to her liking. Owners come home to find their lives have been violated. Little girl wakes up to discover that the owners were three bears and runs away. In earliest versions, Goldilocks is an old woman who never learned not to break and enter. The old woman is usually punished in some way at the end, either going to jail or ending up injured/outright dying in her escape attempt. In England, an early folktale version included a lady-fox who breaks into the home of the bears, adding to some sort of predator rivalry. And the bears weren’t always a family. In some versions they are three single male bears and it is their bachelor pad which has been messed with.

Although, if the old woman or the fox had tidied the home, I bet they would have been more upset (Am I right, ladies? Okay, cheap joke. Sorry)

Analysis: Don’t break and enter. Not that hard, people. I’m pretty sure there’s some feminine curiosity lesson in there too which brings me to the Victorians.

Blame it on the Victorians: This story became very popular starting in the 1850s and, like other fairy tales, was cleaned up through the generations. No more death, no more bachelor bears, no more little old ladies who just like sitting in other people’s chairs and breaking them. It got to the point where the story was so child-geared that later versions stopped mentioning that Goldilocks fell on her butt when the chair broke (just that it broke). And the cleaner it was, the more it became a moral tale instead of just a bizarre story about bears who have a mortgage and cook porridge.

Last thoughts: Ever see the Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre version? The one where Goldilocks (played by Tatum O’Neal) convinces the bears that she’s homeless so they take her in, only to then be accused of kidnapping her? Ha ha ha. Good times.

*If you want know any of the places where some of my research comes from, just contact me.

February 14th – A Celebration

I hope you all had a fabulous Arizona’s Birthday! I know I for one look forward to it each year. I love eating fry bread while I watch Tombstone or 3:10 to Yuma, then avoiding all of the cactus candy sent to me by my many admirers. I know some of you have other traditions like wearing a bola tie to work or visiting a drive-through liquor store. And I know that you all rushed out to find that special turquoise or copper gift for that special someo—

Wait? What do you mean you were giving out chocolate and cards? Why did you wear red? What are you talking about? What hell is a Valentine?

In (Lack of) Defense of Patient Griselda

Brief History: This is a piece of European folklore that has been written down by Giovanni Boccaccio, Geoffrey Chaucer, and other big wigs of the Middle Ages. The version I’m focusing on was retold by Charles Perrault, but they are all pretty much the same. The story is about a rich marquis who decides to marry a poor woman named Griselda (which would have been the only tragedy of her life had she not met her husband). He decides to test this sweet lady various times including insisting that their children are taken away to be killed. Griselda, who promised to obey him, allows him to take her kids without any fight. He then forces her to live in exile for a decade or a so before announcing that he is going to remarry. Why does he tell Griselda this? Because he wants her to be a maid at the feast, of course. And wouldn’t you know it? His new bride is their twelve year old daughter (most versions make Griselda ignorant of this fact). Griselda continues to keep her mouth shut during all of the awfulness, never complaining or objecting to how she’s been treated. At last, her husband decides that she is worthy in his eyes. He restores Griselda as his wife, reveals that their kids are alive, and they all get to live in luxury with him. Some reward.

Analysis: First of all I haaaaaaaate this story. HATE IT! Why am I covering it within this blog, you may ask? To share my hate. Embrace how irksome this tale is. Let it feed you. Let it help you rally for equality and against the powers that be, whether your fight is social, gender, or economic woes.

Blame it on the Victorians: You know the Victorians liked this story. They were all about a woman’s value being based around what their husbands deemed important. It’s strange that a society ruled by a queen was so closed minded. Anthony Trollope, one of the lesser known Victorian novelists to us Yanks, used the theme of Patient Griselda in one of his novels in order to make some thinly veiled social commentary.

Last thoughts: HATE IT!!! HATE IT, I SAY!!!

*If you want know any of the places where some of my research comes from, just contact me.

Resolution Follow-Up

Apparently, under the influence of New Year's Eve "merriment" I wrote myself a list of resolutions. I placed it in a sealed envelope with a note to myself not to open it until February 1st and see how how I've gotten on my goals. Honestly, I don't remember any of this and have no clue what I wrote down.

Here it goes.

Breaking the seal.

Unfolding the paper.

The writing is pretty shaky, but I can make it out.


Huh. Okay then. Mission accomplished.

In Defense of Sleeping Beauty

Brief History: The oldest version of this tale is a really disturbing Italian story called The Sun, the Moon, and Talia. Forget the gore of Grimm. Forget the petty villains of Perault. This is the worst of them. Readers beware. The Sun, the Moon, and Talia is about a young woman cursed by a piece of flax from a spindle which puts her into a death sleep. Sounds familiar so far, right. Then, a king shows up and is enchanted by her beauty. Still sounds like Sleeping Beauty, right. The king then, in the throws of lust and an obvious need to be thrown in jail, rapes her and leaves! Talia gives birth to twins which manage to suck the flax seed from her finger, thus waking her up. Then the necrophiliac returns, finds his victim awake with two kids, and decides he wants them to be his secret family. Problem is that he’s already married. His wife tries to murder Talia and the kids, only to be killed herself by the king (my question is, why not just kill the king? He’s the worst part of this!). Eventually, the French got ahold of this story and Talia is changed to some variant of Rose, the king is changed to a prince, and the king’s wife into an Ogre mother-in-law who tries to eat Sleeping Beauty and their two kids. The Germans then shortened it further, ending the story with the kiss and everyone waking from a century long nap to wonder why the prince would kiss a sleeping stranger who was probably covered in dust.

Analysis: I am going to focus on the later, less upsetting versions in order to make my defense. Sleeping Beauty usually tells of a girl who has been sheltered with little control in her own life. Her parents never seem to trust her enough to just tell her that she’s cursed. Her pricking her finger is a direct result of their lack of faith that she could handle the information in the first place. Remember, parents. Talk to your kids about sleeping curses before it’s too late.

Blame it on the Victorians: Honestly, I’m just going to leave this one alone. Victorians want to switch out the full-on awful of the earliest versions for a non-consensual kiss, that’s fine. It's not great, but it's fine.

Last thoughts: I need a Disney movie.

*If you want know any of the places where some of my research comes from, just contact me.

In Defense of the Juniper Tree

Brief History: Raise your hand if you’ve read this one? Okay, about five of you. Good. The history of the folklore behind this story is complicated and disputed. Just believe me when I say the Brothers Grimm picked it up from . . . someplace or another. And as far as Grimm themes go, this is a doozy. A woman, possibly under the influence of the devil, murders the stepson she’d been abusing. She does this by dropping the lid of a heavy chest on his head when he reaches for an apple (side note: Real life Frankish Queen Fredegund tried to kill one of her kids by similar means in the 6th century, but that might be a coincidence). She then feeds him to her unknowing husband and lets her daughter take the blame. The guilt ridden daughter puts what is left of her brother under a tree in the yard (sometimes an almond tree instead of a juniper tree) and he comes back as a bird. In his new winged form, the stepson sings of the crimes done to him while bestowing gifts to his father and sister. Finally, he drops a millstone on the stepmother and, with her death, he is brought back to life. His father, a clueless idiot, then announces that he and his children will be just fine. And the three walk away from the dust cloud surrounding his wife’s crushed corpse in the yard. Because that’s a happy ending apparently.

Analysis: This story has been analyzed to death by academics. You can focus on the cannibalism, the child abuse, the Biblical themes, but I’m going to focus on the sister (and a little bit on the cannibalism). Unlike stories where the stepsister/favored child acorn does not fall far from the wicked tree (i.e. Cinderella, The Faeries, etc.), the daughter feels legitimate remorse.  Marlinchen (or Margery) is a little girl who was too afraid to warn her stepfather that he’s eating his own son, but she is the one who starts a cycle of kindness towards her brother. Granted, everyone else is kind to him after he’s been devoured and changed into a bird, but better late than never?

Blame it on the Victorians: This one was too dark, even from the morbid loving Victorians. As the decades went by the story got tamer. The devil plays a more obvious role in the Stepmother’s actions. The abuse is downplayed. And, most notably, the little boy stew was removed. By the 1920s, it was standard to censor the cannibalism.

Last thoughts: Seriously! How dumb was his father? The song the boy-bird sings says, “My mother slew me, my father ate me”. But nope. He was just happy to get a gold chain out of the deal.

*If you want know any of the places where some of my research comes from, just contact me.

In Defense of Hansel and Gretel

Brief History: Time for another popular one. This German ditty came from the wife of Wilhelm Grimm. A starving couple decides to lead their children into the woods and leave them there to die. Some historians and folklorists think this could be based off the Great Famine of the fourteenth century when Europeans were so hungry and desperate they killed their children out of mercy. The kids in this story try to outsmart Mom and Dad’s amazing parenting skills with a trail of pebbles, but their parents catch-on and take them even further into the woods the next day. Hansel tries to leave breadcrumbs, but you know how well that worked. They find the famed house of gingerbread where a kind old lady gives them diabetes inducing treats. The next morning, she is revealed to be a witch – dun dun dun! The witch’s favorite snack is fat little boys so she locks up Hansel in a cage and feeds him constantly. Side note: the idea of people resorting cannibalism is also something reported to have happened during the Great Famine. Gretel is made to be the witch’s slave. There’s a lot of trying to trick the witch into thinking that Hansel isn’t getting any fatter and the witch underestimating Gretel’s intelligence. In the end, Gretel tricks the witch into the oven, the kids find pearls in her house, and they go back home to find out that their mother died. Of course, I’m sure bringing home pearls guaranteed that he wouldn’t try to abandon them in the woods anymore.

Analysis: I could go on and on about both of the parents. But I’m going to just focus on the women of the story. Let’s start with the less-than-motherly mom and the child-eating witch. Both are introduced as characters the children should trust and both try to kill them. In the case of the mother, this is yet another example of filicide, which is a common theme in fairy tales. Why is it a common theme? Maybe it's better not to think too hard about history on that one. The witch is a little more unique. She fits more into the fears and superstitions of Europe’s past with her trickery and more importantly how she lives in the middle of the forest. People on the outskirts of society were always the first to be accused of dark deeds in the midst of a witch craze. When creating the fairy tale, the witch had to fit the stereotype or the “stranger danger” would have been less cultural. Lastly, Gretel. Even though Hansel uses most of the story attempting to keep his sister safe, in the end she had to rescue them both. This was also a more common theme than most realize. It was often left to the sister to save the family from magical problems.

Blame it on the Victorians: Englebert Humperdinck (real name, not made up) wrote an opera based on Hansel and Gretel which downplayed a lot of the nasty bits. The children are no longer abandoned by their parents, instead getting lost on their own. Despite help from the sandman and a fairy, the kids still end up in the clutches of the witch (who in this version turns children into gingerbread before eating them). This was performed in English for the people of Great Britain and made this kinder interpretation more popular. Some stories also changed the mother into yet another wicked stepmother.

Last thoughts: In best Bugs Bunny voice: Hansel? Hansel?

*If you want know any of the places where some of my research comes from, just contact me.