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.

"EAT MORE CURRY"

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.

In Defense of the Snow Queen

Brief History: This is not an oral tale passed down from generation to generation then collected by some writer in the 1800s. This was a story created from the mind of Hans Christian Andersen. But despite being original it still is categorized as a fairy tale. It’s possibly one of the longest tales you will find in Andersen’s collection so I will try to keep this brief. The devil shatters a mirror over the earth, a piece of which falls into the eye of Kai, a little boy whose grandmother was constantly telling him and his best friend Gerda about staying away from the Snow Queen. However, with the splinter of mirror in his eye, Kai turns into a little brat and pretty much runs away with the Snow Queen first chance he gets. Gerda goes after him, being the only person in their city who doesn’t think he died. She gets both tricked and helped by a lady of eternal summer, a princess with a boyfriend that looks like Kai, a little robber girl, a reindeer named Bae (Andersen made it cool first), a Lapland woman, a Finnish woman, and a bunch of angels. I told you it’s a long story. When she finds the Snow Queen’s palace, Kai is busy doing a puzzle which he was told would earn him freedom and a pair of skates. Being a little kid with no memory of where he was from, he probably wanted the skates more. Gerda’s tears and love melts the mirror shard in Kai. They solve the puzzle and go home. When they finally make it back to the city, they are all grown up, but still “childlike”.

Analysis: I both loved and hated this story as a kid. All of the adventure through the seasons and Gerda constantly finding ways around the different obstacles made me happy. Then that ending. I could not stand it that the Snow Queen had basically stolen their childhood! As a kid who never wanted to grow up, it made me seriously rethink my plans of going on any sort of a fantasy adventure. And it’s interesting that Andersen would choose this ending as well. From what I understand, Andersen did not get along very well with adults at the best of times. For example, he asked the Swedish opera star, Jenny Lind, to marry him more than once. Lind, who probably found him understandably awkward, declined each time. Some historians think that the “icy hearted” bitch of a Snow Queen was based on Jenny Lind.* But how could that be? Writers never paint negative images of their exes in their stories. Nuh uh. Never ever.

Blame it on the Victorians: This story had a lot of obvious Christian values throughout. Gerda uses her faith to get her through many of the dangers and Kai’s grandmother quotes a Bible verse here or there. Besides that, something interesting about this story is that the children come from a city, not a medieval village or a dark forest. It has a contemporary setting which changes into a fairy tale world. This would have changed the moral uses for it slightly in the eyes of the Victorian readers in the midst of the industrial revolution. Andersen became extremely popular through stories like this. Of course, I also blame the Victorians nostalgia for childhood, yet belief that children should grow up as soon as they could work or marry on the ending.

Last thoughts: No, this isn’t like the Disney movie. Let it go!

*Side note: Lind actually gave a lot of charity concerts before doing nice things just for publicity was a trend, so I'd like to think that she wasn't an icy hearted bitch.

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

A Short Holiday Scene (featuring Krampus)

Background: The character of Fable Skelly is part of series that will be released by Five Smiling Fish in the coming years. The series revolves around an immortal trapped in the form of a sixteen year old girl. She was the former minion of an ancient, obsolete goddess who manipulates her life at every turn. The task of keeping Fable from falling back under the control of her old boss has been given to Riley Carter, an idealistic seventeen year old. Riley Carter considers forcing the anti-social Fable to interact with other people as a part of his responsibility. This scene is from a holiday story in-which Riley and his best friend, Todd, have convinced Fable to come along to a large family gathering at a house in the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff, Arizona. Enjoy and happy Kram— I mean St. Nicholas Day!

                Tossing my coat at me, Riley called into the kitchen, “Mom, we’re going for a walk.”

                “Stay warm,” the woman yelled back, “and be back before lunch.”

                Todd started to bundle himself, circling his neck with a thick scarf and struggling to pull on gloves.

                As I buttoned my own coat, I eyed him critically. “Seriously? It’s not that cold outside.”

                He pulled another jacket over the one he was already wearing, making the movement of his arms difficult. “Maybe not for you. You’ve lived all over the world. But I was born and raised in Phoenix and that out there is the white stuff of my nightmares. Plus, if we’re going to be eaten by a monster, I’m dying while warm.”

                “Good. Because you aren’t going to be able to run very far dressed like.” Riley slapped his buddy on the shoulder, nearly toppling him over.

                After another two minutes of Todd reassembling his outfit into something with more mobility, we trekked outside. Pine and dirt tickled my nose. Philos ran out ahead of us, rolling his furry body in the white powder. Standing back on all fours, he shook the wet from his back and grinned at me.

                “At least someone is having fun,” Todd mournfully stated. He watched miserably as his own breath clouds dispersed around him.

                We walked a little further and Phil skipped ahead of us with glee. By the time we had caught up, the large dog had frozen in his tracks. His fur bristled as a tall, broad shouldered man stepped out from behind a tree. He wore an expensive, well-tailored suit with a bright red tie under a wool trench coat. His cheeks glowed a cheery pink over the top of his white beard.

                “Nicholas,” I groaned. “What are you doing here?”

                Riley took his place at my side, tense and ready for a conflict. “Nicholas?”

                “Yes. Saint Nicholas.” As I said the name, my dog stopped his attack stance and sat in the snow at attention.

                Nick held out his hand for Riley to shake. “Riley Carter. It is very good to meet you my boy.”

                Riley’s eyes grew wide. Of all the mythical creatures he’d learned of, this was the first time I saw a twinkle within his iris. “You too, Mr. Claus.”

                The snow crunched. From behind the same tree emerged a monster, matted fur covered most of his body. He walked on a pair of goat legs and carried a birch switch and a chain in his human-like hands. Two impressive horns protruded from the top of his brown head as he turned his squinted eyes upon me. A long, forked tongue pointed at me and he chuckled.

                Todd gawked at the bow legs of the creature. “What is that?”

                “Krampus,” I explained. “From Europe. It used to be his job to punish the naughty children while Nick rewarded the good, but he got dropped from tradition for a while.”

                “What is he doing here?” Riley nervously wondered, glancing back at the house full of young cousins.

                “Renewed interests in the Krampus has permitted him to begin accompanying me once again,” Nick added. “It cuts down on my work load in certain parts of the world.”

                The furry creature stooped a little, the basket upon his back tilting when he moved.  He licked his long tongue around the outer part of his lips. His wide eyes ogled Riley and Todd with excitement.  He started to burble in his awful grunts, spit flying from his mouth.

                Nick translated.  “He says the boys have lustful thoughts and he would like to beat them with his birch switch.”

                Both of the guys shifted uncomfortably and took a step back.  I set my hands upon my hips and stared down the Krampus.  “No.  You may not beat them.”

                The monster began to blurt another series of babbles which ended in a raspberry.

                “Of course they have lustful thoughts! They're teenage boys!” I explained.

                “They're both pretty good kids. Either way, that isn't the reason why we are here.” Nicholas motioned for me to come nearer to him.

                “Why are you here?” I repeated. “Your saint day was weeks ago.”

                “There are a lot of frightened children in that house and I have power from my saint day to the twelfth night. That was the deal, remember.”

                “Okay, fine. Then why is he here?” I pointed at the Krampus who circled Todd and Riley again with his switch menacingly slapping his palm.

                Nick gave me a withered expression. “We were on our way to a holiday party. I’m his d.d.”

                “Are you kidding me?”

                “You want a drunk Krampus wandering around, then you keep criticizing me, young woman.” He straightened his coat as if it would retain his dignity.

                “Don’t you ‘young lady’ me. I’m older than you. And I’m handling this. Whatever is going on in that house isn’t something sugar plums will solve.”

                The saint stiffened a little and adjusted his leather gloves. “Very well. We’ll be off.” He whistled and Krampus stopped short. He had been hovering behind the pair of young men, his tongue inching closer to a wincing Todd’s ear.

                With a disappointed grunt, he trudged through the snow towards Nicholas. He only paused briefly to give me an awkward kiss on top of my hair.

                With a roll of my eyes, I watched him rejoin Nick. “I missed you too, I guess,” I told him with a smirk.

                The two Christmas characters started to move back out of sight, and then paused. Nicholas tossed a pear at me.  The firm peel felt cool and dry against my palms as I caught the fruit.

                Touching a finger to his nose, he gave me a grin. “If you do need us, let me know. Happy Christmas.”

                This time, I did let myself smile. None of us spoke until Nick and Krampus had vanished. Then I heard a yip and saw Todd jump a little. “Holy crap! That was Santa Claus! I knew he was real!”

                I tilted my head at him. “Why did you believe in Santa Claus? You’re Jewish.”

                “Just let him have this,” Riley softly chided, a warm smile refusing to fall from his face.

 

Some words of Holiday Cheer from Mrs. Claus

Hello dearies,

                I want to wish you all the merriest of—

                You know what. I can’t. I just can’t. I’m so sick of this sunshine and candy canes b.s. The holidays are hard. Everyone knows that they are hard. I’m going pour myself another glass of Fireball eggnog and get a few things off of my apron wearing chest.

                First of all, women will sometimes ask me, “How do you do it? I can’t even get my husband to take out the trash? How do you get that jolly fat man off of his jolly fat butt and to stay motivated enough for building toys and checking his list?”

                My husband works one night a year. Who do you think does everything else the other 364 days? I check the list. I bake cookies. I compromise contracts with the head of the elf union (and that Sprinkle-Toes is a shrewd negotiator). You want to trade lives and be constantly depicted as frumpy little old lady in a Thanksgiving parade, be my guest!

                This brings me to my next complaint. You know I’m actually quite healthy and thin, especially for my age. It’s not easy to keep this figure in the third century of your life, but I manage it. But no, they always get these chubby, grandmother types to play me in movies. I don’t even own a single ruffled nightcap or holiday themed dress. I have one green dress which I wear on Christmas Eve and that is it. If I wore velvet and holly all the year round, it would like never being able to take off your work clothes. My husband does wear his red suit a lot, but I’ll let you in on a secret. Those are actually his pajamas.

                Here is my true message of holiday cheer. Be cheerful when all of the madness is done. Don’t be asshats. Remember, this time of year is hard for everyone, even those of us who prep for it all year long.

Yours,

Mrs. Claus

In Defense of the Gingerbread Man

Brief History: This is a take on a story that exists in a few different cultures. It always involves sentient food which mocks then tries to escape all who eat it. Eventually, this food gets cocky and ends up chopped anyway (usually by an animal which less-than-cleverly tricks it like a fox). Whether it be gingerbread man, pancake, dumpling, or Johnny cake, the history behind this story is vague. Traditionally, it is meant to be tale passed from women to children, a fact most like to imagine in a homey kitchen setting.

Analysis: I confess, I never really liked this story so I’m not so much defending it as I am just explaining it. If you really want to be deep with it, you can think of the woman baking the gingerbread man and accidentally giving him life as being some sort of metaphor for childbirth. But I feel like this just leads to gross jokes. So, let’s just go with, aww look at the annoying cookie.

Blame it on the Victorians: This story is super Victorian - as in the most popular versions weren’t written down until the 1870s. It is oh-so quaint and the morals are a rather loose. “Hey, look! That cookie came to life and is taunting us! Well, we are British! None taunt us! Bite his little Gingerbread head off!”

Last thoughts: The Stinky Cheese Man by Jon Scieszka is a far superior version to the original.

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

In Defense of Rapunzel

Brief History: The earliest stories which are attributed to inspiring Rapunzel are of girls named after plants and stuck in towers. The most well-known is of course: pregnant woman craves radish, husband steals radish from witch (because apparently bartering isn’t that big of a thing in their village), witch takes baby as punishment. We all know it was just an excuse because she wanted a kid, which she then names after the said radishes. Rapunzel is placed in a tower when she hits puberty and her hair grows long enough for the witch to climb up, making a door for the tower obsolete. A prince hears her singing one day and tricks Rapunzel into throwing down her hair for him. Seeing he is not her witchy mom, Rapunzel is scared at first, but the prince keeps coming back until they eventually shack up. The witch, realizing Rapunzel’s clothes aren’t fitting and the her daughter is saying suspicious things like, “You’re so much lighter than—“, the witch punishes the couple by sending Rapunzel and the twins she’s preggers with to a desert. She also blinds the prince. Then there are some blind wanderings, some magic tears, and a happily ever after.

Analysis: So much mental abuse! So much! And Rapunzel never learns who her real parents are except in later versions of the story. Still, Rapunzel seems to want more. She understands that there’s a world outside of the tower that her “mother” won’t let her see and that the prince is a way to see it all. She’s naïve and scared, but she’s willing to go with him. I will also give the prince credit. He declares he “loves” Rapunzel almost immediately, but he doesn’t really make a move until he’s come to see her several times. He’s slightly more respectful than some other fairy tale princes… although he did fool her in order to sneak into her bedroom in the first place. Hmm. Now I'm torn.

Blame it on the Victorians: Towers are a metaphor for the lives of middle and upper class Victorian women! I know you’re rolling your eyes at this blog right now and the word “pretentious” is probably at the edge of your lips, but hear me out. Women of the upper class especially had to be perfect. The expectations of them were high, yet degrading. They were supposed to aspire to be damsels. The tower was supposed to be the safe place and as long as they had a husband, all was right with the world. The whole idea of a medieval lady in distress comes from this time and fairy tales were a great way to hammer that idea of being helpless and demure into a young lady's brain early. Suffragettes preferred images of Joan of Arc over fairy tales for this reason. She was still the medieval woman, portrayed as classically beautiful. However, she was a bad ass. She didn't need a tower or a prince. She had her own sword, damn it! Wait, where was I going with this?

Last thoughts: How good does conditioner have to be in order to withstand the weight of a grown man?

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

3 Movies that Need a Thanksgiving Special

Christmas gets all the good stuff. Oh sure, occasionally you get an entertaining Halloween short to go along with one of your favorite movies (I confess that I own Scared Shrekless on DVD), but what does Thanksgiving get? One Charlie Brown short and a parade which ends with the Jolly Fat Man anyway. Society is always in such a hurry to get to the holiday season that November just gets grazed over. I know that Thanksgiving is based around more legend than truth (look it up) and, yes, I know it was only made a federal holiday in order to keep up morale during the Civil War (also true), but why doesn't Hollywood give it a little love. Give this turkey and cornucopias a chance, just to let autumn last a little longer.

Here are three suggestions for Thanksgiving TV specials.

Star War Thanksgiving Special

It would take place on Jakku (because everyone wants to go back to Jakku, right?) where scavengers and the lowlifes who buy their goods come together for one special, peaceful day to eat dehydrated bread. There would singing and cameos and possibly a random cartoon short in the middle for no reason. And it would all be awful. Just plain awful. So awful that Disney would then try to bury it, only to then have it resurface ten years later as a cult classic. A whole generation will remember it fondly due to the fact that they were too young to realize just how bad it was in the first place.

Halloween: Michael Meyers's Thanksgiving Reunion

Oh come on! This totally writes itself. Laurie has fallen into a false sense of security as it has been almost a month since her attentive big brother tried to kill her. As she prepares to feast with whatever friends and family remain from the previous attack, the night will slowly reveal each guest at the dinner being rather creatively bumped off. So many carving utensils. Death by stuffing sounds like a good way to go. In the end, it would all turn out to be an attempt by Michael to show Laurie just how grateful he is for her. To do this, he will present her with a table centerpiece made from her most recent boyfriend's head, because there has to be a heartwarming ending.

An Avengers Thanksgiving

This would mostly be a lot of awkward, drunken conversations between Iron Man and the rest of the team eventually leading to some sort of collateral damage. But imagine the kind of food Stark would order in! Hulk mash...potatoes!

 

In Defense of Beauty and the Beast

Brief History:  It’s French. Super French. Even if it’s not French originally, the French have claimed it. It’s theirs now. There are other similar stories from other cultures, but this one belongs to France. The most popular version is the simple one: merchant wants a rose for his only unselfish child, Beast locks up dad, Beast locks up Beauty in order to let Dad go, they have a very awkward dinner every night, and finally she saves the Beast with love (after almost killing him in the first place). This was the version Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont and Andrew Lang wrote down. They both based it off a story by an entirely different French person, Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, whose version includes a lot of confusing backstory. Some argue that all of this was inspired by Petrus Gonsalvus, a man who suffered from that condition where hair constantly grows on your face and body. He, by the way, was not French, but was living in France when he met his wife.

Analysis: As a child, I loved this story. This was partially Disney’s fault in creating a heroine who read more than I did. This was also partially a pretentious predisposition to prove that looks truly did not matter. Overall, this is another story where the main character is both victim and hero. She is courageous and kind, but she isn’t desperate to make everyone around her happy. Beauty puts up with a lot from her brothers and sisters and then gets dumped in the castle. By the time Beast is trying to win her over, she must have been pretty fed up. She isn’t willing to bend to his will or marry him right away simply because she is his prisoner. There is some part of her that still wants to be defiant. This becomes a central theme in the famous La Belle et la Bête film by Jean Cocteau (Disney stole from this, by the way).

Blame it on the Victorians: Modern illustrations always give the Beast a human look. He’s an animal, but his face isn’t quite like any animal you can name. He walks on two legs and eats with a spoon. You wouldn’t see him at the zoo. However, Victorian illustrations usually just put clothes on a walrus or warthog or lion and called it a day. Here’s where it’s going to get gross. When the Beast is humanized, you think, “Eh, Beauty isn’t stupid. Some part of her has probably figured out that he’s a human under a spell”. But when you look at a picture of Beauty crying over a dying mammoth that you feel looks more like her pet than her would-be husband, the idea of her confessing her love for him is…as I said, kinda gross. If he never changed into a prince, they would have had some truly horrifying children.

Last thoughts: Insert Stockholm Syndrome joke here                               

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

In Defense of Bluebeard

Brief History: I told you I’d come back to this topic. Bluebeard is the gruesome, yet oddly satisfying French story of a young woman who marries a wealthy, mysterious lord. Within a short time, she discovers that he has laid a trap to test her obedience to him. He piques her curiosity of a locked room before leaving her alone for the afternoon. Within, she finds the bodies of his former wives and that his cleaning staff doesn’t know how to get clotted blood out of anything. There are a few theories of where this delightful tale comes from, but most popular is it being an adaptation on the French serial killer, Giles de Rais. De Rais had been a medieval war hero who supposedly snapped and murdered over a hundred young boys on his lands. Historians have disputed whether these murders took place or were just a fabricated excuse to take away de Rais's land. Still, the fact remains that sometime after he became infamous, so did Bluebeard.

Analysis: Even though this is, at its core, a story of punishment for female curiosity, the fact that the main character lives suggests some deeper thinking. Instead of marrying for love, the protagonist seems to be a realist. She agreed to be with Bluebeard because he could provide her a better life, making her more practical than most fairy tale heroines. And when she finds out that her new husband is psychotic, she tries to stall his murderous hand until her brothers are scheduled to visit. Although, it was super convenient that her brothers were a dragoon and a musketeer. And in the end, she gets all loot and land Bluebeard owned. She becomes a woman of power and means by surviving brutal attack. Also convenient, yet, as I said before, oddly satisfying.

Blame it on the Victorians: Victorians, for all of their prim, proper hypocritical rules, really loved the morbid. They were fascinated with spiritualists and graphic murder. Some historians argue that many murders were wrongly classified until Victorian society got a predisposition for reading about it in the paper. Because, remember, female sensibilities can’t handle voting without fainting, but let’s all read about Jack the Ripper at breakfast. Naturally, a fairy tale that wraps female suppression and gore into a nice, neat package was right up their alley. Plays called pantomimes of Bluebeard were fairly common (often preformed at Christmas time, because why not). The discovery of the wives was usually played by a bunch of actresses standing with their heads peeking through holes in a sheet to make it look as if they’d lost their bodies. For some reason, this story would become less popular with audiences after the Victorian era. No clue as to why.

Last thoughts: Blood is bad for the carpet.

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

In Defense of Snow White and Rose Red

Brief History: Snow White and Rose Red was one of my favorite fairy tales when I was about five years old. This story really doesn’t have a lot of other versions and the Brothers Grimm were the first known people to write it down. For those of you unfamiliar, let me give a brief synopsis. First of all, no, it is not a sequel or prequel to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Apparently, that’s just a popular name in the fairy tale world. These two girls lived in the woods with their mom and two rose trees (one red, one white – get it?). Not sure what mom did for a living that they lived in the woods, but I digress. They take in a talking bear for the winter, because why not? When spring comes around, the bear leaves saying he has business to attend to (no toilet paper commercial jokes please) and Snow White and Rose Red go about their daily lives. Then, they keep running into a nasty little dwarf in danger and each time the girls rescue him, then are verbally abused for their troubles. In the end, the talking bear shows up, kills the dwarf, and turns into a prince, explaining that the little man had enchanted him in order to steal royal treasure.

Analysis: First off all, what were the circumstances that the prince was turned into a bear in the first place? Was he just wandering through the dark forest with a sack of jewels and no entourage? Seriously, where were his guards when this mean dwarf transmogrified him into a grizzly?

Second, the way the girls would to play with the bear involved a lot of rough housing. There’s a rhyme in the story that usually goes something like “Snow White, Rosy Red, Will you beat your lover dead?” You know, on second thought, I’m not going to analyze that. Moving on.

Lastly, the bond between the sisters is a large part of the story. They get along without any sibling rivalries, despite Snow White being sweet and gentle while Rose Red is a little wilder. A lot of fairy tales and folk tales have a theme of drama between sisters over men or how they are treated by the parents. Usually when siblings were close it was because a brother or brothers had been turned into some kind of animal while the sister had to face many tribulations in order to be the savior. In Snow White and Rose Red, the girls just love each other unconditionally because, other than their mom, they were all they had. It’s weirdly sweet for a fairy tale.

Blame it on the Victorians: Not much to complain of here except for the fact that most Victorians illustrations depict the sisters as being young children, somewhere between ten and twelve years old. Yet at the end, they marry the prince and his brother, whose ages are never stated and rarely illustrated in Victorian children’s books. When they are included in the illustrations, both princes always look a little old for the two girls.

Last thoughts: If I came across a little man with his beard caught in a fishing lure, I’d probably have trimmed his beard too.

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

Cheesy Ghost Movies for Kids that Can Appeal to Adults part 4

Cheesy Ghost Movies for Kids that Can Appeal to Adults part 4

1. Canterville Ghost

My favorite ghost movies (meant for kids) which I watched as a kid! There are many versions of this Oscar Wilde satirical short story, but I’m going to focus on the two that I watched the most when I was very young. Both of these versions kept the original idea of the story which is the friendship of a girl/young lady could save a bitter old ghost from restlessness. They also both included the famous blood stain that refuses to be cleaned up (Creepy? Yes? No? Yes.).

The first is the 1940s version which completely rewrites the story in order to create World War II propaganda. Charles Laughton was a cowardly lord cursed to haunt his ancestral home until a “kinsman could do brave deed” for him. Like in the original short story, he becomes a famous ghost through practice, frightening the crud out of his descendants for centuries until he meets six year old Lady Jessica (played by Margaret O’Brien) and U.S. army private Cuffy Williams. Yep. I said Cuffy. Both are his distant relatives and both are trying to do their part for the war effort (remember to buy war bonds in the lobby). The frights of this this film end early on, being replaced by jokes about the cultural differences of two English speaking countries, another shout-out to Wilde’s commentary in the original story. The British characters are all the “stiff upper lip” sort, while the Americans are all loud and brash. The greatest line involves a country dance where Lady Jessica’s aunt comments that she believes the swing style is known as “woogie boogie”. Overall, kids enjoy this version for the scene of chasing a blockbuster bomb through British fields and the ghost spitting at his family portraits, while adults . . . usually enjoy it for the same reasons.

The other version that was dear to my heart in childhood was the 1986 TV version starring Alyssa Milano and Sir John Gielgud. This one is closer Wilde’s short story but changes the setting to something more contemporary. Sir Simon (Gielgud) was a prideful lord whose selfishness leads to the accidental deaths of his wife and daughter. As a result, his wife’s family killed him and, just like in the other version, he went on to be one of the most famous ghosts in England. Enter Jennifer, an American whose father and new step-mother move her into Sir Simon’s home where everything he does to scare the parents gets blamed on her. But of course, all of this is biting Sir Simon in the ass because Jennifer holds the key to releasing him from his ghostly existence. For kids now-a-days, they can associate with Milano’s issues with her parents and school, as well as laugh at some of the 80s-tastic elements like the ghost listening to a Walkman. For adults, many of the so-called “scary” scenes become funny and somehow that makes the move more endearing as it gets older.

Part that was legitimately disturbing as both a kid and an adult: In the Charles Laughton version, the most upsetting part was that his own father walls him up alive in order to kill him. No one really says too much about how awful his death was and the fact that it was HIS OWN DAD WHO DID IT TO HIM!

In the John Gielgud version, a paranormal investigator manages to temporarily call forth Sir Simon’s wife. She keeps whispering Simon’s name in an utterly creepy voice. Every time I watch that scene, it freaks me out a little and feels like it will never end.

Honorable mention:

Hocus Pocus because no one in that was a ghost in the traditional sense save for little Emily who only had two lines. The witches are, as I understand it, resurrected “from under the ground” so they’re technically zombies. Billy Butcherson – zombie. And Thackery Binx is an immortal cat and technically didn’t die. So I stand by my honorable mention.

 

Cheesy Ghost Movies for Kids that Can Appeal to Adults Part 3

Cheesy Ghost Movies for Kids that Can Appeal to Adults part 3

5. Tower of Terror

This made-for-TV Disney film meant to promote the opening of the ride in Florida was actually written by young adult author D.J. MacHale, who was also a writer for Are You Afraid of the Dark. For those who are unfamiliar with the plot, it’s similar to that of the ride with some added detail. A young starlet similar to Shirley Temple is present for the grand opening of the Hollywood Tower Hotel. She, her nanny, a singer (who some may recognize as Jan from The Office), a man in a tuxedo, and the bellhop all vanish when their elevator is struck by lightning and plummets. Decades later, a tabloid journalist (played by Steve Guttenberg for reasons I don’t fully understand) and his niece (played by Kirsten Dunst who dresses in this movie pretty much exactly like I did in 1997) are asked to look into the disappearances by a mysterious elderly lady. The story goes on from there with the usual slapstick sidekicks and silly paranormal interactions. You have to keep in mind that this was made by Disney. Then you get to the twist ending and your heart seizes up a little, even though you remind yourself that you are watching something from the Magical World of Disney in the 90s. It should not affect you emotionally. Oh and true to the ride, there are a lot of elevators falling.

Part that was legitimately disturbing as both a kid and an adult: Seriously, why Steve Guttenberg? Oh and that bit with the little girl singing “It’s Raining, It’s Pouring” while bathed in green light is pretty creepy.

4. Casper

You know you love it. We all loved it. The generation before mine got a kick out of it. The generation after mine has nostalgia from watching it on TV as toddlers. And my own generation enjoyed it for a number of reasons which I will spread throughout this entry. The plot was pretty simplistic, lonely and abused kid ghost Casper of Harvey Cartoon fame tricks a ghost psychologist played by Bill Pullman to move into his home. Pullman’s character thinks he’s being hired to clear out the ghosts by the current devious owner and her Eric Idle sidekick who think there is treasure. In truth, this is all so Casper can become friends with his new crush the psychologist’s daughter Kat, played by Christina Ricci (who, once again, wore the same clothes I wore in 1995 minus the jean vests...yes, I liked jean vests). There were a lot of jokes in there for the children of the 80s with cameos by Ghostbuster Dan Ayckroyd and the Crypt Keeper, but it wasn’t until I was an adult that I truly appreciated a lot of the jokes about parenthood blatantly splashed around. Fans of slapstick and toilet humor loved Casper’s obnoxious uncles while the rest of us had Kat’s sarcastic one-liners to keep us amused. Then there was the factor which makes some uncomfortable. So many people my age quote this as being one of the movies that made them realize puberty had begun. For me, it was when Devon Sawa came down those stairs and asked Christina Ricci if he could keep her. I admit that my eleven year old self actually swooned, which was a new experience for me. Looking back on it now, his question to her was a little creepy and possessive especially because they were only supposed to by twelve. I also still listen to the soundtrack sometimes.

Part that was legitimately disturbing as both a kid and an adult: Underneath it all, they turned the silly cartoon about a ghost who just couldn’t catch a break in the friend department into an honestly sad story. They turned him into a little boy who sticks around after death so his father won’t be lonely. That same father dies with the obsession of wanting to bring Casper back to life. But why didn’t his dad become a ghost? If he was that devoted to his son, why didn’t he stick around after death to return the favor? That upsets me more than anything else in this movie and always has.

3. Corpse Bride

Based on a Jewish folktale, most people have seen this bittersweet love triangle of a bride unjustly killed, a young woman trying to get some happiness away from her miserable parents, and a young man who struggles to fight for what he really wants. I confess that I was actually an adult (legally, not mentally) when this film came out, but I can still see it from a child’s perspective. As it is Tim Burton, all of the main stop-motion characters have giant eyes and long necks, but the myriad of supporting characters provide a great deal of variety. What I loved best about this was that, despite the nastiness of the villain and the mysterious horror surrounding the bride Emily’s death, the story goes to great lengths to make death less scary. It’s a kid’s movie, after all. You want children who are dealing with loss to think that their loved ones are having a party somewhere and, if they could come back to Earth, their first action would be to visit the people they left. It’s a nice thought, no matter your age.

Part that was legitimately disturbing as both a kid and an adult: “Can a heart still break once it’s stopped beating?” You shut up, bad guy!

2. Paranorman

Again, I was grown when this movie came out, but I wanted it on the list. This is an obvious message about bullying. As far as modern kids movies go, Paranorman does it’s best to show a modern, inclusive world where people don’t seem to always realize how much of a problem bullying still is. Norman is a boy who can talk to ghosts, a power he is very well-adjusted about, but no one else really believes in or wants to get behind. He lives in a small, New England town where they make all of their tourism money from a famous witch’s curse legend. It has a lot of humor pointed at adults and meant to go over kids’ heads, but is still full of the sort of silly, physical jokes children like. The zombies are very funny, yet give you a bit of a scare simultaneously. The standard angry mob is ridiculous enough to keep youngsters watching from thinking that all rational adults would turn on them if they were fighting a witch. Although, the twist at the end is fairly heartbreaking and would have probably been a little heavy for me if I’d seen Paranorman when I was small.

Part that was legitimately disturbing as both a kid and an adult: My mom hates this movie because of the twist. I cry each time I watch the twist. However, the most disturbing, yet brilliant part of the twist is how it drives home the anti-bullying message in an even better way through a reference to a historical truth. Don’t believe me? Look up Docas Good of Salem.

Cheesy Ghost Movies for Kids that Can Appeal to Adults part 2

Cheesy Ghost Movies for Kids that Can Appeal to Adults part 2

8. Restless Spirits

Another made-for-TV Canadian “masterpiece” for kids, this one had a historical background and a more realistic teenage protagonist. Made in the late 90s and starring Marsha Mason as a no-nonsense grandma, it’s about Katie, a girl who still harbors bitterness over her father’s death from years earlier. She, her little brother, and the crush-worthy neighbor boy (the 90s were a magical time for standardized romantic tropes) discover the ghosts of Charles Nungesser and François Coli. The spirits are based on two pilots who really did vanish off the coast of Newfoundland in the 1920s. For the most part, the movie is an adventure tale of the kids trying to salvage the wrecked plane so the ghosts can finally finish their flight. The Canadian government is after them and locals try to stop their plans, blah, blah, blah. But Katie’s part in it all focuses more on how we don’t always completely move on from death and how sometimes when a kid acts out, even they don’t know the reason for it.

Part that was legitimately disturbing as both a kid and an adult: The Canadian government is coming for me if I try to help ghosts!

7. Amazing Mr. Blunden

I doubt most of you have heard of this one. It was directed in 1972 by Lionel Jeffries (Grandpa Potts from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) and was based on a now equally obscure book simply called Ghosts. First of all, in case you haven’t already noticed, this movie was super British. Not just the language and plot, but the production values have a certain look like the film is somehow slowly dying in front of you. This look could only mean it was filmed in the UK before the BBC got its budget. The story is part ghosts-part time travel, where a pair of children want to rescue a different set of children who died a century earlier. This includes a lot of the signatures of a paranormal mystery which have since become cliché. Tropes such as surprise names on gravestones, adults that just won’t listen (specifically the titular Mr. Blunden), and the anniversary of a tragedy. Mr. Blunden is really more of a secondary character, but a major theme by the third act is his guilt over the past. I really liked this movie as a kid. As an adult, there are parts which are a little difficult not to focus on like that fact that some of the actors’ lip sync is off and the time travel stuff doesn’t make a lot of sense. Still, this is a descent film that was one of the earliest ideas of a ghost story meant make adults rethink dismissing childhood “fanciful tales”.

Part that was legitimately disturbing as both a kid and an adult: The children who are fated to die are at the mercy of their selfish uncle, “childlike” new aunt, and her wicked parents. The aunt is a former dancehall girl who speaks in baby talk and whines when things aren’t about her. There was a particularly strange scene where she comes down the stairs softly singing about her new dress to her niece, unaware that her mother was just abusing the girl a second before. As an adult, I want to smack the aunt.

6. Haunted Mansion

I know, I know. This movie “bombed” at the box office. It’s one that most people catch on television, riddled with commercials, and realize that it wasn’t an awful film. If you love the Disney ride, you should at least appreciate this movie, whether you are a kid or an adult. For those who don’t know, it’s about workaholic dad played by Eddie Murphy bringing his family to a secluded bayou manor where their ghost host wants to get with Murphy’s wife. You should secretly love it. Secretly love it for Terrance Stamp saying “Hell” in a Disney movie (an honor formally reserved for Maleficent). Love it for the awkward graveyard scene which was pretty much identical to the ride. Love it for the fact that there is no logical reason why Madam Leota (played by Jennifer Tilly) and the singing busts are leftover when all other ghosts move on. If only the Hatbox Ghost could have been a character.

Part that was legitimately disturbing as both a kid and an adult: It wasn’t so much disturbing as it was just sad. The opening sequence gives hints to the death of a young woman in a mask while a party goes on in the ballroom. What looks like a hundred people in the mansion and no one knows that this woman is dying just a couple of rooms over. Of course, if they had saved her there would have been no plot. Damn story structure.

Cheesy Ghost Movies for Kids that Can Appeal to Adults part 1

Let's take a break from fairy tales for the next few weeks in order explore a topic our inner child might enjoy.

 

Criteria for this list: movie had to be intended primarily for children (so nothing like Beetlejuice or the 6th Sense) and had to have ghost as a major character or plot point (so no Hotel Transylvania or Scooby Doo). And please no one try to argue with me that original Ghostbusters is a kid’s movie! I’m splitting this list up throughout the month.

Some spoilers ahead.

 

10. Are you Afraid of the Dark?

      Okay, I know this was a television show and the acting within it was . . . not always easy to watch. But many of the stories of ghost children were the best. This show ran for a long time, so I’m only going talk about 2 episodes. The first is the Tale of the Lonely Ghost which was the first episode I ever saw (I skipped the pilot about the freaky clown). This episode was haunting because of the ghost’s backstory. She was a mute girl who essentially starved to death in her own house while her mother was away because of neighborhood bullies. As a kid watching, that was sad. As an adult watching, that is absolutely horrifying. Who were those bullies? I want to speak to their parents!

The other episode I will mention is the Tale of the Dream Girl, which I bring up because it was the basis for the 6th Sense. This one is less sad and more about coming to terms with death. As I said, M. Night borrowed this premise so I’m going to go ahead and give away the story. A teenager keeps seeing a beautiful ghost around his school and house, but his sister keeps trying to distract him from both the ghost and their mom’s sudden onset depression. As it turns out, the ghost was the teenager’s girlfriend. They died together in a car crash and, for some reason, he lost his memory when he started haunting his sister. What makes this so interesting is the fact that his sister tries to hold onto him and pretend that he’s still alive which gives an bittersweet take on the idea of not wanting to deal with death.

Part that was legitimately disturbing as both a kid and an adult: The general theme of Are of Afraid of the Dark ghost children episodes was that more people ignore ghost children. Won’t somebody think of the children?

9. Believe

This was a made-for-TV film about a pair of teens, played by Ricky Mabe and pre-24 Elisha Cuthbert, who are investigating the ghost of a woman who walks between their adjacent properties. The boy, Ben, is good at creating hoax ghosts and isn’t really a “believer”, but goes questing with his neighbor, Katherine, when he realizes that the see-though woman in his yard looks an awful lot like a portrait in his grandfather’s house. Plus, he has a crush on Katherine and I’m sure he thought he could convince her make-out in the midst of their paranormal research. Large parts of this are cheesy, but the ghost element is more of mystery handled through psychological reasoning as opposed to being just a scary, popcorn flick. That having been said, this title is just awful. Terrible, terrible title.

Part that was legitimately disturbing as both a kid and an adult: The misogynist bullying Katherine endures from other kids in their small town simply because her parents are dead. Oh and the ghost…I guess.

 

This list will continue throughout October. Comment below with what you agree or disagree with. :-)