In Defense of Morguase and Morgan le Fay

Brief History and Analysis (putting these together since this isn’t really a story): Arthurian legend can be hard as it’s essentially a form of mythology all of its own. The stories change based upon the region, the century, and whether the person telling the story was more supportive old British religions or Christianity. Still, I’ll try to make this explanation of this character as brief as possible. To begin with, she had different names early on like Anna and Belisent, but over time the stories gave her names closer to that of her sister, Morgan le Fay. Wait? What (those of you who didn’t watch Merlin or read Mists of Avalon are probably saying). Yep, King Arthur had two half-sisters and over time their stories were combined and re-written to try and make the legends less confusing. Morgan was usually the sorceress, the one who followed Merlin’s teachings and was constantly capturing the knights she had crushes on. She was really about destroying Camelot or her half-brother. She was just a powerful and selfish woman. Morguase was the power hungry, revenge seeking, mother of Mordred. She also learned from Merlin in some stories, but she is always the manipulative one and Morgan is the naive one. Mordred isn’t always Arthur’s son. In some stories he’s simply Morguage’s son that she raised to try for the thrown. Morgan le Fay practices black magic in many stories, but it’s this is about her personal gain and having the medieval equivalent of “sorry not sorry”.

Blame it on the Victorians:  Victorian and 19th Century Arthurian stories and novels were the start of writing out Morguase and focusing on Morgan le Fay. The trouble was that no one could decide whether she should be evil or good. Tennyson made her helpful. Twain made her wicked. She was simplified over centuries into a side character or the villain of all villains.

Final Thoughts: Okay, I have a confession. I never finished watching Merlin. I just knew Morguase was a character on the show. 

 

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In Defense of Maid Marion

 Brief History: Maid Marion (or Marian) of Robin Hood legend was a character added later in the stories (about 200 years later someone decided the story needed both a female and religious character so she and Friar Tuck were added). Even in the earliest oral tales of the merry men, Marion got a few of her own stories as all of the characters did. Originally, she was a commoner, usually a shepherdess, but as the ballads became more about fooling the aristocracy, Marion also became a noblewoman. My personal favorite early story of her is one where she dresses as a page boy in order to run away. Her mission is to warn Robin of some latest plot to kill him (or in some versions she’s escaping marriage to Sir Guy of Gisborne). When trying to pass through Sherwood Forest, a man she doesn’t recognize attempts to rob her. Maid Marion beats his ass and the man is so impressed he takes off his disguise. Turns out it’s Robin and he wants this mysterious page boy to join his band. Marion takes off her own disguise, apologizes for cutting his face, and joins the Merry Men anyway. This version of events was written down by... honestly, I’m not sure. That’s the hard part of English ballads. They were told, retold, and written down all around the same time. Most people who did the writing and collecting didn’t get credit. Marion first started appearing around the 15th century, but she got really popular during the 16th and 17th centuries as more people turned Robin Hood into plays and puppet shows.

Analysis: For being a maid, Marion was never a damsel in the early stories. She was compassionate, smart, and brave. She acted as a spy and could defend herself.  She was meant to represent Robin Hood’s equal, not a burden to be rescued. She was his partner and friend, as well as his sweetheart. This was fairly common of medieval noble women. When husbands were away on Crusades, the women defended the home. They had to know how to use and oversee the building of weapons. They needed to be aware of siege tactics and taxes and farming. They ran things. Damsels can’t do that.

Blame it on the Victorians (and Hollywood): By the late 1800/early 1900s Marion ended up kidnapped more often in stories and plays. Victorians loved the romance of a medieval damsels who needed saving by her one true love. By the time of the first long Robin Hood film in 1922 (written, produced, and staring Douglas Fairbanks) Marian retains the role of spy, but she’s more a pawn to be used against Robin than his badass girlfriend. This would be repeated in several Robin Hood movies including the Errol Flynn classic, Robin Hood Price of Thieves, and even Robin Hood: Men in Tights.

Final Thoughts: No, I did not see the new Robin Hood with that Elton John kid. Don’t bother asking.

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In Defense of Vasilisa the Beautiful (Part 2)

Where we left off last week was the tale of Vailisa who used her magic doll and her own savvy to trick the famed Russian witch Baba Yaga.

Blame It on the Victorians: Alexander Nikolayevich Afanasyev who famously recorded these tales in the mid-1800s liked to mix some social commentary in with the traditional tales. One of his books which focused on Christian-based folktales was banned for contradicting the official word of the church. He was a part of the academic circles in Russia who studied “liberalism” and philosophers who wished to keep Russian heritage seperate from ‘western” culture, while still keep rulers from being dictators. Okay, so I think I made that sound more complicated than it is. Just think of it as yay to Russian history and culture, boo to oppression of the common people. This could be why his collection included so many of these tales of clever young women like Vasilisa. Mostly, he saw stories like Vasilisa the Beautiful as metaphors for light triumphing darkness (darkness interestingly being the step-family not Baba Yaga). Still, as stated in another blog, his collections were not the best sellers that the later Grimm and Lang collections were.

Enter Edith Hodgetts. In 1890, Russian born, but English bred Hodgetts wrote her own collection of Russian folktales called Tales and Legends from the Land of the Tzar. Many of the stories are the same ones Afanasyev wrote down, but her claim was that nannies and servants told her these tales. This is probably true as her book was not a direct translation of his work, being much shorter. Still, her book sold. Where no one in England ever bothered to fully translate his work into English as they’d done with the Grimm Brothers, her work was already in English. So, this was the country’s introduction to Vasilisa and Baba Yaga.

Last Thoughts: Come on. Baba Yaga’s house has to be the coolest in fairy tale land. You know, I know it, the Russian people know it.

In Defense of Vasilisa the Beautiful (part 1)

This fairy tale is really long so I’m going to split the blog into 2 parts.

Brief History: Alexander Nikolayevich Afanasyev also collected this story, which starts off in a way similiar to so many western fairy tales. Vasilisa’s mother dies and leaves her a wooden doll which if she feeds and gives drinks to will help her. I’m not sure if the doll feeding was a like a Betsy-Wetsy situation or like a Golem or more like when a little kid holds food up to a toy’s closed mouth. Either way, the doll is clearly magic. . . creepy, creepy magic. This, of course, comes in handy when dad remarries and allows the new wife and step-daughters to treat Vasilisa terribly. In true Cinderella fashion, step-mommy dearest gives Vasilisa impossible tasks which the doll helps her with. Years pass like this and Vasilisa can’t get a date because no one wants to marry her step-sister, so she is also trapped in that life (remember, can’t leave home unless married in this time period).

One day, her step-sister breaks a rule and extinguishes all fire in the house. She sends Vasilisa out to get a light before the parents come home (they don’t have matches, I guess?) and this leads our hero to a hut on chicken feet surrounded by a fence of human bones. The door has hinges made of human hands. The locks were made of human jaw bones. This witch doesn’t waste any part of her kills. You have to give her credit for that.

In case you haven’t guess - it’s Baba Yaga in her flying mortar time! Vasilia tries to hide but Baba Yaga sniffs her out and asks if she was sent. When the young woman explains that her step-sister sent her, Baba Yaga ominously replies, “I know her and she’ll know me.” The witch keeps Vasilisa as a slave, telling her she will give her fire if she completes all o the impossible tasks. Once again, the doll helps her. Not every good decision she makes is based upon her imaginary friend. Vasilisa has her own subtle smarts to keep herself alive. She tries to escape every chance she gets, using the same spells as Baba Yaga. Another example, the witch dares her to ask questions. She chooses to ask about the red, white, and black riders she sees going by the chicken feet hut at various times of day over asking about anything personal related to Baba Yaga (like why does she have animated disembodied hands or need poppy seeds).

When day pass and the exhausted Vasilisa completes every disgusting and difficult task she’s given, a frustrated Baba Yaga asks how she’s managed to do this. In true Baba Yaga fashion, she was looking forward to killing the young woman when she failed. Vasilisa doesn’t lie, but also doesn’t say outright that she has an enchanted doll in her pocket. Her response is “with my mother’s blessing”. This answer grossed out Baba Yaga, who thinks sentiment and blessings are icky, so she cast Vasilisa from her house and gave her the fire she’d come for. This fire was placed within a skull turned lantern (admit it, sounds like a boss Halloween decoration).

Vasilisa finally goes back home where her step-mother and step-sister have been cursed with darkness (no candles could be lit and fires would instantly extinguish). Imagine their happiness when Vasilisa brings home the skull lantern. . . which then burns them both to ashes. Witch fire. What are you going to do, right? Handle with care. After burying the skull, Vasilisa runs away, becomes a weavers apprentice, and weave a cloth so beautiful she marries the Tsar.

Analysis: Vasilisa the Beautiful has also been titled the Brave and the Wise because of her calm, leveled head. In some versions, she doesn’t marry the Tsar, instead living happily with her father and looking forward to a brighter future. Get it? Brighter? Because she brought home fire? Okay fine. To start, the fire thing is a pretty big theme in Russian folklore. It’s like it’s freezing cold there or something. Being saved by the blessing of her mother is where old Slavic folklore and the contemporary Russian Christianity meet. A witch of the ancient world would not being able to stomach prayers from the monotheoist religion. This theme is pretty common in Eastern European stories.

The name Vasilisa and her titles of wise and fair and brave accompany other stories as well. One where she tricks a Tsar into believing she’s a brave soldier. One where she outsmarts a sea king. One where she enlists the help of a prince to end her curse of being turned into a frog in daylight hours (in that one Baba Yaga is helpful). The point is that name goes hand-in-hand with tales of women who are trying to save themselves or ask for help needed.

By the way, it turns out the riders are the personification of day, sunshine, and night. This is never really made important to story other than showing the measure of time and the suggestion that Baba Yaga somehow controls the day and night, but illustrators love the imagery and the riders are usually in every picture book version of the story.

To be continued next week.

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In Defense of Maia

In honor of Mother’s Day, let’s look at a Greek goddess who most overlook.

Brief History: As most Greek Myths do, this one starts with Zeus being a habitual predator. Maia did not like the company of other gods, so she lived in a mountain cave, yet somehow Zeus managed to knock her up. Hermes, the result of this assault, was a difficult baby as he liked to sneak out of the cave when his mom slept and mess with Apollo. She stood up for her child, refusing to believe an infant could do such things (nevermind that gods do weird stuff as babies in all of these stories). Beyond her own son, Maia acted as surrogate mom to another of Zeus’s kids, Arcas, when his mother Callisto was turned into a bear by Hera. Arcas grew up to be a king who taught his people how to weave and bake bread, talents he probably learned in a cave from his foster mom.

Analysis: Maia is also a Greek word for midwife. The Romans celebrated the introverted nurturer at the start of the moth of May. May is also when the U.S. celebrates Mother’s Day in May. Coincidence. . . probably since most mother’s day festivals in the Roman times were to two entirely different goddesses, Rhea and Cybele.

Blame It on the Victorians (technically Edwardians and Roaring 20s): Before the American Civil War, an activist named Ann Jarvis started a club of women called the Mothers’ Day Work Club. Their goal was to improve sanitation and health care especially when it came to sick children. The clubs volunteered during the Civil War to help keep down disease in the camps. In 1908, three years after Jarvis died, her daughter Anna petitioned for a holiday honoring the sacrifices of mothers. President Woodrow Wilson (who I have other choice words about that will remain out of this particular blog) made it a national day in 1914. It didn’t take long before capitalists turned Anna Jarvis’s day into a commercial gain. As more greeting cards and flower sales began each May, Anna Jarvis hated what her own idea had become. ‘Merica strikes again.

Last Thoughts: In honor of Maia, these blogs will be on hiatus until Phoenix Fan Fusion. . . no it’s just cause prepping for con is exhausting. Blogs will return in late May/early June.

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Anna Jarvis

Anna Jarvis

In Defense of By Command of the Prince Daniel

Brief History: Let’s dive into some Russian folklore. Do you love Baba Yaga? Of course you do! Okay, calm down John Wick fans. And if you don’t love Baba Yaga then you shall. This one was collected by Alexander Nikolaevich Afanasyev (say that 3 times fast). For those of you unfamiliar, Baba Yaga was the most wicked and feared of witches in Russian folklore. This particular tale is of a dying queen tricked by a witch into ordering her son to marry only the girl whose finger fits a ring given to the family. After the mom dies, Prince Daniel searches for the wearer of the ring, but the only person it fits is. . . his sister. You have permission to be grossed out. Daniel, pretty hung up on tradition, forces his sister to be his wife. Two beggars comes across the sister clearly upset and tell her to make four dolls, put them in the bridal suite, and stall as much as she can on the wedding night. She does this and while her brother (gross) thinks she’s getting ready for bed (again gross) the dolls start to sing and chant (now gross and creepy). The chanting opens a hole in the earth that swallows the princess and takes her to a hut on chicken feet deep in the woods. Meanwhile, Prince Daniel the Nutter realizes he’s been tricked and beheads then burns the four singing dolls.  In the hut, the daughter of Baba Yaga, who is beautiful, kind, and appreciates that the stranger offers to help her in her knitting, turns the princess into a needle in order to hide her before her cannibalistic mom comes home. This trick works a couple of times, but Baba Yaga catches the princess in her home because she can smell “Russian bones”. She makes her daughter prep their giant oven in order to make a princess casserole, but the two younger women trick the witch into the oven instead. This gives them just enough time for a head start through the woods before Baba Yaga hunts them. They throw a brush and comb at her which become thick lines of shrubs and trees to slow her down. Finally, they throw the cloth they’d been working on at the witch. It becomes a river on fire to burn her up (yeah, not sure how that works). The pair end up back in the princess’s home and Baba Yaga’s daughter tricks Prince Daniel into letting himself get stabbed. The princess mourns her brother, which then cures his stab wound and apparently his case of the crazies as well. He marries Baba Yaga’s daughter (the ring of course fit her too, probably because that had been Baba Yaga’s original plan) and find a non-related husband for his sister.

Analysis: Singing dolls? I would have probably beheaded and burned those creepy Chucky wanna-be’s as soon as they opened their mouths. But it’s safe to establish that the brother was crazy so maybe he thought the singing was in his head at first? The theme of insanity and incest in fairy tales really isn’t uncommon, probably because so many royals were marrying first cousins and their DNA was paying the price. A common theme in Baba Yaga tales (besides the cannibalism which I can address in a different story)  is betrayal by those closest to her who she has abused and to use magic against her. In this story it’s her own daughter who never appears in any other tales that I know of (if anyone has another story featuring Baba Yaga’s daughter I’d love to hear about it and please comment below). There’s clearly an element of child abuse here. The daughter does not appear to be cannibal and lives in constant fear of her own mother. It comes to the point where she would rather help to murder her mother in order to save the princess she just met then to continue living in this environment. For those of you who currently obsessed with Hulu’s The Act or the case of Gypsy Blanchard, you know this is not that far-fetched. The last analysis I want to point out that it’s common in Baba Yaga stories that she’s outsmarted by other women or girls. As I keep trying to point out, more fairy tales have heroines than heroes.

Blame it on the Victorians: Alexander Nikolayevich Afanasyev was one of the most prominent folklorists of the mid-19th century with one of the largest collections of fairy tales at the time. So why, non-Russian reader, have you never heard of him? Probably because he was Russian. His own government shunned him for writing socialist articles, but as an amateur anthropologist this guy was pretty impressive. Unlike the Grimm Brothers who molded certain tales into their own preferences, Afanasyev recorded each version of the same tale he heard for comparison, taking into account the language he heard them in, the depictions of Pagan versus Christian religions, and where the story came from. His works were translated by a British man in the 1800s named Leonard Arthur Magnus (who seems to be the primary translator to this day - no one else has taken a stab at translating this stuff? Come on.). Still, the stories he collected really didn’t gain popularity in the rest of western culture until ballets like the Firebird were produced. Why is this? Again, I’m not really sure. Based on what I know of the English at this time, I’m going to say it was because Victorians didn’t want to try to pronounce his name. Of course, I could be wrong.

Last Thoughts:  I actually find the cannibalism less gross than the crazy brother trying to marry his sister. Hm, incest and an abusive mother. I wonder if V.C. Andrews ever read this story?

In Defense of Thumbelina

Brief History: Hans Christian Anderson claimed to write this story based on what a bluebird told him. In reality, it was included in one of his story fairy tale books that had little success when first published in 1835. A peasant woman plants a barleycorn which was given to her by a beggar and a girl sprouts from the flower that grows. However, this woman has little time with her new child when Thumbelina’s walnut shell bed is kidnapped by a toad. The toad tries to force the kidnapped girl to marry her warty son, but a fish and butterfly rescue her from matrimony… this time. This is followed by ill treatment from a beetle, almost freezing to death in winter, and being pressured by a field mouse to marry a pretentious mole who hates sunlight. Luckily, a swallow who the mole had left for dead takes Thumbelina to a patch of flowers (not home to her mother, because that’s not a happy ending I guess). She meets a flower fairy prince, marries him, and gets wings. Because apparently she was cool with getting married so young, just not to a non-human-like creature.

Analysis: Why did everyone want to marry this girl? And what was with all of the inter-species dating? But Thumbelina isn’t just the story of a girl who must marry to have a happy-ever-after. It’s the story of escaping and making one’s one choices. She gets away from Toad, she doesn’t allow the Beetle to shake her confidence, and, despite the field mouse trying to manipulate her, she runs away from her wedding to the mole (who some historians think was based on a distasteful professor Anderson had in school).

Blame It on the Victorians: Marrying up is the only chance at socio-economic advancement a young lady has. Remember that, kids. But, luckily Thumbelina holds out for her choice of husband, not the rich, but gross mole.

Last Thoughts: But really - where’s the mom’s happy ending? Her kid was taken almost instantly. Not cool.

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In Defense of The Disobedient Daughter who Married a Skull

This month I want to do one more non-fairy tale in defense of (because I was reading random folktales and this one caught my eye). 

Brief History: This story was written down by Elphinstone Dayrell, the District Commissioner of South Nigeria in the early 1900s. This Nigerian tale is about Afiong, the most beautiful girl in her town, who rejected all of the young men asking for her hand. Her beauty was told of in the spirit wold where Skull convinced his friends to lend him legs, arms, a body, and a handsome head. He went to the market of Afiong’s town and she was instantly in love with him. She brought him home where her parents were (understandably) super weirded out that she wanted to marry a complete stranger she had met in a market. Still, eventually they gave in and their daughter was taken away by her new husband. Once arriving the spirit world, Aifong discovered that her new husband had borrowed his good looks and was really just a literal skull. Still, she tried to be obedient and helpful to her new mother-in-law. The old woman was so grateful, she started to like Aifong and worried about their neighbors eating her (because apparently that’s a thing). So, she used Juju (aka magic) to summon a wind that took Aifong home to her parents. From then on, the town passed a law saying that their daughters could not marry strangers from far away lands.

Analysis: I tried to read more on the cultures of the Efik-Ibibio peoples (a joint language between two cultures that Dayrell was collecting the stories from) in order to better help my analysis. It didn’t. I think internet failed me. This has left me so shaken, all I can leave in defense of this story is - Be nice to your mother-in-law. If she sides with you the divorce can be made that much easier.

Blame It on the Victorians: Victorian England was busy being imperialistic, destroying culture and ignoring what Belgium was doing in the Congo, to pay attention to folklore for another continent. Don’t get defensive. You know it’s true.  Still, this story was written down in the early 1900s within a book with an introduction by folklorist Andrew Lang. I’m not going to lie. I spent a good amount of time on the internet looking for information about Elphinstone Dayrell and. . . yeah. I know he died in 1917 and that’s about it. His books of Nigerian folklore was published by the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland so… there’s… that… I guess.

Last Thoughts: All I can think of is Bob the pervy skull in Jim Butcher’s the Dresden Files.

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Seriously - Can anyone tell me more about this guy?

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In Defense of Eros and Psyche

Fine, society! You win! It’s Valentine’s Day, I’ll do something Valentine-y. So here’s very, romantic and, surprisingly hopeful, Greek myth of Eros and Psyche. 

Brief History: Originally written down in the 2nd Century CE (Common Era) by a Roman philosopher, this myth is the tale of how Aphrodite’s jealousy caused her to gain a daughter-in-law. The Goddess of Love ordered her son Eros (also known as Cupid, before he was drawn as a Cherub with a diaper) to make certain a young beauty named Psyche married the most hideous man Eros could find. Instead, Eros was careless (meaning he did it on purpose) and scratched himself with an arrow, resulting in his own love and marriage of Psyche. However, being a stuck-up god, Eros believed that a marriage between himself and a mortal could never work with 100% honesty. So, he only met with Psyche in the dark, informing her that if she ever looked upon him in the light he would leave. As always happens in this story, she is manipulated into holding a candle over Eros. Seeing that her husband was hella hot, Psyche got careless and dripped wax on him. Eros left her and in order to win him back she had to perform a series of tasks. The last task, a trap set by Aphrodite, resulted in Psyche’s death. Eros, having seen how sorry, brave, and determined his wife had been, appealed to Zeus to grant her immortality. And so Psyche was reborn as a goddess.

Analysis:  So Eros is the embodiment of love (real love, not the mind games his mom played on men) and Psyche is the embodiment of the soul. The story is literally the marriage of heart and soul. It’s not just a jazz song the middle school kids learn at piano lessons.

Blame It on the Victorians: Victorians loves literature where women are punished for being curious or independent. Have I mentioned this before? I feel like I’ve mentioned this before. Although really it was the poets of the 19th century who felt the need to retell the story over and over again. Instead of the Victorians, it’s actually medieval monks who got their (I’m sure) grubby hands on this story and tried to turn it into a tale about punishment for (gasp) physical love. Psyche being seduced by her husband is the loss of soul in women instead of redemption of the original myth. 

Last  thoughts: This might have been a bit of a ploy to advertise an upcoming FSF project… just saying.

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In Defense of the Willful Child

I’m picking this one in case anyone’s kid had a case of the gimmees this holiday season. Enjoy.

Brief History: In this German story, a stubborn and disobedient kid (sometimes a boy and sometimes a girl depending on who translated it) falls ill and dies. After being buried, the kid’s arm refuses to stay under the ground, popping up like a daisy each time its re-interned. Finally, the child’s mother comes to the grave and beats the arm with a switch. After that, the child rests in peace.

Analysis: Um… I feel like I shouldn’t actually have to analyze this one. You guys get it, right? Because the child didn’t want to be disciplined in life, mom still had to do so after the kid was gone. That’s just how willful this mythical child was. We should probably keep in mind that when this was first told, child mortality rates were high and so just hoping your kid had a restful afterlife must have been the best you could hope for, even in a fairy tale.

Blame it on the Victorians: When the Grimm Brothers wrote this one down, they added that God had made the child sick as punishment for being so awful to his/her mother. Then, the child didn’t get well because he/she still would not be sweet or obey. So, you could tell your kid when they were sick that if they didn’t do what they were supposed to, God would literally smite them with Scarlet Fever. This same idea is in Carlo Collodi’s Adventures of Pinocchio (1883) where the Blue Fairy, annoyed with Pinocchio’s refusal to take medicine, summons undertakers and tells him he’ll just have to die then.

Last Thoughts: Why hasn’t Disney made this into a movie? The animal sidekick could be a cute mouse. . . a cute, decomposing mouse who can talk.

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In Defense of the Legend of John Alden, Priscilla Mullins, and Myles Standish

Brief History: First of all, I know this isn’t my usual fairy tale/folk tale blog, but I thought I’d try something more Americana in honor of the football season. . . or something. Second, I promise that since this blog is about the group known as the Pilgrims I won’t get on my many colonial America soapboxes such as the difference between the strict, hypocritical Puritans and the religous-diverse Plymouth colonists or the broken agreements with the Wampanoag people or the lack of cultural acknowledgement for Tisquantum (a.k.a. Squanto) who is the only reason why we have Thanksgiving. Nope. Nor will I go into the history Thanksgiving not being celebrated in U.S. until the Civil War as a morale booster and really had nothing to do with the Pilgrims and Wampanoags. [Deep breath] Now, on to the story.

In 1858, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the king of historical inaccuracies (i.e. The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere), wrote a long poem called The Courtship of Miles Standish. In the midst of battles against the indigenous people and bad harvests, Miles Standish had an eye for the young, pretty Priscilla Mullins. As a military leader, Standish naturally was not a romantic (as according to the big book of stereotypes) so he asked his friend, John Alden, to speak on his behalf. However, John and Priscilla grow close and by the time he tries to propose for Miles, Priscilla says, “Why don’t you speak for yourself, John?” So, they get married, Standish gets over it, and they all eat turkey.

Analysis: Everyone likes history better when it has a love story involved. Case in point - Titanic. (And they could have both fit on the door. Just saying.) In reality, historians don’t know if there really was any triangle between the political assistant, the military advisor, and the daughter of a shoemaker. This is what is known:

  • The major events from the poem like the Nemasket raid really did happen, but over many years instead of a few months.

  • Myles (correct spelling) Standish really did remarry when his first wife died after arrival in Plymouth, but he married a woman that came over on a separate ship about three years later. His first wife died very shortly before Alden and Mullins married so if he really did want Priscilla for his wife, he must not have waited long.

  • John Alden originally joined the colonists as a barrel mender and became a part of the standing military and a secondary governor. He sounded more ambitious than his literary counter-part.

  • Priscilla Mullins was one of the only members of her family to survive the voyage on the Mayflower and married John Alden when she was about 19 years old. They had at least 10 children, one of whom grew up to be accused during the Salem Witch Trials.

Blame It on the Victorians: Longfellow was a descendant of the Aldens and claimed the story of the love triangle was a family legend passed down through generations. An upside to all of the fame his poems gained by being more dramatic than historical is that Longfellow used some of his fame towards his support for the abolitionist movement. Focusing on a positive here.

Last Thoughts: “Didn’t it reeeeeeeeally happen that way, Grandpa?” Ever seen the Elmer Fudd cartoon where he’s John Alden? Huh. Huh.

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In Defense of The Turn of the Screw

Fine, Henry James! Just fine! You win! I give in! Turn of the Screw is a fantastic ghost story and I will defend it. . . but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

Brief History: Henry James wrote this novella after hearing the story of Hinton Ampner, an English manor that reported at least two ghosts from several occupants before being torn down. The Turn of the Screw is told as a memoir from a now dead (and unreliable) narrator. This narrator is a former governess who had the job of caring for Miles and Flora, the orphaned niece and nephew of a sexy rich man who has no time for them. At a home in the country, far from the uncle, the governess discovers the 2 delightful kids, but is curious as to why Miles has just been kicked out of boarding school. She also learns the cryptic tale of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel, the guardian's valet and kids’ first governess. Prior to their deaths, Quint had managed to worm his way into a scandalous relationship with the upper class Miss Jessel and become a corrupting influence over Miles. The mystery gets darker and darker as the governess starts to realize that the children at times portray secretive, almost adult-like attitudes. She believes she can see the ghosts of Quint and Jessel searching for Flora and Miles. Whether her story is truth or madness within her own head is never told, but I won't spoil the ending beyond that.

Analysis: How do you make creep-tastic children even creepier? Never fully tell the reader why they are creepy. The question stands throughout the story as to whether the ghosts are real or a delusion brought on by Victorian repression. I seriously could not even begin to analyze this story. It's been hashed out a billion times in the last century. Questions of if the ghosts weren't real, why did the children behave the way they did? Were they abused by the previous governess and Peter Quint? And if there were no ghosts, why does the ending occur the way it does? However, if the ghosts aren't supposed to be real, why did James state that he was inspired by a supposedly haunted house? Or maybe it's both - the ghosts are real and the governess is nuts.

Blame It on the Victorians: As a kid, I watched The Heiress with my mom and decided I hated Henry James. Let's face it, at the age of 10 you might not want the jerk to win, but you still want the main character to be happy. As an adult, I realized that James was trying to make a lot of points about women of money and men of morals in his world. He created so many characters who were misused by the people around them in ways that were very common of the time. In Turn of the Screw, you have an intelligent woman who honestly cares about the children in her care, but when she senses something is wrong their uncle won't believe her. The other woman on the property, the housekeeper, at least trusts the main character to a point. Also, so many of James's other novels are straight about society (What Maisie Knew is one of the first books about divorce from the point of view of the kid), but it practically a requirement that all Victorian authors write at least one ghost story. Ghosts were totally in fashion in those decades.

Last Thoughts: There are over 30 TV/Movie versions of this, many under different titles - and I've watched about half of them where it took me 10 minutes to realize that I was watching The Turn of the Screw. . . again.

In Defense of The Pit and the Pendulum

Brief History: Once, a long time ago in a land called the United States, Edgar Allan Poe was reading a very historically inaccurate book about the Spanish Inquisition and thought, “I’m going to put that in a story.” The tale's unnamed narrator describes his trial as a blur and without much detail. The reader does not even learn of what crime he's accused. A majority of the story takes place within his cell, his own private torture chamber. Each time he passes out he discovers new horrors have been added, leading up to the titular pit and the pendulum.

Analysis: This was a horror story not because it was supernatural or spooky, but because Poe described each and every emotion the narrator experienced with such truth. The situation is terrifying the reader experiences the situation alongside the tortured man. Also. . . rats. Rats are gross.

Blame it on the Victorians: This was written in the earliest years of the Victorian era, yet it should be pointed out that this time period was both extremely morbid and not interested in historical accuracy. Poe's people.

Last Thoughts: The Roger Corman movie version written by Richard Matheson and starring Vincent Price really has nothing to do with the original story. . . But I loves it!

Remember: Nobody expects a Spanish Inquisition!

In Defense of Jenny Lind (still a fairy tale topic, I swear)

This is a little change from the usual blog. Recently, many of my friends have been renting the Greatest Showman. I saw this movie in theaters with my boyfriend, who knew I'd want to pick it apart and felt it might be best if I only annoyed him about it. But no. There is one element which I must share my irritation over with the world -  how they portrayed Jenny Lind. *Side note: Even though the movie is a beautiful lie and a fairy tale itself, I do still own the soundtrack because I can never resist Wolverine singing. Ever. It is the weakness some evil villain will find a way to use against me someday, I know it.

Brief History: I am going to keep this super brief, but know that you can find out more through the books at our local library. Jenny Lind (born 1820) was a Swedish Opera singing child prodigy who almost destroyed her career before it began because her parents never thought to get her proper training. Luckily, a teacher stepped up, found her, and saved her voice. In her 20s, she toured Denmark, Germany, England, and Austria where her fame once again sky rocketed. She had several supposed relationship that did not turn out, usually because of her career and travel. The one that will be notable for this blog is one I have mentioned before. Hans Christian Andersen asked her to marry him and was refused, which some historians believed inspired several of his fairy tales (see Nightingale and the Snow Queen for both positive and negative depictions).

In her late 20s/early 30s, Lind was invited to New York by the great humbug himself, P.T. Barnum. I could tell you so much about Barnum right now, so much that would upset the character created by Hugh Jackman, but plenty of blogs and list videos have already been dedicated to that topic. I'm simply going to focus on what he did which effected Lind. First of all, Jenny Lind had never been particularly keen on her own looks. Yet, when she arrived in the U.S., she discovered her own face everywhere. This was because Barnum had advertised her arrival by printing a mask of the "Swedish Nightingale's" face in the newspaper. Seeing so many New York children walking around with a print of her face made her dislike of Barnum start pretty much right away.

Thanks to Barnum's hype of his newest attraction, he had to auction off tickets to her show and the U.S. and Canada developed "Lind mania". Look it up! There are almost a dozen places and objects named after her in North America alone. She hated the publicity, but still agreed to go on tour. After nearly a hundred concerts with Barnum (a lot the money from these that she earned went to different charities she selected), she was so sick of Barnum's crap that she finished the tour on her own with her soon-to-be husband, a pianist named Otto Goldshmidt. When the tour was finally over, she and her husband went back to Europe and only occasionally put on concerts (usually only charitable events because she pretty much invented the celebrity charity concert). Besides still singing, she raised 3 kids and became a singing professor at a college.

Analysis: [SPOILER ALERT FOR THE GREATEST SHOWMAN HERE] So why did I just give you the brief history of Lind's life? For those of you who have seen the Greatest Showman - what did I leave out? What? I forgot that very public kiss she gave Barnum that was reported in the newspapers and almost cost him is marriage? And I didn't mention what a bitch she was when he rebuffed her? THAT NEVER HAPPENED! The man turned her face into a paper mask as a publicity stunt. Would you make-out with someone who did that? No.

Blame it on the Theatre: Where does this myth of Lind and Barnum have a secret attraction come from? For once, Hollywood isn't to blame. Most films about Lind did not make Barnum her love interest. It wasn't until 1980 when a musical called Barnum came out on Broadway starring Jim Dale and Glenn Close (which I have to admit was probably fabulous). The film the Greatest Showman takes many plot points from this production, most notably Barnum falling for Lind, but choosing his wife. It creates great drama, but it does an injustice to Jenny Lind, who is barely remembered now. She was giving, talented, and once the biggest star in the world, but instead an entire generation will remember her as that bitch who almost ruined P.T's marriage to Michelle Williams. Dang it.

Last Thoughts: Despite all of my grousing, I was totally listening to the Greatest Showman soundtrack the whole time I wrote this blog - just not the Jenny Lind song because I hate it.

In Defense of the Nightingale

Brief History: In yet another of Hans Christian Andersen's rare happy ending stories, The Nightingale is about a Chinese emperor who demands a kitchen maid to ask a nightingale to appear in his court, because he was told that the bird's song is the most beautiful thing in his kingdom. He adores and favors the nightingale until someone gives him a mechanical bird that he obsesses over instead, so the real songbird leaves. Years later, the mechanical bird breaks and the emperor is dying, but the nightingale sings to Death personified and the emperor is granted a few more years of life. Some historians believe this was yet another of Andersen's tributes to his unrequited love for the Swedish Nightingale, singer and good-deed-doer Jenny Lind.

Analysis: Bad emperor! Bad! Stop prizing material possessions over mechanical ones. Need I say more?

Blame it on the Victorians: A part of this story may have been inspired by the growing industrialization which had started in England. Machinery was replacing what had been known as "cottage industry" and, although mass production made item easier to make and more affordable, the factories changed living conditions and social-economic issues. It also spread urbanization (which is fun to say - try it), which several of Andersen's fairy tales showed in a negative light. Looking at you, Little Match Girl!

Last Thoughts: The emperor was once played by Mick Jagger. Close your eyes. Imagine the cultural appropriation. The 80s were a confusing time.

In Defense of the Princess Who Never Smiled

Brief History: This is a philosophical Russian tale is about a Princess who literally never smiled. So her father declares that whoever can make her smile will be her husband (clearly, Dad just wanted her somber butt out of the house at that point). Meanwhile, a young working-class man suffered several years of bad luck which had been miraculously turned around by catfish, a mouse, and beetle whom he'd been kind to. While traveling near the castle, he was struck in awe of the princess who was watching him and fell in the mud. His animal buddies came to his rescue and the princess finally laughed. Seriously, imagine this for a moment. You see a fish flopping around on land with a little beetle and a little mouse, but all three are trying to help a grown man out of the mud. Yep. I'd laugh. So he marries her and they have a happy life. In other versions, she amused by the sight of him and his golden goose which causes all greedy people to stick to him, resulting in a conga line. In other versions, she breaks down laughing when she sees him struggling to carry a cow as a part of a promise he made. In 20th Century adaptations, the young man not only acts silly, but also tells the princess her own story which makes her realize just how silly she was as well.

Analysis: The main idea is usually that the man she falls for is not only funny, but kind. It's one of the few fairy tales where the princess ends up with a man who compliments her and makes up for something she was missing in her life. Also, her father seems to want her to be happy, not just use her for political gain. Sweet, but completely unrealistic.

Blame It on the Victorians: The 19th Century loved the German Golden Goose version better, which is probably the most ridiculous version of the tale. Apparently, the Victorians could only enjoy the story of a woman laughing if it was under the most absurd of circumstances. I'm not making bitter assumptions, I swear.

Last Thoughts: In Russia, smile never princesses

In Defense of King Thrushbeard

Um...should I? Probably not. But I’m gonna anyway.  

Brief History: King Thrushbeard is the somewhat confusing German tale of a Mean Girl princess who thinks she’s better than every prince who comes calling. Each suitor she lists in her burn book with every minor flaw. She even insults the only guy she’s attracted to because she says he has a beard like a Thrush (did you see that coming?). Her fed-up father forces her to marry the next man who comes in, a peasant who takes her home to see how the other half lives. The new hubby insists she pull her weight so they can survive, but when she whines and fails at every task given she ends up getting a maid job in a castle. But not just any castle - King Thrushbeard’s castle. Did you see that coming? You did. Oh. Moving on. While working at the castle, the princess learns about suffering and the importance of being kind and decides she’s going to be helpful to her new husband. That having been said, she still has the hots for King Thrushbeard and feels humiliated when she finds out he’s getting married. Her husband shows up in fancy clothes and asks why she’s crying on her wedding day. Yep, her peasant husband was a clean-shaven King Thrushbeard trying to make her a good person. He grows back the beard and she becomes a decent queen. Sometimes it’s switched, where the king wears an even bushier beard as the peasant and shaves at the end of the story, because the beard is a key character.

Analysis: This Taming of the Shrew style story could be looked at in two ways. The first is the morality tale: the 3 ghosts of Heathers past coming to the princess to show her the error of her ways and all that. She goes from being sassy, but spoiled into full Disney princess who talks to mice. However, as several online articles have pointed out, her husband kinda gaslights her. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, gaslighting comes from a fantastic  play/movie about psychological manipulation. Yes, the princess is spoiled, but she was also strong-willed and wanted to be in control. In the end she’s a better person in a lot of ways, but she’s also becomes subservient to her husband. Plus, he did try to start their marriage on a lie. Not healthy. 

Blame it on the Victorians: Like Bluebeard, this was one of those fairy tales the English loved to put on as a Christmas Pantomime (right along classy stuff like Charles Dickens reading out loud from Oliver Twist). If you aren’t recognizing the reasons for the Victorians liking King Thrushbeard, go back to my blog about Bluebeard. 

Last thoughts: King rode through her pottery in one part of the story. I don’t care how much she needed to learn a lesson, no man should mess with a woman’s crafting! 

*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.