Anne Bean

I make delicious words. // I make words delicious.

Tag: fairy tales (page 1 of 2)

Study Questions, In Light of Recent Events

One of the things that makes fairy tales last is that they provide a dark mirror to the world. I invite you to examine this short Grimm tale. Please consider the study questions following the text.

 

Herr Korbes

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

translation by D.L. Ashliman

Once upon a time there were a rooster and a hen who wanted to take a journey together. So the rooster built a handsome carriage with four red wheels, and hitched four mice to it. The hen climbed aboard with the rooster, and they drove away together.

Not long afterward they met a cat, who said, “Where are you going?”

The rooster answered, “We’re on our way to Herr Korbes’s house.”

“Take me with you,” said the cat.

The rooster answered, “Gladly. Climb on behind, so you won’t fall off the front. Be careful not to get my red wheels dirty. Roll, wheels. Whistle, mice. We’re on our way to Herr Korbes’s house.”

Then a millstone came along, then an egg, then a duck, then a pin, and finally a needle. They all climbed aboard the carriage and rode with them.

But when they arrived at Herr Korbes’s house, he was not there. The mice pulled the carriage into the barn. The hen and the rooster flew onto a pole. The cat sat down in the fireplace and the duck in the water bucket. The egg rolled itself up in a towel. The pin stuck itself into a chair cushion. The needle jumped onto the bed in the middle of the pillow. The millstone lay down above the door.

Then Herr Korbes came home. He went to the fireplace, wanting to make a fire, and the cat threw ashes into his face. He ran quickly into the kitchen to wash himself, and the duck splashed water into his face. He wanted to dry himself off with the towel, but the egg rolled against him, broke, and glued his eyes shut. Wanting to rest, he sat down in the chair, and the pin pricked him. He fell into a rage and threw himself onto his bed, but when he laid his head on the pillow, the needle pricked him, causing him to scream and run out of the house. As he ran through the front door the millstone jumped down and struck him dead.

Herr Korbes must have been a very wicked man.

Study Questions

  1. What would have happened if the cat had never jumped on the bandwagon?
  2. Where were the rooster and the hen during the murder?
  3. What happens after the story? Were the rooster, the hen, the mice, the cart, the cat, the duck, the egg, the needle, the pin, the millstone, were they prosecuted?
  4. If a grand jury were to put the millstone on trial, would it be acquitted? If so, would that be because the millstone is a millstone, or Herr Korbes is Herr Korbes?
  5. If the whole incident was caught on video tape, would that make a difference?
  6. What did the egg say, later, on social media? Would it moan to its Facebook friends about how it, too, was broken during the incident?
  7. Why were the wheels of the cart red?
  8. What would have happened if Herr Korbes had been home? Would his life have been spared if he had known his place?
  9. The final line was added in the third edition of the Grimm tales, in 1837. How does that line change the story?
  10. Are you the hen, the rooster, the mice, the cart, the cat, the duck, the egg, the pin, the needle, Herr Korbes, or the Grimm brothers, adding the final line?
  11. What if you are a millstone, what then? What if are were a cat? What can you do differently next time?
  12. What if you look like Herr Korbes? What if your children and parents and aunties and uncles and cousins all look like Herr Korbes? How do you feel? How do you feel about millstones?
  13. Must Herr Korbes have been a very wicked man? Does that justify his death?

The Heroine’s Journey

So this past weekend, I attended GeekGirlCon in Seattle. It’s a wonderful con: a crowd of probably 70% women, 30% men, a selection of geeky arts, crafts, real SCIENCE, great panels and awesome networking opportunities.

My buddy @tereshkova2001 doing science!!1! (luminol experiement), dressed as Ms. Frizzle.

My buddy @tereshkova2001 doing science!!1! (luminol experiement), dressed as Ms. Frizzle.

One of said great panels that I went to was titled “The Heroine’s Journey: Moving Beyond Campbell’s Monomyth.” (When I saw this in the program I was like THEY’RE PLAYING MY SONG GOTTA GO. As a reminder, the title of my master’s critical “thesis” i.e. 20-page paper was “Mistress of Both Worlds: Women’s Stories and the Monomyth.”)

So I was 85% incredibly pleased with this panel and 15%…displeased? Feeling like they were missing something? At the end of the panel I sort of vibrated and wrote stuff down for the next 20 minutes because I was so excited about the topic and had so many thoughts and feelings. Allow me to try and explain.

First off, a description of the panel:

The panel was moderated by B.J. Priester, who has a great series of blog posts on FANgirl Blog about the Heroine’s Journey. You can start here.

Panelists included Star Wars expert Tricia Barr of FANgirl Blog, Jennifer Stuller of Ink-Stained Amazon, and Alan Kistler of The Mary Sue and other places as well. They are all super-rad and I recommend checking out their work.

The basic thesis of the panel was this:

  1. Joseph Campbell’s monomyth is a story far too limited to tell women’s stories. This is because a) it was based in male Freudian psychology and b) it’s limited to a going forth-becoming-returning story, i.e. a coming-of-age tale.
  2. Also Campbell was an asshat who dismissed women as even needing to go on a “hero’s journey” because they were obviously either sort of pre-enlightened quest objects, or the Goddess, or the temptress.
  3. There are specific aspects of stories involving a central female heroine that move beyond and differ significantly from the monomyth. (These were SO RAD that I’m going to discuss them next post.)

The only bit of the panel that I had a hard time with was that the panel was a bit dismissive of fairy tales. Look forward, not back, they said. And I agree that looking forward is our goal, and that these new stories with central female characters in the 20th and 21st centuries are great and worthy of study. However, it’s throwing the baby out with the bath water to dismiss fairy tales and even myth entirely. In fact, I think fairy tales in particular are incredibly important. (Duh. It’s me.)

But why? Because they have been orally transmitted vessels of popular, often populist culture for millennia. Until a bunch of middle class mostly dudes wrote them down, fairy tales were told mostly by women and poor folks. The panelists pointed out that myth and old tale have often been vehicles for advancing the ideals of patriarchal societies. And to an extent, yes. But I think there’s a lot more going on in myth and tale than mere patriarchal values. I have a working thesis that fairy tales were collected by the Great Collectors of Tales (Mme. Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy in France, The Brothers Grimm in Germany, Alexander Afansyev in Russia, Joseph Jacobs in England, etc.) riiight at about the time that nationalism was becoming a thing. The tales of a particular region suddenly got co-opted into that region’s national identity, and used as a cultural touchstone. Thing is, many have used tales for very specific purposes: nationalism, morality (e.g. bowdlerized versions of tales being read to children), propaganda (you bet the Nazis latched on to the Grimm tales), and vehicles for a particular school of thought (coughBRUNOBETTLEHEIMcough). So fairy tales have been used and abused for many reasons, patriarchal culture being a major one. But that is not all they are.

So why do I like fairy tales so dang much?

They are simultaneously problematic and redemptive for women. They are wrought with tropes and bizarre internal logic, but at the same time they exist in a weird psychological landscape that I find freeing. The influence of fairy tales in particular is strange and universal, and not always nice.

For example, why do tales about women with hands or an arm cut off come up in so many cultures? Why tales of wicked mothers? How did this dang dead mother, father raising daughter thing come about? Why so many discussions of incest in these tales? Psychologists love to have goes at answering questions like this. And I don’t begrudge psychologists their place to do so. But I’m also curious as to how we as world-builders and story-creators respond to fairy tales. We’re not all Jungian jerks like Campbell. What have we to take from this incredible wealth of source material?

 

Anyway, after the panel, my friend says “So…is this gonna be a blog post?”
And I, in my vibrating-muttering-frantically-scribbling state still, said, “It’s gonna be a book.”

Point is, I have a lot to say about the Heroine’s Journey. Stay tuned for some more of it next post, including all the awesome points that the panel made.

Blogging on Tour

Blogging on Tour: My Writing Process

I was graciously invited by the luminous Ti Kendrick Hall of What if the Shape is a Rose? to join in a blog tour that explores writing process. It’s a bit like a chain letter except vastly more interesting and full of tasty tidbits of writer’s obsessions and processes. A few of the others on tour have included:

 

Without further ado:

1) What are you working on?

Currently, I’m working on a short story for the forthcoming pen and paper role-playing game, Strange Voyages, which has been described as “Star Trek meets the Age of Exploration.” I’m writing a story set in Cuba in 1544 during the height of triangle trade and the beginnings of Santeria.

In 2013, I finished my MFA thesis for Goddard College, entitled Behind the Magic Mirror, an ambitious combination of short stories and comic scripts that each retold a fairy tale. Two of the short stories have been picked up for publication: “Iron Henry” appeared in the Fall 2011 Pitkin Review and “Lilith’s Mirror” appeared in the 2013 anthology from Dark Opus Press, Tell Me A Fable.

I pretty much always have some sort of retold fairy tale going on, either in the form of a short story or a comic. At the moment I am working with several artists on short comics that retell tales from the Grimm brothers, Nez Perce legend, and The Arabian Nights.  I’m always on the lookout for artists who have the same obsession with weird fairy tales that I do.

I have also been working on a superhero comic, which is one part love letter to superhero comics and one part critique. A Teen Titans/X-Men-esque team of teenage heroes defeated this menacing alien invasion…this story is set ten years later, when the heroes have grown up, settled down, and really, truly, deeply suck at young adulthood.

2) How does your work differ from others’ in the same genre? 

In terms of fairy tale retellings, my tales are not blithe parody (Cinderella doesn’t need a man so she opens a shoe store omg!) nor simple setting-shifted retellings (Snow White in SPAAACE!). Oftentimes I find hidden content or untold sides of the stories to explore. Why is Rumplestiltskin so obsessed with babies? What’s with all the maimed women? Can anyone else see these tales’ queer content? Sometimes my tales are more like sequels to the original tale, sometimes they are like hidden facets of the story. I strive to maintain the open-ended weirdness that the original tales have.

As for the superhero comic…it’s not Watchmen. It’s not The Incredibles. It’s not Promethea. It’s not even a convenient combination of the three. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever read a superhero comic like the one I’m writing, which is more or less why I’m writing it.

3) Why do you write what you do?

Aside from the above?

I write comics because I have profound love for the medium; I think comics can tell stories in ways that no other genre can. I also enjoy the collaborative aspect of making comics; as someone whose drawing skill is…say not as developed as my writing skills…I’ve had a good time working with others to realize my comics.

I write about fairy tales and superheroes because I obsess over them. I find both examples of profound cultural mythology that affects the way people tell themselves the stories of their own lives. I like looking at culturally ubiquitous literature like Dante’s Inferno as well, as you may have guessed from Stock Photo Hell. Watch out for me on Twitter (@AnneBeanTweets), because I have been live-Tweeting Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Fairy tales and myth in particular have this bizarre and tasty weirdness to them. They are simultaneously empowering and problematic. They are psychologically profound and lasting, sources of cultural commonality. At the same time, there’s straight-up weird imagery like a bear with iron fur, a young woman dressing in the skin of an old woman, a killer butterfly, a goddess who returns to her scorned ex-husband buckets full of all the semen he’s ever spilled in her… Furthermore, I marvel at the recurring themes that transcend cultures and continents: the countless women with missing hands or limbs, the animal husbands, the miraculous babies. Once you start digging into fairy tales, I’ve found, you open a well into deep cultural consciousness. It is, as the old woman said, turtles all the way down.

4) How does your writing process work?

I have recently re-engaged with the Julia-Cameron-brand morning pages, i.e. three pages of longhand brain drain writing in the morning. These are great. They reduce the amount of time I spend hyperventilating and staring and a blank page or blinking cursor by at least half.

I write most of my drafts longhand. I like to sketch out character arcs and story structures for longer pieces. I find writing in groups to be helpful; I have several groups dedicated to writing practice, and I host a group that does focused exercises and timed freewrites. I edit on the computer, usually with the input of beta readers. Frankly, it’s harder to write when I’m not in the comfy structure of an MFA program. Self-imposed deadlines are tough. This is why I write with others.

In terms of comics, I write scripts with pages and panels, but I don’t mind if my artists ignore the paneling and make up their own. About half of the time I write whatever script has popped into my brain; the other half of the time I write specifically for an artist who has agreed to work with me.

***

Next Wednesday, July 16th, check out the next group of radsauce writers:

Mick Harris

Mick Harris is a poet living in the SF East Bay. They have an MFA, but their education is far from over. They’re mostly friendly, and definitely happy to be here. You can find their work in Pink Litter and the Up, Do anthology available from Spider Road Press (http://www.spiderroadpress.com), as well as forthcoming in Fruitapulp, Deep Water Literary Review, and Digging Through the Fat. They share poetry and general brain dump at http://www.positivelysocialsix.wordpress.com.

MM Jordahl

M.M. Jordahl is a writer, blogger and feminist endlessly fascinated with the intersection of social issues and popular fiction. She has a degree in creative writing from the University of Washington in Seattle, and primarily writes science fiction and fairytales, with frequent deviations to complain about TV shows on her blog. You can find her at mmjordahl.com, or on Twitter at @mmjordahl.

 

Childhood Fear//Adulthood Fear

Take the following excerpt from an IndieBound interview with Neil Gaiman about his YA book, Coraline:

We’re getting two completely different reactions from two completely different reading audiences, and it’s kind of weird.

Reading audience number one is adults. Adults completely love it and they tell me it gave them nightmares. They found it really scary and disturbing, and they’re not sure it’s a good book for kids, but they loved it. Reading audience number two are kids who read it as an adventure and they love it. They don’t get nightmares, and they don’t find it scary. I think part of that is that kids don’t realize how much trouble Coraline is in — she is in big trouble — and adults read it and think, “I know how much trouble you’re in.”

girl on a bed with teddy bear; monster under bed

photo by Joshua Hoffine

What terrifies adults and children is not the same. A child may be driven mad with fright over a shape in the bedroom in the dark, which in their fertile imagination has become a ravening monster. A flick of the light switch by an adult hand and the monster is revealed to be nothing more than a blanket thrown over the back of a chair, oddly shaped and become monstrous in the darkness. On the flip side, an adult may become afraid or upset at the sight of a dead body; often young children are fascinated, in part because they may not know what’s happening and/or fully understand death. (When I taught preschool, we had to have the conversation about dead pets sometimes, which led inevitably to “yes they are under the ground now, no we cannot go see.”) The things that terrify children may seem inconsequential to adults; the things that terrify adults may seem perfectly natural to children.

Take fairy tales in particular. The violence and horror in, say, the Grimm tales mostly revolves around almost cartoonish punishments of evildoers and oddly implicit sexual violence. There is a wicked stepmother put into a barrel with spikes on the inside. The stepmother in “The Juniper Tree” eats her stepson after beheading him with the lid to a chest. Snow White’s wicked stepmother gets to dance in red-hot iron shoes until she dies. And it’s not much better for fathers: a father is tricked into chopping off his daughter’s hands by the devil, many others want to marry their daughters because the girls look so like their dead mothers. The Grimms carefully edited the tales and gave the most odious actions not to mothers, but to stepmothers. There’s the occasional stepfather, but it’s mostly stepmothers that get the brunt of the wickedness.

Aside from the implied misogyny, the wicked stepmother theme exposes a story that I think sometimes children tell themselves: They’re not my real parents. Somewhere far away, I have perfect parents who are always kind. Somewhere far away, I am a princess. I have a throne to claim, a sword to pull from a stone. This all falls down at some point in adolescence, of course, when we realize that adults are even more flawed than we thought, and that our parents–flaws and all–are actually our parents. (Although this narrative reads differently for the adopted. Here’s one story.) At some point, we discard the childish fantasies of who we thought our parents were and try to sink into reality.

So, long past adolescence and into adulthood, what horrors do fairy tales hold for us? In a reverse scenario of the child afraid of the dark, the light has come on for us adults and we can see the violence, the rape, and the gore in fairy tales for the horrors they are. And the characters who are closest to us in age are not longer the princesses, the goose girls, the plucky youngest sons, not Hansel nor Gretel nor Jack. No, the character who most resemble adults are the mothers, father, and step-parents, along with the occasional sexless mentor figure. A healthy parent who is doing a good job parenting in a rare beast in the Grimm tales. Suddenly, all the relate-able characters are villains who meet with horrible ends. And how does the aging woman deal withe her beautiful daughter becoming a sexual being? How does the widower deal with seeing his dead wife’s eyes in his daughter? How do you cope if you cannot afford to feed your children? There is no good example. Adults, in the tales, are there to be villains for children.

And that, I think, is the most terrifying thought of all. Take me: I am twenty-nine years old, and considering whether or not I ever want to have children. I fear, one way or another, becoming a de facto villain for any child I might have. My parents were in no way fairy tale parents, i.e. they did a pretty good job with us kids and didn’t pass on their more destructive neuroses or, like, leave us in the forest for witches to eat. Nevertheless, like probably every other 29-year-old, I fear turning into my parents. And the thought that I might not notice the day I Become My Mother fills me with as much dread as the scary robot I was convinced lived in our electrical system once did. Both are a fear of something you may or may not be powerless before, a fear that lives in your brain and wriggles out in awkward moments.

In Coraline, the title character is a little girl who discovers a passage in her house that leads to a different version of the world. The other world contains her Other Mother and her Other Father. Her Other Parents seem at first identical except nicer, and with black buttons sewn in place of their eyes. Coraline realized soon enough that her Other Parents are manipulative and want to trap her and sew buttons on her eyes, too. And at its most irrational, my adult brain fears the day when I find black buttons sewn on my eyes, and do not remember how they got there. buttoneyes

 

PS: For more of Goddard grad and all-round radsauce Liz Latty’s writing, check out her blog.

Top Five Villains Disney Couldn’t Deal With

Okay, kids. Here there are, the fabulously wicked five:

 

5. The father from “Donkeyskin”

The heroine from "Donkeyskin," since I couldn't find a good pic of the father. art by stuntkid

The heroine from “Donkeyskin,” since I couldn’t find a good pic of the father. art by stuntkid

Who he is:

There is a recurring character type in Grimm’s and a number of other fairy tale canons: the incestuous father. He’s usually a king who has one daughter and whose wife has died. He comes to the bizarro-world-logical conclusion that he must remarry someone as beautiful as his dead wife. Of course, no one in the kingdom is so beautiful, except his teenage daughter, because genetics. He tries to marry his daughter, who actually-logically freaks right out and runs away. She often goes and hides somewhere in the skin or fur of an animal. I’m sure the Jungians and/or Freudians will tell you why.

About the tale(s):

The incestuous father theme shows up in Charles Perrault’s “Donkeyskin” (which Robin McKinley retold in her fantastic YA novel Deerskin), the Grimm’s “All Fur” (winner in the 1889 Fairy Tale That Sounds Like A Porno Competition), and the Italian tale, “Wooden Maria.” More directly, in Scotland the tale is called “The King Who Wished to Marry His Daughter”; in India, it’s called “The Princess Whose Father Wanted to Marry Her.” Like I say, it’s a theme.

Why Disney wouldn’t want him:

Somehow, even though kids deal with abuse and incest, it’s such a taboo in our society that We Dare Not Speak Its Name. Also, cute songs about running away from your incestuous father would be a little weird. Disney dads are always the good guys; in the latter-day Disney films dads are usually the ones their daughters are trying to protect. There are never truly evil biological parents in Disney.

 

4. The stepmother from “The Juniper Tree”

juniper-treeWho she is:

Widow. Remarried. Child murderess who cooked her dead stepson. Met with horrible end. Standard Grimm fare.

About the tale:

A widower, who has a son, remarries a widow with a daughter of her own. His new wife becomes insanely angry about/jealous of the son, and so beheads him with the heavy lid of an apple chest, like you do. Then she hides the body by cooking it. Her daughter finds the bones and buries them under the juniper tree in the yard. Meanwhile, a little adorable bird is flying around town singing “My mother she killed me, my father he ate me, my sister Marlene, she made sure to see my cones were all gathered together, bound nicely in silk, as neat as can be, and laid beneath the juniper tree. Tweet, tweet! What a lovely bird I am!” (Zipes translation) Apparently, no one in the village is weirded out, nor investigates the alleged crimes. Instead, they give the bird gifts: a pair of shoes for Marlene, a gold chain for Dad, and a millstone for Stepma. In the end, Stepma is crushed to death and the son mysteriously regenerates. The final line, which I find to be the most chilling part of the tale, is: “They went into the house, sat down at the table, and ate.” COME ON, Grimms. After a cannibalism tale, happy family dinner?

Why Disney wouldn’t want her:

Disney’s perfectly fine with murderous step-parents from Snow White onwards. This tale even has the requisite adorable singing bird. However, the cannibalism kicks this tale right out of the running.  Apparently incestuous cannibalism is an issue Disney doesn’t want to touch. Who knew?

 

3. Bluebeard

Bluebeard, bein' a wall-eyed creeper. Art by Gustav Dore.

Bluebeard, bein’ a wall-eyed creeper. Art by Gustav Dore.

Who he is:

Just a guy with a blue beard who marries girls, plays mind games with them, and then kills them and stores their corpses in his murder closet. NBD.

About the tale:

A girl ends up marrying Bluebeard, usually with pressure from her family because he’s loaded. When she goes to his house, he is indeed loaded, and shows off all his wealth. Then he tells her he’s leaving on a trip and gives her the keys to the house. He tells her she can use any one except the little golden one on the end. She is, of course, tempted, and after checking out all his bling, uses the forbidden key. She finds, of course, a closet with the bodies of all his former wives. When Bluebeard comes home, he finds out that she used the key (usually through supernatural bloodstain or other marks) and tries to kill her. She begs to go “pray” upstairs (read: shout of the window for help from her family), and her brothers rush in and kill Bluebeard. And then she joins a nunnery and/or becomes a hermit. Okay, maybe not that last bit, but seriously. I wouldn’t take my family’s advice on marriage ever again after that. Other tales of this type include the English tale “Mr. Fox,” and the Grimm tale “Fitcher’s Bird,” and to an extent the Scottish ballad “Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight.”

Why Disney wouldn’t want him:

Disney’s all right with lying and/or evil potential love interests. Gaston is a buffoon who turns evil/murderous, Frolo sort of has a Catholic guilt yen for Esmerelda, and Kocoum seems ordinarily jealous of John Smith.  But all of these men are sort of normal people who have a bad time of it; none of them are outright evil and duplicitous from the start. (Well, maybe Frolo. But I like to imagine that he could have had a nice retirement illuminating manuscripts or something.) More than anything, though, the murder closet is the issue. It’s just a little too gorey for Disney.

 

2. Lilith

Art by John Collier.

Art by John Collier.

Who she is:

Lilith has two sides to her story. On the one hand, she’s a Jewish demoness whose main gig is temptation and corruption. On the other hand, Lilith is a powerful feminine figure and Adam’s first wife, who was made from clay instead of rib, and was thus equal to Adam. Adam couldn’t handle her, so she was banished and God tried again, this time with patriarchy! Lilith went out beyond Eden and had lots and lots of demon babies. In popular culture, Lilith has been used as an icon of feminism, as in Lilith’s Fair. Talk to an Orthodox Jew, on the other hand, and likely they will not see her in the same light.

About the tale(s):

In Jewish folklore, Lilith either shows up as a surprise naked lady in the basement to seduce otherwise reasonable Jewish husbands, or else she lingers behind mirrors waiting to jump out into vain folks’ lives and mess with them. A great resource for Lilith tales is the book Lilith’s Cave collected by Howard Schwartz.

Why Disney wouldn’t want her:

I mean, realistically, it’s because a sexualized villainess with some fairly direct religious connotations. As a rule, Disney strays the hell away from anything religious. Noteable exceptions include The Hunchback of Notre Dame, where we get a religious zealot villain, and Hercules, which if the Greek Gods were still in power, would have resulted in some lightning bolts up in heeere. But a seductress/demon/mother is just too much for Disney.

 

1. Baba Yaga

Art by _iphigen

Art by _iphigen

Who she is:

Baba Yaga is a withered old witch who lives in the woods of many Russian tales. She lives in a house on chicken legs lit by flaming skull torches. Oh yes. She’s totally metal. She has a cat, a dog, and a stove, in which she cooks the flesh of curious children. She especially enjoys enslaving and then eating little girls. She spends her days flying around the country in a mortar, using a pestle as a rudder.

About the tale(s):

Baba Yaga appears in a lot of different tales, but perhaps her most famous tale (at least on this side of the Atlantic) is “Vasilisa the Wise.” In this story, a little girl, Vasilisa, is in a Cinderella-esque situation of no natural parents and some jerkish stepsisters. They’re a little more direct than Cinderella’s stepsisters, though, in that they send her into to forest on a mission to get light from Baba Yaga. Luckily for Vasilisa, she has a little doll that her late mother gave her. She takes care of it, and in return it tells her all the strategic tips she needs to know about surviving a stay with Baba Yaga. Vasilisa is just the right amount of polite and industrious (completing impossible tasks with the help of her doll), and returns with one of the flaming skulls. If I were one of her sisters, I’d pretty much leave her alone forever, ‘cause anyone who can talk Baba Yaga out of a flaming skull is not to be messed with.

Why Disney wouldn’t want her:

Other than the fact that she’s actually terrifying, I have no idea. I mean, perhaps the fact that she literally eats children might have to be toned down. But come on, eating children happens in a lot of fairy tales. Baba Yaga’s character design is so strong, I’m shocked that she hasn’t been animated more in the states. I think the closest we’ve seen comes from Japan, actually, in the form of Yubaba from Spirited Away. Come on, American animation. Let’s see a Baba Yaga cartoon with a metal soundtrack. Is that too much to ask?

***

So I went and quested for Baba Yaga animation. This cartoon comes the closest to my metal hopes and dreams, although it has none of the badass defeat-Baba-Yaga-by-her-own-rules business of the tale, and devolves into violence quickly…which *is* very American I suppose:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MHNiG8ffQ4A

And this is just adorable:

 

Distraction: Disney Tries The Snow Queen

…sort of.

So, I spoke a bit too soon about the Snow Queen. Disney has another Tangled-esque movie in the works called Frozen. Elsa from Disney's FrozenIt seems…loosely…based on Hans Christian Andersen’s story, in the same way that Disney’s Little Mermaid is based only loosely on the Andersen tale.

"La la laaa...I don't have a soul...and can only get one by marrying a man in a Christian ceremony...and also I die at the end..."

“La la laaa…I don’t have a soul…and can only get one by marrying a man in a Christian ceremony…and also I die at the end…”

So in Frozen, the main “princess” is a Rapunzel with slightly different CGI attributes named Anna, who lives in Scandinavia. (At least they kept that bit. Although some have wondered, why not use a native Lapp character?)

Rapunzel and Anna, looking almost identical

Different hair and eye color mean TOTALLY different character, riiight?

So Anna replaces Gerda in the story, and there is no real Kay equivalent. Anna goes off to rescue her sister Elsa from, like, herself, ’cause her sister IS the Snow Queen.

Elsa and Anna from Disney's FrozenNow, I’m all for sisters-rescuing-each-other tales. And I’m fine with ditching Gerda and Kay, for one because I think “Gerda” would be a hard sell as a Disney Princess name. But what about the weird and awesome supporting cast of the original tale? All dudes now. Yep. I’m not saying this will be the worst movie ever or anything, but it sure has been Disnified. And that means funny dude side-characters.

Yeah, the reindeer and the snowman are also male.

Yes, the reindeer and the snowman are also male.

One thing I didn’t properly think about until having a conversation with a friend about this movie was that in “The Snow Queen,” pretty much all of the supporting cast is women. Like, there’s one sort of incidental Prince, and the crow is male. But aside form that, there are: Gerda and Kay’s grandmother, the flower witch lady, all of her (female) flowers, the Princess, the crow’s girlfriend, the Little Robber Girl, the Finn woman, the Lapp woman, and the Snow Queen herself. That’s, with Gerda included, a whopping eight female characters, plus like five flowers. I don’t think there have been that many named, semi-significant female characters in a Disney movie like, ever. (Disney fans please geek-correct me here!) I mean, Disney cannot handle alive, non-evil mothers and several significant heroic females at the same time.

So, for four years I spent a LOT of time on a playground full of multi-racial, multi-ethnic kids from ages 3-6. And I had plenty of thoughts about how they played pretend. Of course there were subsets of kids who would play licensed-character games: superheroes, power rangers (occasionally, still a thing), Star Wars (sorry, everyone in my generation, but they play the prequels. I know. Shed a tear with me.), and of course, Princesses. And I think the way little girls play Princesses is deeply affected not just by the Disney aesthetic, but by its storytelling.

For one, there is no good role for boys in Princess games. They obviously can’t themselves be a Princess, and most of the Princes are so boring as to blend together into a generic mass of maleness. There are a few exceptions to the Boring Prince rule, (like what’s-his-face in Mulan. He’s cool, right? He does stuff.) but by and large there’s really no good boy roles unless a really dedicated boy wants to be the funny animal sidekick. I usually only saw that happen when a little boy REALLY wanted to play with some particular female friend or other. (“Ugh, okay, I guess you can be the dog.”) Otherwise, a boy would occasionally be co-opted as a villain for the sole purpose of chasing the girls around while they squealed.

For the most part, especially at age 4+, gender separated play is a thing. I don’t know how much it’s socially constructed (I, for one, did my part in starting gender-inclusive games of “superhero”, but that’s me) and how much it’s a biological imperative. I just know that little four and five-year-old girls love them some games of Princess. Here’s how it usually goes down: a ringleader or two will claim some of the best princesses for themselves and invite others to join in. The best princesses were usually sort of classic ones, to my surprise: Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, even Snow White. Sometimes you’d see a Rapunzel, a Belle, or a Tiana (the one black girl in class, yes, did like to play Tiana. So did kids of other colors and races). Because this isn’t the 80s, I didn’t hear much Little Mermaid and never once did I hear anyone mention Princess Jasmine. Probably 50% of my school was of Indian heritage, so that shows you about how well 80s “multicultural” Disney film worked. In general, the Princesses sort of went off on adventures together. It was either a “dresses/go to the ball” type adventure or a “walk around and talk and climb on stuff” adventure or sometimes a “let’s have this boy chase us” adventure. They rarely re-enacted actual scenes from the movies, in part because they were always dealing with characters from multiple movies. Princesses, to me, felt like a “girly” equivalent of Superheroes, but with more social jockeying for position. Very rarely in Disney movies are two women of equal status seen working together.

I wonder what little girls’ games would look like if there were Disney movies with women working together, mothers that weren’t evil, and/or princes that had more personality and importance to the story than being a quest object. Huh. Next time someone’s asking why people are so frustrated at film’s lack of female main character representation, tell them to imagine being a guy and having most of the film canon be Disney Princess films.

 

Thoughts? Have you seen kids play differently than me? Do you have memories of your own childhood? What do you think about Frozen? Tell us in the comments, dearie-o.

 

…Seriously, next time I’ll do my top five villains Disney REALLY doesn’t want. Sorry for the holdout.

Subjective, Objective

Since I am neck deep in revisions right now, I figured I would write about a specific chunk of craft:

Subjectivity.

What is it?

It’s a way of getting into a character’s head in so that the audience can see, not objective reality (whatever that is), but the reality that the character lives in.

This exists in all genres. As a only occasional poet, I’d argue that poetry can easily be the most subjective of the genres, but then poetry is only sometimes concerned with story, and more often concerned with what my brilliant poet friend Shae calls recreating a specific vibratory, emotional experience for the reader. Getting on a wavelength together, if you will. Being in each other’s heads.

Fiction can also be quite subjective, especially when it has close psychic distance or an intimiate voice. To me, though, the most interesting experiences in subjectivity come in film. Film is supposedly an objective genre: the unfeeling camera’s eye. Of course, as early as Georges Melies folks were messing with the objectivity of the camera’s eye. Still, subjectivity requires a finesse of effects in film.

movie poster from Rashomon

In an obvious way, Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon is a classic of subjective film. The audience gets the same story three ways from three different characters; what seems like a simple story is not so simple. It’s a mystery and a whodunnit, and the audience’s concept of who is innocent or guilty changes several times during the film.

Men in Black: Trebeck and Ventura

Alex Trebeck and Jesse Ventura guest star as Men in Black in “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space”

In a silly way, the X-Files Episodes “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” and “Bad Blood” both involve characters recounting the same events in different ways. I think “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” is an episode that any writer should watch because it is about a writer trying to gather some kind of objective truth out of a mess of subjective accounts from people. It also dances an interesting dance between the supposedly objective intro before the credits and the subjective accounts from everyone involved.

 

Scully's version of the Sheriff

In “Bad Blood,” even the characters change depending on who’s telling the story. Luke Wilson’s small-town cop character in handsome and intelligent in Scully’s version; in Mulder’s version he’s Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel, complete with buck teeth (“He had a slight overbite!” Mulder declared when Scully calls him on it.) and lines like, “Y’all must be the gov’ment people!”

At the end of that episode, though, they go back to the town and we get an “objective” view of the situation.

Mulder's version of the Sheriff

 

X-Files is interesting to me in general in terms of subjectivity and objectivity because we the viewers get to see the aliens, lake monsters, fluke men (guhhh), and even vampires in ways that Scully and Mulder don’t. We have seen like five or ten times the aliens that Mulder has. That being said, so much of the filming is done in from someone’s perspective as part of a recounting that objective truth is difficult to determine. I’ve watched the whole show, and frankly I’m still not sure the single truth of what actually happened to Mulder’s sister. (I know, they supposedly explained it. But that was hard to swallow for me considering the large amount of subjective data we get throughout the show. I mean, is Alex Trebeck also a Man in Black?)

On a less immediately obvious level, Black Swan is an incredibly subjective film. Black Swan is a movie that relies on the audience believing in Nina’s subjective world. We have to believe that what she sees is true. Otherwise, it’s a movie about a crazed ballerina slowly acting more and more paranoid until she breaks a mirror, stabs herself, and then dances Swan Lake.

Even little scenes in Black Swan are subjective. When Nina is learning how to do the Black Swan’s 32 pirouettes or whatnot, we see both her in the camera and we have a moment of the camera becoming her, and swooping around in circle after circle so that the audience can feel the disorientation that she does.

With each physical transformation or moment that she sees the double, we see reality as she does, a flash of the Double and then a flash of her own reflection helping us to see her scattered mind.

Nina and her reflection do not match.

Subjectivity is also necessary in films like Fear and Loathing is Las Vegas…otherwise it’s about some questionable men in Hawaiian shirts trashing the living hell out of a hotel room. If they’re tripping balls, we the audience had best be tripping balls with them so that we understand the stakes they’re feeling in the story.

Johnny Depp in a distorted camera lens

The lens subtly distorts the image here; the narrator and camera are both unreliable. And this isn’t even the part with the living wallpaper.

So, my little April Fools, I have  an exercise for you, just for funsies:

Take a story of yours, or a folktale, or a story you know really well, and rewrite it two ways: As objectively as possible, and then as subjectively as possible. What information might only make sense in one of your character’s heads, and how can you let us in? (Bonus points if you storyboard this out, for those of you who’ll touch film or comics with a ten foot pole.)

The True Story of the Three Little Pigs! by John Scieszka & Lane Smith is a good example of the “fairy tale” version of this prompt.

Why Women Need to Tell Stories

(Trigger and/or blasphemy warning: I talk about the Bible in this post.)

When I read the Grimm’s tales, I realized, “Huh. This is part of the seeds for the Truth is Beauty and Beauty is Truth trope.” In the tales, if there is a pretty daughter and an ugly (usually step-) daughter, then the pretty one will also be demure (i.e. quiet), kind, and loyal. The ugly daughter will be selfish, loud, and mean-spirited.

Disney's Cinderella stepmother and stepsisters.

They were framed by centuries of stories!

Let’s break that down a tad, shall we?

Here’s what these tales are weaving together:

  1. Kindness goes with beauty; meanness goes with ugliness.
  2. Silence goes with beauty; speech goes with ugliness.
  3. Kindness and silence are then correlated, as are speech and meanness.
  4. So, by extension: In order to be a loyal, true, and ultimately successful person, you must be silent, kind, and beautiful. If you are ugly, selfish, or loud, then you are the villain and will be punished.

There’s something going on that’s deeper than Truth is Beauty and Beauty is Truth going on here. There’s some dynamic with speech and silence that I hadn’t really noticed until I was reading Marina Warner’s From the Beast to the Blonde.

She points out the multiple instances in Medieval art and literature where women having a voice or speaking their mind is connected to them being somehow…not women. It’s not even that these images chastise women for speaking, it’s more of a symbolic correlation that in order to be properly female you have to be quiet and obedient. As Warner notes, “The figure of Obedience was traditionally represented by the iconic representation of Silence […] When the object of desire raised her voice, her desirability decreased; speaking implied unruliness, disobedience.”

Franciscan-Allegories--Allegory-of-Obedience-c-1330-large

Franciscan Allegory of Obedience, circa 1330. Silence is the central figure with their finger to their lips. To me, it looks like a female figure; crones get excitingly weird in Christian historical imagery.

In the New Testament, there are some frighteningly specific injunctions against women’s voices. Paul’s first epistle to Timothy (1 Tim 2:11-15) has this to say about women’s behavior in church:

Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.

Marina Warner points out that he’s saying women can be redeemed for the apparent sin of speaking or teaching by having babies. Ladies, if you’ve screwed up already by telling your stories, then no worries, just be fecund and pop out babies, and all will be forgiven. As long as you’re also modest. And if you should become a widow, it had better not be at a young age, because young widows’ “sensual desires alienate them from Christ, they want to marry, and so they incur condemnation for having violated their first pledge. Besides that, they learn to be idle, gadding about from house to house; and they are not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not say.” (1 Tim 5.11-13)(emphasis mine)

To give context, Paul does actually think younger widows should remarry and bear children. He goes on a great deal in his letter to Timothy about “real widows” as being deserving of support from society. As opposed to what kind of widow, I’m not sure. To Christian society at the time the Bible was written, women’s speech was terrifying, and any woman in a position to use her voice or tell her story was socially outcast. This included unmarried women, old women, and widows who took no other husband, all groups traditionally associated with witchcraft.

So, this is all ancient history, yes?

Aside from modern Christians who still insist on an all-male clergy, there’s still some societal level of discomfort with women’s voices. I’m not just talking about Christianity or trying to pidgeon-hole Christians. I’m talking widespread Western cultural fear of women’s voices (Gynologophobia?), especially if they’re saying something “feminist” or something that threatens traditional positions of power.

Consider the case of Anita Sarkeesian. A writer and vlogger at her website Feminist Frequency, Sarkeesian made a series of videos about film called “Tropes v Women,” where she explicated film tropes about women such as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, the Straw Feminist, and the Mystical Pregnancy. She made a Kickstarter, asking for $6,000 to fund a similar series of videos exploring tropes about women in video games. Somehow, the internet exploded at this. Her social media was inundated with harassment including threats of death and rape; her Wikipedia site was hacked with pornographic images. Consequently, her Kickstarter raised over $150,000, which says that not everyone was against her. Just some really vocal people and a “cybermob” of trolls raising a constant noisy alarm were against her. Again, speech and silence do their weirdo power-tango.

In case it’s not abundantly clear, let me spell it out: The mere suggestion of a woman raising her voice to shed light on problematic aspects of a male-dominated arena was enough to cause rampant, gibbering panic and hatred. I have heard geeks of all genders try to downplay the whole debacle off as a silly one-off thing that got too much attention. I hear some voices crying out She Spews Only Lies! I hear some voices say, I Don’t Like Her “Brand” of Feminism Because It Attacks Things I Like. I hear a lot of whispers of But They’re Just Games.

Personally, I think her case serves as a coal-mine canary. The amount of trolling, internet hate, and intimidation Sarkeesian got corresponds only to how much poisonous gas, if I may extend the coal-mine metaphor, is in the surroundings. There are plenty of ways to deal with poisonous hot air. Some people like to light a match and watch it burn. Some people like to dig alternate pathways and let the gas seep off on its own. In any case, the more we keep digging here, the more things will clear up.

By the way, Sarkeesian did finally make her video about the Damsel in Distress, and it’s pretty good. It was a almost underwhelming, actually…I found myself thinking “THIS is what they were all afraid of?”

But hey, from Biblical times until now, nothing is more frightening to the machinations of society than a woman’s voice. Here’s to the pretty heroine actually getting to speak her piece. Here’s to the ugly stepsister not being condemned to only sound and fury (signifying nothing, as the Bard reminds us).

***

I want to put a brief qualifier on here lest I seem to be hating on men or not acknowledging the even greater struggles of folks who fall outside of dualistic gender categories.

I think it is important for everyone to tell their stories: our stories are what makes us human, the vital connective tissue of our species. Only some of our species, however, has been systematically silenced. (And it’s not just women.) I want to keep prodding at why until some of that nasty patriarchal gas seeps off.

A Ray of Hope…

Lest the last post be too disparaging about fairy tale ladies in iffy marriage situations, let me bring a seriously rad lady to your attention:

SHAHRAZAD, heroine of The Arabian Nights

illustration from the Edumund Dulac edition

So here’s the deal with The Arabian Nights: it’s one large frame story with several smaller frame stories grouped inside of it. Tales within tales within tales.

magic card

This is accurate.

In the outmost story, the Vizier’s daughter Shahrazad seeks to save her own life and the lives of all the city’s women by telling the king stories and thus staying her execution. The entirety of the Nights is Shahrazad’s slow, clever campaign to save her society from its murderous leader.

So here’s what I always somehow misunderstood: Shahrazad willingly enters her situation with the King. For some reason, I thought she was just next up on the chopping block, a victim of circumstances.

But no, Shahrazad wants to marry the King. She actually blackmails her father into letting her marry a murderer. This is the total opposite western Animal Husband tales where, as Bruno Bettleheim puts it, the heroine goes to a beastly husband “because of love for or obedience to her father.”

*cougheveryDisneyPrincesscough*

So why does Shahrazad put herself in such a deadly situation? Because she’s one smart cookie. And she has a plan.

The first description of her doesn’t go on about her beauty (the number one trait of all Perrault and Grimm princesses), but her intelligence: “[She] had read the books of literature, philosophy, and medicine. She knew poetry by hreat, had studied historial  reports, and was acquainted with the saying of men and the maxims of sages and kings. She was intelligent, knowledgeable, wise, and refined.”

"Damn it, all *I* got were these really heavy earrings and a pet tiger that didn't actually rip anyone's throat out."

Shahrazad knows exactly what she wants to do, and lays it all out for her sister: “Then I will begin to tell a story, and it will cause the king to stop his practice [of killing women], save myself, and deliver the people.” Even by Joseph Campbell’s standards, this is a large-scale, heroic goal.

Shahrazad chooses an incredibly clever setup for her time with King Shahrayar. Firstly, she brings her sister Dinarzad into the picture. Her plea to get Dinarzad in the bedroom is heartfelt and simple, “I have a sister, and I wish to bid good-bye before daybreak.” Of course Shahrayar sends for the sister, and at the opportune moment Dinarzad speaks the words for the first time that will become a refrain throughout the book: “Sister, if you are not sleepy, tell us one of your lovely little tales to while away the night…” Shahrazad asks permission, of course. But when the king agrees, he is entrapped.

illustration by Kay Neilsen

Shahrazad never gets quite all the way through a story on any given night, at least not without hinting at the next one. She never finishes the tale during the daytime, presumably because dawn is the time of her supposed execution. The king never demands her to finish except at night, when Dinarzad has again asked for a story. The king himself never asks for a story directly; Dinarzad becomes the innocent voice of the eager listener, and the catalyst of the storytelling. Shahrazad never pleads for her life with the King, she merely tells her sister what further amazing tales she has in store “if the king spares me and lets me live!” The King is never threatened or directly coerced, giving him the illusion of control. In fact, Shahrazad controls the stories, and thus the action, the whole time.

Within the stories themselves, there are a number of frame stories that bear a striking resemblance to Shahrazad’s situation. In one tale, three Dervishes must tell their tales or be executed by the fearsome mistress of a house in which they stayed. In another tale, a vizier named Ja’far must stay his execution by telling a strange story to his Caliph. In yet another, four characters plead for their lives to the King of China. There are several life-or-death situations.

Shahrazad unquestionably holds the most power in The Arabian Nights. She willingly throws herself into a deadly situation to save her people. She stops and starts the stories at will, aided by the soft, inoffensive voice of her sister. She succeeds at every heroic goal she set forth for herself. In the end, she wins the ultimate boon, saving not only of her life, but the lives of all the other women, and even the life of King Shahrayar. As translator Husain Haddawy notes, “Shahrazad cures Shahrayar of his hatred of women, teaches him to love, and by doing so saves her own life and wins a good man.” So, yeah, she got the guy in the end, but it was a kind of bonus effect after she saved the women of her culture from violent death.

Oddly, this does not all end in tears. (illus. Kay Neilsen)

By the way, if you want to pick up a copy and check it out, I highly recommend Husain Haddawy’s translation. It’s really readable and feels faithful to the source material. Also, he has a big honkin’ introduction about how Sir Richard Burton’s translations sucked….because Burton and others loved to Anglicize (and pontificate about) Eastern stories. It’s a proud Western tradition.

1001 nights vess

Snow White and the Sultan from Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall by Bill Willingham. The book in general is lovely and completely beautiful. But its frame story makes the actual character Shahrazad look all like she's a victim of circumstances following in Snow White's footsteps.

There are two volumes from Haddawy, The Arabian Nights and Arabian Nights II: Sinbad and Other Popular Stories. The second one has the more well-known stories (Aladdin, Sinbad, Ali Baba, etc), but the first one has the beginning frame story with Shahrazad, which is the best bit in my opinion. Click on the pic for an Amazon link:

Translated by Husain Haddawy from the 14th century manuscript edited by Muhsin Mahdi, published by Norton.

I highly recommend checking the tales out! They are approachable and worth experiencing firsthand. Besides, badass fairy tale ladies are a sight for sore eyes after the Grimms and Hans Christian Andersen.

I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.

So, Disney Princess movies.

I know you have a range of feelings and thoughts conjured by the term. In our culture, whether it’s nostalgia, irritation, boredom, hatred, glee, adoration, or nausea, Disney Princess movies probably mean something to you.

And I’ve got to take down everyone’s favorite darling today, my friends. The one that people say, “Well, I don’t like Disney Princess movies much, except….” Especially to my smart, bookish female friends, I apologize. (Here’s David Tennant looking sad to make you feel a little better.)

I am really so, so sorry.

We all know Snow White is creepily racist and Sleeping Beauty is a classic Damsel in Distress with no personal agency. We all know Cinderella’s Happily-Ever-After doesn’t deal with how creep-ass her baby crazy father-in-law is or what kind of a living hell her stepmother could make her life after marriage, much less how it’s a little weird to marry a dude you’ve met once.

But Disney became more enlightened later, I hear you cry. They started to have heroines that were active and intelligent and interesting. No beauties sleeping here!

Oh, yes. So it would seem.

But I’ve got to take down Beauty and the Beast. Because, ladies, for smart and bookish folk like us, it perpetrates a major lie.

…a delicious, delicious lie...

First of, we all love Belle:

*I* wander around town with my nose in a book too, but hey, that's me.

As a nerdy girl, I can connect to Belle. We’re introduced to Belle and her vague social awkwardness, bookish yearning, and awesome ability to outwit assholes with cunning. This is one likable, awesome girl.

I also hang around farm animals as part of my job every day. Clearly, Belle and I have plenty in common.

Unfortunately, this movie is not about Belle, or what she wants, or her getting what she wants.

Belle says that “There must be more than this provincial life,” and doesn’t really know what that might mean for her. She’s reading a lot of adventure stories, and seems to like the ones that have a lot of swashing and buckling. She is entranced with the romance in one of the stories with the Prince in disguise, which sets up her romance with Beast. “She doesn’t know it’s him ’til Chapter Three!” But she’s reading Count of Monte Cristo type adventure-romances, not Jane Austen type domestic tales. Clearly, Belle wants adventure, travel, and maybe some love, too.

Let’s keep in mind that Belle is not an ordinary peasant in the French countryside. She’s an inventor’s daughter. Her father makes crazy interesting stuff all the time. He is actually “something more than this provincial life.” Like most Disney heroines, Belle does not have a mother, nor any apparent grieving for/ongoing connection with her presumably dead mother. She puts all her love and energy into her father, but doesn’t think that *she* could be inventing things too, or seeking out actively the types of adventure that she reads about in her books. She has always believed in her father’s dreams–she says as much. But has he believed in hers? Has she dared to seek support in her dreams, aside from her dream of having more books?

…not that rampant book acquisition isn't a totally legit goal, too….

So who’s story is this, then?

From a storytelling perspective, it’s Beast’s. Allow me to go all Joseph Campbell* on your ass. (Actually, I’m going to go a bit Christopher Vogler on your ass, because he has adapted the monomyth to be a little more useful and less gendered. You can check out his book, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers if you want to know more.) The arrogant and unnamed Prince get a Call of Adventure in the form of a hideous old woman’s request for aid. He refuses the call, and with the Supernatural Aid of the enchantress, he is transformed into the Beast and thus over the threshold into the “special world” of his adventure.

Well, what about Belle? I hear you cry. Didn’t she get a call to adventure in the form of her father being abducted by the Beast? Yes, that happened more than a quarter of the way through the movie…and it wasn’t Belle’s call. Belle’s call was Gaston’s marriage proposal, which she refuses in order to pursue her dream of romantic adventure. The tragedy of the story is that Belle’s dream is ultimately tamed and made banal, much as Beast himself is made into a dull, Fabio-esque human prince at the end.

But let’s pause for a moment on Belle’s choice to save her father and enter the Beast’s servitude. This is one of the few active choices that Belle makes during the movie: she rides out to find her father (with an active, masculine horse that takes up a lot of screen time) and volunteers to take his place. Unlike the traditional fairy tale, in which her father comes back and tells her that he has bargained her away without her knowledge, Belle gets a choice in this version of the tale. We like that she gets a choice–she is active and a mistress of her own destiny, yes?

Well, it would be, if she was the one with the character arc and purpose for the rest of the film. The central section of the film is Beast campaigning strategically to win Belle’s affection.

Ladies: Read out loud to your abusers. It will help with the Stockholm Syndrome.

Beast is the one making active choices throughout the section of the film when Belle is in the castle. He campaigns to win her love, and thus serve his own ends by breaking the curse. The Ordeal (or midpoint) of the film comes when Belle wanders up to Beast’s chambers, he scares her away, and then follows her and rescues her from the wolves. Had Beast not made the choice to rescue Belle, the movie would have ended about halfway through with a gory wolf-related death, since Belle was not a match for a pack of hungry wolves. Beast then was close enough to Belle to make connections with her via showing her things she enjoyed–books, mainly–and learning table manners.

Belle, in the meantime, is going more or less with the flow. She reacts to external circumstances in a logical way, but she is a reactive character rather than an active character. Heck, good ol’ Gaston has more of an active campaign to get what he wants than Belle does. I mean, who thinks sending his future father-in-law to the madhouse is the best way to win a woman’s affection? (…not that it’s unappealing, I’m sure, but the point is most men have more self-control.)

I will win the girl with cunning use of chest hair!

Gaston’s obnoxious pitchfork-and-torch mob forces Beast to make his ultimate choice that brings about his death and resurrection. Beast commits the ultimate act of selfless love: he lets Belle go even though he knows he may die. Beast is unquestionably heroic. Belle, on the other hand, gets saved by a damn teacup. Seriously. She and her father would have been screwed without a teacup with an axe.

He's got an axe! He killed your family!

So at the end of the movie, Beast has nicely completed his character arc, becoming the Master of Both Worlds. He can be a Prince, but also love and be loved in return. Also, he got to live again with sparkly lights. Yay for Beast. Belle, on the other hand, may or may not have found more than the provincial life she was seeking. Sure, she has a castle full of servants and a nice husband and a library. But adventure? Debatable. Did she get what she wanted, really? Maybe. Maybe not. In many Disney Princess movies, the heroine states a vague yet passionate wish at the beginning that they do not explicitly reveal. Let’s hope it was a man, ’cause that’s what they’re getting.

Marriage and Happily-Ever-After. Totally the same thing. …right?

Still, the message here is disturbing. Smart, bookish women need only to find a monstrous man to tame, and all their dreams will come true. If there are no compatible men in your hometown, geek girl, simply go find a lonely guy with few social skills and change the crap out of him. It’ll work.

Fairy tale scholar Karen E. Rowe points out that “Romantic tales thus transmit to young women the rather alarming prophecy that marriage is an enchantment which will shield her from harsh realities outside the domestic realm and guarantee everlasting happiness.” I would like to think that we geeky ladies are beyond such and obvious trap, but how many of you wanted to be Belle?

I would be a bit remiss in my duty as an internet literate human if I didn’t include this gem as a finale (check out the whole series!):

Please, let me know what you think. Do you have hope for Belle, or these Disney stories? What reactions do you have to Disney Princesses?

—————–

*With whom I issues. At length. But that is, as they say, another tale for another time. Suffice it so say that he’s got a handle on Jungian male psychology and his monomyth is an appropriate vessel to pour the story out of.

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