capriuni: A black field crossed by five parallel lighting bolts in blue, gold, green, red, and purple (Default)
This truly is my favorite Shakespeare play -- or, at least, it's tied for "favorite" with King Lear. I'd argue it is the most underappreciated play in the Shakespeare Canon, going by the imbalance between the play's native merit and its fame (or lack thereof).

Therefore, consider this fair warning: I am going to be spamming you all with this topic for the next several days -- maybe for the whole week; in order to restore the balance, I will be making several shorter posts instead of one massive one.

Part One: Synopsis ("Once upon a time...").

Part Two: Themes and context, with quotes (aka: Shakespeare drops the hammer on the patriarchy -- as far as he was able).

Part Three: The leitmotif of Time and aging; the changing relationship between parents and children -- Wherein I back the truck up and dump quotes on you.

Part Four: More Quotes and subtle details (aka: How to create plot and character with words)

Part Five: Links and such that I could find.

Okay, first off: In Shakespeare's day, "Winter's Tale" was the name for a genre. Today, we call that genre a "Fairy Tale." So -- that's how I've rendered the synopsis. I've not bothered to record the most of the characters' specific names (except the name of the Fair, Lost, Princess), and instead, referred to each character by type, because that's how fairy tales are told (and it's fewer details to worry about).

Now. You ready? You all snuggled in and comfy? Good!

Once upon a time, there were two young princes who were fostered and educated together since nearly the day they were born, and they loved each other as brothers. And then, they grew up, and married, and took on the responsibilities of kings, in separate kingdoms far away from each other.

One king ruled a rich and cosmopolitan land, with bustling trade posts and sea ports where ships from around the world brought the finest foods, and wines and arts within his reach. The other king ruled a land of shepherds and wilderness, and his castle stood close by a rocky and nearly deserted sea coast, where vicious beasts would attack and devour the unwary traveler.

But even though the two kings now lived far apart from each other, and the realms in which they ruled were so very different, they nonetheless continued to love each other as brothers, and sent many gifts back and forth, and many letters. And it was as if they had never parted since the days of their childhood. Each king also had the joy of being father to a young prince.

And, furthermore, the wife of the City King would soon bear him a second child. So it seemed that the future of each kingdom would be as happy as its past.

And in this time of peace, the Country King came to stay at the court of the City King, and he stayed for nine whole months, when, at last, he decided he could stay no longer. But the City King did not want him to say “goodbye.” He begged and he begged the Country King to stay just one week longer. But the Country King still insisted he had to leave first thing, the very next day.

And so the City King asked his Queen, who had been listening, and saying nothing, to try her hand at convincing his friend to stay.Read more... )

[ETA] Footnote: the Proper names Shakespeare gave to the characters in this story )
capriuni: A black field crossed by five parallel lighting bolts in blue, gold, green, red, and purple (Default)
The Frog King, or Iron Heinrich (I've retold it in vignettes, in Monsters' Rhapsody, but not the whole thing)

The Six Swans (told as flashback by the youngest brother, who is not completely returned to human form)

The two brothers (can't quickly find a link to the story in English) -- this one is long and complicated enough to be a NaNoWriMo project.

The Iron Stove (ditto. First thought on reading this as a Freshman in college: A woman's story of surviving the patriarchy!)

How Six Men Got on in the world (ditto -- six fellows with outlandish superpowers that get in the way of their everyday lives, but when they meet and team up, they overthrow a corrupt king).

The Frog Prince -- not to be confused with "The Frog King," above -- in this the youngest of the three princesses shows some agency. And she keeps her promise because she made a promise, not because her daddy told her to ... interesting that this was a story the Grimm bros. decided to cut from their "family" collection).
capriuni: text icon "Writer's Block" (blocked!)

Image description: The words "Writer's Block," with 'Writer's' smashing into a lengthened ascender of the 'k,' as though into a wall.

So: in revisiting Monster's Legacy, I've decided to rearrange the chapter order. From the beginning, I'd been working on the assumption that I'd start with the autobiographical poems in vaguely chronological order, and putting the poems based on "fables and fairy tales" somewhere near the end (like, maybe the penultimate chapter, before I close it up with more personal poems again).

I've now decided that the fairy tale poems should come first, because: 1) that's how people already categorize monsters, so the first (cognitive) step is less of a doozy, and 2) it will set up the context I want for my primary argument that: "Mainstream anxieties about disability are as just as rational as anxieties over the bogeyman."

And because this fables chapter will be my foundation, I've also realized it has to be broader and more substantial than it is now; it currently contains four poems, one of which I'm going to throw out,* one of which is based on a mostly unknown story (in America),** and a third which is based on an unfamiliar version of an 'old favorite'.***

That means: I have more poems to write! ... A-a-and part of me is wondering if this is a legitimate decision, or just a delaying tactic so I can put off finishing the thing, and face up to the risk and terror of actually publishing and selling it. I'm not sure which side of that argument is being voiced by brain weasels, either.

There's the "decision" half of my writer's block.

The "frustration" half comes from not finding the source material I want to link back to for a few of those new poems -- especially the poem I want to write about Hephaestus (yeah -- yet another relatively obscure character, but it'll involve name-dropping the really famous gods). I could swear (By Hermes, naturally) that, back in early 2011, I read that Plato argued that artists should not make images of Hephaestus, because people might take depictions of his physical disability as literally true, rather than a metaphor, and that would tarnish the idea of gods as perfect, and thus, would be blasphemous (This is what inspired me to title my brief folklore blog: "Plato's Nightmare/Aesop's Dream"). Only, now, no matter what keywords I put into search engines, I can't find anything even close to that.

Other stories I want to write (about), and now cannot find anywhere: An e-text of the 14th C. romance of Aesop, which spells out how he was physically disabled black African ex-slave (I can buy a book of the translation from Amazon, but I want to have an online version, durnit!), and the story about the "real" Mother Goose was Charlemagne's grandmother, and how she had one enormous, deformed, (goose-like) foot, and walked with a crutch.****

So I am now appealing to my circles for help with Google-fu. Halp?! Any ideas?

*Footnote One )

**Footnote Two )

***Footnote Three (content warning for suggested pedophilia without so much as impaired consent) )

****Footnote Four )
capriuni: A black field crossed by five parallel lighting bolts in blue, gold, green, red, and purple (Default)
Over in [personal profile] dialecticdreamer's journal, there's a discussion of favorite and least favorite plotlines/tropes, here: The bones of story. And I mentioned that I'm fond of "Beauty and the Beast" motif in folktales. I was sure I had posted this story, somewhere in my journal, before this. But no. I'd posted it to another forum, instead. It's time I rectified that. So, here:

THE BAREFOOT QUEEN (Art Garden piece on the theme of 'Shoes') )
capriuni: A black field crossed by five parallel lighting bolts in blue, gold, green, red, and purple (Default)
Guilty for its horrendous gender politics, and a pleasure for its witty lyrics and snappy music -- both of which are evidenced in this song ("Happily ever after"}:

Carol Burnett, reprising her 1959 debut role as Winifred the Woebegone:

Tracy Ulman (2000):

This song has also got me thinking about the motif of "outside help" {ironically, also present in Andersen's source). Ideas ar߼are starting to form as to why...
capriuni: Text: "an honorable retreat ... not with bag and baggage, yet scrip and scrippage. (Scrippage)
... before I banish her for a month. She's insisting that I should at least be sure of my format before I start. And I suppose she's right.

The story I want to do is a retelling-reworking of Hans my Hedgehog. The biggest change I want to make to the original story is that the marriage to the "Good Princess" would come closer to the middle than the end of the story, and it would not break the spell. Hans would remain in his half-man / half-hedgehog form. After all, Hans's form brought more pain and shame to his father than it ever brought to Hans, himself. And also, it's a more interesting story if, after he inherits his bride's kingdom, he's given the challenge of being a monarch when his subjects view him as a monster... It's easy to inspire loyalty when you're pretty to look at...

But: right now, I'm wambling between two, or possibly three, different time-settings-tones. And whichever one I ultimately pick would radically change the mechanics of my plot. So I'm going to list the pros and cons of each one, and then, I'll post a poll for all you good folk to give me feedback. Whether your answers tickle me, or annoy me -- either way, I'll be clearer on my true desires (fingers crossed that there's no three-way tie).

Option One )

Option Two )

Option Three )

And now: The Poll!
(If you're reading this on LJ, and don't want to log into Open-Identity, you can just tell me which of the three options you think I should pick in a comment.)

Poll #14360 Help me Decide!
Open to: Registered Users, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 3

So -- which time-setting should I choose?

View Answers

Present Day (near future)
0 (0.0%)

"Once Upon a Time"
3 (100.0%)

Combine the Two
0 (0.0%)

And finally, for your enjoyment and my inspiration... A key plot element of Hans-my-Hedgehog is his love of playing the bagpipes (they were never just Scottish). Here's someone playing a replica of a 17th Century set of the smallest of the German Shepherd's Pipes -- which would be the most likely right size for an eight-year-old hedgehog boy. Imagine being lost in a deep, dark wood, and hearing a sound like this drifting down from somewhere in the canopy above you:

capriuni: Text: If you want to be a Hero, be Good to the Storyteller. (Storyteller)
It's a little too graphically bloody for Disney, perhaps, but still: It has ALL THE ACTION (and cute, funny talking animals for comic relief): The Two Brothers.


Read it.

I dare you to disagree. ...Even if it's not the kind of movie you'd go see, the events within hit almost all the check boxes for "Summer Blockbuster."

The neat thing about the link above is that it includes the Grimm Brothers' own commentary on the story, explaining the different story fragments that were the primary sources for the tale, and how it relates to other stories...
capriuni: Illustration of M. Goose riding a gander; caption reads: Beware the magic of words (mother goose)
1) One good thing about watching online, long after the original release, is that I don't have to worry about dealing with that 3-D nonsense.

2) I'd read on Wikipedia that there was a controversy about the title -- with the accusation that Disney removed the female lead's name from the title in a crass and manipulative pander to boys in the audience. I don't know if that's the actual reasoning or not, but I'm glad the change was made. Because that film is to the original story what pureed parsnips are to maple vanilla ice cream: They look kinda similar, from the far side of the room. But get closer, and they smell different, taste different, and feel different. So it's good they put a different label on the carton.

3) This may come across as heresy to some... But I like the movie better than the original. Then again, the original is my second least favorite Grimms' tale (my first least favorite is Sleeping Beauty)

4) Still, this movie did take up a lot of time with a pet peeve of mine: Horses are not dogs! Don't spend all your animating and voicing talent creating a magnificent stallion, and then have him sniff the ground, wag his tail, and sit on his haunches like a dog (you're already giving him human expressions and mannerisms to make his emoting familiar, after all). The gags aren't that funny. There will be kids in your audience who know what real horses are like. And the kids that don't know can learn.

5) So -- This movie did remind me of the original (because of names), and that got a plot bunny hatching in my brain. So, this is how the original ended (1857 version, translated from the German by D. L. Ashliman):

The prince was overcome with grief, and in his despair he threw himself from the tower. He escaped with his life, but the thorns into which he fell poked out his eyes. Blind, he wandered about in the forest, eating nothing but grass and roots, and doing nothing but weeping and wailing over the loss of his beloved wife. Thus he wandered about miserably for some years, finally happening into the wilderness where Rapunzel lived miserably with the twins that she had given birth to.

He heard a voice and thought it was familiar. He advanced toward it, and as he approached, Rapunzel recognized him, and crying, threw her arms around his neck. Two of her tears fell into his eyes, and they became clear once again, and he could see as well as before. He led her into his kingdom, where he was received with joy, and for a long time they lived happily and satisfied.

So... Rapunzel spends the first part of her childhood hidden away in a walled garden (and she's not a princess; her parents were commoners), her pubescent and young adult years hidden away in a tower, meets and falls in love with the one man who finds her, and the only man she's ever seen in her life, and then spends "several years" as a young single mother in the middle of the forest raising the twins that one man has fathered (so she survived... and made a life for her family. She couldn't have been utterly miserable).

From there -- from a life where she has known nothing but almost complete solitude from birth-- to get whisked into the world of royal etiquette, protocol, and political intrigue (married to a man with depressive and suicidal tendencies). ...Seems to me, that's where the story really gets interesting.

So I have a plot bunny where there's a threat of treason at the castle, or a war, and Rapunzel helps the royal family escape the castle, back to the forest, where she uses the magic she learned at her foster-mother's knee to help defeat the evildoers, and she saves the day. And/or her son and daughter could grow up to be adventurers...
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The other day, [personal profile] dharma_slut posted this link to a TEDx Talk by Colin Stokes, about the correlation between our modern rape culture and the lack of movies that pass the Bechdel Test:

Quick summary of his thesis:

A) It's not enough that we empower girls to protect themselves against the Patriarchy; we have to teach boys to fight the Patriarchy, too.

B) Adventure movies aimed at young male audiences that Don't pass the Bechdel Test have the following subtext: "The role of the True Man is to go out Alone and Kill the Bad Guys, and then come home and collect his reward: a woman who has no friends, and doesn't speak."


C) It's time for fathers to teach their sons that it's a good thing to want to be on Team with the goal of helping others, instead of being a Solo Renegade, even if the leader of that team is a woman, and that Real Men trust their sisters.

And part of his talk was a strong endorsement, by name, of Pixar's new Movie "Brave."

Based on that recommendation, I did something I'd never planned on doing: Gave Google my credit card number, and rented "Brave" for 48 hours of watching over the Internet. I just finished watching the first time through tonight... May watch it again before time's up tomorrow.

Anyway: I wanted to report: not only does it pass the Bechdel Test (the whole movie is basically a long conversation between Mother and Daughter about How to Lead your King Queendom), it also passes the Disability Test I came up with a couple of weeks ago.

The King loses half his leg in the first act (before the tenth minute), in a fight with a demon bear. And for the rest of the film, his peg leg is treated as proof that he Survived, rather than a reason to be pitied.

So it has a disabled character. And while he boasts about getting revenge against the demon, that's clearly for the sake of a good story; he spends all his actual energy trying to maintain the peace in his kingdom (mainly between his wife and teenage daughter), so it's clear that that's his real motivation. And the movie has a happy ending, even though (*gasp*) he still has a peg leg at the end.

Anyway, the movie's page on YouTube has snippets of reviews from Rotten Tomatoes, and while the majority were positive (overall 78% positive), even the good reviews were kind of lukewarm. Now that I've seen the movie, I think a big reason for that is what I call: "Mashed potatoes Vs. Vanilla ice cream Syndrome;" they may be the best mashed potatoes ever to come out of any chef's kitchen, but if you gobble down a mouthful expecting ice cream, you're going to hate them.

The number one thing that I noticed about this film, in comparison with all the other Pixar movies I've seen is that it is so much darker.

First, it's literally darker. Every other movie from them has been "candy-colored:" the worlds of children's toys, and tropical fish in coral reefs, and crayon-colored monsters in closets. This movie was set in the Scottish Highlands, in the Middle Ages, and its color palette is dominated by fog, and stone, and deep, dark forests (still image from the film of the heroine riding her black horse through a fog-shrouded ring of standing stones). I, on the other hand, love those forest/earth tones. But I still recommend watching the 2-D version, and turning the brightness on your screen all the way up.

Second, it's thematically darker (and that may be what dampened reviewers' enthusiasm most of all). Usually, these kinds of "kids' movies" get their happy ending from the moral: "Free spirits just have to be Free!!. But this movie gets its happy ending from the moral: "Free Spirits must learn to temper their Hearts' Desires with Responsibility Toward Their Community." The soaring ballad during the closing credits is "Learn me Right," and it's all about owning up to your mistakes: needing, seeking, and earning, forgiveness.

According to Box Office Stats (unfortunately powerful), this was the first Pixar movie to fail to come in the Top Ten of the Year (it came in #11). I can't help but wonder if it would have done better as an autumn movie-- it certainly had an autumn feel, rather than summer vacation and cotton candy... you know?

Anyway, I liked it.
capriuni: A black field crossed by five parallel lighting bolts in blue, gold, green, red, and purple (not-fluffy)
Excerpt from 'Rapunzel' -- the R-Rated version from the Grimms' first edition (1812) (translated by D. L. Ashliman) )

I want the story of when she's living alone in the forest, between the time the witch Gothel kicks her out and the prince finds her again (he wasn't even searching for her, just wandering blind through the forest, feeling sorry for himself, until he accidentally comes upon her place of dwelling).

This Rapunzel I see as fairly kick-ass.

One: she doesn't simply "let" him climb her hair -- she arranged for him to come every evening, and pulled him up. So she must have been strong, and able to do a lot for herself. And --

Two: Yes, this version of the story focuses on the trope of the pitiful woman giving birth alone. But think about it: the prince (young king) doesn't meet up with her again until several years later, when her son and daughter are out of babyhood and into childhood. If she's living in a house, she must have built it. If she's fed herself and her kids, she must have hunted and gathered for herself. So Wilhelm Grimm wrote that she lived in misery. But if you're going to survive, you can't be miserable 100% of the time.

I'm picturing her making her way through the forest, her hair now cropped short, with a bow and a quiver of arrows slung over her shoulder, perhaps working sorcery that she'd learned from Frau Gothel.*

I mean, it's all between (or even buried under) the lines. But it's there. Unlike Sleeping Beauty, where neither the princess nor her 'rescuing' prince do anything,** Rapunzel is the one who rescues them both.

BTW: "Rapunzel" is the name given to either of two plants: a wildflower called Rampion in English, or a wild herb (brought under cultivation and gone wild again), also called Corn Salad ('Corn' being an old word for any grain, and this plant really likes to grow in old wheat fields). Seeing how it's highly nutritious, craved by a pregnant woman, and the only description of it mentions its green leaves, but no flowers, my money's on the latter.

*The name "Gothel" and the fact that Rapunzel's tears have healing powers are the only details in the Disney movie Tangled that bear any resemblance to the original version/s. In this 1812 version, Gothel is a powerful fairy; in the rewrites from 1819 - 1857, she's a sorceress.

**(the spell Sleeping Beauty was under was timed to last 100 years exactly. The prince just happened to kiss her the moment the precise moment the 100 years was up; she would have woken up even if he'd never been there)

A link to the 1812 and 1857 versions, side-by-side comparison
capriuni: a vaguely dog-like beast, bristling, saying: grah! (GRAH)
Mary's Child: The Privilege of Speech and Human Identity

...In which I finally get the injustice I witnessed, aimed at other kids with C.P. who can't speak, off my chest... After nearly forty years of only talking about it privately.

That injustice is the whole reason I made my "Grah" icon...

(For the benefit of folks viewing from the LJ side: )

Okay, which story should I do next, right before Christmas -- The Steadfast Tin Soldier (The soldier is Special, 'cause he only has One Leg, and he's the Bravest of All), or The Ugly Duckling (because of how it frames Difference Within the Family, and how it's used to "comfort" children who are going through illness and/or disability: "But if you're brave, and soldier through, you will Grow Out Of It, and be handsome and admired." Also, I think it was the trope source for "Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer," but that latter one is outside the scope of my blog)?
capriuni: A black field crossed by five parallel lighting bolts in blue, gold, green, red, and purple (Default)
It's taken longer than I expected to write, but my next entry is up in my blog -- the first full telling of a Grimms tale:

The tale of Thumbling: Making your way through a world that doesn't fit.
capriuni: A black field crossed by five parallel lighting bolts in blue, gold, green, red, and purple (Default)
This another story that deleted LJ account. I was commissioned to write a story that a grandmother could tell her granddaughter. The one thing the grandmother liked to share with her granddaughter most was teaching her about gardening and wildflowers.

I stole outright, and quite liberally, from the Grimms' tale The Goose-Girl at the Well (Which, you may remember, I also borrowed from for my Gryphon story). But I swapped out the original simile (I love you as meat loves salt), and swapped in flower-based metaphors, so the grandmother could use the story as a jumping-off point for discussing whatever they're looking at in the garden at the time of the telling (hence, also, putting in details about the changing seasons, and different flowers in different habitats. The switch in P.O.V. to that of the young lord and his adventures half-way through is wholly my own.

This is what I came up with:

The Three Bouquets )
capriuni: A black field crossed by five parallel lighting bolts in blue, gold, green, red, and purple (Default)
Yup. ScriptFrenzy has led me to be certifiable. Yup. Mad ramblings on my writing/non-writing process )

For your pleasure (and my convenience) I hearby present (cut for epic lenth)

*The Two Brothers* -- Pure Rip-roaring adventure. Disney and/or Dreamworks could make a blockbuster out of this Grimms' Tale! )

There are funky line-breaks in the story. But I'm too tired, now, to fix every last one of them, sorry.
capriuni: A black field crossed by five parallel lighting bolts in blue, gold, green, red, and purple (Once upon a time)
(This post is also a reply to this one from [ profile] spiralsheep, btw. But the spinster in that picture was using the modern, high-tech spinning wheel [came to Europe in the 16th century], and the heroine in this story is using a hand spindle, which has been around since roughly neolithic times, and is still in use around the world wherever people do not have finished floors in their houses.)

Frau Holle is the same goddess as Frau Perchta, that I equated with Mother Goose, here, but "Holle" is the name she goes by in northern Germany, and
"Perchta" is the name she goes by in southern Germany.

Note that A) Mother Holle brings the snow, and B) the rooster crows at the heroine's (and anti-heroine's) return.

(Translated in 1884 by Margaret Taylor, so it's public domain. So I'm posting it publicly. :-P)


There was once a widow who had two daughters -- one of whom was pretty and industrious, whilst the other was ugly and idle. But she was much fonder of the ugly and idle one, because she was her own daughter; and the other, who was a step-daughter, was obliged to do all the work, and be the Cinderella of the house. Every day the poor girl had to sit by a well, in the highway, and spin and spin till her fingers bled.

Now it happened that one day the shuttle was marked with her blood, so she dipped it in the well, to wash the mark off; but it dropped out of her hand and fell to the bottom. She began to weep, and ran to her step-mother and told her of the mishap. But she scolded her sharply, and was so merciless as to say, "Since you have let the shuttle fall in, you must fetch it out again."

So the girl went back to the well, and did not know what to do; and in the sorrow of her heart she jumped into the well to get the shuttle. She lost her senses; and when she awoke and came to herself again, Read more... )
capriuni: A black field crossed by five parallel lighting bolts in blue, gold, green, red, and purple (Once upon a time)
Once Upon A Time?

1.You are sent to live your life in a fairytale land. What is the name of this land far far away?

:::Blank Stare::: "The Kingdom," just like every country in every fairy tale. Country names for fictional lands is a modern literary invention...

But if you must have a name, I'll make one up right after I answer the last question...

2.Considering your personality, what standard fairytale persona would you be?

The youngest sibling. The "Simpleton," who tries to be nice to everyone, including the ugly troll at the crossroads, and the toad in the mud puddle.

3.What or who would be your nemesis?

Greedy, ambitious person (advisor to monarch, maybe), who tries to usurp the throne through being tricky, dishonest and "clever."

4.What is the moral to your tale?

The power of kindness is the greatest power of all.

5.Describe what would be your happily ever after?

The Greedy Advisor is humiliated, and the monarch appoints me to advisor in G.A.'s place. But I turn down the grand apartments in the palace in favor of a little hut in the woods, where I ask all the birds and animals for advice, and that's where I get my "wisdom," because the birds and insects and animals together can know things that "clever" humans will never figure out.

Okay. Now for the name of my Kingdom. First, I'll close my eyes, then, I'll type letters at random, thusly:
sfdl;kreon veirekf eireoirfdjoljkreioe

Hm. How does "Joljakre" sound for the name of the kingdom?

No? Then we'll just call it "The Kingdom."
capriuni: A black field crossed by five parallel lighting bolts in blue, gold, green, red, and purple (Default)
Note: I'm no expert. I'm not an anthropologist, or professional folklorist who has gone out into the world and found any hard evidence for my ideas, but I have read a bunch of stuff collected by professional folklorists, and these are ideas that my poor little brain has concocted that make more sense to me than not. Make of that what you will.
  • Mother Goose/Old Spinster as Storyteller:

    This is the first literary, published image of "Mother Goose," and appeared as fronticepiece of the 1697 edition of Perrault's Histoires ou contes du temps passé, avec des moralités (thanks to [ profile] pendanther for finding it for me!). Her audience is a mix of adults and a child, and, if you wondering what she's doing, she's spinning with a drop spindle (link to a clearer photo).

    Anyway, the mechanical spinning wheel wasn't even invented until the 1500's or so, and even then, could only really be used by people wealthy enough to spend their time indoors in houses with smooth, finished floors, where the spinning wheel would have a sturdy foundation. Up until then, (and after then, for the common folk), every woman who spun (i.e. every woman) did so by hand. One advantage of using the drop spindle was that you could tuck it into your belt and take it with you while you do other chores, like feeding the giant chickens.

    Think about it: every thread in every piece of cloth, from the sails of ships to bed linens to underwear, had to be spun this way, and the spinster has to be constantly alert, and keep her hands still, to make sure the spindle is going at a constant rate, so that the thread is even and strong. What do you do to keep yourself from dozing off with the monotony of it, and to keep the kiddies occupied, so you don't have to get them out of trouble every five minutes? One thing that solves both problems well is telling stories (today, we let the DVD player do it). Which is why, in English idiom at least, "To spin a yarn" is synonomous with "To tell a story." So, by default, folk and fairy tales are women's art. The Grimms brothers may have written down the stories, but to get them in the first place, they invited the neighborhood sisters to their house (one of the brothers, I forget which, had asthma and couldn't travel comfortably, so they weren't the 19th century version Alan Lomax, wondering folklorists, that many picture them to be).

  • The Youngest Child Becomes King:
    I remember once, years ago, watching a documentary on PBS on Maquac monkeys, that said a) that social status is passed through the highest ranking females of the troupe, and b) the youngest offspring of the highest ranking female has the second highest status besides the mother. I also remember reading, years ago (it could have been in a world mythology or religion course in college), that in societies where property is inherited through the matrilineal line, it's the youngest child, rather than the eldest, who inherits the bulk of the wealth.

    This makes sense, when you think about it: The youngest is the most likely to be still at home when the mother dies (and taking care of mom and the estate) and older siblings are more likely to have already moved away and started families of their own. So it's just easier for the youngest to keep living there than for the eldest to move house again and come back to the nest. But in patriarchal societies, the father-head-of-the-household has more reason to fear that his eldest son will, one day, usurp his position (as happens in lion prides, and pretty much every Greek myth ever preserved in writing), so it's best to appease him with promises of the largest share of the pie if he lets dear old dad die of natural causes.

    So all those stories where it's the youngest child who surpasses the older, macho, greedy brothers and becomes king could well be: a) a cultural memory, passed down from generation to generation through the oral tradition, of the time when society was in transition between Matrilineal and Patrilineal inheritance, b) a gut feeling of wishful thinking, or c) a little combination of both. Personally, my money's on c. One of the Grimms' stories pretty much spells out this conflict in exactly so many words: The Twelve Brothers.

  • The Wicked Witch Vs. the Beautiful Princess:
    Okay, I admit it. Even though I've always loved fairy tales, for years, I had a giant, rather heavy, Wiccan/Neo-Pagan-shaped chip on my shoulder about how witches were portrayed. It really came to a head the year my mother died, just a few days before Samhain. Here I was, at a deep, spiritual crossroads in my life, at the most spiritual, mystical of the Sabbats, and everywhere I looked there were those horrible cartoon images of green witches with warty noses. Since I couldn't get away from them (I couldn't go eat in the cafeteria without seeing them), I decided to look at them in a different light, and pretend that these were just pictures of the Goddess-as-Crone, since, after all, the Crone began her reign at Samhain.

    Then, a lightbulb blinked on, and I thought back on the fairy tales I've read. You know how, when you see a play, and you notice that two characters are never on stage at the same time, you begin to wonder if the two parts are played by a single actor? ...Yeah. That's what I noticed, and began to wonder, about the witch and the beautiful princess. In Snow White, for example, the witch is simply forgotten about after Snow White is woken from her poisoned sleep. In East of the Sun, West of the Moon the witch literally goes boom in a puff of smoke after the fair maiden rescued the prince (so there's a bit of gender reversal there).

    So ever since then it's been my personal theory that the "Fairytale," is actually a remnant of seasonal magic ritual, where both the Witch and the Princesss are representations of the Goddess. The former represents Winter and Stagnation, and the latter represents Spring and Regrowth. And the trials the Prince has to go through to vanguish one and free the other represent the sacrificial rituals performed by shamans and oracles. This theory may be complete nonsense, anthropologically speaking, but it works for me, and it's the symbol structure I use when creating new, literary, versions, of fairytales. Oh, and I can point to at least one Grimms' tale that shows the Crone-Witch in an ambiguous-to-good, testing-the-prince-to-strengthen-him, Goddess-of-plenty sort of way: The Goose Girl at the Well (Oh, and as one of the main attributes of this Crone is her large flock of geese, I also can't help but wonder if She's one of the origins of "'Mother Goose' as Source of Ancient Women's Stories").
capriuni: A black field crossed by five parallel lighting bolts in blue, gold, green, red, and purple (Default)
And now, I present, for your reading pleasure, one of my all-time favorite tales from the Brothers Grimm.

(The retelling is mine, and I'm trying to decide which one scene I should illustrate, that's within my abilities... I was thinking of doing the delousing scene, but without a photo to draw from, coming up with the right perspectives is a headache... so any suggestions on any of the other scenes I could do?)

In the meantime, Enjoy "The Devil's Three Golden Hairs"!

Once upon a time, a baby was born with a caul, and so his parents (who were the poorest couple in the village) took him to the wise woman to learn his fortune. The news was better than anything they could have hoped for. The boy, she said, was a luck child, and was destined to marry the king's daughter when he was fourteen years old.

Word of this spread quickly among their neighbors, and one day, not long after the luck child was born, the king was traveling incognito through the village, checking on the state of his kingdom, and heard the marvelous news for himself. Naturally, he was not happy with the idea of his daughter married to a common beggar, and so he vowed to thwart the prophecy.

Dressed as a wealthy merchant, he visited the parents and asked to see the child. "Ah!" he exclaimed, when they brought the baby before him, "I have not seen such a beautiful baby in all my life. I would give all the gold and jewels in my treasury to have a son such as this, but, alas, my wife cannot bear a child. It is a shame that he must grow up in such poverty." Then, as if it were a sudden inspiration, he said: "I can give this child everything he will ever need or want. He can come live with me, and I'll be his ward, and care for him on your behalf."

His parents were loath to part with him. But it was true that they could not give him all that they wished they could, and besides, they thought, he is a luck child - no harm can come to him. So they handed their son over to the stranger.

The king kept the baby with him until he had traveled through several villages. When he was sure he was somewhere where no one would recognize the baby, he put the baby in a crate, and dropped him in a millstream. He went home happy, confident that no one would ever see the child alive again.

It is not so easy to drown a child born with a caul, however. Even though there had been a recent rainstorm, and the stream churned wildly within its banks, the baby was protected by the power of his caul, and the crate rocked him as gently as a cradle, coming to rest against the millpond dam. A fisherman happened to be walking along the dam just at that moment, and fished the crate out of the water. Peeking inside, he saw the most beautiful baby in the world. The child, he thought, must have been sent by God, since the miller and his wife were unable to have children of their own, and so he brought them the baby.

The miller and his wife were indeed overjoyed to be blessed with such a miracle, and raised the boy as their own to be good and true. He thrived physically as well, and by the age of fourteen, he had become a vision of strength and grace.

The king at that time was again touring his country, and he happened, by chance, to stop for a rest at the miller's house. He couldn't help but notice the handsome youth working at the mill. "You are blessed with a good son," he commented to the wife.

"Yes, indeed," she replied. "He is our miraculous gift from God. Our neighbor found him as an infant in a crate, floating in our millpond. That was. . . let me see - fourteen years ago, now."

The king knew, then, that this was the child prophesied to marry his daughter, and that he had to do something soon if he was to stop the old woman's prophesy from coming true.

He called the luck child to his side. "You look like a responsible young man," he said, "and a swift runner. Can you deliver a message for me? It is for Her Majesty the Queen's eyes only, and is of utmost importance."

"I can do anything," the luck child replied, puffing out his chest.

The king smiled, and handed him a letter.

The luck child slipped it into his vest, and started off at once. He had no
idea that the message read: "Bring the bearer of this message to the executioner immediately. I want him dead before I return home."

There was confidence in his stride and a song on his lips when he started out. But a thick forest lay between his home and the castle, and he soon became lost. Night fell, and he was only halfway there. "Oh, well," he said to himself, "I'll just climb this tree to stay out of the reach of wolves, and wait until morning."

When he got up to a high branch, however, he saw a cottage with a light in the window, a little distance away. Even better, he thought, and climbed down again, to ask for shelter.
Soon, he knocked on the door, and an old woman answered, opening the door just a crack. "What do you want?" she asked, whispering.
"I come to ask for shelter," the luck child said, "I could sleep on the floor."
"Well, you can't have shelter here," she told him. "This is a thieves' den, and if they find you, they'll surely murder you."
"Oh, never mind about that, I'm not afraid of anything," he answered, and he wouldn't go away.
So the old woman had to let him in.
He curled up in the corner and promptly fell fast asleep.
Not long after that the thieves came home, and sure enough, they wanted to kill the boy. "He'll tell our secret," the leader said.
"Leave him alone!" the old woman told them. "He's just an innocent lad, and doesn't know enough of the world to want to harm us."
"Well," the leader conceded, "perhaps not. But we can't have him sleeping here rent free," and picked the boy's pockets to see what riches he carried.
Pulling out the letter, the leader grinned. "The king's hand," he said, "I know it well - I've forged it often enough," and he read it aloud to the others.
The cruelty and trickery of the king pierced even the hardest heart among them.
"To go to his death without any warning or prayer?" one of them protested. "A boy as young as this deserves a better fate."
"Don't worry," the leader said with a wink. "He will get exactly what he deserves, and so will the king!" He forged a substitute letter: "The bearer of this message is to marry our eldest daughter immediately. I want the union sanctified before I return home." The thief put the letter in the luck child's pocket, and threw the original into the fire.
In the morning, the luck child started off for the castle once more, as light-hearted and carefree as ever. The path out of the forest was as easy as the path in was hard, and he arrived at the castle before the sun had set. His bearing was so graceful and confident that the guards thought he must be a young lord, and they opened the gate for him without question.

The queen was surprised when she read the message, for the princess had already been promised in marriage the day she was born, and it was unlike the king to break with protocol. But the more she thought about it, the more she liked the idea. And the princess herself was clearly smitten with the suitor - her left foot twitched the way it always did when she was trying to hide her excitement. So all three of them happily complied with the king's command, and the priest was sent for on the spot.
The king was horrified, when he returned home a few days later, to find that the prophecy had been fulfilled, but now that the boy was legally a member of the royal family, it was much harder to do away with him directly.
So he called the boy into his private chambers. "A simple marriage ceremony may be enough in the outside world," he told him in a confidential tone of voice. "But now that you are part of the royal family, you have a special tradition to uphold. I cannot make you a full heir until you have successfully proven your valor and wisdom with a quest."
The luck child nodded. He had heard of such quests in the ballads sung at village fairs. "What quest shall I go on, Sire?" he asked eagerly, for although the princess was lovely, he wasn't ready to settle down quite yet.

"Bring me three golden hairs from the Devil's own head," the king said with a sneer. He expected the boy to refuse, thereby allowing him to order an execution for refusing a royal command.
But the luck child only grinned. "It's as good as done, Your Majesty," he said with a deep bow. "You shall have the treasure in your hand before the end of the year." He bid farewell to his bride and the queen, and started off.
Perhaps it was better this way, the king thought, for no one could survive such a quest. Even if he got to Hell, the Devil would eat him on sight.

The luck child traveled a long time, through all the kingdoms of the known world, and beyond. One day, he came upon a city enclosed in a high wall, with a guard watching over the road.
"May I pass through your city?"
"That depends," the guard answered. "What can you do?"
"I can do anything!"
"Then you can tell us why our fountain, which used to flow with wine, is now as dry as a stone."
"I am on an important quest for my king," the luck child replied, "and do not have time to study the problem now. But I promise to give you an answer when I return."
And so the guard let him through.
He traveled even further still, over highways and along fox runs, and one day came upon another walled and guarded city.
"May I pass through?"
"That depends," the guard answered. "What can you do?"
"I can do anything!"
"Then you can tell us why our apple tree, which used to give us golden apples, is now without fruit or leaf of any kind."
"I am on an important quest for my king," the luck child replied, "and do not have time to study the problem now. But I promise to give you an answer when I return."
And so the guard let him through.
The luck child traveled on to the very ends of the Earth, coming at last to the broad river that marked the border with Hell. The ferryman waiting by the bank asked what he was doing there, since he was clearly still alive.
"I have come on an errand for my king," he replied, "to collect three golden hairs from the Devil's head, and also to get the answers to some very hard questions."
"Well," said the ferryman, "It's highly irregular, but if you ask a question for me, I will take you across free of charge."
"What do you want to know?" the luck child asked.
"How do I free myself from this task of ferrying people across the river?"
"Good question," the luck child said. "If anyone knows, it is surely the Devil."
And so the ferryman poled him across the broad, deep river, setting him down on the far side with a wave and a wish for good luck.
The luck child strode on through the fields and meadows of the otherworld until he came to the sooty door of the Devil's house. The Devil was not home, but his grandmother, who looked a kindly sort, sat dozing in an armchair by the fire.
She woke with a start when he approached. "What are you doing here?" she asked.
"I've come to collect three golden hairs from the Devil's head," he answered. "I need them to complete my marriage to the princess."
"Is that so? Well, if the Devil finds you, you might not think that this princess is worth it . . . But you seem like a nice lad, so I'll do what I can to help." She used her magic to transform him into an ant, and hid him in the folds of her skirt.
"I also have three questions that need answering," the luck child added from his hiding place.
"You don't do anything on a small scale, do you?" the old woman asked. "What are they?"
"Why is a fountain, which used to flow with wine, now dry as a stone? Why does an apple tree, which used to grow golden apples, no longer bear fruit or leaves of any kind? And why does no one come to relieve the ferryman from his constant labors?"
"Well, you just hide yourself and listen carefully, and I'll do what I can."
Later that evening, after dark, the Devil returned, and he immediately sensed something was out of place. His nostrils flared and the hair on his back stood on end. "Human flesh!" he roared. "I smell human flesh!" And he began to tear through the place, looking for the intruder.
"You just have human flesh on the brain!" his grandmother scolded. "I spent all day sweeping this place clean, and now look at the mess you've made. Be sensible for once. Sit down and have your dinner."
After he had eaten, the Devil grew very sleepy, so he laid his head in his grandmother's lap, and asked her to delouse him.
This she did, and he soon drifted off to sleep. She let him snore a while, then she plucked one golden hair from his head.
"Ow! Why in blazes did you do that?" the Devil yelled.
"Do what, Dear? I must have dozed off and had a nightmare," she replied.
"What was your nightmare?"
"I dreamt there was a city with a magic fountain that used to flow with wine, but now is completely dry, and no one knows why."
"That's a simple matter to fix," he told her. "There's a poisonous toad under the fountain, and if they dig it out and kill it, the fountain will flow with wine again."
"That makes sense," his grandmother agreed, and deloused him again until he fell asleep. When his snores were as loud as thunder, she pulled out a second hair.
The Devil roared in pain. "You're doing that on purpose!" he accused her.
"Don't be silly," she said, patting his hand, "No one has nightmares on purpose."
"Well, what is it this time?"
"I dreamt of an apple tree that used to bear golden apples, but now will not even bear a single leaf, and no one knew why."
"Simple enough: there's a mouse gnawing the roots. If the people kill it, the tree will bear as it always has, but if they do nothing, the tree will eventually die completely."
"Yes, that is simple. Now, let us both go back to sleep." Once more, she deloused him until his snores were loud enough to shake the walls, and then she pulled out the last golden hair.
The Devil roared and prepared to strike his grandmother across the face.
"Don't get excited," she said. "You know as well as I do that no one can help their bad dreams. By morning, they will all be forgotten. Now, put your head down and go back to sleep."
The Devil put his head down, but he was too curious to sleep. "What was your nightmare this time?" he asked at last.
"I dreamt of the ferryman on the broad, deep river. He had to pole across forever and no one came to relieve him."
The Devil laughed. "That's the easiest of all," he said. "All he needs to do is hand the pole over to the next person who asks for passage, and he will be free."
"Thank you, Dear," his grandmother said, resuming her delousing. "I always sleep better when I know there is a sensible solution to something."
Soon the Devil was snoring again, and this time, his grandmother let him sleep until dawn, when he rose to go out.
As soon as the coast was clear, she returned the luck child to his human form, and handed him the three hairs she had collected. "Did you hear the answers to your questions?" she asked.
"Yes, I did, and I'll remember them all. Thank you." He waved goodbye and started down the road toward home with a whistle on his lips.
The ferryman was waiting for him by the bank. "Did you find out how I can be free?" he called out, almost as soon as the luck child was in sight.
"Yes, and I'll tell you on the other side of the river." Once he was safely back in the world of the living, he told the ferryman that all he had to do was hand his pole to the next person who came along. "Don't worry," he said, as he waved goodbye, "I'm sure that someone will come along soon."
When he got to the city of the golden apple tree, the city officials stopped him. "You promised to tell us how to restore the tree," they said.
"And so I shall tell you. There is a mouse gnawing on the roots of your tree. If you dig it out and kill it, the tree will be as healthy as it ever was. But if you do nothing, the tree will die."
No one let him leave until workmen dug among the roots and found the mouse. As soon as the creature was killed, leaves and golden apple blossoms appeared. The people were so grateful that they gave him two donkeys laden with as much gold as they could carry.
The boy traveled along fox runs and broad highways, and soon returned to the city with the magic fountain.
"We let you pass through our city the first time," the officials said, "only because you promised to help us. If you want to take another step, you must keep your word."
"I always do," the luck child said, and he told them all about the toad under the well that was keeping the wine from flowing. "Find it and kill it, and all shall be back to normal."
Before long, his words were proven to be true. After drinking to his health with the rich red wine, the people gave him two more donkeys laden with more gold.
The luck child bid them farewell, and continued his journey through all the known kingdoms until he returned to the castle of the king. His bride the princess ran out to meet him, and planted kisses on both his cheeks.
As soon as the king saw the four donkeys laden with gold, he welcomed him as if he were a prodigal son, and ordered a great feast in his honor. "Tell me, my boy," he said, as they sat down to the table, "how did you come upon all that gold?"
"Between this world and Hell," he replied, "is a broad, deep river, and the far bank of that river is made of gold and jewels instead of rock and sand. I just took all I wanted. You can, too - there's a ferryman there who would be more than happy to take you across."
The king liked that idea, and so he left the very next day. He was never heard from again, for the ferryman gave him his pole and his burden. Chances are he's still at it, for he's too greedy to give the pole to anyone else.


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