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Also it has interesting things to say about the way older women are treated both in fairy tales and real life.

Paid Piper

May. 25th, 2010 09:34 pm
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Once upon a time I said The pied piper seems to be a trickster archetype, he is very often depicted as a jester figure and I wonder if you could follow the thread far enough you would find at the end a depiction of the God Pan, or some other trickster god. because to me tricksters and gods are kind of intertwined, I automatically see tricksters as gods or godlike figures. Damaged and dangerous gods sometimes, often but still gods

Ive been reading Tanith Lees Red as blood (which is beyond awesome BTW) and the first story the Paid Piper retells it from the position that the piper is a god, but what Terry Pratchett would call a "small god" he only exists so long as people believe in him. He offers the people freedom from cages and ties but they refuse him and his punishment is devastating. but tricksters offer no middle ground and they often offer and give people what they think they want and not what they need. He could have loosened their bonds, and opened t6hir eyes but if you cut all the bonds don't things fall apart, isn't part of being human acknowledging and acting on our ties and responsibility, isn't being human about balance?

The story describes him as a "Vagabond" a beautiful word along with words such as tatterdemalion and ragamuffin, all shapeshifty, tricksterish, pied pipery words

It is a beautiful sad story in which almost everybody loses.
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Lots of the variations of sleeping beauty start with "and there were thirteen fairies but they could only invite twelve because they only had twelve gold plates" what is that about? Is it some weird comment on class position - that they couldn't afford another gold plate or is it a half forgotten throwback to christian superstition, having thirteen guests at a meal is unlucky?
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I liked this book a whole lot, it's thoughtful, complex and has well drawn characters. I wrote in a recent post that within the Rapunzel story was a retelling dying to get out here about a narcissistic overprotective over entitled adoptive parent, and this is pretty much it. It tells the story of a woman (who is just known as "Mother") who was barren and became bitter with it and would do anything to have a child including sell her soul. She is so desperate for this child and so selfish that she doesn't care about the grief and anguish she has caused to the child's mother:

the crying woman would have other children. Of course she would. she was a breeder; one look told you that. but for the running woman, the escaping woman, the child was unique

It's a really interesting critique of how being infertile in a world that says women are broken if they can't or don't have children affects women. After all this woman is extremely talented in all sorts of ways, she's musical, she's a talented seamstress and embroiderer, she has a knack with other peoples children and yet she feels broken, unfinished if she can't have her own. It also explores how some women feel so entitled to a child, any child, that they ignore the grief of the women the child comes from. When Mother discovers Zel is pregnant it is this more than the knowledge of the prince or the fact zel has kept something from her that causes her to banish Zel, her jealousy that Zel is able to have so easily something that she yearned for so long leaves her furious.

This story is also a beautiful study in mother daughter ambivalence. The narcissistic obsessive love of the mother turns itself into something abusive and controlling, convinces itself that locking Zel up in the tower is "for her own good".

Mother is desperate to keep Zel by her side easily and although she convinces herself that she wants zel to want the same out of her own free will, out of love, she also has high bargaining chips that she knows are more likely to keep Zel by her side:

I work hard too keep my arms from becoming iron like my teeth. As much as i would want to i must not shackle Zel to me. I love her. That love must be returned freely. I cannot bear anything less.And I have a ready means of persuasion p61

Zel loves her mother, deeply, as a child would if their mother was the only person they had ever really known but mixed in that love is increasing resentment and fear at the constrictions Mother places on Zels life:

Then stay with me Mother. Oh stay
I must search for the enemy
"Someday you will tire of looking for this enemy. You seem near exhaustion when you come"
"I will never tire of it Zel. I will protect you forever."
The words chill Zel more than the fall winds, more than anything else mother could have said.

Zel knows that keeping her mother happy is vitally important and in a way she wants to but she is also angry so she resorts to passive aggressive defiance:

Zels only reliable company is mother. the one slim daily hour with mother is zels best treasure. She must be obedient and good, so mother will come without fail. She calms herself...Zel feels the tension in mothers hands on her hair, Mother is always tense when zel talks of the goose. Other things make Mother Tense, also. Zel can't resist exercising her power to make mother anxious. She is almost giddy as she speaks.

Napoli has a really coherent understanding of an adolescent in mental distress. After zell has been locked up for a good amount of time her sanity starts to fracture

Zel shakes her head harder and harder...Each time her ears hit the floor they ring. Her Chest rises in pain...Pain is lovely. It stands out from a vast sea of monotony

Zel would take that sharp stone and dig trenches up the lengths of both arms, She would fill her room with blood. She would do many things. But for Mother, dear Mother

But she does not stand a second too long in the light. The suns seduction has to be planned against. The sun tries to make her believe in colours

These passages along with Zells repetitive, obsessive thought patterns and her hallucination of friendly animals depict excellently the inner workings of a trapped, emotionally abused and virtually abandoned adolescent.

One of the things I especially liked was that Napoli explained things that in the original story don't make a whole lot of sense. It never made sense to me why Rapunzel's father would agree to give his unborn child away so easily. In this retelling Mother makes thorns grow up around him that cut into his flesh and threaten him with blindness until he agrees.

I have to say though I didn't really like the prince, he seemed as obsessive and controlling as Mother, he also seemed like a scary stalker. But I suppose there is only so much you can do with fairy tale princes,

Something I didn't think about while reading the book but that strikes me now is how well the settings are described, how real and easily imaginable they are. i don't have a big imagination for places but I could see these all vividly, almost smell and feel them.

cross posted to [ profile] other_tales
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The matriarch in the Rapunzel stories is almost always described as a "wicked Enchantress" or witch and is often depicted visually as being a classic witch/hag figure

(this image is by Kay Nielsen)

(from favorite Fables)

(from Read to me: Fairy Tales)

(from fairy tales)

But actually she is a lot less wicked than many fairy tale matriarchs. While yes she does take the baby, (and there's a retelling dying to get out here about a narcissistic overprotective over entitled adoptive parent,) the witch isn't evil, she isn't wicked. In some tellings she is less likable than others and in The Annotated Brothers Grim Maria Tartar explains that: Much turns on the character of the maternal figure in the tale. But even so even at her most wicked she locks Rapunzel up in the tower to protect her, rather than punish her and she almost always does it when Rapunzel turns 12, so on the cusp of adolescence to protect her from those who may take advantage of that adolescence.

And in almost all the tellings of the story when she demands the child as payment, she says something like: I will take care of it like a mother and it will not want for anything. So unlike other fairy tale fiends she does not want to damage her through greed or spite or malice. I'm not suggesting that the way Rapunzel was treated was good but I think it’s a whole lot more complicated and has a whole lot to say about mother daughter relationships under patriarchy than just the witch being "bad".

Marina Warner also suggests that she keeps Rapunzel captive not out of wickedness but out of the need for a woman alone to be looked after in her old age:

[many retellings assume] the possessiveness of a perverted mother love between witch and captive in the Rapunzel story; a more historically based view would see that the old woman's desire for the baby girl corresponds to material needs for helping hands at home

I think Rapunzel's witch is a knitting together of Grandma and the witch She tries to resist the patriarchy or at least tries to keep Rapunzel away from patriarchal harm but she also acquiesces by needing Rapunzel in the first place, understandably, because historically older woman alone did not have a very good survival rate.Then she finally capitulates completely by blaming Rapunzel for her encounters with the prince even though she never told Rapunzel that such encounters were possible or what their consequences could be.


Dec. 18th, 2009 05:39 pm
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I really love stop motion animation which is why I posted the previous entry but I really don't like that version of the story at all. I hate that it skims over the reason rapunzel was in the tower, In all the versions I've known the story starts before Rapunzel was born with her mother and father, I think taking them out of the story takes away some really important elements.

its the only version of the story where the witch plaits rapunzel's hair by magic

I really don't like the fact that the witch blinded the prince by means of a magic spell. Usually he has his eyes pricked by thorns which is symbolic of both penetration and castration, which actually makes a whole lot more sense of the story
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if patriarchy sees women as occupying a marginal position within the symbolic order, then it can construe them as the limit or borderline of that order...Women seen as the limit of the symbolic order will in other words share in the disconcerting properties of all frontiers: they will be neither inside nor outside, neither known nor unknown. It is this position that has sometimes enabled male culture to sometimes vilify women as representing darkness and chaos....and sometimes to elevate them as the representatives of a higher and purer nature...In the first instance the borderline is seen as part of the chaotic wilderness outside, and in the second it is seen as an inherent part of the inside: the part that protects and shields the symbolic order from imaginary chaos

From Sexual/textual politics by Toril Moi, Quoted in Deconstructing the Hero By Margery Hourihan (both excellent books by the way)

This is why grandma lives on the outskirts of the village, or the edge of the forest

and the difference between grandma and the gingerbread witch is not very much really they both get punished, destroyed, consumed for living independently, for knowing things, even though one acquiesces to the patriarchy and one resists it
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I'm still thinking a lot about the pied piper,about who he is and where he comes from and what that story means, what it did mean, what it can mean.

The pied piper seems to be a trickster archetype, he is very often depicted as a jester figure:

(from here)

(from here)

and I wonder if you could follow the thread far enough you would find at the end a depiction of the God Pan, or some other trickster god.

I find it interesting that the Pied piper is so strongly symbolically tied with the trickster but he is not the one, that breaks the rules, that breaks his word. Maybe there's something in there about how being a flexible bendy shape shifter trickster type is more healthy for humans than being a rigid materialist.

I found Krysar, the version in my previous post, deeply, deeply disturbing but also deeply fascinating. I've never seen that version of the story, where everybody gets turned to rats before. I liked the ending, where the piper shapeshifts to nothing and disappears very much

This version is checkoslovakian and was made in 1985 so is obviously very much about the free market versus communism, individual greed versus collectivity. I'm not sure the scenes alluding to the woman's rape and murder were necessary though, not that i have anything against rape depictions in fairy tales, they happen all the time anyway, it just seems an odd choice to insert one into a fairy tale where there wasn't one previously. maybe it was a way of showing how the ultimate conclusion of capitalism is that people become commodities to be used.

The wikipedia page suggests that one theory is that the pied piper is a metaphor for death, which would fit with it originating with the plague

however wikipedia also suggests

The theory with the broadest support[5] is that the children willingly abandoned their parents and Hamelin in order to become the founders of their own villages during the colonization of Eastern Europe. Several European villages and cities founded around this time have been suggested as the result of their efforts as settlers. This claim is supported by corresponding place names in both the region around Hamelin and the eastern colonies where names such as Querhameln ("mill village Hamelin") exist. Again the Piper is seen as their leader.

this is backed up further on the same page by:

Professor Udolph surmises that the children were actually unemployed youths who had been sucked into the German drive to colonize its new settlements in Eastern Europe. The Pied Piper may never have existed as such, but, says the professor, "There were characters known as Lokator who roamed northern Germany trying to recruit settlers for the East." Some of them were brightly dressed, and all were silver-tongued.

Of course its very possible that the pied piper was several characters and/or several tales that got stitched together over the centuries
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Something I noticed in rereading LRRH stories is in the first tellings we have nobody tells her to beware of the wolf or to stay on the path. The oldest version of LRRH we have is generally called The Grandmothers Tale and begins:

A woman had finished her baking, so she asked her daughter to take a fresh galette and a pot of cream to her grandmother who lived in a forest cottage. The girl set off, and on her way she met a bzou [a werewolf].
The bzou stopped the girl and asked, "Where are you going? What do you carry?"
"I'm going my grandmother's house," said the girl, "and I'm bringing her bread and cream."
"Which path will you take?" the bzou asked. "The Path of Needles or the Path of Pins?"
"I'll take the Path of Pins," said the girl.
"Why then, I'll take the Path of Needles, and we'll see who gets there first."

The Perrault version starts

One day her mother, having made some cakes, said to her, "Go, my dear, and see how your grandmother is doing, for I hear she has been very ill. Take her a cake, and this little pot of butter."

Little Red Riding Hood set out immediately to go to her grandmother, who lived in another village.

As she was going through the wood, she met with a wolf, who had a very great mind to eat her up, but he dared not, because of some woodcutters working nearby in the forest. He asked her where she was going. The poor child, who did not know that it was dangerous to stay and talk to a wolf, said to him, "I am going to see my grandmother and carry her a cake and a little pot of butter from my mother."

"Does she live far off?" said the wolf

"Oh I say," answered Little Red Riding Hood; "it is beyond that mill you see there, at the first house in the village."

or depending on the translation

Once upon a time there was a little village girl, the prettiest that had ever been seen. Her mother doted on her and her grandmother even more. The good woman made her a little red hood which suited her so well that she was called Little Red Riding hood wherever she went
One Day, after her mother had baked some biscuits, she said to Little Red Riding Hood: “go see how your grandmother is feeling for I have heard that she is sick. Take her some biscuits and his small pot of butter.” Little red riding hood departed at once to visit her grandmother who lived in another village. In passing through the wood she met an old neighbour wolf. Who had a great desire to eat her. But he did not dare because of some woodcutters who were in the forest. He asked her where she was going. The poor child who did not know that it is dangerous to stop and listen to wolves said to him: “I am going to see my Grandmother”

This is translated by Jack Zipes and can be found in The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood This is the Perrault version I will mostly be using because I like the translation a lot, If i am using a different one I will specify. There are some translations that use the phrase "father Wolf" rather than "neighbour wolf, which is interesting considering this project as a whole.

It seems that right up to the Grimm's retelling that no one tells her not to stray from the path or be wary of the wolf and even in the Grimm version red is instructed

"Come Little Red Cap. Here is a piece of cake and a bottle of wine. Take them to your grandmother. She is sick and weak, and they will do her well. Mind your manners and give her my greetings. Behave yourself on the way, and do not leave the path, or you might fall down and break the glass, and then there will be nothing for your sick grandmother."

and there is no concern here that red may get lost or hurt, the concern is for the grandmother.

In the original stories, the oral tales it would have been obvious that you don't go wandering in the forest because there were wolves there (although wolves historically have never been known for making a habit of eating people) and from the perspective of what I'm doing here why did no one tell her? Did they think she already knew? Did they think that even if she didn't know she should have? Did they not care? Did they want to teach her a lesson? Did they rather she got eaten by the wolf than they did?
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The wolf, now piously old and good,
When again he met Red Riding Hood
Spoke: ‘Incredibly, my dear child,
What kinds of stories are spread–they’re wild.

As though there were, so the lie is told,
A dark murder affair of old.
The Brothers Grimm are the ones to blame.
Confess! It wasn’t half as bad as they claim.’

Little Red Riding Hood saw the wolf’s bite
And stammered: ‘You’re right, quite right.’
Whereupon the wolf, heaving many a sigh,
Gave kind regards to Granny and waved good-bye.

Rudolf Otto Wiemer.


Dec. 2nd, 2009 10:18 am
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'Tell me,' said Magrat, 'you said your mummy knows about the big bad wolf in the woods, didn't you?'

'That's right.'

'But nevertheless she sent you out by yourself to take those goodies to your granny?'

"That's right. Why?'

'Nothing. Just thinking.

Magrat Garlick To LRRH

'Woodcutters!' said Nanny. 'It's all right if there's woodcutters! One of them rushes in - '

'That's only what children get told,' said Granny, as they sped onwards. 'Anyway, that's no good to the grandmother, is it? She's already been et!'

'I always hated that story,' said Nanny. 'No-one ever cares what happens to poor defenceless old women.'

Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchet
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I posted this video:

to [ profile] told_tales recently and got some surprising responses.

I personally love this retelling because it is a fusion of the oldest known versions of the story and intriguing retelling. It was interesting that the first commenter didn't like it because the wolf killed Red and because she was a sexually attractive young woman (indicated to me especially by the corset earlier on) and he a supercharged "bad ass". All of that really made me go ..."huh?". In lots of versions of the story Red gets eaten. And it never occurred to me since I've been old enough to understand such things that it wasn't about Red being a sexually attractive young woman and the wolf a charming but dangerous sexual predator. I've also never read an extended theoretical analysis that hasn't at least touched on that reading of the tale either.
I personally loved the addition of the corset because it highlights the trope of women's uncontrollable/unconstrainable bodies and sexualities. When Red reaches adolescence her sexuality/body/womanself cannot be contained.

I thought the choice of having the mother go of into the woods without the daughter because it wasn't a safe place to be was interesting. Obviously usually the mother sends the daughter even while knowing there is a wolf/rapist in the forest, something which I read as a metaphor for the deep maternal ambivalence that women feel for their adolescent/on the cusp of adolescent daughters.

It is a bleak version that's for sure, Red does get eaten and her mother leaves her somewhere she thinks will be safe but the undertone suggests she is not at all safe at her uncles house.

The fact that the wolf eats her mother and not her grandmother tilts the story considerably although the fact that the mother is a herbalist who goes to live in the woods suggests she has the place of both the mother and the grandma/wise woman in the story.

I like that they chose to use the eating of the flesh and drinking of the blood in the story because I actually think that's a really powerful motif but I think the meaning changes when it is mother being devoured and not grandmother. When it is mother being devoured it is much more about competitiveness whereas when it is grandmother it becomes about the natural progression of women passing wisdom down the generations orally

Pied Piper

Nov. 30th, 2009 05:19 pm
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So I've been thinking a lot about the pied piper today because of finding those gems on youtube yesterday. And I realised that not only do I not have any paper copies of the story, which is sad because it was one of my favorites when I was a kid, but I also don't think I've ever read any theoretical writings about it. There's nothing in the fairy tale theory books I've either bought or borrowed and the only useful things an Internet search came up with was a wikipedia page and several different retellings

The only book I could find: The Pied Piper:A handbook is really expensive. It just seems..odd, there is so much material in the tale and both psychoanalytical and Cultural materialist analysis just jump out at me immediately and I could probably pull together others if I though about it for any length of time.

It's not as if its an unknown tale, it like many other fairy tales has become part of the fabric of our consciousness, we talk about paying the piper we say he who pays the piper calls the tune

To me the obvious reading is about plague, about children dying from plague, about plague decimating the city. And even if a rat catcher got rid of all the rats the infected fleas would still infect people and children would have been more vulnerable than adults.

And then although from a modern reading there is something dandyish and camp about the pied piper, he is playing a pipe I mean really, how phallic is that?


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