Wednesday, April 16, 2014

N is for The Neverland

The story of Peter Pan and his lost boys has long been a childhood favorite. It has a little bit of everything. Fairies, pirates, sword fights . . . it's a truly wonderful tale. And like all great stories, it needs a phenomenal setting.

In this case, Neverland. Even today as a fully grown woman the name still sends chills down my spine. Doesn't every adult sometimes wish they could be a child again? To live in a world where they'll never grow up? Never have to pay taxes, or get a "real" job, never feel their aging body begin to betray them? I certainly have. And I dream of Neverland, where you never, never have to grow old.

What most people don't know is that Neverland, or The Neverlands as it is referred to in Peter and Wendy, is not one fixed location. Rather it resides within the mind of every child, and though it is "always more or less an island, with astonishing splashes of color here and there", it changes from one kid to the next. And isn't that such a beautiful concept? This idea of a fantastical island somewhere that's very essence belongs to each child's imagination, shaped and molded by their dreams. 

I love that the physical make-up for Neverland is specifically designed to inspire adventure. Barrie writes that that island is "compact, not large and sprawly, you know, with tedious distances between one adventure and another, but nicely crammed." With the mermaid lagoon just around the corner from Skull Island, and pirate cove a stone's throw the Piccaninny encampment, the very nature of Neverland breeds thrilling exploits and escapades. 

As fun and exciting as the tales of Neverland are, there is of course one slightly darker interpretation. It is widely known that J. M. Barrie's brother passed away in a horrible skating accident as a child. Having died so young, he became the inspiration for Peter Pan, the "boy who never grew up". In some ways we can then see Neverland as a sort of afterlife paradise for dead children where they can seek adventure and joy, eternally young. 

Still, Neverland is the embodiment of our childhood fantasies and the place we return to in our dreams. And as ever, it's home to the boy who never, never grows up. 

My favorite version:
Peter and the Starcatchers series by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

This post is part of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. My theme (in case you didn't already guess) is Fairy Tales. Stay tuned for the rest of the alphabet, and if you'd like to check out the other participants, simply click here

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

M is for Mulan and Merida: Modern Maidens

Well A to Z Bloggers, we've made it to the letter "M" , the official halfway mark of the challenge. Feeling tired yet? I certainly am, but I'm also having a blast! I hope everyone else is as well.

But now, back to blogging.

Now, for those of you who are new to my blog, I've spent many years criticizing Disney for their backwards plots and un-feminist attitudes (which pains me greatly because I was raised on Disney and still know all the words to just about every Disney song ever written). But I've been thrilled with the recent shift toward more headstrong women that fight the constraints of traditional gender roles. In fact, the most recent princess movie  Frozen  is all about finding oneself and the bonds of sisterly love.

But today I want to talk about two Disney princesses who paved the way for this new trend. Two princesses who are both more interested in pursuing their dreams than finding a husband, despite the constant demands otherwise. Two of my favorite modern maidens, Mulan and Merida.

Mulan was definitely one of the very first Disney princesses to express any sense of modernity (and considering she hails from imperial China, that's impressive). She's a spirited tomboy who longs to bring honor to her family, and after the Huns attack when the Chinese military demands that one man from each family join the army, Mulan cuts off her hair (and as we all know, long flowing hair is the mark of a Disney princess), disguises herself as a man and takes the place of her ailing father. There she learns to fight, using her intelligence and quick thinking to make up for her lack of physical strength. Though she's eventually unmasked as a female and expelled from the army, she still finds a way to save China . . . as a girl. This is a far cry from her princess predecessors like Snow White and Aurora, who can't even manage to save themselves from a single adversary, let alone an entire country from invading forces. She's definitely a woman to look up to. 

And then there's the red-headed Scottish lassie. One of the things I love most about Merida is the fact that she is a young girl with hair problems rather than the tall, stacked blond with the tiny waste we see in so many Disney films. And more, I love how much people appreciate that about her. When the movie came out and Disney released an image of Merida in the Disney Princess Line, they "tweaked" her so she had longer legs and a more shapely (aka. womanly) figure. To which parents and Brave fans across the nation went absolutely wild. They felt very protective of Merida's youth, rejecting the new version and forcing Disney to remove the redesign from the website.

And may I say, "bravo"! It's about time we saw a Disney princess who looked her age. And what's more, it's wonderful to finally have a princess movie that completely avoids the romance plot line. Even Mulan, Pocohantas, The Princess and the Frog and Frozen – arguably the most modern and feminist of the princess films – can't get away with out a little romance. But Brave stands out as a movie about familial, rather than romantic, love. 

Mulan and Merida definitely take the cake as the most modern of the princess lineup. And I can't wait to watch as this trend takes inspiration from them and continues to grow more and more every year. 
This post is part of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. My theme (in case you didn't already guess) is Fairy Tales. Stay tuned for the rest of the alphabet, and if you'd like to check out the other participants, simply click here.

Monday, April 14, 2014

L is for Little Mermaid

We're all familiar with Disney's version of The Little Mermaid, with it's talking crabs and catchy musical numbers. But the original version written by the famous Hans Christian Andersen is infinitely more complex. The two tales begin very similarly . . . Mermaid sees boy, falls instantly in love, mermaid saves boy from drowning. But from there the stories take very different paths.

In the Andersen version, the Little Mermaid tells her grandmother of her love, asking the difference between humans and the sea folk. The difference, she learns, is that while humans have a shorter lifespan than mermaids, they posses eternal souls that ascend to Heaven. Mermaids, on the other hand, do not posses souls and become nothing more than foam on the water when they die.

Much like her Disney counterpart, Andersen's Little Mermaid, longing to be with her prince, goes to the Sea Witch and gets transformed into a human. But when the prince marries a neighboring princess, the Little Mermaid's sisters raise to the ocean's surface and tell her that if she kills the prince and lets his blood drip onto her feet, the spell will be broken and she can return to her original form. Instead of murdering her true love on his wedding night, she throws herself into the sea and end her life. However, rather than becoming foam on the water like the other mermaids who have died, her sacrifice allows her to become one of the "Daughters of the Air" with the chance of one day earning a soul. 

Thus the Andersen version becomes so much more than a "romance" story where a beautiful sea maiden must give up all she has ever known in the name of love. Instead, the story becomes one of transformation, of a soulless sea creature sacrificing everything  her body, her love, and even her life  to reach a higher state and earn an immortal soul. It's definitely one of the more complex of the fairy tales, and one which I think modern audiences are more willing to butcher in favor of the far simpler love story. 

My favorite version:
Despite it's lack of complexity and my love of the original Andersen version (for which I hope they make a good movie of someday), I still enjoy Disney's The Little Mermaid (you've just gotta love "Under the Sea" and "Kiss the Girl").
This post is part of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. My theme (in case you didn't already guess) is Fairy Tales. Stay tuned for the rest of the alphabet, and if you'd like to check out the other participants, simply click here.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

K is for Kingdoms

I'm so excited that we've finally made it to the letter "K", because today I'm going to talk about two of my absolute favorite fairy tale adaptations (I say the word "favorite" a lot, but today I seriously mean it). And it all starts once upon a time, in a kingdom far far away . . . 

Which is where today's post begins. With Kingdoms. Because every story needs a good setting, and the setting of nearly every fairy tale starts in an enchanted kingdom somewhere. And while all our favorite fairy tales probably don't exist in the same one, wouldn't it be interesting if they did? Certainly someone thought so, and thus began the creation of two absolutely terrific stories. 

The first is the Hallmark Entertainment mini-series, The 10th Kingdom. It's the story of Virginia Lewis and her father Tony who are transported through a magic mirror from New York City to the fairy tale world, known as the Nine Kingdoms. There Tony and Virginia have to help a Prince thwart the Evil Queen after she turns him into a dog and places an impostor on the throne. 

But the most interesting part about the mini-series it the introduction to all the Nine Kingdoms. They are as follows:
  1. The kingdom ruled by Cinderella
  2. The second is known as the Wolf Kingdom, and is run by Queen Riding Hood the III in the North, and Gretel the Great in the South. 
  3. The third is called the Troll Kingdom and is, predictably, ruled by the troll king. 
  4. The fourth kingdom is ruled by the House of White (the descendants of Snow White). 
  5. The fifth is ruled by the Naked Emperor, who has yet to wear actual clothing. 
  6. The sixth is ruled by Queen Rapunzel, and the entire land remains in a state of slumber. 
  7. The seventh is run by Olaf the Elf King. 
  8. The eighth kingdom is ruled by the Ice Queen, and is filled with ice and snow. 
  9. The ninth is ruled by Dwarves and is in alliance with the Forth Kingdom. 
  10. Last but not least, the Tenth Kingdom (for which the series is named), is New York City itself.
Cool, right? It's a great set up, and an even greater story. One which I highly recommend to any fairy tale lovers out there. Especially those who also like adaptations like Shrek. And speaking of Shrek, the next kingdom I'd like to talk about is the . . .  

The Kingdom of Far Far Away. It is definitely one of the most clever kingdoms I've ever seen. Based on Beverly Hills, KoFFA is full of puns and parodies. As you walk up the main street (modeled after Hollywood Blvd.) you see stores such as Abercombie and Witch and Ye Olde Foot Locker. You can also check out the homes of the creme de la creme, like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. One look at it makes me think, screw California. I want to go hang out with Shrek, Donkey and Gingy at Baskin Robinhood or Farbucks Coffee!

This post is part of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. My theme (in case you didn't already guess) is Fairy Tales. Stay tuned for the rest of the alphabet, and if you'd like to check out the other participants, simply click here.

Friday, April 11, 2014

J is for Jack and the Giants

Fee-fi-fo-fum! I smell the blood of a really cool hero. And they are . . .

For years I thought the story of Jack and the Beanstalk and Jack the Giant Killer were one and the same. After all, they're both stories about a boy named Jack who kills a giant. However, I recently learned that they're actually not the same at all.

Jack the Giant Killer is the eldest of the two, dating back to the Arthurian legends. Though he's a mere farmer's son, Jack is clever and quick-witted, using his brain rather than brawn to get him out of various scrapes. His keen intellect saves him from giant foe, as he lures them to their deaths and earning himself the monicker "The Giant Killer". He rescues many including a princess and King Arthur's son  and is rewarded with riches, a seat at the famed Round Table, and a Duke's daughter for a wife. 

Jack and the Beanstalk would be something like the Giant Killer's son, Jack, Jr. He follows his own path, but finds many of his origins in the previous tale, most notably the name of the Giant he eventually kills. However, where the first Jack is the epitome of Arthurian honor, rewarded for his good deeds, this Jack can be considered more of an anti-hero. He rashly exchanges his cow (his family's one and only source of income) for magic beans and steals his riches from the giant he finds at the top of the beanstalk. Though of course he does have to use his own cunning to evade and kill the giant now bent on revenge. 

But regardless of the two Jacks' differences, the stories share a common theme in that they're both tales of upward mobility. The two Jacks rise above their humble roots through resourcefulness and (this should go without saying) giant slaying, rather than marriage, the most common means of social climbing for that time period. 

My favorite version:
Jack the Giant Slayer (2013 film)
This post is part of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. My theme (in case you didn't already guess) is Fairy Tales. Stay tuned for the rest of the alphabet, and if you'd like to check out the other participants, simply click here.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I is for Ice Maiden

I'm so excited to have finally made it to the letter "I" because it finally brings with it one of my all-time favorite, and perhaps one of the most over-looked, fairy tales - The Ice Maiden by Hans Christian Andersen.

***I had previously written a long post about this but the internet ate it apparently, so this will be a little on the sparse side. 

For those of you who've never heard of The Ice Maiden, it's the tale of Rudy, a young orphan boy who lives with his uncle and falls in love with a miller's daughter, Babette. When he was a baby his widowed mother set off on a journey with her son, only to fall into a chasm filled with snow. Though she didn't survive, Rudy was saved by the beautiful Ice Maiden, who kissed him and marked him as her own. Years later on the eve of his wedding to Babette the two lovers travel to an island. When their boat starts to drift away Rudy dives in after it, and the Ice Maiden, seizing her chance, kisses his. She then pulls him into the depths of the water, claiming him as her own forever more. 

It's a sad tale, with Rudy's death marked out from infancy. But a fascinating one too, with the Ice Maiden's total obsession with a small child that follows him throughout his life. I think it's a lovely story and I'm sorry it's not more well known. 
This post is part of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. My theme (in case you didn't already guess) is Fairy Tales. Stay tuned for the rest of the alphabet, and if you'd like to check out the other participants, simply click here

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

H is for Hansel and Gretel

Well A to Z bloggers, we've made it eight days and all the way to the letter "H". Today I'm discussing a story I've struggled with for some time. In some ways I see Hansel and Gretel as the most gruesome and horrifying of all the fairy tales. It's quite grotesque, filled with cannibalism and abandonment, witchcraft and murder. But to understand the true horror of the tale, we have to understand its historical context, the changes that were made over the course of its many publications, and the reasons behind those changes. 

To begin with, the tale most likely originated during the Medieval period and the Great Famine (which occurred in the early 1300's). Through the course of this unfortunate event, mass death, cannibalism, and even infanticide became horrifically commonplace. We can see the reflection of such practices in Hansel and Gretel, as their parents are faced with a horrible choice to make when their food supply runs too low. This is a problem many Medieval families struggled with, and their decision to abandon the children into the woods  in essence sentencing them to death to ensure the parents own survival  was a choice many families made, though today's social code makes this decision morally abhorrent. 

Now when the Grimm brothers originally published the tale in in 1812, the mother and the father in the story were the children's' natural parents. However, when they edited and republished Hansel and Gretel in their 1857 edition they made several changes, the most notable of which was the mother's switch from biological parent to step-mother. In other words, the Grimm Brothers decided to soften the parental betrayal by making it a weak-willed father being led by his unfeeling wife rather than a mom and dad choosing their own lives over the lives of their children. Considering how dark many of their other stories were  toes being cut off, eyes pecked out, etc.  this shows remarkable restraint on their part. If the Grimm Brothers say something is too . . . well, grim . . . then you better believe there's something wrong. 

Of course, the story has a "happy" ending whereby the children kill the witch, find jewels and riches hidden in her gingerbread house, make their way back home and are reunited with their father who, after informing them of the mother's death, welcomes them with open arms. But one has to question how happy the story can really be when the brother and sister will forever be haunted by their parent's decision to let them starve to death. 

It's definitely one of the most sinister plots in the fairy tale bunch. 

My favorite version:
Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters
This post is part of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. My theme (in case you didn't already guess) is Fairy Tales. Stay tuned for the rest of the alphabet, and if you'd like to check out the other participants, simply click here.