All posts for the month April, 2012

A College Student and Her Fairytales, Part 14 – El Laberinto Del Fauno

Published April 27, 2012 by srsfairytales

One warm-ish, not-so-bright spring day, Sammi went in for her usual meeting with King Esa and her fellow journeyers. However, when the session began, King Esa was nowhere to be found! Getting concerned, Sammi set about to find him, when suddenly, she came across a huge maze of brambles. As she stepped up to the entrance of the maze, she suddenly heard a voice.

“Bienvenida al laberinto del fauno. Welcome to Pan’s Labyrinth. You will now embark on a journey of both history and fairy tales. Only by working through the layers of the story will you reach the understanding within.”

“But who are you?” Sammi called to the voice.

“I’ve had so many names. Old names that only the wind and the trees can pronounce. I am the mountain, the forest and the earth. I am… I am Dr. Deveny.”

“Well, alrighty then, Dr. Deveny, let’s do it!” And our heroine stepped into the maze.

The labyrinth was dense, and unlike anything Sammi had seen. Never before had history and fairy tales been so deeply woven together! It was not built of a panoply of fairy tales, as Sammi was used to, all set out and ready for interpretation; rather, the maze was made of  a story built on fairy tale elements but set in Spain in 1944, the time after the Spanish Civil War. As she walked, she heard Dr. Deveny’s voice echoing around her, giving her more of a history lesson than she had gotten with all the other fairytales combined; she listened as he described the battle between the conservative Nationalists and the liberal advocates of the Republic, the Years of Hunger, the mythical symbolism of the Faun, the number 3, the Pale Man’s likeness to the Titans of Greece.

Propp’s 31 functions lined the walls, almost all represented in some form in the story. They mixed with the history of the war (“The villain makes an attempt at reconnaissance” – Captain Vidal seeks to gain more information about the soldiers in the mountains!) , and also with the spiritual journey of the main character Ofelia (“Hero is tested… preparing the way for her receiving magical agent or helper” – Ofelia takes on the three tasks!), whose various fairy tale tasks and grisly magical images (giant, slimy frog, anyone?) were splashed in haunting images at every corner Sammi turned. Sammi was rather proud to note that Ofelia had taken on three challenges, just as Sammi had.

Every once in a while, Sammi would encounter a marker, something familiar that told her she was going in the right direction: a sign comparing Ofelia’s ingenuity and activeness to the passivity of the females of many fairy tales, an archetypal symbol she recognized, a footpath outlining the Hero’s Journey and the Coming-of-Age stories. It was comforting to Sammi that, though the story of Pan’s Labyrinth was certainly different, it was not impossible to decipher.

Finally, after much hard work (and a lot of notes taken!), Sammi found the center of the maze. And there, in the middle, stood Dr. Deveny.

“Congratulations, Sammi, you successfully compared Pan’s Labyrinth to the other fairy tales you know! You are now ready to ascend to the throne to Fairy Tale Royalty! Well done on a semester well-spent!”

Sammi was thrilled. She knew she still had a bit more to go before she could be fully sworn in as Fairy Tale Royalty, but she had finally made it to where she had set out to be!

As for King Esa, she never did find him, but she was sure she would see him the next day at the Hafla he was hosting…

To be continued…


A College Student and Her Fairytales, Part 13 – Kings Aplenty!

Published April 22, 2012 by srsfairytales

Our heroine could tell her time in the kingdom was winding down. There were so many visits from other kings that maybe King Esa had run out of wisdom to impart…

No, that couldn’t be it. Perish the thought.

Sammi had really enjoyed the presentation of Dr. Shabbir Mian, king of the strange and foreign kingdom of Physics. His discourse, which was entitled “Folk and Fairy Tales from Bangladesh,” had been thoroughly informative and just as interesting!

Bangladesh “fairy tales”, known as Rupkotha, had their similarities and their differences from the fairytales with which Sammi was familiar. Like many folktales, the stories were passed orrally; however, as King Mian pointed out, the stories never had any actual fairies (although, most stories Sammi knew had no fairies either); instead, they had demons, monsters, goddesses, and other various magical creatures. The stories embraced and embodied many aspects of the culture in Bangladesh, which were sometimes things that were not commonly found in more westernized stories (for example, rather than the wicked stepmother, Rupkothas showed the jealous co-wife). However, Sammi was able to find similar themes and motifs in the stories, such as life lessons embedded in the stories, talking animals offering assistance, and reader interpretations of sexuality and loss of sexuality (after all, Neelkamal and Lalkamal do take on vitality and sexuality when their father is incapable, although it is restored it to him in the end).

Sammi was also intrigued to see some archetypal differences from what she was used to. For example, she was very interested to learn that, in Bangladesh, red was considered to be a very pure and beautiful color, rather than being associated with lust, passion, and violence. Thus why the human son (Lalkamal) was labeled with the color red, while his demon brother was labeled with the color blue (which western culture often defines as the more tranquil, good-natured color).

Who could forget the colors in the unusual and yet incredibly interesting version of Neelkamal and Lalkamal's tale, "Blue Lotus and Red Lotus"?

All in all, what Sammi took from the lecture was that, even though cultures may be different, there are still many of the same themes, morals, and desires expressed in fairytales from around the world. She felt like she had learned a lot about the beauty of Bangladeshi fairytale tradition, and she was happy to know it.

Now, if only she could get the eerie voices from the aforementioned video out of her head…

To be continued…

A College Student and Her Fairytales, Part 12 – The Third Challenge

Published April 13, 2012 by srsfairytales

Sammi’s journey in the Kingdom of King Esa was coming to an end, but Sammi knew that she had yet to face her final challenge (after all, everything in fairytales comes in threes, right?). So she was not surprised when, as she walked by the town graveyard, a dark angel wielding a long, sharp sword rose up from behind a gravestone.

“Yes, hello, you’re here to present me with my third challenge, and in order to continue to move about in the Kingdom I have to successfully complete the challenge, or else you might smite me down, or eat me, or feed me to a wolf or something. Let’s get on with it.”

The angel stared at Sammi for a brief moment and then responded in a blood-chilling voice. “Dance you shall, dance in your red shoes until you are cold and pale, until – ”

“Well,” Sammi interrupted, “fortunately for me, I left my red shoes at home. So let’s skip the doom and gloom and get to the challenge.”

The angel sighed. “I never get to have any fun anymore.

“The challenge stands thusly: identify what is similar and different between the fairytales you know and the stories of Hans Christian Andersen. Fail, and you must turn to God and perish. Succeed, and you must turn to God and perish.”

“Well,” Sammi said, “I don’t actually plan on dying today, but you did actually give me my first answer. Unlike the other stories, which may contain a few rather grotesque deaths, the deaths in Andersen’s stories are much more focused on God and atoning for sins. Death also, strangely enough, seems to come to children rather than the villains… Andersen’s moral to the children, I expect.”

Sammi then acknowledged that, like many fairytales, Andersen’s stories had moral messages, although his were more related to social hierarchy than any of the other fairytales. Sammi also noted that Andersen had a tendency to include motifs of sacrifice (i.e. The Little Mermaid), religion, and divine influence, which were rather unique in the fairytale genre. Furthermore, Andersen’s use of “dominated” characters (i.e. characters who accepted their lot in life and put fate in the hands of a dominant social or divine power) was also unique; in other fairytales, the characters seem to overcome those who think they are in power.

Oh, so you're trying to take me out, are ya? Bitch, please.

His stories were also very depressing: in The Little Mermaid, she dies of heartbreak (but hey, at least she has a chance to get an immortal soul!); in The Little Match Girl, she is too afraid to return home without having sold any matches and thus dies in the cold; The Red Shoes, Karen loses her feet and her life all because she falls in love with her fabulous footwear!

All in all, Sammi concluded, Andersen’s style really was quite different than any she had previously encounted, and she told the angel so.  The angel was so taken aback by the excellent answer that he disappeared on the spot, leaving Sammi to continue on her way.

“Well,” Sammi thought, “that was odd.”

To be continued…

A College Student and Her Fairytales, Part 11 – Another King, Another Story

Published April 8, 2012 by srsfairytales

Sammi sat back on her bed and smiled as she thought about the earlier events of the week. The kingdom had been visited by another king, known as King Ochieng. Sammi had met King Ochieng when she had stayed in his kingdom a mere semester ago, and she had been very excited to hear what he had to say. And he had not disappointed.

Sammi had loved his presentation. He told his stories with such ease, such earnestness, and he not only could tell the stories well, but he had the knowledge to back them up! Sammi especially enjoyed the call and response (Paokwa! Pakawa!), and she was really amused when her fellows danced to the songs he sang.

Sammi felt that it was important to be made aware of this story-telling tradition of King Ochieng’s home. After all, did fairytales not stem from the regional folktales of various cultures? She was also happy to see the presence of the wit and trickiness in King Ochieng’s stories, because that same wit asserted itself in her beloved fairytales. It was easier to see where fairytales actually came from with the new knowledge about oral tradition (who knew that stories were told in the dark to emphasize the quality of the voice?).

Or that "rafiki" actually means "friend"!

A job well done on his part, Sammi thought. She was a bit sad that King Esa had mentioned that the highlight of the class was over (sigh), but she had a feeling there was still more to come…\

To be continued…

A College Student and Her Fairytales, Part 10 – The Bluest of Beards

Published April 1, 2012 by srsfairytales

Weary from being so busy back in the Kingdom, Sammi decided to take a walk to get some fresh air. As she walked along the path, she suddenly saw something glint, bright as a star, out of the corner of her eye. Determined to see what it was, Sammi made a beeline for the object.

It was a key.

As she stooped down to pick it up, she heard, “I do believe that it mine.”

Straightening up, Sammi was shocked to see that the speaker was a rather mature man with a very blue beard. Politely (and trying not to stare at the weird sight), she handed him the key, and he thanked her in a gruff voice and moved on.

Sammi watched him retreat down the road and was reminded on a story she had read… the story of Bluebeard.

 Dun dun dunnnnnnn!

Despite the moral at the end (which Sammi concurred, in agreement with King Esa, rather hindered the point of fairytales), Sammi decided she liked Perrault’s Bluebeard the best. She found it particularly interesting that the story talked about the friends of Bluebeard’s wife (none of the other versions did more than mention outside characters), all of whom delayed a visit to Bluebeard’s home “because of his blue beard, which frightened them.” Sammi found it interesting that they were scared because, of all of the archetypal meanings of blue (tranquility, beauty, royalty), none of them were to be feared.

Sammi also loved that, though the wife did not rescue herself, she was still clever enough to allow time for assistance to come, asking to have “a little time to say [her] prayers.” Furthermore, the anticipation of Bluebeard’s attack gave a suspenseful and more frightening appeal to the story, which is what had drawn Sammi in as a child. This version, incidentally, was also very close to the one Sammi had read as a young girl, so the story came with her own nostalgic memories.

Though Sammi had to admit that she really did like the versions in which the “wife” had her intended killed by telling the story as a dream, this story had always stuck out to her, and really epitomized what she felt Bluebeard was all about.

To be continued…