Sunday, March 31, 2013

Bluebeard as the Villain

    Bluebeard is an interesting villain.  He's like no villain I have ever encountered before in fairy tales.  He's cunning, psychotic, and daring.  He's probably the first and only serial killer to be found in fairy tale lore.  He marries a woman and then kills her and hides her in a chamber and then goes and marries another woman and the pattern continues until one woman is brave enough and clever enough to stop him.  One of the things that interests me about this story is it takes a woman, not a man, but a woman to defeat him.  Not that I'm trying to be sexist here, believe me I'm happy that a woman defeats him, but generally women are the rescuees, not the rescuers.  I also find the sexual symbols (such as the key (or egg in some versions) and the blood that covers the key or egg when the heroine or a future victim of Bluebeard enters the chamber) interesting and enlightening. 

     Out of all the stories about Bluebeard that we have read, I find that I have enjoyed the one called "Fitcher's Bird" by the Brothers' Grimm the best.  The tale starts with a wizard who disguises himself as a beggar so he can steal girls.  He arrives one day to the house of this woman who has 3 girls and asks for bread and when the eldest gives him some bread, she is instantly whisked into his basket and he carries her back to his house where he reveals himself to be a wizard and he promises to give her everything she wants and so for a while they live together.

     Then one day, the wizard tells the eldest sister that he is going to go out for a while and gives her the keys to the house and an egg saying that she is allowed to go anywhere in the house she wishes except for "the room that this little key opens.  I forbid it under penalty of death."  So, while he is gone, the eldest explores the house and eventually comes to the little room.  She remembers her promise to the wizard but she is so overcome by curiosity that she opens the door and discovers that behind the door is a bloody chamber in which the hacked bodies of the girls the wizard has stolen are.  Horrified, she drops the egg which becomes covered in blood, and no matter how much she washes it, the spot on the egg will not disappear.  Soon, the wizard comes home and finding the spot of blood, realizes that the eldest has disobeyed him and kills her and adds her to his collection of dead ladies.

    Soon, the wizard comes back to the house where the eldest sister was and takes the middle sister and the same fate befalls her as it did the eldest.  Then, he takes the youngest one who is mentioned to be clever and cunning.  She is given the egg and the key but she does something wise.  She PUTS THE EGG AWAY BEFORE GOING DOWN TO THE CHAMBER and when she goes down to the chamber, instead of panicking, she immediately gets to work putting back her sisters together (literally).  As a result, the wizard doesn't think that she went into the chamber and she passes his test and as a result he has to do what she asks.  So before she agrees to marry him, she asks him to carry a basket full of gold and jewels over to her mother and since he has to do what she says, he agrees.  However, what he does not know is that the youngest has brought her sisters back to life and has put them in the sack that the wizard is to carry back to her mother's house.  The plan is for the sisters to get help for the youngest once they arrive home.  Before he leaves, she tells him that she will be watching him from the window and to not stop to rest.
    So, he begins his journey and because of the sisters' added weight, the bag is of course heavy.  And everytime he tries to rest, the youngest or her sisters say "I'm looking out my little window and I see that you are resting.  Get a move on."  As a result, the man wearily treks on until he reaches the house.  While he is gone, the youngest sets her trap.  She gets a skull and decorates it and puts it at the window that she is looking out of so it will fool the wizard into thinking that she is still watching him as he returns home even though she will be long gone by that time.  She then "crawl[s] into a barrel of honey, cut[s] open a featherbed and roll[s] in the feathers until she look[s] like a strange bird that not a soul would recognize."  Soon, she escapes in her disguise and runs into the wedding guests and they have this exchange of words:

Oh, Fitcher's feathered bird, where are you from?
From feathered Fitze Fitcher's house I've come.
And the young bride there, what has she done?
She's swept the house all the way through,
And from the attic window, she's looking right at you.

     She also runs into the wizard and tells him what she has told the other guests.  (The rhyme is basically the same except instead of "the" in the third line with the verse "And the young bride," that word is replaced with "my" which makes sense since it is the bridegroom who is talking).  Returning home, the wizard sees the skull and thinking it is his bride, waves to her and goes inside.  By this time, the youngest sister's brothers and relatives have arrived and they set fire to the house, killing the wizard and his cohorts. 
 (Note:  I found an interesting graphic novel about this tale and have included some of the pages throughout my summarizing of the story.  There is a real bird in the graphic novel that tells the youngest sister about the oldest sister.  Also, I believe it is a real bird that talks to the guests and the bridegroom instead of the bride herself.  However, I felt that this novel was close enough to the Grimm tale that it would be okay to put it here)

     I liked this story out of all the ones we have read for many reasons.  One reason was because the heroine in this story was brave and intelligent.  She finds out that her husband is a serial killer and instead of panicking, she actually puts her sisters' body parts back together (A grim task surely) and then comes up with a clever plan to get the sisters home with the wizard's aid (although of course he doesn't know he is helping the sisters get home).  I also liked the fact that it was the youngest sister who was the cleverest since I'm the youngest sister in my family.  It just goes to show you that sometimes it is the younger ones that have the most cunning.  I also liked the rhyme that she told to the guests and the bridegroom when she meets them in her disguise.  I found it wise and funny and ironic.  I also the fact that instead of the female being blamed for having curiosity and disobeying her husband, she is instead praised for defying her husband's wishes and saving her sisters.  It is a kind of feminist story since the youngest sister is the one who controls her fate and the fate of her sisters.

     The story of Bluebeard is very different from the previous fairy tales we have read.  One way it is different is that instead of the male saving the female, the female has to save herself.   Also, it takes the idea of marriage and gives us a dark and violent view of it.  It doesn't have a happy ending for the bride and groom like in Beauty and the Beast.  Instead, it has only a happy ending for the bride and that is because she is able to return home (which some view as a regression of the self).  It is also probably the first type of tale that portrays a serial killer and a male villain.  In most of the other tales we have read, the female (generally the mother or stepmother) is portrayed as the villain and the male is hardly present.  Also, the female villains in the stories we have read generally look to kill only one person, the protagonist.  In the Bluebeard story, the villain kills many people.  He doesn't set his sights on just one female.  I also like how this story doesn't end with everything being light and happy and tied up with a bow.   

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sonne and Snow White


     Let me say first that this song "Sonne" by Rammstein . . . completely different from what I expected.  First off, I didn't know what "Sonne" meant in English (I now know that it means "Sun").  Also, seeing Snow White and the dwarfs like that . . . well let's just say it was different from the Disney version *blushes*

    However, there were some similarities between the video and the Grimms' version of the story and the Disney version that I would like to point out.   One was the story in the video involved the primary characters in the traditional Snow White fairy tale:  The dwarfs and Snow White.  Also, like in the Grimm story and in the Disney version, the dwarfs were miners in the video.  The Snow White in the music video even wears the Disney Snow White costume so you can tell right away that it is Snow White.  She also goes into a "sleeping death" like in the stories we have read and the dwarfs build her a glass coffin and put it on top of a mountain and lay vigil to it.  Also, she wakes up like in the original versions, but not because of a kiss, but of an apple falling onto her coffin and shattering it.  The apple is also used as a motif in the video just as it is used in the Disney version and the Grimm Brothers' version.

     To me though, there were more differences than similarities in the video when one compares it to Disney and Grimm.  One was the way in which Snow White was portrayed.  In both the Disney and Grimms' versions of the story, Snow White is said to be a lovely, kind girl who is loved by everyone (expect her jealous stepmother of course) and when she meets the dwarfs, she treats them with respect and plays the role of mother for them.  She cooks and cleans and sews in order to stay with them.  In the video, Snow White is . . . well to put it frankly . . . a BITCH.  When she enters the house in the beginning of the video we get the feeling that she is a very commanding and active figure, different from the other versions of her we have seen.  The dwarfs actually serve her, mining diamonds for her.  When one of the dwarfs shows her the day's haul, instead of taking it and being kind and grateful like we would normally expect her to be, she instead punches that dwarf in the face, causing him to land on the table.  She then spanks one of the dwarfs as the others wait in line for their spanking.  Very different from the kisses she gives the dwarfs in the movie.  She is shown to be a sexual figure and very dominant.  Also, the dwarfs comb her hair for her and polish her apples while she looks on commandingly.  When the dwarfs embrace her, they look like servants embracing her out of fear rather than out of love.  She looks down at them like dirt and smiles wickedly as she caresses their heads with no love behind the touches.  She reminds one of the wicked queen, who surprisingly, is not featured at all in the video.  Also, she doesn't seem to play the traditional woman's role at all in the video.  In fact, I do not see one scene where she is cooking and cleaning for them.  In the video, she is in charge and woe to the dwarf or dwarves who anger her.

     Also, the dwarfs don't seem to like to mine for jewels in the music video as they do in the Disney version.  In the Disney version, they seem to like being underground and looking for gems (they even sing a merry song about how they love to dig, dig, dig).  They don't have soot covering them and they aren't sweating or at all looking uncomfortable.  All in all, an unrealistic portrayal of mining.  However, in the music video, there is a more realistic portrayal of mining.  The dwarfs are sweaty and tired and have soot on their bodies and faces.  They look unhappy and are using more advanced machines than pickaxes.  One gets the feeling that they would rather be doing anything than mining.  Also, the gems they find aren't as big or shiny as in the Disney film.

     Another difference is the fact that this video shows Snow White as a drug user.  When she sits down to dinner with the dwarfs, we see her snort up some gold-colored dust (probably meant to symbolize cocaine) and react to it like a drug addict would.  Snow White is not at all portrayed as a drug user in any of the stories we have read or seen.  In fact, drugs are not at all mentioned in the story.  Also, it is because of drugs that she dies.  She is laying naked in a soapy bath outside the dwarfs' house dead and when the dwarfs investigate, one of them finds an injection needle on a plate with some residue of dust (drugs) which implies that she died in the tub while taking an overdose of drugs.  In the stories, she "dies" because of a poison apple that the queen, who is disguised as a peasant woman, gives to her.  In the video she seems to die by her own hand while in the stories, she dies as the result of others (meaning she dies because of the apple from the queen who made the apple poisonious).

     Also, one notices that in the music video, there is no prince to save her from her "sleeping death" like in the traditional fairy tale.  In fact, as mentioned before, she wakes up because an apple falls onto her coffin, shattering it and exposing her body to the cold air.  She wakes up shocked to find herself wrapped up in silks and in a coffin while the dwarfs look at her, shocked that she is awake but making no attempt to embrace her like in the original stories.  Also, there is no implied happily ever after for one can assume that the pattern that is shown in the video will continue (meaning the dwarfs will keep mining diamonds for her and she will treat them cruelly).  This music video is very depressing and offers no sense of hope or redemption.  It portrays Snow White as the head of the household (a position not generally given to women in the original stories) and as a very sexual and treacherous creature (which is shown by her scanty costume and the way she treats the dwarfs).  In fact, one could say that this Snow White is the wicked queen.  It's as if it is the queen's personality in Snow White's body.

     Speaking of the queen, as mentioned before, she is not at all shown in the music video.  She isn't there to contrast the loveliness and purity of Snow White as she does in the Disney and Grimms' versions.  The main and only woman in the music video is Snow White.  Period.  She isn't at all like traditional stories portray her to be. 

     When comparing the music video to the stories, I find that surprisingly I kind of like the Grimms' version and the Disney version better.  This is because in those versions she is portrayed as very sweet and kind.  She is willing to serve others and is generous.  However, I don't like the fact that she is portrayed as a passive figure in those stories.  I find it anti-feminist.  When considering which I liked better though, I found myself in a conflict for on the one hand, I like how in the music video she was active and her own boss, but on the other hand, I hated how she treated the dwarfs like slaves and cared only for herself.  Similarly, in the traditional stories of Snow White, I liked how on the one hand, she was kind and thoughful, but on the other hand, I hated how passive and conforming she was to being a traditional woman.  So, I think I don't like either the stories or the music video because the stories portray Snow White as sweet but passive and the music video portrays Snow White as active, but a bitch.  I find that I could only like her if she was portrayed as sweet and active at the same time. 


Sunday, March 3, 2013

A Jungian View of Fairy Tales

    According to Jung, there are many things that make up fairy tales and how they connect to us on a psychological level.  One thing is archetypes.  An archetype is defined as an "unconscious mode of understanding that regulate[s] perception" (Mazeroff  "Fairy Tales").  It is part of the collective unconscious and comes from "universal experiences . . . and [is] . . . expressed in dreams, myths, and fairy tales" ("Fairy Tales").  Some of the most common archetypes are the wise old man, the mother figure, the forest, the so called shadow, and the ever lovable trickster figure ("Fairy Tales").

     Besides archetypes though, the most important thing to Jung is the so called "hero's journey" that the main character of a fairy tale must take (Mazeroff "Fairy Tales").  The journey is meant to change the character from a immature individual to a mature individual.  The journey beings with the hero leaving his old world (his comfort zone) and going out into the unknown (outside his comfort zone).  He is helped by animals or people he encounters along the way.  He also is faced with tasks and temptations that the hero eventually cannot complete or resist.  An example of this is the old and popular task of staying awake all night to help defend the princess of an enchanted castle.  When the hero fails the task, the hero dies in a sense (meaning his old self, his immature self dies) and like a phoenix, he is reborn (he becomes mature and learns his mistakes and takes care not to repeat them) ("Fairy Tales").  It is important and necessary for him to fail just like it is important for Red Riding Hood to go off the path.  If he did not do this, he wouldn't learn anything and the opportunity to grow would be wasted.  He begins to make up for his errors and soon achieves the ultimate goal and is rewarded (often with jewels, a life-long companion, or a kingdom).  He also returns to his old world (often with the help of magic) and is now able to be master of both worlds, the world he inhabits and the world he encountered on his journey ("Fairy Tales").  Jung views fairy tales as dealing with "growth and transformation" and dealing with problems that are represented by archetypes ("Fairy Tales").  Basically, one could say that fairy tales to Jung are self-help manuals for how to deal with life and its difficulties.

     However, while reading this, many people will be asking for supportive proof of Jung's theories of the fairy tale.  One fairy tale that proves this idea of growth and maturity is "The Frog Princess."  The story begins with a king having three sons, but no queen.  The king has his three sons shoot arrows into the sky and whoever returns the arrows to each of the sons will be their brides.  The sons do what he says without hesitation, showing that the sons, especially the youngest, Prince Ivan, are immature because they do what their father tells them without questioning the logic.  The oldest son marries a princess, the second oldest marries a general's daughter, and Ivan marries . . . a frog.  Literally a frog.  Now one may ask, why did the author of the fairy tale choose a frog?  Well looking at it from a Jungian point of view, we can see the frog as an archetype of uglyness/impurity.  People generally associate frogs with filth and warts and dirtiness.  So, this marriage to the frog will challenge Ivan's main problem, his obsession with superficiality and his lack of assertiveness.  After all, Ivan could have said no to marrying the frog and run away, but he blindly followed his father's orders.

     Soon, the king has each daughter-in-law perform certain tasks for him.  Ivan despairs each time because he doesn't think that his frog wife can do anything.  After all, to him, she is just a frog.  However, before each task, she tells Ivan to go to sleep and let her handle it, which he does and which again shows his unassertive side.  While he is asleep, the frog sheds her skin (transformation) and is revealed to be a beautiful maiden named Elena the Fair, and she has servants who perform the tasks (helpers) and as to be expected, the frog princess outdoes the other wives every single time.  Soon however, the king wants to see which of the wives dances best and this time, Ivan is sure he is going to lose.  However, his wife tells him to not worry and that she will be at the ball presently.  Soon, the frog (now again in her true form as a beautiful maiden) comes to the ball, and Prince Ivan is delighted with the discovery that his wife is actually beautiful.  Also, the princess outdoes the two wives again.  She slips bones and the last drops of water down her sleeves and the foolish wives do the same and Elena dances and causes birds and animals to appear with the help of the bones and the water.  The two other wives dance as well but instead, all that falls out of their sleeves are bones and water and naturally, the king is not pleased with this.

     Soon, Prince Ivan goes and burns the frog skin and this turns out to be a foolish decision because Elena tells him that now she must leave him and he has to find her.  This moment shows how immature Ivan is because instead of being patient and waiting for his wife to get rid of the skin on her own time, he is superficial and decides to get rid of it himself.  It also shows how he isn't ready for marriage because he doesn't really understand what it means to love someone.  To maturely love someone, you must look beyond the physical and love the psychological, the personality.  So, Ivan soon begins to go out into the woods (archetype) and begin the hero's journey.  He soon encounters each of Elena's sisters who tell him that she is forgetting him and getting married soon and he soon finds her at the eldest sister's cottage.  However, in order to get Elena back, he must turn her from a spindle into a human which he does (transformation).  Soon, they live happily ever after with Ivan having become more mature and learning about how to not be superficial and to be more assertive.  This connects to Jung in that the hero's journey is used in the fairy tale and the prince fails to keep his bride at first (death of immature self) and is reborn as a mature individual and goes through the woods (the unconscious) and soon finds her again having becoming assertive and caring (mature individual).

Work Cited
   Mazeroff, Paul.  "Fairy Tales."  Lecture in SIS 2015.  McDaniel College.  26 Feb. 2013.  Lecture.