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.   

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