Fairy Tales 2010

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

"Cinderella" and "Donkeyskin"

When first reflecting on “Cinderella” and “Donkeyskin”, I would have agreed with Tatar when she writes,

The two narratives encoded in the tale-type index seem virtually unrelated at first glance. The plots of “Cinderella” stories are driven by the anxious jealousy of biological mothers and stepmothers who subject the heroine to one ordeal of domestic drudgery after another; the plots of “Catskin” tales are fueled by the sexual desire of fathers, whose unseemly behavior drives their daughters from home (Tatar 102).

The two stories seem to have different overarching themes. In “Cinderella”, she must triumph over servitude and her cruel stepmother, while in “Donkeyskin” the daughter must triumph over her incestuous father and his desires. However, there are many parallels between the two stories that can be observed and that suggest the two stories can be studied together. “Cinderella” is like the toned down children’s version of “Donkeyskin”. There are countless versions of both tales, but “Cinderella” has definitely been told more frequently than “Donkeyskin”, most likely due to the theme of incest in “Donkeyskin”.

Although these two stories have evolved and changed over many years, several ideas have remained the same. Both tales focus on the idea of good ultimately overcoming evil because both Cinderella and Donkeyskin are girls being forced to comply with a higher authority figure (a stepmother and a father) but they choose to rise above the oppression to find happiness. Cinderella wins the handsome prince’s heart and is no longer under her stepmother’s command, while Donkeyskin runs away from her father and falls in love with a foreign prince. Donkeyskin’s father even attends the wedding once he comes to his senses and realizes the madness of his wish to marry his daughter. In both stories, the girls must disguise their true selves and work as servants. Both Cinderella and Donkeyskin have mothers that are dead, and their fathers play different roles. In both the Grimms’ version and Charles Perrault’s version of “Cinderella”, the father has no control over the stepmother, and therefore cannot fight for Cinderella. In “Donkeyskin”, the father holds all the power and is determined to do whatever it takes to marry his own daughter. Also, both Cinderella and Donkeyskin must prove to be the right woman by either trying on a glass slipper or a ring, both of which fell into the hands of their respective princes at one point in the story. I liked how both Perrault’s “Cinderella” and “Donkeyskin” directly stated the moral of the tale and what Perrault intended for the reader to learn from the story. He writes, “…this story [“Donkeyskin”] teaches children that it is better to expose yourself to harsh adversity than to neglect your duty. Virtue may sometimes seem ill-fated, but it is always crowned with success” (Perrault 116). Likewise, one version of “Donkeyskin” that I read is the Italian version called “The She-Bear, which ends with the moral, “Those who do good may expect good in return” (http://www.pitt.edu/%7Edash/type0510b.html#basile).

Ultimately, I agree with Tatar that “Cinderella” and “Donkeyskin” should be studied together because there are enough similarities to relate the two, but there are also subtle differences to offer good comparisons between the two stories.

Should "Cinderella" and "Donkeyskin" Be Read Together?

I strongly believe that the “Cinderella” and “Donkeyskin” tales should be read together. Although the major plot points that run through every version of the “Cinderella” tale differ in some important ways from those that wind through every version of the “Donkeyskin” tale (respectively – a cruel stepmother and stepsisters degrade a rich man or king’s pitiful daughter versus an amorous father and king motivates his young daughter to run away), I think reading one off of the other provides compelling material to fill in the gaps. Again, the “Donkeyskin” tales provide a potentially incestuous relationship as the primary motivation (cause) for the effect of the princess running away from her father. If we deliberate as to why the father is such a weak figure in the “Cinderella” tales, we could extrapolate from his typical motivations from the “Donkeyskin” tales and assume that “Cinderella” is, in effect, a “cleaned-up” version of the “Donkeyskin” tales. Indeed, as Maria Tatar points out (regarding the work of Marian Cox), many variants of the “Cinderella” narrative actually incorporate a father with incest on the brain as a plot point.

But to compare the two types of tales is perhaps the best way to see how they work for and against each other. Maria Tatar rightly notes that

the two narratives encoded in the tale-type index seem virtually unrelated at first glance. The plots of ‘Cinderella’ stories are driven by the anxious jealousy of biological mothers and stepmothers who subject the heroine to one ordeal of domestic drudgery after another; the plots of [‘Donkeyskin’] tales are fueled by the sexual desire of fathers, whose unseemly behavior drives their daughters from home. In tales depicting the social persecution of a girl by her stepmother, the central focus comes to rest on the unbearable family situation produced by a father’s remarriage… In tales depicting erotic persecution of a daughter by her father, stepmothers and their daughters tend to vanish from the central arena of action (Tatar 102-3).

After noting these significant plot points, Tatar rightly asserts, “Yet the father’s desire for his daughter in the second tale type furnishes a powerful motive for a stepmother’s jealous rages and unnatural deed in the first tale type. The two plots can be seen as conveniently dovetailing to produce an intrigue that corresponds to the oedipal fantasies of girls. Psychoanalytic criticism has indeed seen ‘Cinderella’ and [‘Donkeyskin’] as enactments of Oedipal desires, with each tale suppressing one component (love for the father or hatred of the mother) of the Oedipal plot” (Tatar 103).

Honestly, I do not know what more I could say that Tatar did not already make so clear in her introduction to the “Cinderella”/“Donkeyskin” section of The Classic Fairy Tales. I think the oedipal readings are undeniably compelling, and I am disposed to reading the modern-day preference for a wicked stepmother over an incestuous father as reflective of modern inclinations toward patriarchal order and a readership comprised of children. This would be why we hear so little about the “Donkeyskin” tales, as opposed to the extremely popular “Cinderella” stories.

Disney's "Donkeyskin": Coming to a Theater Near You?

Upon reviewing the blog posts of my fellow group members, it seems apparent that we agree Donkeyskin and Cinderella are closely related fairy tales. Simply put: the basic storyline formula is the same for both Donkeyskin and Cinderella. There are basic plot details that are altered for each story based on the origin and historical background, but that is to be expected. In fact, I would argue that Donkeyskin is closer to some historical versions of Cinderella than Walt Disney's watered down version is to the "originals" but that is an entirely different blog post all together.

As mentioned, both Donkeyskin and Cinderella share some very similar elements. Girl of unrivaled, yet hidden, beauty overcomes her guise of poor appearance caused by either a manipulative older woman or her sexually-assertive father (or both) with the aid of her overseeing (god)mother to marry a dashing prince and live happily ever after. Various parts were added or embellished based on the story teller in order to fit the audience, but the formula remained the same.

The other story I chose to read was the Donkeyskin-esque "Gold Teeth," an Italian version as told by Estella Canziani. In this version, a man is made to give a promise to his dying wife, who has gold teeth, that he will not remarry anyone that does not have gold teeth. For years, the widower lived alone with his daughter, desperate to remarry but unable to find another woman that satisfied the demands of the promise he made to his wife. That is until one day a "well-dressed gentleman" pointed out that such a woman lived in his very house (his daughter...surprise!). The daughter seeks the help of her godmother who suggests she ask for a series of extravagant dresses, to which the father obliges; the last dress of which is dirty gown made of flea skins (plot twist). In the end, the daughter runs away and lives in the disguise of an old lady wearing the flea skin gown, only to have a (somewhat abusive) prince eventually fall in love with and marry her.

Like Perrault's "Donkeyskin" and the Grimms' "Cinderella," "Gold Teeth" follows the same Cinderella fairy tale formula. Dispite the fact that these three stories where written in three different eras in three different regions around Europe, they all have too much in common not to be related. I will say that it could be argued that they are not the same stories entirely, but it is not logical to argue that they shouldn't be studied together. How Donkeyskin got lost in the flurry of Disney remakes is a mystery to me...

Similarities between donkeyskin and Cinderella

The previous posts have done a great job in summing up some of Tatar’s arguments for why donkeyskin and Cinderella stories should be read together. I want to add some of my own observations as to the similarities between the two. There is the overarching theme of a girl who has been forced to grow up without a mother and abuse (or near abuse) ensues, but of course the type of abuse is very different.

For Cinderella, it is an oppression by her new mother and her new stepsiblings and a lack of a father figure that leads to a physical and verbal abuse, best illustrated in one of my favorite Disney songs:

For the heroine in donkeyskin stories, the abuse (or near-abuse) is sexual and predatory from a very-present father figure. In both cases, unlike in the majority of fairy tales, it takes cunning and quick-thinking abilities to escape the situation (although not without a little bit of help from the world of magic). As Helen Pilinovsky wrote in the “Donkeyskin, Deerskin, Allerleirauh: The Reality of the Fairy Tale,” the secondary reading for the week: “The action which fits the mold of unassertive femininity starts the ball rolling, indirectly causing a series of harmful effects, while the more assertive, independent actions of the daughter are both required and rewarded.”
However, in the extra Cinderella story I read this week (“Cinderella; or, The Little Glass Slipper” by Charles Perrault), I noticed some of the weird incestuous father figure that still lingered in the background. At the ball, right after Cinderella appeared in her beautiful dress, “The king himself, old as he was, could not help watching her, and telling the queen softly that it was a long time since he had seen so beautiful and lovely a creature.” That’s kinda creepy, for lots of reasons. Plus, can you imagine having your husband lean over and whisper into your ear how pretty another woman is? The Cinderella/donkeyskin male figure is shown as perverted or as effeminate, unable to take manly positions which protect his daughter from harm (even if the harm is himself).

I also noticed in the donkeyskin story that the trope of a beautiful girl covered by something ugly was also a commonality. Cinderella is covered by the ashes from the hearth by which she sleeps. The donkeyskin heroine is not only covered with the skin outfit (“It’s Donkeyskin. There’s nothing beautiful about her,” was the answer the prince got when he asked about the nymph (113).) but “her face dirtied with mud” as she traveled (112). These cloaks, as Pilinovsky wrote of the donkeyskin, are not mere coverings:

“The fact that it consists of skins, either from a creature magical in itself, or procured through magical means (as a skin consisting of the fur of a thousand creatures)cannot be ignored: the basic Law of Contagnation (dictating that any given part of a thing carries a connection and a portion of that thing in its entirety), which is a product of both magic and of fairy tales as a whole, dictates that this cloak is more than simply a source of warmth or a method of camouflage.”

The coverings are a magical, transformative disguise that reveals a great deal of inner and outer beauty when removed. A different, though, is Cinderella also has magical coverings that are beautiful, where as the donkeyskin’s magical covering is ugly. Both mask what’s underneath, although Cinderella’s reveals more of her actual nature. Maybe that’s a big difference between the two types of stories, but it’s also a similarity in a way, too, and each type of story reveals layers that reside in the other.

Donkeyskin and Cinderalla: Brothas from Anotha Motha

It is fairly obvious to me that the two types of stories should be studied concurrently. Though there are many glaring dissimilarities between Donkeyskin and Cinderella fairy tales there are still many aspects that make them seem to be different versions of the same story. As Darnton had noted in his critical essay, historical context is an important lens through which to look at fairy tales and he criticized Bettelheim for having too narrow a focus. I can deduce from this train of logic that if Darnton wants a broad and all-encompassing view of fairy tales one needs to look at historical, cultural and many other influences on the stories to gain a complete understanding of them.

For instance, there are many similarities between the Donkeyskin story in Tatar's book and Joseph Jacobs's Cinder Maid, but I will focus on a few of the major ones. In both stories the father and mother (stepmother in the case of the latter) are equally responsible for the squalid condition of the main character. In Donkeyskin, the mother ignites the incestuous love of her husband by attempting to keep all of his love for herself even in death and the father feels he must marry his daughter, no matter how morally reprehensible a situation it would be. Somewhat similarly, in Cinder Maid the stepmother's scorn and the father's passive submission lead to the character living a squalid life as well.

Next, in both stories there is the outstanding image of the ornate and magnificent three dresses. Besides the repeated idea of things coming in threes as a theme for both stories, the aspect I mean to focus on here are the designs of the three dresses in each story. Specifically, the two sets of dresses are different but they all have one common quality: mirroring of and atunement with nature, which is a very important motif in fairy tales.

Lastly, in both stories, the scorned and destitute main characters are both given a chance to free themselves from that life by marrying a prince. In Donkeyskin a gold ring is used as the fitness test and in Cinder Maid a gold shoe is the deciding factor but the idea behind each is the same: the one girl who fits the famed object will receive the love of a prince and marry him.

There are definitite differences between the two types of stories but the underlying storylines and messages are the same and they share too many qualities for it to be simply coincidental. Consequently, if one takes into account historical and cultural factors, it seems easy to discern that these are retellings of the same story in different times and places. Donkeyskin and Cinderella stories should absolutely be studied together to show how a story can transform relatively drastically over time and places and still keep the same skeleton.

Donkeyskin: Not Exactly Bedtime Story Material

It is a phenomenon we see time and time again, so frequent that we have become desensitized to its peculiarity: the beautiful young heroine of a classic Disney film, struggling to navigate her fantastical world in the absence of one or both parents. In some films, a cause is attributed to the parent’s absence, such as a recent death; other times, however, the parent is mysteriously missing, no explanation offered as to their whereabouts. The Disney adaptation of the classic fairy tale Cinderella, for example, opens with the melancholy sight of a young Cinderella, weeping beside her father’s deathbed as the darkened figures of her stepmother and stepsisters loom ominously in the shadows. This hardship, in effect, sets the film into motion and drives its various conflicts.

To someone acquainted with the folktale tradition, this tragedy is something of a relief. In killing Cinderella’s father from the get-go, Disney successfully bypasses the uncomfortable paternal tension that ensues in the tale’s traditional variants.

Indeed, the modern Cinderella story as we have come to know it revolves around the evil, atrocious deeds of the wicked stepmother. It is she, the sinister Disney beauty with the volumptuous body and severely-arched eyebrows, who acts as the film’s demonic, dynamic agent of evil. In spite of ourselves, we delight in her cruel designs, for they imbue the plot with suspense and breathless anticipation. But examine the classic folklore versions of Cinderella, and this compelling femme fatale—this idiosyncratic “evil stepmother”—is glaringly absent. Instead, a new antagonist arises: Cinderella’s father.

Take, for example, Perrault’s “Donkey Skin.” The story begins with a powerful king’s promise to his dying wife that he will only marry another woman whose beauty and intelligence surpasses hers. Fast-forward a few years. The king’s only daughter has blossomed into maturity, and, as luck would have it, she is pretty darn beautiful—more beautiful, perhaps, than her mother, the late Queen. Enamored by her rare and remarkable beauty, the King embarks on a passionate, erotic pursuit for his daughter’s hand in marriage. But the daughter, disturbed by father’s strong sexual desire, disguises herself in a “donkeyskin” cloak and flees the castle, taking up residence as a lowly scullery maid on a farm, doomed to carry out a number of domestic tasks. Starting to sound familiar?

It is understandable why later versions of the tale, such as the Grimm Brother’s 1857 retelling, modified the traditional Donkeyskin plotline almost beyond recognition. Purging the tale of its incestuous encounter, the Grimms substituted the archetypal wicked stepmother in place of the lecherous father. In doing this, of course, they were attempting to preserve the integrity of the nuclear family in keeping with Protestant norms. After all, the concept of an oppressive stepmother is much more acceptable to a Christian reader than the idea of an incestuous father, which was (and is) considered unnatural, horrifying, and taboo. Indeed, in our culture, the issue of incest is generally too uncomfortable and heavy-handed a subject to openly discuss. To include such troubling subject matter in a work of children’s literature would be downright absurd.

But Marina Warner makes a valid point when she argues that the censorship of the core Cinderella plotline is not entirely desirable: “The proposed marriage of a father to his daughter becomes hard to accept…because it is not impossible, because it could actually happen, and is known to have done so. It is when fairy tales coincide with experience that they begin to suffer from censoring, rather than the other way around” (104). Do the Donkeyskin tales bring awareness to a crucial issue that tends to be banished from societal discourse? Yes. In this sense, Donkeyskin serves as a critical reminder of a pressing social issue. But does this mean we should be reading a tale about incest to our four-year-olds? Probably not.

In short, the Donkeyskin versions of Cinderella should remain in circulation, but strictly for adult, scholarly audiences to enjoy. As for mainstream American culture—well, let them be content with their happy, singsong Disney adaptation, no matter how drastically revised it may be.

Donkeyskin = Cinderella?

Maria Tatar argues in her introduction to Cinderella stories that both Donkeyskin and Cinderella stories posses so many similarities that it is reasonable to consider both types together. On page 102 she claims that over time Cinderella stories are reinvented, and it is this idea that bring me to believe that the two types of stories should be considered together.

Tatar explains that usually Cinderella stories are driven by the jealousy of the stepmother/stepsisters and father figures are usually eliminated as characters (but not always as we will see in the Italian version of this tale). In All-Fur stories the plot is driven by the sexual lust of a father for his daughter and the stepmother is eliminated as a character. (These stories, Tatar explains, touch of the taboo of incest thus this is why we may not be as familiar with them). Although there some strong differences, the basics of both stories run parallel, especially in the second half of the tales.

Tatar interestingly points out that in All-Fur stories the mother is basically to blame for all that the daughter must suffer through (because the promise she requested from the kind on her death bed so that he could not marry again). Therefore, in this version both biological parents become the villains even though the mother is essentially eliminated from the tale. In the Italian version of Cinderella, a mother figure of any kind is not present. Instead the father is said to have three daughters of his own. The father in this case becomes a sort of villain, as he does not favor Cinderella, calls her silly, ignores here, and in the end claims to only have two daughters when the prince’s messengers come calling. In this case, Cinderella is also more clever and active as she rejects the initiation to go to the ball with her family, and then shows up later to capture the princes heart. Other parallels between the two stories can be drawn such as the ring compared to the shoes, the occurrence of three balls instead of just one and so on.

Despite the obvious presence of differences in both types of stories, I think that it is fair to conclude that both come from a common point of origin as the similarities are to close to ignore. As stories cross boarders and time passes, they are changed be who ever is telling them. At some point in time these two story types may have been one in the same and depending on the storyteller and audience evolved into the separate tales we have today.

Cinderella vs. Donkeyskin

As a fan of the classic Disney movies, I was at first confused as to how the tales of women being swept off their feet by handsome princes could be compared, in any sense, to the disturbing tale of Donkeyskin. However, after reading Tatar's argument: that the two fairy tales should be read together and compared due to their inherently similar motifs, I would have to agree. Having read multiple versions of both Donkeyskin and Cinderella stories I believe there are common threads which tie the two together. First, is the "tendency to defame women and to magnify maternal evil." In Donkeyskin, the dying mother demands that her husband only remarry if the woman is in some way comparable to her (usually the most beautiful woman in the kingdom). The mother makes her husband promise this seemingly impossible task out of jealousy and determination to control his life even after she herself is no longer living. Ultimatly, the mother's selfish request forces the king to develop incestual feelings towards his daughter, the only equitable maiden in the kingdom. The king's feelings frightens the child and forces her to eventually run away to escape her father's inappropriate feelings. Similarly, in Cinderella, the evil stepmother forces Cinderella to do magnitudes of chores. The description of the stepmother in the stories supports Tatar's comparison of the two stories through evil mothers. In the Cinder Maid the evil stepmother is, from the inception of the story, introduced as wicked. "The noble's daughter was set to do all the drudgery of the house, to attend the kitchen fire, and had naught to sleep on but the heap of cinder raked out in the scullery."
Another theme that is consistent with the two stories is the weak minded father. In Donkeyskin, the father never refuses his wife's demand. He never once questions her possibly selfish motives. He never stops himself from falling in love with his daughter. Similarly, in Cinderella, particularly Cinder Maid, the father is extremely weak when it comes to defending his own daughter. He succumbs to the pressure from his new wife and indirectly causes Cinderella's eventual pain and suffering.
The last comparison that can be made between the two stories is the heroine's return to nature. A common characteristic of fairy tales is combining nature and magic into the story. In Donkeyskin, the daughter is forced to, with the 3 gifts that her father made for her, escape into the forest disguised in a cloak of some type of animal skin. She lives in the forest until she comes into contact with a guard and is offered a job in the kitchen. In the Cinder Maid, Cinderella is so alone that she retreats to her mother's grave and pleads to the hazelnut tree to help her- since she can rely on no one else. A little bird responds and grants her wish. This asking and granting of wishes continues on for the rest of the story. In both cases, the female heroine is betrayed by her family, and her ideals of what a family should be, and is forced to escape and reconnect with nature.

Step-Mom has got it going on!

How do you know it's not her step-mom?!?!?!?

What is most interesting about Maria Tatar's conclusions about Donkeyskin and Cinderella stories is how one has become a part of mainstream culture and the other has not. I'm sorry but I don't think I've ever seen a Donkeyskin re-make in modern times. Perhaps this is what makes me resist declaring that the two should be compared with each other. To me, even the Brothers Grimm version of Cinderella seems so much less obscene than the Donkeyskin tales where the father, driven to the point of raging lust by the death of his wife, attempts to marry his daughter because she looks the most like his lost spouse.

However, the more I think about it, the more I come to agree with Tatar. For instance, a story like Ass-Skin by Wentworth Webster Basque combines the idea of a Cinderella tale with that of a Donkeyskin one. Read it here: http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/type0510b.html#webster.

In that story, a girl named Faithful is accused of a crime she did not commit. Forced to fake her death, she wears an ass' skin to disguse herself. She ends up going back to a ball to seduce the prince (sound familiar?) One problem: The king wants her as well. The story ends in Oedipal madness! Prince kills King and marries Faithful and they live happily ever after and have two children who die but then get heaven ready for Faithful and husband and then they die as well and go to heaven YAY!!! (phew...I'm out of breath after that).

Both Cinderella and Donkeyskin tales are based off the belief that good triumphs over evil. Sure, the king wishes to have the daughter but she will saved! Sure, the step-mother wants to keep Cinderella from happiness but her plot will be foiled! As Tatar shows in her argument, these two tale types describe family dynamics from both the side of a mother and a father. Thus, I have no problem with the two story types being studied together. Can't wait for the Disney film about Donkeyskin!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Cinderella and Donkeyskin

In reading both works I feel that the stories should be discussed together. They have the common theme of a maiden being or ending up impoverished, dressing up in a beautiful gown, losing something that is of value in which a prince uses to find her in order to make them their bride because she in turn is the love of his life. Even the "Little Glass Slipper" on the Ashliman website goes along with the same outline of these other stories. The lessons that these stories seem to portray are that of being a fair maiden who stays true and follows directions will in turn be rewarded ten-fold for her just ways. Although it would raise controversy for the Donkeyskin to be taught since the incestuous underlining of the father/king are present nonetheless it still gives light to the maiden gaining more than expected.