Fairy Tales 2010

Thursday, March 18, 2010


The Bluebeard story has been adapted multiple times but remains to have connections to horror and has been argued to have inspired the serial killer genre of film today. Following the pattern of women being targeted, collected, and killed repeats itself in many common thematic elements of cinema. George Melies version of "BlueBeard" has the ability to engage the spectator and truly engross them within the film's world. Contrary to its peers, the Bluebeard story lacks the fantastical element of many fairy tales and focuses on the gruesome and unexplainable greed of a man who kills his wives for their fortune and the woman (Melies' version) is a helpless damsel in distress who seemingly is unable to call upon her family for help (brothers come on their own). Why is it that such gruesome and horror befalls the helpless dependent women? Why have they been placed in situations that they clearly are not able to overcome on their own? The Grimm's version has a slightly positive feminist approach as the woman almost causes her own troubles; which is far more acceptable to any human being in reaping what they sow or getting into trouble and accepting the consequences. The Grimm's heroine is independent and her curiosity gets her into trouble, meaning if she can get into trouble she should be able to get herself out of it.

Looking at these versions shows a progression of culture and values. Though not where we are in our stories today, the Grimm's later version shows a distinct maturation of how women are presented in stories, and that we too have the ability to problem-solve and fend for ourselves. Somewhat.

The Devil Made Me Do It!

After watching the silent film in class today, one image that stuck with me was that of the imp jumping from the pages of the book to tempt the heroine into entering the forbidden room. The inclusion of the imp in the story, along with the fairy godmother-type character, changes it into something more than just a moral tale about picking the right sort of husband. Now the Bluebeard tale has become a classic battle of good vs. evil.

The two forces counter each other. The imp makes the key grow bigger. The fairy godmother shrinks it. Bluebeard and his wife are now secondary characters. Or maybe a better word to describe them is puppets. Their actions are not their own. They are merely pawns in a bigger game.

So how are we to understand this take on the tale? What is the new moral? Perhaps it is something more along the lines of there is good and evil in all of us. The bride gives into the evil urges by opening the door but she is saved by listening to her good side, shown by the fairy godmother. Bluebeard does not listen to the fairy godmother (nor is he visited by her since he is so far gone) and dies for his sins. The imp claims his soul, not bothering to protect him like the fairy godmother did for the bride.

So be nice and good and fair at all times! That way when you marry a psychopath, it'll all work out in the end.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Castle with and Awesome Name

I'm going to go ahead and comment on The Castle of Murder because holy crap, that is one of the coolest names for anything. Ever. Not that I approve of murder, but you know only a badass can live in a place named that.

First of all, I thought it was really strange that the author just sort of randomly included the fact that the same fate destined for the protagonist bride had been ordered for her two sisters as well. There is no mention of their involvement anywhere before or after this point and its like the tidbit was just thrown in as a second thought. It seems like an important point to note, so why is it simply a tiny afterthought? If "One must indeed know that this was the way her two sisters had lost their lives before her," why does the author render it a seemingly inconsequential and removable detail? Strange.

Second, the exchange between the bride and the old woman scraping intestines just seems weird. Initially, the old woman claims that she will be scraping her intestines tomorrow, yet somehow, only after the key had been dropped in the blood, does she assert that now the bride's death is certain. If the bride was going to die either way (i.e. whether she entered the room or not), why was the detail about the key with the unwashable blood included at all? In fact, the husband never even forbade her to enter any particular room, so logic follows that she was indeed doomed no matter what. Consequently, the detail about the key and the blood is irrelevant and seems out of place.

Lastly, unlike the other stories where the "villain" is slaughtered at the end in some fashion, at the end of this story he is only arrested (as far as we know). Considering the fact that his castle was the Castle of Murder, and considering what his former bride had said about the dealings in that place, it would seem a more fitting punishment was in order. Now that I think about it, it seems like there was an attempt to keep this story sort of "clean" by excluding any explicit killing and any excessive gore (save for the scraping intestines scene). Maybe all my points are connected.

Anatole France's "The Seven Wives of Bluebeard"

I find myself drawn to the tale “The Seven Wives of Bluebeard” by Anatole France because it takes me back to an amusing story I enjoyed as a child – The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, written by Jon Scieszka and illustrated by Lane Smith. As I was reading “The Seven Wives of Bluebeard” in Zipes’ Spells of Enchantment, I was amused by the author’s way of blending a historical analysis of the real lives of the Marshal de Rais and Guillaume de Flavy (and possible others) with the tale of Monsieur de Montragoux in order to do justice to the big, bad wife-killer, “Bluebeard.”

To quote a famous saying, “The winner writes history.” In this way, the popularly propagated tales of “Bluebeard” – from Perrault to the present – have been told from the side of the “winner.” In the “Bluebeard” tales, it is instead the final wife, who we could think of as being like the “Final Girl” paradigm from the horror genre. In “her” story, her antagonistic husband is a heartless beast with a penchant for killing wives.

However, the rhetoric of France is important in order to understand how his tale might help demystify and accredit the name of “Bluebeard.” Several times, France highlights how he assembled historical documents and old tales that follow the “Bluebeard” myth. The use of historical documents implies fact, or what France calls “irrefutable proofs” (France 567). Therefore, in order to make his tale seem credible, he refers to his historical documents for evidence.

Moreover, he critiques Perrault’s own use of language in writing “Bluebeard,” noting how certain word choices are equivocated. He also questions Perrault’s objectivity in writing the tale, claiming that his intuitions lead him to believe that Perrault may have been partial to the wife in telling his version of “Bluebeard.”

In any case, France’s unabashed defense of history’s “loser,” “Bluebeard,” is particularly amusing since it plays on the motifs and actions readers recall from the popularly disseminated versions of “Bluebeard” and then provides alternative – and equally compelling – explanations for them. This kind of parody has amused me since childhood when I first read: “Everybody knows the story of the Three Little Pigs. Or at least they think they do. But I’ll let you in on a little secret. Nobody knows the real story, because nobody has ever heard my side of the story” (from The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, pg. 1).

In the case of “Bluebeard,” whose tale is the right one? Was “Bluebeard” a raging, homicidal maniac? Or was “Bluebeard” an unjustified historical figure who was a victim of being “in wrong place at the wrong time”? We may never know.

…But France’s passion sure makes me wonder.

Probing the Unconscious: "Bluebeard's Egg" by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood’s “Bluebeard’s Egg” is a fascinating contemporary rendering of the classic fairy tale. Glaringly absent from this version are the elements of stupefying horror we find in the older tales--the haunting images of dead women hanging limply from chains, the pools of splattered blood. Rather, in her tale, Atwood takes us on a psychological journey through the deep, unexplored realms of the unconscious. The tale is told from the perspective of Sally, a middle-aged wife who obsessively tries to unlock the mystifying mind of her frustratingly unreadable husband, Ed.

Atwood’s take on Bluebeard reminded me of Bartok’s operatic adaptation of the tale. In Bartok’s decidedly pessimistic one-act opera, Judith’s insistent attempts to pry into the deepest chambers of her husband’s psyche ultimately destroy the couple’s prospects for achieving eternal satisfaction and happiness. The opera seems, in many ways, to suggest that a woman who dogmatically strives to possess her husband’s mind risks losing him. Similarly, Sally’s dogged desire to decipher her husband’s inner world leads to disaster, casting her relationship in an atmosphere of paranoia and distrust. In the end, she deduces that her husband is having an affair with her best friend. Whether this assumption is correct remains unanswered, but it is likely that her conclusion is simply the product of a paranoid mind, a grossly exaggerated misinterpretation of an otherwise harmless gesture. In this way, both Bartok and Atwood’s renditions of “Bluebeard” caution against forceful curiosity—not a sexual curiosity, as in Perrault’s version, but a curiosity of the psychological variety. Both tales, to some degree, imply that certain regions of a companion’s mind are best left undisturbed, and to encroach upon these forbidden regions is to unleash a torrent of catastrophe.

If we are to assume, however, that Sally’s deductions prove correct—that her husband is, indeed, engaging in an affair—then Atwood’s version represents an interesting inversion of the classic Bluebeard tales. Steeped in sexual imagery, Peraullt’s version of the tale can be read as a metaphor for sexual curiosity and loss of virginity; after all, the woman’s trespassing into the “forbidden” chamber leads to an irrevocable bloodstain on the key, a development rich in sexual implications. Slapping a moral onto the end of the tale, Perrault essentially shifts the blame onto the woman for “succumbing” to curiosity. Atwood, however, subverts Perrault’s warnings against female sexual curiosity--in her version, it is the husband, not the wife, who strays. Assuming Sally's interpretations of her husband's behavior are correct, here we have a case of a male's infidelity spelling dire consequences for a couple's marriage.

Atwood’s “Bluebeard’s Egg” is a densely layered, complex short story that lends itself to varied interpretations. Eliminating the Hitchcock-esque horror that defines the classic Bluebeard tales, Atwood opts instead for a rich exploration of the human mind.

Anatole France blurs history and reality

While the humor in the Anatole France version of "Bluebeard" is what obviously stands out to me the most, his blurring of the lines between fictional story and historical story was one of the more interesting aspects of his story. From the beginning, France starts by justifying that Bluebeard, rather than being a made-up character, actually existed, just like Napoleon. By pairing a fictional person with one who did indeed exist, France begins to play with this line of what historical accounts can be trusted and which ones are actually true. He makes fiction seem plausible.

The most memorable story he brings to life (other than Bluebeard) is that of Macbeth, which I initially thought was a strange parallel to this story. However, there are two key things in common between the two accounts. The first is the actual key, the parallel of which was briefly mentioned in class, I think. The key becomes stained with blood that Bluebeard's wife cannot wash out in the Perrault version; Lady Macbeth's famous lines of "Out damn spot!" with the invisible blood on her hands fall into this motif.

This blood problem sets up the parallel of Jeanne as Lady Macbeth, implying that both were involved in a conspiracy to kill someone who did not deserve it. France draws a line for us near the end of the story when he says Jeanne's "hallucinations must be compared with those of Lady Macbeth" (Zipes 579). But since that paragraph also discussions conspiring with lovers to kill men who stand in their way, it is implied that there are more comparisons that could be made between Lady Macbeth and Jeanne. Jeanne is cunning, malicious, enjoys sex, and is cruel to her supposedly good and faithful husband.

Again, these are all fictional characters, although France discusses them as though they existed in history. I'm not sure what to make of using Macbeth's supposed true account to make Bluebeard seem true, but overall, France's use of all types of stories as real stories was intriguing. I think since the original Bluebeard story was so un-fairy tale-like, it almost makes more sense as a real historical account than as a fictional story. Horror itself plays with the ideas of reality, and horror seems more plausible in real life than magic does. France's use of fictional stories as reality makes the reader question what he or she reads.

Bluebeard the relationship counselor

What stood out to me the most in the Tatar introduction to Bluebeard is that “cultural historians have been quick to claim that the Perrault’s Bluebeard is based on fact, that it broadcasts the misdeeds of various noblemen.” It is curious that if this is even slightly true, why has this story been transformed into a tale about the deadly curiosity of a woman? The tale’s most distinctive features include male cruelty, murder and cannibalism. They are the true villains, yet Perrault’s moral blames the female! “Curiosity, in spite of its many charms, can bring with it serious regrets; you can see a thousand examples of it everyday. As soon as you satisfy it, its ceases to be. And it always very costly.” So Perrault, you’re telling me as a female, I shouldn’t give into curiosity in such a situation because it will result in me finding out my husband is a vicious murder? As long as I don’t know he enjoys killing women, I will be blissfully happy? Awesome.

I think that this moral is better applied to the Opera that we discussed in class. In this version the male figure is revealing his inner self to the women. All is well and they reach the status of a perfect relationship. Yet she gets greedy and demands more. Unfortunately this is their downfall as a repressed truth is revealed. I think that this version should be more widely told. It teaches a great message on maintaining a happy and balanced relationship. With a little tweaking their roles could be reversed but the message would stay the same: Recognize happiness and accept it. Even in the strongest couples their will and needs to be some secrets- some mystery may even keep a couple in love for a longer period of time. A partner’s secrets will be revealed to the other partner when if they are ready, but seek them out too soon, and the relationship will suffer.

Comparing "Bluebeard" to "The Castle of Murder"

There are several versions of the “Bluebeard” story in which a wife’s curiosity leads her to somehow disobey her husband’s rules, and she must find a way to save herself from being killed by her husband. When comparing “Bluebeard” and “The Castle of Murder”, it is interesting to note the similarities and differences between the two stories. In both tales, the men must leave the castle to finish some business, but they give the women all their keys. Both girls receive some type of aid: the wife in “Bluebeard” receives help from her sister and brothers, and the wife in “The Castle of Murder” receives help from an old woman. With this helper’s guidance and knowledge, they are able to escape death. Additionally, both girls drop the key into the blood and cannot remove the stains, which serves as evidence that they entered a forbidden place and now have knowledge of the husband’s deeds.

At the start of the tales, there are minor, but significant, details that are different. First of all, Bluebeard is actually a king (which is interesting in itself and a detail I overlooked at first) and in the other story the husband is a rich nobleman. In “Bluebeard”, the girl immediately fears the king because of his blue beard and feels uncomfortable. However, the girl in “The Castle of Murder”, is said to have “gladly agreed to ride off with him” (619). It is not until he asks whether she has any doubts about marrying him that she begins to feel uneasy. In “Bluebeard”, the king specifically tells the girl that she may go anywhere in the house except the one forbidden room, and she will die if she disobeys him. In “The Castle of Murder”, the nobleman gives her all his keys and tells her she can go anywhere around the castle. When she reaches the cellar, which is essentially the forbidden room that he never verbally forbid her to enter, she finds an old woman scraping intestines. We learn that the girl has unknowingly disobeyed her husband because the old woman says he will know the girl has been in the cellar when he and the old woman are the only ones allowed to enter.

“The Castle of Murder” seems like it is going to be another version of “Bluebeard”, but in the middle of the tale it shifts more towards “The Robber Bridegroom” when a helper warns the girls to escape while they can. Later, they are able to publically reveal the true nature of their husbands at a party. In the end, the husband is punished for his deeds and the wife receives all of his wealth and lives happily ever after.

In my opinion, “The Castle of Murder” seems to be a combination of “Bluebeard” and “The Robber Bridegroom”. So here are a few questions I had when reading and comparing these stories:

Why would the Grimm brothers omit “The Castle of Murder” and “Bluebeard” from the collection, but keep “The Robber Bridegroom”? Why was it ultimately decided that both stories should be omitted, as opposed to keeping one?