Fairy Tales 2010

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Intelligent or a bit slow?

Disney's version of "Snow White" portrays a somewhat intelligent young woman (snow white) who the Wicked Queen wants killed. She sends her out with one of her hunters who is supposed to kill her and he brings the heart of the wild boar back to the Wicked Queen.The Queen finds out that Snow White is still alive because she talks to her magic mirror while Snow White finds her way to the seven dwarfs. She lives with them and is eventually saved by a handsome prince who comes and kisses her which brings Snow White back to life.
In the Grimm's version the Wicked Queen does not want Snow White's heart but much more gruesome, her lungs and liver. When the boar's insides are brought to her, she boils them and eats them, thinking that they are Snow White's. It takes three attempts to kill Snow White with the Queen using the same disguise, insinuating that Snow White must not be too smart. A prince comes and he thinks that the body is beautiful, so he wants it. It is only when servants drop the coffin that the piece of poison apple dislodges from Snow White's throat and she is brought back to life.

It is interesting to see the turn of events and personalities of the characters that make up the flow of the story. Why is it that the woman must be quite slow and can only be seen as an object of desire vs. being intelligent and being silenced and then being saved by a prince? Another revelation of the ideals of society and culture during the times these versions were created? I think so.

Oh foolish father, you bring doom wherever you go

The character I'm going to comment on is an archetype that has garnered a lot of attention in all fairy tales and despite being a minor character in almost all circumstances has a profound effect on the development on the story. I speak of course of the parents of the main character, in this case the father of Snow White. Like in most other fairy tales, his actions are directly responsible for the plight of the beautiful young girl.

In The Three Little Gnomes in the Forest, he actually almost avoids putting his daughter in any sort of peril by being wary of his possible marriage to the evil stepmother. However, that wouldn't have resulted in a very good story, would it? So as fate would have it, the boot held water and the father married his daughter's would-be tormentor and the rest is history. After the marriage though the father mysteriously disappears from the picture, again facilitating the progression of the story by not stopping or hindering the evil stepmother and her wicked doings.

In the Brier Rose story, again the father plays a part in the misfortune that befalls his daughter but it is not by his marriage to some evil stepmother (though the woman he scorns is still an old crone). By failing to invite the 13th wise old woman (unlucky 13?) to his feast, he causes her to lay a terrible curse on his young daughter. Though unlike the father in the Three Little Gnomes story, the king takes a proactive approach to help his daughter and destroys all of the spindles in his kingdom, one of which is prophesied to be the cause of a hundred year sleep for his daughter. Unlike the previous story, the king does not just disappear into oblivion but still plays a central role in the story.

In Snow White, again the king is the cause of his daughter's turmoil (indirectly, anyway) by marrying the evil stepmother and sealing her fate. But again in this story the father just kind of disappears and plays no further role in the unfurling of events. He serves as a catalyst for a reaction, and once the reaction has taken place he ceases to be useful and is cast off. Though it appears his role as the spark that starts the fire, so to speak, never really changes, his role in the rest of the story changes from tale to tale.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Huntsman

The huntsman is a minor character in “Snow White”, but it is still interesting to note the subtle differences in Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and the Grimms’ and Anne Sexton’s text versions. To begin with, the Grimms’ version goes into quite a bit of detail about the huntsman and his emotions. After taking Snow White out into the woods, the huntsman pulls out his knife to kill her, but cannot do it. Snow White begs the hunter for her life, and “Snow White was so beautiful that the huntsman took pity on her and said: ‘Just run away, you poor child’ ”. In comparison, in the Disney version, the roles are reversed and the huntsman actually gets down on his knees and begs for Snow White’s forgiveness.

In Anne Sexton’s version, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”, the huntsman’s duty is simply stated and then the story continues. There is no explanation of the guilt that the huntsman felt, which kept him from fulfilling the Queen’s desire. Sexton writes, “Bring me her heart, she said to the hunter, and I will salt it and eat it. The hunter, however, let his prisoner go and brought a boar’s heart back to the castle.” In both stories, the huntsman decides to disobey the Queen’s order because of his compassion for Snow White, and instead he brings the Queen a boar’s heart. We are never told what happens to the huntsman if he does not succeed.

The huntsman in Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” is a larger man who reluctantly agrees to obey the Queen’s order. Unlike the other versions, the Queen threatens him about what will happen to him if he does not follow through with her order. The huntsman looks weak and inferior when in the presence of the Queen. However, as he approaches Snow White, he looks frightening and his eyes are so focused on Snow White that it seems he is intent on carrying out the plan. As Snow White realizes what is happening and the huntsman raises his sword, he hesitates. Then, he immediately drops to his knees asking for her forgiveness, instead of the Grimms’ version in which Snow White pleads with the huntsman.

The huntsman is the one who takes pity on Snow White and disobeys the Queen. Some versions give the huntsman a larger role, while others hardly mention him.

Why do we think the huntsman is even part of the story? Why doesn't the Queen just kill Snow White herself instead of calling upon the huntsman?

Snow White- no excuses

So, I know the story is called Snow White, but I think there should be an immediate renaming. Snow White is the most static and uninteresting character, especially Disney princess EVER. I think the with of the story is much more dynamic and interesting. I would like to compare the change in characterization of the witch from the Briar Rose version to the Grimms Snow White version.
In Briar Rose, a relatively short version of the story, non of the characters are described in great detail, especially, ironically, the protagonist. The witch, unlike most other stories, is not related to snow white at all. She is neither stepmother or biological mother. This lack of relation between snow white and the woman who is trying to kill her provides a wierd sense of security- it is not someone you know or are related to trying to kill you, but a random person who you dont even know. In fact, interestingly in this story, the "witch" wasnt jealous of Snow White's beauty. She was pissed that she didnt get invited to a party. Seems like wishing death on a baby is a pretty overdramatic response for not getting an invite. However, this dramatic reaction makes the witch more interesting and questions the reader to inquire as to her motives and the roots of her inner evils. In Briar Rose, snow white is at fault for her sleep. She goes wondering into unknown parts of the castle. She finds the room full of spindles, the tool that should lead to her demise, and voluntarily tries to reach out and touch the fascinating piece of sewing machinery. The witch did not entice or coerce her in any way. I have never heard of a snow white story where the spell is cast when snow white is a baby and the witch doesnt have to do anything to make sure the curse comes true. She didnt even have to try twice to make Snow White sleep. Also, in this version the witch doesnt die and is not punished for her evil actions. She walks. For a 3 page story i found the queen and her inner struggles and background a more appealing story.

Next, Snow White. Here, the Grimms take on a longer version and characterize the major characters more fully- especially the queen. Snow white is pretty much the same dumb protagonist as in all the other versions. In this story, the evil stepmother is introduced. While a stepmother is not blood related. which would make her wanting to kill her daughter much more disturbing and perhaps would not have been accepted by the general public, the notion that the woman is related to Snow White increases her evilness. She is also concerned with looks in this version and the motives behind her attack on snow white are clear, she is jealous and wants to be the "fairest" in the land. Also, the magic mirror is introduced. The mirror speaks to the queen almost daily and until the maturation of snow white, reassured the queen of her superiority. However, when the mirror surprised the queen as he revealed that snow white is, in fact, the most fair- the inner demon of the queen is exposed. The reader can now delve into her personality, her desire for acceptance and preference over the other women, and watch as she lets her emotions become extreme in her many many plots to kill snow white. Well, 4th time is a charm when she finally succeeds in "killing" snow white. However, as we all know, while the witch might be a more interesting character, the good girl with virtue (and stupidity- not always interrelated) wins the prince and gets revenge. Interestingly, the last paragraph of the story is not about snow white, but about the queen and her interesting and questionable response to snow whites marriage. What was with the dancing? Why was she petrified of snow white? Thoughts?

The Man in the Mirror

I wanted to examine some of the similarities and differences between the mirror representations. As we've discussed all week in glass, Gilbert's and Gubar's argument is that the mirror is a "tool patriarchy suggests that women use to kill themselves with art" (Tatar 77). Disney uses a deep, monotone male voice and a forboding mask to represent its mirror. There is only darkness and fire. The queen, representative of women, is caught in an "imprisonment of the looking-glass" (Tatar 77). What once began with vanity is now an obsession, and she must keep returning to hear what the voice will say to her. There becomes a constant need for this affirmation, to which Disney gives an unmistakable male authority.

I'd like to compare this to the movie we saw on Monday. This 1961ish version has many, many differences, but I found the difference in the mirror to be most striking. The mirror is in a well-lit room, and it has jewels around the side that light up with a cute jingle every time the queen asks it a question. The voice is a lovely woman, who sounds more like Glinda the Good Witch than anything evil. The mirror is overall pleasant. The worst part about it is the reflection betrays the horrible acting skills of the woman who plays the queen. The facial expression changes are pretty terrible.

What the mirror actually reminded me was of the toy Snow White mirror I had growing up. Here's a link to a modern version. When you pressed the button, pleasant, happy chimes would sound and images from the movie (I think) would flash around the screen. I can't remember if it answered questions or what the phrases were. But I also found this beauty. A real talking mirror that tells you that you are the fairest in the land! The voice is Snow White, so it's not a demeaning patronizing one, but still.

Like Kate mentioned today in class, although the mirror in the stories is genderless, I found myself always thinking it had a male voice. In the romance languages, "mirror" is a masculine word, but I doubt that was what the casting people at Disney had in mind when choosing the way to play the mirror. Looking online, I found an audition for a new Snow White movie, and it is also casting a "male voice" for that of the mirror. It would be interesting to talk to casting directors who do representations of Snow White today and see what their logic is behind making the mirror a man. Is it a conscious choice, or has Disney so shaped America that we all assume it should be male because that's the way we first saw it?

Diluting Evil

Through the countless variations of the Snow White stories, the "villainess" generally falls into one of two categories: evil stepmother to Snow White that becomes queen through marriage, or an evil witch with a vanity vendetta against Snow White. The final Brothers Grimm version of Snow White takes the former route. The evil stepmother tries to kill Snow White so that she will be the fairest of them all. The same can be said for Disney's film adaptation of Snow White; the stepmother is in place from the beginning of the story and is out to eliminate her competition. Representing the other malicious faction is Briar Rose, which personifies evil in the form of a non-blood related witch. Finally, combining elements of both of these factions is the 1916 film version of Snow White, which included both an evil witch and a (pawn-like) stepmother.

All of these versions represent different pathways to dilute the evil within the fairy tale. In order for a story to truly be a "Snow White" story, there has to be someone after Snow White, whether for her beauty or other half-schemed reasons. The original Brothers Grimm version involved the mother attempting to kill Snow White in response to her increasing beauty. However, this version was cleaned up in order prevent audiences from being terrified while still maintaining the evil (regardless of how diluted). Consistent with most themes of fairy tales, maternal characteristics are ideal, so making the mothers the villains of the story is out of the question. Yet by placing the cruel deeds on a stepmother or evil witch, the evil is maintained while protecting the domestic inner circle. The general evolution of the Snow White fairy tales has steered away from slandering this inner circle, especially mothers, and placing the blame elsewhere.

From Pig to Prince

On the whole, Disney’s 1937 animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarves closely adheres to Grimm Brother’s classic version of the tale, although slight revisions are added here and there to render the film more idiosyncratically “Disney.” With the character of the Prince, however, we most see Disney depart from the Grimms’ original plotline. In the character of the Prince, Disney faced the biggest challenge: the Prince of the fairy tale tradition is, to put it bluntly, a necrophiliac, a lecherous pig who views women as little more than museum artifacts. Clearly, such a character would prove problematic in a film geared toward impressionable young children, so a series of adjustments were in order.

As it goes in the Grimms’ version of the tale, a Prince is strolling through the woods one day when he stumbles upon a lifeless Snow White, resting inertly in a glass coffin. Infatuated by her beauty, finding her extremely aesthetically pleasing, the Prince desires to take the coffin under his possession. He announces immediately—as though bartering for a piece of livestock—“Let me have the coffin. I will give you whatever you want for it.” Keep in mind that the Prince has never before laid on Snow White. It is not Snow White the human he desires, but rather Snow White the object, the handsome ornament that will make a fine centerpiece for his living room. It is noteworthy that the Prince says “let me have the coffin” rather than “let me have her.” Clearly, the Prince fails to even consider the fact of Snow White’s humanity. Seemingly unnerved by the fact that he has just purchased a dead woman, the Prince exhibits no sorrow for her tragic condition and is instead giddy at the prospect of his fine purchase, his “toy,” if you will. Snow White is eventually resuscitated, but it is not the result of a romantic kiss—instead, the apple is accidentally dislodged from her throat, to the quiet dismay of the Prince, we might imagine, whose pretty, passive plaything has been suddenly transformed into a living, breathing woman.

Now, we turn to the Disney film. Disney swept in and inserted an element of indelible romance into the Snow White story. At the very beginning, he attempts to establish some sort of romantic attachment between Snow White and the Prince—to be sure, it is the cursory “love at first sight” romance of the Disney variety, but a sense of romance and intimacy nonetheless. Thus, when the Prince later finds Snow White unconscious, feelings of strong, overwhelming love compel him to revive her, and so, with a tender kiss, he breathes the life back into his beloved. Unlike the Prince of the fairy tale tradition, Disney’s Prince exhibits horror at seeing Snow White dead, a horror that obliterates his ability to simply sit back and admire her beauty. In this way, Disney effectively transforms the persona of the Prince from a salacious pig into a romantic, courageous hero.

Comparing the Basile and Disney "Queens"

I want to trace the “Queen” paradigm through two variations on the classic “Snow White” text: Giambattista Basile’s “The Young Slave” and Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). As we shall see, Basile’s Baroness and Disney’s Queen, though two sides of the same coin, are mostly dissimilar characters.

In “The Young Slave,” the Baroness’ action of defying her husband and opening the last room of the house parallels closely the tale of “Bluebeard.” However, the Baroness is not actually Lilla’s stepmother, like in other “Snow White” tales; she is instead her aunt. Despite this major difference, like “all women,” the Baroness is motivated by jealousy and curiosity – the latter of which, according to Basile, is “woman’s first attribute.” Also, like “all women,” the former attribute drives her to treating her fellow woman badly. It is interesting that this aunt permits Lilla to live because other “Queens” are intent on killing their “Snow White” enemies with a “sleeping death.” Insated, the aunt rouses Lila from her “sleeping death” and then submits her to subservience, thrashes her, and makes her physically ugly externally by cutting off her hair and dressing her in tatters. At the end, when the Baron realizes this grievance wrong, he simply sends his wife away to her parents. She is not killed.

In Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Queen is depicted as a vamp, unlike Basile’s antagonist, who is never really described at all. Unlike Basile’s Baroness, the Queen is actually Snow White’s stepmother, but the Baroness and the Queen are similar in that they are motivated by jealousy to destroy the physical beauty of the younger, innocent female. Unlike the Baroness, the Queen does not want Snow White to live life as a physically ugly slave; she instead wants her to live in “the sleeping death.” To dupe Snow White into this state, the Queen transforms herself physically into a hag with the powers of magic. Eventually, nature (lightning) kills her because she is “unnatural.”

Comparing the trajectories of these two “Queens,” the Baroness acts on her “feminine instincts” and is hardly punished (although I suppose in Basile’s time, to have to return to one’s parents was akin to “social suicide”), and the Queen transforms from a curvy woman into a crusty hag. In this case, her “insides” match her “outsides,” in terms of beauty. Unlike Disney’s Queen, Basile’s Baroness is never described physically (unlike the explicit depictions of Lilla), so the ramifications on her person are never described. In this way, Basile’s tale lacks key character development, something upon which Disney’s film hinges.