Fairy Tales 2010
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Into the woods takes the characters from multiple fairy tales and elaborates a story in a fantastical way. The general consensus would state that it has all of the necessary elements to be categorized as a fairy tale, if the definition is a simple as being mystical and fantastical. By including the fantastical characters from previous stories written while also following the traditional good vs. evil theme, yes into the woods could be categorized as a "fairy tale". If we all truly know what that is.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
In an un-fairy-tale-like manner, Fables is splashy (and not just because of all of the blood staining Rose Red’s apartment). At the same time, there is something particularly punchy, raunchy, and contemporary in its vernacular. Granted, the text with which we are dealing is a graphic novel, which often permits extra room for creative license, but the story itself often leans more toward a routine case for Gotham City Police Department than for a band of fairy tale myths in New York.
On the other hand, Fables – like many of the kunstmarchen – foregrounds self-conscious storytelling and allusions to the fairy tale canon. Flashbacks sequences are framed with fluid, opulent borders and function as “mirrors” to the past. They are like petite tales unto themselves. One of the more memorable self-conscious tales is Bigby’s “parlor room scene” in chapter five. Repetitively, Bigby prefaces his tale with: “Anyone who’s ever fancied himself a detective, openly or secretly, longs for the day he can do the famous parlor room scene. It’s the moment when I get to reveal who did what, how they did it – and most important – how I figured it all out.” In a way, all of the flashback sequences up until this point have been reflections (mirrors) of the past, whereas this one concerns Bigby writing history in the same self-conscious fairy tale way. Bigby is a fairy tale author; granted, his tale is sordid, but it reveals the nature of the entire Fables tale itself. It (unwittingly?) morphologically studies the Fables tale as a whole.
Regarding Fables’ explicit allusions to the fairy tale canon, are the characters themselves not the most notable quotations? Snow White, [Bigby] Wolf, Rose Red, Bluebeard, and Prince Charming (among others) all bring with them expectations that readers remember their tales. In other words, the presence of famous fairy tale characters demands that readers know the canon. Also, Fables is bookended by fairy tale conventions: The beginning commences with “Once upon a time […] in a fictional land called New York City,” and the ending closes with “The end” (and “for now,” at that). Even the tale’s haunting message, “No more happily ever afters,” invites further recollections of particularly indelible rhetoric from the fairy tale, notably: “And they lived happily ever after.” In fact, I would say “No more happily ever afters” functions as a tiny symbol that essentially and consequentially sums up the entire tale in a nutshell. That is, although the exiled fairy tale characters live dolorous lives, their sordid existence continues to be “unhappily ever after,” or so it seems, especially after the graphic novel’s punitive conclusion.
More simply, the most I can say about Fables is that it is as much of a fairy tale as the literary fairy tales are. As my fellow classmates, I am pretty certain you can vouch for the particular je-ne-sais-quoi with which my conclusion is inflected.
Anyway...I'm going to take the alternative point of view that most in our discussion group have taken regarding whether or not "Fables" is a fairy tale. In other words, I'm going to argue that it is. While satire looms around the corner of every panel, the fairy tale characters that we all know are still a part of a magical realm despite being stuck in the mundane one in the first volume. And despite the lack of regularly occurring magic, transformations, and outlandish fantasy, there is still enough of it within the storyline to keep our attention (at least mine, but then again, throw a book that is primarily colorful pictures rather than words and you've got me). Isn't that what fairy tales are all about? Some combination of wonder and fantasy that is grounded just enough to make it comprehensible if not believable? I'm not saying that I took stories like "The Juniper Tree" as fact, but the story was structured to make the reader believe that the gruesome murder and resurrection of the child was orthodox enough that if the family could respond to this by finishing their meal, then we as the audience could accept this and share it with a future audience. I believe "Fables" falls along these same lines. Sure the characters may be a bit too magically restrained and sexually crass for our expectations, but this class has shown that most fairy tales have undergone serious revisions in order to accommodate for the audience of the given time period. Do I prefer all the fairy tale characters redesigned this way? Not really. Did it entertain me? I'd say it did. Would I consider this a fairy tale? Sure, why not?
Something that stood out to me were the obvious stabs at somewhat old and outdated ideals. For instance, when Snow White and Prince Charming get divorced, the entire notion of happily ever after is shattered. Likely the fact that divorce is such a prevalent end to marriage in this modern day and age played a part in influencing this particular aspect of the story. In this sense, Fables kind of makes the statement that these might be the same characters, but this is not the same old story we've read time and time again.
There were also other very interesting aspects, like the reformed Big Bad Wolf. Again, this is like a stab at classic fairy tale ideals, but in a more positive way. It shows the healing power of society and promotes the idea that people (or wolves) can become good. Additionally, it seems Willingham tries to eliminate the stigma that is associated with people who were once guilty of misdeeds by allowing the wolf to transform into a human. In that sense, his outside change is a physical manifestation of his inside change and shows that the transformation is legitimate.
All in all, I enjoyed the transplantation of these famous and aged characters in a modern setting. It provided for some interesting story lines.
I would argue that "Into the Woods" is a fairy tale in that there is the fantastical and the unhumanistic foe. There is metamorphosis with the witch, characters defying death, some magic, lots of quests, and lots and lots of advice/morals (although then those pieces of advice are spun around). There are lots of unexpected plot twists, which is neither fairy tale-like or un-fairy tale-like. There is quite a bit of character development for some of the characters, which is unusual for fairy tales, but overall I would say the story could be called a contemporary fairy tale, or a twist on the fairy tale (but still in the fairy tale genre).
"Fables," though, wasn't a fairy tale, in my opinion. It was a great murder-mystery, but there is nothing super fantastical. It's kind of like "Enchanted," only without the helpful animals. Fairy tale characters, sure, but not much of a fairy tale. It's set in a city, the characters are more or less normalized, the murder isn't even a murder. There's no quest, no foe. Just lots of people who don't like each other and have some baggage/relationship/family issues. The story doesn't even end with the sexy wolf getting the maiden. She pretty openly rejects him. That is definitely not in the category of popular ways to end a fairy tale.
I think both works are fairy tales in their own right. Both “Into the Woods” and “Fables” use the method of combining numerous well known fairy tales and using these characters to assist and develop the plot of a totally new story. “Into the Woods” is fairly plausible when compared to the usual fairy tale, but “Fables” may be a little more extreme and strange.
Unlike the traditional fairy tales that we have read, these stories are almost satires of the tales. They do aim to entertain the audience, but in different ways. These works probably more closely resemble what the original oral fairy tales would have been like, the tales that were told for the salon audience as opposed to children. “Fables” is definitely aimed at a more mature, adult audience with its language and sexual jokes and comics. I think it’s funny that the fairy tale characters have all been exiled, and thus they have to hide from humans and conceal their true identities in one of the busiest cities in the country. On the other hand, “Into the Woods” seems to be more child-friendly, even if the plot gets a little complicated as a result of all the stories being woven together and intertwined. In terms of an unidentified setting, “Fables” tells the reader at the very beginning of the book that it is set in New York City. From what I can remember, “Into the Woods” does not explicitly state its setting, but we are obviously in the woods or forest. "Into the Woods" includes tales about magical spells, talking animal helpers, evil stepmothers, and witches.
“Into the Woods” keeps the stories of “Cinderella”, “Little Red Riding Hood”, “Jack and the Beanstalk”, and “Rapunzel”. “Fables” keeps elements of “Beauty and the Beast”, “Jack and the Beanstalk”, “Snow White and Rose Red”, “Bluebeard”. Then, it also contains characters from stories like “Little Boy Blue”, “The Three Little Pigs”, and the song “Molly Malone”, so “Fables” makes other references to popular culture of the time. “Fables” is written in a modern style that is easy to read and follow. “Into the Woods” does not have an overtly modern tone, but it’ focus seemed to be more on the songs and musical aspect of the story. "Fables" could be considered a fairy tale simply because it includes so many traditional fairy tale characters. However, the actual tale seems to be more of a modern action or mystery story than a fairy tale. Ultimately, “Into the Woods” seems to maintain more aspects of the traditional fairy tale than “Fables”, but both are entertaining to their respective audiences in a unique way.
Fables: Legends in Exile is a compulsively readable contemporary reworking of the traditional fairy tales. Incorporating characters from such classics as Snow White, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Beauty and the Beast, this story, which is rendered in comic book form, takes place in modern-day New York City.
In many ways, the fairy tale has been updated to reflect a more contemporary milieu. Characters are decidedly modern: they use profane language, make raunchy jokes, and essentially look and behave like normal humans, dressing in modern garb and using public transportation. Moreover, the female characters have evolved from passive, demure creatures to autonomous and assertive individuals. Many of the story’s female characters are divorcees, and many, like Snow White, occupy positions of power in society. Unlike the traditional fairy tale, a rigid patriarchal framework does not underlie Fables, mirroring the more progressive conception of women in today’s world.
Another way in which Fables deviates from, say, a traditional Grimm Brothers tale is through its explicit sexual content. Many of the scenes are explicitly erotic, and characters frequently make bawdy jokes and references. For example, Prince Charming emerges as a shameless womanizer who sleeps with a steakhouse waitress simply to nab money off her. In this way, Fables departs from the decidedly de-sexualized 19th century fairy tale and returns to the outright crudeness we see in older tales such as “The Story of Grandmother.”
One of the most marked digressions from the fairy tale tradition is the glaring lack of magic. In order to blend into humanity—or, rather, the “mundane” masses—the characters refrain from the use of magic. Indeed, in order to solve the crime, the Wolf relies solely on his wits, employing crime scene investigation techniques to unravel the mystery. No “magical helper” swoops in to elucidate the truth and uncover the murderer.
Aside from the fact that it borrows fairy tale characters, Fables is more evocative of an episode of CSI than an actual fairy tale. Willingham has revised the fairy tale almost beyond recognition, in my opinion. Really, the only way I could understand Fables as a “fairy tale” is the fact that it adheres to Vladimir Propp’s Five Functions of a fairy tale—there is a lack of something (Red Rose is missing); a quest (the Wolf sets out to solve the mystery); presence of helpers (Snow White jumps in to help) and opponents (Bluebeard proves uncooperative); tests (trying to unravel the case); and finally, a reward (the mystery of Red Rose’s disappearance is deduced). What do you think? Are they any other ways in which Fables is distinctly paralleling the fairy tale tradition?