Saturday, September 26, 2015

Little Snow White (and the Seven Dwarfs)/Schneewittchen

To what extent does Disney have a monopoly on the fairy tale industry? Is it fair to say that many would assume that Disney's portrayals are the "original tales" rather than the Grimm's? It might not be fair, but it is quite likely that if I'd mention Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, or Sleeping Beauty, an image similar to this would pop into your head.

Disney is not the only one who contaminated fairy tales. But what makes his films different?

It is my opinion, that the Zeitgeist is the ultimate catalyst for fairy tale appropriation. More specifically, with the tale of Snow White.

We will be discussing 2 films pertaining to this subject matter (both of which are based on the Grimm's original "Little Snow White" (1812):
Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (1937) and East German DEFA's "Schneewittchen" (1961).
  ,                                             z9i+DMgLLiI3MjiMYWm+Q+lPAFA9Nsyho5J

The most noteworthy modification that Disney employed was changing the film's center of attention (stressing the animation over the story).  Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is first and foremost a love story. Snow White meets the prince in the very beginning of the film, unlike in the original tale when they meet after she "wakes up" from being poisoned (without a kiss I might add).

Furthermore, the seven dwarfs are no longer simply a function of the tale, they are integral characters. They have names, personalities, and are even addressed in the film's title!

This draws more attention to the dwarfs and their underlying theme. The dwarfs portray workers, more specifically happy workers. Disney's film was produced during the Great Depression and for this reason the film exemplifies motifs of love, magic, and the joys of working.

Disney used his film to entertain as well as educate. The whimsicality of the film (centering the story on young love, turning the queen into a magical witch, and characterizing the jolly/diligent dwarfs) distracts the audience from their current misfortunes while bringing the hope of a brighter future through the prospects of hard work and goodness.

The symbolic notion of the dwarfs in Disney's film is also presented in DEFA's "Schneewitchen," though for different reasoning. The implication of hard work is still prominent, but in reference to doing one's duty rather than self advancement. This directly correlates with the ideologies of socialist East Germany.

The concept of camaraderie is also demonstrated in "Schneewittchen." Snow White addresses the dwarfs as du rather than the formal Sie. Woman are seen more as equals than in the Grimm's tale and Disney's rendition. The mirror (der Spiegel), which is a masculine noun in German and possess a male voice in "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," is instead given a female voice; insinuating that females do not need to seek the approval of men.

Disney's Snow White is also illustrated as frightened and helpless, particularly when running through the forests after being sent away by the huntsman. Schneewittchen, however, is excited to explore the forest and cheerfully parades through the trees, petting animals and singing.

That being said, all three Snow White's are extremely passive and acutely epitomize a typical Hausfrau. 

The Grimm's original tale is better represented by DEFA's "Schneewittchen" (as far as plot/content), but Disney (though sexist and incongruous with the original) holds an ever-present place in audiences hearts. Furthering their own monopoly on the Grimm's works.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Cinderella (Aschenputtel)

"Rags to Riches" stories are not unfamiliar to us. It is quite the commonality to root for the underdog! We do it all the time in sports, movies, television shows, and yes, even fairy tales. We find ourselves rooting for the underdog, because we identify with them, hoping for our own personal triumphs and the optimistic ascent to fame and fortune.

The so-called "American Dream" is a quintessential example of the "rags to riches" motif. This ideology is implemented throughout American history: during the California Gold Rush in the mid 1800's, the influx of immigration between 1880-1920, and the hope of joy to come in spite of the disparity of the Great Depression in the 1930's (at which time the phrase was coined by a James Truslow Adams, in his book The Epic of America.)

We crave justice through the rise of a hero/heroine. It is their rise, however, that can create controversy. How is it that they achieved their success? By their own intellect and determination, cheating others, someone else’s rescue, or maybe the grandeur of magic!

Cinderella is THE "rags to riches" fairy tale.

The original German notation, Aschenputtel, better exemplifies the literal rock bottom that Cinderella was living in, constantly covered in ashes and dirt. However the ashes and lentils in the story foreshadow the splendor that is to come. For out of the death of the ashes we see the growth of life and prosperity within the lentils; a diamond in the ruff, if you will.

It is in my opinion that magic is the dominant means by which Cinderella achieved her acclaimed rise. 

Some may argue that it is the prince who should be praised for saving Cinderella from her retched servant's life and replacing it with one of royalty and opulence. If you ask me, I'd say he's is pretty shallow. The prince would not have even noticed Cinderella if it were not for the magic indirectly granted to her by her dead mother. He only gave initial interest in Cinderella because he assumed she was a princess.
    ~ "When the prince saw the carriage come to a halt before the gate, he thought that a strange princess from afar had come traveling to the ball. So he himself went down the stairs, helped cinderella out of the carriage and led her into the ballroom"'s_Carriage.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20120428165437
Furthermore, the prince does not recognize Cinderella after the ball! He even takes her stepsister all the way to the castle gates before he realizes (only after the birds encourage him too look at the girl's bloody foot) that she is not his true bride. 

Needless to say, without magic there is no story. Cinderella wouldn't get help from the birds to finish her chores, leaving her unable to go to the ball with her horse drawn carriage, beautiful dress and golden shoes, making it impossible for her to meet the prince and get married. No magic, no fairy tale, no princess. 

It is possible to to go from rags to riches without magic or marriage. People who use their cunning and commit to working hard are capable of doing so. But in my opinion, this does not hold true for Cinderella.  

Grimm, William, and Jakob Grimm. "Cinderella." The Original Folk and Fairy Tales 
     of the Brothers Grimm. Ed. Jack Zipes. Prinston & Oxford: Prinston 
     University, 2014. 69-72. Print. 

"James Truslow Adams Papers, 1918-1949. ." James Truslow Adams Papers, 1918-1949. . Web. 17 Sept. 2015.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Hänsel & Gretel

As we all know from watching movies, the film is always different from the book. Take the Harry Potter series for example. Generally, the films do a pretty good job of recreating the treasured stories, but there are inconsistencies. Harry Potter books are relatively long and therefore all of the details cannot be portrayed in the films. Characters are expunged, scenes are deleted, and emotional perceptions are left untold. However, Hollywood is always looking to make movies bigger and better (aka more dramatic and action-packed). Therefore scenes such as the Weasley's house erupting into flames during Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince are added into the films, even if they never occurred in the books.

Nonetheless, the same principal applies to the Grimm's tale, Hänsel and Gretel, and the 1987 MGM movie adaptation.

The biggest and most influential discrepancy (in my opinion) is CHARACTERIZATION. Which inevitably leads to the deterioration of the tales underlying themes.

In the Grimm's tale, the mother is depicted as an embodiment of evil. Zipes even mentions in his article "The Rationalization of Abandonment and Abuse in Fairy Tales: The Case of Hansel and Gretel," that the demeanor of the mother and the witch are interchangeable. Both characters even die at the end (though the mother doesn't in the film).

The mother in the film is not as evil and cold-hearted as she is described in the original tale. Sure she is vindictive and makes some utterly cruel comments to and about her children, but she very obviously loves them. When she realizes the children are missing she is truly heartbroken and blames herself. The mother does not purposely abandon Hansel and Gretel, but momentarily sends them away, unaware that they would venture deep into the forest to be captured by a witch. The false characterization of the mother completely diminishes the theme of abandonment displayed in the story.

One of the morals to be taken from the Grimm's tale is the knowledge that having faith in God will help you overcome evil. The children are essential in the implementation of this theme. However in the MGM film, the father is the only character vocalizing the need to trust God during their time of hardship. Fairy tales are written in such a way for children to accept the social structures of the time (Zeitgeist), which Rüdiger Steinlein refers to as "domestication of the imagination." This element of the story is eliminated in the film, due to the fact that Hansel and Gretel are not exemplifying that their own "goodness" and Christian faith is what overcomes the witch.

Many people argue that the tale of Hansel & Gretel is exhibited as a coming of age story. The children must learn to fend for themselves, grow up, and use their brains to get out of harms way (without the help of their parents). The pinnacle scene on which this theme lays is when Gretel uses her quick wit to con the witch and push her into the burning oven.

The MGM film uses charm and magic instead of the children's cunning to kill the witch. Although Hansel still uses the chicken bone to trick the witch into prolonging the time before she eats him, but Gretel's power is ultimately usurped. Instead of using her own intelligence, Gretel grabs the witch's staff and performs her own spell in order to kill her.

There are other small variations such as: the children only going out to the forest once, the witch's house being made of gingerbread, the father searching for the kids, Hansel and Gretel not taking jewels from the witch's house, and the addition of other children being saved.

The film does follow the original plot closely (though scenes were added to lengthen the story). But I would argue that the archetypes that make this fairy tale a classic were ignored.

The directors edited the tale in order to maximize their audience. By creating a family friendly movie, filled with songs and light-hearted attitudes, viewers are able to overlook the dark, underlying themes and simply enjoy a good story.

Zipes, Jack. "The Rationalization of Abandonment and Abuse in Fairy Tales: 
     The Case of Hansel and Gretel." Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales, Children, 
     and the Cultural Industry. New York and London: Routledge, 1997. 39-60. 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Nature of Fairy Tales

We've all heard the term fairy-tale (auf Deutsch, Märchen), but do we really know what it means? What is the significance? And how can we distinguish fairytales from other stories?

As a starting point let me just say that at the heart of every fairy-tale there are 2 things:

1. The plot
2. Magic


But before we can understand what a fairy-tale is we need to know what a fairy-tale isn't... 

Myths do not have magic. Sure there are supernatural elements, but those involve the power of the gods, not magic. Myths are also believed to be true.  The myths of ancient Greek and Roman gods are mystifying to their followers and instill the ideology of gods holding immense power over mankind.

The word legend comes from the Latin legenda, meaning "that which is to be read." This is in contrast to fairy-tales which were passed on as an oral tradition. Legends also deal with ordinary people who eventually experience some sort of extraordinary event. 

Now there are a few types of legends, including local and saint legends.

Saint legends aren't quite as specific on the setting of their stories. This is due to the fact that their purpose is to reaffirm people's faith in Christianity. This can be compared to the purpose of a myth, however these legends deal with ordinary people instead of gods.

Local legends (of course) deal with locality; naming a specific town or city, as well as a time or year of occurrence.

The concept of time, however, does not exist in fairy-tales. Tales often begin with the phrase, "Once upon a time" or "Es war einmal." This saying does not indicate a time (or year) in which the event occurred. An example of fairy-tale's ignorance of the rationality of time is present in the story of "The Brier Rose" or "Sleeping Beauty." It is said that the princess is asleep in a tower for 100 years, yet she possesses the same amount of youth and beauty when she awakens.

The magic in fairy-tales is seen as a normal occurrence (talking animals, curses and spells), but is used solely to move the story along its course. Fairy-tales do not have eloquent descriptions. The actions of the characters are used to describe the story. As listeners/readers we are to use our imaginations to picture the actions taking place.

Lüthi, Max. "The Dragon Slayer: The Style of the Fairy Tale." Once upon a Time: 
     On the Nature of Fairy Tales. Bloomington: Indiana University, 1976. 47-57.