Fairy tales and beggars: 30 Dec-5 Jan 2013 (ZiR)

Fairy tales and beggars: 30 DEC – 5 Jan 2013 (ZiR)

Alexia Raynal

[One in an ongoing series of posts. For the full series see Zeteo is Reading.]

30 December 2012

Fairy tales remind us our primitive selves. Perhaps this is why I cannot stop reading the stories in Calla’s edition of the Grimm’s Fairy Talesa wonderfully illustrated and thick volume I got as a holiday a present. These are the first lines I read in “Jorinda and Joringel”:

There was once an old castle in the middle of a vast thick wood; in it there lived an old woman quite alone, and she was a witch. By day she made herself into a cat or a screech-owl, but regularly at night she became a human being again. In this way she was able to decoy wild beasts and birds, which she would kill, and boil or roast. If any came within a hundred paces of the castle she was forced to stand still and could not move from the place till she gave the word of release; but if an innocent maiden came within the circle she changed her into a bird, and shut her up in a cage wich she carried into a room in the castle. She must have had seven thousand cages of this kind, containing pretty birds.

The rest of the story is full of as many challenging ideas, unusual vocabulary words, and revealing gender roles. I hope the reader will appreciate it as much as I have.

30 December 2012

Modern versions of fairy tales are far less grotesque than their originals. This, however, is not necessarily a positive quality. A book review in The Washington Times titled “Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm” argues that the problem is that modern people often want to turn fairy tales into novels. In doing so, it explains, they strip them of their most distinctive qualities, such as the primitive and robust character of their actors. The article quotes Philip Pullman, a British writer, explaining that:

The tremors and mysteries of human awareness, the whispers of memory, the promptings of half-understood regret or doubt or desire that are so much part of the subject matter of the modern novel are entirely absent in fairy tales. The characters of fairy tales are primitive, archetypal.

It also explains that:

Thought and action are virtually inseparable for these figures [the characters in a fairy tale]: They have no interior life, no psychological depth — and this is precisely what gives their stories power. Characters are drawn with a few bold adjectives (virtuous, beautiful, rich), perhaps a suggestion of social position, occupation or geography — and then they are off: The progress from birth to marriage may transpire in a few sentences — from birth to death to magical rebirth in a few pages.

If anything, this book review has made it clear for me where my attraction comes from. “It’s the stuff of dreams, of nightmares,” the author says, “but these impossible and improbable images come in the midst of stories undeniably expressive of human nature, not least the human tendencies toward pattern and repetition and type and sin.” Once again, I hope the reader will appreciate the symbolic richness of the article, and of fairy tales.

1 January 2013

Not to diverge from my new obsession with fairy tales during New Year’s Day, I want to quote an article that appeared in The Guardian last month. With a little bit of humor, the article explains “Why 2012 Was the Year of the Fairy Tale.” In it, Libby Brooks argues that:

From ‘Mirror Mirror’ to ‘Once Upon A Time,’ this year’s tales reflect modern concerns, with uncut-style protests and unemployed dwarves. It’s not nostalgia we seek, but magic.

She also recognizes that:

Perhaps it’s too glib to suggest that, at a moment of economic crisis, the appetite for going back to the basics of fairytales reflects a desire for comforting simplicity, or a response to the strictures of austerity. For decades, theorists of every hue have proposed explanations for why these stories are so important to us. In his latest study, Zipes argues that the fairytale, with its atavistic moral architecture, presents the reader with a ‘counterworld,’ which in turn offers a perspective on the shoddy morality of their own world. The disordering of social relationships – a tailor defeats two giants and a unicorn to marry a princess – reveals the familiar world in a new light, reflecting social problems and ideological concerns in pre-capitalist societies that may not be so very different from our own. A Marxist of the Frankfurt school, Zipes also sees class envy and racism as rife in the “Ugly Duckling.” Freudians like Bruno Bettelheim believe that fairytales allow children to integrate their repressed desires by attaching them to villains, like witches and wicked step-parents who are then conquered, without disrupting the family unit of wise grandmothers and kind parents.

Brooks concludes by sending “a handshake down the centuries…fairytales remind us that long ago people wanted exactly the same things as we do today and that a belief in magic, or a power greater than ourselves, can be a liberation.”

3 January 2013

How often are we fooled by dreams, nightmares or illusions into thinking we are something we are not?
From William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew (Dover Publications: New York, 1997) Induction, 2:

LORD: O monstrous beast! how like a swine he lies!
Grim death, how foul and loathsome is thine image!
Sirs, I will practise on this drunken man.
What think you if he were convey’d to bed,
Wrapp’d in sweet clothes, rings put upon his fingers,
A most delicious banquet by his bed,
And brave attendants near him when he wakes,
Would not the beggar then forget himself?

Dover online catalog here. Referenced version of The Taming of the Shrew here.

4 January 2013

As I was riding the bus through Spanish Harlem today, I saw an advertisement for McDonald’s coffee with milk. It said:

Café con leche. Llámalo por su nombre. (Which translates as “Coffee with milk. Call it by it’s name.”)

This reminded me of people’s need to appropriate things. The advertisement targets Hispanics’ anxiety to communicate in their own language. Perhaps it resonated with me most because of the book that I was reading at the time, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, in which he relates, with great humor, some of the projects of the people of Laputa:

[One] project was a scheme for entirely abolishing all words whatsoever; and this was urged as a great advantage in point of health, as well as brevity…An expedient was therefore offered, “that since words are only names for things, it would be more convenient for all men to carry about them such things as were necessary to express a particular business they are to discourse on.”…[One] advantage [of expressing oneself by things] is that it would serve as a universal language to be understood in al civilised nations, whose goods and utensils are generally of the same kind, or nearly resembling, so that their uses might easily be comprehended.

To get the complete sense of Swift’s concept please read the entire Chapter V, Part III of Gulliver’s Travels Into the Remote Nations of the World, which I downloaded for free from http://www.gutenberg.org. It is quite impossible to do justice to Swift’s humor by trimming his words.

5 January 2013

I am getting ready to celebrate the “Día de reyes” festivity with some friends tomorrow, for which I bought a fruit cake in New York’s Spanish Harlem. Traditionally, Mexican families bake or buy a cake called “Rosca de reyes” to commemorate the Three Wise Men’s arrival to worship baby Jesus when born. The tradition of eating Rosca de Reyes actually started in France, in the 14th century, but eventually spread through Europe and many countries in Latin America. Currently, we celebrate this festivity on January 6th. I wanted to share some information about this tradition with my friends and this is what I found online:

Known as ‘Rosca de Reyes’ (King’s Cake), this holiday dessert offers much in the way of symbolism. Shaped in the round to signify a king’s crown, this sweet bread holds a special surprise. Baked inside is a small plastic figurine representing the baby Jesus. Whoever finds this token is obligated to host an upcoming party for the occasion of ‘Dia de la Candelaria’ (Candlemas Day) which occurs each year on February 2nd. The effigy of the baby Jesus, hidden inside the cake, represents another aspect of the holiday. The reason Jesus is ‘hidden’ inside the bread is to symbolize how in life, the Christ child’s birth location also needed to remain secret, in order that his life be spared. The ruler of Jerusalem at the time, King Herod, had been appraised of the mystical signs that indicated the new and rightful King of Jerusalem was soon to be born. Herod’s reaction to these predictions was swift and horrible. He ordered his minions to murder all male infants recently born in Bethlehem.

Doesn’t it sound a like a fairy tale too?

Illustration by Warwick Goble for Beauty and the Beast, 1913.

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