Monday, April 30, 2012

Pan's Labyrinth

Our work this week with Pan's Labyrinth took our class on a different path than usual. Most notably, Pan's Labyrinth was not specifically a fairytale. Instead, it was a historical piece with a fantasy storyline infused in it. The tale took place in the early 1940's during Franco-era Spain. The real action of the story was propelled by the lingering tensions of the Spanish Civil War. Against this timepiece backdrop, however, a little girl also finds adventure in a paralleling magical world through her imagination.

Although traditional fairytales can sometimes be interpreted to fit a political view, the historical setting of the film made the social commentary directly relevant. In the film, the fascist regime of Franco is overtly villianized, while the Socialist guerilla fighters are glorified. The story makes repetitive references as well to the association of the "left" with goodness. The heroine has the mark of the princess on her left side, she offers her left hand, she completes a task opening the left box, etc. The film also can serve as a social argument for critical, independent and moral thinking. The good characters of the storyline, such as the Doctor, prove that sometimes it is necessary to disobey authority and do the right thing. Dr. Deveny suggested the director of the movie may have intended this as a more modern commentary on America in the aftermath of 9/11. He speculated the director may have been urging American's to think on a more independent, critical and moral way about their response to the tragedies of that day.

In addition to the more political nature of the film, the story broke from traditional fairytales in its portrayal of the female lead. In almost all of the fairytales we have worked with so far, the heroines have been extremely passive. Any female of action is generally villianized. In this film, however, Ophelia is uniquely active. She very assertively completes her three tasks on her own, with little aid from others. She also is willing to disobey authority and defy her father. Her personality is hardly that of the usual heroine.

Despite the unorthodox link to fairytales, during our discussions with Dr. Deveny we were able to identify nearly all of Propp's Functions within the storyline. Interestingly, many of the functions surfaced in the movie twice- once in the real world storyline and once in the fantasy storyline.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Beautiful Words from Dr. Mian

Our tour of world folktales continued this week with two lectures from South Asia. On Tuesday, Dr. Shabbir Mian presented a lecture about tales from Bangladesh and on Thursday Dr. Alles spoke about fairytales from the Adivasis of India.

Dr. Shabbir Mian's presentation was entitled "Folk and Fairytales from Bangladesh." In Bangladesh, fairytales are known as Rupkotha or "beautiful words." Like the other folktales we have studied, the Rupkotha are part of an oral tradition. Accordingly, over time, the tales experience the same slight variations we have seen in other tales. Also similar to Western fairytales, these stories are full of life lessons. There are typical conflicts which contain a common theme in which virtue is rewarded. A slight difference, however, is that evil is consistently punished rather than forgiven.

Dr. Shabbir Mian also provided some cultural background to give us a context for the tales we were discussing. Dr. Mian showed pictures and spoke from his own experience living and visiting Bangladesh. He explained, for example, the influence of the tropical country and access to many bodies of water in shaping the environment of the tales.

Towards the end of the lecture, Dr. Mian showed a video production of the tale our class read- "Blue Lotus, Red Lotus." The video was actually rather shocking. It showed, vaguely graphically, a demon-mother eating her children, pulling them apart limb by limb. While a mother devouring her children really is not any more grotesque than the scenes of the original Western fairytales, it was certainly shocking to see it in video-adaption. As Americans, we are used to seeing only the "civilized" or "Disney-ized" versions of the tales reach the scene, so we never generally visualize the harsher realities of the tale.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Disenchanting Readings

This week our class read and studied the fairytale works of Hans Christian Andersen and Oscar Wilde. As far as fairytales go, I got a general sense of disenchantment from these authors. That is certainly not to say I was disappointed in them as general works of literature. In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed reading these more modern narratives. However, from both my childhood and the readings we have done in this class so far, there are some general assumptions a reader brings with them when starting to read a fairytale. It is from these fairytale expectations that the works left a feeling of disenchantment.

First of all, both of these authors delve into great detail in their tales. Each story is very lengthy. Every character and setting is described to the T. This narrative choice is very untraditional for fairytales. Fairytales almost always rely instead on the reader to tap into his imagination. The broadness of the language also allows for an otherwise unattainable universality in the tale. So, in this way, the precise language robbed some of the wonder from the readings.

These tales also backtracked from the traditional sense of magic within the tales. Certainly supernatural events occur, however, in these tales, a greater reliance on spirituality and religion emerges. A couple of the tales speak of souls and one even has direct allusions to Jesus within it. This transition of the supernatural takes away from the traditional imagery of fairytale magic.

Finally, these stories certainly do not deliver on the "fairytale" ending. There are no "And they lived happily ever after"s. In fact, in many of the stories, the main character does not even live at all. That's not to say they are all negative, morbid tales. However, there is such a strong religious message of self-sacrifice and morality that many of the tales do not give earthly gratification to the protagonists.

Nevertheless, like I previously mentioned, I enjoyed these tales. I especially found it incredibly interesting to read fairytale works from Oscar Wilde as I had never before associated him with the genre.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Thank You! Come Again!

Dr. Ochieng's visit to our classroom was certainly a highlight within our fairytales classes. As an education minor, I had had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Ochieng last semester as both a professor and an advisor. Knowing the energy he taught my education class with, I was looking forward to his lecture with great anticipation. I was certainly not disappointed.

Dr. Ochieng is an incredibly dynamic person and accordingly, his tellings of Kenyan folktales were very captivating. His methods of presentation provided not only entertainment, however, but a nice glimpse of his native culture. Turning off the lights and teaching us a few customary folktale phrases, for example, added greatly to the cultural exposure of the experience. I also found his explanation of the cultural significance of the themes within the morals of his stories enlightening. For example, he explained that many of his tales glorified "wit" as a response to the demands of the African environment for resourcefulness.

The inclusion of folksongs, chants and dancing, however, stood out as the most unique part of Dr. Ochieng's delivery. The songs were immensely fun to part take in and I could easily understand how they could become a staple within a culture. It was an extra treat to see everyone in class "shake it like the room was on fire" as Dr. Ochieng amusingly described the dance portion.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Jew Point of View

Our class took a break from reading traditional fairytales to briefly study Jewish Folktales. I throughly enjoyed the few tales were exposed to this week.

The Jewish Folktales contained many characteristics as the other stories we have read. First of all, many of the tales included magic- such as the magic ring of "The Rabbi who was Turned into a Werewolf" or a magic arrow and mirror in "The Magic Mirror of Rabbi Adam." However, in a slightly unique twist, these supernaturals forces were directly countered by Jewish religious doctrine. For example, in "The Magic Mirror of Rabbi Adam", the sorcerer who tried to challenge divine power ultimately met his ruin through his subversive endeavors. Such an ending promoted a strongly Jewish praise of true divinity and condemnation of false gods and misdirected dependencies.

The Jewish Folktales also exemplified many of the archetypes found in fairytales. In the Jewish culture, the "wise, old man" character is seen in the character of a Rabbi. The "trickster" archetype also emerged in many of the tales. The Rabbi who sneakily ate his guilty sentence in "The Rabbi and the Inquisitor" actually played the role of the trickster instead of the "wise, old man."

"The Rabbi that Turned into a Werewolf" stood out especially as paralleling fairytale characteristics. In addition to having a magic ring, like a fairytale, the story included the transformation of spouses into beasts, enchanted forests and kings sending men on quests. "Chelm Justice", "A Dispute in Sign Language" and "It Could Always Be Worse", however, stood out as quite different from traditional fairytales. These clever, short tales lacked any element of fantasy. Instead, they functioned as extended, yet highly enjoyable, witticisms.

The Jewish Folktales from this week's readings offered a refreshing contrast to the traditional fairytales we have primarily focused on.