Tag Archives: fairytales

EG: The Redwall Books

In honor of the anniversary of the author Brian Jacques passing, I’d like to talk about one of my favorite childhood series: Redwall. It’s funny how I so recently decided to pack up my books for the future, only to suddenly want to unpack them and read them all over again. These are very solid books for older children, full of good triumphing over evil after a long and hard struggle. They contain role models for both genders, though boys will probably find the books more interesting over all. They are fun, relatively easy reads whose similarity in plot will only bother the most cynical (and least comprehensive) of readers.

It’s difficult to address a series as a whole, especially when I haven’t read most of them in entirely too long. I’ll give you an idea of what they are like by talking about my favorite, which I’m currently enjoying in dramatized audiobook format. The Taggerung.

You have the basics of every Redwall book here, evil vermin, the peaceful abbey, certain problems that need solving and threats that need guarding against. However, if one can ignore the basic plot, you will find a very poignant message. The message being that we are more than the people who raised us and it is ultimately our choice who we will become. The book is about leaving behind poisonous upbringings and breaking cycles of abuse. It is about overcoming challenges to become a better person. It is about leaving behind what others (who don’t have our best interests in mind) want us to be and becoming what we are supposed to be. I’d give you a more detailed synopsis, but I honestly don’t want to give anything away.

If the Redwall series teaches anything at all, it is to be courageous in the face of the cruelest of hardships. It may also teach strength and nobility of character, appreciation for simplicity in life, and the importance of community and friendship. It may also make your kids want to learn to cook (and perhaps even eat their vegetables), since the descriptions of the food are always a joy.

The books can be read in any order, but if you want, here is a list of the books in chronological order (as opposed to publishing order).

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WH: Not So “Strange Magic”

I ended up seeing the film “Strange Magic” yesterday because my best friend wanted to see it. It’s a CG animated film about fairies and other similarly small mythical creatures who live next door to the Dark Forest, full of small, evil mythical creatures. I went in totally blind, I hadn’t even heard of the flick and according to a review on the IMDB page, the trailer wouldn’t have given me the correct impression of the film. It has some story elements that I want to talk about, but I’m going to talk a bit about the other aspects of the film first. That way if anyone who wants to see it and hasn’t yet can be spared spoilers while getting a bit of info on the film.

First off, it is a musical from start to finish. After our brief and somewhat vague opening narration, the first song begins. Although it is presented more as a character simply singing rather than a musical number. The musical numbers are predominantly older pop songs, with at least two representatives from the 60s. I’m not actually sure if any of the songs are original or not. They are all catchy, well sung and largely inoffensive. The film is rated PG solely for action and scary images.

The cast is solid, although I recognized only one name, Alan Cumming, who was in X2. I didn’t know he could sing, but he has some pretty solid chops. The rest are all similarly good. The only weird bit of casting is Roland’s voice, Sam Palladio. He’s not bad, but there is something really weird in the choice of casting a British actor to play a character with a Southern accent. Which the choice to give him that accent still escapes me, the only reason I can think of is that they wanted to play on the stereotypical idea that Southern white men are racist (and dumb). Because no one else in the kingdom has that accent in the slightest. Another odd thing is that this is (at least) the second role in which Elijah Kelley (Sunny) gets together with a blonde girl of a different race, who has a racist parent who has an over the top emotional reaction to discovering their romance.

The animation is absolutely gorgeous, although they decided to skimp on hair animation and texturing on the fairy wings. They have a nice variety of creatures and settings. The world is extremely well realized and the atmospheres of the fairy kingdom and the dark forest are nice and distinct. AS far as CGI goes it gets an A+.

Now for the story, those fearing spoilers should leave now.

 


 

The story is incredibly predictable. You’ve seen it before in part or all in Sabrina, Enchanted, Beauty and the Beast, Frozen, and Legally Blonde.

An overview:

Our female lead, Marianne is madly in love with the dashing knight Roland. We open on their wedding day, mere hours before their vows. She discovers Roland is cheating while trying to deliver a “Buttoneer” (a sort of male corsage worn in the buttonhole, a fairy tradition I guess?). She calls off the wedding and a strong bond between her and her (seemingly levelheaded) younger sister, Dawn is eluded to. She enters a manhating phase and learns to wield a sword.

All the while the king of the neighboring dark forest, (the) Bog King is continuously ordering his minions to cut down all the primroses growing on the forest border, to prevent them from being used to make love potions. He’s also staving off efforts by his mother to get him hitched.

Dawn turns out to be such a hopeless flirt she can’t concentrate on one guy, much to the chagrin of her friendzoned elf, (with a Troll doll hairdo) Sunny. They are attacked by a lizard and saved by Marianne. They go to the spring fairy ball, where Roland is waiting (puzzlingly, with the King’s full endorsement) to try and win Marianne back. She doesn’t buy it and shoves him out of the dance hall. There he meets the forlorn Sunny, who he manipulates into acquiring a love potion. Sunny acquires a primrose petal and begins his long journey into the dark forest to the Bog King’s castle, where the Sugar Plum Fairy (the only one who can make these) is locked up. He’s helped along by an imp (a cutesified opossum, basically), who will cause issues later. He acquires the potion in exchange for freeing the fairy. The fairy gets recaptured and Sunny makes his way back in time for the elf spring ball. Marianne attends after her fat father begs for help looking after her sister Dawn. Sunny prepares to use the “potion”, just as the Bog King arrives very angry with his trespassing. Despite Marianne’s efforts, the Bog King kidnaps Dawn just after the potion has been administered and demands the potion (just stolen by the imp from earlier) be delivered to his castle by moondown. Marianne flies after him, Sunny is sent after the imp, and Roland leads an army into the forest.

The Bog King arrives back at the castle and releases Dawn from her bag, making him the first person she sees. The potion takes effect and she begins tormenting them with love songs and makes a buttoneer for the Bog King. The imp is busily spreading the potion around at random, causing a lizard to fall in love with Sunny (and Pare his companion), they use the lizard to capture him and get the potion. They then catch up with Roland. Marianne arrives at the castle, battles with the Bog King until they come to an impasse, and then has it revealed to her that Dawn is under the effect of the potion. The Bog King demands a cure from the Sugar Plum Fairy. Marianne and the Bog King bond over hating on romantic stuff. Except the buttoneer Dawn made, the Bog King is oddly attached that. It turns out the only cure for the love potion is real love. It’s revealed the Bog King hates the potions because he used one on a woman and it didn’t work. The romance between Marianne and the Bog King officially begins with a moonlit flight through the not-so-dark forest. Roland arrives, the romance is jeopardized, Sunny sneaks into the dungeon again to free everyone (those under the love potion’s effects had been rounded up to be cured). Roland sends his henchmen to destroy the castle on his signal and goes to meet the Bog King. He ends up battling both Marianne and the Bog King, before signaling to his men. The castle begins collapsing, the Bog King seemingly sacrifices himself to save the sisters. He survives (as does everyone). Roland pops back up and uses the potion on Marianne, it doesn’t work because she loves the Bog King. Dawn is healed of the potion’s effects when she hugs Sunny and immediately announces she loves him. Her father faints. Roland gets potioned and shoved off a cliff. Dawn encourages Marianne to admit her feelings (because she’s suddenly sagely again like at the beginning of the movie). Marianne and the Bog King sing “Wild Thing” to admit they love each other. Mid-credit role we see Roland making out with an ugly fly creature seen earlier in the film. The end.

The TL;DR version is “Pretty girl trades in useless pretty boy for the less conventionally attractive ugly, but much higher status guy after finding herself.”

There are some pretty major storytelling issues here, mostly revolving around presenting Marianne as a healthy character during her anti-love manhating phase (that lasts most of the movie). Dawn goes from seemingly levelheaded in the first few minutes of the movie to a girl with zero self-control when it comes to boys. The only reason she doesn’t have a long list of exes is because she can’t focus on one guy for more then fifteen-twenty minutes. No one can keep up with who she is crushing on. The father is a poor parent who is bizarrely attached to the idea of Marianne marrying Roland, despite the fact he cheated on her and he would realistically be extremely angry about that. Roland is practically a caricature of scummy, racist, cheating man with a tiny ego that one finds in too much media. All this to make  I’ll-marry-the-first-guy-I-don’t-want-to-punch Marianne seem like a good role model. There is also the puzzling dearth of other men vying for crown princess Marianne’s hand. Another thing, it’s not really a story issue, but it does strike me as odd that the Bog King gets so attached to the buttoneer Dawn made for him, and that Marianne returns it to him after they’ve fallen in love. Finally, at the end, there is the fact that Roland would have no way of knowing how the Bog King’s castle was constructed, so there was no way he could have come up with his plan to destroy it. Since his plan revolved around using the cages in the dungeon as wrecking balls against the main strut that held up the castle.

The story was obviously attempting to mimic Frozen with sisters saving each other and the pretty boy being the bad guy, it was also trying to subvert the princess marries prince charming idea by pairing Marianne off with the Bog King. Instead all they did was play into a typical Game narrative of a girl being attracted by status and aloofness. That subversion they were attempting has been done better in other films, and while I don’t like Frozen all that much, it is the superior movie here. I also spotted where the movie was going to go as soon as Roland’s scumminess was revealed, and I don’t generally predict where plots are going to go.

Is it a fun movie? Certainly. The music is good and the jokes are on point. There are worse movies you could show your kids. Is it a great movie? No. It is rife with issues, particularly with the characters and message. While it comes out pro-love at the end, most of the running time is spent being very, very anti-love and pro-you-go-grrrl. Also it spends a lot of time endorsing the idea of not rushing in love, only to portray Marianne and the Bog King’s love as strong enough to resist a love potion. The idea that people are stronger together than alone is thrown out there, but by a character who is implied to be racist and obviously lacks good character judgement. Therefore undermining that idea. What the movie does best is illustrate that character is more important than appearance, but that’s hardly an unusual message.

It’s a good rental movie and certainly fine for kids. You may want to discuss with older kids why Marianne’s distrust and even hatred of an entire group because of the actions of one person is unhealthy, but that is of course up to you as a parent and depends on your kids. The soundtrack is worth a listen if you like pop music. I doubt I’ll see it again, but I’m quite critical of movies.


EG: Men and Women in Fairytales

For whatever reason I keep encountering media that references the fairytale Hansel and Gretel. So, inevitably I got to thinking about the tale. We commonly consider the witch to be the villain in the story.  But, what we commonly forget is how they ended up in the forest in the first place.

“By a great forest dwelt a poor wood-cutter with his wife and his two children. The boy was called Hansel and the girl Gretel. He had little to bite and to break, and once when great dearth fell on the land, he could no longer procure even daily bread. Now when he thought over this by night in his bed, and tossed about in his anxiety, he groaned and said to his wife: “What is to become of us? How are we to feed our poor children, when we no longer have anything even for ourselves?” “I’11 tell you what, husband,” answered the woman, “early to-morrow morning we will take the children out into the forest to where it is the thickest; there we will light a fire for them, and give each of them one more piece of bread, and then we will go to our work and leave them alone. They will not find the way home again, and we shall be rid of them.” “No, wife,” said the man, “I will not do that; how can I bear to leave my children alone in the forest–the wild animals would soon come and tear them to pieces.” “0, you fool!” said she, “then we must all four die of hunger, you may as well plane the planks for our coffins,” and she left him no peace until he consented.” (Source:here)

Their stepmother suggested dumping them in the forest and their father gave in. Realistically the witch is just being opportunistic. Being a literary sort I started thinking about some other fairytales.

We all remember the general story of Rapunzel, but do you remember how she ended up in the tower?

“There were once a man and a woman who had long in vain wished for a child. At length the woman hoped that God was about to grant her desire. These people had a little window at the back of their house from which a splendid garden could be seen, which was full of the most beautiful flowers and herbs. It was, however, surrounded by a high wall, and no one dared to go into it because it belonged to an enchantress, who had great power and was dreaded by all the world. One day the woman was standing by this window and looking down into the garden, when she saw a bed which was planted with the most beautiful rampion (rapunzel), and it looked so fresh and green that she longed for it, she quite pined away, and began to look pale and miserable. Then her husband was alarmed, and asked: ‘What ails you, dear wife?’ ‘Ah,’ she replied, ‘if I can’t eat some of the rampion, which is in the garden behind our house, I shall die.’ The man, who loved her, thought: ‘Sooner than let your wife die, bring her some of the rampion yourself, let it cost what it will.’ At twilight, he clambered down over the wall into the garden of the enchantress, hastily clutched a handful of rampion, and took it to his wife. She at once made herself a salad of it, and ate it greedily. It tasted so good to her—so very good, that the next day she longed for it three times as much as before. If he was to have any rest, her husband must once more descend into the garden. In the gloom of evening therefore, he let himself down again; but when he had clambered down the wall he was terribly afraid, for he saw the enchantress standing before him. ‘How can you dare,’ said she with angry look, ‘descend into my garden and steal my rampion like a thief? You shall suffer for it!’ ‘Ah,’ answered he, ‘let mercy take the place of justice, I only made up my mind to do it out of necessity. My wife saw your rampion from the window, and felt such a longing for it that she would have died if she had not got some to eat.’ Then the enchantress allowed her anger to be softened, and said to him: ‘If the case be as you say, I will allow you to take away with you as much rampion as you will, only I make one condition, you must give me the child which your wife will bring into the world; it shall be well treated, and I will care for it like a mother.’ The man in his terror consented to everything, and when the woman was brought to bed, the enchantress appeared at once, gave the child the name of Rapunzel, and took it away with her.” (Source: here)

A woman starts pining to death over some salad greens, forcing her husband to risk his life and give away their unborn child.

Donkeyskin is a slightly more obscure tale, but again we see a major fault in the parents.

“Once upon a time there was a king who was the most powerful ruler in the whole world. Kind and just in peace and terrifying in war, his enemies feared him while his subjects were happy and content. His wife and faithful companion was both charming and beautiful. From their union a daughter had been born. Their large and magnificent palace was filled with courtiers, and their stables boasted steeds large and small, of every description. But what surprised everyone on entering these stables was that the place of honor was held by a donkey with two big ears. However, it was quite worthy of this position, for every morning, instead of dung, it dropped a great load of gold coins upon the litter. Now heaven, which seems to mingle good with evil, suddenly permitted a bitter illness to attack the queen. Help was sought on all sides, but neither the learned physicians nor the charlatans were able to arrest the fever which increased daily. Finally, her last hour having come, the queen said to her husband: “Promise me that if, when I am gone, you find a woman wiser and more beautiful than I, you will marry her and so provide an heir for throne.” Confident that it would be impossible to find such a woman, the queen thus believed that her husband would never remarry. The king accepted his wife’s conditions, and shortly thereafter she died in his arms. For a time the king was inconsolable in his grief, both day and night. Some months later, however, on the urging of his courtiers, he agreed to marry again, but this was not an easy matter, for he had to keep his promise to his wife and search as he might, he could not find a new wife with all the attractions he sought. Only his daughter had a charm and beauty which even the queen had not possessed. Thus only by marrying his daughter could he satisfy the promise he had made to his dying wife, and so he forthwith proposed marriage to her. This frightened and saddened the princess, and she tried to show her father the mistake he was making.” (Source: here)

The dying queen selfishly demands that her husband remarry only if he can find a woman more beautiful than her, he agrees, and then proposes to his daughter.

Last but not least, The Juniper Tree.

“Long, long ago, some two thousand years or so, there lived a rich man with a good and beautiful wife. They loved each other dearly, but sorrowed much that they had no children. So greatly did they desire to have one, that the wife prayed for it day and night, but still they remained childless…the wife stood under the juniper-tree, and it was so full of sweet scent that her heart leaped for joy, and she was so overcome with her happiness, that she fell on her knees. Presently the fruit became round and firm, and she was glad and at peace; but when they were fully ripe she picked the berries and ate eagerly of them, and then she grew sad and ill. A little while later she called her husband, and said to him, weeping. ‘If I die, bury me under the juniper-tree.’ Then she felt comforted and happy again, and before another month had passed she had a little child, and when she saw that it was as white as snow and as red as blood, her joy was so great that she died. Her husband buried her under the juniper-tree, and wept bitterly for her. By degrees, however, his sorrow grew less, and although at times he still grieved over his loss, he was able to go about as usual, and later on he married again. He now had a little daughter born to him; the child of his first wife was a boy, who was as red as blood and as white as snow. The mother loved her daughter very much, and when she looked at her and then looked at the boy, it pierced her heart to think that he would always stand in the way of her own child, and she was continually thinking how she could get the whole of the property for her. This evil thought took possession of her more and more, and made her behave very unkindly to the boy.” (Source: here)

The second wife ends up lopping off the boys head, blames her daughter and makes him into pudding, then feeds him to his father.

When you take a look at these, there is a very consistent pattern in how the parents behave and what faults they have.

Faults of the Women/(Step)Mothers:

  • Self-centeredness
  • Jealousy
  • Cruelty, often resulting from the previous two.

Faults of the Men/Fathers:

  • Weak-willed
  • Poor wife selection
  • Lack of self control (This appears more in tales I don’t address here.)

Now, we all know that fairytales exist for the purposes of teaching children. Boys are taught to be brave and resourceful, girls are taught be kind and gentle (except when you need to shove witches into ovens). However, I’ve heard it said that if you want to reach adults with a certain message, write a children’s story. Why? Because if they end up telling/reading it to the child over and over the adult has no real choice but to realize what the story is trying to say. In this case, do you really think these patterns of behavior emerged by accident? For the women it is obviously a reinforcement of what the fairytales told them as children, being vain, obnoxious, lazy etc. gets you dead (or at least covered in tar for the rest of your life). The men are clearly receiving a different set of messages though.  What messages do they seem to be?

Be careful who you marry and don’t entertain her ridiculous requests.

Don’t marry the woman who will suggest leaving your children in the forest to starve.

Don’t risk your life to bring her salad greens, definitely don’t do it twice.

Don’t bow to your dying wife’s vanity or marry your own daughter.

Don’t marry a woman that will kill your child and feed him to you.

Cinderella? Don’t marry a single mother.

Snow white? Don’t marry a woman so vain she’ll try to kill your daughter when she grows up.

These are fairytales, so obviously they have a (hopefully) unrealistic, slightly over the top take on things. Still, that doesn’t invalidate the message that they are trying to tell. Self-interested women and the weak-willed men that bow to them are not a new phenomenon, the problem is we’ve changed the vocabulary and the fairytales so that they are admirable. Self-interested women are called strong go-getters. Weak-willed men are called sensitive and caring (though they aren’t praised much past that, if they are praised at all). And at the end of the day, it is the children who suffer. Take heed of the messages, protect yourselves, protect your children. You’re the one that will have to realize the truth and act accordingly, because, sadly, evildoers don’t get millstones dropped on their heads.