Sunday, September 30, 2012

Snow White

            Between the Grimm fairy tale and the 1937 Disney adaptation of Snow White, there are several important key differences. A major difference is how Snow White is saved from her “death”. In the Grimm version, Snow White nearly dies three times. The queen tricks her first by selling her a stay lace and tying it too tightly. After the dwarfs save her, the queen sells her a poison comb, which kills her when it touches her hair. The dwarfs are also able to save her the second time. The queen then convinces Snow White to eat a poisoned apple, which becomes lodged in her throat. This time the dwarfs cannot save her. They put her in a glass coffin and place it on top of a hill. The prince comes and sees it and falls in love. Eventually, the dwarfs agree to give him Snow White’s body, and the in the process of moving the coffin, it is jostled and the apple is dislodged from her throat. She miraculously wakes up and marries the prince. In this version, the prince hardly plays a role in her rescue from death, and he is merely a supporting character.

                However, in the Disney film, the Prince is introduced early in the story. He falls in love with Snow White, and the Queen gets jealous. Events progress similarly, although Snow White is only tricked once and only eats the poisoned apple. However, now only “true love’s first kiss” can awaken her. The Prince fills this role, and his kiss brings her out of her death-like state. In this version, the Prince is the hero, as his actions are what make the happy ending.

                A key similarity between the two versions is that Snow White keeps the dwarfs’ house for them. While they go out to work, she stays home to cook and clean. However, even in this there are a few minor differences. Her role is exaggerated in the Disney film, as the dwarfs are portrayed as excessively messy and dirty before she comes along. The Grimm tale portrays the dwarfs as capable of taking care of themselves before her arrival.  

                Overall, the Disney version portrays Snow White as belonging in a domestic setting and being entirely dependent on men to save her. Disney made these changes to promote his own ideological beliefs. However, these beliefs were so radical at the time. The film came out in 1937 and in the middle of the Great Depression, most women were the homemakers and the men were trying to earn money.  It also fit with the zeitgeist of the time, since the audience needed to believe in the Prince Charming character. Many men were having trouble providing for their families due to the economic circumstances. Disney’s Snow White showed the audience that men still held a vital role in society and that little girls could dream of a rich, handsome man coming to rescue them from an unfortunate situation. It is still important to note that the message of the film is that women belong in the house, and that was part of Walt Disney’s beliefs. He likely exaggerated the portion of the film where Snow White takes care of the dwarfs to further endorse this lifestyle for a woman.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Uninspiring Cinderella

Cinderella is considered a “rise tale” in which magic and/or marriage causes someone to go from poverty to wealth.  Although, this tale is initially inspiring, the motif does not maintain its hopeful nature upon inspection.

                Firstly, it’s important to note that the idea is somewhat realistically possible. People “marry up” all the time, and it is very possible to find a wealthy man.  This element of the motif is a realistic and possible way to find success.  It is still possible to find your “prince charming”, as Cinderella does. The magical component is much less feasible, since that requires magical birds and trees, according to the Grimm version.  These tend to be extraordinarily difficult to find. Therefore, counting on magic to better your life is not realistic.

                The motif with magic/marriage bringing you from rags to riches is not very inspiring on a whole, though. Cinderella does not achieve her success through any intellectual or physical feat of her own. In the Grimm version, she goes to the tree above her mother’s grave and simply asks it to shower her in riches. Birds respond by throwing her a beautiful dress to wear to the ball. She was so beautiful that the prince immediately liked her. Upon their marriage, Cinderella is able to escape her horrible living situation.  However, Cinderella actually did very little to achieve this success in life. Magic is solely responsible for her beautiful appearance at the ball. Her eventual ascension in living arrangements was the direct consequence of the prince liking her. So, Cinderella’s success was not achieved through any means of her own.  Taking that into account, the story is much less inspiring. It basically teaches that if you want your situation to improve, you are at the mercy of magic and men. You cannot do anything but hope that somehow something will occur that will help you.

 A much better lesson would be that if you try hard enough, you can achieve something better and take yourself out of the bad situation.  Cinderella would be much more inspiring if she did something proactive to help herself. In the Grimm version, she simply asks the tree in desperation for gold and silver, and magic does the rest. As lame as her plea is, it is a step above her actions in the Disney movie. All this Cinderella does is cry about how she does not get to go to the ball and how she cannot try on the glass slipper.  A fairy godmother magically appears and helps her get to the ball, and some mice bring her the key to unlock herself from her room. Neither Cinderella does much of anything to improve her own situation. Had she even told the prince her name, she would have done something to earn her improved situation. Her lack of initiative is what fails to make her an impressive heroine and what makes the motif, though partially realistic, completely uninspiring upon reflection.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Hansel and Gretel: MGM vs. Grimm

                One of the biggest changes between the MGM adaptation of “Hansel and Gretel” and the Grimm Brothers version is the role of the mother/stepmother.  In the fairy tale, the stepmother is actively trying to get rid of the children by convincing their father that it is necessary to survive. She is relentless in her attempts to abandon the children as she walks them out into the forest twice.  These actions make her as much of a villain as the witch in the story. She conveniently dies before the children return home, so that they can live happily ever after with their father who actually loves them.

               In the movie, the mother is angry with the children, when they accidently leave the donkey in the house. She sends the children out to pick berries, and they get lost. Immediately, this mother is concerned and feeling extremely guilty. When they return home, she is visibly relieved and it is clear that she loves and had missed the children. The whole family together can now live happily ever after.

                Another major difference is the father’s involvement in the abandonment. In the Grimm fairy tale, he is an active, though somewhat unwilling, participant in leaving the children in the forest. He is then exonerated from the crime by regretting his actions, and he gets to be in the happy ending. However, in the movie, he is away when the children get lost in the forest, and he then searches for them. He finds them after the defeat of the witch and leads them back home.

                These changes are fairly significant in the film, and this leads to different messages. The Grimm tale teaches the reader that women are greedy and often evil. Both of the adult women (the stepmother and the witch) are evil and have bad intentions for the children. It also teaches that men can be exonerated from child abuse and abandonment, because the father lives happily ever after with Hansel and Gretel. With the vast changes that the film made, the messages are completely different. The directors probably chose to make these changes to make the movie more successful in the United States. Parents do not want to pay to take their children to a movie where the parents are badly portrayed. The resulting message is this: women are sometimes forgetful in where they tell their children to pick berries, but men will risk their lives to search for lost children in a forest. This is clearly a completely different message, but one that will probably sell more movie tickets and lead to less nightmares from young viewers.

                It is important to note that there are some similarities in the film and the original tale. The witch is always evil, and the children are always the ones that defeat her through their own cleverness. The main lesson is always intact: you can defeat the evil witch if you try and think hard enough. This lesson is why “Hansel and Gretel” remains a beloved fairy tale. The children are always showcased as the heroes of the story, and if this changed, the premise of the whole story would change.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Definition

A fairy tale is story dealing with magic and imagination that is meant to give the listener hope and help them cope with the world around them.  A major difference between the fairy tale and other tales and legends, is that the fairy tale is meant to help one escape reality. The world that the fairy tale portrays is magical, timeless and definite.

 For example in The Grimm Brothers’ “Brier Rose”, there are wise women that are able to give the princess gifts of beauty, virtue and other such intangible items that cannot be bestowed without magic.  An uninvited woman shows up, however, to curse the princess out of spite. Clearly, these events would be impossible in reality, but they remain unquestioned in the fairy tale.  That type of fantasy is characteristic of a fairy tale, and helps the listener escape the real world into the magical land of the tale.

Timelessness is another very important feature of the fairy tale.  One of the first things that come to mind when one hears the words “fairy tale” is the phrase “once upon a time”.  The tales never give specific dates, because that would take away from the fantasy of the story. The listener might become preoccupied with the historical context or accuracy of the story and not focus on the characters and conflicts. This feature gives hope, because one can always imagine that these events could happen again, and that one’s own life might have a happy ending. An example of this timelessness is how Brier Rose sleeps for a hundred years, and then she awakens to a kiss from her prince. Nothing is really mentioned about the long passage of time, and the listener will imagine her looking, acting and feeling the same way as she was before. This timelessness adds to the magical element of the tale, as well, since the reader has to suspend reality while they hear the tale.

The fairy tale also has a definite feature in its world. Not once in Brier Rose is there ever a mention of the words “maybe”, “perhaps” and “if”. Even when events are foreshadowed, the events then happen exactly as they were predicted. The predictions themselves have specific details, and there is never a question of if something will happen. This helps a young listener understand the world a little better, because there is a clear cause and effect.  Additionally, the fact that the hero or heroine will eventually have a happy ending is never questioned. There will always be a happy ending at the end of each fairy tale, and the listener understands that from the very beginning.

A fairy tale is a story that suspends reality, as its listener must accept its magic, timelessness and definiteness. It takes place in an unspecified location and time, and has a very clearly defined plotline. The tale also incorporates fantastical elements that cause the listener to imagine and forget about reality. Those key elements are what make a fairy tale what it is because they are unique to the genre of the fairy tale.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Blog 1: Introduction

                I grew up on a steady diet of peanut butter and jelly and Disney movies. At one point, I knew every line and every lyric to the movies, especially those involving princesses. However, it was not until High School when I read the seventh Harry Potter book, which features the wizarding fairy tale of “The Three Brothers”, that I considered what exactly fairy tales in the real world mean. In this tale, there was a clear moral disguised in a clever tale that parents tell their children. This got me thinking more about the fairy tales I heard as a child and the Disney movies I had memorized.  I soon learned, through a quick Google search, that many of these stories were originally published by the Brothers Grimm. Naturally, I had heard of these brothers, but I had never read any of the original fairy tales. Furthermore, I could not recall a single moral lesson from the movies that I had seen over a hundred times each. So, when I saw the description of this FYS, I was instantly intrigued and wanted to know more.

                I’m mostly hoping to satisfy my curiosity through this FYS, and become a more educated viewer of the Disney classics that I used to love. I’m also excited to examine the lessons that I was unconsciously taught as a young child and think about possible societal implications that occur due to teaching the distorted morals in these movies.

                My favorite fairy tale is Cinderella, and has been since I was a little girl. There is not a very specific reason for this story being my particular favorite. It is probably a combination of being wowed by seeing her castle at Disney World when I was five, and also thinking that we had a lot in common. Occasionally, my older sister and I would argue when I was younger. I thought she was being very bossy, and I liked to imagine that she was an evil stepsister. Now, I realize that Cinderella and I have basically nothing in common, but I had a big imagination when I was little and that scenario was very entertaining.