Friday, October 18, 2019

Maleficent As A Modern Day Mélusine

[Art: ‘Melusine’, from “Les grandes Sataniques de l'histoire de la Légende” by Roland Brévannes, Select Bibliothèque, 1907]
Maleficent (Disney 2014)
Note: This theory/exploration was put together for #MythologyMonday back in August on Twitter*, by our Editor Gypsy Thorton, using the character limited format. We have expanded and reworded some of her tweets for easier reading (starting below our intro and the dragon flanked with stars).

This is a set of linked tweets (known as a 'thread') exploring the possibility of Maleficent (being a dragon-shape-shifter) as a modern variant of Melusine. (When Gypsy contributes fresh content, she will inevitably find a way to reference fairy tales, no matter what the theme is.) We, too, believe there is a fairy tale link to every topic and situation under the sun...

With Maleficent: Mistress of Evil opening in theaters today, we thought it might be fun to expand the thread for a blog post, even though it has no real bearing on the Disney's live-action Maleficent movies... or does it?
Melusine and Raymon by Troy Howell
Who was Melusine? (A Quick Refresher)
(Description via Storytelling Toronto):
Melusine is both a mythic and historical character in French legend. She is best known for her secret: that every Saturday, she had to disappear into the bath, where the lower part of her body took on the form of a serpent. 
Melusine was a great queen and benefactress. Her mother was a “maiden of the wells,” a fairy from the “Lost Isles” of Avalon. Her father was a mortal king, the king of Albany, now Scotland. Melusine became entangled in mortal life, married, and had ten sons who were powerfully gifted and cursed. She was said to have built many cities and abbeys, some of which still exist in France. This mythic queen left her imprint on the physical landscape of France and Scotland, and her baffling story draws us back to early Christianity and the demonization of the enchantress.^
Melusine escaping: Cover of
'The Legend of Melusine' (French)
Michèle Perret (artist unknown)
As she was finishing her story-thread on Twitter, Gypsy found a recently-published scholarly compilation for which one of the contributors apparently had similar thoughts, including a discussion of the link in their paper. She included mention of the book at the end of her tweets (see end of the post for the title plus a description and relevant excerpts we were able to hunt down) but we had hoped to obtain a copy to read before sharing it all here. Unfortunately, this is one of those uber-expensive volumes (upwards of $100!) so, apart from some interesting sneak-peeks via previews (which we will also share excerpts of below) we're just going to have to keep it on a watchlist.

In the meantime, we remain thrilled that some medieval literature and legend experts had also found a connection to Maleficent, taken their scholarly skills, time and effort to do comprehensive research, then published an exploration of the concept as part of their work. Their discussion of Maleficent's story having included some of the Melusine narrative in a modern form, though, is only a portion of one of the included papers in the book. From the excerpts we've been able to glimpse in previews, all other aspects are just as interesting. We are looking forward to the time we can read it in full. (Details and links at the end of post.)

* * * Dragon on LG G5 * * *
Today's theme for #MythologyMonday (August 29, 2019) is #MythologicalCreatures, so let's talk shapeshifting dragons, female ones; especially one in particular: Maleficent, but not as she's usually considered.

Imagine Maleficent as a 'modern' day Melusine, as some versions of the legend say Melusine was. (Not a mermaid, or typical fairy, but perhaps a type of fairy-wyvern hybrid, which fits with the text).
[Art: The Marriage of Le Belle Melusine, Jessie Bayes, 1914]
Now imagine Melusine/Maleficent as a younger, more innocent creature. One day, when she was happily wandering in the woods, she met -some versions say rescued- a young French lord, Raymond of Poitou, and they fell in love.

Before long they were to be married. He didn't know she was Other and, in love, promised to give her the privacy of a private bath on Saturdays - with no peeking - ever!
[Art: Nataša Ilincic]
Melusine was a prize for the Nobleman; not only was she beautiful, she made him 'lucky'. In reality, she used her dragon-hoarding abilities to attract wealth & built castles for him. She was very fertile, giving him ten children, with not a single hybrid among them to give her away, though they did have unusually large teeth and brilliant eyes...**
[Art: Julius Hübner 'Die schöne Melusine' 1844]
But Melusine's husband (Raymond) had a jealous brother who 'bedeviled' Ray with doubts about Melusine's faithfulness. Eventually (after at least ten children had been born) Ray gave in to his brother's decade-plus of mind-poisoning, and he finally broke his promise to Melusine, spying on her. He discovered her in her marble bath in partial-dragon form and, his mind already set against her, recoiled in horror.
Melusine / Illumination, Flemish, c. 1410–1420, attributed to Guillebert de Mets.
“Melusine s’enfuit transformée en vouivre” (Melusine flees disguised as a dragon).
Betrayed and heartbroken, Melusine spread her dragon wings as she backed away to the nearest window then, with a cry, fled the castle forever.
[Art: The figure of Melusine, at the 16th century sculpture garden of Bomarzo, Italy.]
Though poor Melusine had fled for her life, she was heartbroken and missed her family. It was said she could sometimes be spotted, high above the castle, weeping. (Legend says you can still see her on moonless nights.)

Some say Melusine was a fairy, or mermaid or a serpent but don't believe it - she was a dragoness.
[Art: by coucyi on Tumblr]
Did Melusine end up taking residence in a castle that crumbled to ruin over time and failing fortunes?

Did she become bitter and cynical about true love, vowing to thwart foolish young noble women, cursing them to sleep before they could have their freedom -and their love- betrayed?
[Art: Eyvind Earle concept painting of "Maleficent" as the Dragon from Sleeping Beauty. (Walt Disney, 1959) ]
And did she finally give in completely to her true draconic nature when a young princess, hailed the Dawn of the New Age+, was about to make the same mistake she once had in the woods, only to tragically become a trophy once again, only this time on a Prince's wall?

We'll never truly know. All we can say in certainty is that loving a dragoness is not for the faint of heart.
#MythologyMonday #Maleficent

[To trace more scholarly musings on Melusine, this book may be of interest: "Melusine’s Footprint: Tracing the Legacy of a Medieval Myth"]
Melusine's Footprint: Tracing the Legacy of a Medieval Myth
Editors: Misty Urban, Deva Kemmis, and Melissa Ridley Elmes
In Melusine’s Footprint: Tracing the Legacy of a Medieval Myth, editors Misty Urban, Deva Kemmis, and Melissa Ridley Elmes offer an invigorating international and interdisciplinary examination of the legendary fairy Melusine. Along with fresh insights into the popular French and German traditions, these essays investigate Melusine’s English, Dutch, Spanish, and Chinese counterparts and explore her roots in philosophy, folklore, and classical myth. 
Combining approaches from art history, history, alchemy, literature, cultural studies, and medievalism, applying rigorous critical lenses ranging from feminism and comparative literature to film and monster theory, this volume brings Melusine scholarship into the twenty-first century with twenty lively and evocative essays that reassess this powerful figure’s multiple meanings and illuminate her dynamic resonances across cultures and time. 
Contributors are Anna Casas Aguilar, Jennifer Alberghini, Frederika Bain, Anna-Lisa Baumeister, Albrecht Classen, Chera A. Cole, Tania M. Colwell, Zoë Enstone, Stacey L. Hahn, Deva F. Kemmis, Ana Pairet, Pit Péporté, Simone Peger, Caroline Prud’Homme, Melissa Ridley Elmes, Renata Schellenberg, Misty Urban, Angela Jane Weisl, Lydia Zeldenrust, and Zifeng Zhao.
* * * Dragon on LG G5 * * *
Almost a month after Gypsy's story thread, one of the editors, Dr. Melissa Ridley Elmes, added this tweet for the #FolkloreThursday theme of the week: Mythological Creatures
Since first finding Melusine's Footprint, we have tracked down some previews and excerpts that include discussion of Maleficent. Here's a small taste:

[From Misty Urban's paper: How the Dragon Ate the Woman: The Fate of Melusine in English:]
... in what might so far be the closest reunion of the dragon and the woman on the screen of a blockbuster film: Disney's 2014 live-action Maleficent, which re-envisions the supernatural fairy enchantress of the Sleeping Beauty legend into a figure much like Melusine. With horns on her head highly reminiscent of the headdress Melusine wears in late medieval and early modern woodcuts, the fairy Maleficent otherwise appears human in form save for a pair of wings, of which she is deprived in the course of the movie by a false lover. The Maleficent of this film harbors strongly protective maternal instincts and is a powerful enchantress with unlimited resources who can physically transform her kingdom at will and who is its recognized ruler. While male betrayal is a prevalent motif, the emotional charge of the narrative rests on the way that the two central female characters lift the curse on each other: Maleficent herself breaks the curse of the death-like sleep she laid on Aurora, and an awakened Aurora consequently restores her wings to Maleficent, who, in a film moment highly evocative of Melusine's final exit transforms into  winged creature, exits the castle that entraps her by shattering a stained-glass window, and then flies about the parapets, screaming, as she sends the malicious King Stefan to his death. [Urban pp. 386]
Melusine - Illumination, French, 15th century.
"Melusine escapes Raymond in Dragon form / Melusine appears to breastfeed her sons". Illustration to the "Roman de Melusine" of the troubadour Couldrette (1401). Ms français 383, fol. 30, Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale.
And, an excerpt from the final paper, commenting on what this anthology volume adds to the already extensive scholarship published on Melusine:
Urban's contribution reveals that the decades following second wave feminism have witnessed the return of a polymorphic Melusine in innovative new interpretations. Constrating with premodern tendencies to soften Melusine's hybridity, young adult fiction has endowed the fully serpentine character with an apotropaic role, while the metamorphic, aerial Maleficent, who sits at the heart of a Hollywood fantasy film exploring women's protective and destructive qualities, strikingly revels in her alterity. [Colwell, pp. 398]
You can purchase the book HERE at the publisher's website. This includes a list of the papers included. Each 'locked link' still gives you a limited preview (after clicking on the chapter title), and is great food for thought, even just having a glimpse. Alternately you can find a copy (often cheaper) HERE on Amazon.

And if you go see Melusine, er Maleficent: Mistress of Evil in theaters this weekend, drop us a line, a comment or tag @inkgypsy on Twitter, and let us know your impressions.
^ You can read a more detailed story-like summary of Melusine, including why she had to bathe every Saturday in semi-dragon form, HERE. (Note: the website is in French - Google translate gives you the gist but knowing some French helps!) Otherwise, Wikipedia's Melusine entry has a lot to offer and link you to, if you want to begin a "deep dive".

‘Melusine’, from “Les grandes Sataniques
de l'histoire de la Légende” by Roland Brévannes,
In case you are interested in joining in on social media and saying 'hi', Gypsy does her best to visit three different Twitter weekly events (even if only briefly, or toward the end of the time frame). They are:
Just put the hashtag in the search box to find all the tweets. Everyone is welcome to observe, tweet and contribute and each week usually has a theme, though off-topic mythology, folklore or fairy tale information, art, and questions are OK too. You can just search the hashtag and read without posting, or reply and have a discussion, or add a new tweet to the content - whatever you'd like. Just be sure to add that day's hashtag so people can see your comments. Each group has a lot of overlap and all of them are very friendly folks.

** Wondering what happened to those large-toothed, brilliant-eyed children?  Here you go (via Castles, Celtics & Chimeras):
The Ten Children of MélusineMélusine gave Raymond ten sons. But the count, though very proud of having so many children, was not always very comfortable looking at them.
1st: Urian - who became king of Cyprus - was "in every way well-formed, except that he had a short and full face, a red eye and the other person [blue and green], and the largest ears that have never been seen to a child;
2nd: Eudes , had an unquestionably larger ear than the other ";
3rd: Guion , had "one eye higher than the other";
4th: Antoine, handsome and well made like his brothers, except that he wore "a lion's paw on the cheek, and before he was eight, he became hairy, with sharp claws"
5th: Renaud , had only one eye, but remarkably piercing;
6th: Geoffroy , had a 3 cm canine that came out of his mouth;
7th: Fromont , who became a monk at Maillezais, had a hairy spot on his nose;
8th: Horrible , incredibly tall, had three eyes, and he was so ferocious that before 4 years old he had killed 2 of his nannies ".
9th: Thierry , was normal;
10th: Raymonnet , was normal too.
+ Aurora (Disney's chosen "princess name" for Sleeping Beauty, who, in the animated classic, which Maleficent references, grows up being called 'Briar Rose', or just 'Rose' by the three fairies, Fauna, Flora and Merryweather.)

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Iconic "Pricked Finger" Appears At 'Maleficent II' Premiere // Is This Movie Disney's 'Game Of Thrones'?? (+ Surprisingly Positive Reviews Have Our Attention!)

Blood & Magic On The Red Carpet
Fashion has long had a fascination with capturing the essence of fairy tale in a garment or outfit but Gucci not only captured the modern idea of princess and fantasy magic in this particular outfit, but managed to draw attention to the spellbinding side of the story too, drawing onlookers under their enchantment.

At the Hollywood premiere of Maleficent II, Elle Fanning's custom Gucci dress personified her character of Aurora and the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale revisited. Fanning, not only dressed as a princess but one recently put under enchantment, and the effect was stunning.

Fanning wore a pale-olive trailing green dress (a color most can't quite pull off), with gathered layers of chiffon echoing the romantic 'natural' wood-nymph style seen in mythic paintings (cue serious Persephone vibes), princess-tiered off-the-shoulder sleeves, jeweled straps and waistband, luxurious layers and mauve velvet ribbons, all freely woven together with dusky flowers, in both dress and hair. There are even subtle nods to all three of the colors of the bumbling fairies who raised her (see the layers, including ribbons, and the rings on her left hand).

The most mesmerizing aspect of the outfit, however, which sets it apart from other ensembles on the red carpet, were the sheer tulle gloves with the blood-red crystal droplets that began at Fanning's right 'pricked' index fingertip, trailed the back of her hand, then dripped down the right side of her dress.

Symbols, Spells & Statements
Just by holding up a "pricked" finger for the cameras, Fanning, as Aurora, was making an iconic statement. Not just: "I am Sleeping Beauty", but also, "Yes, I'm bleeding, but I'm finally awake!"

(Side Note: Angelina Jolie's Hollywood premiere outfit was so striking it almost overshadowed the Aurora dress! It had a prominent diamond-encrusted scorpion pinned the hip of her black, sequin-chainmail dress, which might have corresponded to Fanning's pricked finger, but perhaps not. Whatever the case, it was definitely intentional so feel free to speculate on what it might symbolize... See our bonus content at the end of the post for a little on the folklore of insect/arachnid pins, a.k.a. brooches, and how Lady Hale's symbolic use of pins started the #girlyswot movement, something Jolie would likely be happy to be included in. But back to Aurora's outfit and motifs!)

The concept, according to one of the stylists (Samantha MacMillen) was to have “Sleeping Beauty waking up in a field of flowers and walking to the red carpet”, and the effect was that not only the appealing magic of the fairy tale is present, but also the darker side of enchantment, and of fairy tales in general. (The design team did an amazing job.) Not only was the effect a fashion statement, but it took a step away from basic cosplay and costume, and continued to bring a fresh way to look at the fairy tale to the public, and keep the story of Sleeping Beauty alive. We also love the shots of Elle Fanning, dressed in this outfit, walking on the thorny black and white background, created for the premiere. That image makes a statement by itself.

As Kailey Flyte/@mermaidensblog said on Twitter (we have combined her tweets):
I am IN AWE! The DETAILS! The gorgeous woodland nymph feeling, but then the tying in to the darker side of the tale with the blood !!! THE LAYERS!! The fact that they made such a stunning, woodland nymph type of dress but still referencing the inherently macabre nature of fairytales.

We agree. We love magic and wonder, of course, but we also like our fairy tales to have teeth.

Finding the balance between creating a costume to represent an instantly recognizable fairy tale character (which can come off as kitsch), and a high-fashion style that appeals artistically (but can be lost on the public), is a tall order but Gucci - and the styling team - did exactly that.


It's truly wonderful to see storytelling  - and the revision of a fairy tale - be taken to different dimensions beyond film and print.
Consistently Positive Reviews Are Accumulating for Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (Surprise!)

To be honest, we're not sure folks are quite ready for another Maleficent movie right now, even a good one. Focus is elsewhere and Frozen II is stealing everyone's thunder. The marketing seemed to begin in one focus then headed in another direction entirely after the reveals of Maleficent's kinsmen, but ultimately, it's being marketed as a classic castle-fantasy movie with some epic creatures - something that should guarantee an audience - but the attention of social media is currently on Frozen II, Star Wars, HBO's His Dark Materials and the real-life issues of diversity, representation, insane politics. Apart from foks who are already fans there hasn't been a lot of buzz. But people are finally starting to pay attention. The lavish premieres, the fashion tie ins, the music videos and promises that it may have more relevant storylines than are immediately apparent - why? Because Maleficent II is getting consistently GREAT reviews from critics! 

The most repeated sentiment we've read is that this could be one of Disney's best live-action movies. Ever. (And that, as groundbreaking and blockbusting as the first one was, warts and all, this one is much better.) That's... a very bold statement for one reviewer or critic to make, but to see it echoed repeatedly has made us sit up and take notice.

It's clearly an unexpected response for critics (who were, admittedly, quite prepared to roast it) and we wonder whether part of this is to do with (perhaps) having low expectations of the film to start with. Though the trailers haven't done a great job of convincing us so far, reviews are surprisingly consistent in reporting that this is one of Disney's best live-action films to date (!). Generally, it seems to be agreed that this movie is much better written and crafted than the first, and is ultimately a satisfying revision and doesn't retread Disney's tired ground as a typical sequel or reboot. Nor is it a try-hard apologetic "correction" for the original property, which is a relief because, let's be honest, we are more than a tad tired of being preached to via the latest live-action batches, even if we agree with the basic sentiments.

Here are two excerpts from a review by Scott Mendelson for Forbes, which do a great job of summing up the many reviews we've read to date:
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is a breath of fresh air from Walt Disney’s sub-genre of live-action fairy tale adaptations. It is noticeably better than the previous Maleficent (which was allegedly stitched together via an assist from John E. Hancock) and the very best of these Disney fairy tales since the one-two-three punch of Cinderella (excellent), The Jungle Book (damn good) and Pete’s Dragon (spectacular). Okay, we’ll ignore Alice Through the Looking Glass for a moment, but you get the idea. The plot is almost as threadbare as the first one, but it makes A-to-B-to-C logic and exists as an excuse for a fantastical spectacle, some dynamite action and not a little camp melodrama. At its best, it’s a go-for-broke adventure that that avoids the mistakes that tripped up the last handful of Disney fairy tales 
...More so than any of these films since Pete’s DragonMaleficent: Mistress of Evil feels like Disney using the safety of a viable IP, or at least the protection of knowing that they will survive if this movie bombs, to just throw caution and fidelity to the wind. There’s a bare minimum of (to paraphrase Lindsey Ellis) “girl boss faux feminism,” attempts to “correct” the politically incorrect attitudes/ideologies of the original material or obsessive recreation of what came before to “appease the fans.” It’s a self-correction that brings (false?) hope to the next batch of presumably less slavishly faithful Disney adaptations coming down the pike. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is the Disney remake/fairy tale as kid-friendly heavy metal madness. It may not be a masterpiece of music, but it rocks and rocks hard.
And although it's not a retelling/revisioning of Disney's Sleeping Beauty, the film does continue on from the tale and, does appear to be solidly in the realm of 'fairy tale film' instead of just a fantasy. As we are currently attempting to avoid major plot spoilers, it is difficult to gauge how much of a 'fairy tale' this film may really be. For reviewers so far, at least, the words 'original fairy tale' (though based on characters and in a world we know) seems to be the consensus but we are not convinced. Earlier trailers hinted at more mythic themes (even alluding to Faust, Dante and possibly Icarus) while later trailers seemed more rooted in fairy tale tradition, (editing can be very misleading!) so we shall just have to wait and see. We can always hope that writer Linda Woolverton (who also wrote Maleficent, and has a long history of writing for Disney) decided to dig a little further into her intial inspiration and references of Spenser's Faerie Queene. Perhaps we will have a little of everything.

This Friday is the start of "opening weekend", and the public will have the chance to go see it (giving up their hard-earned cash to do so). Box office numbers say a lot, so we shall see if there's been enough buzz to consider this a hit or not. Will people flock to the theaters? We would be surprised if they did, but that doesn't mean the audience won't grow as word gets around. From all we're hearing of the movie, we hope this "risky" approach to filmmaking pays off. We could really use a bold approach to the upcoming swath of Disney's live-action reboots coming our way; fresh and fearless storytelling with unapologetic truths is something we really - really - need right now.

Is Maleficent II Disney's "Family Friendly Game Of Thrones"?
Although there is no gore, the body count for the final clash is reportedly the highest of any Disney movie yet (easily earning it's PG rating), but that is also where the intrigue and the payoff for the rest of the movie apparently comes together; in the "third act". But that's only where the parallels to HBO's Game Of Thrones begin. GOT had the stunning and lush visuals (and creatures) that attracted people of all ages, yet the subject matter and violence made it very clear this was not something you should be sharing with your kids! 

Maleficent II appears to have many of those things everyone loved about GOT (kids included, since they also could not escape the marketing and images while it ran): fantastic creatures, epic battles (though, in Maleficent, shown carefully and without gore), magic that's very real, impossibly beautiful things, transformations and classically epic scenes. It also includes that lavish fantasy look, that's so inviting such as lavish banquets, romantic-medieval architecture, glorious set design, lovingly detailed costumes, flying creatures of all kinds and a world that has both color and beauty and dreamy magic scenes, to dark and detailed ones. While this is dangerous in GOT as it's an entry point for so many who were not ready to experience where the show went visually and thematically, there is no concern here of exposing your kid to a "Red Wedding" or other very adult scenes that came to be a staple of GOT. 

GOT explored a lot of political dynamics in its run but ultimately it became clear it had a very uneasy relationship, in particular, to women in power. (It's one of the main criticisms of the HBO show.) In Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, relationships  - and the mother-daughter dynamic in particular - is explored in tandem with politics and reportedly does a great job of keeping the heart of the film (the relationships) central throughout. The fact that Disney is exploring aspects of power and politics through a cast of strong female leads, while including hot-topic themes (see paragraph below with hidden spoilers for details) is bold, brave and has potential for serious substance. 

A possibly-slightly-spoilery report (on the themes, not plot details per se) from Maleficent Brasil (account is in Portuguese) might be of interest as well. If you are interested, highlight the white space below to read it, auto-translated to English:

The film is also being considered as one of the most political of the year, addressing and allegorizing current issues such as the oppression of minorities and the destruction of forests. Queen Ingrith is being described as a Donald Trump-style ruler.
As a reminder, here are some of the trailers which, although they don't show all the teasers, give a decent intro to the premise.

We actually prefer the second below to this one but are including the EXTENDED COMPILATION TRAILER first, in case you have missed some of the more recent promos. Although there is some repeat footage (and it's not cut together very well) it hits all the important notes and includes some international promos too:
We like this one below much better as it gives a lot of insight into the driving forces behind the movie. (We wish more of these scenes had been used in earlier promotion). It's a compilation trailer too, with some non-spoilery behind the scenes views which are wonderful. Enjoy!
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil releases in US theaters this Friday, October 18, 2019.
Folklore Meets Fairy Tale Bonus of the Day:
Pins, Brooches & Accessories As Symbols, Statements & Messages
The women in Maleficent II are the prominent characters and run the politics in the various lands and territories of the movie (one of the reasons it's getting noticed) but even with women facing women, there are still so many assumptions made. Women in politics have a daunting job. Not just because it's difficult but because there is so much discrimination - still - just due to their gender. So it's no surprise that women in politics will sometimes use creative and unusual ways to help make their statements clear and unwavering. Fashion and the use of accessories is one of those tools (something Angelina Jolie is obviously aware of, hence speculation about her prominent scorpion to the premiere - but we'll come back to that).

In the UK, Lady Hale's announcement in September (2019) that "the prorogation of parliament was unlawful", was backed by the strong visual of her black outfit, with a large, jeweled spider brooch pinned below her collarbone. That visual statement was so strong it had people speculating on what messages Hale's spider was sending, and set off a wave of support and solidarity in the form of a movement called "Girly Swot", which used, as their symbol, the spider for t-shirts and other merchandise (most of the proceeds of which went to charity). One of the reasons it took off like it did was that Lady Hale is known to wear brooches specifically to make statements. And she's not the only powerful political woman who does. Madeleine Albright has her own stories with associated brooches, and even released a book called "Read My Pins: Stories From A Diplomat's Jewel Box".

So, considering the themes of the film, what message might Angelina Jolie's scorpion have been sending as she took the red carpet? Let's just say we were not surprised (though still delighted) to see what the most likely 'messages' might be. traditionally and folklorically speaking, that is. Looking at a variety of sources, we found the following symbology for scorpions in common. They are symbols of passion, dominance, defense, transformation, and rebirth. People who see the scorpion as representative of themselves tend to be self-reliant (sometimes to a fault), defensive and highly sensitive, yet also very resilient (like the animal). When these people love, "they do it to the fullest" and when they hate "it is with their whole being". In Egyptian mythology, scorpion amulets were made to protect people from evil, while in Africa shamans used scorpion venom to heal and venerated them as a medical source. 

That certainly sounds like the Maleficent of the first film and certainly suits what we've heard of the second. The words "transformation" and "rebirth" are part of the marketing campaign and feature over Maleficent finding others like herself and recovering from, what appears was meant to be, a killing blow.

The most common and current use for the scorpion as a symbol, however, is via the tale of The Scorpion and the Frog, a fable which has come back into social popularity with a force the past few years. In case you are unfamiliar with it, here is a quick retelling:
"A scorpion asks a frog to carry him over a river. The frog is afraid of being stung, but the scorpion argues that if it did so, both would sink and the scorpion would drown. The frog then agrees, but midway across the river the scorpion does indeed sting the frog, dooming them both. When asked why, the scorpion points out that this is its nature." --Fable of the Scorpion and the Frog (via Forbes)
"The moral of the story is that, like the scorpion, vicious people often cannot help hurting others even when it is against their interests." (summarized by Wikipedia). It's a tale that is often referenced with regard to politics, leaders, and corporations and, worn by Jolie (as a statement on either her character, the message of the film or a political one she is sending herself), it makes for an interesting context, especially as we know the specific design  - including made to be very visible and noticed - was not only conceived by Jolie, it was chosen for the premiere night with a specific purpose. (And yes, Lady Hale's spider is referenced in the linked article too! Turns out we weren't the only one thinking Jolie may have taken her cue from another politically powerful woman.)

There is one additional layer to this scorpion, though, and that is, that Jolie (and her children) ate them (yes, they ate scorpions - spiders too). When visiting Cambodia for the premiere of her film "First They Killed My Father", about the genocide under Pol Phot's Khmer Rouge, Jolie was very focused on sharing with her children the humanitarian aspect of her work. It was a film about survival and Jolie was making a point of showing to her kids how people were able to survive:
'I think it's always been a part of the diet, the bugs,' (Jolie) explained. 'But I think there is a truth to the survival during the war of course.'She continued with a history lesson: 'When people were being starved they were able to survive on things like this and they did.'She was then asked when she first had the bugs and replied she first had then when she first visited the country. (2002 when adopting her eldest son Maddox - via that includes lots of pictures of spider cuisine being enjoyed by Jolie and her kids)
So for Jolie scorpions are associated with extreme survival and tenacity in the face of devastation. That fits with her role in the movie (as we understand it) too and is a common theme in all her chosen work these days, whether it's while working in film, or as an activist. Whatever the case, she's made sure we're paying attention!
Elle Fanning & Angelina Jolie at the European Premiere, dressed to reflect their mother & daughter roles

Note: We also wish to acknowledge the collaborative effort and artistry Fanning's Aurora look took, so here are the appropriate credits (and personal thanks) from stylist Samantha McMillen, as posted on her Instagram:
Details: Elle/Aurora in custom Gucci. Thank you @Gucci and @alessandro_michele for this incredible creation. You gave us everything we asked for and more! @justjenda and @erinayanianmonroe completed the vision with incredible hair and make up. Thank you @ellefanning for inspiring all of us. The creativity coming from this team brings me so much life and so much joy! #ellefanning #sleepingbeauty #aurora #gucci #alessandromichele

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Review: Workers' Tales (Socialist Fairy Tales, Fables, and Allegories from Great Britain)

(Review written by Tahlia Merrill Kirk)

Most people don’t associate fairy tales with political agendas, so you might be thinking, "What the heck are socialist fairy tales?!”. But when you think about it, it’s not that big of a stretch. If I started telling you about how some fairy tales have been used as serving spoons for moral ideology, you’d probably nod along knowingly. It seems to me like a natural next step for them to be turned into vessels for political agendas. But what does that even look like? Well, you’re about to find out!

Before we go any further, let’s define socialism, since it has the potential to be a little controversial.

There are many kinds of socialism. But in all types, the workers of a society own the means of production (if that sounds vague, click the link for a more detailed description).

Now, there are lots of different flavors of socialism. Probably the most famous is communism, which has no state, money, or social classes. Other variations mix socialism and capitalism by having the government collecting tax money to spend on public services like schools or roads.

This particular collection of stories was collected roughly between 1870 - 1910 from magazines and newspapers printed in Great Britain. And in case 1870 - 1910 doesn’t mean much to you, here are some historical reference points:

  • 1850 = Marx’s The Communist Manifesto published.
  • 1865 = Early Days of Women’s Suffrage Movement in the UK (right to vote won in 1918)
  • 1870 = The death of Charles Dickens.
  • 1887 = First Sherlock Holmes story published.
  • 1901 = Death of Queen Victoria
  • 1912 = Sinking of the Titanic (and the start of Downton Abbey)
  • 1914 = World War I starts.

Got it?
Don't worry, Ron. We're getting to the fun stuff soon.

Alright, now we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about the juicy stuff. Like how jarring I found some of these tales. I’d been expecting magical adventure stories with subtle winks about governing quietly slipped in. Maybe a Hansel & Gretel style tale where the Gingerbread House is a state-run orphanage that needs reforming.
Evil moustache-twirling Monopoly is coming out to get you!

Hah! Nothing could have been further from what I found. Out forty-seven tales, nearly all of them were didactic to the point where I questioned if they even fit the definition of a fairy tale anymore. Some had such heavy-handed economic messages that they felt akin to reading a political cartoon. Others were pure allegory, like an economic Pilgrim’s Progress. These threw subtlety into the rubbish bin, and stuck their characters with names like “Capital” and “Fair Trade”. About halfway through the book, I started noticing a pattern…
Here’s the gist of several stories: A hardworking everyman (ie “Labor”) meets a smooth-talking villain (ie “Monopoly”) who tricks the simple man into becoming a slave. Often, the plot is drawn out by the protagonist’s attempt to nicely voice his complaints. The villain always pretends to listen, and will offer him institutionalized religion or a complex government as a way of pacifying him. But these are all mere tricks to prolong his enslavement. The endings vary, but any solutions the writers propose lack nuance to their logic.

Now, it might sound like I’m complaining, but actually, I found this whole collection highly entertaining and genuinely thought-provoking. Yes, I'm criticizing, but not with the intention of discouraging readers. I’ll make sure to delve into this collection’s many merits later, but I can't resist giving them a good-natured roasting first!

Do all frogs go to heaven?
So, on top of being overbearingly pedantic, these stories also have a cringeworthy sentimental streak.

For example, in “Chips”, a homeless child works as a street sweeper. His only companion in the freezing winter slums of London? A pet frog, of course! Well, until the frog dies from hunger and cold. Our poor destitute boy dies shortly after--with many flowery descriptions of his pitiful state. Cue an angelic spirit, floating down from heaven. The spirit teaches the dead boy a lesson about God and love before the boy’s soul ascends to heaven. It was all very Tiny Tim meets The Little Match Girl.

Similarly, in “Nobody’s Business”, a poor old man dies alone from hunger in a bustling city. After he dies, his soul flies to heaven and God frowns upon the city. He points out that the city is prosperous and builds many churches, but the citizens are hypocritical, greedy, and don’t help those in need. Now, I'm not saying the message isn't a good one (it totally is), but both these tales feel like someone used a mad-libs list of story elements that provoke emotion and plugged them into a sob story writing machine.

Worse, they blatantly romanticize poverty, as if being poor and elderly, or an orphan, are sacred states. Chips is an innocent youth and "Nobody's Business" goes to great lengths to paint a pitiful picture of the old man’s innocence and suffering.

Do these writers think that poverty somehow purifies the soul? Because that’s how it comes across. Maybe the logic goes like this: Power and riches always lead to corruption, so therefore, poverty has a cleansing effect on your character? After all, a simple life is the best life--

Wait, stop. Let's stop trying to transform being poor into some inspirational poster. Nobody who has ever been truly poor would ever describe their experience as sublime or purifying. Sure, being poor might make you grateful for the little things in life, but sheesh, let’s not full on glamorize something that just plain out sucks.

Besides, I feel like we should help the poor because they’re fellow human beings, not because you believe they're paragons of virtue, right?


This review is becoming more difficult to write than I anticipated. I swear, I’m trying to balance the topics’ complexities without rambling too much.

I'll be honest: I had a whole rant prepared about the romanticization of the country vs the city. And I also had some strong words about the treatment of the female characters (they're always beautiful angelic figures of grace and piety). But I don't think it's necessary. I've ranted enough today.

Instead, let's take a step back. I think this quote does a pretty good job of summarizing what's going on in these fairy tales:

“This is socialism at its most hopeful, perhaps at its most innocent, untouched by world war, Stalinism, or the Holocaust.”

Every time I started getting frustrated with these tales, I found this sentence running through my brain. Despite their flaws, these tales are earnest and are written with a sincere intent to make the world a better place. And let's not forget that fairy tales aren’t usually designed to be complex. That is part of their charm. So many of my complaints are simply a tied to the nature of the genre.

This collection is a great example of how the very thing that makes a fairy tale problematic, can be the same thing that makes it so fascinating. While the fairy tales in this collection may have an agenda, the modern editors who collected them do not. If you already have opinions on socialism, this book isn't designed to reinforce or change them. Instead, this book will make you think, and it will make you want to share it with your friends so you can discuss it.

You can purchase a copy of Workers' Tales: Socialist Fairy Tales, Fables, and Allegories from Great Britain directly from the Princeton University Press website or on Amazon. There is also an excellent audiobook version (which is what I used for this review). A free copy of this book was provided in exchange for an honest review.