Sunday, January 13, 2019

Amnesty International PSA: "No Consent = No Fairytale"

A heavier subject today but a prevalent one that's been discussed inside fairy tale circles for a long time. Since the #MeToo era began, the issue of consent in fairy tales has included the public at large and brought to society's attention how prevalent and dangerous the issues surrounding consent remain in our upbringing.

Amnesty International's most recent PSA highlights the importance of having the definitive legal definition of rape as being based on the absence of consent. The campaign focusing on this issue uses something not-too-surprising: a sleeping fairy tale princess being kissed (and felt up) by a prince.

Take a look:
While the basis of recognizing rape by the absence of consent is the international standard of human rights, only nine out of thirty-three European countries recognize this "simple truth" (the UK being counted separately in this instance). While at first, it seems like a no-brainer for countries to adopt this as a legal definition, the truth is it gets murky pretty quickly due to the current, very flawed, need to "prove" rape by the victim, usually based on resistance.

From Amnesty International, UK:
"... the remaining European countries are lagging far behind, with their criminal laws still defining rape on the basis of physical force or threat thereof, coercion or inability to defend oneself.  
According to the European Commission’s 2016 survey on gender-based violence, almost one-third of respondents considered that sexual intercourse without consent may be justified “in certain circumstances.” These included, for example, if the person is drunk or under the influence of drugs, is voluntarily going home with someone, wearing revealing clothes, not saying “no” clearly or not fighting back."
When using the images of a sleeping Snow White or Sleeping Beauty, who are under enchantment, or in a death-like sleep, it should be noted these are very apt metaphors for situations in which consent is absent - and it's not due to passivity. The lack of body response or resistance has been proven to be a very real - and involuntary - physical defense. 
"In fact, despite the expectation that a “model” rape victim will fight her attacker back, freezing when confronted with a sexual attack has been recognised as a common physiological and psychological response, leaving the person unable to oppose the assault, often to the point of immobility. For example, a 2017 Swedish clinical study found that 70% of the 298 women rape survivors assessed experienced “involuntary paralysis” during the assault."
This is especially important to consider as there is a very real and justified fear by victims that resistance will equal death. (You can read more about this in the Amnesty International article.) Clearly, survivors are still getting the majority of the blame for being assaulted. How this mentality is still prevalent in 2018-19 is head-scratching.

What fairy tale folk and storytellers should be aware of is the enormous role and obstacle that myth and stereotypes play to adopting the consent-based definition. This, of course, includes how fairy tales are being told and retold. Our modern versions of 'happily ever' after might appear cleaner on the surface (with the "it's just a harmless kiss" mentality) than older tale versions that blatantly include the obsession of a prince with a dead body, or the rape of a sleeping maiden alone in the woods, but it's clear these "sanitized" versions have added to the harm by romanticizing acts of obsession, power and violence over (mainly) women and children. While there are no easy or straightforward solutions as far as retelling fairy tales go (banning just sweeps things under the carpet and does much more harm than good, and any retold version will likely include societal bias and the prevalent social attitudes), these oft-repeated and referred-to tales need to, once again, be revised in their retelling.1
It's not that this isn't being done, by the way. It's that the revised versions, and sometimes older and better variants, aren't the most popular, accessible image of those tales (still!)2. The public generally isn't aware that other ways of telling these stories exist, so the old ones are perpetuated, if at all. While Disney (arguably the strongest pop-culture fairy tale influence on the world) has finally shown a change in the way they tell their (market-dominating) versions of the tales, consistency of resistance to the harmful classic images needs to continue, and how we tell the tales to our children and audiences needs to be far more discerning. There are many (many!) resources of revisionist fairy tales, for young children through grown-ups, but there are also, it should be noted, far more 'healthy' variants or versions of these old fairy tales available - and easily accessible! - for the telling3. The age of the internet means you often don't even need to leave your house to find them. Sometimes it's as easy as going to that (rarely-visited) second or third page of Google search results.

Heigh-ho storytellers!

1 It obviously isn't enough to just call a rape, a rape, in the retellings. We also need to address the issue of women, and society, accepting marriage to their attackers - and/or a payoff in terms of a crown and increased status - as a 'happy ending'.
2  And it's not (as we heard someone say recently) about removing the "classic romance" of childhood fairy tales. It's about revising what romance is considered to be. 
3  Thanks to the efforts of newly published collections of fairy tales such as the Oddly Modern Fairy Tales series, and storytellers, like Dr. Zalka Csenge Virág who are mining the wealth of old tales in libraries and universities around the world for stories we can - and should - be telling.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Why Is Pinocchio In Aquaman? (spoilers hidden)

We did not expect a specific repeating reference to a fairy tale in the current blockbuster Aquaman (about to hit the billion dollar mark this weekend), yet there it was: Pinocchio. Not exactly the fairy tale you'd expect to get nods in a DC superhero movie, but the references are very deliberate and repeat often enough throughout the film in such particular ways that it's clear there are supposed to be parallels to Aquaman's own story. Who'd have thunk?

Quote from Jason Momoa doing publicity for Aquaman
Just to get this part out of the way, our opinion is that Aquaman is a ridiculously fun and silly adventure that - thankfully - has its tongue firmly planted in its cheek for most of the time, has incredible (and fairy tale-like) visuals, and overall reminds us of kids playing with their action figures, who then grew up and turned those imagination games into something you can now see on the big screen. It suffers a little from an identity crisis, being an odd mash-up of Star Wars under the sea + Indiana Jones + Lovecraft (because why not?) all held together somewhat loosely with Arthur pulling his proverbial sword from the stone, but isn't that what playing imagination games tend to be like anyway? While it is far from perfect, there's no doubt it has the spirit and love of the original comics (and weaves in an astonishing number of DC easter eggs and nods throughout) and still manages to be fun for many who have never cared about Aquaman before. It also has a very blatant ecoconscious message that all by itself had our audience cheering (and likely made them much more forgiving of the movie's imperfections).
Aquaman 2018 promotional hot of the undersea warrior factions
Mondo X Cyclops poster by Jessica Seamans
We're not comic experts here (our focus has been rather narrow in that genre, concentrating mainly on Bill Willingham's Fables) so we don't have the inside track on fairy tales the DC Aquaman comic series has referenced in the past (you may wish to hit up Adam Hoffman on those questions!) but director James Wan wasn't afraid to nod to pop-culture versions of fairy tales when he could slide them in* (see end of post for examples). Wan has also shown a lot of delight and enthusiasm for the variety of Aquaman memes popping up all over the internet. It's clear this project had a lot of joy and childlike play in the creation of it, and that leaks through to the audience very well. This childlike sense of wonder and fun is underscored by the way the film opens and ends with a very fairy tale-like narrative (sadly, a little clunky in execution), so the audience does appear to be invited to consider this a kind of epic fairy tale (or a combination of tales, as Atlanna - Aquaman's mother - clearly has a fairy tale of her own).

Pinocchio, however, was mentioned specifically twice by name. There was even a picture book involved and, using visuals and some props, the fairy tale obliquely underscored Aquaman's journey. While the movie clearly uses the Sword in the Stone legend as a basis for Aquaman's rise to hero (yes, Aquaman's surface name is Arthur, no it's not a coincidence), the Pinocchio theme is (generally) much more subtle**. The rise to hero (more than just-king) happens alongside Arthur learning who he is, accepting himself and, eventually making his own choices rather than being pushed into a role (that is, used as a puppet). It also shows him early on deliberately playing the fool, only to reveal there's much more to him (and his understanding of the world and classic literature and mythology) than first appears. But there are other strong references too - both visually and in the script.
(highlight incomplete paragraphs below to reveal hidden/spoiler text): 
- Right when Arthur is seemingly defeated, he narrowly avoids death by escaping into the mouth of a whale when he uses his 'speaks to fish' powers (which includes all sea creatures) and asks it to let him and Mera in. The visuals are very specific and the nod to the fairy tale is very clear.
- Extra trivia: if you play the video game Kingdom Hearts you will know that Monstro is both a character and a world that needs to be defeated. Once you conquer Monstro you're finally allowed to go to Atlantica aka The Little Mermaid's underwater home aka Atlantis.)
- Arthur's personal journey, as well as clues to how he might overcome his adversities and enemies, is also foreshadowed in the background when he's a small child. His mother is telling him stories, holding a fork, by the way, and in the background, there's a wooden Pinocchio doll sitting upright.
- When Arthur is taken down to the ruins of old Atlantis and he is convinced to go on the quest, there is a puppet-doll sitting at the bottom of the ocean too, albeit a creepy one as this prop does double duty as a nod to the director's previous horror film The Conjuring, as well as letting us know it's going to get a little Cthulhu-like before there's any real 'win' for Arthur).
- Later, in Italy (of course) during the search for lost-Atlantis (aka the Indiana Jones sequences) a child is at a fountain and is given an Atlantean coin by Mera, which the child uses to make a wish. Mera causes the water to form into dancing dolphins, which delights the child who runs away to tell others and returns to gift Mera with a book, specifically Pinocchio (an illustrated Carlo Collodi picture book, not a Disney one).
- Mera flips through it, sees the whale scene, and accuses Arthur of getting his ideas from a fairy tale. Cue the odd line about "from the movie not from the book" which hasn't landed with the audience as it was supposed to.

Quote from Director James Wan, commenting on the creation of Aquaman
The scene with the book is also near a turning point in the movie, in which Arthur truly starts embracing his mixed heritage and finding his unique way through. As puts it: "It's all executed a bit awkwardly, to be honest, but it's nice that the DCEU (Ed. note: Stands for DC Extended Universe) is even trying to be allegorical at this point." (source)
[Side note: We find it very interesting that it's Pinocchio, not Jonah, that is the model here, but a fairy tale allegory likely works better than a biblical one in such an effects-filled fantasy. Jonah isn't generally considered a puppet or pawn, or needing to find his real self (though a case could be made for it). Pinocchio is the clearer - and safer - choice. With the threat of world catastrophe being a solid theme, Jonah would have worked allegorically in this aspect too (in the Bible, God threatens the great city of Ninevah, aka capital of the Assyrian empire - think "ancient equivalent of New York" - unless Jonah goes and warns them and they repent) but it would seem the filmmakers wanted to concentrate on Arthur's personal journey more, which the Pinocchio parallel does well. Another note of interest is that Pinocchio is usually referenced with regard to truth and lies, but that wasn't the focus at all, especially as far as Arthur's character was concerned. It's refreshing to see Pinocchio being a touchstone in a different way. ]
Apart from the fantastic and colorful underwater cities and cultures, the most powerful scenes, visually speaking, are the Lovecraftian ones. (They truly are cinematically stunning!) These sequences too could be considered to reflect some darker aspects of Pinocchio. Interestingly, we noticed some common threads between the semi-successful Speilberg sci-fi updating of Pinocchio, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, and this much darker section of the film, especially with regard to themes of loneliness and abandonment. Though Mera makes for a formidable, non-distressed damsel/partner through much of the film, it's clear at this point Arthur has choices he needs to make by himself. Although there's no blue fairy in Aquaman (SPOILER - highlight to view: we think a kaiju blue fairy would make for a very interesting interpretation! And Julie Andrews really does have the perfect voice for that dual role...            END SPOILER), Arthur's final personal challenge before the film's action-packed ending has much of the same atmosphere of soul searching and surrender that Pinocchio and David (in A.I.) exhibit at the same juncture of their stories. It should be noted, though, that Arthur's journey quickly transitions from "I'm a real boy" to being crowned "superhero" and a very crowd-pleasing finale.
Aquaman (2018)  rides a sea dragon
We'll finish on this note of observation. In social media, the response to Pinocchio appearing in Aquaman has been interesting. A good portion of folks are basically saying: 
"Did Aquaman make me want to watch Pinocchio again? Yes. Yes, it did."
We can't complain about that.
*  *  *
Fairy tale art bonus of the day:
Below is the gorgeous Pinocchio painting by John Rowe for Disney Fine Art, that we had a bit of fun with for the header. Kudos to John Rowe who is the amazing artist of this dynamic piece!

Pinocchio - The Wrath of Monstro - Geppetto by John Rowe

One of the many meme posters created from
the original, this one reflecting the
strong eco-theme in Aquaman
Note: You may also wish to check out this article: How Cinema’s New Aquaman Draws on the Mythology of Ancient Sea Gods

*At a glance: Disney's The Little Mermaid - at least 4 specific ways, more if you're keen - it even begins with a fairy tale-like narration, just in case you were missing the point; in a flip version of The Little Mermaid tale, man finds wounded silent/feral sea woman, rescues her, falls in love; woman eats goldfish in a very Splash like/little mermaid manner, tridents and forks are interchangeable at points, that red-red hair of Mera's and her seriously-mermaid-y outfit; the whole "part of your world" yearning (which may even have been said aloud at some point); an octopus plays the drums, though to be fair, this is actually DC canon).

   Moana - the very Maui-like vibe Arthur/Aquaman plays with [the star, Jason Momoa, has Polynesian heritage too], as well as the visuals like his tattoos which are quite specific, and there's even a giant hook used at one point.

** There is a particular line of dialogue about Pinocchio "the movie versus the book", that has a bunch of the audience scratching their heads over why that was said. We think this was supposed to be rather more sly than it came across, and was really just a clumsily layered joke referencing DC vs Disney, true fans (comic readers) vs new fans (moviegoers), and Arthur playing into Mera's impression that Arthur was a bit of a blockhead (puppet pun intended), though it's quite clear in the surrounding scenes that his upbringing included a good grounding in classical history and literature.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

My Fairy Tale Survival Kit For Cancer (& Other Real Life Crises) - By Gypsy Thornton

"Silence will carry your voice like the nest that holds the sleeping birds"
Text by Rabindranath Tagore, illustration from the Stray Birds series by Kuri Huang
(Artist's social media & contact details at end of post)
2018 will forever be the year in which I was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer. Having now had a double mastectomy, and continuing ongoing treatment, I can now officially say I am a breast cancer survivor.

I wish I could say I am feeling strong and confident and I have a new zest for life. Maybe that will come, if I'm lucky, but I'm certainly not there yet. I am clear, however, on one thing: fairy tales remain integral to my life; and by "life" I mean living beyond "surviving". 

Everyone's experience with cancer (and other life-threatening issues) is different but there are commonalities too, so to that end, here's my home-spun, Fairy Tale Survival Kit. I hope you find it useful.
(Note: I've included books and resources that were touchstones for me for each point. I suggest substituting resources that speak personally to you.)
My Fairy Tale Survival Kit for Cancer
(& Other Real Life Crises)

1. Be the one who learns what Fear is
      (and face it)
Fairy tale resource: Outfoxing Fear: Folktales From Around the World by Kathleen Ragan

    This book, written in direct response to the 9/11 attack in the US, and its aftermath, was especially helpful in exploring different cultural attitudes to fear and death. The tales really did have the effect of making me feel less trapped in my too-many thoughts, and eventually became a great way to talk about those specific fears with my son in a less direct way. Reading these fairy tales, especially, "grim-with-humor" stories to - and with - my son, gave us a way to talk (and think) about our very real fears without directing addressing my cancer. Seeing the way different cultures deal with various fears made us feel less isolated and encouraged us to think differently about facing our own very specific ones. Reading these tales also encouraged the first real laughter I had after my diagnosis and surgery - something vitally important to "living life beyond surviving".

2. Ask Baba Yaga to tell you her stories
       (and listen to her advice)
Fairy tale resources: Baba Yaga - The Wild Witch of the East in Russian Fairy Tales - Introduction and translations by Sibelan Forrester, with contributions by Helena Goscilo and Martin Skoro and a foreword by Jack Zipes; Ask Baba Yaga: Otherworldy Advice For Everyday Troubles by Taisia Kitaiskaia
    As regular readers here know, Baba Yaga has been a favorite of mine for many, many years, largely in part because of her primal aspect as well as her dual nature. Discussing the beautifully illustrated yet harsh stories in The Wild Witch of the East, gave my son and I something of substance to talk about that didn't feel like like a waste of suddenly-very-precious time together. They gave us a much-needed break from talking about cancer, pain, illness, doctors, hospitals, fears, and death. It was also an avenue to feel other emotions without guilt; to be shocked, disgusted and delighted, to laugh and to be real together without creating more exhaustion or focusing on very real fears. The raw yet lyrical advice to mundane and heartfelt questions in Ask Baba Yaga was another source of relief for me. The Baba's mythic (and sometimes feral) replies can be applied to an array of human experience and I found I was able to think about things I needed to in a fresh way. That different lens helped me see beyond my self-focus and not get so overwhelmed. Fairy tales tell resonant truths and offer hope for the journey. Baba Yaga makes sure you pay attention to those truths and illuminates the path with flaming skulls. It's exactly what I, and my family, needed.

3. Learn to use sleep as a weapon
       (avoiding poison apples isn't as easy as you'd think)
Fairy tale resources: Snow White variations & articles (papers, books, movies, novels & some deep thinking - Link 1 - history & Jung, Link 2 - Zipes & Tatar on the tale, Link 3 - a writer/psychologist explores problem resolving as a married Snow White, Link 4 - Novel: 'White As Snow' by Tanith Lee, Link 5 - Movie: Blancanieves (released Blu-ray/DVD 2012) directed by Pablo Berger, Link 6 - Picture Book: by Benjamin Lacombe, Link 7 - The Other Sleeping Beauty by WillowWeb)
    I quickly found there is this incredible pressure to "be an inspiring role model" when having "brave and radical surgery" (apparently a common pressure for breast cancer patients). But though I might have looked brave going into it all, I didn't feel brave. It isn't thrilling to "avoid death", it's exhausting. I couldn't do basic physical things and my brain had trouble putting the most elementary sentences together. (For a writer-reader this is very distressing!) I couldn't manage calls or visits; reading was hard; emails, news and social media were best avoided. The last thing I felt able to do was support and cheer others on, let alone write posts or a book (yes, I was asked) to "chronicle my inspiring journey". My stress was massively increased - the exact opposite situation my long-term survival is dependent on. Having also had to move house just days before the surgery, I had purposely unpacked my Snow White book collection where I could see them when I came home from hospital, to have them comfort and inspire me, to remind me to believe in new beginnings, to aim for survival despite the odds, and to have grace through it all. But I found myself returning to the image Snow Drop's death-like sleep and her lack of choice about it until that apple piece was dislodged. I knew I wouldn't be fully recovered until the cancer - and its poisonous effects - were completely gone from my body. Prior to diagnosis I was very fit and ultra-healthy (according to doctors). I had even maintained an excellent "anti-cancer" diet for many years, yet I still fell victim to the disease. Given that my chronic sleep issues and long-term stress likely had a big influence on my getting cancer in the first place, I knew I needed to fix that as a priority. Right then I gave myself permission to side step all of the pressure, build a cocoon of social silence and let myself sleep instead. Being able to think of this process as my season of hibernation and healing, so I could eventually bloom again, has truly helped change my thinking, and made it easier to get something my life depends on right now: lots of good quality, healing sleep. It's going to take a good long while, so if I don't get back to you, assume I'm sleeping... zzzz...
Note: A quick shoutout to those beyond my close family who have continued to send encouragement in many forms without pressuring me to respond over the weeks and months, especially Lisa, Louisa, Tahlia, Jack and Gina - a sincere THANK YOU to you very special people! It means more than I can say to have you be steadfast in your support despite the silence from my end. ❦
4. Know that your tale matters
       (you don't need to be a 7th son of a 7th son)
Fairy tale resource: Folk by Zoe Gilbert
     This book is in my top three of 2018. Though I'm certain I would have loved this book at any time, reading it at this crisis point was extremely helpful, and resonated right when I needed it. It reminded me that hardship doesn't mean an absence of magic and wonder. While the cycle of stories in Folk that take a generation to unfold, have as many happy endings as not, wonder infuses every mundane life and, to me, that felt both accessible and oddly reassuring. Unlike many modern reworkings of fairy tales and folklore, Folk does not continuously focus on a single person; there is no 'hero' or 'destined one'. Any one  - every one - of the community is touched by wonder - be it horrific or fantastic, no matter how long or short the life, no matter how stupid or smart, no matter how well or unwell, no matter how gifted or talented - or not. Where many retellings and collections focus on 'the special' for fairy tale and folklore to make a difference, this book focuses on ordinary people. With so much of my life having been changed and taken away, this made it feel like fairy tales were still accessible to me and that wonder is always close by.

5. Be your own fairy godmother
       (don't wait for magic to come to you)
Fairy tale resources: The Old Magic of Christmas: Yuletide Traditions for the Darkest Days of the Year by Linda Raedisch; The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury; #FolkloreThursday
   Time becomes uber-precious when Death leaves a calling card; it shifts your perspective. Getting my kid clean every day is suddenly nowhere near as important as helping him mark occasions and nurturing a 'habit of Wonder'*. I realized that paying attention to our place in the world via seasonal traditions, lore, rituals and story, helps us feel part of it. It lifts our lives out of the mediocre and shows us how we can make a difference - something I really want my son to understand. Doing this gives our story more, well, magic. But it's tough to commit to. Making magic is hard. It takes a lot of time and effort, and feels twenty-times harder when you are sick. Despite the wisdom of 'give yourself a pass this year' (advice which has great merit) I did my best to make magic this Samhain/Halloween and Christmas/Yule season for my little boy. It made me realize that even the most mundane of us, in the most undesirable situation, can work magic, if we try. While we may not be up to creating coaches out of pumpkins, just a touch of homemade enchantment can transform the world around us. It just doesn't come free. Not even the gifted get off doing magic for no price. As with most things worth doing, magic is 90% (or more) hard work. But despite the limited strength and energy dealing with cancer dishes you, it truly is worth it. My mundane 'efforts-by-human' look and feel like REAL magic, to my son but also, surprisingly, to me. Turns out, those endorphins that flood my system when I see shiny eyes taking in wonder, have a magic of their own: they're one of the best cancer fighters on the planet.

6. Look for breadcrumbs when you're lost
       (they're everywhere!)
Fairy tale resources: Firebird by Mercedes Lackey; Elemental Masters series by Mercedes Lackey (an ongoing historical-fantasy, fairy tale-based series)
    When I got my diagnosis, I found I had to make a lot of life-altering decisions (for me and my family) very quickly. To my dismay, I learned that if I didn't ask the right questions, certain things were never explained and yet it was my responsibility to figure all this out. I have spent  weeks worth of hours studying medical papers and texts, trying to understand current cancer research and my options so I can make the best decisions, but there are no right answers - or guaranteed treatment. This weighty research is hard enough pre-surgery but afterward, when treatment can get very complicated, and you have to discuss and decide while in pain, with a brain that is in an awful fog, feeling like your survival depends upon your decisions, it can drown you. I needed a brain break. At first I tried my usual route - fairy tale study and research - something I have always greatly enjoyed but instead I felt suddenly stupid, unable to concentrate and it only resulted in exacerbating my stress - I couldn't even do what I loved anymore! Disillusioned, I picked up an old fairy tale novel I had never gotten around to reading, wondering if I should donate it to a thrift store. It was an Elemental Masters novel, a series I'd always considered a light read for a younger audience, but flipping through the first few pages, something caught my eye. I was able to read and enjoy it and - surprise! - there was enough fairy tale 'meat' for me to chew on when I needed it. Even on the 'good' days, when my neurons were firing more normally, I found myself inspired to pursue plenty of research crumbs. It actually brought tears of relief to my eyes and I proceeded to hunt down others in the series and carried a book with me to every doctor's appointment so I could escape the stressy-go-round my brain would spiral into there. I would go so far as to say these books helped me find my way back to myself and my 'tell-a-tale' heart... (Heh.) Once there was a girl who never went anywhere without a book of stories in her hand. Wherever she went, she always had with her somewhere she wanted to be...***

7. Know that a leftover wing doesn't have to be a curse
       (neither do scars)
Fairy tale resource: A Wild Swan And Other Tales by Michael Cunningham, Illustrated by Yuko Shimizu
     While a double mastectomy is about more than losing body parts, what I didn't know is that it can also make you feel like an "unwoman". I never expected this. I thought the physical challenge would be the hardest part. Despite feeling very different from most folks my whole life, this was the first time I truly felt less than human. Reconstruction (a ridiculously painful, debilitating and still!-onging process of many months), seems - to me - only to underscore the fact. I finally started to find my feet again (so to speak) when I considered the little mermaid and the prince left with the wild swan's wing (note: a wild swan's wing). In Michael Cunningham's tales the characters tend toward self-indulgent victims of curses or magic; they are sad, lonely and often unable (or unwilling) to change their circumstance. The more I read, the more I found myself annoyed that the aspect of wonder each character lived with, was unappreciated, even hated. It wasn't until I came to the line in the title story of the wing curling itself on the sad prince's form that I realized I was guilty of heading down the same path.** Different may mean "something wrong" to most people, but it doesn't have to. It's taken a while but I've finally realized, with a different (to "normal") silhouette and extensive scars (outside and in) comes new opportunities - if I do something about it. I can't be the "old me". There's no going back. But the "new me" doesn't have to be tragic and feel cursed. I find I now have more realistic expectations of myself and others, but also appreciate those moments of wonder and magic much more. Maybe I'm a little distorted in form - I'm not used to it yet - but I can more easily see the wild in me now.
✾ ∘ ✾ ∘ ✾ ∘ ✾ ∘ ✾ ∘ ✾ ∘ ✾ ~
My journey through these particular woods has a long way to go but I'm grateful for every step forward. Clearly my tale isn't quite done yet...
Have fairy tales ever been helpful to you in a real life crisis?
Note: I must include a very heartfelt "thank you" to my fairy tale friend and OUABlog's partner Tahlia Merrill, Editor-in-Chief of Timeless Tales Magazine, for keeping the blog alive the past few months. She coordinated and posted book reviews, especially of books she knew I wished to have signal-boosted, and pointed readers toward fresh fairy tale goodness in Timeless Tales Magazine and on social media so I could ignore the online world and just pay attention to my immediate one. She will continue to do so as she can manage, as I cannot guarantee any consistency of posting from my end for the quite some time, so we thank you for your patience with the random timing of posts and reviews.
All artwork in this post by Kuri Huang's Andersen's Tales for Guomai & her Stray Birds series, based on verse by Indian poet Tagore. From top to bottom including the header: 1. Stray Birds series, 2. Steadfast Tin Soldier, 3. Stray Birds series, 4. Snow Queen (1), 5. The Iron Pig, 6. Snow Queen (2), 7. The Tinderbox, 8. The Wild Swans, 9. The Little Mermaid, 10. Thumbelina
Kuri Huang - Freelance Illustrator
Available for commissions - Contact her at
✾ ∘ ✾ ∘ ✾ ∘ ✾ ∘ ✾ ∘ ✾ ∘ ✾ ~
Covers of books (and movie) mentioned:

*A 'habit of Wonder' is the best term I could think of to describe having a constant awareness of the potential of Wonder in a situation and nurturing it.                                                        ** A comment on the New York Times' printing of the title story from A Wild Swan and Other Tales (Cunningham) caught my attention and gave me excellent food for thought on this subject. I have included the relevant section below. Story at this link for context:                                 I believe the story's ending is profound: the wing has developed an autonomous nature as any unintegrated archetypal complex is prone to do. This mysterious condition is often populated with (usually hidden) evolutionary vestiges that become symbolic at best, but more commonly just uncomfortable, when, in the modern era, their significance is rendered banal by confusion and ignorance. (Excerpt from comment by BC_ OR from Portland Oregon in Oct, 2015)                                                                                                                              *** This is a paraphrase of a JK Rowling quote. Also see these other great reasons for always carrying a book.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Review: Book of One Hundred Riddles of the Fairy Bellaria


"The Book of One Hundred Riddles of the Fairy Bellaria features the Scheherazade-like fairy goddess Bellaria: powerful and mysterious, courageous and clever, goddess of spring, flowers, love, fate, and death. In this story, Bellaria engages in a duel of wits with an evil king, a death match of one hundred riddles. Each riddle is spoken as a rhyme and illustrated by an original engraving in the arts and crafts style. This book is a beautiful reintroduction to Leland and his pioneering design. " 

-From the book blurb

Brady-Handy Photograph Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (Digital File Number: LC-DIG-cwpbh-01563)
Charles Godfrey Leland, 1853

You probably don’t recognize the name of Charles Godfrey Leland. He was a moderately popular American writer in the 19th century who is finally getting some recognition for his devotion to preserving the Other. His life’s passion was studying the tales, rituals, and religions of underrepresented peoples. He started his career writing books on gypsies and Native Americans, but spent his final days in Italy learning about Etruscan myths and lore. The Book of One Hundred Riddles came from his time spent with the Italian witch/fortune teller Maddalena.
Though it is not a strict retelling of any one particular story, the entire book pulls together familiar elements of fairy tales and mythology. Bellaria herself is modeled after an obscure Etruscan goddess known as Alpan, who is an unusual sort of Venus/Persephone hybrid. She is both a protector of graves and also associated with fertility and springtime. The images we can find of Alpan often depict her with wings, no clothing, and carrying a bouquet. By the nineteenth century, this goddess had become known in Tuscany as the fairy La Bellaria — or, “Beautiful One of the Air.”

Depiction of Alpan
Although, Leland’s Bellaria is clearly presented as a wise fairy queen, she is largely a mysterious figure whose nature and past aren’t directly spelled out. The main plot centers on the evil King Ruggero challenging her to a duel to the death. But the King’s duel is a battle of wits, not weapons.  As a supporter of women’s rights, it’s no surprise that Leland would write his fairy queen as an empowering woman who earns the King’s rage as she continues answering each of his tricky riddles with ease. She is like an Italian Scheherazade, from One Thousand and One Nights (an undoubtedly intentional parallel considering the similarity of the books’ titles). As events progress, Leland takes every opportunity to weave pieces of Bellaria’s backstory throughout the narrative. In classic fairy tale fashion, there are several prophecies that do not come to fruition until the end.

Overall, The Book of One Hundred Riddles of the Fairy Bellaria is a masterpiece of poetry and prose, accompanied by drawings by the author himself.  Though elements have been pulled from several texts, it reads as an authentic fairy tale from start to finish.  This book was a breath of fresh air for any reader — a light story about a brilliant woman and her battle of wits against a tyrant.  And though we may never know why the author chose to end the book the way he did (sorry, but we won’t spoil it!), it certainly brought the text around in full circle and closed it off with a nice flourish.

More info about The Book of One Hundred Riddles of the Fairy Bellaria can be found at

Laura Lavelle is a writer from Queens, New York, working in the genres of fantasy, horror, and science fiction with young and new adult themes.  She studied English at Queens College where she won a Silverstein-Peiser award in Fiction before graduating with her bachelor’s degree. However, when she’s not writing she can be found curled up with a book and a cat, hoping that something magical will happen.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Happy New Year 2019!

Photo by the delightful creative team of photographer Per Breiehagen,
writer Lori Evert and their daughter (and model) Anja,
of the gorgeous and lovely fairy tale-ish Wish Books (purchase HERE)
Wishing all our readers a wonderful New Year, with many new opportunites, as well as lots of new (and old) tales to share. 

We are pleased to confirm that new posts and, of course, more fairy tale news, should be coming your way more regularly starting this month!
Happy New Year fairy tale folk!
(Here is the magical trailer for The Christmas Wish, though we also love The Tiny Wish and recommend the whole series.)

Monday, December 10, 2018

Armando Gutierrez's "Little Mermaid" Movie is Now on Netflix

We've been keeping an eye on this movie since 2016, and were naturally very excited to see it pop up on our Netflix feed this weekend. From the trailer, we knew to expect a circus theme, set in Mississippi, but beyond that, many questions swarmed our mind. The biggest unknown was how strong the film's connection would be to Andersen's tale. It clearly wasn't trying to be a straightforward adaptation, but would it merely use the title for name recognition?

Here's the trailer for those who haven't seen it yet:

The movie's villain, played by Gutierrez himself

The movie starts with an animated short to provide the movie's backstory. A mermaid rescues a man  from a shipwreck and falls in love with him. She becomes human in order to be with him, but her love is not reciprocated. So far, pretty close to Andersen's version (there are also other little details directly pulled from the fairy tale). However, the goal of Andersen's mermaid is to gain a soul by winning the heart of the human prince. Here, mermaids already have souls, and this one (whose name is Elizabeth) bargains it away. When her human does not fall in love with her, the evil wizard gets to keep her soul forever.
While this is a significant difference, I think the change makes a lot of sense for the movie. After all, this is less of a retelling and more of a sequel to the original. Andersen's story has a definitive endings, leaving no reason to revisit the characters again. Gutierrez tweaks the circumstances around to give the plot a reason to continue.

Did you catch the bit about the evil wizard? Yep, this movie follows Disney's lead and adds a clear villain for our characters to battle. Sometimes it's hard to remember that there's nothing truly diabolical about Andersen's sea witch, who doesn't seem to have any agenda, unlike Disney's Ursula. Andersen's conflict stems from the Little Mermaid's circumstances. She is her worse enemy, in many ways, since the choices she make set her up for disaster. But for a 90 minute movie, it's harder to anchor the audience if you don't have a clear opponent for your heroes to fight against. So we get an evil wizard who steals Elizabeth's soul in order to grow his own power. It's a bit simplistic, but it's not a horrible choice.

So what did I think? Honestly, I found the whole package pleasant, but rather forgettable. The actors are solid, the plot doesn't have too many holes, and it's rare for me to gush about beautiful CGI, but the mermaid's tail was truly flawless and believable. I'd say it's one step above what I'd imagine a Hallmark mermaid movie to be like, but most of that step is in the production quality. 

We could be done with this review here. But there is a part of me that started analyze this Little Mermaid from a more critical angle. As a feminist, I can't stop myself from thinking about how mermaids are often objectified, treated as a symbol for male desire and fantasy. Even the darker more dangerous Sirens still embody male temptation. This movie doesn't challenge the mermaid stereotype, although one could argue that Elizabeth is more like a chaste princess in a tower rather than an unattainable temptation. Elizabeth is sweet and beautiful. She longs for freedom and love, but there's not much else to her character. In fact, the younger female protagonist, Elle (human), has more complexity to her character, but that's probably because she's too young to have a romantic plotline.  

Sidenote: Is this why Shape of Water was so revolutionary? Is is because it gender swapped the traditional roles of human and mermaid? 

Now, don't get me wrong, there is something irresistible and timeless about the whole land/sea love story. I can't deny that there's something inherently electric about characters longing for the seemingly impossible relationships. But can mermaids exist outside of this construct? I'd be curious if anyone knows of any mermaid books that really break the mold on this. Please let me know!

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Vote for Timeless Tales' Next Theme

In case you haven't heard, voting is currently open for choosing Timeless Tales Magazine's next theme. While they often feature fairy tale themes, this time they are returning to their other love: Greek mythology.

Since opening up the poll a few months ago, Persephone has taken an early lead, but there's still time to give a boost to the other contenders. Visit their website to cast your vote now!

Here's how things currently stand:

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Review: Jack Zipes' New Book: Fearless Ivan & Double-Hump

Reviewed by Patricia Ash


It is always an absolute delight to find a fairy tale I’ve never heard of before. While the story of Fearless Ivan is well-known in Russia, it is almost unknown here in the United States. That needs to change, because this story deserves a place among the greats.

Pyotr Pavlovich Yershov was something of a Russian Hans Christian Andersen, writing his own original fairy tales instead of collecting and compiling preexisting folk tales. He wrote The Little Humpbacked Horse in 1834 as a poem and when it was published as Fearless Ivan And His Faithful Horse Double-Hump, it became an instant classic. At the time, the inclusion of a villainous tsar was considered subversive, but despite (or perhaps because) the authorities tried to ban the book, it was wildly successful. 

Portrait of Pyotr Pavlovich Yershov
Portrait of Pyotr Pavlovich Yershov
Readers familiar with Russian culture will quickly pick up on two iconic elements of the nation’s folklore that appear in this book: A hero named Ivan and a firebird. Ivan is the Russian Everyman. Westerners might call him Jack. Firebirds appear repeatedly in Russian folklore as objects of quests or benevolent demigods. They sometimes symbolize Russia itself. 

Our hero’s chief attributes are his foolishness and his love of sleeping (I can relate). Ivan is the youngest of three sons, and his father is a farmer. One day, something starts destroying the crops. The older brothers guard the field on successive nights, but chicken out and lie about it. Ivan doesn’t give into his fear and manages to catch the crop-destroyer. It’s a magical mystery mare who can fly. He grabs her by the tail and goes on an adventure. Before disappearing forever, she rewards him with a pair of gorgeous stallions and a goofy-looking talking horse with two humps and giant ears.
The next morning, Ivan’s brothers find the stallions and steal them, but the weird little horse (the titular Double-Hump), tells Ivan what happened. Ivan catches up to his brothers on the road to the city. When he spots a firebird, he picks up one of its feathers, even though Double-Hump warns that it will lead to trouble. Ivan sells the stallions to the tsar for far less than they’re worth, and winds up with a job in the tsar’s stables because the stallions won’t let anyone else touch them.
Soviet stamp (1988) based on the 1975 animated film

Being an unreasonable sort of person, once the tsar learns about Ivan’s firebird feather, he gives Ivan a few days to find him a firebird...or else. After saying, “I told you so,” Double-Hump explains exactly how to do it. One firebird later, the tsar now sends Ivan to kidnap the Heavenly Princess (the daughter of the moon) or else be skinned alive. Double-Hump also explains how to do this too, and luckily, the one thing Ivan is good at is following directions (well, except for that one time with the feather).

One kidnapped demigod later, the tsar wants to marry the princess. The princess wants to put him through a test involving a cauldron of boiling water, a cauldron of boiling milk, and a cauldron of freezing water. The tsar is scared to do this himself, and makes Ivan do it first. Fortunately, Double-Hump helps out and Ivan springs out of the boiling cauldron looking gorgeous and with perfect hair. Seeing this, the tsar leaps into the cauldrons and promptly gets boiled to death. Ivan marries the princess and they inherit the tsar’s kingdom for some reason. I’m pretty sure Double-Hump makes all the decisions for that kingdom now.

This book is a slim little thing and no two illustrations share the same style. Each piece of art is by a different Russian artist, all originally printed on postcards. You might think the lack of continuity between the styles would be jarring, but I found it fascinating. It really reflects the evolution of a fairy tale’s shape that happen over the years. Think about Little Red Riding Hood. Sometimes everybody dies, but other times everybody lives except the wolf. It’s really neat to see so many different interpretations of the characters in this story. No matter what the illustration, though, Double-Hump is the most adorable creature you’ve ever seen.

This is definitely a book that bridges the gap between children and adults. With all the pictures and a relatively short length, it could easily be read aloud to the youngest set. Adult fans of folklore will appreciate the touch of the venerable fairy tale scholar Jack Zipes.

I personally adored the character of Double-Hump. Ivan is a sweet fool, but he would be dead by the end of part one without Double-Hump. Every idiot hero in a fairy tale needs a wise advisor to guide them. It’s even better when the advice-giver is an adorable talking animal. I would give this horse so many sugar lumps (or whatever his favorite treat is) and then ask him for relationship advice.

For more information, visit the book's page on the University of Minnesota Press' website HERE

NOTE: A complimentary copy of this book was provided to the reviewer in exchange for a fair and honest review.