Sunday, March 8, 2015

Maria Tatar Answered Questions on Schonwerth, Grimms & Fairy Tales at iO9 This Week (& it Was Awesome)

I'm sorry I didn't see this until about half an hour after the opportunity was over, and I didn't want to just add this to the round-up list, but yes: Maria Tatar was on the pop culture 'n' more news site iO9, answering every question, no matter how strange, with tact, aplomb and a solid dose of good humor.

Here's the announcement from Thursday:
Maria Tatar is the translator of the newly discovered trove of fairytales, lost for over a century, but just recently uncovered. Ask her all your questions about The Turnip Princess, the history of fairytales and folklore, and anything else you want to know!Tatar will be joining us today from noon - 1:00 p.m. (Pacific time), so start asking her all your questions now about the history of fairytales, where these new fairytales fit in with the tradition, and what these stories mean to us today.
Although I don't really have too many questions on Schonwerth yet as I have yet to do more than skim the book, I'm sure I would have thought of something! But it's great to be there live as regular people are asking questions on fairy tales. That doesn't happen too often!

Here are a few exchanges that I thought you guys might find interesting:

Isabelle Arsenault
Ria Misra: Also, one of the things that stood out to me when reading The Turnip Princess was the darkness of many of the stories that were told. Obviously, the original Grimm brothers tales had their own dark elements as well, but those have been considerably softened through the years. Do you suspect that a similar softening process will eventually happen with these new fairytales, or are they more likely to retain their darker threads?Tatar: I've touched on some of the differences between Grimm and Schönwerth already, so I'll focus on the question of the "softening process." When the Grimms published their collection, they came under much critical fire for publishing stories that were "crude" and "vulgar." One reviewer was outraged by the story of Hans Dumm, who makes women pregnant by looking at them. The Grimms quickly dropped that story from their collection in part because they found that by making the volume more appealing to parents, they sold more books. Schönwerth never refashioned his stories, and he gives us a story in which a fellow eats dumplings and then makes a mess outdoors. Then there is the king's bodyguard, who gets the king's daughter pregnant. I imagine that these stories will expand the folkloric canon, and in some cases they will be watered down, in other cases intensified and made even more explosive. Neil Gaiman once said that a fairy tale is like a "loaded gun"—and that's why I use the term "explosive." You can always blow up a fairy tale, blow it up in both senses of the term. 
Sketchnotes for "The Great Cauldron of Story" with Maria Tatar by On Being
The Homework Ogre: In terms of original fairy tales, the one thing that everybody seems to know is that they were once much more violent — wicked stepmother dances to death in red-hot iron shoes, kids waste away and die together under a tree, stepsisters mutilate themselves to fit the slipper, etc. etc. — and have since been "sanitized" for the consumption of kids. I'm sure the stories in this collection are no less grim (har har); how do you feel about the bowlderization of folk tales?Tatar: I'm completely irreverent when it comes to fairy tales. There's nothing sacred about these stories. No one really owns them, and we should be able make them our own in mash-ups, remixes, and adaptations. It's important to preserve the historical record, and that's why I am so deeply invested in the work of the Grimms, Charles Perrault, and Schönwerth. But why should we read stories from the early nineteenth-century to our children today? Especially when women dance to death in red-hot iron shoes? Or a stepmother decapitates her stepson in "The Juniper Tree"? There's no reason not to create our own zany versions, and, if you look at picture books about Little Red Riding Hood, you see that we do that all the time. We are constantly recycling "Cinderella," "Snow White," and "Sleeping Beauty" for adults—in ways obvious and not so obvious. I don't necessarily like every new version, but I do love to talk about it. What did the writer or filmmaker get right? Where did they go wrong? 
Silver Marmoset: In a class I'm currently taking on fairy tales, we've discussed where the Grimms' fairy tales came from geographically (apparently Italy). But have you any idea where the fairy tale motifs themselves came from? As in, what ideas or time periods gave rise to the idea of ogres, talking animals, and magic as story fodder?Thank you!Tatar: Great question, and I'd start with Vladimir Nabokov who tells us that fiction began on the day when a boy came home crying "Wolf Wolf" and there was no wolf. I love the idea of fairy tales as lies—true lies that exaggerate and bend reality in ways that enable us to flex our intellectual muscles and "think more." Where did these stories come from? I don't have much faith in the view put forth that the tales had literary origins in Italy. In fact, the Schönwerth collection has few literary fingerprints on it at all. His stories are not urban and urbane confections, but narratives rooted in popular culture—with all the rough edges, surreal qualities, and lack of closure you might expect from oral storytelling traditions. The more I study folklore, the more I realize that the tropes (lost slipper, cannibalistic ogre, predatory wolf) circulate globally. The stories are primal and take up cultural contradictions that are found everywhere—human vs. animal, predator vs. prey, bestiality vs. compassion, hostility and hospitality—and help us try to make sense of them. 
LucilleBallBuster: what do you think the modern equivalent of fairy tales are? do you think any of the stories current society creates have taken the place or fairytale? or do we still form these types of stories and pass them around?Tatar: Fairy tales have not gone away. They have just been re-mediated, and today we find them on screen, at the opera, on stage, in advertisements, even in paintings. Take Little Red Riding Hood: She's refashioned in films like Hanna, Hard CandyFreeway, and The Company of Wolves. We see her in a Chanel ad, in a Pepsi commercial (where she becomes the wolf—I think it's Kim Cattrall howling in the soundtrack), or in a Volvo ad (with a red-hooded car driving through the woods and a kid in the back seat). Then suddenly Vogue has a fairy-tale fashion shoot, and presto she reappears. Visual culture loves the girl in red, and Kiki Smith has an eye-popping series of Little Red Riding Hood images (one in the series famously appeared as a perverse wedding gift in Gilmore Girls—could not stop myself on that one).
As you can see, there's a lot to chew on here! (I had to stop myself from adding more.) You can read the whole Q&A HERE, though you might want to make yourself a very large cup of tea. Once you start, it's hard to stop reading.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this post:) Wish I could have sent in a question, but great to read anyway!