Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Transformation of FLOTUS: A Dark Fairy Tale for the Season

In April of 2017, writer Kate Imbach wrote a reflection on Melania Trump, the then-new FLOTUS, as considered through the lens of Melania's personal photos, titled Fairytale Prisoner by Choice: The Photographic Eye of Melania Trump. The article was prompted by the odd issue that the new first lady was so very absent, compared to most other FLOTUS'  of the past.
Imbach wrote:
Why won’t the first lady show up for her job? Why? I became obsessed with this question and eventually looked to Melania’s Twitter history for answers. I noticed that in the three-year period between June 3, 2012 and June 11, 2015 she tweeted 470 photos which she appeared to have taken herself. I examined these photographs as though they were a body of work. 
Everyone has an eye, whether or not we see ourselves as photographers. What we choose to photograph and how we frame subjects always reveals a little about how we perceive the world. For someone like Melania, media-trained, controlled and cloistered, her collection of Twitter photography provides an otherwise unavailable view into the reality of her existence. Nowhere else — certainly not in interviews or public appearances — is her guard so far down. 
What is that reality? She is Rapunzel with no prince and no hair, locked in a tower of her own volition, and delighted with the predictability and repetition of her own captivity.
Written during the time when Melania declined moving to the White House and opted to stay in Trump Tower, it's an interesting assessment, and although sympathy from readers varies, the consensus seems to be that loneliness is, indeed an ongoing factor in this woman's life. The photos from high up - an actual tower - with the same landscape and differing only in weather and time of day, do give the viewer pause.

Just as interesting is the interpretation of Melania's photos of the interior of Trump Tower:

 We can all picture the gilded monstrosity of the Trump home from publicity photos (chandeliers, sad boy astride a stuffed lion, golden pillars), but it is a different place through Melania’s eyes. She takes photographs inside her house at weird, skewed angles. It is a strange effect when the half-obscured objects, chairs and ceilings, are all so golden. It looks like what a terrified little girl held captive in a ogre’s fairytale castle might see when she dares to sneak a peek through her fingers. (source: Kate Imbach)

If you haven't seen this essay finding the parallels between Rapunzel and Melania, pre and post FLOTUS status, it's worth a read. While the writer is clearly critical of Melania's 'fitness' to be a first lady, its' nevertheless a very different look at Melania Trump as a person. You can find the whole article, with Melania's photos throughout, HERE.


Melania is now at the White House and chose to take an active - and apparently personal - role in decorating her new(ish) home, for the season. It's safe to say the public reaction to photos has been, less than warm...

A tweet from Donald Haase:

My retweet & comment:

And back to the growing list of folklore and fairy tale references mentioned (note: I have screen-captured the tweets referred to and inserted them after my tweets so readers can easily see what's being referred to, but the links in the embedded tweets also send you to the original tweet for the sources):



Note how the feet appear in the photo - enlarged below (it's obviously a lighting issue but it's still an interesting connection):

This comment (screen-capped below) expanded the supernatural narrative. Meant to entertain, it's also an interesting place to go:

A reply to one of the earlier tweets, pointing out the use of folklore:

And the tweet that prompted me to put it all in one place:

As an interesting callback to the original article about Melania in her tower, I thought I'd finish with the final sentence by Imbach, which has more resonance than ever:
 She’s living inside a dark fairytale, and in fairytales the women trapped in towers never save anyone but themselves.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

"House of Mystery" - Review by Carina Bissett

(A collection of fairy tale poems)

by Courtney Bates-Hardy

Review by Carina Bissett
Jacket description: 
House of Mystery is a beautifully dark and vivid collection of poems that tears down our familiar ideas about fairy tales. These are not poems about privileged princesses who live happily ever after; these are poems about monsters, mothers, witches and mermaids. They explore the pain of change and womanhood, and transform the way we think about fairy tales.
Fairy tales are full of ivory towers, woodland huts, and stately castles. Behind the doors, you’ll find mothers and witches and monsters. Some doors lead to sorrow, others to safety. Poet Courtney Bates-Hardy explores the world through the eyes of mermaids and princesses, witches and wolves in her debut poetry collection House of Mystery.
The collection opens with a trip under the sea... Undines haunt the shallows and sirens beckon, but at the same time, these water women subvert their stories. They slip their bonds, revise expectations. When these mermaids smile, they expose sharp teeth. Modern issues of silenced women are hinted at throughout, but never directly addressed.
In the second section "Hating Cinderella", the poet continues the fairy tale theme yet continues to give her characters even more agency Whereas the sirens and mermaids stay confined to the role of victims, the fairy tale heroines in the second section reshape traditional roles. Defiance and power are no longer hinted at but take physical form. These women literally slip their captors’ knots, wear glass ceilings on their feet, and birth their monsters with savage glee. Bates-Hardy reminds her readers that the only Happily Ever Afters out there are the ones we choose for ourselves.
In the titular final chapter of House of Mystery, Bates-Hardy finally hits her stride by crossing into the modern world. Titles such as “Office Girl” and “Dishes” reveal the mundane amidst the magical. However, when the fairy tale tropes are revisited, they are done so without the familiar sugar coating found in the sanitized tales. In “Donkeyskin” the narrator is trapped in a feminine role despite her tomboy nature. Her dresses smother and her shoes pinch. Only at night is she able to strip down to the raw core of who she really is. In the original fairy tale, the disguised princess has to hide her royalty beneath the donkey skin, only allowing herself to embrace her beauty in isolation. In Bates-Hardy’s version, the narrator struggles against the concepts of conventional femininity, only feeling that she can embrace her wild nature at night.
In the end, "Sirens" sets a tone that isn’t carried throughout the rest of the chapbook.  After moving through the entire collection, it becomes apparent that this selection of nine poems was previously published separately, a stand-alone chapbook titled Sea Foam. While the moody, melancholy tone of this section stands on its own, it doesn’t mesh with the other poems.

Overall, Bates-Hardy is at her best when revealing fairy tale themes in a modern-day setting. The accessible language and contemporary characters make this poetry relatable to everyone struggling for individuality in a cookie cutter world.  
This review was written voluntarily, without any compensation or affiliation with any of the authors or editors for business purposes. A review copy was provided without obligation.
Carina Bissett is the Social Media Manager of Timeless Tales Magazine, an official partner of Once Upon A Blog. Her website is

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Cinderella: Stop Blaming the Victim - A Timely Interpretation of Disney's 1950's 'Cinderella'

A thought-provoking video was posted this morning on YouTube and we felt it so important, we decided to do a full post, rather than just retweeting. (Video is embedded below.)

This interesting  - and wonderful - analysis of the iconic 1950's Cinderella, couldn't have come at a more opportune time. And it might just make you pull out the movie for a re-run too, because, yes, it's that empowering.

By the way - important to note here, is that it mentions that even the Disney Company itself, now considers the Cinderella animated movie as passive, and not the best role-model for girls, with the title character relying on others to be rescued.
Yet, from the video:
But the criticisms (of the film) usually focus on our culture's shared interpretation of Cinderella, not what the character actually says and does in the film.
And yes, ironically, that conversation has been largely influenced by Disney's own marketing!
Critics of the movie probably feel they're espousing girl power by attacking the damaging idea that a happy ending equals a handsome prince. But counterintuitively, the tendency to dismiss Cinderella might actually be a little sexist. 
Perhaps there was more thought - possibly even respect - put into the movie than anyone has realized. From this video analysis, it would suggest so, or at least that the fairy tale source variants it drew on had enough substance there to subliminally affect - for the better - how Cinderella was portrayed (credit was given to Perrault as the source, but other variants were looked at during research in early stages of development as well).
KenAnderson - development for Disney's Cinderella (1950)

For the 'timely' context - and why this conversation is important to have right now - (since this post will quickly go to the archive and found later, when the world is, hopefully, different), we are in the midst of a deluge of accusations against many figures in positions of power, citing sexual misconduct, abuse and rape. These allegations are being made by people in the wake of the Weinstein accusations, who have finally felt able to come forward and be heard (though for many this is not the first time they are telling their stories). 

As the backlash continues, with people scoffing at the stories, even sometimes attacking those abused, we feel it's important to keep explaining, that reporting abuse, standing up to abuse, is very, very difficult. It's not overstating it to say "silence has equaled survival" for many, many people, on many levels, including physical safety. No one owes anyone their stories - or the details, or names. #metoo It is the first time, the pervasiveness of this abuse is clear and the victims are not being dismissed. So many are coming forward now, precisely because there is safety in numbers, but never underestimate just how hard that is to do. It changes everything and affects not only the individuals but their families too.

Fairy tales are full of women who have been abused and people are drawn to different tales, not only because they sometimes see themselves in those characters, but also because they find hope in those stories too. The recent Disney/Branagh live-action action Cinderella, though not perfect, took care to more clearly show feminine strength at work in an abusive situation, making people take a second look at the Cinderella fairy tale, as well as the classic animated film it was based on, and garnering an appreciation for it that has been largely lacking for the past few generations.

This awesome video analysis that highlights the strength of that 1950's Cinderella, is wonderful to watch - clear, beautiful and explaining the points with clips. It's a little longer than your usual internet clips, at 13-ish minutes, but highly recommended (you won't be bored).
There are two specific sections for which we have taken the time to transcribe the narrative so that the observations/ interpretation won't be lost, should the video link ever not work.

The first excerpt, analysing the Fairy Godmother appearing, is new to us with regard to the Disney Cinderella movies (both of them), though in some of the Cinderella variants from around the world, this manifestation of the Fairy Godmother as Cinderella's 'wish', that is, a maternal figure of help and guidance, is more clear. Although we don't believe this was the intent of the filmmakers to show this (based on our longtime research, though, to be clear, we are not experts on the making of this film) it makes a wonderful sense and feels like one of those wonderful subconscious ideas that were included. Perrault, who was the writer to first include the fairy godmother, does not appear to have added the magical figure for this intention, but we are rather tickled that, using this interpretation, Disney's version is the one that links this idea back to many other versions of Cinderella.
We also love that this is another example of amplifying the potential of things - that transformation (of things and people) is possible because of what already existed.
Cinderella's inner strength and tireless imagination manifest physically as the Fairy Godmother. It's when she believes she's hit rock bottom that her Fairy Godmother materializes, and the reprise of "A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes" tells us that she is the embodiment of Cinderella's dreaming or her heart's wish. When she needs it most, Cinderella has willed a loving maternal figure into existence. Since she has no real family, the fairy represents her determination to mother herself. 
The Fairy Godmother's magic work through imagination, creativity, and resourcefulness -- all qualities that Cinderella relies on for her survival, as that represent her true powers. Each magical transformation finds hidden potential in what Cinderella already has. A pumpkin becomes the carriage, the mice become horses, and Cinderella's horse, who assumes he'll pull the carriage, becomes the coachman. 
Gus's transformation especially symbolizes how imagination can help us overcome our oppressors. When he's transformed into a horse, he's finally able to escape Lucifer's clutches.

This second transcription, looking at Bruno, the dog, being paralleled with Cinderella isn't a new thought, so much as it possibly the most succinct example we've ever heard of a victim juggling the ever-present issues of needing to sometimes to be passive for the purpose of survival, versus taking action.
Cinderella demonstrates that real kindness is active, not passive. Rescuing her friends in this oppressive household is brave and heroic... When Gus gets stuck in a mousetrap, we see that Cinderella is quick to help those who can't help themselves. And she's spirited -- she doesn't hesitate to tease her friends -- or stand up for herself in her interactions with Lucifer. These interactions are important to show us that Cinderella's not a pushover. She knows when she's being treated unfairly, and, when she can object, she does. But there's a distinction between this and someone who represents a truly grave threat to her safety. When Cinderella tells Bruno to stop dreaming of chasing Lucifer, it's because disobeying Lady Tremaine's orders could result in losing his home. She knows that Bruno's situation could become parallel to her own, and she's been forced to value practicality over justice in order to survive. Near the end we see a return to this parallel between Cinderella and Bruno. At this critical moment, Cinderella decides that Bruno should disobey orders, despite the dangers, because they have a real opportunity to escape.
To be able to recognize that moment, and then act, is strong indeed.
Artist unknown - created for Disney's Cinderella (1950)

Note: (Emphasis in bold on transcripts added by us.)

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Closing In On 10 Years of 'Once Upon A Blog: Fairy Tale News' & Looking To The Future

Would you believe we're closing on TEN years of Once Upon A Blog reporting fairy tale news? (Spring 2018 will be the double digit anniversary!)

As Creator and Editor of this now-gigantic, ongoing project, I feel it's about time to reassess what it is I'm doing with the blog, and how, which is what the last couple of months of quiet have been all about - making a fresh plan.

Don't worry: I'm not about to abandon my lifelong obsession love of fairy tales!
Since social media has come to dominate the scene in the past decade, however, most people are getting their news through Twitter, Facebook etc and it's pretty much impossible for a single blog to compete with that. I have also finally acknowledged that the job I created Once Upon A Blog for - to keep track of fairy tale use, news and events in our modern world - isn't needed quite so much anymore.

With so many awesome resources all over social media (and the rest of the internet) for fairy tale folk, I need to acknowledge - and be thankful - that so many others are alerting us all to what's happening. So it's time to focus the blog more on the fairy tale news, issues, books and events that truly grab my interest, instead of trying to (primarily) report news I feel the fairy tale community should know. For day to day fairy tale news and events I will focus on using social media, amping my use of Twitter (which has been fairy tale focused even longer than I've been blogging here).
(And yes, I will still be happy to promote/review books and events, both on Twitter and here in long form, as I can manage.)

I also recommend other regular stops so you can get your daily fairy tale fill. [In no particular order.]

Linking you to fairy tale goodness daily:

  • Fairy Tale News (InkGypsy) on Twitter - so it's in the linky-list, yes, that's the OUABlog Twitter. I've been on Twitter a long time and my account is largely fairy tale focused, though you will see folklore, storytelling, D&D and the occasional personal post on there too. I tweet and retweet fairy tale links I want to highlight almost every day, along with folklore things and mythic and/or beautiful art
  • Timeless Tales Magazine's Facebook - our ongoing partner, Tahlia Merrill and her social media wrangler, Carina Bisset, have been linking folks to fairy tale, folklore and mythic news, links and art multiple times a day (they are on Twitter too but FB is their focus), balancing articles with lovely art
  • Maria Tatar's Twitter - one of the most social-media-accessible fairy tale professors around is often one of the first to link to breaking fairy tale news
  • #FolkloreThursday - the hashtag on Twitter is more active than ever and growing in users all the time. While not strictly fairy tales, there's a lot of overlap and it's great for research, writing, inspiration or just bringing a bit of magic to your day. From, facts and article linking to questions and answers, it's so big that there are new #FolkloreThursday posts most days, though Thursday's use of the hashtag (wonderfully) fills pages
  • Dr. Grimm on Twitter - fairy tale tweets and retweets
  • Fairy Tale Papers on Twitter - university related fairy tale links and tweets - your FT study starting point on Twitter!
  • Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairy Tale & Fantasy - daily fairy tale and folklore tweets, retweets & news - a wonderfully accessible academic social media source as well

Daily folklore & mythic news, conferences, updates and inspiration, with fairy tales included:

Note: there are MANY other accounts worth following that tweet fairy tale, folklore, myth and all forms fo inspiration. These are just the most regular of the top folks.

There are many awesome sites publishing all the time and between them all, there's almost always something new to read every day. You can check the sidebar linked list to find them! 

Regular new fairy tale short stories (multiple times a year):

  • Enchanted Conversation: A Fairy Tale Magazine - Kate Wolford remains the best regular advocate and publisher for fairy tale writers on the internet. Her new assistant Amanda Bergloff is helping her do this better than ever.
  • Timeless Tales Magazine - Tahlia publishes new fairy tales and retellings, carefully selected, every second issue (with myths being the focus in between).

I'm still active on Pinterest and the Enchanted Gallery on Tumblr gets some attention every so often as well, so there's still plenty of fairy tale goodness coming at you from this corner of the web! Looking forward to connecting with even more fairy tale friends and seeing us all take our tales into the future together.

Note: All the lovely art is by Sara Kipin. The header and footer are from her tarot series and the images in the center are from the book The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic by Leigh Bardugo - a gorgeous and very different collection of fairy tale and folklore-based tales. The book has readers smitten and the tales have captured imaginations. Definitely one to check out!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Baba Yaga Ballet Introduces Our Favorite Witch To A New Generation

"Take a sweet girl, add a wicked stepmother, a misguided walk in the woods, an evil witch named Baba Yaga who travels in a flying cauldron, a cottage built on enormous chicken legs (what!?), crows on pointe shoes, dancing skeletons, adorable mushrooms and a battle scene."
There's no doubt Baba Yaga is making a comeback this year. Although she's been around in novels and niche gaming for many, many years, this year she's risen in stature by once again becoming a generally 'known' character for anyone interested in mythic or 'magical' stories, storytelling, rpgs (tabletop role playing games), as well as art and design. It's not a huge surprise to see theatrical productions springing up around her stories but it is a treat to see a ballet set around the tales.

In mid-October, during Halloween 'season', Neglia Ballet staged their family friendly production of Baba Yaga, based on the Russian fairy tales. Though there is no upcoming production planned as yet, we wanted to highlight a wonderful fairy tale theatrical event before it slipped through to the winter holiday season, so our fairy tale friends can be on the look out for opportunities to catch it in future.

Vasilissa is re-named Misha in this version, but she's still the brave heroine we love. While this ballet emphasizes the common threads between Vasilissa and Cinderella, the character of Baba Yaga (danced wonderfully in traditional character ballet style by Artistic Director & Choreographer Sergio Neglia), had enough bite to reflect the mutable fairy tale form of our favorite witch and still be accessible for families.
Neglia Ballet Artists’ own Sergio Neglia plays the part of the evil witch Baba Yaga and the cast is full of local youth talent including several students who attend Buffalo Public Schools.The music is by Mussorgsky, Glazunov, Grieg & Stravinsky. The beautiful and eerie backdrops are by David Butler and Mark DiVincenzo, imaginative set pieces by Michele Costa, colorful costumes by Donna Massimo and magical lighting affects by Dyan Burlingame. (Source)

Below are many more photos, including one of Sergio getting into character (which reminds me of seeing Cinderella from backstage as the ugly stepsisters get ready), and a newspaper clipping which gives a little insight into the production as well.

(For those interested in ballet reviews, you can read a review of the performance HERE: "Neglia’s “Baba Yaga” is a bewitching ballet".)

Fairy tale bonus of the day:
Since we're on the subject of ballet and Baba Yaga, here is a another version of Baba Yaga from the Hamburg Ballet, 'hamming it up' backstage in full costume. (Apparently used in La Sylphide here, which is not quite the version we know...). This little goofy video is all in good fun of course, but it's also an interesting commentary on hags, witches and Baba Yaga (and theater tales) in a different modern context. #thinkaboutit