Wednesday, April 18, 2018

"The Prince and the Dressmaker" Graphic Novel Gets Optioned by Universal

If you're not aware of the graphic novel, The Prince and the Dressmaker, and are interested in how fairy tales are being told differently especially now that it's clear more diversity is needed in our collections and canon, you should check out this one by Jen Wang. Here's the description:
Paris, at the dawn of the modern age:Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride—or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia—the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion! 
Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances—one of only two people who know that sometimes this boy is a girl. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances live in Sebastian’s closet? Jen Wang weaves an exuberantly romantic tale of identity, young love, art, and family. A fairy tale for any age, The Prince and the Dressmaker will steal your heart.
And here's a brief preview of the pages, to give you an idea of how sweet it is.

Wang says the book is close to her heart as it's the first story she's written for her (younger) self:
“I wanted a story that explored questions about gender and self-identity in a way that was also really colorful and fun and positive. The personal themes are there, but also lots of dresses and princesses. The idea was to create my ideal Disney movie, and writing this has genuinely been one of the most fun, liberating, experiences I’ve had making comics. My awkward confused fourteen year-old self would’ve really connected with this book and I hope it does the same for other young readers." (Diversity In YA)
Even with the obvious issues of challenging gender norms, and family and societal expectations (for both the dressmaker and the prince), the book never gets preachy and doesn't words such as queer, gender-norms, LGBT, transvestite, etc, which is one of its most powerful storytelling features. Instead of talking at the reader and giving labels, it just tells the story of two good friends who have their own challenges and dreams, how neither of them fit what is expected of them, and what they choose to do about it. It's a tale in which everyone can see themselves, including people who don't identify with traditional gender identity and expectations - and that's freeing for everyone.

The graphic novel has been a big hit since it was released in February this year, and the lovely balance of storytelling, art and the feel-good story of friendship and reaching for one's dreams, has - as expected - caught the attention of Hollywood.

From Deadline:
Universal Pictures and Marc Platt have snapped up feature rights to The Prince and the Dressmaker, a graphic novel from Jen Wang which has crossover YA elements in it and in more ways than one. The story is a sweet one, it is about the friendship between a seamstress named Frances and a Prince named Sebastian, whose parents are looking for a bride for him. We were told this was a competitive bidding situation.  
...The book, which examines identity, love, family relationships and sexuality, was brought into the company by Marc Platt Productions’ Adam Siegel (Drive). Senior VP of production Kristin Lowe will oversee production on behalf of Universal Pictures.
Will it be animated? It seems there's a good possibility of that, but no development has yet begun for the feature. It's clear Wang would enjoy seeing an animated production so as to be close to "the Disney movie I always wanted", and it would delight the fans, of course. Then there's also the question of "will it be a musical?", which is a fair one with the "Disney-princess-movie-that-hasn't-happened-yet" being the "ideal". The story would indeed lend itself very well to being created as a musical, so we will follow this as it develops with interest.

As to how soon it will see the light of day - it won't be this year and probably not next, considering all that would need to happen, but because it was a "bidding war" situation, with more than a couple of parties (studios) interested, this has a very high chance of being put into production soon, and actually completed too.

Congratulations to Jen Wang and the beginning of some very different - mainstream - princess movies!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Sensitive Tales As A Metaphor For Living With Conditions and Illness

These beautiful illustrations, by artist, Diana Renjina, are not, as it might first appear, for - or from - a fairy tale, but they illustrate beautifully how unusual tales of sensitivity can bring a different perspective to living with illnesses, particularly those that manifest on the skin. As you can see from the text accompanying the images, the blooming flowers and sprouting greenery symbolize psoriasis, a common, non-contagious skin condition in which the skin gets "rosy" and sometimes scaly or flaky, and can be itchy and even painful. 

Tales that come most quickly to mind are those like The Princess and the Pea, in which the princess bruises easily but also those other tales that feature skin marks and other unusual symptoms when the main character is affected by the elements (from the lightest touch of a petal - perhaps allergies, to moonlight - which could substitute easily for conditions brought on by the environment like asthma). With The Most Sensitive Woman (from Italy) and The Three Delicate Wives of King Virtue-Banner (from India) it's not difficult to extrapolate different medical conditions that might be occurring here. Tales like Donkeyskin and Allerleirauh, in which the maiden hides herself under mud and more, show a physical response to being touched/affected by the world and their various environments. In these cases, the Donkeyskin tale types can illustrate how being abused can bring about conditions of illness, though we won't go into that in this post.

Tales of transformation, too, can bring a new perspective on living with visible diseases. From The Frog King, to Hans My Hedgehog to The Wild Swans, it's clear the transformation is not wanted, is painful and considered ugly, and, sadly, often less than human, so that these poor cursed or affected people have to prove themselves worthy or find a way (usually a difficult, extreme and long-term process) to be cured.
More recently, possibly due to technology such as digital animation and art, it's becoming more common to see fairy tale-type illustrations in which patterns, flowers, plants, frost and other beautiful natural manifestations sprout - literally - from the skin. There's no doubt these images call to mind fairy tales, even if they're not specific and familiar ones we've heard, and whether or not it's intentional, it seems instinctive to parallel the tragic beauty of a natural - yet unusual - physical manifestation of a condition with the (usually) melancholic hero or heroine it's happening too, such as could be described in these images in this post.

When we do not "feel good in our own skin" we cannot help but try to do something about it. Some try to deal with it by using salves, medicines, trying to find a cure. Others try to escape it all together and find ways to cover themselves; we put on costumes, (either by dressing differently than we otherwise would, or literally creating a costume which incorporates - or hides - the condition) or, essentially, a different skin. 

In fairy tales this can happen literally. There is an interesting looking book titled: Fairy Tales and the Social Unconscious: The Hidden Language written by Ravit Raufman, that discusses the idea of how we identify with our skin - and how we look. We have only skimmed it, so cannot speak to the whole work but it has very interesting things to say about the physical manifestations in fairy tales such as Donkeyskin indicating an unhealthy state - whether that's psychologically or (sometimes and) physically.

What we have to wonder is, if we could see some of these diseases as not needing to be 'cured' but more of an unusual condition that manifests under certain circumstances (like stress - which is a trigger for almost everything), would we be more understanding and accepting of people's conditions than we, as society, currently are right now?
Here's an illustration by a different artist, Lynore Avery, showing the youngest brother in The Wild Swans tale-types, having to live with his only partially 'healed' condition. Illustrated like this, with feathers overlapping like scales or unusual skin cells, it seems to underscore the physical issues of the problem and shows the remnants of the 'hidden' curse, but it also hints at a Magic, and, possibly, a potential we haven't yet considered. 

Accepting this about oneself if always easier when others close to you do, and this is where sensitive stories like these could be helpful. While using fairy tales to explore these ideas could be condemned as romanticizing a very real condition, we think it might also bring healing and new understanding, especially for those of us who live with and love their swan princes, just the way they are. Then we might be able to finally accept our own skin and live out our story, happy ending-possibilities and all.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Three Little Pigs? Or The Three Little "Pigsies" (aka Pixies)?

Henry Justice Ford - The Three Little Pigs: The Fox Carries Whitey Off To His Den - Green Fairy Book Andrew Lang 1892
Sometimes we come across the greatest fairy tale connections in the most unusual places. Looking up the folkloric connection for pixies, to create a more fleshed-out background for a Dungeons and Dragons playable character, we came across a great little video that exposed a curious idea. UK-based YouTuber "Arcane Forge" is an avid player and researcher, who loves comparing and combining folklore and real-world history with Dungeons and Dragons lore and (published canon) history. He casually mentioned an earlier spelling and pronunciation of "pixie" in connection with a well known story...

We're transcribing the relevant section for you below:
Pictured: a pixie. (Artist unknown)
(Also known as pixy, piskie, piksy, pexy, pigsey, or pigsnye.)
Pixie was originally just the Cornish term for a fairy. The exact etymology
is unclear. It's been connected to everything from Picts to Puck.

Anna Eliza Bray's 
A Peep at the Pixies (1854) uses the word for
all sorts of fairy beings of varying size and appearance:
will o' the wisps, fairy godmothers, brownie-style house elves,
and ghostly phantoms.

"The stories of pixies were often adapted after widespread Christianity, and Christian belief took hold of Britain, and these stories were written/adapted to fit Christan beliefs. It was said that pixies were the unbaptized children who had died, and rather than haunting people like ghosts, because they were children they still had childlike temperaments, and played pranks and tricks instead. Clothes were often burned and as a result they would often need to find natural things to cover themselves in the afterlife.  
A collection of Cornish folktales features
the lore of the mysterious and invisible
tiny spirits as based on stories that
have been handed down from generation to
But pixies even made it into some of the world's most enduring stories. in the Cornish dialect "pixie" used to be pronounced "pig-zxeez" (or "pizgzees") and spelled p-i-g-s-i-e-s* (or p-i-s-g-i-e-s). It's believed that the story, The Three Little Pigs actually featured "pigsies" rather than pigs. it was only after a dialect shift, and subsequent retellings of the story that resulted in the version that we now all know."
*You may see an in-between spelling used too: "piskies"

We had forgotten all about the pixie variant (or possibly ancestor) of The Three Little Pigs!

There is an English tale (specifically Dartmoor), very similar to The Three Little Pigs, which is known as The Fox and the Pixies. The notes on the linked page mention that "Katherine M. Briggs includes a version of this story in her A Dictionary of British Folk-Tales in the English Language, part A, vol. 2 (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970), pp. 528-30." (from D. L. Ashliman's folk textsIt's a pretty delightful read and uses one smart pixie's trickster antics wonderfully in the tale to outwit his nemesis. (Note: pixie is spelled "pixy" in the online text here.)

Then there is the version of The Three Little Pigs in Andrew Lang's Green Fairy Book, (which the illustration at the head of the post is from). The antagonist here is also a fox - a fox with a litter to feed. The pigs in this tale all have names: Browney (likely called such because he was covered in mud, was lazy, and dirty, and had a house made of mud), Whitey (a clever but greedy little she-pig [we would say 'sow' but that term is given to the mother who is in the first half of the story, worrying about her piglets], and she gets a house made out of cabbages) and the third is Blacky (who was black, good, nice and the ceverest of them all, and made a house of brick). Blacky not only outwits the fox but goes and rescues his terrified brother and sister from the fox's den at the end of the story too.

So we go from a Fox and Pixies, to a Fox and Pigs (Piggies?), to a Wolf and Pigs. What we really want now, though, is to read a revised, contemporary tale of the Three Little Pisgies that harks back to the tale's rumored roots...

You can listen to Arcane Forge's whole video on pixies HERE (and watch as he draws one too). His approach is so intriguing, we think we may just have to mine some of his other videos on 'monster lore' too, just in case there are more fairy tale connections hidden there too.
Henry Justice Ford - The Three Little Pigs - Green Fairy Book Andrew Lang 1892

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Animated Fairy Tales Get A Real World Edge At 'Animation Reimagined' (Modern Eden Gallery)

Mulan - Olga Esther
Curated by Michael Cuffe of Warholian, the 'Animation Reimagined' exhibition will bring together many animated classic icons - both past and modern-day - "fantastically recreated in new paintings and from new perspectives". While there are more than just fairy tale characters, we're focusing on those that are most closely linked to our favorite subject here. (We've included a list at the end of the post with all the other cartoon characters we've been able to discover - and identify - to date.)
Official poster, featuring a reimagining of Dumbo (artist unknown)
Cuffe has asked all artists to bring a bit of realism into their paintings and works. We will see these animated classics re-imagined in a way we’ve never seen before, from a unique artistic viewpoint.
It's always interesting to see what sort of spin artists will put on animated icons, especially fairy tales. These paintings and sculptures belong in the 'fine art' realm, though at a glance it may be easy to dismiss some of these as 'professional fan art'. They all, however, share the intent to bring some realism - and real-world consideration - to their interpretations of flat cartoons and animated characters. The idea is to take them beyond the realm of the "safe" screen and have them "intrude" on ours, creating a response in the viewer. From the selection we've been able to find scattered around social media corners, the achievement is quite impressive. We hope to see more/better quality images, once the show is opened to the public today (Saturday, April 14, 2018) and the Gallery puts the collection online.

In the meantime, enjoy! (We've included artist's titles, comments, and statements where they were available.)
Alice In Wonderland (2018) - Brianna Angelakis
"Frozen in Time" - Ania Tomicka
“The Young Goddess Artemis” - Richard J Oliver
I went to the source of what I believe inspired the character
of a well known Disney’s Animation. For a while I’ve been wanting to
make a painting based on DIANA (Roman Goddess)
or ARTEMIS (Greek Goddess) of Hunting and nature. After
some research the similarities between these
Goddess’ and the princess character Merida
were uncanny so I drew my inspiration from the mythical
daughter of Zeus.
Kiki's Delivery Service - Carly Janine Mazur
Ratatouille - Richard Ahnert
Pinocchio - Hanna Jaeun
"Bibbedi bobbidi boo" (Cinderella) - Anne Angelshaug
As a child I adored the story of Cinderella, but rewatching it
as an adult it conjured very different thoughts and feelings.
Thoughts of abuse, apathy and delusion....
sorry I took it to a dark place, but it just seemed right...
The Little Mermaid  - Meredith Marsone
"This (is a close-up of) a painting of The Little Mermaid just after
the point of her transformation, still underwater, but human now and
so in imminent danger in the place she used to call home."
Sleeping Beauty - Sheri DeBow 
“Guardian” - Lena Danya
The Little Mermaid Meets Marlin and Dory from Finding Nemo
Sometimes Ups Outnumber the Downs - Jessica Dalva
"My sculpture based on Disney’s Robin Hood."
"The Strands the Bind" - Stephanie Pui Mun Law (The Fox and the Hound) 

There are many more cartoon classics reimagined, of course, these are just the most fairy tale related of those revealed (whether in close-up or as finished pieces). Others include Mickey Mouse, Felix the Cat, Sponge Bob, The Aristocats, Jack and Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas, Lady and the Tramp, Frankenweenie, Pink Panther, Coco, Jessica Rabbit, Betty Boop, Toy Story, Gumby, Sailor Moon, Bambi, She-Ra and more.

The exhibition is free to the public and opens today, Saturday April 14, 2018, at The Modern Eden Gallery in San Francisco.

Exhibition Dates: April 14–May 4, 2018
Opening Reception: April 14, 2018  6 pm–9 pm

Featuring the artwork of Adam Hunter Caldwell, Alec Huxley, Amanda Banker, Amy Mastrine, Ania Tomicka, Anne Angelshaug, Aunia Kahn, Brianna Angelakis, Carly Janine Mazur, Catherine Moore, Chris Leib, Christina Ridgeway, Daniel J Valadez, David Natale, Glenn Arthur, Hanna Jaeun, Hikari Shimoda, Jacyln Alderete, Jessica Dalva, Joshua Coffy, Julie Filipenko, Kathrin Longhurst, Lee Harvey Roswell, Leegan Koo, Leilani Bustamante, Luke Allsbrook, Marcos LaFarga, Marie Larkin, Marjolein Caljouw, Mark Bryan, Meredith Marsone, Michael Cuffe, Nathalia Suellen, Nick Stathopoulos, Olga Esther, Rachael Bridge, Rachel Silva, Raúl Guerra, Rene Cuvos, Rich Pellegrino, Richard Ahnert, Richard J Oliver, Robert Bowen, Sarah McCloskey, Sheri DeBow, Simona Candini, Stephanie Law, Steve Javiel, Susannah Martin, Susanne Apgar, Sybiline , and Zelyss.

Friday, April 13, 2018

'Bao' - A New Pixar Short Reminding Us of Precious Little Tales

Press release:
Pixar's latest short, Bao is set to release alongside Incredibles 2 on June 15, 2018. The 8-minute short film (Pixar's longest to date) is written and directed by, Domee Shi, (Pixar's first Female-directed Short Film) and focuses on the ups and downs of the parent-child relationship through the colorful, rich, and tasty lens of the Chinese immigrant community in Canada. The official short film synopsis reads: 
An empty-nesting Chinese mom gets another chance at motherhood when one of her dumplings springs to life. But she must come to terms with the bittersweet revelation that nothing stays cute and small forever.
In seeing the short preview, we cannot help but be reminded of Momotaro Peach Boy and Thumbelina (especially with the "another chance at Motherhood line there), but also Tom Thumb and Kaguya-Hime! The idea of precious little children (as in teeny, thumb-sized, etc) having to grow up and all the difficulties that come with that (especially from the parent's point of view) seem to be echoed here. We're looking forward to the rest!

You can see the 30 second preview below:
In a recent EW interview, director Domee Shi noted, "Often times it felt like my mom would treat me like a precious little dumpling, wanting to make sure I was safe, that I didn’t go out late, all that stuff", Shi tells EW. "I just wanted to create this magical, modern-day fairy tale, kind of like a Chinese Gingerbread Man story. The word ‘bao’ actually means two things in Chinese: Said one way, it means steamed bun. Said another, it means something precious. A treasure.
Bao will premiere on April 21, 2018 at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Reflection: Whatever Happened To That Enchanted Ball of Yarn?

Leimomi Oakes - textile and fashion historian and seamstress,
in a Ramie (nettle linen) smock she created, based on the story
of the Wild Swans and historical research.
Note: Our Fairy Tale Newshound was doing some research last month and wandered down a rabbit hole, only to find newish information that put a well-loved tale in a different light. Here are her musings on The Six Swans, weaving shirts out of nettles and that enchanted ball of yarn we lose track of after the beginning of the tale. We thought you might enjoy the thread...

Whatever happened to that ball of enchanted yarn?
Was it made of nettle-fibers, spun fine as royal linen*?
Was its thread then woven to silence your brothers?
Was it the example left for unraveling the curses' sting?
Was it all of these?
(Gypsy Thornton - March 2018)
*Nettles have a fiber which, when extracted can make something like linen, only much finer, called Ramie. It was one of the main sources of plant fiber in Europe for most of history. Many garments thought to be linen are now being discovered as made from nettles! Raime is specifically made from stinging nettles – urtica dioica - though there are many kinds of non-stinging nettles too, which could be used. The pain from the stinging nettles is clearly important to the story though, so urtica dioica is the plant it likely was. Interestingly, people who work with these fibers seem to often refer to them as 'silk'.

Nadezhda Illarionova
In the Six Swans a king secretly hides his children, six boys and a girl, from his new queen, and can only find them by unraveling and following, an enchanted ball of yarn.

I got to thinking: what if that yarn-of-secrets was more key to the story than we've thought before? What if the yarn betrayed the hiding place one day to the jealous (aka evil) queen? What if that yarn was made of the finest quality at the time, which we now know would likely have been by using nettle fibers, and inspired a cascade of tragic events?

The witch-daughter-queen makes more balls of enchanted nettle-yarn, which not only is bound to the family so the King can find his children, but she then weaves it into fine, royal-linen-quality shirts? Shirts that look like priceless gifts but are also designed to be binding, transforming traps? Being so enchanted and family-bound, the shirts bind themselves to the actual forms of the princes as they put them on, cruelly changing them to become silent swans**. The unspoken family secret, once revealed, bites them in the back and becomes their compulsive silence.

But enchantment likes to work in circles...

It may be that those magicked, fine-threaded, nettle-yarn balls also held the key to the princess finding her brothers again and unbinding them from their curse**.

Of course it would make sense that to create the reverse of this spell it would have to be done in silence! And it makes sense that the princess would have (be given/gifted/discover!) a prototype of nettle-yarn on hand so she would know when she had beaten and refined the fibers of that spell enough for it to work.

So she would know when it was time to weave the shirts.

So she could be certain her spell would work.

So she would be reunited with her family, again.

But there's one more relevant bit of history for this story, and it's related to the bittersweet ending where the youngest prince is left with one swan's wing. It's one of the reasons this story pulls at our heartstrings so very much.

Apparently, there was a revival - of sorts - in creating ramie during the 1980's, that is, linen made from nettle fibers. The linen created was finer yet more durable than hemp and creased more precisely too. One of the concerns that reportedly came up was that nettle fibers were often so long and fine that they could become nearly invisible (!º) and could easily catch alight if they came close to an open flame.

In The Six Swans (and related tales) the Princess, (Elisa in The Wild Swans^), is hurriedly working on finishing the shirts on her way to be burned at the stake for witchcraft. (Full circle indeed!) We read the story as that the shirt for the youngest prince was unfinished and only had one sleeve, but perhaps it was less straightforward than that. Perhaps it was hurriedly done so the fibers weren't woven so well together as they ought to have been. Perhaps the sleeve hadn't reversed the curse weaving quite enough and perhaps the fibers, loosely woven on that final portion, hadn't yet been transformed themselves from the fine weavings of the not-easily-visible, to the weft of obviously a finished fabric form, and so that sleeve caught alight as it neared the flames.The undoing of the spell vanished in a puff of smoke, and the consequences of those loose threads remained forever.
Anna & Elena Balbusso

** Side note: in medicine of 'yore' and now, nettles are used to treat joint pain - something I imagine would be extremely prevalent in transformation! Nettles are also used to treat hay fever, bleeding, eczema and alopecia - all symptoms easily connected to transformation.

º Invisible thread?? That sounds like the inspiration for another tale. Or inspiration for the tricksters of another tale at least.
^And The Shape of Water! Consider this an Easter Egg. ;)

Sources used: 

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Theater: 'Mirrors' by Siobhan McMillan, Explores Social Media and Mental Health

Writer and actor Siobhan McMillan explores the effects of social media on mental health, through the fairy tale lens, in her one-woman show, Mirrors

In the same year that our actual mirrors became "smart mirrors" and can now comment on their owner's health and beauty (!), with more and more studies being published that confirm an adverse effect of regular social media use on our sense of self, this play seems right on point. 

When asked "why fairy tales" McMillan commented:
I’ve always loved the whole fairy-tale thing: the language and the characters and the fact you can say so much while within this magical world where almost anything can happen, and you can be a little dark too.But at the same time the fairy-tale conventions create a kind of distance. (Stage Review)
It's a distance people might truly need to absorb what's being said, as McMillan comments on this topic - and lifestyle - so very close to home for the average online consumer these days

While the Queen in Snow White is the obvious fairy tale parallel to focus on, that character isn't the only one she explores. But let's take a quick look at the press release and trailer before looking closer at the show.

Press release: 

Inept vlogger Shy Girl has been stood up. Again. Humiliated and a little intoxicated, she stares into her bedroom mirror and decides it is time to act.

Shy Girl conjures up Shivvers – a wicked witch, distant relative of Snow White’s stepmother and the most gorgeous person in the universe. When her mirror announces that her beauty has a rival, Shivvers embarks on a mission to track down and destroy whoever dares to be more gorgeous than she. 
Both a black comedy and a modern fairytale, Mirrors is a provocative and poetic exploration of narcissism and neurosis. Siobhan McMillan’s remarkable performance takes the audience on a fabulous flight of fancy in search of validation and vodka.
Here's the trailer:
You can see more "vlog clips" from Mirrors HERE.

Here are some insights on the show from the Chicago Critic's review:
(On being stood up for a date and taping the wait - as she stares into a mirror for her vlog - she breaks) ... her mirror for informing her she is no longer the most beautiful. No! No!! No!!! 
The resulting plunge into her imagination to find this new beauty coughs up a dazzling array of characters. All her alter egos are here, from the combination Wicked Witch Of The West/Baba Yaga/Cinderalla sister to the most beautiful (and hated) girl, object of her desire and envy (‘I must be a lesbian!…but I can’t be – there aren’t lesbians in fairy tales!*). 
... All this wit and playwrighting skill allows Miss McMillan, herself a beautiful and wondrously expressive actor, a myriad of emotions to share, without ever inviting pity or sympathy. One actually smiles through her painful and intimate moments, for there is magic in the air and a uniqueness in this fabulous performance.
Reviews seem to be very favorable for this one-woman show, which is great to hear, as a topic like this, complete with mirror-staring (and breaking) and watching one woman have somewhat disturbing musings on stage for 70+ minutes, could be difficult to take. But it would seem McMillan has found a good balance between honesty in emotion and subject and comedy/satire in dark moments.

Being unlikely to be able to see the show in person, our first thought on reading the review consensus is that it feels like it could be redone as a vlog series, and released online... Of course, it may be more difficult to watch that way, as it sits alongside its real inspirations.

Mirrors opens at the Leicester Square Theatre Lounge on April 11th (through the 14th), after acclaimed runs at the Rosemary Branch and King’s Head Theatres in North London.
‘Siobhan’s stage presence is infectious… her audience is embraced by her energy, enchanted by her command and captivated by her vitality and mischief.’ - Marc Limpach, Kassematten Theatre, Luxembourg 
'Evokes everything from Salome to Lorca, Ken Russell to Zelda… the scene in which Shivvers feasts on the eyes and toes of men was one of the most electric moments I have experienced at the theatre.’ - Facebook review
We don't know quite what to think of that last review comment either, but please let us know if you get to see the show! We'd love to hear some first-hand accounts from fairy tale folk in the audience.

*We're guessing the character in the play didn't do her research in this respect.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Worzel Gummidge, Our Favorite Talking Scarecrow, Is About To Get A New (Contemporary) Head

What is it about talking pumpkin heads and scarecrows? Why are we so fascinated with these characters? Though Jack Skellington was a talking Pumpkin King of a different kind, there have been talking farm constructs coming to life in tales well before Baum's Oz version and they continue to hold a fascination with kids - and adults! - today, and not just in the West. Children's tales are almost always a homegrown version, literally!, of a naive and/or mischievous clown (except for the Japanese versions, which we will mention further down in the post) but still retain their potential for darkness*.

If you have any UK children's television in your upbringing, you're probably familiar with a certain walking, talking scarecrow and his many adventures on Scatterbrook Farm. Thanks to a popular TV series created in the late 1970's, Worzel Gummidge, the comical scarecrow with interchangeable heads, (he has one for every important situation) and his true love/femme fatale Aunt Sally, a life-sized fairground doll, brought magic to farms (and backyards) everywhere.

Well that series, specifically the original children's books the TV series was adapted from, written in the 1930s by Barbara Euphan Todd, is about to get a reboot by the BBC - which means Worzle is about to get a new head: that of Mackenzie Crook.

A representative for Mackenzie Crook, spoke to stating he's working on:
"...a new contemporary adaptation of the original Worzel Gummidge books. It's in the very early stages of development, so scripts have not yet been written".
Mackenzie Crook (left) Jon Pertwee as Worzel Gummidge (right)
We have to wonder what "contemporary adaptation" means. Factory farms? Organic grower farms? Will it have an eco-friendly/save-the-planet angle to it? Or will it be Worzel Gummidge discovers social media and Starbucks... and AI..?! (Ah the possibilities for terrible, yet hilarious, things!)

We've included some pages from the 1971 annual which combines some of the adventures of Worzel Gummidge with illustrations from the books, which the delightful text giving insights to this wonderfully bizarre character. (You can read all the pages HERE.)
Though it's difficult to look at images from the original show and not be a little concerned about this odd-looking, vagrant-type, clown-character giving today's children nightmares, Jon Pertwee (yes, a.k.a. Doctor Who) played this mischievous character in such a way as it was impossible not to find him hilarious and sympathetic, even as he caused a lot of trouble for the two children of Scatterbrook Farm who knew him to be alive, and we hope that same trait will exist in any modern adaptation as well.
We are including this clip below specifically to show the opening titles as it's one of the better recordings/transfers currently available. Even watching only a few minutes further beyond the opening, it's easy to see why the knuckle-headed character was so beloved:
There is an interesting book available (published in 2016) that tells the story of the original TV series and goes behind the scenes. We haven't had a chance to look at much of it, but what we've seen is worth a second look. It can be found for purchase HERE.

Worzel Gummidge's 'creator' (in the story) was The Crowman, who created many living scarecrows and friends for Worzel, a few of which appeared in the show. He was a fascinating character too, worthy of a whole series just about his mysterious existence and job. Here's a clip from an episode in which he features. As a bonus you get to hear a little of '"scarecrow-ease", the language of scarecrows, which Pertwee pulled off flawlessly, delighting generations of kids and inspiring to create their own scarecrow-ease (annoying generations of parents everywhere):
We mentioned earlier that it wasn't just the West that is fascinated with agricultural man-like constructs. Japan in particular, has scarecrow festivals and shrines dedicated to them but they're a little different to the bumbling idiots causing trouble (or the nightmare-inducing creatures) we're familiar with. Japanese scarecrows are knowledgeable and wise:
In Japan... there’s even a shrine dedicated to the scarecrow. It’s called Kuehiko Shrine and it’s in Nara, near Osaka. 
In direct opposition to L. Frank Baum’s brainless creation, the scarecrow of Japanese folklore is meant to be very knowledgeable. Kuebiko is worshipped as the god of agriculture or scholarship and wisdom, kind of like the Western owl. Here (FTNH Ed. - at this Google Earth link) you can see where Japanese visitors have written their wishes on boards and hung them up outside the shrine dedicated to the scarecrow. 
In Japanese children’s books, scarecrows are kindly creatures**. Japan also imports books from overseas, and those tend to feature kind scarecrows, too. (Read more about scarecrows in children's stories here at SlapHappyLarry's site HERE)
Incidentally, in the Worzel Gummidge TV series, the actor who played The Crowman, Geoffrey Bayldon, also played another magical character, starring as the title character of Catweazle - another fabulous fantasy show that appeals to fairy tale folk, in which an accidental-time-traveling wizard comes from the 1300's (if memory serves) to the future (as in the 1960's) and not only has to come to terms with "elec-trickery" but is trying to figure out how to get back home. (Worse still his magic sometimes actually works...)

* We do not need to mention The Wicker Man, do we?
** Related to, and perhaps inspired by, the scarecrow, Japanese urban legend yokai has the kunekune. This is a long, slender white guy (or black in the city) who hangs around paddy fields. It's made out of fabric or paper, with the name being mimetic, describing how it twists about in the wind (like one of those windsock dancers used for advertising).  The kunekune has quite a dark side and can be paralleled with The Slender Man of the West. If you hold the gaze of a kunekune too long, you can go insane. You can read more about the kunekune urban legend HERE[Info adapted and expanded from SlapHappyLarry.]