Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Puppet Film: 'Vasilisa' - Complete with Spooky Doll & Lots of Bones

Frequent readers know we're happy to chat Baba Yaga stories any day of the year, but we don't think we've yet shared this spooky little amateur puppet film, by Justine Hanchar, which tells the story of Vasilisa the Fair, almost in entirety, and it's perfect for the 'Halloween' season.

It's a little dark on the lighting side of things, and an older film so expect it to be a little murky in places and somewhat grainy but it adds to the spookiness if you're watching it as a story.

Puppet films tend to be endearing but, to give you a heads-up, we got Little Otik vibes from Vasilisa's doll, which, interestingly, made that little magical creature a perfect match to foil the cannibalistic tendencies of Baba Yaga.

While it's still a family-friendly little film, it's definitely spooky and you may wish to preview it specifically for when Vasilisa gives her mother's doll food; the doll feeding is... unforgettable.

We especially like that the end of the tale includes the vengeance of the flaming skull on the step-family and Vasilisa burying the skull before it can cause more damage!

Note: The horsemen, who are three of the many servants of Baba Yaga, appear in this film in the wrong order. After walking all night the first horseman Vailisa sees in the story is the white, not the red. The white horseman signifies the liminal pre-dawn ("My Bright Dawn"), the red represents day or sunrise or midday* ("My Red Sun") and the black, the descent of night ("My Dark Midnight"). The fact that there are two horsemen that ride so closely together is interesting. The grey between night and daybreak (the twilight before daytime) is important enough a time to have its own servant/horseman.

Enjoy! (And Happy Halloweek!)
One word of caution: we did attempt to find out more about the creator and animator but she appears to have only made this one film, and there are suspicious links and weird dead-ends in searching for further information. It's a pity. A lot of thought and effort went into making this film and we'd love to see more work using fairy and folktales by her (and her family, who appeared to have jumped in to help her in many aspects, according to the credits).

* Depending on which source you use.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Graphic Novel: Metaphrog's Feminist "Bluebeard" Coming May 2020

Publisher Papercut, has just acquired a new fairy tale graphic novel and it's one to watch for fairy tale and folktale folks.

The Eisner award-nominated graphic novel creators of The Little Mermaid (winner of The Excelsior Award Junior 2018) and The Red Shoes, Metaphrog, are already getting high-level kudos from The Walking Dead artist Charlie Adlard, and others well-known in the field, making it quite an anticipated addition to the world of graphic novels. (Images below are linked to their page on Amazon - each has an extensive preview available.)
Metaphrog, who have as the tag-line on their website 'The Dark Side of Fairy Tales: More Than Just Graphic Novels' are no strangers to adapting fairy tales for modern readers.
John Chalmers & Sandra Marrs of Metaphrog
We loved fairy tales as children and we still love them now. We especially love them dark. Fairy tales bring the magic back into our lives, they tell us about ourselves and about others, about human nature, and link us to our ancestors: fairy tales have been told and retold for generations. Lotte Reiniger, the silhouette animation pioneer and creator of The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926) said: ” I believe in the truth of fairy-tales more than I believe in the truth in the newspaper.” Here we reimagine our favourite tales as graphic novels and hope to have created an immersive, lasting reading experience. (Sandra Marrs and John Chalmers aka Metaphrog)
Metaphrog, which consists of artist Sandra Marrs and writer John Chalmers, commented “’Bluebeard’ is one of the darkest fairy tales and resonated with us when we were children because of this darkness. It felt necessary to create a feminist retelling and so we developed our heroine’s backstory to highlight her struggles in the patriarchy. We hope the result is a compelling, suspenseful read. ‘Bluebeard’ is seldom seen in children’s books nowadays and has never been adapted into a graphic novel, and we wanted our version to appeal to adults and children alike.” (Multiversity Comics)
If the tale of Bluebeard fascinates you too, check out Metphrog's Tumblr account HERE which has a lot of Bluebeard artwork from different sources, movie clips, book covers and more. (And, yes, you can expect to see a little Beauty and the Beast in there too, since BatB is considered the flip side of the Bluebeard coin.)

Little Mermaid Wave by Metaphrog
Near the end of 2017 both members of Metaphrog were interviewed by Threadless, as they had just created a line of merchandise for the first time through the company, using their artwork. The interviewer, Carlyn Hill, asked specifically about Metaphrog's views on fairy tales and we thought we share that here. Here's an excerpt of the interview with Sandra ('S) and John ('J') of Metaphrog:
What inspires you most about finding the dark side of fairy tales? What are some of your favorite stories to put a darker twist on? 
S: Fairy tales and folk tales often have a dark side, and that darkness holds a lasting power and helps get the core message of the story across. The darkness and light of such stories are held in balance. 
J: For example, in The Red Shoes, although the story is dark and treats themes of obsession, possession, and hope, it still has a lightness and a strangeness. The reader is encouraged to suspend disbelief. 
What do you think the importance of fairy tales – both light and dark – is for all of us as story lovers and as human beings? 
J: Fairy tales and folk tales tell us what it is to be human. They tell us about ourselves and about others. Their messages are so powerful that they speak to us still, even after centuries. Sometimes there is more truth in a story than there is in the news.
Photographer unknown
S: Human beings need stories. Not only as something to provide escapism but also to allow us to learn and grow, to sympathise and empathise. Some stories carry powerful warnings while others provide hope or allow us to suspend disbelief and dream. 
J: Both of us felt the thrill of reading as children and fairy tales, in particular, made the hairs on our necks stand on end.
Official synopsis of Bluebeard: A Feminist Fairy Tale:
“Award-winning duo Metaphrog transform the classic folktale into a feminist fairy tale, about the blossoming of a young child to womanhood striving for independence. Eve spends an idyllic childhood of long summer days with her sweetheart Tom, and together they dream of exploring the world. But that dream is soon shattered as she comes of age. The mysterious Bluebeard is looking for a new bride and has his sights set on Eve, and rumour has it that his former wives have all disappeared. What will Eve find in the castle beyond the enchanted forest? A forbidden chamber, a golden key and the most terrifying secret, take on a new life in this gothic graphic novel.”
Bluebeard: A Feminist Fairy Tale will be available through all major booksellers on May 2020 in both the UK and the US. You can pre-order through Amazon (US) HERE right now.

Note: The Red Shoes and Other Tales includes another Andersen story, "The Little Match Girl", and an original story, "The Glass Case". ("... about a boy who runs away to be with a living doll in a museum—and then turns into one." Description from School Library Journal)

NB: Amazon links are for your convenience. We do not receive any commission from them and are not currently an affiliate.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Fairy Tale Funnies With a Side Of "Eek!" for Halloween

Halloween is less than a week away and we can't help think about the dark side of fairy tales as they reflect us today, but it's easy to deal with fairy tales re-framed as horror. It's when we reframe them to laugh at them wryly we realize they are hit a little close to home and that makes for it's own sort of scary. There's a lot that could be said about fairy tale humor that takes a turn for the "eek". Many of these, while immediately funny, tend to leave you feeling slightly uncomfortable with the drop or more of truth they contain. Perfect for Halloween when we're facing our fears. We could write about how humor helps us deal with fear and process difficult situations but there are specialists who would do a much better job than we could. Folklorists would also have a lot to say about each of these panels if you find one handy to ask, so if they get your brain working, you know you're in good company, but rather than bore you with theory we'll just leave these single-panel comics for you to chuckle over, and perhaps have some other thoughts as well... (*cue X-Files music*)
by Harry Bliss
by John Atkinson
by Ben Zaehriger
by Dan Piraro
by Dave Whamond
by Leigh Rubin
by Scott Hilburn
by Dan Piraro
by Nate Frakes
by John Deering
by Dan Piraro
by Maria Scrivan
by Mark Parisi
by Wayno & Piraro
by Dan Piraro
by Dave Coverly
by Wayno
by Mark Parisi
by Scott Hilburn
by Mark Parisi
by Mark Parisi
by Mike Peters
by John Deering
by Bill Abbott
Resources On Humor and Facing Fears:
  • Of Corpse: Death and Humor in Folkore and Popular Culture by Peter Narvaez 2003 (digital download available at link) Link to Amazon to purchase copy is HERE.
  • The Celebration of Death in Contemporary Culture by Dina Khapaeva 2017 (not just about humor but very helpful on contemporary views on Halloween, monsters, fear and death - links to Amazon
    •   "The Celebration of Death in Contemporary Culture investigates the emergence and meaning of the cult of death. Over the last three decades, Halloween has grown to rival Christmas in its popularity. Dark tourism has emerged as a rapidly expanding industry. “Corpse chic” and “skull style” have entered mainstream fashion, while elements of gothic, horror, torture porn, and slasher movies have streamed into more conventional genres. Monsters have become pop culture heroes: vampires, zombies, and serial killers now appeal broadly to audiences of all ages. This book breaks new ground by viewing these phenomena as aspects of a single movement and documenting its development in contemporary Western culture."

Saturday, October 26, 2019

The Mattress Tests Of Lords and Tinkers, Shrews and Peas

'The Princess And The Pea' by Louise Montillio
A passage from the ballad-folktale "Lord For A Day" caught our eye this week and, though it's not meant to be an important part of the text, it got us thinking about mattresses and peas; that is, tests of nobility or worthiness. Here is the passage, with a little context:
... the Khalif went in to the women of the palace, who came to him, and he said to them, "Whenas yonder sleeper awaketh tomorrow... say to him "Thou art the Khalif." ...
Then the rest of the women of the palace came all to him and lifted him into a sitting posture, when he found himself upon a couch, stuffed all with floss-silk and raised a cubit's height from the ground*. 
*That is, a mattress eighteen inches thick.
So in this tale, a man sitting on a pile of mattresses, or a very high mattress, is supposed to be 'proof' of royalty? (Even if, in this case, it's set up falsely.)

Where is the next step of proof with the 'pea'? Why is it girls in tales always have to provide the pudding whereas men just get to eat it?

In The Real Princess, the bedraggled girl is immediately assumed to be falsifying her identity, to be common, and must prove she is royal - at physical cost to herself. In Lord For A Day, the ruse is getting a beggar to believe he is rich, then not, then rich again by turns. He is released from this weird torment because he makes the nobleman laugh. Despite being the butt of the joke, he ends up wealthier than he ever was and becomes a part of the noble's household. In The Real Princess, she is "black and blue" before she is accepted to be the person she says, and actually, is - a princess. She is "tamed" before being able to resume her station and be eligible for a new one (royal bride). The man is "freed" before bring raised to his.

Taming of the Shrew by Willy Pogany
Interesting that the Lord For A Day tale/ballad is considered one of the folkloric sources for The Taming of the Shrew. All of the other folktales that this play of Shakespeare's is based on are difficult to read because they are so very cruel; actively, sometimes viciously, stripping a woman of all individuality, autonomy and agency (not dissimilar to what happened to the Real Princess, by some interpretations). Why Lord For A Day, came back around to be used as commentary on suppressing the rights of a potential wife, is worth considering all by itself. The contrast between a man and a woman being raised/accepted in their station, gives great pause for thought, especially as Shakespeare uses a good part of Lord for A Day at the opening of Shrew; a direct set-up for the plot to come.

It's also interesting that most readings of Katherine have her as "feisty" (a word which in essence means the weaker, underdog naturally fights against convention and against the odds), even bawdy, and Hans Andersen's tale of the rain-soaked princess can also be read as feisty and (very) bawdy too.

An interesting note on Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew:
Stephen Roy Miller argues that “Shakespeare was not adapting the folktale straightforwardly, but ironically” (1998, 14). He points to the changes that make Petruchio less of a violent ogre than the folktale husband, and concludes that “Shakespeare overwrites the ‘old testament’ of Type 901 with the ‘new testament’ of domestic relations,” a humanist emphasis on eschewing domestic physical abuse (Miller 1998, 14). Shakespeare alters the traditional shrew-taming tale, like and through Katherine (and Petruchio, who is constantly performing as tamer), by following it closely and overenthusiastically, caricaturing it. (Extract from paper by Charlotte Artese 2009, quoting Miller, The Taming of a Shrew: The 1594 Quarto, 1998)
Petruccios Hochzeit (Petruccio's Wedding) by Carl Gehrts
Given the connections between ShrewReal Princess and the folktale sources for Shrew, and the fact that Shakespeare is generally thought to be running social commentary on old and new relations between men and women by use of parody and exaggeration, it makes us wonder if Andersen was making (subconscious?) reference to this story group Shakespeare's play used in Taming of the Shrew, to do his own form of 'story taming'? Or, was he, in complete contrast, making his own caricature of these still entrenched conventions in society, having his own commentary safely hidden within a 'proper' tale of correctness and the required fragility of noblewomen?

We never made a connection between The Taming of the Shrew and the Princess and the Pea before. Now we cannot disconnect them.

Note: We are currently reading Shakespeare and the Folktale: An Anthology of Stories by Charlotte Artese. We hope to put up a review of the whole anthology soon, but at this moment we can tell you that this is a very interesting read so far and great food for thought. Obviously, Andersen's The Real Princess a.k.a. The Princess and the Pea, was written many years after Shakespeare's time and has no bearing on the Bard's writing. The speculation above came out of reading the book below (and a little further afield) and wondering if Shakespeare, in turn, had an influence on Andersen for the famous mattress tale. The two short extracts below sum up extremely well what we are enjoying about this book and why it's worth a read for people who love fairy tales and folklore - even if you're a little rusty on your Shakespeare.

From Charlotte Artese's Shakespeare and the Folktale: An Anthology Of Stories:
Folktales often served as common ground in Shakespeare’s theater. The playwright and some members of his audience would have read literary versions of a play’s folktale source, and those who could not read might have heard those tales told. In our own culture, when a movie or television show (or short story or novel) adapts a fairy tale, the creator knows the expectations the audience will bring, and the audience knows that the creator knows. The audience waits to see how this version of a well-known story will conform to tradition and how it will vary. Will Red Riding Hood fall in love with the wolf? Will the evil fairy repent and rescue Sleeping Beauty? When we learn the folktale traditions that Shakespeare adapts, we can join this interplay between playwright and audience. 
Belsey+ concludes that the resemblances between Shakespeare’s plays and folk narratives help to explain Shakespeare’s place at the center of the Western literary canon. By absorbing the narrative traditions on which Shakespeare drew, we may peer into the heart of what makes him great: a profound connection to his audiences through the centuries and around the world.
+Catherine Belsey (author of Why Shakespeare? 2007), quoted in Artese's introduction to the volume.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

TODAY: 'Koshka's Tales' Back In Print (James Mayhew Dubbed 'Fairy Godfather Of Art & Tales' For The Kids Of The World)

Yes, James Mayhew is indeed the Fairy Godfather of art, music and tales for kids everywhere! That's the only succinct description that fits his extensive work and influence, not to mention magic... but first, let's take a look at this classic and beloved book (well worn in our own library) that has been unavailable for twenty years. Until today.

Today his Koshka's Tales is back in beautiful, quality print and available to share with the next generation.

Looks lovely, right? But who, you ask, is this 'Koshka', who gets to tell their version of The Snow Maiden, Vasilisa the Fair, Sadko the Minstrel, and The Firebird?

Here's a hint:
Close-up from the cover of  UK 2000 edition
And here's the answer:
Koshka is simply the Russian word for 'cat'
(from the Author's Note in the 1993 edition)

Yes: These are "Cat's Tales"!
(Not, 'Koshka the Cat, by the way. That would be like saying these are "Cat the Cat's Tales"... heh.)

Here's a little extra info on Koshka, and why Mayhew chose her to tell the tales, from the Author's Note in the 2000 UK edition:
Publisher's description:
Meet Koshka, the extraordinary storytelling cat, as she spins a series of dazzling tales for a royal audience – accounts of the enchanting Snowmaiden, Sadko the minstrel and the Princess of the Sea, Prince Ivan, the Grey Wolf and the Firebird, and Baba-Yaga, the witch who lives in a hut with chicken legs. 
Graffeg is delighted to be republishing Koshka’s Tales, a wonderfully imaginative adaptation of five timeless stories from Russian folklorewritten and illustrated by James Mayhew. Featuring unforgettable tales of handsome princes, wizards and princesses, golden apples and magical realms, the collection was first published in 1993 by Kingfisher Books and has been out of print for over 20 years.
Here's a gorgeous book trailer which treats you to glimpses of the delight waiting inside the covers - but let us warn you: seeing the illustrations online is a very poor substitute for the real thing. As beautiful as the pics in this post and video are, when they're on a page in front of you, they take on an extra dimension. The illustrations seem to refuse to lie flat on the page, but instead, draw you into the story-world and take on a sort of life.
It's magic!
As a bonus, a special calendar is now also available. (Shipped from the UK.) This time, not only will you be able to enjoy a crisp and beautifully printed copy of Mayhew's illustrations but you'll be able to put them on your wall... Or perhaps carefully detach the pages and frame them, or put them together and make a storytelling frieze to evoke magic in your room. Your choice. ;)
James Mayhew is not only a talented artist and writer but he spreads joy and beauty every day on Twitter via his account @mrjamesmayhew, with a special #BookIllustrationOfTheDay, and seems to be friends with everyone who follows him. He's also one of the kindest and most encouraging people in the Twitterverse and makes the world a better place this way every day.

But, honestly, we don't know how he makes time to for this, because James (we feel like we can call him James here, since he encourages us to on Twitter!) is a very busy man! Ever since 2007 he has been organizing classical music concerts for children, with wonderful orchestras, and not only presenting them, but painting - live - during the concert, combining art, music and storytelling. It is phenomenal to see (and we've only been able to see brief video clips!). More information is available via his website HERE. But in the meantime, we'll share some pics we love of him working in his passion:
The 'About' page on James' website details the HUGE amount of work he is doing but a driving force for him is to function as an ambassador and mentor, of art, music and culture, especially for children. Here's a very small excerpt from his bio page which reflects one part of the officially recognized capacity of his very personal mission:
I’m very pleased to be an adviser to Action for Children's Arts - a charity that campaigns for children's right to access the arts. I’m also a patron of Magic Lantern an art education charity who bring high quality art workshops and presentations into schools all over the country. In 2017 I joined Tanita Tikaram as an ambassador for the humanitarian charity Side by Side with Refugees.
a.k.a. Fairy Godfather of Art & Tales For Kids Everywhere
This is a completely legit title. Fairies are just not great at printing out certificates, but still: Legit. (So mote it be!)
Wish you could see him in action? In order to celebrate the re-release of Koshka's Tales, James is having a super-amazing competition, which is open to all UK & Irish schools. The prize is:
"To enter, schools need to use the book to CREATE! Art, film, story... *anything*."

Gosh that's fabulous! Makes us wish we could have the US kid classes we know, enter too...
Details for the contest are HERE and the contest closes on Tuesday March 31, 2020, with the winner announced on social media (Twitter ad Facebook) Friday, April 24th 2020. Runner up classes will get Koshka themed swag. (There are going to be some very happy kids!)

For the rest of the world, who can join in online, James is also about to give a special #artychat: 'The Art of Painting to Music' (links below are clickable to take you to more information):
This event is going on our Newsroom calendar.

By the way, did we mention that this new hardcover book is now out?
TODAY: October 24th, 2019
You can purchase a copy HERE (UK, and they ship internationally too), today.

If you already have a copy in your personal library (like we have) then consider getting a new copy for a holiday gift. This lovely collection is magic in book form and easily shows why so many folks fall in love with Russian tales.

Extra special note for fairy tale folks, storytellers & folklorists: We are delighted to let you know Mayhew has included notes on his main sources for the stories (which include operatic libretti as well as books) under the 'acknowledgments' at the front of the book, and his Author's Note at the end includes some history, context and much more useful information if you'd like to dig a little deeper. How much more can this Fairy Godfather endear himself to us?!