Monday, October 24, 2016

Scary Fairy Tales: The Child Phantom

A Swedish tale, The Child Phantom


 "Many years ago there died on the estate of Sundshult, in the parish of Nafverstad, a child of illegitimate birth, which, because of this, was not christened and could not be accorded Christian burial, or a place in heaven, and whose spirit, therefore, was left to wander the earth, disturbing the rest and making night uncomfortable for the people of the neighborhood.

 "One time, just before Christmas, the parish shoemaker, on his rounds, was detained at the house of a patron, and, having much work before him, he was still sewing late into the night, when he was unexpectedly startled from his employment by a little child appearing before him, which said, "Why do you sit there? Move aside."
 "For what?" asked the shoemaker.
 "Because I wish to dance," said the specter.
 "Dance away, then!" said the shoemaker.

 "When the child had danced some time, it disappeared, but returned soon and said, "I will dance again, and I'll dance your light out for you."
 "No," said the shoemaker, "let the light alone. But who are you that you are here in this manner?"
 "I live under the lower stone of the steps to the porch."
"Who put you there?" asked the shoemaker.
 "Watch when it dawns, and you will see my mother coming, wearing a red cap. But help me out of this, and I'll never dance again."

 "This the shoemaker promised to do, and the specter vanished. The next day a servant girl from the neighboring estate came, who wore upon her head a red handkerchief. Digging was begun under the designated step, and in time the skeleton of a child was found, encased in a wooden tub. The body was that day taken to the churchyard, and the mother, who had destroyed her child, turned over to the authorities. Since then the child specter has danced no more."

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Scary Fairy Tales: Castle of Murder

This isn't a ghost story like the others in this series, but still spooky enough. I was already surprised to find that the Grimms had a Bluebeard story in their first edition of tales (besides Fitcher's Bride), one which I much prefer to the Perrault version anyway. In addition to their tale "Bluebeard" they have another version, "The Castle of Murder," which also was eliminated from later editions of their collection.

Other than having the more exciting title, "Castle of Murder" is more clumsily written. I'm not finding a translation of the text online (correct me if I'm wrong?). It's very similar to the classic Bluebeard plot: a daughter of a shoemaker is courted by a well-dressed nobleman and agrees to marry him (but no blue beard or strange feature to tip her off that something is wrong). As they go to his castle on their wedding night, he asks her if she's having any doubts. She claims she doesn't, although she is starting to feel uneasy.

The next day he had to go take care of some business so left her alone with all the keys-and didn't warn her against using any of them. She comes to the cellar to find an old woman scraping out intestines, and she tells the new bride that the next day, she will be scraping out her intestines. In her terror, the bride dropped her key into a basin of blood, which wouldn't come off, and therefore the master would know she had been in the forbidden cellar.

Although I like that, with the lack of a warning, the focus isn't on the bride's "transgressions" and there's really no way to blame her, it makes less sense that entering a non-forbidden cellar would lead to her death (not that serial killing is logical, but for the sake of the story, it's unsatisfying). Also, the narrator throws in the fact that her sisters had met their fate the same way, when we weren't even aware that her sisters were missing-or had married the same man!

Yet the old woman, for some reason, covers for this new bride, claiming she's already killed her, allowing the bride to escape and reveal the goings on of the Castle of Murder. Fortunately her story is believed even though she has no proof (usually in stories where she reveals her murderous husband's goings on, she has a finger or ring from another victim to back it up).

Illustrations- A. H. Watson (first two), John B. Gruelle

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Scary Fairy Tales: The Silver Saucer and the Transparent Apple

In an earlier post in this series, Ozfan95 mentioned this Russian tale in the comments, and also pointed out that you could consider "Juniper Tree" a ghost story, as the murdered boy's spirit takes the form of a bird. It got me thinking about all the other well-known fairy tales in which there might be ghosts, even if we don't think of them as ghosts, and the first thing that popped into my head was "Cinderella." With the exception of Perrault's Fairy Godmother, it's almost always the spirit of Cinderella's dead mother who helps her-in the form of a tree, a fish, a doll, etc.

Anyway, the story of "The Silver Saucer and the Transparent Apple" is an interesting combination of a Cinderella tale with "The Singing Bone." It begins with the classic scene in which a father offers to buy gifts for his daughters; the eldest request dresses and jewels, and the youngest has a more unusual request. This youngest daughter is, of course, the most beautiful, and we are told over and over that she is good and she does all of the chores. She is called "Little Stupid" by her sisters (and even her father!)-sometimes we're so used to the name Cinderella we forget that name was also supposed to be an insult, more along the lines of "Dirty Ella."

Little Stupid requested a silver saucer and a transparent apple. No one else understands why, and they attribute the desire to her stupidity, but once she gets the items and spins the apple in the saucer, she is able to see anything she wants to, all over the world, in it. Her sisters become jealous, take Little Stupid into the woods, and kill her with an ax.
image-Patricia Ludlow-(Thanks Ozfan95!)

That spring, a reed is growing in the forest where the dead sister lay, and a shepherd comes by and uses it to make a flute. The flute begins singing all by itself, and tells him the story of how she was murdered. The flute is eventually taken to the girls' father, and he finds his daughter's body, and is able to bring her back to life with holy water from the Tsar. After that follows a more unsatisfactory ending (in my opinion) where she marries the Tsar and forgives her family, although the shepherd who originally found the reed is in love with her and I was rooting for him. In fact, the children who are being told the story felt the same way I did, and the narrator, Old Peter, explains that it was actually good because if he had married Little Stupid, he would have had to live with her whole nasty family. So...that's one way to look at it?

The Grimms' "Singing Bone" is a much shorter tale; a man is murdered by his brothers and his bone tells the story. Only in this one, the ending is more bittersweet, because while the bone allows the murdered man justice and his brothers are punished, he is not brought back to life. He is, however, given a proper burial. This tale somehow seems more satisfying to me; the ending of the other tale seems a bit forced. I normally don't mind too much the versions where Cinderella forgives her sisters (depending on how that part is worded), but at least they don't usually try to kill her! It hardly seems like a happy ending for her to live with her abusive family forever while the poor shepherd who actually rescued her doesn't get the girl. In fact, in none of the other related Singing Bone tales on Ashliman's site does the murdered person come back to life (although it does happen in other tales-see the comments for more discussion!), or are the murderers forgiven (although sometimes the remains don't sing, but bleed-it was widely believed in Medieval Europe that a murdered corpse would bleed in the presence of its murderer.)


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Grimms Influenced Frankenstein?

I came across a rumor that the Grimms were somehow connected with the creation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. You may have come across sites like this one that claim:

"The brothers Grimm actually told this story to the step mother of Mary Shelley, and in later years Mary Shelley visited the Frankenstein castle. She eventually used the story as the basis for her world-famous novel Frankenstein." Of course, that site also states that in addition to the castle, Frankenstein's monster itself also really existed (it's a site on haunted castles).
Frankenstein Castle, Darmstadt, Germany

In all my reading on the Grimms and their tales, I've never come across anything like this, or a version of Frankenstein they recorded.

For a more detailed explanation of why this castle most likely had no influence whatsoever on Mary Shelley, you can read this article, by Michael Mueller. Shelley's book doesn't take place in Hesse, or even in a castle. It is very unlikely Shelley would have had a chance to see the castle, as many claim.
Mary Shelley

Some say Mary Shelley could have had indirect contact with Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm. The Frankenstein enthusiasts claim that Mary Jane Clairmont, Mary Shelley's stepmother, was one of the translators of their tales-but there is no evidence of her translating their tales. Although there was supposedly a letter from Jakob to Mary Jane that included a horror story never published, there is no evidence of this either (and why wouldn't they have published such a great story in their collection of legends?)

However, one thing that IS true is that the Grimms were familiar with the Castle. The Frankenstein Castle is located in Hesse, Germany-the same region the brothers Grimm came from. One of their legends, "The Lindworm at the Well," involves a knight of Frankenstein-but no scientist or monster. The name is common enough that Shelley choosing the same one was likely a coincidence.

So, a bummer for anyone who would like to believe that the story of Frankenstein was based on real events. Frankly, it's such a sad story I wouldn't want this one to be true. There are enough bizarre and scary things in the world as it is...

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Scary Fairy Tales: White Cap

Here is an Icelandic tale, White Cap:


"A certain boy and girl, whose names this tale telleth not, once lived near a church. The boy being mischievously inclined, was in the habit of trying to frighten the girl in a variety of ways, till she became at last so accustomed to his tricks, that she ceased to care for anything whatever, putting down everything strange that she saw and heard to the boy's mischief.

 "One washing-day, the girl was sent by her mother to fetch home the linen, which had been spread to dry in the churchyard. When she had nearly filled her basket, she happened to look up, and saw sitting on a tomb near her a figure dressed in white from head to foot, but was not the least alarmed, believing it to be the boy playing her, as usual, a trick. So she ran up to it, and pulling its cap off said, "You shall not frighten me, this time."

 "Then when she had finished collecting the linen she went home. But, to her astonishment -- for he could not have reached home before her without her seeing him -- the boy was the first person who greeted her on her arrival at the cottage. Among the linen, too, when it was sorted, was found a moldy white cap, which appeared to be nobody's property, and which was half full of earth.

 "The next morning the ghost (for it was a ghost that the girl had seen) was found sitting with no cap upon its head, upon the same tombstone as the evening before. And as nobody had the courage to address it, or knew in the least how to get rid of it, they sent into the neighboring village for advice. 

"An old man declared that the only way to avoid some general calamity, was for the little girl to replace on the ghost's head the cap she had seized from it, in the presence of many people, all of whom were to be perfectly silent. So a crowd collected in the churchyard, and the little girl, going forward, half afraid, with the cap, placed it upon the ghost's head, saying, "Are you satisfied now?"

 "But the ghost, raising its hand, gave her a fearful blow, and said, "Yes, but are you now satisfied?" The little girl fell down dead, and at the same instant the ghost sank into the grave upon which it had been sitting, and was no more seen."

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Scary Fairy Tales: The Stolen Pennies

Some folktales can really be classified as ghost stories more so than our traditional idea of fairy tales; I thought for October it would be fun to do a series featuring some of these more chilling fairy tales!

First up, from the Grimms, "The Stolen Pennies" (or Stolen Farthings):


 Once a father was seated at the dinner table with his wife and children. A good friend who had come to visit was eating with them. While they were sitting there the clock struck twelve, and the stranger saw the door open and a very pale little child dressed in snow-white clothes come in. It neither looked around, nor did it speak, but went straight into the next room. Soon afterwards it came back, and just as silently went out the door again.

 On the second and on the third day it came back in exactly the same manner. Then the stranger finally asked the father, whose beautiful child it was that went into the next room every day at noon. 

"I did not see it," he said, adding that he did he know whose child it might be.

 The next day when it again came, the stranger pointed it out to the father, but the latter did not see it, nor did the mother and the children see anything. Then the stranger got up, went to the door of the room, opened it a little, and looked in. There he saw the child sitting on the floor, and busily digging and rooting about in the cracks in the floor. When it saw the stranger, it disappeared.
Shaun Tan

 He now told what he had seen and described the child exactly. Then the mother recognized it, and said, "Oh, it is my dear child who died four weeks ago."

 They ripped up the floor and found two farthings which the child had once received from its mother to give to a poor man. It, however, had thought, "With that money you can buy yourself a piece of zwieback," and had kept the farthings, hiding them in the cracks in the floor.

 Therefore it had had no rest in its grave, and had come every day at noon to look for these farthings. Then the parents gave the money to a poor man, and after that the child was never seen again.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Cinderella's Pumpkin Roundup, Part VII

youtube-DiY DiVA

And a Beauty and the Beast bonus: (I would normally just keep this focused to Cinderella, but this one is pretty creative and with the new live action movie coming out I have an excuse this year?)

And an extra pumpkin bonus! I found this chart of the different pumpkin types. I had no idea the standard carving pumpkin was actually called an "Aladdin!" Or that there was one called the "fairytale pumpkin". Not pictured here, there are also varieties called the Cinderella pumpkin (no surprise there), magic pumpkins, Oz pumpkins, and wizard pumpkins

Links to Previous years:

Thursday, September 29, 2016

New BATB Themed Restaurant in Japan

Knowing I have an affinity for all things Beauty and the Beast, InkGypsy sent me this link!

In Japan they've opened a new themed restaurant that recreates several scenes from the movie, Gaston's Tavern, the Beast's room, and the Ballroom. It seems very similar in concept to the "Be Our Guest" restaurant in Disney World, but without having to pay the entrance fee into the park (and probably less waiting in line to get in/more reasonable prices!!)
The menu even includes this "Belle lunch" with a Belle-shaped omelette:
Can they open up one of these in Chicago please?? Any Japanese readers or international travelers going to go (Amy, are you anywhere near here?)

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Fun Facts about Thumbling Tales from Sarah Allison

I just discovered another terrific resource: the blog Writing in Margins by Sarah Allison. It's all focused on her research into Thumbling tales, or any protagonist that is about the size of a thumb. I haven't looked into Thumbling tales as much myself but there is so much fascinating, well-researched information on variants from around the world, as well as on the significance of certain images/motifs in different cultures. I asked Sarah to put together a guest post with some of the fun facts she's learned and she graciously obliged!


"Thumbelina," Charles Robinson

I’ve been seriously researching fairytales about miniature characters, or thumblings, for maybe a year and a half now. These are characters like Tom Thumb and Thumbelina, the Japanese story of Issun-Boshi, and the Grimms’ Thumbling. I started this project mainly in search of other lady thumb persons besides Thumbelina. From there, it took on a life of its own. Here’s a list of some of the things I found most interesting: 

*The basic story: a childless couple wishes for a baby, even if it’s as small as a [thumb, chickpea, etc.]. By some twist of fate, this tiny child is born or created. Most versions feature him helping around the farm, going on wacky adventures, and getting swallowed by an animal before eventually returning to his parents. Some versions go in different directions. 

*This tale is incredibly widespread throughout Europe, North Africa, and Asia. As far as I can tell, it didn't really show up in the Americas until Europeans brought it there. There are American Indian tales with small heroes, but they are not typically thumb-sized. 
Children's book published by McLoughlin Bros, 1888

*The Brothers Grimm collected three Thumbling stories (well, two and a half) - Thumbling, Thumbling’s Travels, and The Young Giant. 

*Female thumblings are rare but not unheard of. A few examples: there are two versions of the basic story from Spain, three Frog Princess-type tales from Norway, France and Vietnam, and one from Corsica that is part Thumbelina and part Donkeyskin. 

* In a Jewish version from Turkey, the tiny girl is given to her mother by the prophet Elijah. 

*Tom Thumb is the first known fairytale printed in English. The earliest copy, from 1621, is satire with lots of scatological humor. Princess Kaguya, which begins like a thumbling story, is from the 10th century and is considered the oldest Japanese prose narrative existing. 

P. T. Barnum and Charles Sherwood Stratton, "General Tom Thumb"

*In real life, General Tom Thumb (Charles Sherwood Stratton) was a dwarf who performed under P. T. Barnum. He was a world-famous celebrity, and most of the random things named Tom Thumb, like geraniums and umbrellas and pastries, are actually named for Stratton. A few other performers with dwarfism also used the fairy tale name around the same time, presumably to cash in on Stratton’s fame. 

*Someone wrote a story where General Tom Thumb met his fairytale namesake (Tom Thumb’s Bridal Tour: A Fairy Story, 1863.) 

"Thumbelina" by Milo Winter

*Hans Christian Andersen’s Thumbelina has been translated multiple times into many languages, including Central Alaskan Yup’ik.


Thanks, Sarah!

If you hop on over to her blog, there's a lot more where this came from-I enjoyed reading about Death and Food in Thumbling Tales, Elves in Clothes, and the history of how Fairies got pointed ears. And if you, like me, were intrigued by her mention of a tale that combines Thumbelina with Donkeyskin, you can read about it here (along with a fascinating discussion of abuse in fairy tales, including those with an abusive husband as well as parent). And I've only scratched the surface of her archives so far!

*Also on the blog you can answer a survey about which Thumbling story you're most familiar with and how you heard of it. I'm sure Sarah would appreciate more input and I'm curious to find out the results!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

From the Archives: Donkeyskin and Blame

Donkeyskin, the fairy tale that deals with the threat of incest, is rarely told to children here in America, but  is more well-known in other countries such as France, where even children's toys and picture books are given this dark theme (Readers from other countries, how well known is this tale where you live?).  

Like most fairy tales, it's a story about a character who encounters awful challenges but overcomes in the end. Tragically, the theme of abuse is hardly restricted to this tale-it's estimated that 1 in 10 children are sexually abused before age 18 and percentages of women who are abused in relationships only increase as they go through high school and college. This tale can provide hope to those who are victims of abuse and understanding for those of us who aren't. 

The first recorded mention of Donkeyskin was a sermon in 1501; in 1550 Straparola included a similar tale, "Doralice," in his collection of tales. Apparently, Louis XIV was lulled to sleep by Donkeyskin tales, and Moliere most likely heard it as a child. The most famous version is Perrault's, however, Perrault didn't necessarily take his tales seriously and treated them flippantly and irreverently, which could also explain the issue of the moral in "Bluebeard." The annotated Perrault version of Donkeyskin can be read onSurlalunePerrault can be frustrating for a modern person to read. The heroine escapes her incestuous father, travels to a different kingdom where a Prince falls in love with her-for her physical beauty, the same thing that caused her father to desire her. In the Grimms' first edition of their version of the tale, Allerlieurah, there is enough ambiguity that the reader is left wondering whether or not the King the princess marries actually is her father. Even if it isn't, the lack of punishment of the father at the end of the tale is sadly typical of fairy tales in general, which allow the fathers grace but delight in tormenting female villains.

  The article "Donkeyskin, Deerskin, Allerleiurauh" by Helen Pilinovskycomments on the Perrault version and then contrasts this with three modern versions by Robin McKinley, Jane Yolen, and Terri Windling, in a fascinating look at how modern culture relates to the tale differently than Perrault 

The main differences can be seen in the issues of blame, and the "happily ever after" usually attached to fairy tales. In real cases of abuse, the victim may feel guilty, and this feeling may be enforced by society. Perrault-and several critics after him-sees the Queen mother as the guilty party for making the King promise only to remarry a woman more beautiful than she is, ignoring the fact that the King does not have to remarry at all (which is usually the intent attributed to the Queen), much less take his unwilling daughter.

The three modern writers (who are all female) spread out the blame. All of them, understandably so, put at least some of it on the father himself. McKinley includes more history on the Queen Mother, suggesting that she may have been abused herself by her father-and sadly, tragedies like abuse do tend to be cyclical through generations. Yolen includes a bitter nurse as the initial instigator, but thay all include the society around the characters in the blame as well. The other characters in the stories are quick to excuse the father, blame the daugther, and even silence those who disagree. The mothers themselves are not implicitly given blame; McKinley's mother is seen as a product of her past. Yolen's Queen mother dies before she actually makes a stipulation, and it is the King who provides it. Windling's mother was only concerned that the new wife be better than her, for fear of the stereotyped evil stepmother.

The endings of these versions are also drastically different than Perrault. There is no Prince who falls in love with Donkeyskinat first sight only because of her beauty; these stories are more realistic and dark. McKinley's heroine cannot heal from trauma quite so quickly as the classic Donkeyskin, who accepts the Prince's love without question. It takes time to heal, and even when she is ready to go back to the Prince who offered her marriage, she is afraid she will not be able to commit, and the Prince accepts her as she is-broken and scarred.

Yolen's story has this very chilling ending: "Now if this were truly a fairy tale (and what story today with a king and a queen. . . is not?) the princess would go outside to her mother's grave. . . .The neighboring kingdom would harbor her, the neighboring prince would marry her, her father would be brought to his senses, and the moment of complete happiness would be the moment of the story's end. . . .But this is not a fairy tale. The princess is married to her father and, having always wanted his love, does not question the manner of it. Except at night, late at night. . ."

Even more eerie is the conclusion. The heroine dies in childbirth like her mother before her, and the reader is left to suppose that the cycle will only repeat itself, for, " "The king knows that he will not have to wait another thirteen years. It is an old story. Perhaps the oldest."

Windling's story is set in modern America. Her heroine is not a Princess. The hard work that is Perrault's Donkeyskin must endure until the Prince discovers and saves her is this heroine's salvation-getting a job. Yet, as Pilinovsky suggests, the negative associations of hard work are taken away.

Each of these stories looks into the classic fairy tale canon and produces a new, thoughtful work that treats the themes seriously and more realistically.  

*Other sources were "From the Beast to the Blonde" by Marina Warner and the Donkeyskin History article on surlalune. Illustrations by Arthur Rackham, Margaret Evans Price, Kay Nielsen, H.J. Ford, and Gustav Dore (last two).