Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Sources of Inspiration: Fairy Tales

Remember, your Fairy Godmother can give you riches and beauty,
but if you piss her off, she can also make you look like an ass (or a goat).

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful maiden ...

So begins many a fairy tale, and many a lolita's story. There are a lot of parallels between this fashion and the folk stories which still captivate children today. A lot of folk and fairy tales involve transformation, adventure, and magic. I've always felt that lolita has more than a little bit of each of those three.

Besides those factors, princesses (and common girls raised up to become princesses) have always been a popular topic in legend, and lolitas frequently seem to identify with them quite well. When I'm trying to come up with new ideas, I often turn to the volumes of fairy tales I keep on my bookshelves for inspiration. 
Even before I got into lolita, I loved fairy tales. I love the ones which have become popular (because there are often so many variations to read) as well as those that are more obscure.

These are three of my all-time favorites (it was hard to choose only that many!):

"The White Dog" or "The Daughters of King O'Hara"
Origin: Irish

Where to read it: Google Books, Amazon (I also have found a hardbound copy of Myths and Folklore of Ireland for under $4.00 at a Half Price Books)

Synopsis: Three sisters, princesses no less, are left to their own devices while their father is away. In the typical way of these stories, they get into a bit of mischief, in spite of their father's express warnings to stay out of trouble. Each of them uses his magical Cloak of Darkness in a magical tower of the castle to make a wish (this is common in Irish folk lore, funny enough; Cloaks of Darkness exist in many stories, including their version of Cinderella). The first two sisters wish for rich, handsome husbands, and the third wishes for the most beautiful white dog in the world. All three of the sisters are whisked away in beautiful carriages to live with their chosen companion, and don't return home for a long time.

When asked how their husbands should be during the daylight hours, all three say "just as you are now". It turns out to be something of a trick question, because the first two sisters' husbands turn into seals at night, and they are left childless for years. However, the third sister's dog is a beautiful man at night, and together they have several children. Unfortunately, all of her children are all stolen away, and play roles later on in the story.

Because of a misunderstanding with her mother, the youngest sister's husband is sent away to the Witch Queen of Tir-na-nog, and she follows after in order to rescue him.

Why I like it: It has some of the most ridiculous happenings I've heard in a fairy tale, and that really says something about the story. I mean, for starters, who wishes for the most handsome dog in the world when her sisters have just gotten the two most handsome men?

Then, the happy couple get into the mess with the evil queen because the princess' mother is impatient and burns the husband's transforming dog skin while he's staying with them (because when you find a fur on the floor, you just toss it onto the kitchen fire, right?).

Finally, the girl must rescue her husband by destroying the heart of the evil queen of Tir-na-nog, which happens to be inside an egg, inside a duck, inside a castrated ram, inside a tree, all without actually managing to talk to him. Good hiding spot, really, though a bit intricate.

To accomplish this, she is given a comb that will turn any hair on which it is used golden and shining, a pair of shears that will turn any fabric which they cut into cloth of gold, and a pipe whistle that summons all the birds of the world to her (and a fox is suddenly a bird, for some reason). She also has to contend with sleeping potions and ambitious henwives.

All around, it's just a crazy story.


"Little Goat-face" or "The Goat-faced Girl"
Origin: Italian

Where to read it: Wikipedia, Amazon

Synopsis: A peasant has too many daughters (in most versions, he had 12), and because of this, the family is very poor. In despair that his children may starve to death, the man goes into the mountains to see if he can find another means of making a living. During the heat of the day, he rests at the mouth of a cave that is said to be cursed, and thinks over the problem of having too many daughters. While he is resting, a giant lizard comes out of the cave and settles beside him. The man is terrified, but the lizard begins to speak with a beautiful, womanly voice. She tells him to bring his youngest daughter, still a baby, to be raised by her. The man, even more upset now than he was before, rushes home and reluctantly tells his wife what has happened.

His wife sees merit to the idea and convinces her husband that the lizard must be a good spirit in disguise. She tells him that she worries that the girl will starve to death if they try to keep all of their children, and that the lizard may well give the girl a better life. She convinces him to take the girl back to the cave that night. When they arrive, the lizard is waiting. In exchange for the girl, the lizard gives the man a fortune in gold and jewels. She then disappears into the cave with the child on her back, and the man returns home where the family rejoices. The girls all are able to marry well and live happily thanks to their sister's "sacrifice". They do not know, but the lizard is really a fairy, and takes the girl off to raise her as a princess.

The little girl encounters a few adventures later on (different stories have different things befall her), caused by her vanity and arrogance. Her head is turned into that of a goat's by the fairy, as punishment for her lack of gratitude and pride. She eventually repents these faults, is restored to her natural beauty, and has her own happily-ever-after.

Why I like it: Typically, fairy tales have the heroine fall into the traps of an antagonist, or else have bad things happen to them due to the negative traits of another character. In the case of this story, the only villain is the girl herself. Because she did not remember the things that her benefactor had taught her, she ends up in trouble several times over. Her own flaws and bad behavior work against her, and she is punished for them. However, when she realizes that she has been the cause of her troubles, she turns around and works to become what her godmother (the lizard) had hoped she would be.

In short, she has to learn to be a better person before she gets to have her happy ending. Things don't just fall into her lap for the entirety of the story, nor is it the fault of some evil sorcerer that she ends up in trouble to begin with. It's a very interesting way of addressing vanity and pride in a fairy tale, when those sins typically are used to characterize the antagonist, rather than the protagonist.  


"The Goose Girl"
Origin: Debated; most sources say German, but there is contention that many of the stories that the Brothers Grimm recorded as German were actually French in origin

Where to read it: Virtually any Grimm anthology, Wikipedia

Synopsis: The daughter of an elderly queen is sent away to marry the prince to whom she has been betrothed since she was born. As a sign of her heritage and a means of magical protection, she carries a piece of fabric with her that has the queen's blood on it (in some versions, it's a napkin, in others a handkerchief). She is then sent with her dowry, a maid, and a horse for each of them (the princess' horse can talk) to the kingdom of her prince. Through the course of events, the piece of fabric is lost, and the maid forces the princess to trade places with her.

When they arrive at the castle, the maid dismisses the princess (who is forced to become a goose girl). The horse who can talk is then butchered to hide the betrayal. The horse's head, after the princess has managed to bribe the butcher, is hung on the gates, so that she can still talk to him. Eventually, the king notices this odd behavior, and speaks to the goose girl. She says that she cannot tell her story, as she is bound by an oath to keep it secret. He tells her to whisper her troubles to the fire, that the flames will take them away from her and burn them, and leaves. He then eavesdrops on her to find out the truth, and has her dressed as a princess for the wedding banquet. The king tells the prince what has happened, and has him play along as if nothing has changed.

The princess is brought to the banquet, where the king tells her story as a "hypothetical" situation to the guests, and asks his son's new bride what she would do to such a treacherous woman as the maid in the story. Her answer becomes her own punishment.

Why I like it: Even though the princess in the story is a bit of a door mat, the events surrounding her are just really interesting to read. Grimm stories often have very, very nasty gory aspects to them. This story just struck me as amusing in the fact that it is so reflective of that trait in their folk tales.

In particular, the imagination of the maid shows what a horrible, sadistic person she was. When asked how she would punish such a betrayal, she tells the king this: any person committing such an act should be placed in a sealed barrel lined with nails. They then should be dragged in that barrel behind two white horses through the whole of the city, until they've bled to death on the nails.


Do you have a favorite fairy tale or folk story? 
Do you prefer the "classic" stories like Sleeping Beauty, or those which are less-known?

7 comments:

Ada

I used to have this big book of fairy tales from all over the world. I really like stories about the Baba Yaga for some reason :D

Mister Sharaf

omg what a pic

focusing the lens

@ Ada: Witches/hag characters in all shapes and forms are interesting to read about! Especially when so many cross multiple cultural boundaries.

@ Mister Sharaf: Indeed, indeed. This is what happens when you upset your fairy godmother.

Zoey

I'm always saddened by the fact that all my favorite Disney stories as a child, were actually just happy reproductions of very sad and macabre short stories.

PcTutorial

hmm very good pic :)

Butters

WHOA dat pic @_@

I'll try out these stories! The first one sounded most appealing to me, but they all sound great. Also a reoccurring theme of animals... XD

ワリス

As I grew up, I too realized that Disney works it's happy-go-lucky magic on classic fairy tales that in fact rarely ever ended happily ever after. Even so, the originals are great to read despite most of them being sad or morbid.

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