Spring 2012

I am so thankful that I got to take Folk and Fairy Tales this semester. I enjoyed everything we read and studied (though I wish we had studied Rapunzel!!) I especially enjoyed studying Disney and his versions of fairy tales for my presentation: though I am a “Disney kid” and have grown up loving his tales, I think it is interesting to look back on those things, tempered with the new knowledge that I have about him and his versions of tales like Snow White and Beauty and the Beast.
I think that the most important thing I learned this semester was how to look at these tales with new eyes: how to separate myself from them and pull them apart from different perspectives, whether it be Freudian, Jungian, feminist, religious, etc. By the end of the semester, I found myself doing this on my own when reading for the next day’s class, finding things that I thought were interesting or that I wanted to point out/discuss. I think that this fact alone shows what I learned.

Pan’s Labyrinth

This was my first time watching the film.  I did enjoy it, and definitely saw some fairy tale aspects even before Dr. Deveny’s lecture on Thursday. However, I was suprised by the large number of Propp’s functions that we identified within the film.  What I found more interesting, however, was that a lot of these functions were fulfilled not by Ofelia’s story alone, but rather by her interactions with Capt. Vidal, or in Mercede’s actions: two characters whose roles were almost completely separate from the fantasy side of the film (Ofelia’s quest).  This, to me, shows that fairy tales are reflective of us: we cannot separate the fantasy from the reality because they are parts of the whole: our world contains both, and the fairy tales we read reflect our lives.


Dr. Deveny’s final point was that the film’s major theme is independent thought: over and over again, characters refuse to obey blindly, instead choosing to defy orders for, ultimately, the greater good (Dr. Ferreiro and the Captain, Ofelia and the faun, etc.).  I think this theme is an interesting parallel to fairy tales in general: for don’t they, as well, promote independent thought?  Aside from Perrault’s forced morals at the end of every tale, they inspire readers to imagine, to think deeply about what it is they have read and interpret them as they will.  Unlike Disney’s and others’ one-dimensional film renderings that require no thought or imagination, Pan’s Labyrinth and the fairy tales that we have read cause the viewer/reader to put effort into thinking about these tales and how they reflect our society and ourselves.

hipster Bengali knew those leaves before it was cool.

Dr. Shabbir Mian from the Physics department spoke on Tuesday on the Folk and Fairy Tales of Bangladesh.  I enjoyed his lecture simply because it gave me some insight to a culture so different from my own.  He told us that in Bengali, fairytales are called “rupkotha” or, literally translated, “beautiful words.”  I love this word because it is so descriptive to what fairytales are, especially for children: beautiful, whimsical, and enchanting stories.  He told us that in India and Bangladesh, folk and fairy tales are primarily transmitted orally, something similar to a lot of other cultures.  Furthermore, the ‘standard book’ of Bengali fairy tales, written in 1907, is the Thakurmar Jhuli: “grandmother’s bag”, which is also similar to a lot of other cultures, in that it is usually women telling stories to their families ( “old wive’s tales”).

Another similarity is the theme of transformation: Dr. Mian said that transformations are always occuring in Bengali fairy tales, and we saw and example, with Neelkamal and Lalkamal transforming into eggs after being eaten.  This is a common motif in fairy tales across many cultures that we have studied: there is the beast, the little boy in the juniper tree, just to name a few.

A difference, though, is the theme of reward and punishment.  In Bengali fairy tales, the good are rewarded and the bad are punished, period.  There is no forgiveness or redemption for the villian.  Though this is true for some other fairy tales that we’ve read (e.g. the witch in Hansel and Gretel, who gets cooked in her own oven), others have the Christian motif of redemption: the villian repents and is forgiven by the protagonist or redeemed by God.

Overall, I enjoyed Dr. Mian’s lecture immensely.  It was something new, and very interesting and insightful.

Arabic Folktales

Based on what we’ve read so far, I see one major difference in Arabic folktales versus ‘Western’ folktales: sexuality.  In 1001 Nights, the King’s brother catches the king’s wife having sex with a servant.  Though sex is mentioned in the likes of Grimm and Perrault, it is never very explicit: the most risque of the bunch is the version where we see a list of the clothing that Little Red Riding Hood removes.  In 1001 Nights, on the other hand, the King’s brother basically witnesses an orgy that goes on for hours and hours, where they “couple and carouse;” when they are done, the man “dismounts from the bosom” of the Queen.  In this tale, sex is not avoided or subverted in the slightest.

A major similarity between Arabic tales and Western ones is religion: though they praise (arguably) different Gods, both praise and make reference to him frequently.

Thus, while they do differ greatly, there are also similar themes of religion and morality.

It Could Always Be Worse…

Jewish folk tales are definitely unique.  As we discussed this week in class, they almost always revolve around a Rabbi, who, though not always the protagonist, is always the wise figure or trickster archetype of the stories.  He always manages to outsmart his enemies, no matter what they do to him.

I think my favorite of the Jewish folktales we discussed this week has to be “It Could Always Be Worse”.  I have heard this story before, although I have heard versions with different types of farm animals being brought into the house.  Every time I hear it, I am amused and reminded to be thankful for what I have, since it could, indeed, always be worse.

Cinderella the Gold Digger

Though “Cinderella” can be classified as a “rags to riches” tale, I have personally never considered it as such.  To me, it has always been what we discussed in class: a story about sibling rivalry, where Cinderella must take the high road in her war against her sisters (a war that they started) to ultimately be rewarded with a marriage to the prince.  However, it can be construed as such: magic is used to help Cinderella acheive marriage, which ultimately gives her riches.  She could not have acheived riches herself; she needed the magic of the birds/tree/fairy godmother, etc., to get a dress suitable to attend the ball in the first place.  Her attendance at the ball in a splendid dress got her the prince, which makes her a (rich) princess. Had she not married the prince, she probably would have been a poor servant for the rest of her life.

If we were looking at this in realistic terms, magic is a non-issue.  However, there is little else that Cinderella could have done to acheive riches.  She would not have been able to go out and get a secretary position: her choices were limited to maid, cook, or in the worst case, prostitute.  So, she did need the prince to acheive her status.  She could not have done it on her own.

“Seeing the Voice”

I thought that Mr. Rust’s lecture was great: it gave a lot of insight into storytelling in ASL, as well as a bit of deaf culture.  I thought the sl-specific types of storytelling were really cool (ABC stories, letter name stories), etc.; they’re something that doesn’t really translate into spoken language, making them unique.  I also liked the cinematographic story-telling: this is something that I’ve seen both hearing and hearing-impaired people do before, and I never really connected it to cinema.  It is a tool that makes story-telling much more vivid, as we can see rather than imagine actions and reactions, expressions, etc.

I loved the ASL translation of Lewis Carroll’s “The Jabberwocky”– I think this telling gave it more life than any hearing person could. I also think that it’s interesting that along with all of these things we discussed, there are ASL ‘folktales’ that are all their own and are not related at all to hearing folktales from anywhere, like the ‘ABC gum’ story.  All of this really reinforced the fact that deaf culture is something that’s truly separate from other culture.