marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote,
marycatelli
marycatelli

learning about fairy tales

One thing I've often said about fairy tales, which is that parents can choose not to let Disney decide which fairy tales their children hear of.  Lots of wonderful collections out there.  Andrew Lang's are still in print.  Though Disney is not the worst source.


Some things, like having both Sleeping Beauty and Snow White meet their princes while awake, are nice touches.  And -- at least they are stories.  I regret to say that some people can gotten their opinions about fairy tales from feminist analyses.  Which not only insulates you from the living touch of the actual stories, it tends to find what it looks for, just as the solar myth interpretation could find solar myths in "Hansel and Gretel" or "The Frog King" or "Sleeping Beauty."

So I've made a comment about how male characters, in my experience, get the animal helpers more often than the female, and someone says it's because the female ones are passive.  I'm sure the heroine of "The Black Bull of Norrroway" would have loved a little passivity:
"Seven long years I served for thee,
The glassy hill I clomb for thee,
Thy bloody clothes I wrang for thee;
And wilt thou not waken and turn to me?"
She needed special, iron shoes to pull off that glassy hill trick.  It's not exactly an uncommon problem among heroines who are searching for their lost husbands, a widespread tale type.

To be sure the "princess" character in Propp's analysis is often rather passive, particularly when the figure of the "king" appears, because the "king" and "princess" are not exactly distinct roles. The prince in "The Goose Girl" is a non-entity; though his father acts, the prince has neither any dialog nor any action in the story, and exists to marry the heroine.  "Molly Whuppie" features no less than three princes whose role is to marry Molly's sisters and Molly herself.  "The Three Spinners", compared to "Rumpelstiltskin", shows how they can be confused; the king in "Rumpelstiltskin" is both the "king" and the "princess", whereas in "The Three Spinners", the queen mother is the "king" and the king himself is the "princess" -- though he does bring about the happy ending by decreeing she should spin no more.

Other "princess" princesses can have a role like that.  Like the princess of "The Grateful Beast" who argues with her father that he's being unjust with Ferko, which leads to her being clapped in a tower -- as it turns out, safely out of range for the wolves her father insists that Ferko gather.  Or the princess in "The Boy Who Set Out to Learn What Fear Is" who manages to teach him what everyone else in the tale has failed to do:  what fear is.

And then there are the heroines of other tales.  Such as all those of "The Girl Helps the Hero Flee" type, which is badly misnamed.  The heroine of that tale does all the work -- she and the hero run, but she creates the magical barriers that block off pursuit, or transforms them to hide them from it.  Then she often has to go through "The Forgotten Fiancee"; the hero is enchanted to forget her, and she must rescue him again; it really must have been love at first sight.

Tags: fairy tales, grumbles
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