Hauff’s Grave, a Pilgrimage

amo vitam

I was sitting on the Lufthansa plane, tapping through the movie offerings on the little screen in the seat back in front of me, choosing the films to while away the nine hours to Frankfurt. Among the German movies, a title caught my attention: Das kalte Herz, “The Cold Heart”.

Wait a minute, I said to myself, is that the “Cold Heart”? The fairy tale? I started watching the movie. Sure enough, it was the story from Wilhelm Hauff‘s collection. But it had been years – actually, more like decades – since I read it; I only had a vague memory of it. What was the real story like? Wait another minute, I said, don’t I have Hauff’s Fairy Tales downloaded on my Kobo? I did indeed. So I paused the movie, pulled out “Das kalte Herz“, and let Hauff’s words take me away…

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A Reboot

Has it really been two-and-a-half years since I finished my degree? Looks like it has. If you want to see what I’ve been up to in that time, you can check it out over at www.amovitam.ca.

However, in honour of the new “Beauty and the Beast” movie that’s about to hit the theatres, I think it’s time to start up again here at quill and qwerty. So, with an updated tagline and renewed vigour, we once again burst onto the stage of the blogosphere… Or rather, we quietly putter onto it, mumbling to ourselves as we turn the pages of an old volume of fairy tales.

Huh, what? Yes, quite. Just put the tea over there, will you? Thanks.

Magnum Opus Complete

Aaaaand here she is, all posted in the uni library’s digital collection. Ta-DAH!!! (In case you’re wondering, a thesis is a “she”. At least in German that’s so, die These or die Masterarbeit. And German is obviously right.) So if you want to actually read through the 46 pages of “Once Upon a Movie Screen”, go to Athabasca University‘s Digital Thesis and Project Room, here: http://dtpr.lib.athabascau.ca/. In the search box on the left type in “Offenwanger”, and there she’ll be, all ready for you to download, peruse and be edified by. (You’ll probably have to click “agree” on some button somewhere that makes sure you’ve understood that this is academic research, and that you shouldn’t plagiarize it or any of the many other excellent pieces of research posted on that site. But you wouldn’t have done that anyway, right?)

And that, folks, concludes our broadcast here on quill and qwerty for the time being. If you would like to keep reading more ramblings, much randomness, and even the odd bit of research, come on over to www.amovitam.ca, where my stuffed bear Steve and I share our thoughts with the cyberworld. We’d love to see you there!

The Abstract

So I just sent in the final, completed, combined project to my university’s digital collection. And as promised, here’s the abstract:

Once Upon a Movie Screen: Four Favourite Fairy Tales and Their Disney Film Adaptations

 

“Cinderella”, “Sleeping Beauty”, “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Frog Prince” belong to the list of perennially favourite fairy tales, important parts of the canon of Western folklore. The reason for their popularity is the underlying story of each tale, which is empowering for its audience. Viewers and readers are able to experience the plot of a story through identification with the protagonist. These fairy tale plots are inherently empowering through their base story of the transformation from a spell-bound or oppressed existence to radiant happiness, a transformation that is either experienced or effected by the young woman who is the protagonist of the story. Fairy tales are re-told in myriad ways and often change significantly in detail during this process; however, each of the versions retains the key plot elements while adapting to the time and place of its telling. The example of these four fairy tales shows that the Baroque and Romantic fairy tale collectors – Charles Perrault, Mme de Villeneuve, Mme de Beaumont and the Brothers Grimm – adapt their versions to their culture as much as the Disney company does with their films. The Disney variants of the fairy tales take their place alongside the older written versions as a form of modern American folklore, disseminating the tales to today’s audiences.

And there you have it – two-and-a half years of grad school, condensed into one paragraph. It’s been a good ride.

I’ll let you know when the paper is posted publicly in the uni library for reading.

Magnum Opus Part II

Aaaaand I just hit “Send” on the second and final part of my Magnum Opus: “Once Upon a Movie Screen: Four Favourite Fairy Tales and Their Disney Film Adaptations, Part II: ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘The Frog Prince'”.

Once it’s marked, and I’ve edited both parts together into one big paper for submission to my uni’s thesis collection, I’ll let you know the abstract.

Until then – I can’t believe I’m done, I can’t believe I’m done, I can’t believe… And she lived happily ever after until the end.

It’s Not Right for a Woman To Read, or, A Makeover for Belle

If you’ve been following this blog for the last six months or so, you may have noticed that I underwent somewhat of a shift in my attitudes. I started out my research into fairy tales and Disney movies with a decided prejudice against the latter, pretty much convinced that the Disney adaptations of the fairy tales I’m studying (especially the old ones) are a dumbing down, a flattening and trivialization of the stories. But then, when I looked at the Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty movies side-by-side with the Perrault and Grimms versions, and did all those readings about popular culture, about folklore, about folk culture, I started to change my mind. Disney got exonerated; I came to the conclusion that the Disney movies are just as valid a variant of the fairy tales as those of seventeenth-century French Baroque courtiers or nineteenth-century German Romantic philologists, and I rejected the naysayers and snobs who still continue to scorn Disney (CoughZipesCough).

Okay, so far so good. I’m going to keep writing on that track with the second half of my paper; I have yet to see anything about Beauty and the Beast and, to a limited extent, The Princess and the Frog, which would contradict this thesis. So, I think to myself, Disney is fine and dandy after all, and I need to just shelf my anti-Disney snobbery. But then – oh my goodness. I was researching Disney marketing, and I ran across – this: The Disney Princesses. Yes, I had heard about the Disney Princess line before, might even have briefly clicked on that website before. I also just read Peggy Orenstein’s very pithy Cinderella Ate My Daughter, which is all about little girls and the Princess culture. So I was aware of the phenomenon. But I had never really looked at it before, hadn’t paid attention.

Now, this may sound melodramatic, and it most likely is, but taking a close look at that website, I actually felt faintly nauseated. No, I don’t think it was the piece of toast I just ate. It was the sight of the utter pap they’re serving up to little girls on that web page. They’ve taken the heroines of the Disney movies, put them through a food mill, added artificial colouring, flavouring, and lots of high-fructose corn syrup, and extruded them back out into cookie-cutter-indentical pieces of sticky sweet blandness. Here I had just come to the conclusion that Disney did create some strong female role models little girls could aspire to, had just spent days musing over what a great heroine Belle is, and then this.

I mean, here, take a look at their “Belle” page. It starts right with her looks. In fact, most of the girls on the Princess page are indistinguishable from each other – change the colour of their skin, eyes, hair and gown, and you can’t tell one from the other. Disney has taken their own characters, and changed them from the way they were in their movies to a completely uniform look. The only one who mercifully escaped that process was Brave‘s Merida, and that only because an online petition against changing her looks garnered over 200,000 signatures (I think one of them may have been mine) and Disney bowed to the pressure. Too bad they couldn’t have done the same for Belle, but I guess she’s old news, so nobody cares that much.

Well, now Belle sports a Farah Fawcett hairdo; her hair has also grown about a foot since she hooked up with the Beast, and her dress is identical to most of the other girls’, except yellow. But that’s not the worst of it. What really, really gets my goat is the “activities” that are associated with her. If you remember the movie, what’s the first thing you learn about Belle? That she likes books. How does the Beast win her heart? By giving her a library. And what can you do on the website? You can play a game where she teaches the Beast to dance. You can play “Belle Dress Up”. Or you can read an article on “Fashion Tips From Belle”. The last one is the one that really has me fuming. Because, you see, the whole point of the character of Belle in the movie is that she doesn’t give a rip about looks; she wants books and adventure. You see the Beast having a bath and getting dressed, but unlike Cinderella, where the first view the reader gets of her is preening in her garret, and the movie spends quite a lot of time watching her get dressed and fussing over clothing, the only time Belle is seen even thinking about clothes is when her lady’s maid, the big enchanted wardrobe, tries to get her to put on a nice dress to go dine with the Beast – and Belle flat-out refuses. Gaston, the movie’s bad guy, is the one who’s concerned with looks, Belle is drawn as purposely opposite. Looks, and clothing, do not matter to her. Yes, of course she does eventually don the pretty dresses from the wardrobe, but you never see her doing so; her looks are unconscious. Belle does not think about clothes. But now that she’s a ‘Disney Princess’, apparently her brains have leaked out her ears and she’s become a fashionista. What a role model for little girls to aspire to. “Fashion Tips From Belle”, my foot! How about “Reader’s Advisory From Belle”? How about “Help Belle Choose Her Favourite Books” by way of a game, or “Help Belle to Organize Her Library”?

Oh, at least you can read about Belle’s story on her page; some of the other princesses only have an audio option. I’m sure that’s a big concession to Belle’s ruling passion. And we wouldn’t want to think that Disney makes no effort to support learning in little girls. After all, they have to be able to read, or how else will they be able to understand the product descriptions on the merchandise page? There’s gold-coloured slippers, a tiara, a light-up wand (wand? Uh, it was the enchantress cast the spell… But, whatever.), a iPhone 5 case… What, you’re looking for a book? Or even a bookmark? Or a nice, warm cloak to wear when you play outside with your horse or have a snowball fight with your friend? I’m sorry, Disney Princesses don’t need those. They’re too busy hanging out in their walk-in closets, trying on dresses. Which they can freely exchange with each other – all Disney Princesses are the same size and shape.

Looking at that Disney Princess website, you might almost think they’re sharing Gaston’s opinion: “It’s not right for a woman to read! Soon she gets ideas, and thinking…” I’m sure he’d fully approve of what Belle gets to do on her page. People’s looks are something he understands.

 

Kermit and the Prince

Twenty-five years ago, for about a year or so I worked as a nanny to three little girls. They had a VHS collection which they watched over and over, and one of the movies in their collection was this:

Jim Henson Presents: The Frog Prince (1971)

I watched that movie with the kids lots of times, and I can still recite quite a lot of the dialogue, and definitely sing most of the songs. It’s a Muppet version of The Frog Prince – what’s not to like? No, Kermit isn’t the prince, he’s the narrator. It’s his nephew Robin who plays the Prince, Sir Robin the Brave (cue song: “They call me Sir Robin the Brave / And history one day will rave / I’m valiant and daring / And noble of bearing / Courageous and gallant / A mountain of talent; / No wonder folks curtsy and wave! / I’m Robin – Sir Robin! – the Brave.”). Apparently that was Robin’s first appearance on the Muppet scene. Another first appearance was Sweetums; he’s the witch’s ogre. I guess they got signed on permanently as actors after they did such a great job on this.

Anyway, it’s a cute movie. In this one, the princess has a curse as well as the prince: she speaks Pig Latin, pretty much (reverses her words, or weverses her rords), and only the Frog can understand her. The princess is also much nicer than her counterpart in the Grimms’ version; she doesn’t break her word, but immediately agrees to be Robin’s friend, and is even ready to kiss him (yes, of course they’re doing the variant with the kiss), except the witch keeps interfering. Well, I won’t give away too much, have to keep up the suspense, dontcha know. Because, of course, you have no idea what might happen in this story, and I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you. Be assured, it ends happily. And the princess has amazing 70s hairdos. And Kermit is as green as it gets.

You know, I was watching Muppets Most Wanted the other day, and Kermit hasn’t aged a bit in the 43 years since The Frog Prince. You gotta hand it to him, he’s one actor who’s kept fit.