April 4, 2014 § Leave a comment
K.G. Campbell’s delicately illustrated and completely charming picture book The Mermaid and the Shoe received several good reviews this week, and rightly so. The illustrations are beautiful while still engaging, and the story is simple and sweet. Minnow, the youngest daughter of a mer-king has yet to find her calling in life—her sisters tend to gardens, or train fish, but she is not good at any of these pursuits. But when she finds a strange object, she’s determined to discover its origins. Her journey takes her to the surface of the water, where she discovers a world in which mer-people don’t swim at all, but walk about on funny-looking appendages that they hide under shoes. If we were swimming in the seas of Hans Christian Andersen or Walt Disney, here would be the moment our mermaid spies her prince. But in K.G. Campbell’s refreshing book, Minnow swims quickly home, eager to tell her family all that she’s seen, and to find that her curiosity and storytelling are her calling.
The tale ends there—an uncomplicated story about a girl finding her confidence and her niche, eschewing any romance, sea-witches, or annoying foot pains. Yet the similarities between The Mermaid and the Shoe and Andersen’s The Little Mermaid (and Disney’s too, if we’re being honest here) are also what will have the adults choosing it scratching their heads. Isn’t there more? We know there is. Will this mermaid princess come to know what exists over the highest sand dune? She wouldn’t be the first — and we know from prior stories that what lies above the surface isn’t all pleasant. Parents might find this short tale easier to explain to children, but they’ll likely have trouble shaking the more complicated story that is its ancestor. And this comparison may paint The Mermaid and the Shoe in a somewhat boring light. Ah, well. It’s beautifully illustrated, and I can certainly appreciate an homage to storytelling, in any form. An endearing fable, The Mermaid and the Shoe is an escape for parents who aren’t up to explaining why any sane young mer-girl would give up her voice for a man. My hope would be that the child who has this story read to them will be inspired, as they grow, to discover more complex fairy tales.
February 19, 2014 § Leave a comment
Fairy Tale Review‘s 10th Anniversary Issue, The Emerald Issue, is now available! The issue is comprised of nearly 200 pages of short fiction, poetry, and essays inspired by The Wizard of Oz, and a short story of mine, “Tin Girl” is included. I took this picture this afternoon when my copies of the journal came in the mail, because the story was inspired not only by The Wizard of Oz, but by the lives and demeanors of my two grandmothers, and the strange piece of machinery that is the human heart. If you’re a lover of fairy tales, or just great literary writing with a touch of the speculative, you should definitely check out Fairy Tale Review. And check out my interview with founder and editor and fairy tale author Kate Bernheimer here on the Train as well!
February 5, 2014 § Leave a comment
Happy to have come across this video on Twitter — I had missed it when it was posted by the National Theatre last August, but the authors and scholars interviewed have some really great things to say about what a fairy tale is, and how folk tales and fairy tales differ, but both have the same draw for readers. Also, I just love Philip Pullman.
The film was made by the National Theatre in London for its “Theatrical Context” YouTube channel, where there are some other great gems illuminating the figures and concepts behind the theater’s current shows. “An Introduction to Fairy Tales” provides some context for the National Theatre’s current production of The Light Princess, a new musical based on the 1864 book by George MacDonald, adapted by Tori Amos and Samuel Adamson. MacDonald is also well known for his novel At The Back of the North Wind, published in 1871. He was a major influence on the genre of literary fairy tales in the Victorian era, and writers such as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien cited his books as an inspiration to them. For Maurice Sendak fans, a beautiful edition of The Light Princess was illustrated by Sendak in 1969, and still remains in some sort of available print today (though you stand a good chance of happening across a copy in a used book store–I seem to spot it and The Golden Key, another MacDonald-Sendak edition, in almost every one I go to).
Let me here just fangirl out for a moment: Tori Amos and fairy tales! My nineties heart sings. Here’s Amos interviewed by the Evening Standard about the musical: www.standard.co.uk/goingout/theatre/tori-amos-on-her-new-musical-the-light-princess.
January 31, 2014 § 2 Comments
So, last week I was preparing to post a new entry on A Grimm Project, and I needed an illustration for “Rapunzel.” I have my favorite illustrators from different time periods, from Heinrich Lefler to Arthur Rackham to Paul O. Zelinsky, but I wanted to see if I could find something new, or that I had forgotten about. I did a Google image search. But I forgot the cardinal rule of finding illustrations of fairy tales on the internet: include the word “illustration.” If you don’t, here’s what you get:
December 23, 2013 § 1 Comment
Mary Poppins needs a hand this winter, and the internet, thanks to all that is snarky and determined to spread truth, is here to save her. The indisputably expensive new Disney film Saving Mr. Banks, as you’re likely aware, claims to tell the true story behind the making of the indisputably delightful old Disney film, Mary Poppins, based on the novels of P.L. Travers. It pits prudish, harsh, and critical Travers (Emma Thompson) against fun-loving monomaniac Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) in the battle for the rights to produce the film. Disney woo-ed Travers for many years before securing her sign-off to make the film, and Saving Mr. Banks would have you believe that it’s because Walt finally got to the “core” of Travers’s psychosis in creating the character in the first place: daddy issues. It goes so far as to have Thompson beaming with pride at the film’s release, tears welling in her eyes.
But as you may also be aware, thanks to the diligent critics of the inter-webs, Thompson’s tears are a woeful misrepresentation of the true story that isn’t being told in the film: that Travers was devastated by the film. She fought Disney tooth and nail for five years, and you can bet that that fight was not just a charming sing-along by Richard and Robert Sherman and an escorted trip to Disneyland. It was surely much, much uglier. Walt Disney, to put it mildly, was not a nice man. He was a business man, one who insisted in his early films that only his name appear listed as animator, even when he had a team helping him. One who insisted on slapping his name in front of every title his studios put out, in case anyone forgot it. There would never be “P.L. Travers’ Mary Poppins” — there would only be his, and in the end, though Travers fought him, she lost. That’s what this film is about. « Read the rest of this entry »
November 23, 2013 § 4 Comments
If you’ve been a long-time reader of this blog, you know that when it comes to fairy tale film adaptations, I am hard to impress. And when it comes to those made by the D-word, The Mouse, the corporation-we-must-not-name, I am skeptical at the very best. Fairy tales in film – well, it’s a long and complicated history. You could argue that the unstoppable popularity of 20th Century animated fairy tale films has kept these ancient stories alive in the public imagination. You could also argue (and I usually do) that the making of a fairy tale into a colorful, copyrighted commodity only serves to keep one version in the public imagination, and that more often than not, that one version is a very flat, very uninteresting version of that tale’s ancestors.
This isn’t a new argument – and because this argument has gained traction in recent years, we’ve actually seen film studios try to beef up their fairy tale adaptations, to make them darker and stranger. Examples: Snow White and the Huntsman, Red Riding Hood. Sometimes they succeed. Often, though, even these “darker” fairy tales are just as silly as the cartoons, a badly plotted action film wearing a sheen of recognizable names and familiar fairy dust to help sell it. They use grainier filters, but will often shy away from exploring the deeper levels of the fairy tales: the sexual awakenings, the illogical yet primal relationships between characters that make one evil and the other their prey.
There are very, very few fairy tale film adaptations that make me feel like the director and the writer wanted to explore something more, rather than simply repackaging a certain corporation’s vision into something sell-able for a new market.
So I was surprised by the recently released teaser trailer for Disney’s Maleficent, and how much I actually want to see the film. Like the Grinch hearing the Whos down in Who-ville singing, I cupped my ear. I didn’t feel the urge to immediately dismiss this. In fact, I was intrigued. « Read the rest of this entry »
October 31, 2013 § Leave a comment
Happy Halloween from Something to Read for the Train & A Grimm Project!
004. The Tale of the Boy Who Set Out to Learn What Fear Was
*This post is part of A Grimm Project, a series of short fiction pieces using each of the Brothers Grimms’ Nursery and Household Tales as writing prompts. For more information about the project, click here. For more about the story which inspired this freewrite, click here.*
When the bed stopped its bucking and the cats had gone to find milk, I straightened my suspenders and set off to explore the final wing of the castle. What fun I’d had so far—sheets askew and cards scattered, the castle had the look of a gaming den. One final hallway, one final door. I rapped my knuckles loudly, and the door gave way.
Ah, it’s you, someone said.
I could see no one in the dark. The voice was quiet and raspy.
Nursing a cold there, eh, sir? I said.
I heard a scratching noise near my feet. Fumbling in my pockets, I found the last match and lit it against my shoe sole. The small light flickered—two eyes looked up at me from the stone floor, reflecting the match’s dance.
Hullo, what are you doing down there? I asked. The man—for that’s what the speaker was, a very old man with a beard as long as his body, and pointed nails caked with dirt—extended a bony hand towards me and touched my cheek. Careful there, Granddad, I said. Those nails look sharp enough to scratch.
I had forgotten how full those cheeks were in my youth, the man said. Look, how healthy that hay-colored hair. So handsome, I was.
I didn’t much care for the smell of him.
See here, old dirt-nail, old fish-stink, which way to the treasure? Dawn’s a-coming fast, and if I don’t find it by then, we’re good as burnt toast, no use to anybody. Help me out, will you, instead of lying there?
There is no treasure, the old man said. His eyes had become very bright, this I noticed just before the match fizzled down and nipped my thumb and forefinger with a sharp little searing. There is only you.
I backed away, feeling around behind me for the door. You’re dotty, you are. If you’ll be no help to me, then fie with you. I’ll find it on my own, and by morning, too.
I’m sure you will, the man said, waving to me faintly as I left the room and faced the deeper darkness of the hall. Yes, I’m sure this time you will.
Old tosser, I thought.