Angela Carter at 75: Reopening The Bloody Chamber

May 26, 2015 § 3 Comments

Fairy tale writer and editor Angela Carter would have turned 75 this year; the sad fact that she died of cancer in 1992 is pinpointed beautifully by Kelly Link, who asks in her introduction to a new edition of Carter’s most beloved story collection, “What would she make of the stories we tell now? What new thing would she make?”

The new Penguin Classics edition.

The new Penguin Classics edition.

We can’t know, but at least we can always return to the work that she left behind, work that took fairy tales and blew them wide open. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, or of fairy tales in general, then the likelihood that you’re familiar with Angela Carter is very high; if you’re not familiar with her, then get ready for a treat of the highest order. Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, which has just been re-released today in an anniversary edition by Penguin Classics, is seminal reading for fairy tale lovers, because of Carter’s daring and—to this day—endlessly surprising female-empowered fairy tale retellings. Now, of course, fairy tale retellings are all the rage, but when Carter wrote The Bloody Chamber, she was not only a pioneer: she was setting the standard. « Read the rest of this entry »

Why I Think I’ll Like Maleficent.

November 23, 2013 § 4 Comments

Angelina-Jolie-in-Maleficent-2013-Movie-Image

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 »

Fairy Tales Behind the Curtain: A Conversation with Kate Wolford and Megan Engelhardt

May 9, 2013 § 6 Comments

Kate Wolford is a teacher, scholar, and author/editor of Beyond the Glass Slipper: Ten Neglected Fairy Tales to Fall in Love With, now out from World Weaver Press. She also edits the online magazine Enchanted Conversation. Megan Engelhardt is the co-author of Wolves and Witches, a collection of prose and poetry fairy tale adaptations by herself and her sister, Amanda C. Davis. Wolves and Witches is also available from World Weaver Press.

btgs-cover-ebook-300-dpiBoth Kate and Megan agreed to chat with me about fairy tales and their complicated relationship with gender, and what draws writers and scholars to them still. Enjoy!

crfricke: Both the act of collecting little known fairy tales and re-writing fairy tales are akin to drawing back a curtain on something—would you say that that was part of your mission in writing these books? If so, how would you define what is being revealed?

Kate Wolford: Yes, is my answer to the first question. Of the ten tales in Beyond the Glass Slipper, only “The Nixy” and “King Pig” are even moderately well known—especially when it comes to US readers. The massive domination of Disney fairy tale culture in the Americas means that even sophisticated fans of fairy tales might have a fairly narrow view of what a fairy tale is “supposed” to be. For example, people really believe that fairy tales always end in “happily ever after.” They very often don’t. What the book is meant to reveal is a wider idea of what a fairy tale can be, and that the world of fairy tales is richer and more diverse than most of us ever imagine. I also want readers to realize that fairy tale heroes and heroines often are people of questionable character. Look at the soldier in one of the stories, “The Blue Light.” That he will be as bad a king as the man he vanquishes is pretty clear. But, then again, in Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” the protagonist is a stalker, but people so seldom notice.

wolves-and-witches-coverMegan Engelhardt: For the first question, in our case, a lot of the tales we use are fairly well known. I think for Amanda and me, the fun comes in asking the reader to look at the familiar from a different angle. I’m not sure that it’s fair to call it a mission, really, but it is definitely an interest that directed a lot of the work in Wolves and Witches. We all know what happens from the main character’s point of view, but what’s the villain thinking? What’s going on over here to the side of the main action? What happens after the curtain closes? Those are the questions that fired our imaginations, and those are the stories we tried to reveal to the reader. « Read the rest of this entry »

Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall: Who Has the Most Girl-Power of Them All?

June 20, 2012 § 12 Comments

Below is a freelance article I wrote after the release of Snow White and the Huntsman. Though it didn’t get picked up for publication this round (among other reasons, the fact that I misspelled the name of the magazine’s editor in the email wasn’t a winning move), I’m pretty proud of it, and want to share it with you–it’s not just a review of the film, but a comparison between the two Snow White films that came out this spring, and a call for more empowered and honest depictions of women in fairy tale films. Too tall an order? We’ll see…

So it’s pretty clear that 2012 is the year of the pure white virgin with gumption. Snow White and the Huntsman won the box office its first weekend over such nostalgic temptations as Men in Black III and Battleship—to really hook an audience, you have to go farther back than their middle school years. Way back. Two hundred years back, even. Many of you readers may be aware already that this year marks the bicentennial anniversary of the Grimm brothers’ Nursery and Household Tales. It seems that big-budget studios are helping audiences celebrate with last fall’s fairy tale themed shows Once Upon a Time and Grimm and films such as the upcoming Jack the Giant-Killer and Maleficent (a new take on Disney’s Sleeping Beauty).

The fairest tale of them all, however, is the one getting the most Hollywood attention: the Grimms’ “Snow White,” the inspiration for not one, but two feature films this year. The afore mentioned Snow White and the Huntsman, now in theaters, is a medieval fantasy epic starring Kristen Stewart as Snow and Charlize Theron as her black-hearted stepmother, Queen Ravenna. A darkly hued, adventure-heavy take on the fairy tale, Snow White and the Huntsman is interesting enough to warrant positive reviews on its own, but in comparison to this year’s earlier offering, Relativity Media’s Mirror, Mirror, is even more deserving of a closer look. The light-hearted Mirror, Mirror starred Lily Collins as Snow and Julia Roberts as her vain, tittering stepmother. Both films attempt—with varying degrees of sincerity, I might add—to endow lovely Snow with a little more bite as a feminine role model. But here’s the trouble: when fiddling with stories that have been told and retold for over two hundred years, it takes more than a princess with a sword to tell a tale that truly speaks to women.

« Read the rest of this entry »

Aja! Strong Women

April 22, 2012 § 11 Comments

I’ve been thinking a lot about strong women lately.

I’ve been thinking a lot about women who are sexual, and have power. I’ve been thinking about the way they’re portrayed, both in contemporary media and in the stories that have been around as long as there have been storytellers.

I’m not the first to be thinking about these things. Second-wave feminism in the 1970’s sparked a slew of female critics who looked directly at fairy tales to explain conflicting views of a woman’s role in 20th Century society. Karen E. Rowe, whose essay “Feminism and Fairy Tales” blended second wave feminism with intense literary criticism; Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, whose book Madwoman in the Attic laid bare the angel vs. monster dichotomy used to depict most female characters in Victorian lit and beyond; Even now, freelance writers like Chloe Angyal are taking up the second-wave fairy tale critic torch in her essay “Snow Job That’s the Unfairest of The All,” published last week in the Sydney Morning Herald.

No, I’m not the first to be pondering the “strong female character” as she exists in fairy tales, and I probably won’t be the last. Nonetheless, readers, indulge me. « Read the rest of this entry »

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