Thursday, January 10, 2008

Fairy Tale Lessons

I don't know if it's the fact that I did my first post-New Year's grocery shopping this week, which involved optimistically buying lots of fruits and vegetables so that I've been eating better, or if it really was that my brain lacks the power to do much of anything else while it's generating an idea, but I was actually reasonably productive yesterday, for the first time in about a week. I've now fixed the parts of the book affected by the driver's test info. Incidentally, I may never drive again and will avoid sidewalks near streets, thanks to those who answered my question and to additional research I've done. Teens in Texas who have taken driver's ed don't have to take a driving test to get a license -- and the driver's ed can be "parent taught," so that the parents just have to sign a form saying that the kids have done certain things and have logged a certain amount of practice time. Given what I've seen of some parents who give their kids whatever they want and who see nothing wrong with lying and cheating to give their kids what they want, I suspect that means there are parents who just sign the forms, whether or not the kid has actually done the work, and those are the very kids who really need to learn they aren't the center of the universe or the only people on the roads. Who thought this would be a good idea? I'm officially frightened. However, that kind of "driver's ed" may not get an insurance discount, and there are still certified courses that require students to take the driving test as part of the course before they get the certificate that will get them a license, so for purposes of my book, I can still show a driving test as a rite of teenage passage that could come with a sixteenth birthday, but it's given by a driving teacher instead of a DPS trooper.

The only thing I have to do today is return a library book, and then I can really settle in and get to work. The book is the complete Grimm's Fairy Tales, which took me a while to plow through, but I figure if I'm going to play with fairy tale concepts, I needed to read the original (or as close to it as has been captured) source material. As tends to happen when you read straight through something that involves a lot of little parts that are meant to stand on their own, I noticed some patterns. So, here's what I learned from Grimm's Fairy Tales:

1) Fairy tale men are shallow.
Story after story involves a man seeing a woman (or even a picture of a woman) and instantly falling madly in love with her because of her beauty -- to the point he's willing to take on an impossible task to win her, even with the understanding that he gets his head cut off if he fails. Now, I'm not opposed to physical attraction, and it takes some degree of physical attraction to notice someone so you can get to know them as a person, but you'd think a man would want to know a little more about a woman before putting his life on the line to win her. What if they turn out not to like each other or have nothing in common? It's also generally looked at as a positive thing that a man is so into beauty, and he isn't condemned for being turned off by ugly women. There was one story where the beautiful princess was disguised as an ugly old woman, and the hero was openly repulsed by her, but the story didn't condemn that in any way, and he was later able to free her without having to first like her at all in her ugly form.

2) Fairy tale women are not allowed to be shallow.
On the other hand, women are expected to look beyond appearances to what's inside. They're the ones who have to be pure and kind enough to fall for the hideous beast or allow the frog to sleep in their beds. If an ugly, dirty stranger shows up and expects to marry one of three daughters, the older two who reject him because he's ugly and dirty don't just miss out on the rich, handsome man he really is, but they're actually punished for being so superficial. Though I really don't see that you can be called shallow for being turned off by a man who hasn't washed, shaved, or cut his hair or nails in seven years. Ewwww.

3) Fairy tale men are fickle.
After they complete all those impossible tasks at risk of their lives, these men show an alarming tendency to head home to tell their parents about their upcoming wedding, then forget entirely about the chick they just won and make plans to marry someone else, so that the woman then has to go through all kinds of hardship to reach him and remind him of their former wedding plans before it's too late. I guess that's sort of payback for the hoops he jumped through to win her, but still, you'd think if you put your life on the line to win a woman, you'd remember doing so. If he does remember to marry the woman he won, he's then frighteningly willing to believe anything anyone says about her, regardless of the evidence, so that he then is willing to have her executed or shut up in a tower. I suppose that's what happens when you marry someone for her looks without knowing anything about her as a person.

4) Always bet on the youngest son or daughter.
The older ones never win. The youngest is the kindest and usually the most clever, even if he's labeled foolish. The youngest daughter is the most beautiful.

5) Beautiful is good, ugly is bad.
The beautiful woman is lovely on the inside, while the plain or ugly woman is mean, jealous and selfish. Beautiful women can also be evil, as in the queen in Snow White whose primary motivation is to be most beautiful, but the girl who's plain but desirable because she's pure in heart doesn't exist in the fairy tale world.

6) "Cinderella story" is a misnomer.
We tend to use the term "Cinderella story" to mean "rags to riches," with the idea of someone from the lower classes rising in rank when she catches the eye of an upper-class man, but Cinderella wasn't a servant or peasant. She was from a wealthy family and was just being made to do work that was beneath her in the house that was rightfully hers. There are actually stories in which a true peasant girl wins a prince because of her beauty, skill and pure heart, but "Cinderella" isn't one of them.

7) Of all the stories that fit the Cinderella pattern, the least interesting is the one that has become the most famous.
There are several stories involving a woman working beneath her station who secretly attends a ball and isn't recognized because she's glammed up and who is later discovered because of a specific clue. I'm not sure why "Cinderella" became the one that was a classic. My favorite is "Allerleiruah," which was dramatized on the Jim Henson "The Storyteller" show in the late 80s. In this one, the girl is a princess in hiding, and because of her coat made of the skins of each type of animal, she's mistaken for a mysterious creature and taken to work in the castle kitchen. When the king has a ball, she sneaks away from work, puts on her princess dress and dances with him, and he doesn't recognize the kitchen creature who makes his favorite kind of soup. There is an ick factor in this story that makes it difficult to Disney-ize, since the reason she's in hiding is the fact that her father intends to marry her (her mother was the most beautiful woman in the world, and when she died, he vowed he wouldn't remarry unless he found a woman as beautiful as she was, but he couldn't find one until his daughter grew up to look just like her mother, so she was the only bride suitable for him -- see, shallow!). That aside, the story is really quite intriguing, and it deserves more attention.

The weird thing about the misogynistic bias in so many of these stories is that women were the sources for much of the collection, according to the notes at the back of the book on the Grimms' methodology. It was mostly women who told them these stories (and one of the brothers married one of their sources).

1 comment:

Carradee said...

Good points. :)

I think the worship of beauty is part of why I have the half-human, half-dwarf character in my head who doesn't have anything to do yet. (I do know that people don't mind her looks so much until they realize she's a girl.)

In my current main in-progress novel, my main character's attractive, but she's not awe-inspiringly beautiful. Just comely, much to her dismay. (She would much prefer being ugly.) Beauty can be a bad thing.

At any rate, *cheers* to pegging fantasy conventions! That's half the battle to defying them!