Sunday, July 16, 2017

Four-Color Fairy Tales: Classics Illustrated Junior



The name Classics Illustrated is famous in comic book circles.  The series, known for adapting works of classic literature, is remembered by comic book fans not only for producing an impressive run of comics but also for being one of the first attempts at classing up the medium and the first introduction many people had to stories from great literature.

Many people forget though that Classics Illustrated had a spin-off series focused on myths and fairy tales entitled Classics Illustrated Junior.

Now, comics of this vintage are not always easy to get a hold of, but I saw a box of them at my friendly neighborhood comic shop.  I picked up four issues: Pinocchio, The Frog Prince, The Dancing Princesses and King Thrushbeard.

So, how do these comics stack up?  Well, the thing to remember here is that these comics are all from the 1950s and were aimed at very young kids.  I mean, Classics Illustrated was definitely aimed at kids, Classics Illustrated Junior must have been aimed at even younger ones.  But let’s break it down.


Pinocchio- This adaptation of Carlo Collodi’s book is pretty faithful except that everything is very condensed.  Certain events from the book are left out.  For example, the parts with Mr. Cherry at the beginning of the story are taken out.  There are also no run-ins with the Green Fisherman or Melampo the Mastiff.  The violence is also greatly toned down.  One of the most infamous scenes in the book is the one where the Fox and Cat hang Pinocchio from a tree by the neck.  This version avoids the execution style hanging and has the Fox and Cat truss Pinocchio up around the middle so his hands are tied and hangs him from there.  So, instead of looking like an executed man, the naughty puppet looks a bit more like some sort of awkwardly designed Christmas tree ornament.  In addition, the Cricket gets chased off rather than squished and the giant dogfish that swallows Pinoccchio is just a generic (though gigantic) fish.

The Frog Prince- Of the four comics I picked up, this is probably the only one where the story is stretched out rather than condensed.  The princess spends a lot more time offering the frog gold and jewels to retrieve her golden ball.  The princess also receives a dream sequence in this version that shows her transformed into a frog and abused by a little boy.  Now, you’re probably wondering about the ending.  Does she kiss the frog?  Does she chuck it at a wall like in the Grimms’ book?  Neither.  After she wakes up from her dream sequence, she feels bad about the frog having to sleep on the cold, hard floor.  So, she picks it up and puts it on a pillow.  When she wakes up the next morning there’s a prince lying there on her floor.  This version seems to draw on two different variants of the tale that I know of, which is an interesting thing to see in a vintage comic book like this one.

The Dancing Princesses- This is another story that is mainly changed in the sense that elements are condensed.  The soldier’s three nights to discover where the princesses are going is reduced to one.  So, everything is happening much faster.  There are also some elements that speak more to the era and the age group that this comic was made for.  Instead of being executed, the princes who fail at finding where the princesses are going are banished.  Also, all mentions of alcohol are changed.  Instead of being brought a cup of wine with a sleeping drug in it, the soldier is brought a cup of milk with a sleeping drug in it.  They also make a point to mention that it’s lemonade that everyone is drinking at the underground ball (making a secret magic, mysterious rendezvous seem more like a very unusual church social or high school dance).   One thing that really stands out though, is that they go to the trouble of naming all of the mysterious princes (Stanley, Albert, Conrad, Armand, William, Rudolph, Alex, Aladar, Michael, Oscar and Robert), while only two of the princesses (Flora and Hilda) are named.  I don’t want to say it’s a sexist move, but it certainly seems like one.  The comic  also makes another change that I’ve been known to make when telling the story.  The soldier (named Felix here) ends up with not the oldest sister but the youngest.  Probably because the youngest sister is the only one who seems particularly sympathetic.

King Thrushbeard- This one is more or less the same except the haughty princess is given some rhyming couplets to insult her rejected suitors with.  I kind of wish I could say this comic is better than the traditional story because this story doesn’t have the best reputation.  It’s sort of the “Taming of the Shrew” of fairy tales in the way it treats its main female character.  I’ve got a soft spot for it because I like tales that feature some degree of trickery and deception, but yeah I can totally see the issue here.  And an adaptation from the 1950s certainly isn’t going to fix that.
Each issue also includes an Aesop’s fable a page of animal facts and a couple of children’s poems and nursery rhymes.  The art is about what you’d expect from fairy tale adaptations from the ‘50s.  A lot of clean cut young men and women in fantasy garb.

This isn’t the first time I’ve covered fairy tale comics from this time period.  Remember my piece on Walt Kelly’s Fairy Tales?  So, we didn’t really encounter anything here we haven’t seen before.  I think maybe the biggest revelation is just how young they were trying to skew the demographic for fairy tales.  I mean, if Classics Illustrated was already meant for kids, who was Classics Illustrated Junior meant for?  Pre-schoolers?  It’s kind of a reminder in these days when everyone’s saying “Fairy tales aren’t really for kids” how much we bend the tales to make them fit the demographic we want them to fit.  We may even be bending them a bit even now to make them the terribly “adult” tales we want them to be.  It makes you think.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Fantasy Literature Rewind: The Reluctant Dragon.



In this age of Disney remakes, I find I usually wait until just before the new film version of the story has been released before writing up a Fantasy Literature Rewind column.  But, you know, I just don’t see Disney’s version of “The Reluctant Dragon” getting remade as a feature.  Especially since they already did a dragon movie.

“The Reluctant Dragon” is a short children’s story by Scottish author Kenneth Grahame.  The story was originally published in 1898 in a short story collection entitled Dream Days.  Grahame himself is probably best known for writing the children’s story The Wind in the Willows (another story that’s been Disney adapted but which I can’t picture being remade any time soon).  “The Reluctant Dragon” is one of Grahame’s more popular short stories.  It’s been adapted a number of times for television.  Rankin-Bass, famed for their many Christmas specials, even paired the dragon with another of Grahame’s popular characters for a cartoon titled The Reluctant Dragon and Mr. Toad Show.

The story starts out with a boy, simply called “the Boy” throughout the entire story who lives near the Downs in England.  Now, this boy spent much of his time reading fairy tales and natural history, such that they ran together and he started to consider the two to be one and the same.  This is why he isn’t all that surprised when his father comes home from herding his sheep talking about a terrible creature he saw in one of the caves nearby.  The Boy figures it’s a dragon and goes to have a chat with it.  Upon meeting the dragon he’s surprised to find that the dragon isn’t a desperate fire-breathing beast that likes fighting knights at all.  Instead, he’s a polite, somewhat lazy homebody who enjoys writing poetry.
The Boy and the Dragon become good friends.  However, it’s not really to last.  The locals have found out about the dragon and have decided that something has to be done about it.  This is partially because they think the dragon must be a monster and partially because they just want there to be a fight they can watch.  The townsfolk don’t really have anything they can do about it until St. George comes to town (yes, that St. George).  Upon warning the dragon that St. George is coming, the Boy gets roped into talking to George which in turn escalates into him setting up a meeting between St. George and the Dragon.  That meeting leads to a rather humorous staged fight in which the dragon is supposedly injured and is then reformed, allowing him to take a place in society.

I usually don’t give away the endings of stories, but I kind of felt I needed to in order to give a full picture here.  You can still read the story HERE.  This version actually starts with a sort of framing device that my print copy doesn’t have.

Now, as is probably evident, this story is a take on the popular legend of “St. George and the Dragon” (a legend I talked about in The Stuff of Legends).  Now, the thing to remember is that this legend is a huge deal in England.  This is probably because St. George is considered to be the patron saint of England.  Never mind the fact that the story of Saint George fighting the dragon supposedly happened in Libya.

It’s easy to just see “The Reluctant Dragon” as a spoof or satire of the popular “knight fights dragon” archetype.  However, I also can’t help but think maybe it was also Kenneth Grahame’s way of poking some fun at the English society of the time period using one of their most beloved stories.  While Grahame may have been Scottish it’s true, he did spend some time in England even going to university there.  Also, with England being the seat of power for the United Kingdom, it was and still is a country that casts a long shadow over the rest of the British Isles.  It’s really the contradictions within the story that bring up thoughts of Victorian England.  The dragon is gentle and poetic while the townsfolk are more bloodthirsty and desiring for violent conflict, at least as spectators.  Even the boy wanted to see a “proper fight”.  Just as Britain was a big, warlike colonial power at the time that identified with the legend of the heroic Saint George while also in some circles being preoccupied with subjects like social class, propriety and civility.  Maybe it’s a bit of a stretch.  But what really gets me and makes me think the story is a poke at English society is the way that the concept of the fight is proposed to the dragon.  Both Saint George and the Boy frame the idea of the battle as a matter of propriety.  For a dragon to not fight a knight after the challenge is issued is simply not done.  On top of that, the Dragon’s reasoning for agreeing to the staged fight is so that after he’s reformed he may enter society.  In other words, it would help his social standing.
I could be completely off.  I myself am not English and have not given a whole lot of time to the study of Victorian English society.  So, if any of my readers are more knowledgeable about the subject, please let me know.

But still, “The Reluctant Dragon” is a fun story and might give you something to think about.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Awards Season, #2

It's Awards Season for blogs again!  Remember when I got nominated for a blogging award before?  Anyway, this time it's The Mystery Blogger Award and I was nominated by Sue Bursztynski from The Great Raven.  Sue, I thank you.

Now, the rules are as follows:

Award Rules
1. Put the award logo on your blog.
2. List the rules.
3. Thank whoever nominated you and link to their blog.
4. Mention the creator of the award (Okoto Enigma) and provide a link as well.
5. Tell your readers 3 things about yourself.
6. Nominate roughly 10 – 20 people for this award.
7. Notify your nominees by commenting on their blogs.
8. Ask your nominees five questions.
9. Share a link to your best/favorite post that you’ve written.
 
So, I have to link to Okoto Enigma's blog, which is right HERE.  (Pardon me, I'm doing this a bit off-the-cuff).

Let's see, three things about myself:

1) I have a niece and a nephew who I love to pieces.  I'm not going to give out any names in the interest of internet anonymity.

2) I currently work for the State of New York.  On top of that, I come from a family where a number of other people either did or currently work for the State of New York.  It's a dynasty of civil servants.

3) I am a huge fan of classic monsters.  My favorite monster movie is The Wolf Man while my favorite gothic fiction novel is Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.

As for my favorite post that I've posted, I like the Fairy Tale Mixtape one for the little trend it started.

And . . . 

And . . . 

I don't think I'm going to be able to follow all these rules.  I can't think of any questions to ask anyone.  And I don't follow 10 blogs that I could nominate.  Most of the ones I would nominate are ones that you've already nominated.  If I did pick any, it would be Amy, Kristin, Gypsy, Csenge and my usual circle of online friends.
 
But thanks for the nomination, Sue.  It's appreciated.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

A Tale Hunter's Field Guide


I’ve been meaning to post on this topic for a while.  I thought folks would like to know where I find the stories I post about or use for storytelling.  The truth is that it often does take some searching around, but an experienced tale hunter has his resources.  So, let’s get to it.

Book stores- I wanted to start with book stores because they’re where I first bought some of my earliest folk tale books.  There is one problem, though.  The brick and mortar book stores near me are almost a depleted resource.  When I first started buying books of folk tales, I could find all sorts of great books from different regions of the world.  It was especially easy to find books from the Pantheon Fairy Tale and Folklore Library.  However, over time and with the closing of Borders, the choices have dwindled.  Now you’re most likely to just find the usual collected works of the Grimms or Andersen.  Sometimes you might be able to find some newer releases like the most recent translation of The Tale of Tales or The Turnip Princess.  It might be different in your neck of the woods.

Public Library- I will never say a bad word about the public library.  It is one of the best resources to have around.  And every tale hunter knows that the place you have to look is nonfiction call number 398.2.  With a lot of larger public libraries looking to develop balanced collections that serve their unique community, you can often find some interesting stuff.  There is one thing that must be remembered about getting your tales from books in the public library: you have a deadline.  No matter how many times you renew that book, it will eventually have to go back.  If you’re going to do something like develop a storytelling performance around a story or write a blog post about it, you’ll probably want to act fast.  Either that or make photocopies of it (the photocopier also conveniently located in the library).  If you’re the type who lets stories percolate at the back of their mind until inspiration strikes, you might want to use your first trip to the library as a starting point.  You can jot down the title and editor (folk tale books usually have editors or collectors rather than authors) and keep it in mind to get out of the library again or search for your own copy to own.  Where would you find your own copy?  Well, that brings us to . . .

The Internet- Yes, the World Wide Web has connected us all and made it a lot easier to connect to folk tales all over the world.  When buying books, there’s always Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites.  But there are also sites for used books like half.com.  But then, there are also online-only collections.  Some of the notable ones I’ve used are Sur La Lune Fairy Tales, D.L. Ashliman’s Folktexts, and Fairytalez.com.  Some can also be found in the Sacred-Texts Archive.  These are all great resources but keep in mind that you may want to have a printer handy.  That way you can take your story with you if you don’t have a portable device handy and write notes in the margins if you really want to.

Kindle Store- Speaking of the internet . . . I don’t know how many people out there reading this have e-book readers (which is a flawed name.  The device isn’t so much a book as a portable library).  But searching the kindle store has regularly turned up some good books of tales from new places.  One nice bonus, is that some books can be found in the kindle store for free because they’re public domain and they’ve been digitized onto the internet already.  Keep in mind that the quality and usability of these older books may vary.  Also, some of them are very much a product of their time.  I specifically recall reading a book of tales from Spain and Portugal that I had downloaded and being rather surprised how many racial slurs were in it.  Still, it’s a good way of finding folk tale books that may be long out of print.

Other Storytellers- Yes, there’s the obvious folk concept of hearing a story told by one teller and liking it so much that you just have to tell it (with permission, of course).  But that’s not necessarily what I’m talking about.  You see, there has been more than one occasion in which I’ve walked into a Story Circle meeting to see books just laid out on a nearby table.  What this means is that either another storyteller in the group is cleaning out their collection or they’re helping clean out the collection of a friend.  Either way, they just can’t bear to throw them out or donate them without seeing if someone else wants them first.  I’ve gotten some good books on these occasions.  It’s thanks to other storytellers that I have The Fairy Stories of Oscar Wilde, Fairy Tales of Frank Stockton and The Peacock Maiden (I’m especially glad to have that last one because folk tales from China are not easy to come by).  Now, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a storytelling meeting, though.  If you run in similar circles, there might be similar chances to pick up some new folk and fairy tale books.

Cultural Festivals- I’ll admit, I’m probably under using this resource, but one of my favorite little-known places to pick up folk tale books is the local Polish Fest which happens one weekend a year in my hometown.  While the Polish Fest is a good place to access a number of things, including polka dancing and plates of kielbasa and pierogies, my favorite part is the vendors.  The vendors sell all sorts of things related to the Polish and Polish-American experience ranging from clothes to artwork.  However, I’ve found one vendor that sells books of folk tales from across Eastern Europe.  It was from the Polish Fest that I’ve bought Roumanian Fairy Tales and Legends, Polish Fairy Tales, The Key of Gold (a book of Czech folk tales) and Fairy Tales of the Russians and Other Slavs.  They also regularly have a copy of Pantheon Press’s Russian Fairy Tales there but I’ve never had the need to buy it.  I’m not sure if I’d have the same luck at other cultural festivals, but someday I plan to find out.
So, that’s my guide to finding folk and fairy tale books.  If you know of any other places to find some I’d love to read it in the comments below.  My next post might be a little different from the norm.  It seems I’ve been nominated for some sort of blogging award.  Anyway, see you next time.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

When You Wish Upon a Remake.

So, it seems that for the immediate future, Disney’s stroll through its back catalog has taken a break.  With Beauty and the Beast having come out in March, our big Disney movie for 2017 has come and gone.  That doesn’t mean things aren’t in the works, though.  A number of other Disney fantasy movies are in various stages of pre-production.  One specific bit of news though is that Disney is apparently courting Skyfall director Sam Mendes to direct the live action iteration of their film Pinocchio.

Ah, Pinocchio.  The book by Carlo Collodi has become an unexpected favorite of mine.  The book is darkly hilarious and crazily creative in an almost random way.  Despite being rather didactic, I find it very entertaining.  Disney’s animated movie on the other hand . . .

Not gonna lie.  It’s not my favorite (though, that didn’t stop me from buying a copy of the recent DVD release.  Why?  Because I’m a sucker, I guess).  Truth be told, when it first came out it was hardly anyone’s favorite.  While Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was a big hit, Disney initially lost money on Pinocchio, and Fantasia.  Crowds just weren’t digging the different stuff they were trying in those films and only managed to recoup their losses with the Dumbo.  Mind you, this is before they started a line of theme parks and essentially gave themselves a license to print money.
So yeah, this film is likely going to happen even if it isn’t with Mendes at the helm.  The news that he was in the running was enough for pop culture website The Nerdist to do a fan casting.  I’m not as interested in casts as I am in stories, though.  And the thing that interests me about the Disney remakes is that almost every one of them has used something from earlier versions of the story that was not present in the animated films.  There was the reference to the hazel branch from Grimm and the lizard footmen from Perrault in Disney’s Cinderella.  There was the myth about the elephants creating the jungle in The Jungle Book.  Let’s not forget the theft of the rose from Beauty and the Beast.  Even if it was a small detail, I appreciated it.

But now the question becomes: What extra bit of the source material could make its way into Pinocchio?

Well, I’m going to create my own wish list, but first let’s set some reasonable expectations with Things that will be in the Pinocchio remake whether I like them or not!


The “Wish Upon a Star” scene.  Yes, it’s amazingly maudlin and it takes away some of the humor present in the story with Pinocchio being a sentient log.  But that scene and the song that accompany it are iconic Disney.  So iconic that the song gets used for things that aren’t even Pinocchio-related.  It’s not my favorite addition to the story.  It actually plays into my theory that the darker a story was, the more Walt and company made it sappy and sentimental.  But I will patiently wait through this kind of syrupy sweetness for the sake of the dyed-in-the-wool Disney fans.

Jiminy Cricket’s co-starring role.  People just love that bug.  If you watch that movie again, you’ll notice he’s not a very good conscience, but people still love him.  They love him so much that people look at me in shock and horror when I tell them that Pinocchio squishes the Talking Cricket out of anger in the book.  It doesn’t even get better when I tell them he comes back with no explanation later in the book (#Pinocchiologic).  People even loved Jiminy back when the movie was bombing at the box office.  That’s why Disney brought him back as a presenter for some of their featurettes and shorts later on.  So, you can bet that Pinocchio’s rather flawed insectoid conscience will be back for the remake.

The Scary Donkey Scene.  In the book, Lampwick’s complete transformation into a Donkey and Pinocchio’s partial transformation into one were played more for laughs.  There was this whole scene where they both try to hide their donkey ears from each other.  Yet, ask almost any Disney fan and they’ll tell you that Lampwick’s transformation into a donkey is one of the most traumatizing scenes in the Disney canon.  And it’s often the scarier scenes that people remember best from Disney movies.  Perhaps because they’re so rare.  So, I can’t see this scene changing for the remake.

Monstro the Whale.  Honestly, I just can’t see them changing the whale back into a giant dogfish.  I just can’t imagine that happening.  It’s another one of those iconic Disney things.


Now that that’s out of the way, let’s make a new list!  Here we have The Fairy Tale Geek’s wishlist of things to be brought into the new Pinocchio remake.


Pinocchio’s and Geppetto’s Personalities.  When we get right down to it, both Pinocchio and Geppetto had kind of bland personalities in the Disney movie.  Geppetto was just a kindly old man and Pinocchio was just innocent and na├»ve.  The book was a different matter.  Geppetto was a hothead and Pinocchio was a pleasure-seeking child who had to learn to behave the hard way.  I think making the characters more like their literary counterparts here would actually deepen the relationships and show them with more complexity.  It would be nice to see Geppetto actually have to make the effort of controlling his temper around Pinocchio.  Meanwhile, Pinocchio would be a little bit more like a real child who has to find out that he can’t always get what he wants and will have to deal with being told “No.”

An Expanded Role for the Blue Fairy.  In Disney’s movie, the Blue Fairy is a magical benefactress.  She brings Pinocchio to life and lays out the conditions for him to become a real boy.  She doesn’t appear much after that.  In the book, she doesn’t bring Pinocchio to life.  He’s already alive even before being carved.  But she does have a bigger role.  She saves Pinocchio from certain death when he gets hung from a tree.  Pinocchio also stays with her at one point and even considers her his mother.  I know that movies are limited in length, but that’s something I’d like to see.  It’s so rare that you see Pinocchio depicted as having any kind of mother figure.  Besides, in 2017 it seems like a good idea to give a bigger role to one of the few female characters in the story.

The General Weirdness.  To tell the truth, despite some of the more fantastical parts, Walt and company really grounded the heck out of the movie.  Just having magic as an explanation for Pinocchio being alive did a lot of it.  As I said before, that part is probably not going to change.  In general though, the book was like a Wonderland story if Wonderland looked an awful lot like 19th Century Tuscany.  Maybe with less wordplay than a Lewis Carroll story (not sure, it could have been lost in the translation) but almost as much randomness.  But I would love to see more of that stuff.  Maybe the Green Fisherman could make it into this version.  Or maybe the animal-populated town of Fool’s Trap.  Or maybe we could see the Blue Fairy’s snail servant and coach drawn by white mice.  It would just be nice to see some of the surrealness brought back into Pinocchio’s world.

The Great Puppet Theater.  This one’s the ultimate long shot because it would mean changing an existing scene from the original film.  But I would like to see a more book-accurate version of the Great Puppet Theater.  In the book, Pinocchio sells his school book to see the puppet show and there he meets some other living puppets and is nearly thrown into the fire by the showman who’s named Fire-Eater (or Mangiafuoco in Italian).  In the movie, Pinocchio is tricked into joining the puppet theater by Honest John (the Fox) and Gideon (the Cat) and ends up being held captive by the puppeteer Stromboli.  None of the other puppets are alive.  Now, like I said, they’re probably not going to change the “wish upon a star” origin story.  Still, it would be great to see Pinocchio meet other living puppets.  It would have to be recontextualized for Pinocchio’s Disney origin, though.  Perhaps they’re other puppets who’ve been brought to life by fairy magic and never figured out how to be “brave, truthful and unselfish” so never won the chance to be real.  Maybe they’ve been living puppets who’ve been like that for nearly a hundred years and could serve as a bit of a warning for Pinocchio that he needs to try harder to be good.  Of course, they’d also have to try something different with the “I’ve Got No Strings” song.  This time, I imagine it being sung by the other living puppets as Pinocchio watches in the audience.


So, that’s my wish list.  Even if Disney doesn’t make any great changes for the remake, there will still be some Pinocchio options out there.  Last I heard, there’s still a Pinocchio movie in the works at Warner Bros. with Robert Downey Jr. and Ron Howard attached.  Also, Italian director Mateo Garrone is working on a version of the story.  But I’d like to hear from my readers about what they’d like to see added or changed during the Mouse’s continued walk down memory lane.  What stories would you like to see with some of their literary counterparts added or what could be changed to make the movie just better in general.  Personally, I’ve also got some suggestions for both The Sword in the Stone and Peter Pan but those are best saved for another day.  So, here’s the list of upcoming movies from InkGypsy’s blog.  Let’s hear what you’d like to see Disney’s second chance with these stories.