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.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The "Once Upon a Time" Legacy.



‘Tis the best of TV seasons, ‘tis the worst of TV seasons.  Some fairy tale TV shows are lost, some begin again.

Years ago, we experienced a little boom of TV shows inspired by fairy tales and other fantasy.  The stand-outs were ABC’s Once Upon a Time and NBC’s Grimm.  Though, of the two, it was Once Upon a Time that really pulled in the big numbers and drew in a great number of fans (known online as “Oncers”).  Now, with the end of the show’s sixth season, the show is headed for a restart of sorts as various actors from the show have chosen not to return for Season 7.  As for Grimm, the show has simply ended.

Now, I was not the biggest fan of Once Upon a Time.  I watched the show for a while but gave up midway through the third season.  However, our fairy tale blogging friend InkGypsy commented on how no one was commenting on Once Upon a Time’s “semi-finale” and the show’s influence on her one of her blogs.  Now, after having watched the finale and the musical episode that preceded it as well as having a nice Twitter chat with both InkGypsy and fairy tale scholar R.C. DoRosario, I’m going to screw my courage to the sticking place and actually talk about Once Upon a Time and speculate on the impact it will have on how people handle fairy tales.

Once Upon a Time was, and probably still is, a frustrating show for those who already know a good deal about fairy tales and literature.  For one thing, the show billed itself as being about fairy tales but it pretty soon revealed itself to be about Disney movies.  Or rather, Disney movies and a few other stories that were easily recognizable like “Hansel and Gretel” and “Little Red Riding Hood”.  And sometimes it wasn’t even that.  Sometimes it was just based on what people thought they remembered about famous movies based on famous characters.  For example, at one point they introduced the character of Victor Frankenstein (not a fairy tale, I know.  The show actually even admits to that).  But in the second episode that focuses on the character, they show that he has an assistant named Igor.  Igor the assistant isn’t even a character in the movie or the book.  The movie has an assistant named Fritz and some of the sequels have a criminal named Ygor who manipulates the monster but the combination of the name Igor and the position of assistant is the result of the mass human consciousness combining all that together.  It’s a strange example using a character that barely appears but it kind of sums up the show.  It wasn’t a show about fairy tales or literature.  It was a show about household name characters and what people thought they knew about them, and then throwing some sort of twist or monkey wrench into the works regarding them (I’ll get to the “twists” later).  This was especially troubling for those in the know when the showrunners would say things about how they felt they were running out of stories to work with (there are so many stories they haven't used!).

But let’s get beyond that stuff.  The grumpiness of fairy tale fans and fairy tale scholars.  It’s easy to see that stuff as nitpicking.  The truth is that the show was not without problems at the time I stopped watching it.  Actual, story types of problems.  I stopped watching Once Upon a Time right after they finished their “Wicked Witch of the West” arc and right before they brought in the characters from Disney’s Frozen.  It would be easy to say the Frozen characters were the last straw, seeing as I don’t like that movie.  But like I said, there were problems.  Up to that point, the show often felt like it was on a treadmill.  It was moving alright, but it didn’t seem to be going anywhere.  For example, the infamous Peter Pan arc was notorious for its meandering.  I’ve gone on record as saying I didn’t like OUaT’s take on Peter Pan, but it would have been a whole lot easier to take if that season didn’t focus so much on people wandering around Neverland.  That’s not all.  The show had one of the longest, most drawn-out versions of the “Snow White” story I’ve ever seen.  The minute a curse on Storybrooke was lifted, a new but still familiar curse immediately seemed to fall on it.  And the writers seemed to go out of their way to invent reasons for Regina to hate Emma Swan and Mary Margaret/Snow White.  Once Upon a Time engaged in the illusion of change without using quite enough illusion.  And it doesn’t seem to have stopped.  The beginning of the next season seems very familiar.  Don’t watch the video if you don’t want the end of the season finale spoiled.
 
[Sigh]

But the truth is that this show will have an impact on how people view fairy tales and other stories.  And thinking back to some of my discussions with Oncers online, it’s likely going to be with the show’s twists on the stories.  I’m not going to lie, this one might be aggravating to fairy tale folks as well.  If you’ve been into fairy tales for a while, these twists and subversions probably won’t seem very novel.  It’s stuff like “What if Peter Pan was a bad guy and Captain Hook was a good guy?” or “What if we gender-swapped Jack and the Beanstalk?” or “What if [insert character] was also [insert other character]”.  Most of these were already out there either in books and comic books or just as thought experiments or writing prompts for storytellers and authors.  There were a couple that caught me by surprise.  Prince Charming taking the place of his evil twin who died was rather surprising.  So was Little Red Riding Hood actually being the Big Bad Wolf.  But here’s the thing, to most people these ideas were brand new.  Most of the audience hadn’t even thought about fairy tales since they were kids and hadn’t ever thought about subverting them.  What the show did was provide a signal boost to ideas that were already there but were restricted to what was essentially a subculture.  It was something that was there since the beginning.  The idea of fairy tale characters being exiled to the real world and interacting with each other there was new to a lot of people, but comic book readers had been reading Fables for years.  Some had even accused the show of being a Fables rip-off.  Probably because ABC had previously tried to make a Fables show that had never gotten off the ground.  And the truth is, it’s not the first time anything like this has happened.  There are always ideas and concepts that are big in a subculture but don’t reach the mainstream public until they’re put through certain channels.  I mean, who here remembers when the mainstream finally realized that superheroes could be a fun and diverse genre?  Or when people were suddenly crazy about epic fantasy?  The question might be what the next idea that’ll be brought to the mainstream would be and how to go about bringing it to them.

The show will continue for at least one more season.  Who knows if it will last with such big changes ahead?  Other shows haven’t.

Now, the other show that premiered that same year was Grimm.  Grimm was a show about a police officer who could see and hunt creatures called Wesen, which were all tied into folklore and story in some way.  The contrast in how the two shows dealt with their fairy tale material was practically night and day.  Once Upon a Time pretty much announced its fairy tale material like: “HEY, LOOK!  IT’S THAT STORY YOU KNOW FROM THAT MOVIE!”  It was always right on the surface and it was always something familiar to a lot of people.  Grimm, on the other hand, played with a lot of more obscure stuff and always kind of wove it into layers and layers of the show’s own mythology.  Sometimes it was so obscure and so woven in that you might have trouble identifying what exactly they were referencing.
I also stopped watching Grimm before it ended, but it was mainly an issue of character.  The main character of Nick Burkhardt was never really anything special.  He wasn’t particularly quirky or complex but he grew on you as a regular guy in an extraordinary situation.  However, before the final season started his situation changed dramatically.  His girlfriend Juliette turned into a crazy witch and was then killed.  Then, he moved into a warehouse with Adalind, a villainess who had more-or-less raped Nick (well, slept with him under false pretenses at least) and the child they had conceived.  Adalind was even being played up as a love interest.  While it might seem strange that losing a regular house and the side character of Juliette would make me lose interest, it kind of served to remove a lot of the grounding a relatability that was there with Nick.  The show was pretty good up until that point.  I kind of respect how much it did its own thing.

It’s kind of strange how these two shows existed with no real middle ground in regards to how they handled the folk and fairy tale material they were drawing from.  One show was very up front and familiar.  The other was obscure and didn’t really bother trying to clue in the audience to what it was working with.  I keep hoping we’ll see something come along that treads that middle ground.  Something that plays with more obscure material but is willing to clue in the audience.  I don’t think we’ll ever see it, at least not on regular network TV.  I just think anything that really puts the cause of informing viewers about obscure folk stories on the same level as providing entertainment would probably be seen more as “educational television”.  So, if anything, PBS or BBC would probably be the most likely placed to see something like that.

But what do other folks think?  What do you think the legacy of Once Upon a Time might be?  Same question for Grimm.