Monday, January 9, 2017

Fairy Tale Media Fix: Monarch's Factory.



I’ve said before on other platforms that one of the things I’d like to figure out in my life is how to optimize the experience of oral storytelling for online video.  I am myself a storyteller and a bit of a YouTube addict.  So, figuring out how to combine the two became a subject of interest rather naturally.

However, it might not be as easy a task as you might think.  Oral storytelling is an odd artform.  Ancient and yet odd.  Through my own personal experiences, I’ve found that it’s an artform that becomes better through proximity.  Sitting in an audience and watching a teller on stage is nice but I find it’s even better when sitting in a circle with friends to tell stories.  So, imagine how much more distance is added when the teller is in a window on a computer screen.  On top of that, oral storytelling probably maintains a reputation to this day because it’s viewed as a “stripped down” sort of media.  The onus is entirely on the storyteller, their voice and their gestures.  Meanwhile, video of any kind always exemplifies the visual.

A hard nut to crack if ever there was one.

However, if there was ever a YouTuber who comes really, really close, it’s probably Dael Kingsmill of the YouTube channel Monarch’s Factory.  I’ve mentioned Dael before in a couple of different places.  One was my “Awards Season” post and the other one was the “Fairy Tube” post.  However, I thought it would be a good time to give her a post of her own.  Previously I hadn’t done it because she largely focuses on myths and I don’t cover myths.  But I figure, what the heck!

I first discovered Dael’s work through the Geek and Sundry Vlogs channel (which I actually discovered before the actual Geek and Sundry channel).  The Geek and Sundry Vlogs channel was a channel on which many people with geeky passions would post vlogs (video logs) about what they were interested in whether it was comic books, cosplay, retro gaming, books or even life tips like how to indulge in that stuff on a budget.  Among the vloggers were folks like Amy Dallen, Kiri Callaghan, Scott Tumility and the 2 Broke Geeks.  And one of the vloggers in the group was a young Australian lady named Dael Kingsmill with a show called Mythology 101.

On Mythology 101, Dael would sometimes talk about the mythological influences on modern pop culture (gee, that sounds kind of like someone I know) but a lot of the time she would simply tell stories.  She would bring her own quirky style to the ancient stories.  Sometimes they would even be illustrated by one panel cartoons that wouldn’t tell the story for her but would at least provide the punchline to an unspoken joke.  She has a real knack for exemplifying the absurd in ancient stories.
Alas, the Geek and Sundry vlogs channel is no more.  Yet, like many of the Geek and Sundry vloggers, she started supplying the same sort of content on her own channel.  Not only that, she also expanded on it.  In addition to telling myths, she started an occasional series of fairy tale retellings called “Faerie Daels”.  Like this one she did of “Fitcher’s Bird”.

She’s also dabbled in literary stories and stories from her family’s history.  You can see her retelling of “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” HERE and you can find out about how her family dealt with the Black Friday Bushfires of 1939 HERE.

The secret to Dael’s success?  Well, I told you about her style and cartoons and how she manages to play up the absurdity.  But one of the other things I need to mention is just the fact that she manages to exemplify visuals without it taking away from her own telling of the story.  One very notable thing is her background.  Yes, the background.  The thing she’s sitting in front of.  One of the worst things that a vlogger can do (other than simply being bad at vlogging) is to sit in front of a boring background.  A background should always be visually interesting without distracting from the vlogger/storyteller.  A boring background makes a video look boring.  I’ve seen far too many storytellers who were capable enough at speech and gestures but ruined the look of a video by sitting or standing in front of a plain white or black background (the only YouTuber I’ve ever seen make a plain white background work is The Nostalgia Critic, and that’s because he makes up for it with movie clips and sketches that keep things interesting).  And if you’re a storyteller who’s bothered by the idea of having to play up the visual in a storytelling video for whatever reason, well, have you considered maybe podcasting instead?

There’s more than just storytelling videos on Monarch’s Factory.  There are also gaming videos and other vlogs.  There’s also TED.  Not TED talks, that’s another channel.  TED here means Too easily Distracted, in which Dael elaborates on the random thoughts that run through her mind on a regular basis.  But I think it will always be the Mythology videos (and to a lesser extent Faerie Daels) that keep viewers hooked.

She may not have completely optimized the storytelling experience for video, but she’s one of the closest I’ve seen.  She’s certainly better than my own early experiments with it (HERE is a sample.  I warn you, it’s not pretty).

Just recently, Dael posted up a video entitled “Fate of the Factory” in which she relates that she not only finally earned her university degree (congratulations!) but has plans to change up the format of her channel going forward.  So, I don’t know what her videos are going to be like going forward but I wish her luck in her continuing efforts.  But I thought this would be the perfect time to put up a post about her channel as she enters this exciting new phase in her YouTube career.

So, if you haven’t seen any of Dael’s videos, check out the ones she has from the past and be prepared for what she’s got coming in the future.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Fairy Tale Media Fix: Thumbelina.



I’ve mentioned before that fairy tales aren’t necessarily the easiest stories to adapt into other media.  And it’s true of both folk tales and literary fairy tales.  But I thought we should take a look at an example.

Let’s look at Don Bluth’s 1994 animated film Thumbelina.
Some quick background on Don Bluth and his production company.  Don Bluth was an animator at Disney.  He started in 1955 and worked on a number of films including Sleeping Beauty and Pete’s Dragon.  Bluth left the company for a while but returned later.  He didn’t quite like what he saw when he came back, though.  After Walt Disney had died, Disney Feature Animation had settled into a slump in which they made a number of movies but many of them were without the artistry or risk-taking that previous projects did.  So, Bluth set out to start his own studio and took about nine of Disney’s animators with him.  Or, so I’m told.  In all honesty, that may have been more showbiz legend than anything else.

Anyway, regardless of how much truth is in that, Don Bluth became a big competitor against Disney for a while.  Now, Disney always has competitors.  Their big one now is Dreamworks.  In the earliest days it was Fleischer Studios followed by Warner Brothers.  But in the mid-to-late ‘80s, it was Don Bluth’s company.  The thing about Disney is that once they settle into the right groove, they become hard to compete with.  Disney was on a real streak after 1989’s The Little Mermaid.  Thumbelina came out in 1994, the same year as The Lion King.  By this point, all the folks trying to compete with Disney just said “Okay, you win” and started to copy their formula.  Don Bluth had made some great animated films like The Secret of NIMH, An American Tail and The Land Before Time, all of which emphasized being different from their competitor.  But Thumbelina is pretty much just a Disney animated musical as made by Don Bluth.  They even hired Jodi Benson, the actress who played Ariel in The Little Mermaid to play Thumbelina.
Bluth and company.
The much more notable thing is that, other than moving around a few bits and making a few parts more splashy for the big screen, the movie is reasonably faithful to the story by Hans Christian Andersen.  It hits all the same story beats.

For those who don’t know, “Thumbelina” (called “Inchelina” in my HCA collection) is the story of a tiny girl born from a flower who gets kidnapped by a toad one day and ends up out in the world.  Thumbelina basically ends up moving from one situation to the next, usually in a situation in which some random animal wants to marry her.  Finally she ends up meeting the fairy prince and decides to actually marry him and that’s where happily ever after happens.  That’s about it.  I’ll leave a link HERE to the actual story so you can get the full effect but I think I summed it up rather well.

The movie basically follows this basic plot.  Some stuff is expanded upon to give more space for musical numbers and such.  The Toad and his mother are now performers.  The Beetle works at a nightclub.  Possibly the biggest changes are that Thumbelina’s meetings with both the Fairy Prince (named Cornelius here) and the bird (now named Jacquimo) are moved up so they happen earlier in the story.  Having Thumbelina meet the bird earlier doesn’t do much for the story.  Jacquimo’s main purpose in the story seems to be giving Thumbelina pep talks and going on and on about how love can make people do the impossible (something that I suppose is meant to be the movie’s theme but never really strikes home).  Having Thumbelina meet the prince in the first act gives the story a little bit more to work with as it turns what were a string of random encounters into events that are keeping her and the prince apart.  It also allows them to add in a big action set piece at the end when she almost marries the Mole.  While that does add more of a through-line to the movie as well as a more dramatic climax, it doesn’t do much to change the fact that it’s a movie that has about three largely independent antagonists and a rushed love story (the big love duet now happens in the first act).  The end result is a movie that is mostly true to the fairy tale but kind of flows in a weird way compared to most Hollywood family films.

And that is probably most indicative of the problem with relying on Hollywood to popularize fairy tales.  Hollywood films are very reliant on a codified structure while most fairy tale traditions date from a time before that structure existed.  Some of them seem like strings of random encounters.  Some seem like two stories stuck together.  Others have antagonists that only appear at one part of the story.  And yet, for the US, Hollywood’s movies and TV shows are pretty much the only folks to have the kind of reach to popularize anything.

The movie has other issues, too.  Some of the character designs seem really weird.  The toads are depicted as having hair and, in the case of Mrs. Toad, breasts (probably because she’s being voiced by Charo, of all people).  It’s really taking anthropomorphizing a bit too far.  There are songs in this movie, but none of them are particularly great.  They’re composed and written by Barry Manilow, and even though I’m not a fan of his I can still say that they’re not quite up to “Copacabana” level.  Probably the worst one is “Marry the Mole”.  But possibly the worst bit is that we really don’t get much out of the heroine herself.  She mainly seems concerned with marrying Cornelius (who she just met) and being the only person her size.  While she didn’t have much personality in the original Andersen story, this was the filmmakers’ chance to flesh her out and they didn’t.  It’s especially troubling considering how their competition had been adding more personality to their female leads.  Thumbelina isn’t curious like Ariel or feisty like Jasmine or bookish like Belle.  She’s just pleasant like another Snow White, which I should remind you is from 1937.
The movie is watchable.  It’s not great or even good, but it’s watchable.  I’ve certainly seen far worse animated movies (like The Swan Princess for example).  I admire that it exists and that work went into it, especially since the “tiny people” archetype in fairy tales doesn’t seem to be all that popular anymore.  But I certainly wouldn’t go out of my way to watch it.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Fairy Tale Fandom Book Report: He Sees You When He's Creepin'.



Today we have a special Christmas Eve review.  Granted, it might be a little late for this particular book, but there were circumstances.

Anyway, the good folks at World Weaver Press, who seem to like me very much despite the fact that I tend to turn in late reviews like this, sent me a digital copy of their newest anthology.  That anthology is He Sees You When He’s Creepin’: Tales of Krampus edited by Kate Walford who some of you might know from Enchanted Conversation.

Ah, Krampus.  He’s gone from a relatively obscure traditional figure from alpine regions of Europe to a bit of an alternative yuletide star via the internet.  Sort of Santa Claus for the heavy metal crowd.  For those who don’t know, Krampus is a punitive holiday figure from parts of Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic and some other countries.  He’s a demon that travels with Saint Nicholas and punishes naughty children either by beating them with birch switches or just stuffs them in a bag or basket to drown them, burn them or take them to Hell.  He's become rather popular lately.  Grimm even did an episode about him.
Seems like a nice guy, huh?

Anyway, there are twelve stories in the anthology by a variety of authors.  Though they’re all based around the same traditional figure, almost all of the authors do something different.  For example, despite the demonic main character, only two of the stories seem to be straight-up horror stories.  These would be “Family Tradition” by S.E. Foley and “The Outfit” by Ross Baxter.  In addition to those, we get a subverted fairy tale “Villainess Ascending” by Steven Grimm, an origin story “Krampus: The Summoning” by Brad P. Christy, an police action piece “A Winter Scourge” by Tasmin Showbrook and even a tale of corporate machinations with Anya J. Davis’s “The Business of Christmas”.  One of the tales that really stood out to me was “Family Night” by Nancy Brewka-Clark which is a comedy piece that depicts Krampus as a beleaguered family man.

One thing that the authors in this anthology seem to have embraced is the ability to subvert certain conventions.  I’m not always one for subversion, being a great admirer of certain traditions.  And we can all admit that subversion done badly can be a bit irritating.  However, a lot of what’s done here works.  “Villainess Ascending” subverts the tales of both “Cinderella” and “Mother Holle”.  “Santa’s Little Helper” by Beth Mann subverts the relationship between St. Nicholas and Krampus by making St. Nick a very less-than-likable guy.  “A Winter Scourge” subverts St. Nick again by making the Saint female and even something of a mother figure (I’m not explaining how, you’ll just have to read it).  Both “Bad Parents” by E.M. Eastick and “Family Night” by Nancy Brewka-Clark subvert Krampus himself, making him less cruel or evil and more annoyed.
I actually really like this anthology.

I’ve read one anthology by World Weaver Press before and it was Frozen Fairy Tales, which was also edited by Kate Walford.  In comparing the two, despite the many authors’ different takes, I feel this anthology was a lot more focused.  That’s probably due to the subject matter.  In this case, the authors were focusing on a character.  In Frozen Fairy Tales, the idea was to focus more on a season or weather condition.

I’d give this anthology a recommendation.  It’s a fun little alternative yuletide treat.  If it’s too late to add it to your library for this year, then definitely consider picking it up in advance for next year.

This is Adam the Fairy Tale Geek signing off and wishing all those celebrating a Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Fantastic Beasts, Medeival Style!



I was going to write a post about fairy tales and folklore in connection to Harry Potter because of that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie.  That movie came out weeks ago, though.  So, the bloom is kind of off the rose.

I know, let’s take a look at the original book of fantastic beasts: the medieval bestiary.  That’s kind of connected.  I know that it’s not quite fairy tale related, but bestiaries hail from times when people still seemed to believe in dragons, unicorns and mermaids.  So, it’s kind of close.
A leopard.
For those that don’t know, bestiaries were books that described animals as the world at the time knew them but also attributed to them philosophical teachings.  This is largely stemming from the way the three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) believed that the natural world was laid out by God as a way to teach human beings how to act.  Now, it would be difficult to seek out reprintings of all these various sources by different authors ranging from such various authors as Isidore of Seville, Pliny the Elder and even Aesop (who is pre-medeival) among others.  Luckily, the website bestiary.ca has done most of the work for us.

Now, as I’ve said before, these are old books.  They’re from a time when scientific observation wasn’t so precise and sometimes wasn’t even a priority (heck, some of them are from a time when alchemy was still considered a legitimate science).  So, these books aren’t really as interesting for what they got right as what they got wrong.

Let’s look at some choice selections:

Let’s see.  Pliny the Elder had this to say about bears: “Newborn cubs are a shapeless lump of white flesh with no eyes or hair, though the claws are visible.  The mother bear gradually licks her cubs into proper shape, and keeps them warm by hugging them to her breast and lying on them, just as birds do with their eggs.”

And about the Boa, Isidore of Seville says “The boa is an emense snake from Italy.  It pursues heards of cattle and oxen, and attaching to their udders kills them by sucking the milk; it is thus called boas from the killing of oxen (boa).”

Apes (meaning all non-human primates in this sense), according to Aesop always give birth to twins.  One the mother loves and holds in her arms, the other she hates and must cling to her back.  Though, according to Aesop, the mother has a tendency of smothering the baby it carries in its arms while the hated child survives.

There is a whole lot said about lions.  According to Herodotus, the lioness can only give birth once because the claws of the lion cub are so sharp even in utero that it damages the womb even before it’s born.  Pliny the Elder refutes this but also says that lion cubs are born as lumps of flesh the size of weasels (much like he said about bears).  He also says that their breath is a severe poison.  A number of the scholars claimed the lion used its tail as a sort of brush to erase its tracks.

There's a lot more.  If you're interested, click over to bestiary.ca.
A bear, licking her cub into shape.
Even the entries about mythical beasts seem a little off.  Pliny the Elder again said “India produces the largest elephants as well as the largest dragons, which are perpetually at war with the elephants.”  Did I miss a whole bunch of legends about elephants fighting dragons because that sounds awesome!

The interesting thing about all this is how a lack of knowledge combined with hearsay and creative license resulted in descriptions of real animals that made them sound like mythical beasts.  Snakes that drink milk!  Apes that hate their children!  Hedgehogs carrying away grapes on their quills!  Bears that have cubs made of play-doh!

Now you may think this sounds strange and preposterous.  Imagine treating real, live animals as if they were mythical creatures.  But, um . . . have you seen the way our modern culture treats dinosaurs?

No one living has ever seen a dinosaur.  Yet, ever since humanity discovered that they had once existed we’ve been fascinated with them and we’ve built stories around them.

We’ve created worlds where they still live.  We’ve made them into monsters that chase humans.  We’ve had heroes ride on them as mounts.  We’ve made them soft and kid-friendly (I may have to apologize for linking to that song).  We’ve even turned them into aliens before.  But we’ve always taken liberties with them because we’ve always known less than we’ve imagined.  The dinosaur has become the dragon of the post-industrial age.  That’s probably why science encountered such a push back when they asked the world to consider dinosaurs in a new way. 

In the not too distant past, scientists suggested the possibility that dinosaurs were a step in between the evolution of reptiles and the evolution of birds.  This meant that in all possibility, dinosaurs could have been covered in feathers.  New discoveries have shown that these scientists have been on the ball.  But our modern culture still has trouble imagining feathered dinosaurs.  The idea that our modern mythical beasts resemble dragons less than they resemble Foghorn Leghorn still throws people.  Granted, it doesn’t help that our culture doesn’t respect birds much except as poultry dinners and creatures gifted with the power of flight (dinosaurs are neither edible nor could fly.  Thus, they have an uphill battle ahead of them).
A rather feathery dinosaur.
Now, as I said before, this whole post may seem a bit off topic (though, I suppose a lot of this could be seen as “lore”).  But I think it could also serve as a reminder to keep our perspective as we chase old stories.  The longer ago these stories were written down, the more we’ll have to deal with the misconceptions of those writers from long ago.  Not just social misconceptions about race, religion and sex but even misconceptions about the natural world around them.  Heck, I just finished reading Basile’s The Tale of Tales and one story involved a dolphin giving someone a scale off his back (dolphins are not fish and do not have scales) and another alluded to people who were bitten by tarantulas being driven to dance to music until the poison was sweated out (pretty sure that isn’t true).  But the old stories are still worth a look, even if we aren’t willing to accept everything they tell us.