Thursday, January 30, 2014

Fantasy Literature Rewind #1: Pinocchio.

I know this statement may get under the skin of some folk tale purists, but here goes . . . literary stories have earned their place in the greater fairy tale scene.  I know, I know.  I go on about how many amazing unknown folk tales there are and now I talk about how great literary tales are.  But there’s a lot to be said for the literary fairy tale tradition.  In fact, some of our most well-known folk tales owe their existence to literary sources.  For example, as near as anyone can tell, “The Beauty and the Beast” started as a literary story and then went folk so to speak.  And if we don’t count literary tales, then we lose almost everything written by Hans Christien Andersen (I’m not a big Andersen fan myself, but what’s canon is canon).  I figure literary tales are okay, as long as we acknowledge where they came from.  That’s what Fantasy Literature Rewind is about.  Looking at the classics (and some underrated gems) of fantastic or fairy tale literature and reexamining them and taking another look at the stuff that we don’t remember so well.  So, I thought I’d start this feature off with one of my favorites that many people only know by name without knowing the real story . . .

The Adventures of Pinocchio by this man:

Carlo Collodi.  Collodi is probably one of the great literary badasses in children’s fiction.  Collodi was born Carlo Lorenzini in Florence in 1826.  He was the son of two servants to the Marquis Lorenzo Ginori and had nine brothers and sisters of which only two would survive childhood.  If not for the Marquis’s help, young Carlo Lorenzini would likely have never received an education.  During his life, Collodi would be a civil servant, editor, playwright, satirist and would join military campaigns to fight for Italy’s independence from the Austrians twice.  He would start more than one literary magazine, one of which was banned by Austrian authorities for being too subversive.  Yet, strangely, it wasn’t until he was asked in 1881 to submit stories to a magazine for children that he made his name to the greater world.  Of course, it was the stories about Pinocchio that were the result.

Now, if you’re expecting a sentimental tale like the one in the acclaimed movie made by those Mouse-Ears people, boy are you in the wrong place!

            The story starts not with a wish but with a simple piece of wood.  This piece of wood lies in the workshop of a carpenter called Mr. Cherry.  Now, Mr. Cherry sees this piece of wood and decides to make a leg for his table.  Now, as he begins to strip off the bark, the wood speaks to him and asks to not be struck so hard!  This surprises Mr. Cherry and he tries to find out who’s speaking to him in a variety of rather amusing ways.  Then, discovering nothing, he goes back to work planing the wood, at which point the wood complains of being tickled.  Mr. Cherry is so surprised he passes out.  Anyway, after Mr. Cherry revives, who should come along but his old friend Geppetto.  You may recognize the name, but this Geppetto is a little different.  This Geppetto is known to be kind of a hothead.  He wears a yellow wig that’s the same color as polenta.  So, children would tease him and call him “Polendina”.  And every time they call him that, he flies into a rage.  Naturally, this does not give him a great reputation with children.  Anyway, Geppetto’s come to get some wood to build a puppet that will dance and fence and turn somersaults so he can take to the road and earn some cash.  Now, remember that talking piece of wood?  Mr. Cherry and Geppetto are talking, the wood decides to pipe in and makes the mistake of calling Geppetto “Polendina”.  Geppetto accuses Cherry.  Cherry denies it.  When the dust clears, the two gentlemen make up and Geppetto leaves with the talking piece of wood.  He then carves it into a puppet that proceeds to kick Geppetto in the nose, snatch his wig off of his head and run away as soon as it figures out how.

You may have noticed that this Pinocchio is less than a model citizen.

Now, I don’t want to call Pinocchio bad exactly.  I mean, he’s certainly not the most troublesome puppet to rise out of Italian culture.  For example, there’s our friend Mr. Punch here (now that guy's a little psycho.  Don't believe me, look it up).

He’s certainly not setting out to hurt anyone.  However, he’s hardly obedient.  You might even say he’s a brat.  In terms of impulse control, he seems to rank somewhere along the same lines as Bart Simpson and Bart Allen (check the links if you don’t get the references and the following pictures for visuals).


Pinocchio wants what he wants when he wants it and all he wants is to (and I’m paraphrasing from the text) eat, sleep, drink, amuse himself and lead a vagabond life from morning to night.  Not everyone he meets comes out of the encounter whole.  At one point early on he gets lectured by a talking cricket.  Pinocchio gets so angry when the cricket mocks his wooden head that he throws a mallet at the cricket and kills him.  Yeah . . . I know.  That part upsets some people who really like that movie version.  But let’s remember that crickets usually don’t look like little men with top hats and umbrellas.  They usually look like this:

I’m a great lover of insects myself, having watched and collected them as a kid.  However, even I can only get so worked up about someone squishing a bug.

This tendency to cause trouble is the cause of Pinocchio’s many adventures.  As he follows one impulse after another, he winds up in scrape after scrape with the repercussions of his actions becoming more over-the-top every time (repercussions that he largely ignores or chooses not to think about).  It’s a moral tale about the “civilizing” of a naughty child (or rather a wooden puppet with minimal impulse control and the attention span of a sea cucumber).  However, for all the moralizing, it’s also a wildly inventive story.  Collodi’s imagination must have worked on overdrive in creating this book.  At different points in the stories, Pinocchio gets swindled by a fox and cat, gets hung from a tree and left for dead, nearly gets turned into a donkey, is almost fried and eaten like a fish by a green fisherman, spends four months in prison, encounters a giant serpent, gets turned into a farmer’s watchdog, meets a bunch of fellow living puppets owned by a man named Fire-eater and towards the end gets swallowed by a giant shark!  Not a whale but a giant shark!  I’m imagining something roughly megalodon sized.

Anyway, those are just some of the highlights.  If you’re interested in checking out the real story of Pinocchio, wooden trouble-maker that he was, you’re in for a crazy story filled with over-the-top creatures and characters.  It’s a little less shiny and polished than the celluloid version with a protagonist with more than his share of flaws.  Yet, I think it’s still a tale worth seeking out.  That’s no lie! 
[Pictures courtesy of,,,, and]

Monday, January 20, 2014

In Defense of the Brothers Grimm

Hello, everyone.  I’m writing this so that I can say something in defense of The Brothers Grimm.  And I don’t mean that movie with Matt Damonand Heath Ledger.  I don’t think anyone could defend that thing.

What I’m talking about is the body of work regarding German folk tales compiled by the acclaimed scholars and linguists Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (did you know that there’s a Grimm’s Law in linguistics named after these two?  Bet you didn’t).  Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were scholars but also proud Germans.  At one point, these two decided to go out and collect traditional German stories as a means of showcasing an oral literature that was typically German.  Did they succeed?  Well, sort of.  But that’s an article for another time.  Anyway, the end result was a collection of over 200 stories (my copy of The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales has 210 stories, but there’s complete and then there’s complete).

Now, what I’ve come to defend, or maybe refute, is a misconception about the Grimms’ work.  Here’s the deal.  In recent years, people have rediscovered the writings of Herr Grimm and Herr Grimm.  Specifically, they’ve rediscovered the stories that they thought they knew because of children’s adaptations of those stories.  You know the ones.  They’re the animated movies with lots of singing and wisecracking animal sidekicks.  The kind usually associated with a pair of black mouse ears.  Now, upon rediscovering these stories, they’ve noticed that they can be more visceral than the cheery versions they knew.  There can be more violence and the villains of the pieces will sometimes get physically punished in very creative ways.  This has led the Brothers Grimm to be regarded as writers of dark, scary and sometimes psychologically disturbing fairy tales.  You can see this reflected in the horror-themed comic book series Grimm Fairy Tales and the NBC police procedural fantasy series Grimm which recasts the Grimms as hunters of monster-ish creatures called Wesen.  There’s only one problem.

It’s not exactly true.

Oh, sure, there are some real doozies of dark tales in that collection.  “The Goose Girl” (pictured above), “The Juniper Tree” and “The Girl without Hands” come to mind among others.  That’s not including the creative punishments given to the villains in “Little Snow White” and “Cinderella”.  There are even some so troubling that they’ve been cut from the modern collections entirely like the infamous “How the Children Played Butcher With Each Other” (I'm not even going to link to that one.  You'll have to find it on your own).  However, then we have other stories like . . . well . . . let’s use an example.

“The Bremen Town Musicians”.  This is a quintessential Grimm fairy tale.  It’s so German that the title even has a German city in it.  Yet, it’s really just a short, rather silly, animal story.  Another example . . .

“The Shoemaker and the Elves”.  Another quintessential Grimm tale.  Also a bit short, but entirely non-violent.  The other "Elves" stories may get a little hairy, but they mostly end okay too.

There are other, less well-known ones though.  Less fantastic tales like “The Peasant’s Wise Daughter”, short fables like “The Old Man and his Grandson” and yet others.  In some cases, the only violence is threatened violence that never actually gets carried out.  Such is the case of threatening death to the suitors in “The Shoes that were Danced to Pieces” (also called “The Twelve Dancing Princesses”).

In some cases, the Grimms didn’t even write down the darkest, most violent version of the story around.

Let’s use “Little Red Riding Hood” as an example.  In the Grimms’ “Little Red Cap”, the girl is rescued by a woodsman who cuts open the wolf to retrieve her after she’s swallowed whole.  Yet, in the earlier version by French fairy tale transcriber Charles Perrault, no woodsman comes.  Red is just a wolf’s supper.  And in the even earlier version “The Grandmother’s Tale”, well, I’m not even going to describe the creepiness of that tale.  You can read it and the Perrault version here.

The “Sleeping Beauty” story is another example.  The Grimm version “Little Briar Rose” is a straight-forward tale about waking a princess.  Yet, in Perrault’s version, "The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood" the princess has an ogre for a mother-in-law who wants to make short work of her and her children.  And in the Italian “Sun, Moon and Talia”, the prince does something with the sleeping princess that would likely get him locked up by modern moral standards.

I love the work of the Brothers Grimm.  In compiling their tales, they put together a well of fantasy concepts that people are still drawing from.  It’s a treasure trove of great European folk tales.  However, what I’m driving at here is that the collected fairy tales of Jacob Grimm isn’t a unilaterally dark, violent piece of work.  In fact, it’s best to not necessarily look at it as one work at all.  It’s 210 different works with each story having it’s own tone and merits of its own.  Each story ought to be judged by itself.  These stories were meant for all different people, both young and old.  Some were comedies, others tales of terror or cautionary tales and others simply tales of fantasy.  The folk tale was the whole of literature for common people at one point, not just a single genre.  When you realize that, maybe you’ll realize that the Grimms weren’t so completely grim after all.
[photos courtesy of:,,,]


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Folk Tale Secret Stash #1: How Six Men Got on in the World.

Hello, fellow fairy tale geeks.  You know, in every comic book fan’s life, there comes a time when he must make a stand and let the world know why some largely unsung, obscure comic book hero is their favorite.  So, must it also be true of fairy tale fans.  For, in world folklore there are hundreds if not thousands of amazing stories that are unknown to the general public.  They are stories that don’t generally make it into the children’s picture book adaptations or get turned into animated movies by the folks over at Mouse-Ears Incorporated.  That is what “Folk Tale Secret Stash” is about.  It’s my chance to make my case for why some favorite story of mine is good enough to stand next to all the “Cinderellas” and “Little Red Riding Hoods” of the world.  That said, I give you my first choice.  I present you with:


“How Six Men Got on in the World”


            I know, it’s not the most amazing title in the world.  But trust me, this story is worth it.  It comes to us courtesy of these two:

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.  Chroniclers of German fairy tales extraordinaire.  Despite their reputation for collecting fairy tales, these two are probably the kings of unsung tales.  While a good dozen or so of their stories are well-known, about 198 or so are obscure.  I actually first encountered this story on this show (sing along if you remember it):

     The story starts out with “A man who understood all kinds of arts; he served in war and behaved well and bravely.”  Basically, he was a soldier.  If you know your fairy tales, you’ll know that soldiers are common protagonists.  Almost as common as any princess or servant girl (and personally, as a guy, I always like when a fairy tale has a real male protagonist).  Anyway, it looks like I need a picture of our hero.  Many of these stories weren’t illustrated, so I may need to find a stop-gap.  A picture of a heroic soldier and leader of men . . .

There, that’ll do in a pinch.  Okay, maybe that’s pushing it a little.  Our hero would actually be more like “Captain Bavaria”.  So, he’d probably look more like this:

Anyway, our hero the soldier heads to the castle to get his due rewards for his military service.  He ends up getting 3 copper coins and being told to hit the bricks.  So, our fine soldier heads out and does what any self-respecting soldier does when he faces trouble: he starts recruiting people with super-powers!

 A strong-man

A keen-eyed marksman

A man with phenomenal speed


Okay, I know, I know!  Still kind of pushing it (but hey, like I said, I’m short on illustrations).  You get where I'm coming from on this though, right?  Anyway, the group is rounded out by a man with super-powerful breath (in terms of force, not smell) and a man who can cause a blizzard just by taking off his hat.  They get together and come up with a plan to hit the stingy king where it hurts and separate him from his treasury.  I won’t spoil the chain of events, but what follows is a story involving a haughty princess, a foot race, a very hot death trap and a chance for everyone to show off their considerable skills.  You can check out the whole story here: This one’s got it all.  It’s part Avengers and part Robin Hood with maybe a dash of Ocean’s 11.  It has six distinctive protagonists all with their own memorable skills.  All that, plus no one has to marry a princess.  It’s for reasons like these that I think this story deserves a place in the fairy tale hall of fame.


Thoughts on this?  Leave a comment


Pictures courtesy of:,,,,,



Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Once Upon a Blog . . .

Hello everyone, this is Adam Hoffman.  For those who don't know, I'm a library science student, amateur storyteller and lifelong comic book geek.  Since the age of 12 I've loved comic books and superheroes and have also had an appreciation for other different science fiction and fantasy properties.  Over time, my love of super-heroes led me to the folk and tall tale heroes of the American West as well as to mythology and storytelling.  When I got into storytelling, I started to gravitate more and more to traditional folk tales and what most would call fairy tales.  It wasn't until I found myself sporting a "Jack and the Beanstalk" tee-shirt and dropping references to stories like "The Brave Little Tailor" at my job that I realized that I wasn't just a fairy tale fan.  I was a straight-up fairy tale geek!  So, that brings me to the purpose of this blog.  My aim is to fuse fable and fandom in one place.  To post about folk tales and fairy tales with all the dorky enthusiasm of (and a few references to) science fiction and fantasy fandom. 

A few ground rules for any fellow fairy tale fans that choose to comment on my posts: 1) Keep it polite and 2) keep any swearing to a minimum.  There's no reason not to keep this site nice.  I hope to have some new content up at least once a week.  So, stay tuned.

Until the story continues, I remain . . .

Adam Hoffman,
Fairy Tale Geek