Monday, January 13, 2020

Internet, Trolls


Psst!

You!

Yeah, you!

Did you know that all the Norwegian folk tales collected by Peter Christen Asbjornsen and Jorgen 
Moe have recently been translated into English for the first time?

No, really!  Asbjornsen and Moe’s collections have been considered landmark European folk tale collections, but there has never been a full English-language collection.  I mean, there are some other mpressive English-language collections of their work.  Like the one translated by Tiina Nunnally which seems to collect all the tales in Norwegian Folk Tales vol. 1 and maybe a handful of others.  Here there are translations of about five different books on the subject by the eminent folklorists.
But who were Asbjornsen and Moe, you ask?  Peter Christen Asbjornsen and Jorgen Moe were a pair of 19th Century Norwegian Scholars.  Their lives and work were so closely united in their lives and work that they’re rarely mentioned apart.  In fact, reports say they first met as youths in 1826 and became “blood brothers”.  Interestingly, they seemed to do their folk tale collecting activities separately.  For example, Asbjornsen became a private tutor at age 20 in eastern Norway and started collecting folk tales there.  Meanwhile, Moe also became a tutor and started spending his time off collecting folklore in southern Norway.  Later, they would decide to pool their resources and publish their folklore work jointly.  They managed to get around the issue of the many dialects present in Norway at the time by using the Grimms’ principle of using simple language in their place.  Though, they seemed to maintain the tales national uniqueness even better than the Grimms had.  Their work ended up being accepted in Europe as a major contribution to the field of comparative mythology.  It also helped develop Bokmal, one of the two linguistic standards for modern Norwegian.
This massive project was undertaken by one Simon Hughes, a scholar and teacher who was born in London but spent most of his life in Scandanavia.  And for his hard work, I thank him.

This website is impressive.  Possibly too impressive.  There are so many tales here that it would take me a long time to read them all and get a feel for the entire thing.  I’ve read a couple of them and all I can say now is that there are probably a lot of trolls in it (trolls are a thing in Norwegian fairy tales).
We can talk about the pros and cons of the internet being home to folk tale collections, though.

Now, one of the things to keep in mind when I talk about “the internet” here is that I mean the “world wide web”.  I’m talking about folk tales being directly posted onto websites and viewed on a browser.   I’m not necessarily talking about things like downloadable e-books.

There are certain pros to having these things online.  But they come with some notable “ifs” that we should keep in mind.  The internet provides wide availability to these texts.  This much is known.  It’s one of the main selling points of the internet.  It also means that Hughes can publish his translations without having to have a book deal in place, which can be difficult and costly to get.  It also means that once they’re done they can be published almost immediately rather than going through the long process that leads to actual publication and sales.  However, they’re only available IF you have a device to access the internet on.  Which means that you can only access them IF you have the financial means to secure such a device.  Plus, you can only use your device to access them IF you have a way to get on the internet like Wi-Fi or cellular data.  Which device someone has can determine how their reading experience is too.  For example, smart phones have small screens and can sometimes be a pain to read on, especially if you’re someone who is far-sighted or has trouble with small print.  Hughes has said on Twitter that he’s looking for a publisher.  Personally, I hope he finds one.   You see, I’d personally like to see this collection at least take the form of a Kindle book.  While reading on a PC screen is fine, sometimes I want to take my reading to work with me for my breaks.  My phone’s small screen can be annoying to read on (and having the phone around can be trouble for someone as easily distracted as me).  Also, I work in a place that has no wi-fi for security reasons.  That means I need either a physical copy or to have a copy downloaded onto my Kindle Fire.  I can’t view it remotely on my Fire.

So, here’s the Link: Norwegian Folktales.  Check it out when you have time.  And let’s keep our fingers crossed for a book release.

Bye.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Fantasy Literature Rewind: The Rescuers


Y’know, a while back I didn’t know what to do with Fantasy Literature Rewind.  I had done spotlights on all the major children’s classics I could think of at the time (Pinocchio, Peter Pan, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, the Oz books, I even did “The Snow Queen” even though I don’t particularly like H.C. Andersen’s work) and I thought the well had run dry.  Granted, I was probably thinking too narrowly about what mistakenly gets called a “fairy tale” and would fit the blog.  But then Disney released a remake of The Jungle Book and I remembered “Oh yeah, there are more children’s classics out there”.  Now, I’ve been using Disney’s production slate as a semi-guide for a little while now and here I am trying to get ahead of it and spotlight the stories that aren’t likely to get the remake treatment.

Case in point: The Rescuers.

The Rescuers is a book written by Margery Sharp and illustrated by Garth Williams and published in 1959 (we are wandering far, far from our comfortable public domain here, dear readers.  So, brace yourselves).  The book was not expressly written for children but ended up finding that audience anyway.  The story concerns a group of mice called the Prisoners’ Aid Society.  The Prisoners’ Aid Society is a society of mice who fill a civic need by befriending prisoners during their long incarcerations.  As the story starts though, the Prisoners’ Aid Society has decided to step outside their usual bounds and actually rescue one of the prisoners in question.  The prisoner in question is a Norwegian poet who is being held in the infamously foreboding prison called The Black Castle.  For this, they need a mouse who can speak Norwegian.  So, a stalwart mouse from the Pantry named Bernard goes to recruit Miss Bianca, who is an ambassador’s pet and has the privilege of travelling via “diplomatic bag”, who then makes her way to Norway and recruits a seafaring mouse named Nils.  All three of them end up on the daring rescue mission where they run the risk of not just failing to rescue the poet but also getting caught by human guards but also by the cat Mamelouk.
If none of this sounds anything like the 1977 animated Disney film you grew up with, there’s good reason for that.  All sources consulted suggest that Disney didn’t take much from the first book when making their film adaptation of The Rescuers.  Instead, most of it came from the sequel titled Miss Bianca.  Even then, they changed large amounts of it.
The book as it actually is, is an interesting piece of work.  Friendly talking mice are a staple of children’s literature and fairy tales and have been for a long time.  This is one of the few times I’ve ever seen them moved into the position of being political players.  I mean, in this day and age our day-to-day view of politics is “What law did they not pass today?” and “Did the President really say something that stupid?”, but don’t doubt that what the Prisoners’ Aid Society is doing is political.  Right off the bat, they have to deal with travel issues (why they need Miss Bianca) and language barriers (why they need Nils).  It’s also never really stated why the Norwegian poet was imprisoned, but the fact that he was a poet suggests that he was jailed as a political prisoner for writing something that a political figure did not like.  You know, in this case the Disney movie may have been better about getting across the political aspect because of how they modeled their “Rescue Aid Society” deliberately on the United Nations (though, I guess we could fault them with a lack of subtlety).  Basically, we watch as three mice try to deal with a very big, yet still delicate situation.  There’s no promise of success and for a good chunk of time it seems practically impossible anyway.  The book goes into detail describing how for a period of months they spent their time living in the walls of the Black Castle watching events and trying to figure out how they’re even going to pull off their rescue in the first place.  Then when they do figure it out, there’s only one day of the year when it’s even possible.  The characters deserve some praise.  Nils is a bit of an over-the-top figure with his sailor talk and love for his big rubber boots, but he’s still a likable character.  Bernard is humble and plain-spoken, but it’s established early on that he’s brave and true.  After all, he had been decorated with the Tybalt Star for Gallantry in the Face of Cats.  Special attention should be paid to Miss Bianca, though.  For, you see, every one of the qualities she has that seem like they’d be weaknesses on a rescue mission turn out to be strengths when applied correctly.  The mission at one point calls for her to talk to the dangerous cat Mamelouk.  Not a great mission for a spoiled pet mouse who doesn’t know enough to be afraid of cats, right?  Well, it’s because she’s unafraid and because of her more genteel, sophisticated nature that allows her to talk to Mamelouk in such a way that she gets the information they need out of him.  Not bad for someone who lives in a porcelain pagoda.
The Rescuers book series has nine books in it, but very few of them seem to be in print.  So, the best bet is probably to check your local library for most of them.  As for this first one, I thought it was a solid, entertaining little book.  A quick read, too.  I suggest giving it a read if you get the chance.  In the meantime, I’m going to try and figure out what I’ll do if I run out of books that were turned into movies.

Until next time.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Mulan Trailer Breakdown


Okay, folks.  Another trailer has dropped for the live action reimagining of Disney’s Mulan.   Now, there are a lot of trailer reaction videos out there and probably some trailer reaction blog posts too.  But I thought maybe I’d do a trailer breakdown video with an eye towards folklore, culture and the original source material.  Sort of pointing out the things that I notice.  But first, the trailer itself:

1)      The importance of the Phoenix.  So, what they’re calling a phoenix here isn’t really a phoenix, nor is it a cosmically powered mutant (sorry, X-Men fans).  The bird they’re talking about here is a mythical creature called a Fenghuang.  The Fenghuang (called Ho-oh in Japanese.  Pokemon fans may recognize that name) was originally two different birds with the males being called Feng and the females being called huang.  Since then, they’ve been combined into one singular feminine entity, which has come to be representative of the Empress of China.  It is often paired with the Long (Chinese dragon) which represents the Emperor of China.  The Fenghuang today is described as having the head of a golden pheasant, body of a mandarin duck, tail of a peacock, legs of a crane, mouth of a parrot and wings of a swallow.  The fenghuang’s body is said to represent the celestial bodies and that its body also contains the five fundamental colors: black, white, red, yellow and green.  The Fenghuang is often associated with political prosperity and harmony and seeing one is said to be a sign that a new emperor has ascended the throne.  There are some suggestions that the Fenghaung in this movie is a new take on the dragon Mushu from the animated film.

2)      We see Mulan weaving.  You might think this isn’t that important, but it is if we’re going back to the ballad.  The earliest recorded version starts with Mulan sitting at her weaving.  One source gives the translation of the first two lines as: “The sound of one sigh after another/As Mulan weaves at the doorway”.

3)      We are introduced to our villains.  They are referred to in the trailer as “Northern invaders”.  So, for this iteration of Mulan, we have a threat from outside of China rather than an insurrection from within.  Neither seems to be uncommon in past iterations of Mulan.  We also have a new name: Bori Khan, taking the role Shen Yu had in the animated film.  Not sure why the name is changed.  There might be a reason.

4)      Next we are introduced to a new villainess in the form of a witch.  Compared to the animated film, this version is not dispensing of fantastical elements as some thought they would, but using them differently.  In the animated film, all the supernatural elements seemed to be allied on Mulan’s side even if they were somewhat inept (like Mushu) or trying to make her give up her plan (like the ancestor spirits).  Here, the first major magical character is actually an antagonist.  The Fenghuang referenced earlier might be on Mulan’s side and it may play a more neutral role.  We don’t know yet.  In regards to the witch herself, it’s not so unusual.  China, like many countries, has its own superstitions and folklore about witchcraft.  I am having a little trouble finding any definitive sources, but there is some interesting stuff to be found online regarding a form of black magic known as gu.  Also, neither this movie nor its animated predecessor are the first retellings of the legend to add supernatural elements, though they’re hardly necessary for the main part of the story.

5)      “I am blessed with two daughters”.  Aww.  Sweetness of that aside, this is something different from the animated film.  Mulan is an only child in that.  From what I’ve read, it is not all that unusual for Mulan to have a sister.  Heck, in a lot of versions she actually does have a brother.  However, he can’t take their fathers place because he’s always way too young to go join the military.  This does remind me of Disney Animation’s tendency of whittling families down to the barest necessary.  Belle’s nasty sisters disappear from Beauty and the Beast once Gaston becomes the new villain.  Cinderella’s father is killed off rather than being present but useless like in many of the fairy tales.  The one exception I can think of is Ariel from The Little Mermaid and her many, many sisters.

6)      “Hua Jun, son of Hua Zhou”.  Here we hear that they’re going with the more standard surname used in China for Mulan.  In the animated film, her surname was Fa rather than Hua.  We also hear that her male alter ego will be named Jun rather than Ping.

7)      Not really a folklore/cultural thing, but we hear a little dialogue and see Mulan speaking to the new witch character.  This suggests that the villainess will learn Mulan’s secret and try to tempt her to the other side.  It’s an interesting addition to the story if that’s the case.

This movie is set to come out in March after having been delayed for a while.  However, now it is fraught (yes, fraught!) with controversy.  There was controversy enough with the Disney fans being angry about the changes made from the animated film, presumably to make the movie more culturally accurate.  The real controversy started when the movie’s star Liu Yifei took to social media to express support for the Hong Kong police who’ve come under fire for dealing violently with protesters.  Now there’s talk of boycotts for this movie (if you need more information about what’s happening in Hong Kong, this article might help).

For all the trouble, I’m probably still going to buy a ticket.  Why?  Because through it all, my goal and desire remains the development of a more cosmopolitan canon of fairy tales and legends here in the United States.  Disney taking a mulligan on Mulan and trying to create a more culturally appropriate product (one that doesn’t turn the majestic Chinese dragon into a jokey sidekick or have a gag about Chinese-American takeout food) may not be much, but it’s a start.  I don’t know.  It just always strikes me about how unfair and unbalanced cultural exchange is in our world.  Like, why does Japanese popular culture show that they know all the major Western fairy tales, but Westerners very rarely know any Japanese ones?  Why are there Disneylands in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Shanghai while no Asian media company has nearly that huge a presence over here (the closest would be, what, Nintendo?)?  Heck, China has codified its “Four Great Folk Tales” and Westerners wouldn’t know what they were unless they study this stuff (for the record, they are “The Butterfly Lovers”, “The Tale of the White Snake”, “Lady Meng Jiang” and “The Cowherd and the Weaving Girl”).  And this doesn’t even cover what impact our cultural colonization has had on Latin America and Africa.

I do have to say, I did at least swing by the Amnesty International website to see what other ways I could help.

[SIGH] Until next time.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Fantastical Feasts: Cinderella Stew.

Fairy Tale Geek: [Collapses onto sofa, sponge and cleaning solution still in hand]
“Why do I leave cleaning to the last minute?  And why don’t I break it up into smaller tasks so I don’t have to do it all at once.  I mean, I’ve been cleaning the Enchanted Condo since this morning and it’s, well, it’s well past five PM now.  I suppose it could be worse.  I could be doing it for an abusive step-family like our old friend Cinderella had to.  Also, I could be doing it without dinner ready.   Luckily I had a little time last night and a little time this morning, so I set up the slow cooker to make some Cinderella Stew.

What’s Cinderella Stew?  Well, I’m glad you asked.  This recipe I came across almost by accident in the cookbook Easy Everyday Slow Cooker Recipes by Donna-Marie Pye.  Don’t believe me?  Here’s the actual page:
I’ll give you a paraphrase of the recipe, but you might want to look for the book itself (technically this could be considered copyright infringement.  Luckily, my blog has a small audience and makes no money.  So, It’d be a waste of a lawsuit).”

Ingredients
2 onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper
3 lbs boneless pork shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1 inch cubes
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp butter
1 19 oz (or close approximate) can of tomatoes, with juice
1 sweet potato, chopped
1 tart apple (like Granny Smith), chopped
3 tbsp dried currants
½ tsp pumpkin pie spice
¼ tsp ground cumin
1 bay leaf
Topping/garnish
1 ½ cup plain yogurt
½ cup chopped green onions

Directions
1)      Layer onions and garlic in slow cooker stoneware.


2)      In a gallon zip-top bag, combine flour, salt and pepper.  In batches, add cubed pork and toss to coat.  Discard extra flour mixture.

3)      In a large skillet, heat half the oil and the butter over medium-high heat.  Cook the pork in batches, adding more oil as it’s needed.  Once the pork is all browned, add it to the stoneware.

4)      Stir in sweet potato, apple, currants, tomatoes with juice, pumpkin pie spice, cumin and bay leaf.

5)      Cover and cook in slow cooker on Low for 8 to 10 hours.  Discard bay leaf
6)      Serve with yogurt and green onions as garnish (or not, if you'd rather).

“Now, this dish can be assembled twelve hours in advance.  So, I usually do all the prep the night before and then stash it in the refrigerator until the next morning when I start cooking it.  As for why it’s called Cinderella Stew, I’m not sure.  I kind of think it’s because the combination of the sweet potato and the pumpkin pie spice might give it a vaguely pumpkin pie-esque flavor.  But that flavor doesn’t stand out that strongly against everything else.  Besides, Cinderella’s coach was made from a pumpkin, not a pumpkin pie.  And there’s certainly a difference.  Hold on a second.

[Gets up, walks to kitchen and serves self some stew.  Walks back to sofa and sits down with bowl of stew]

I know that the requisite reward at the end of a Cinderella story is a charming prince and a life of ease away from toxic family members.  But a decent bowl of stew isn’t a bad reward either.
[eats a spoonful]
See you next time.”