The removal of sexuality from children’s fairy tales


“The removal of sexuality from children’s fairy tales paralleled the evolution of housing in Europe. By the seventeenth century, living arrangements had evolved to provide segregation between quarters for working, food preparation, and sleeping. Usually there was a main room used for dining, entertaining, and receiving visitors, but servants and children began to have their own smaller, adjacent rooms. During this same century fairy tales began to transform into works intended primarily for children. The transformation of living spaces parallels the changes that greatly impacted children, including attitudes regarding teaching proper behaviour and attitudes towards dying and death.” (P.546)
I wish I had a proper reference for this, but all I know is that it was a section titled ‘Literature for Children’ (pp.543-549) in some sort of reference book!

Hmmm – Fallen Princesses


“Fallen Princesses” is an ironic look at children’s parables, from Grimm fairy tales to Walt Disney. By placing iconic characters such as Little Red Riding Hood or Snow White in modern situations, the series became a commentary on such everyday scourges as poverty, obesity, cancer and pollution.
The book is a collection of essays, online discussion, letters, published works and antidotes about the making of the project.

Stardust as Allegorical Bildungsroman – Paula Brown


“Stardust is very intentionally a fairy tale, but I didn’t want to set it in a sort of never-never historical period. It’s very solidly set in Victorian England, actually in a period after fairy tales were done with, but it’s a fantasy in the tradition of Dunsany or Hope Mirrlees. (Neil 66)”

“In defining the genre of Stardust,” Paula Brown writes (in reference to the above quote), “Neil Gaiman’s own input is invaluable, though unfortunately incomplete. Gaiman defines Stardust both as fairy tale and fantasy, yet sets it off ironically with a quotation from John Donne’s “Song,” a poem skeptical of idealistic quests after “strange sights” (line 9), a succinct plot description of either of Gaiman’s chosen genres. This ironic framework, suggesting the raised eyebrow and the self-conscious pose of a post-modern perspective, allows the novel to transcend the category of Victorian pastiche. That is, the strategic placement of Donne’s poem suggests the metafictional intent of the tale, questioning the perspective from which the typical postmodern reader views the fantastic quest. The implicit question is whether the reader of the present day can overcome any more successfully than Donne could in the seventeenth century a culturally entrenched cynicism for idealistic pilgrimages and female chastity.” (p.216)

“Additionally,” Brown continues, “the placement of the poem emphasizes the quality of poetry, something Gaiman closely associated with his own novel as well as with the [-p.217] fantasy tradition of Dunsany and Hope Mirrlees. Stardust is, in Gaiman’s own words, “probably the most poetic book I’ve written” (67). It is poetic not merely in its language but in its allegorical structure. If one defines a fairy tale as Stephen Prickett does in Victorian Fantasy, as having a picaresque, “loose episodic structure and fantastic events” (175), then Stardust is something of an anomaly. Its allegorical plot, like a poem, emphasizes the elements of image and symbol. The allegory has idealistic designs: in Prickett’s words it is “constructed around a sense of a larger whole in which it is suggested that there is a hidden order permeating all existence, and that the growth of [the hero] is achieved both through its guidance and eventually, by discovery of it” (185). Prickett is referring here to the tradition of the Bildungsroman, demonstrating the degree to which a foreign poetisch novel at odds with a dominant realistic fiction influenced the development of the British fantasy novel. It is this lineage to which Stardust belongs.” (pp.216-217)

Stardust challenges the assumption that the quality of sentiment, still commonly associated with the fantasy genre as well as with a Victorian ethos, is necessarily an outmoded trait. Tristran’s quest to find his heart’s desire, ostensibly an old-fashioned fairy tale, has many qualities readers associate with post-modern fiction: a framing structure that provides a skeptical attitude towards the fairy tale action; an imperfect rather than heroic protagonist who does not recognize his own heart’s desire and who must discover or refine it as the plot proceeds at a breakneck speed; and finally an ambiguous take both on Victorian values such as sentimentality or “true love” and modern naturalist definitions of human nature.” (p.217)

“[The protagonist,] Tristran’s problem is not his belief in heroism and true love but his inflated rhetoric and lack of understanding. The word for this sort of emotional trap, sentimentality, may be defined as an “invitation to unexamined response, indulgence of inappropriate emotion” (Swerden 747).” (p.222)

Note that her discussion of Tristran’s two loves, their (mutual) objectification and development into authentic beings (pp.222-223) is really interesting…, it’s just not what I’m working on right now…

“In the Victorian world of Gaiman’s text, the villains of the novel, the witches and the princes, operate from the same assumption as the Modernists, that reality abides within the material object. Yet this materialism appears to be deconstructed as perverted idealism. The witches worship at a black altar that mirrors a beauty without substance and reality.
The world of Stardust insists on parallel rather than hierarchical significations, undermining the reader’s certainty about reality. In the world of Faerie the star is alive, whereas in the “real” world on the other side of the wall she is dead. The living being is represented as a more persuasive entity, however, whereas the dead “reality” appears to be desecration of a luminous, ethereal soul, an interpretive act just as cruel as the murder the witches look forward to so viciously.” (p.224)

Stardust makes the ancient conflict between the angelic and human strange and new by positing a fantasy world in which the natural basis of reality is non-materialistic.” (p.224)

Not incidentally, the love of a star has a long history in Western literature. The Petrarchan tradition of poetry customarily represents a doomed passion of a courtier for a maid who cannot ever succumb to his charms. Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella tells the tale most famously, perhaps, recounting the sad passion of the poet Astrophil for a beloved woman, Stella (or star), impossibly remote, inconceivably perfect, who is, alas, ultimately unattainable. Nevertheless, the expended passion is not represented as something wasted because physical consummation is not the primary object of interest. The interest is metaphysical: tucked inside what is “true” in the expression true love; which is precisely the object of attention in Stardust.” (p.228)

Ref: (italics in original, emphases in blue bold, mine) Paula Brown (2010) Stardust as Allegorical Bildungsroman: An Apology for Platonic idealism. extrapolation 51(2); pp.216-234

Fairy stories and Tokien; Magic realism and Margaret Mahy


“In an essay, ‘Tree and Leaf’ (written at the same time as The Lord of the Rings), Tolkien discusses fairy stories, their place in reading, the way they work in a reader’s imagination, and their connection with religious life. he sees the fairy story – a genre into which his own books fit comfortably – as satisfying primordial human desires, such as the desire to survey space and time or the desire to hold communion with other living things.” (p308)

“Tolkien says that if fairy tales are to be regarded as a natural branch of literature one needs to be precise about their value and function, which he sums up under the headings of Fantasy, Recovery, Escape and Consolation (things of which children have, as a rule, less need than older people), and suggests that areas such as Fantasy and Escape are often consdiered to be socially undesirable because ‘the [-p.311] escape of the prisoner’ is confused with ‘the flight of the deserter’. Tolkien concludes by drawing attention to connections between fairy tales and the Christian tale (a tale frequently presented as part of primary creation), and sees, rather as Northrop Frye does, the themes of sacrifice, of temporary descent and ultimate joy, as part of a fundamental world story. ‘Civilisation’, Frye says, ‘is… the process of making a total human form out of nature and it is impelled by the force that we have just called desire.'” (pp310-311)

Mahy continued (this books is now rather old): “At present there are many varieties of fantastic literature represented in New Zealand writing which cannot, in intention or effect, be classified as fantasy in the Tolkien sense of the word, or as magical realism, though Polynesian literature quivers with magical events. The presence of the demon Sidewinder fills ordinary life in Alistair Campbell’s trilogy with apprehension and necessitates an ultimate sacrifice. The third section of Patricia grace’s Cousins is told by Missy’s twin, dead before birth, unrealised, yet still a contemplative and knowledgeable narrator, alive and wise within the life of the family. However, magical event in Maori writing, in books by Witi Ihimaera and keri Hulme, though it often involves a reader in a religious response to the world, is far from the sort of fantasy Tolkien describes as merging into the Christian tale. Indeed, in spite of its mystical elements, Maori writing, at once mysterious and prosaid, has much more in common with magical realism.

Then there is the contemplative fiction of Phillip Mann, and a surprisingly wide selection of post-apocalyptic novels as varied as those of Peter Hooper and Mike Johnson. There are surrealistic novels, like those of Gregory O’Brien and Anne Kennedy, and a wide variety of fantasy, both heroic and domestic, in children’s books. Magical realism, however, works in a different way from surrealism, political allegory, science fiction or classical fantasy, heroic or otherwise. Though all these genres feature magical events, these happenings are never as casually received as they are in tales of magical realism where astonishing events may occasion surprise, but are more often taken for granted.” (p.311)

Mahy continues: “Though stories featuring magical realism (as in the novels of Angela Carter, Salman Rushdie or Gabriel Garcia Márquez) are stories in the classical sense with strong narratives, they use fragments of dreams and fairy tales along with gothic elements which can be [-p.312] simultaneously incorporated and derided. Any amazement occasioned by magical realism returns one to a sort of domestic reality in a way that the events of fantasy or futuristic speculation do not. In novels of magical realism it is almost as if the objects in our everyday life, the surface of the bench we are wiping down, the pen the author holds, the surface of the paper against which it presses, are set free to declare their secret natures, and just may choose to do so. …After all such objects have in themselves, if we think carefully about them, the power to grip us with wonder….

Fortunately our nervous systems are constructed to filter the constant impact of such surprise out of the world, so that we are able to go from event to event without wasting energy on amazement; continually interacting with surfaces which we know to be less conclusive than they seem, we can still cheerfully regard them as impenetrable. Magical realism, by forcing reality to yield a continuous oddity, draws attention to a strangeness in existence which is every bit as much part of every day life as the more mundane assertions of realism. This is not to decry the sort of realism represented by Frank Sargeson, Bill pearson and Stevan Eldred-Grigg, (such accounts are essential), but it is to suggest that different kinds of description are necessary if the world is to be most accurately recognised.” (pp311-312)

Ref: Margaret Mahy ‘A fantastic tale’ pp.307-314 in Mark Williams and Michele Leggott (1995) Opening the Book: New Essays on New Zealand writing. Auckland University Press: Auckland.

When the world falls asleep


“If we are insensitive to the world, the world ceases to exist for us. When Sleeping Beauty fell asleep, so did the world for her. The world awakens anew as a child is nurtured into it, because only in this way can humanity continue to exist.” (p.236)

Ref: Bruno Bettelheim The Uses of Enchantment Thames & Hudson: London, 1976

Folk tales and criticism


“There is a constant stream of offered interpretations of folk tales, although these tend to come from disciplines other than folklore: perhaps folklorists are too acutely aware of the pitfalls and problems to venture much into this area. Oral literature has been popular, particularly, with various schools of psychoanalysis, with their interest in dreams and symbols. And it is true that fairy tales seem to speak out of some borderland where symbolic meanings are promised but not delivered, so the temptation to try and crack the code is irresistible. Lately, more critics trained in reading literary texts have entered the field, and among them I find the feminist critics often have the most interesting things to say.” (p3)

Ref: Rose Lovell-Smith ‘Diamonds and Toads: The Kind and unkind girls in fairy tale’ (conference paper)