Tuesday, November 21, 2017

"House of Mystery" - Review by Carina Bissett

(A collection of fairy tale poems)

by Courtney Bates-Hardy

Review by Carina Bissett
Jacket description: 
House of Mystery is a beautifully dark and vivid collection of poems that tears down our familiar ideas about fairy tales. These are not poems about privileged princesses who live happily ever after; these are poems about monsters, mothers, witches and mermaids. They explore the pain of change and womanhood, and transform the way we think about fairy tales.
Fairy tales are full of ivory towers, woodland huts, and stately castles. Behind the doors, you’ll find mothers and witches and monsters. Some doors lead to sorrow, others to safety. Poet Courtney Bates-Hardy explores the world through the eyes of mermaids and princesses, witches and wolves in her debut poetry collection House of Mystery.
The collection opens with a trip under the sea... Undines haunt the shallows and sirens beckon, but at the same time, these water women subvert their stories. They slip their bonds, revise expectations. When these mermaids smile, they expose sharp teeth. Modern issues of silenced women are hinted at throughout, but never directly addressed.
In the second section "Hating Cinderella", the poet continues the fairy tale theme yet continues to give her characters even more agency Whereas the sirens and mermaids stay confined to the role of victims, the fairy tale heroines in the second section reshape traditional roles. Defiance and power are no longer hinted at but take physical form. These women literally slip their captors’ knots, wear glass ceilings on their feet, and birth their monsters with savage glee. Bates-Hardy reminds her readers that the only Happily Ever Afters out there are the ones we choose for ourselves.
In the titular final chapter of House of Mystery, Bates-Hardy finally hits her stride by crossing into the modern world. Titles such as “Office Girl” and “Dishes” reveal the mundane amidst the magical. However, when the fairy tale tropes are revisited, they are done so without the familiar sugar coating found in the sanitized tales. In “Donkeyskin” the narrator is trapped in a feminine role despite her tomboy nature. Her dresses smother and her shoes pinch. Only at night is she able to strip down to the raw core of who she really is. In the original fairy tale, the disguised princess has to hide her royalty beneath the donkey skin, only allowing herself to embrace her beauty in isolation. In Bates-Hardy’s version, the narrator struggles against the concepts of conventional femininity, only feeling that she can embrace her wild nature at night.
In the end, "Sirens" sets a tone that isn’t carried throughout the rest of the chapbook.  After moving through the entire collection, it becomes apparent that this selection of nine poems was previously published separately, a stand-alone chapbook titled Sea Foam. While the moody, melancholy tone of this section stands on its own, it doesn’t mesh with the other poems.

Overall, Bates-Hardy is at her best when revealing fairy tale themes in a modern-day setting. The accessible language and contemporary characters make this poetry relatable to everyone struggling for individuality in a cookie cutter world.  
This review was written voluntarily, without any compensation or affiliation with any of the authors or editors for business purposes. A review copy was provided without obligation.
Carina Bissett is the Social Media Manager of Timeless Tales Magazine, an official partner of Once Upon A Blog. Her website is  http://carinabissett.com.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Cinderella: Stop Blaming the Victim - A Timely Interpretation of Disney's 1950's 'Cinderella'

A thought-provoking video was posted this morning on YouTube and we felt it so important, we decided to do a full post, rather than just retweeting. (Video is embedded below.)

This interesting  - and wonderful - analysis of the iconic 1950's Cinderella, couldn't have come at a more opportune time. And it might just make you pull out the movie for a re-run too, because, yes, it's that empowering.

By the way - important to note here, is that it mentions that even the Disney Company itself, now considers the Cinderella animated movie as passive, and not the best role-model for girls, with the title character relying on others to be rescued.
Yet, from the video:
But the criticisms (of the film) usually focus on our culture's shared interpretation of Cinderella, not what the character actually says and does in the film.
And yes, ironically, that conversation has been largely influenced by Disney's own marketing!
Critics of the movie probably feel they're espousing girl power by attacking the damaging idea that a happy ending equals a handsome prince. But counterintuitively, the tendency to dismiss Cinderella might actually be a little sexist. 
Perhaps there was more thought - possibly even respect - put into the movie than anyone has realized. From this video analysis, it would suggest so, or at least that the fairy tale source variants it drew on had enough substance there to subliminally affect - for the better - how Cinderella was portrayed (credit was given to Perrault as the source, but other variants were looked at during research in early stages of development as well).
KenAnderson - development for Disney's Cinderella (1950)

For the 'timely' context - and why this conversation is important to have right now - (since this post will quickly go to the archive and found later, when the world is, hopefully, different), we are in the midst of a deluge of accusations against many figures in positions of power, citing sexual misconduct, abuse and rape. These allegations are being made by people in the wake of the Weinstein accusations, who have finally felt able to come forward and be heard (though for many this is not the first time they are telling their stories). 

As the backlash continues, with people scoffing at the stories, even sometimes attacking those abused, we feel it's important to keep explaining, that reporting abuse, standing up to abuse, is very, very difficult. It's not overstating it to say "silence has equaled survival" for many, many people, on many levels, including physical safety. No one owes anyone their stories - or the details, or names. #metoo It is the first time, the pervasiveness of this abuse is clear and the victims are not being dismissed. So many are coming forward now, precisely because there is safety in numbers, but never underestimate just how hard that is to do. It changes everything and affects not only the individuals but their families too.

Fairy tales are full of women who have been abused and people are drawn to different tales, not only because they sometimes see themselves in those characters, but also because they find hope in those stories too. The recent Disney/Branagh live-action action Cinderella, though not perfect, took care to more clearly show feminine strength at work in an abusive situation, making people take a second look at the Cinderella fairy tale, as well as the classic animated film it was based on, and garnering an appreciation for it that has been largely lacking for the past few generations.

This awesome video analysis that highlights the strength of that 1950's Cinderella, is wonderful to watch - clear, beautiful and explaining the points with clips. It's a little longer than your usual internet clips, at 13-ish minutes, but highly recommended (you won't be bored).
There are two specific sections for which we have taken the time to transcribe the narrative so that the observations/ interpretation won't be lost, should the video link ever not work.

The first excerpt, analysing the Fairy Godmother appearing, is new to us with regard to the Disney Cinderella movies (both of them), though in some of the Cinderella variants from around the world, this manifestation of the Fairy Godmother as Cinderella's 'wish', that is, a maternal figure of help and guidance, is more clear. Although we don't believe this was the intent of the filmmakers to show this (based on our longtime research, though, to be clear, we are not experts on the making of this film) it makes a wonderful sense and feels like one of those wonderful subconscious ideas that were included. Perrault, who was the writer to first include the fairy godmother, does not appear to have added the magical figure for this intention, but we are rather tickled that, using this interpretation, Disney's version is the one that links this idea back to many other versions of Cinderella.
We also love that this is another example of amplifying the potential of things - that transformation (of things and people) is possible because of what already existed.
Cinderella's inner strength and tireless imagination manifest physically as the Fairy Godmother. It's when she believes she's hit rock bottom that her Fairy Godmother materializes, and the reprise of "A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes" tells us that she is the embodiment of Cinderella's dreaming or her heart's wish. When she needs it most, Cinderella has willed a loving maternal figure into existence. Since she has no real family, the fairy represents her determination to mother herself. 
The Fairy Godmother's magic work through imagination, creativity, and resourcefulness -- all qualities that Cinderella relies on for her survival, as that represent her true powers. Each magical transformation finds hidden potential in what Cinderella already has. A pumpkin becomes the carriage, the mice become horses, and Cinderella's horse, who assumes he'll pull the carriage, becomes the coachman. 
Gus's transformation especially symbolizes how imagination can help us overcome our oppressors. When he's transformed into a horse, he's finally able to escape Lucifer's clutches.

This second transcription, looking at Bruno, the dog, being paralleled with Cinderella isn't a new thought, so much as it possibly the most succinct example we've ever heard of a victim juggling the ever-present issues of needing to sometimes to be passive for the purpose of survival, versus taking action.
Cinderella demonstrates that real kindness is active, not passive. Rescuing her friends in this oppressive household is brave and heroic... When Gus gets stuck in a mousetrap, we see that Cinderella is quick to help those who can't help themselves. And she's spirited -- she doesn't hesitate to tease her friends -- or stand up for herself in her interactions with Lucifer. These interactions are important to show us that Cinderella's not a pushover. She knows when she's being treated unfairly, and, when she can object, she does. But there's a distinction between this and someone who represents a truly grave threat to her safety. When Cinderella tells Bruno to stop dreaming of chasing Lucifer, it's because disobeying Lady Tremaine's orders could result in losing his home. She knows that Bruno's situation could become parallel to her own, and she's been forced to value practicality over justice in order to survive. Near the end we see a return to this parallel between Cinderella and Bruno. At this critical moment, Cinderella decides that Bruno should disobey orders, despite the dangers, because they have a real opportunity to escape.
To be able to recognize that moment, and then act, is strong indeed.
Artist unknown - created for Disney's Cinderella (1950)

Note: (Emphasis in bold on transcripts added by us.)

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Closing In On 10 Years of 'Once Upon A Blog: Fairy Tale News' & Looking To The Future

Would you believe we're closing on TEN years of Once Upon A Blog reporting fairy tale news? (Spring 2018 will be the double digit anniversary!)

As Creator and Editor of this now-gigantic, ongoing project, I feel it's about time to reassess what it is I'm doing with the blog, and how, which is what the last couple of months of quiet have been all about - making a fresh plan.

Don't worry: I'm not about to abandon my lifelong obsession love of fairy tales!
Since social media has come to dominate the scene in the past decade, however, most people are getting their news through Twitter, Facebook etc and it's pretty much impossible for a single blog to compete with that. I have also finally acknowledged that the job I created Once Upon A Blog for - to keep track of fairy tale use, news and events in our modern world - isn't needed quite so much anymore.

With so many awesome resources all over social media (and the rest of the internet) for fairy tale folk, I need to acknowledge - and be thankful - that so many others are alerting us all to what's happening. So it's time to focus the blog more on the fairy tale news, issues, books and events that truly grab my interest, instead of trying to (primarily) report news I feel the fairy tale community should know. For day to day fairy tale news and events I will focus on using social media, amping my use of Twitter (which has been fairy tale focused even longer than I've been blogging here).
(And yes, I will still be happy to promote/review books and events, both on Twitter and here in long form, as I can manage.)

I also recommend other regular stops so you can get your daily fairy tale fill. [In no particular order.]

Linking you to fairy tale goodness daily:

  • Fairy Tale News (InkGypsy) on Twitter - so it's in the linky-list, yes, that's the OUABlog Twitter. I've been on Twitter a long time and my account is largely fairy tale focused, though you will see folklore, storytelling, D&D and the occasional personal post on there too. I tweet and retweet fairy tale links I want to highlight almost every day, along with folklore things and mythic and/or beautiful art
  • Timeless Tales Magazine's Facebook - our ongoing partner, Tahlia Merrill and her social media wrangler, Carina Bisset, have been linking folks to fairy tale, folklore and mythic news, links and art multiple times a day (they are on Twitter too but FB is their focus), balancing articles with lovely art
  • Maria Tatar's Twitter - one of the most social-media-accessible fairy tale professors around is often one of the first to link to breaking fairy tale news
  • #FolkloreThursday - the hashtag on Twitter is more active than ever and growing in users all the time. While not strictly fairy tales, there's a lot of overlap and it's great for research, writing, inspiration or just bringing a bit of magic to your day. From, facts and article linking to questions and answers, it's so big that there are new #FolkloreThursday posts most days, though Thursday's use of the hashtag (wonderfully) fills pages
  • Dr. Grimm on Twitter - fairy tale tweets and retweets
  • Fairy Tale Papers on Twitter - university related fairy tale links and tweets - your FT study starting point on Twitter!
  • Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairy Tale & Fantasy - daily fairy tale and folklore tweets, retweets & news - a wonderfully accessible academic social media source as well

Daily folklore & mythic news, conferences, updates and inspiration, with fairy tales included:

Note: there are MANY other accounts worth following that tweet fairy tale, folklore, myth and all forms fo inspiration. These are just the most regular of the top folks.

There are many awesome sites publishing all the time and between them all, there's almost always something new to read every day. You can check the sidebar linked list to find them! 

Regular new fairy tale short stories (multiple times a year):

  • Enchanted Conversation: A Fairy Tale Magazine - Kate Wolford remains the best regular advocate and publisher for fairy tale writers on the internet. Her new assistant Amanda Bergloff is helping her do this better than ever.
  • Timeless Tales Magazine - Tahlia publishes new fairy tales and retellings, carefully selected, every second issue (with myths being the focus in between).

I'm still active on Pinterest and the Enchanted Gallery on Tumblr gets some attention every so often as well, so there's still plenty of fairy tale goodness coming at you from this corner of the web! Looking forward to connecting with even more fairy tale friends and seeing us all take our tales into the future together.

Note: All the lovely art is by Sara Kipin. The header and footer are from her tarot series and the images in the center are from the book The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic by Leigh Bardugo - a gorgeous and very different collection of fairy tale and folklore-based tales. The book has readers smitten and the tales have captured imaginations. Definitely one to check out!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Baba Yaga Ballet Introduces Our Favorite Witch To A New Generation

"Take a sweet girl, add a wicked stepmother, a misguided walk in the woods, an evil witch named Baba Yaga who travels in a flying cauldron, a cottage built on enormous chicken legs (what!?), crows on pointe shoes, dancing skeletons, adorable mushrooms and a battle scene."
There's no doubt Baba Yaga is making a comeback this year. Although she's been around in novels and niche gaming for many, many years, this year she's risen in stature by once again becoming a generally 'known' character for anyone interested in mythic or 'magical' stories, storytelling, rpgs (tabletop role playing games), as well as art and design. It's not a huge surprise to see theatrical productions springing up around her stories but it is a treat to see a ballet set around the tales.

In mid-October, during Halloween 'season', Neglia Ballet staged their family friendly production of Baba Yaga, based on the Russian fairy tales. Though there is no upcoming production planned as yet, we wanted to highlight a wonderful fairy tale theatrical event before it slipped through to the winter holiday season, so our fairy tale friends can be on the look out for opportunities to catch it in future.

Vasilissa is re-named Misha in this version, but she's still the brave heroine we love. While this ballet emphasizes the common threads between Vasilissa and Cinderella, the character of Baba Yaga (danced wonderfully in traditional character ballet style by Artistic Director & Choreographer Sergio Neglia), had enough bite to reflect the mutable fairy tale form of our favorite witch and still be accessible for families.
Neglia Ballet Artists’ own Sergio Neglia plays the part of the evil witch Baba Yaga and the cast is full of local youth talent including several students who attend Buffalo Public Schools.The music is by Mussorgsky, Glazunov, Grieg & Stravinsky. The beautiful and eerie backdrops are by David Butler and Mark DiVincenzo, imaginative set pieces by Michele Costa, colorful costumes by Donna Massimo and magical lighting affects by Dyan Burlingame. (Source)

Below are many more photos, including one of Sergio getting into character (which reminds me of seeing Cinderella from backstage as the ugly stepsisters get ready), and a newspaper clipping which gives a little insight into the production as well.

(For those interested in ballet reviews, you can read a review of the performance HERE: "Neglia’s “Baba Yaga” is a bewitching ballet".)

Fairy tale bonus of the day:
Since we're on the subject of ballet and Baba Yaga, here is a another version of Baba Yaga from the Hamburg Ballet, 'hamming it up' backstage in full costume. (Apparently used in La Sylphide here, which is not quite the version we know...). This little goofy video is all in good fun of course, but it's also an interesting commentary on hags, witches and Baba Yaga (and theater tales) in a different modern context. #thinkaboutit

Thursday, August 31, 2017

PSA: Our Fairy Tale Newsroom's 2017 Summer Operating Schedule

Just a brief notice to let our regulars know that our Fairy Tale Newsroom will be open but not running at full capacity for the next little while.

Never fear: we will still post regularly during the week -as we can manage- from various locations.

We will resume our mostly-daily-or-more postings as soon as we all return to the OUABlog Headquarters, and our Fairy Tale News Hound is back in the office fulltime, for the per diem routine of news sourcing, sorting, researching and reporting (which we expect to coincide with the new school year/next semester commencement in late August... -ish).

Please note: Answering mail, however, is likely to be more delayed than usual.

Monday, August 21, 2017

To-tal Eclipse of the Sun! (♪ ♫ Da-Doo ♪ ♫)

We had to pop back to the newsroom to comment on the inciting/climactic event of many fanciful stories, which is happening TODAY (August 21st, 2017), that is, the once in 100-ish year event (in North America) in which there is a ♪ ♫ To-tal Eclipse of the Sun! ♪ ♫
Solar eclipses... remind us, in a striking, purely visual way we can't ignore, that even something as basic as the sun shining in the middle of the day can get ... tweaked. 
It's unsettling. 
Films are a visual medium, and several Hollywood movies have employed solar eclipses as a kind of shorthand to signal to audiences that the normal rules have temporarily lifted, and things are about to get weird. (NPR
A notable fairy tale appearance would be the total solar eclipse in the underrated fairy tale 'Ladyhawke'. (Just put up with the 80's soundtrack. The story is totally worth it and we're not the only ones who think so. Want a fairy tale rundown on why this movie should rank high in your fairy tale movies list and could even be considered revisionist? Take a look at this awesome article, Is Ladyhawke the Best Fairy Tale of Them All? by Leah Schnelbach over on Tor.com.)
The other two main fantasy stories are:

'A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court' (in which the 'Yankee', having a knowledge of the future, thanks to his fortuitously-handy, modern almanac, threatens to blot out the sun in Camelot, unless they release him, which they hurriedly do when the eclipse makes itself apparent...)

... and, of course, the odd appearance of the legendary Audrey II during a ♪ ♫ To-tal Eclipse of the Sun! ♪ ♫ ('Little Shop of Horrors'), which changed Seymour's (and Audrey's) life, and, in the director's alternate version, the lives of a whole city's worth of people, and more.

Also of note, since eclipses are all the rage today, is the possibility of a Lunar one being referred to in the Grimm's 'The Hare and the Hedgehog'. (See the paper proposing the idea HERE.) It is, perhaps, a little bit of a stretch (at least from our perspective) but an entertaining theory, nonetheless (and a good reason to take another look at a lesser known fairy tale).

Interestingly, while we find tales including an eclipse preclude the breakings of curses, and turns of fortunes to the better, as well as rare (and often supernatural) opportunities, folklore generally sees them as foreboding, with common mentions of dragons and giant beings (wolves, jaguars etc) swallowing the sun or being released to do their worst on the earth. (See the Smithsonian folklore roundup on eclipses HERE.)
And there's more interesting eclipse folklore HERE via Alamanac.com.

Those of fae circles and magik disciplines however, encourage the approach that an eclipse is more about a portal - an opportunity to bring about change and new beginnings (see NPR's roundup on those HERE).

And then there's the animal reaction, which is wonderful fodder for tales old and new. Check out this really cool simulation courtesy of CNN:
Whichever approach you take, it's a dramatic opportunity for 'something', especially when it comes to tales.

However you mark this event, take care of your precious eyesight and practice safe viewing! Happy Total Solar Eclipse 2017 folks!

NOTE: It is suggested that you keep your cats and dogs (all pets actually, chickens included) indoors so they won't damage their eyes or go blind during the eclipse as well. Stay safe and bright eyed everyone!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Only One Week Until...

Timeless Tales Rumpelstiltskin Submissions

...Timeless Tales Magazine will open for Rumpelstiltskin submissions! On August 18, they will begin accepting retellings of this classic trickster tale. Short stories or poetry welcome. Pay is a flat rate of $20 per piece. Writers should read the Timeless Tales Submissions page for full details. 

Some musings from from TT's editor, Tahlia: 

Ah, here we are again, gearing up for another issue. What's funny is that we received an astonishing number of poems for our King Arthur issue, but something tells me that a dude with a funny name might not inspire quite as many sonnets as romance and chivalry (SO MANY longing glances and melancholy sighs!). Personally, I believe there's a great deal of potential in the straw-into-gold imagery as a metaphor. We shall see what people come up with. 

If you need inspiration, one of my favorite authors, Vivian Vande Velde, wrote a hilarious book called The Rumpelstiltskin Problem that is devoted solely to picking apart this tale's many plot holes (Why the heck would someone who actually could spin straw into gold do so in exchange for some small pieces of jewelry???). It's a short book and you can probably whiz through it in an evening. 

Most Recent Cover
The cover on my copy of the book

Looking forward to reading everything that gets sent my way. Ready, set, WRITE!

Timeless Tales Magazine