Friday, April 9, 2010

Book Trailer for "White Cat" by Holly Black

Holly Black is well known for her fairy tale based writing and has been called one of this generations greatest writers. We're eagerly awaiting her new release "White Cat", based on the fairy tale "The White Cat" (you can catch up on the tale HERE), which is due out on May 4, 2010.
Author Holly Black

Here's the synopsis from Holly's website:

Cassel comes from a family of curse workers -- people who have the power to change your emotions, your memories, your luck, by the slightest touch of their hands. And since curse work is illegal, they're all mobsters, or con artists. Except for Cassel. He hasn't got the magic touch, so he's an outsider, the straight kid in a crooked family. You just have to ignore one small detail -- he killed his best friend, Lila, three years ago.

Ever since, Cassel has carefully built up a façade of normalcy, blending into the crowd. But his façade starts crumbling when he starts sleepwalking, propelled into the night by terrifying dreams about a white cat that wants to tell him something. He's noticing other disturbing things, too, including the strange behavior of his two brothers. They are keeping secrets from him, caught up in a mysterious plot. As Cassel begins to suspect he's part of a huge con game, he also wonders what really happened to Lila. Could she still be alive? To find that out, Cassel will have to out-con the conmen.

There's an excerpt available to read HERE while we're waiting and also a new book trailer to introduce the story and the series, called "Curse Workers".

You can find out more about Holly at her website HERE and her blog HERE.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Le Cabaret Grimm

Starting today (April 8th) is a new mixed-discipline theatrical show is opening by The Performance Lab in Boston, called "Le Cabaret Grimm-a punk cabaret fairy tale (sans fairies)".

The show is unashamedly experimental with masks, puppets, circus acts, music and more thrown into the mix as they interpret some tales by the Brothers Grimm through a variety of Arts and styles, including steampunk, cabaret and burlesque. Music ranges from from R&B, to Tom Waits to Ska to the Dresden Dolls.

An article from (which also has an interview you can listen to) explains the Director's thoughts behind melding the art forms on stage:

“There’s circus arts, and there’s burlesque and cabaret and all kinds of really fun alternative things going on in the city but people don’t really know about it — it’s all in segmented places,” Slavick explains. “And I want the Performance LAB to be a bridge between the mainstream arts community and the mainstream audience, and the fringe, experimental community in Boston. ”

Here's the blurb from the official website:

From somewhere between Paris, Berlin and the bowels of the Bowery comes Le Cabaret Grimm, a punk cabaret tale of loss, longing, and desire - with a healthy dose of irony. We've got sexy girls and boys, conjoined twins, demons, and talking chickens. We'll take you on a journey drawn from the Tales of the Brothers Grimm, with music, mask, dance, and spectacle, led by the great chanteuse Veronique du Blahblahblah.

Each night we are joined by special guest performers. We bring you music, burlesque, circus, drag and more, hosted by the extraordinary Johnny Blazes.

Welcome to Le Cabaret Grimm!

I can't find any information on the use of the fairy tales or even which ones are being used except for this quote which reads: "We’re using these fun, contemporary styles to draw in the audience” says Slavick, “but we’re combining them with classic tales that have a universal quality and resonate deeply.” (source: StageSource) I'm very curious as to which tales are incorporated and the few photos available don't give many clues but it's interesting to think of any fairy tales being presented this way. I wish the 'LAB' every success.

If you're interested and can get to Boston in time, the show runs through April 24th, 2010.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Lissy Elle's Imagination

Photographer, Lissy Elle, has done some really nice work in capturing the whimsy of childhood imagination and other fantasies in her "Let's Play Pretend" photo set. While she does explore dark themes too, it's the imaginary play ones that are memorable for me. Here are my favorites.
There are many more on Trendhunter, where she's currently being profiled for her fairy tale-like work.
She also has a Flickr account HERE, with even more dreamlike images.Takes me back... :)

Note: Not all her pictures are sweet daydreams. She explores darker themes too.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Saving Spring - A Scandinavian Folktale

There is a lovely story I recently discovered which is perfect for Spring and Easter celebrations, called "Saving Spring". It's a Scandinavian story and has Old Man Winter, a man being turned into a tiger, talking animals, tattoos, an ice prison and a valiant rescue (Illustrators: grab your pencils!).

Here's an excerpt of the story, retold by Ilil Arbel, from Encyclopdia Mythica:

After a while, Oscar (having transformed into a tiger) knew he lost the rabbit, and sat down on the rough ground. Confusion and uncertainty mingled in his mind, and slowly, his memory returned and his own actions horrified him. Tears filled his eyes, and he hid his huge head between his paws, shaking with sorrow and shame. "It's all right, my friend" the rabbit's small voice reached him from a niche in the wall, where it was well protected from the tiger's rage, should it rise again. "This is what Old Man Winter does to people when they come here to save Spring. He turns them into animals and they forget their humanity."

You can read the whole story, beautifully told with rich imagery, HERE.
When Spring is freed, her steps cause flowers to bloom and new plant growth to sprout everywhere, which reminds me of the Spring Sprite from Fantasia 2000, one of the most beautiful pieces of animation ever to come out of Disney.

And if you're after more Spring themed fairy tales, don't miss "The Enchanted Castle, A Book of Fairy Tales from Flowerland" with full text and illustrations at Project Gutenberg. (Click on the image below to go there.)
Note: I haven't been able to find the artists to credit for the illustrations posted today, though they've been used on a lot of sites. If you know who they're by, please let me know so I can correct this.

Google's 'Flipbook' Logo Tribute to Hans Christian Andersen

Please forgive the delayed news but it's worth a post for two reasons:

1) Hans Christian Andersen's 205th birthday was on Friday and Google had a special logo up all day to celebrate it and
2) It was a brand new style - a 'flipbook' logo which, when you clicked on the image/arrow went to another image, telling you the story of Thumbelina in Google logo form (all five are shown in order in this post).
Here's an excerpt from the story in Christian Science Monitor on April 2nd:

Google has made an institution out of swapping out its company logo for a special nod to great minds of the past. Today, it celebrated the 205th birthday of Hans Christian Andersen, the Danish author of "The Little Mermaid," "The Emperor's New Clothes," and "The Ugly Duckling."

But rather than stick to a single novelty image, Google chose five.

Google's tribute to Hans Christian Andersen riffs off his story of "Thumbelina." The tale revolves around a tiny girl that was born from a flower and sleeps in a walnut cradle. But to capture the twists and turns of Thumbelina's adventure, Google created a five-part image gallery, which users can advance by clicking the on the logo. It begins with itty-bitty Thumbelina amid her family's knitting tools. Next, we see the frog and mole that each try to marry her. Once she escapes the frog that kidnapped her, she must hide from a harsh winter, depicted in the third slide. Then, after gliding on the back of a bird (image four), she finds a miniature prince (the final picture).

The pair lives happily ever after, but what is Google's next move? This flipbook style is new to Google doodles. It's a clever yet understated way of honoring a story that's more about the wild journey than any individual scene.

How cool is that? Plus, new Thumbelina illustrations, yay!
I love that fairy tales were involved in another first. Thumbelina is a great choice too, as Andersen's birthday falls on the Easter weekend this year and I think of Thumbelina as a 'Spring' fairy tale, which, apart from the religious celebrations, is what Easter (or Eostar or Oestre, a.k.a. the Spring Equinox holiday) is about.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Wow, A Talking Fish!

Here's an animated tale I've been saving for a while with the intent of using around April 1st, particularly because a good heart wins over a conniving riddler. It's a version of "The Fisherman and His Wife" (the best known version was recorded by the Grimm brothers but apparently this version was penned by one of Armenia's greatest poets and writers, Tumanyan) and in addition to the question of wishes it includes a whole set of riddles asked by a shape-shifting wizard.
Shape-shifting in various forms appears often in fairy tales and myth as most people know but the idea of people/beings changing shape/form multiple times pops up regularly too. It appears linked to either desires or demons (or what people are most afraid of) - sometimes both. It's a trope I'm seeing used a lot in urban fantasy recently too, which is no coincidence, seeing as (good*) urban fantasy is in many ways a contemporary form of fairy tales (more on that subject soon).
The shape-shifting is ideal subject matter for animation and the director, R. Saakyants (sadly no longer with us), obviously had a lot of fun. The short film is in Russian with English subtitles and easy to follow and while the similarities to the well known fairy tale are obvious this story has a different emphasis.


Note: The video was originally found HERE.
* By 'good' I mean mythic and resonant as well as well written. There are a lot of well written and fun urban fantasy novels that are highly entertaining and perfectly good books but the ones that stay with you tend to have mythic or fairy tale roots - even if they're well hidden. The "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" TV series is a good example (though creator Joss Whedon freely acknowledges fairy tales and myth as important in the creation of his stories).

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Fool & Russia's Beloved Ivanushka-Durachok

Happy April Fool's Day everyone!

Though today is more about Tricksters and practical jokes, we couldn't have the trick-er without the trick-ee, thus is today the day in which our 'Fool' sides (and sometimes our Knave sides!) are exposed. It's a day for fun, to check your wits are in working order and, in a roundabout way, to celebrate both the good and the bad of fooling and of being fooled.
Baba Yaga Helping the Young Ivanushka (source)

It's no coincidence that the jester - or fool - of medieval courts was beloved (usually) by the king. Under the guise of silliness, this man often had the inside track on all dealings and machinations at court and wasn't afraid to expose them. In fact, it was their job to point out inconsistencies and to make fun of situations, including the king (or Queen's) role in such. In medieval times, when the common people weren't literate or understood the languages most used for writing (eg Latin), clowns often were 'employed' to interpret what was being said by authorities for the people, kind of like a court reporter of sorts or jokester with immunity (at least to a point and why am I reminded of Jon Stewart and his Daily Show here?). What the head honchos (Kings and Priests) didn't count on, however, was that these clowns would not only interpret the words and the meanings behind them but they would also make clear the hypocrisy at play. Needless to say, clowns were banished from the church while court fools though better tolerated were in danger of a severe whipping. (See Wikipedia for other aspects of the history of the Jester HERE.) For other aspects of The Fool it's interesting to see what this archetype means in a tarot deck (see HERE for the Wikipedia entry on The Fool card in Tarot).
An unusual Fool card with a woman from The World Tarot Deck

The Fool is an important archetype in fairy tales too, sometimes substituted for the 'everyman' character, and usually triumphant where smarter, stronger, richer characters (often siblings) aren't - the Fool's advantage being his good heart. Sometimes 'Jack' (of many stories) is the lucky fool but nowhere is he more prevalent (and loved) than in Russia, going under the name Ivan the Fool or, more fondly, Ivanushka-Durachok.
Ivan and the Grey Wolf
by Viktor Vasnetsov

A more extensive research post will have to wait for next year but for today I'll point you to a starter list of 'fool fairy tales' HERE (featuring both the truly foolish and tricksters) and show you a lovely fairy tale matryoshka doll set, featuring the beloved Russian fool, Ivan.
From the description HERE, where these dolls are for sale:
Young Ivan, always deemed a fool by his elder brothers, managed to catch a golden-mane mare, depicted on the second Matryoshka nesting doll, and when the Tsar ordered him to bring a wonderful firebird, Ivan after numerous adventures, was able to fulfill the command, bringing not only the bird, bur also a lovely maiden to the court. The young girl, portrayed on the third Matryoshka nesting doll, refused to be the Tsar’s wife, and the fairy-tale ends with the happy marriage of Ivan and the charming tsar-maiden.
There are many more close-ups at the link. The site also features a Cinderella nesting egg set HERE.

There's also an interesting short article HERE, which includes a list of the Fool character as portrayed in TV, film ("The Man Who Knew Too Little" is a fun and wonderful example) and other forms of media, with Russia's lucky and good-hearted simpleton, Ivan, making a few appearances.
by MikhailParilov

One thing is certain, there's much more to fools than meets the eye. Fools in fairy tales are not only often the winners, they're also the ones in possession of that most sought after treasure: happiness.