Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Tale of Peter Rabbit (and why I'm losing hope for today's children's movies)

I'm mad. I'm very VERY mad.

It's not just one of those things where I get a little bit ticked off. No, I'm actually mad at people in the film-making business who are making "kids movies" these days. Almost every "kids movie" in the last few years has involved adult humor in order to make it "funny," as if that's the kind of stuff that "kids movies" are made of. I've mostly just brushed it off, and enjoyed the few kids movies these days that actually at least TRY to tell a story for kids (seriously, watch The Peanuts Movie, it's great).

But then this happened:

I'm sure most of you have seen the trailer for this piece of trash already, but in case you haven't, here it is (though if you don't want a fond childhood memory to be permanently scarred, then I suggest you don't):

Now, Peter Rabbit is not officially a fairy tale, but this is one of those rare cases where I break from tradition and consider it a fairy tale anyway. I mean, just think about it. It (as well as the other stories by its author, Beatrix Potter) has nearly all the elements that make a fairy tale (apart from magic):

  • Morality lessons, sometimes to the extent of nightmarish events happening.
  • Talking animals.
  • Magic (at least as far as The Tailor of Gloucester is concerned)
  • Characters that do something stupid and then learn their lesson at the end (okay, this happens in a lot of modern stories too, but it is also common in folklore).
  • They have elements that I barely glimpsed at as a kid. but when I read them now I am genuinely shocked.
I don't even want to go through the entire list. These stories are freaking folklore without technically being folklore, and they are still awesome when I read them as an adult. Therefore, this counts as a fairy tale on my blog. (Ever since it hit the public domain, it's been popping up in multiple fairy tale books anyway, so I think my opinion is safe)

For some context, I must explain my history with these stories, and how big of a role they play in my childhood.

I had this book as a kid (and I still have it):

I don't know how I got that book, but I assume it must have been given to me by my maternal grandmother, because she had the exact same book at her house. And these stories are some of the earliest I can remember being read to me (possibly before The Three Bears, but I can never be sure).

Now, if you haven't heard The Tale of Peter Rabbit before, then here's what it's about:

A young rabbit named Peter disobeys his mother, and goes into Mr. McGregor's garden, where he is chased around, then gets lost, loses his clothes, and then finally finds his way out and learns not to be so foolish.

Yeah, a summary isn't ever going to do this story justice. Go read the story yourself if you haven't. And afterwards, also read The Tale of Benjamin Bunny. The story is incomplete without that story immediately following it, and I just don't want to imagine a world where such a sequel doesn't exist.

So, these stories were some of my favorites back in the day, and that's probably the reason I also watched this video to death (yes, it's another Golden Book video):

I absolutely love it. Of course, Beatrix Potter's original illustrations are still thousands of times better than Amye Rosenberg's illustrations will ever be. The cartoony feel of the Rosenberg illustrations is cute, but there's just a certain element of the original illustrations that I've never seen captured by any other artist; very surreal realism. I know that sounds goofy, but that's the best I can describe. Potter designed very realistic looking animals, and still made them identifiable the sympathize with.

I mean, just look:

One of my favorite illustrations is of the moment where Mr. McGregor's cat is approaching the basket that Peter and Benjamin are hiding in. It has a very foreboding feel to it that I even noticed as a kid.

 Not only did I grow up with the books and the Golden Book video adaptation, but when I visited Grandma, she had a VHS tape called "The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny." This adapted the two stories into a twenty-five minute long animated movie. And I think I speak for nearly everyone when I say it's still the best adaptation of the stories. Heck, it even uses the same designs from the illustrations. If you pause the movie in the right places, you'll literally be looking at a recreation of an illustration.

The same company also made adaptations of some of the other stories, and my Grandma had some of those too. Eventually, my Mom bought copies of the episodes, the unfortunate thing being that most of character voices on the versions she bought for me to watch at home were re-dubbed by American voice actors (I can't find footage of the American dub, but it's not as good as the original, trust me).

So I watched these videos, and they are still movies that I will get out once in a while and pop into the VCR just for the sake of re-living my childhood.

And then, about a year ago, I heard the news of a new adaptation that would use a combination of live-action and CGI.

Now, I knew from the start that no adaptation made today is going to be out the animated version that I watched as a kid. It's literally impossible. These stories have a lot of things in them that would never be allowed in kids movies today:


Corporal punishment

And lots of other things. Not to mention the fact that the villains in the stories are never ever taken care of. The villains always get away scot-free (though in a couple of cases, particularly in "The Flopsy Bunnies" and "Mr. Tod," the villains are comically humiliated). In one of the most nightmarish stories of the collection, "The Roly-Poly Pudding" (which is about two rats wrapping a kitten in dough and butter with the intention of eating him), the two villain rats are specifically stated in the text to go and bother someone else at the very end of the story (though the two obedient kittens from the story at least show some justice by capturing their children, though the one the rats tried to eat remains traumatized for life). None of this stuff bothered me as a kid, but looking back on it as an adult really has me scratching my head about why this kind of stuff happens in these stories.

But, despite this, I told myself that a new adaptation of the story, whether or not it was sugar-coated or not, would still likely introduce this current generation to the classic story.

And then the trailer came out. I clicked on it, and for the first ten seconds, I was pleased.

Then, after those ten seconds were over, it became instantly clear that the filmmakers were crapping on the classic, and telling a stupid, generic partying story with adult humor.

It's just all wrong. Peter Rabbit is not the partying type. Mr. McGregor is supposed to be a grouchy old man who the characters are afraid of, not a stereotypical screaming young man. Every single freaking thing about the trailer is wrong, the worst part being the very end when it says "Peter Rabbit," for the simple reason that giving this movie that title is insulting.

If the filmmakers want to tell a story like that, why do they have to use Peter Rabbit, a character completely unrelated to this kind of story? Like, why don't they instead make an adaptation of freaking Pigs in the House, which is much closer in spirit to the kind of movie they are making?

I wish I could have recorded my reaction to that trailer, because no one else besides one of my brothers was there to see my reaction. And I can tell you, it was the worst reaction to a trailer I have ever had. I could have been listening to it with headphones in while in class, and every student would have known that I was seeing something appalling, just from the facial expressions I made.

I was at a loss for words for nearly an entire day after that, and I still can't believe this is happening. I'm still waiting to either wake up and discover I'm having a horrible nightmare, or for the filmmakers to finally reveal that the trailer is just a joke, and they don't seriously intend to make this awful film. If someone from this year had time traveled to me a couple years ago and told me this movie was happening, I'd have thought they were pulling my leg, because I just can't see someone having the nerve to do this to the story. But, unfortunately, it IS happening. This movie is going to get made, whether I like it or not. And it is going to suck.

Will I ever get over it? I don't know. These kinds of things can scar me for life, and it is truly the most appalling thing that I've ever seen on YouTube.

Now, if you'll please excuse that long rant, I need to go to bed and get some rest./

Sunday, August 6, 2017

PNB Nutcracker (1986) Review

This is probably the longest I've ever gone without posting on my blog. I'm sorry guys. I've been having so many technical difficulties. My computer had problems, and my internet connection was slow, and it was just a disaster.

Anyway, there's a lot I could post about, but I came across something recently that I thought might be cool to make a post about.

A few weeks ago, I discovered Tubi TV, which is kind of like Netflix only it's absolutely free, and is also legal because it streams the movies in a similar way to cable television, by having ads every ten minutes or so. And while this can get annoying, it means that there are movies I can finally see that I haven't been able to see yet.

One of these movies was the 1986 film, "Nutcracker," which is based on the version of the ballet from Pacific Northwest Ballet, and has sets designed by Maurice Sendak (who also illustrated the version of the original book that is translated by Ralph Manheim, which I've heard good things about but have never read before). I am one of probably only a few people these days that was introduced to The Nutcracker through the ETA Hoffmann book (it was an abridged version, but was faithful), and did not even know about the ballet until a few years later. You can probably imagine I found the ballet underwhelming, but it has grown on me over the years, due to it's wonderful charm. I have seen many versions of the ballet now (though never a live version), and I have heard many good things about the PNB version, but have never gotten to actually see it until a few days ago.

Now, this is not a standard production of The Nutcracker. While the basic plot points are still the same as the traditional version, this version has a more sinister overtone, and is intended to be a coming-of-age story, depicting Marie's sexual awakening (which presumably is the interpretation that the producers of this version got from the book, despite the fact that this is still a loose adaptation, like all the other versions), which, while subtle enough that young children likely won't pick up on it, still makes this production one of the more surreal and potentially disturbing versions.

The film begins with Godpapa Drosselmeyer sleeping with his head on his workbench, while the opening credits run over various shots of his clockwork inventions (which made me think of the opening sequence of Back to the Future somewhat). After the credits finish, Drosselmeyer wakes up, and begins working on creating a miniature theatre complete with a stage. This is when the Overture starts playing, over the montage of him making the theatre. Now, with any other production, I would have said that the Overture should have been played over the opening credits in order to save the movie's length (I complain every time I watch Sound of Music, where there's about three minutes of just landscapes accompanied by music, and then a scene, and then the opening credits, which could have easily been played over the landscapes at the beginning. Maybe I just don't understand art, but I like things to be practical). However, in this case, I think it works to have the credits be accompanied by nothing but clockwork noises and have the Overture play over the following scene. It's a nice montage that feels right, and also sets the tone for what's to come; namely that it's not the version of Nutcracker that you are probably used to.

After Drosselmeyer finishes building the theatre, the camera zooms in on it, and the curtain opens to reveal Marie in bed, sleeping. The voice of a grown-up Marie comes on and narrates the story. She talks about how her father said that her mother attracted so many guests at parties because she was beautiful, a thing that Marie could hardly wait to be. She also tells about how Drosselmeyer used to tell her that beauty does not matter, and she mentions that despite how much she like Drosselmeyer, he can be creepy and spiteful sometimes, giving her horrible dreams, in this case one that comes on the Christmas Eve before her 13th birthday. We see Marie's dream as miniatures of herself and her brother Fritz on the bed next to her, fighting. A man walks up to Marie and dances with her, but Fritz sends a mouse up to her to scare her, and her face briefly turns into a rat face and she wakes up.

The movie then cuts to a montage of different Christmas meals being baked, and then to the Christmas Party, where the March begins.

Drosselmeyer arrives a few minutes later, and I just have to say that this version of the character is creepy. He's always looking at Marie as if he has some sort of infatuation with her, despite the fact that he's an old man and she's a twelve-year-old, and he gives the rest of the kids ordinary presents (including a mouse puppet for Fritz that freaks Marie out), but gives Marie a model castle with clockwork dancers inside of it (played by actual people). Marie is constantly trying to distance herself from him, but he keeps trying to get her attention.

Drosselmeyer doesn't even give her the Nutcracker in this version. Rather, Marie finds it inside the Christmas tree during a piece of music that I've never heard in any version of The Nutcracker that is accompanied by three dancers in masks; one dressed as a mouse, one dressed as a woman or something, and one dressed as an ugly goblin thing. I don't quite see the point of this little piece. One article I read somewhere suggested that it was some sort of pantomime version of the "Hard Nut" story from the original Hoffmann book, but I don't see that at all in the sequence.

Marie is obsessed with the Nutcracker, much to Drosselmeyer's disappointment, and she dances with it. Fritz sneaks up and grabs the Nutcracker and beats it with a wooden sword, destroying its jaw, and absolutely terrifying Marie, who actually runs to Drosselmeyer for comfort. Wanting to cheer her up, Drosselmeyer binds up the Nutcracker with a handkerchief and sets him on the table. The guests all do a dance and depart, and the kids go to bed.

Marie gets up in the middle of the night to remove the Nutcracker from the table and put him in the cupboard. And what follows has to be the most intense version of "The Battle" that I've ever seen. Marie backs up after putting the Nutcracker in the cupboard, and accidentally steps on the tail of a mouse (possibly another Hoffmann nod). The mice run all around the room, and Marie looks up at the clock to see Drosselmeyer with a very sinister smile on his face. We see the inside of the cupboard, where the handkerchief falls from the Nutcracker, revealing his jaw miraculously restored, and he opens and closes his mouth.

The Mouse King rises from the floorboards, initially sporting just one head, but as the room grows bigger, puffs of smoke erupt around him, and with each puff the Mouse King becomes bigger and gains another head. A giant jack-in-box pops open, and the Nutcracker leaps out of it and begins fighting the Mouse King and his men (unfortunately, a Wilhelm Scream takes me out of the movie for a few seconds).

Marie takes off her shoe, which begins to glow, and throws it at the (now gigantic) Mouse King, causing him to explode and transform into a tiny mouse, which the Nutcracker chases through the sleeve of the enormous cloak that it wore (another Hoffmann nod). Marie walks through as well after waiting a bit, and finds the Nutcracker transformed into a Prince at the other end. This production also takes a cue from the Vainonen production by having Marie transform into an adult when she enters the fantasy world, an idea that I've always liked, as it leaves a lot of room for interpretation about Marie's character.

Marie and the Prince, instead of visiting a candy kingdom like they traditionally do, sail across the ocean to an exotic palace, ruled by a Pasha who is played by the same guy as Drosselmeyer, and who also has some sort of weird infatuation with Marie.

The Pasha tries to dance with Marie, but Marie wants to dance with the Prince instead, which disappoints the Pasha. The Pasha then puts on a big show, with a whole bunch of dancers from different parts of the world.

The dances are a very entertaining part of them, especially since they are very new interpretations of the dances. The Chinese Dance features a guy dressed as a tiger, which was very cool.

The Arabian Dance features what I think is supposed to be a Peacock, but due to being played by a human dancer, gives me more of the impression that it's a lady imprisoned in a cage, which I found pretty disturbing.

This production follows the Vainonen and Baryshnikov productions by cutting out the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier, and instead giving their respective dances to Marie and the Prince. I actually prefer it this way for some reason that I can't pinpoint, but some might find that weird.

During the final dance, the Pasha causes Marie and the Prince to levitate into the air, and then fall from the sky at a fast pace, while the Prince transforms back into a Nutcracker and Marie back into a twelve-year-old. Then Marie wakes up in bed and the curtain closes. The camera zooms out from the miniature theatre to reveal Drosselmeyer, asleep, smiling.

This was a very different version from any Nutcracker I had ever seen, and feels like a more grown-up take on the story. I actually really enjoyed it despite the surreal feel of it, and I will probably by this version if I ever find it and watch it many times.

Expect to see a great up rise in posts now that I've got the difficulties solved, and come back in December where I'll probably talk more about different versions of The Nutcracker.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Special Halloween Post: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Okay, yes, for those of you familier with great literature, this isn't a fairy tale. And, it's also implied to not even be a fantasy story. But, I needed a post for Halloween, so I chose one of my favorite "spooky" stories, and went with it. (One these days, I'll have to start a Nerd's Great Blog of Great Literature.)

Now anyway, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is one of those stories that our parents had never heard before we read it. My parents didn't really like scary stories, and had not read this particular one. In case any of my readers don't know the significance of this story, it's basically famous for having the legendary "Headless Horseman" in it. Now, even though the Headless Horseman legend did not derive from this tale, it is notable that this story is the reason most people nowadays even know about it.

Anyway, my parents had some books with lots of stories in them, and my brother and I decided one day to read them by ourselves (we were like 7 or 8 at the time). One of the stories in the books was "Sleepy Hollow," and I said, "Mom says that's a scary story." My brother said, "Scary stories are cool sometimes." So we sat down and read it together.

The story is about a school teacher named Ichabod Crane. He is a weird guy who wants to marry a girl named Katrina (presumably because she's very rich). His rival, Brom Bones, also wants to marry Katrina. Brom is a prankster, and, knowing that Ichabod is superstitious, he makes a mess of the schoolhouse, and makes Ichabod think it was a ghost. But this does not stop Ichabod.

Katrina invites Ichabod and Brom to a party, and will only dance with Ichabod. Brom is jealous because of this, and he wants to find some way to stop him.

Later, the guests tell ghost stories, and Brom decides to tell a story about how he was chased by the Headless Horseman. He says that he was chased to the bridge, but the legends say that the bridge is the Horseman's weakness, so the Horseman disappears once Brom crosses it.

Ichabod learns at the end of the party that Katrina does not really like him, and was just using him to make Brom jealous. As he rides home in the dark, he actually meets the Headless Horseman. The Horseman chases him, and Ichabod rides towards the bridge, thinking that crossing it will make the Horseman disappear, like he did in Brom's story. But he crosses it, and the Horseman does not disappear. Instead, the Horseman crosses the bridge and throws his head at Ichabod, knocking him off his horse. The next morning, Ichabod is gone, and none of the people in the town ever see him again. Brom marries Katrina. The End.

Now, when we got to the end of the story, I turned to my brother and said, "I think that the Headless Horseman was really Brom pulling a prank." My brother agreed with me.

And the text actually supports this.

Brom Bones too, who shortly after his rival's disappearance conducted the blooming Katrina to the altar, was observed to look exceedingly knowing whenever the story of Ichabod was related, and always burst into a hearty laugh at the mention of the pumpkin, which led some to suspect that he knew more about the matter than he chose to tell.

As for the "pumpkin" the text talks about, it was a pumpkin that was shattered at the site where Ichabod was supposedly "spirited away." Now, where in that entire encounter was there a pumpkin? There wasn't one. The only item mentioned in the encounter was the Horseman's head. But if Brom was pulling a prank, this means that there was no head to throw at Ichabod, which means he had to throw something else, and hope that Ichabod thought it was a head. The pumpkin? Most likely.

We also are told that a visitor to the town claims that Ichabod is still alive with a family in another town. But the people of the town "know" that it has to be true that Ichabod has been spirited away by the Horseman. Isn't this very similar to some people you know? I hear people claim all the time that think there was an alien or a ghost around, and no amount of evidence that it could be something other than that is going to change their opinion.

And think about it, this was only our first time reading the story, and we were little kids! And it was obvious to us that there wasn't really a Headless Horseman in the story. Washington Irving (the author) couldn't have made it any more obvious other than right out telling us it was so.

And this is one of the reasons why I like this story so much. It has that implication to it, and it also has characters similar to people you will meet in real life. Fun story.

Happy Halloween everyone!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Snow White (Part 2)

Okay, it's time to continue talking about "Snow White."

But first, I have to say something that is off topic. Remember a few posts ago when I said I couldn't find a picture of the book I found at Walmart? Well, I found a picture of the cover yesterday.

That's the book that was at Walmart.

(Ironically, I actually had to look up the name of the guy who wrote the text of Great Fairy Tales Treasure Chest, Peter Holeinone, to find an image of this book. I find that strange, because the text from the orange book is not the same as the text from GFTTC, despite having the same illustrations (which are not drawn by Peter Holeinone). I know for a FACT that the text in the following link was the text from GFTTC; That was NOT the text that was in the orange book. Did Peter Holeinone write two different versions, or is the information about the book false? I'll have to buy the book and see if my memory is failing me.)

Anyway, back to "Snow White."

When we last left her, she was sleeping in a bed in the house of the seven dwarfs. The dwarfs are waiting for her to wake up the next morning. She wakes up, and tells them why she has come to their house, and they agree to let her stay if she'll do the chores for them. They also warn her not to let anybody in while their away, as they might be the queen in disguise.

Of course, the queen finds out that Snow White is alive, because that mirror of hers rats her out. So the queen dresses up as an old woman and visits Snow while the dwarfs are away. She pretends to sell her some bodice laces, and ties them so tight that Snow passes out. She runs back home, but the dwarfs arrive in time to save Snow.

The mirror rats Snow out again, and this time the queen resorts to witchcraft to kill Snow. She disguises as a different old woman, and pretends to sell combs to her. She uses a (magically) poisoned comb to comb Snow's hair, causing her to die. But the dwarfs arrive again and remove the comb, ending the spell, causing Snow to revive.

But Snow is ratted out by the mirror again, and the queen pays her another visit. This time, she tricks Snow into eating a (magically) poisoned apple, and she dies. The queen rushes home,, and this time the mirror says she is the fairest in the land.

(Of course, the queen shouldn't have been too quick to talk to her mirror, because the dwarfs hadn't even come home yet at that time. The mirror DID say Snow was alive the other two times, but that was AFTER the dwarfs helped her. This time, the queen gets her answer before the dwarfs arrive home, so of course Snow is going to be dead at that point. You COULD argue that the queen asks the mirror more than once during those times, but the story implies that the queen is satisfied with the mirror's answer BEFORE the dwarfs have come home and tried to do anything, which is kind of ridiculous if you ask me. Am I the only person who noticed this?)

The dwarfs come home, and they can't break the spell because they can't remove the apple that Snow ate (I think the implication is that they don't even know about the apple). They remove her clothes and wash her, but nothing helps. They weep, and lay her in a coffin, where she lays for many days without her beauty fading.

An interesting part of the story here says, "she remained as red as blood, as white as snow, and her hair remained as black as ebony." This is interesting, because this is the only time that we're told what parts of her are which colors, and even then it's only the ebony black part. We're just used to the idea of her lips and skin being the red and white parts of her, but since the story doesn't tell us, we can't know for sure (though I can't think of how else it would make since). And in the first edition, her EYES are ebony black instead of her hair. I can't think of a reason the Grimms changed it (were they tired of the common blonde female heroine or something?), but it is an interesting change nonetheless.

A prince comes by and sees Snow in the coffin. He wants her because she is so beautiful (I read an informational book once that said that Snow was probably naked in the coffin, because the story never said that the dwarfs put her clothes back on after washing her. I'm not sure if that's what the Brothers Grimm wanted to imply, but if that's the case, than the prince is more of a creep than I originally thought). He asks for the coffin, and the dwarfs give it to him. As the walk, one of them trips and drops the coffin, and the jolt knocks the piece of apple out of her mouth, breaking the spell. The prince asks Snow to marry him, and she agrees to ( I sure hope she was at the dwarfs for quite a few years before the prince found her, because she was only seven at the beginning of the story).

(In the first edition, the prince has the dead Snow in his possession for quite some time, and one of his men gets frustrated with his obsession for her and slaps her on the back of the head, making the apple fly out. I guess the Grimms thought this part was weird or something.)

They invite the evil queen to the wedding, and of course the queen asks her mirror who is most beautiful again. The mirror says that the new bride is, and the queen goes there and finds that it's Snow. But this time, it's Snow who gets her revenge on the queen (or maybe the prince was mad at the queen or something). The queen is forced to dance in red-hot iron shoes until she dies. Yeah. Weird.

"Snow White" is basically a story about jealousy. The queen and Snow White are the two central characters, with Snow being the innocent girl who can't help what she looks like, and the queen being the jealous mother/stepmother, who won't let anybody (not even her own daughter) stand in the way of her beauty.

The Disney version includes the same thing, but it's kind of pushed to one side once the dwarfs come along. The dwarfs in the Disney version are funny people who sing and dance in a style that's stuck with Disney films ever since. The queen also only uses the apple in this version, and the other two weapons are cut out, but this is forgivable, because it would have been repetitive. Also, the prince kisses Snow to break the spell, rather than the apple coming out of her mouth. And while removing the apple from her made more since from the story's logic (remove the comb to break the spell, remove the apple to break the spell), this was an exceptable change, as the film was for kids.

Oh yeah, and we also get Snow singing to animals while they help her clean. While not necessarily a bad change, this also got carried over to other female characters in Disney films, and became rather cliche. Oh well.

And, thanks to the Disney film, many people now know the story as "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." While accurate for the Disney film, the Grimm story does better as just "Snow White," since the dwarfs are hardly in it.

Anyway, not a bad story. Still a pretty well known one, but it's one of my favorites.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Snow White (Part 1)

Okay. yeah. So for those of you who couldn't figure out what story was illustrated on the cover of "Great Fairy Tales Treasure Chest" Book 5, that story was, in fact, "Snow White."

Now, like I said before, if I didn't remember that the story didn't look interesting to me before I saw the Disney movie, and someone told me about this fact, I wouldn't believe them for a second. This is because "Snow White" is one of my all time favorite fairy tales. (Strangely, before I saw the cover of Book 5 of GFTTC on Google Images, I somehow remembered the cover illustration having Snow White reading a book to the dwarfs while sitting in a chair, though the rest of the picture would have been the same. I don't know why I remember it that way, because that's definitely not the case. Maybe I'm getting it mixed up with some other book cover for a different story, who knows).

Anyway, I was at my grandmother's house for a few weeks for a reason I can't remember (possibly Bible School at her church, but there's a whole flood of possibilities, so I don't know for sure). She happened to have the Disney movie, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," on VHS, and she put it in for me to watch.

It didn't take long for me to start seeing similarities between the movie and the illustrations from GFTTC Book 5. Now, of course, the illustrations were not inspired by the Disney movie (I think GFTTC was actually originally published in Italy, and was translated to English for the Canadian edition), but things didn't have to look one hundred percent the same for me to figure out that they were basically the same thing. Because here's what I noticed:

A Queen looking in a mirror and frowning, just like in GFTTC.

A girl with dark hair, just like in GFTTC.

Dwarfs, just like in GFTTC.

The girl with dark hair lying on the ground next to an old woman, just like in GFTTC.

And finally, the girl laying in coffin, just like in GFTTC.

It wasn't long before I realized this must have been "the other story." I didn't know for sure though.

(Here's a funny story. I have like the most random dreams ever, and one of them still makes me laugh when I think of it. Before I actually came across the orange book at Walmart where I re-saw the Three Pigs illustrations, I had a dream where we obtained a new copy of GFTTC Book 5. I opened it up, hoping to see that I was right about the second story being Snow White, but I was wrong, because it was some Christmas story instead. But the funniest part was that, when I opened the book again, the pages were in the wrong order, and then I woke up. But no, after looking up the book online later, I discovered I had been right the whole time.)

Anyway, the book I found at Walmart didn't have Snow White in it (or at least I didn't see it in that book), so I have never seen those pictures again aside from the cover illustration, which makes me sad. I'm going to have to buy a book with those illustrations too (maybe I can save money by just buying a new GFTTC Book 5).

Okay, enough of my history with these stories. I apologize to any of my friends from school who happened to come across this blog on their own Google search, because you've heard this same story from me a zillion times.

Let's get on with actually talking about the story, "Snow White," as recorded by the Brothers Grimm.

Now, unlike the classic Disney version, the Brothers Grimm version goes more into the backstory of how Snow White was born. Basically, a queen is sewing and pricks her finger. The blood falls out the window on the snow outside. The queen looks at the red blood, the black ebony wood of the window frame, and the white snow, and basically says, "I want a kid like that."

Okay, I'm paraphrasing. But that's basically what this passage is saying. Snow White is literally born from a wish (or at least that's what I think the story implies). And this is where we come into one of those differences between the first and last editions of the Grimm's Collection.

In the first edition, there is only one queen in the entire story. In the second edition onwards, there are two separate queens. The first queen dies giving birth to Snow, and the king takes a new wife. Now, the reason this was changed is because the Grimms saw that their collection was somewhat popular with families, and, not wanting to frighten little children, they split the one queen into two separate queen characters. This is because the queen is evil, and the Grimms didn't think it was a good idea to portray a character's own mother as evil.

(Ironically, this has just enforced a well-known stereotype in fairy tales; evil stepmothers. I've actually heard kids that have had fairy tales read to them that they are afraid of stepmothers. I guess folk tales will never be perfect.)

Now, of course, we come to the well known point of the story, where the queen goes to her mirror, and asks it who the most beautiful person in the country is. Of course, the mirror always says the queen is the most beautiful. But then, one day, it says that Snow White is now the most beautiful.

Yeah, of course this queen is angry. So angry, that she wants to kill Snow. It makes me wonder if the queen ever had any other people put to death before this happened, because she wanted to be the most beautiful.

Now, I just have to point out here that Snow is only seven years old at the time of this story. So what we basically have here is a grown woman wanting to have an innocent little girl put to death just because she's more beautiful than she is. Now THAT'S evil!

But, nevertheless, she does attempt to have her killed. She gets the hunter of the kingdom to take Snow into the forest and cut her lungs and liver out of her, bringing them back with him. She also wants to eat Snow's organs. So I guess she needs to eat Snow in order to believe that she's dead (anyone who can explain that to me, please do).

Of course, if Snow died this early on, the story would have to end there. So of course it has to turn out that the hunter is a coward. He sees how beautiful she is and backs out of it, abandoning her in the forest to get eaten by wolves instead. He brings the queen hog organs to eat instead, claiming that he got them from Snow.

Of course, Snow manages to find shelter before any wolves can get to her. She finds a small cottage, and (in a point of the story that's so similar to "Three Bears" that it makes me wonder if the two stories have some kind of connection) enters it, eating from the plates, sitting in the chairs, and sleeping in one of the beds.

The owners of the house, seven dwarfs, come home to find that someone has broken in, and find Snow laying in one of the beds. Instead of waking her up and scaring her away (like the bears did), the dwarfs leave her there to wake up the next morning, and resort to the most ridiculous method ever so that they all still have beds to sleep in. The seventh dwarf has to share a bed with one of the dwarfs for each hour, changing which bed he sleeps in once the hour is up (did all the dwarfs want him to share their own bed or something, and couldn't agree on which dwarf should be the one?)

Okay, this is getting pretty long. I'll continue talking about this story in the next post.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Missing Piece of My Childhood

Okay, so I know it's been more than a month since my last post. This post was very hard to write, and you will see why.

So, a couple posts ago, I talked about "The Great Fairy Tales Treasure Chest." I mentioned that, when I was a little kid, my family had books four and five of series one, but they were the individually sold versions of them. The cover of book five looked like this:

Now, although we had both of these books simultaneously, I only knew about the book four for quite a long time. I was one of those kids who would take the books off the shelves occasionally, and sometimes find some cool book I had never seen before.

Actually, come to think of it, my memory just triggered a little bit. I think I actually DO remember knowing about both books at the same time, I think I didn't look at book five because I wasn't interested in it at the time. I don't know anymore. The point is, I didn't look at this book for a long time and would only look at book four.

So, anyway, it do happened that it occurred to me one day that I had never looked at "the book that was like the Red Riding Hood book, only it was pink and had different stories in it."

So, I decided to take it off the shelf and look at it. I opened it up, and was greeted by a picture of three pigs. One was standing around eating carrots, and had yellow stripes on his shirt. One was sitting in a wheelbarrow, and had blue stripes on his shirt. And the third was pushing the wheelbarrow, and had red stripes on his shirt.

There were other pictures on that page. The pig with blue stripes was binding together some straw to put on his half-finished house. The pig with yellow stripes was nailing some boards on the roof of his house. The pig with red stripes was putting the finishing touches on a brick house.

"It's The Three Little Pigs," I thought to myself.

The pictures were pretty good. I enjoyed looking at them very much. In this version of the story, the Wolf didn't fall in a pot of water, but instead upon the flames of the fireplace, and there was a picture of it.

I had my dad read the book to me a couple times. There was a second story in it, and it was illustrated on the cover. But I never asked my parents to read it to me (I was still too young to read at the time), because it didn't look interesting (if I didn't remember being disinterested in it though, and had someone tell me that I was, I wouldn't believe them for a second, because it's one of my all time favorites now). I DID look at the illustrations though. There were dwarfs, and a girl with dark hair, and a queen looking into a mirror and frowning, and an illustration I distinctly remember, with the girl with dark hair lying on the ground next to a doorway with and old woman standing next to her, and an illustration of her in a coffin outside.

Everybody knows what story I'm talking about already. But, I did not know the title at the time. It was only after this book got thrown in the trash and was gone forever that I finally realized what story it was, since I saw the Disney movie a few months later (and even then, it was only my guess what the story was, because I was using logic. I hadn't figured out yet how to look up these kinds of things online. I must have been a very logical thinker though, because I was completely right, and I was so young!)

Now, you might think that the fact it was thrown in the trash indicates that I looked at it so much that it fell apart. But, alas, that was not the case. It's time for the story of one of my worst phobias.

When I was younger, I didn't pay much attention to detail in pictures. I liked pictures, of course, but, I didn't pay much attention to detail.

That changed only a few weeks after my "discovery" of this particular book. I was sitting on the floor (it's a big book), and for some reason, it was then that I decided to look at the details. Then, it happened...

I got to the page where the Wolf fell into the fire, and I noticed something; standing next to the fireplace was one of the pigs. He had a spade in his arms that was raised over his head. Now, since I didn't know why he would be doing something like that, I found it very weird. So weird, in fact, that I was scared of it. I instantly told my parents that the picture frightened me. They understood (though they didn't know the exact reason), and they put the book on the shelf, and told me a wouldn't have to see it.

Unfortunately, when you have brothers, things don't always go as planned. One of my brothers liked to look at books, and he would often take the book down and look at it. I was so terrified that I didn't dare to enter the family when he was looking at it. And this got even worse, because he had the habit of leaving books sitting open on the couch when he was done looking at them, and it sometimes ended up that the book would end up open to the page with the frightening illustration when he left it there, I was scared out of my mind.

Eventually, Dad got down every single book version we had of "Three Little Pigs" and opened them to the pictures of the Wolf falling into the pot of water in those versions. "Do these ones scare you?" he asked me. I answered no, ad they asked me why I was scared of a particular illustration. What was different about it that it scared me so much?

I realized that they didn't know exactly why it scared me. They were thinking about the illustration in terms of how the majority of small children would be frightened by it (i.e.: the Wolf burning up). I wanted to explain to them the real reason, but I didn't have a wide enough vocabulary back then, so I couldn't.

So, my parents threw the book in the garbage. For the next for days, until the trash from that can was taken to the outside trash can, I never threw anything away when my parents asked me to, when normally I would have been glad to. I was so afraid of the book that was inside.

I've realized since then that have a really bad phobia. A phobia of bizarre images. And, unfortunately, It's not something I can avoid. A particular one that I've seen again and again accidentally is the original Denslow illustration of the Wicked Witch melting from the "Wizard of Oz." It pops up again and again online, and I have never gotten less afraid of it.

Ironically, the illustration that started it all doesn't actually scare me anymore. I was at Walmart about five years later, and they had some hardcover books there. One of them was this particular book:

Okay, no. It wasn't actually that book. I just got tired of looking for an image of it on Google Images (I can't remember the title of the book. I remember it was orange, and it had the picture of the pigs with the wheel barrow on the cover). That IS an illustration from the book though. The last illustration from the story to be exact. I have a good memory.

Anyway, my mom took the book and started looking at it. I recognized the pictures immediately. "Oh no," I thought. Mom didn't recognize the pictures. I had to think fast. I dived at the book, and tried to snatch it before the page could be turned to the picture that started at all.

But I was too late. I saw the picture. But it didn't scare me anymore, much to my surprise. And to my even greater surprise, I felt so happy seeing the pictures in that story again. I had thought before that I would never see them again, and I was glad about it. But seeing them there, at Walmart? It was like meeting an old friend after so many years.

The picture did not scare me anymore because I didn't find it weird anymore. I knew exactly why the Pig had that spade raised over his head. (If only I could find a way to think that a Wicked Witch with three pigtails and a goofy frown wasn't weird. If only.)

Unfortunately, Mom said she was only going to buy me one book that day. One of the books there was a Thomas the Tank Engine book, and being a big Thomas fan, I somewhat wanted that one too. So, I thought for a few minutes, and finally, I chose...

Thomas the Tank Engine.

I've come to regret that decision ever since. I have never found another book with those illustrations ever since that day (and haven't even seen the picture that started the whole thing since that day).

I will order a book with those illustrations some day, because they hold a nostalgic value for me. But right now, I'm only about to enter college. I don't have the money to order books online right now. But I will eventually obtain a copy of "The Three Little Pigs" with those illustrations, and I will not lose it again.

Okay. yeah, this post had hardly anything to do with fairy tales. Sorry about that. But I promise that my next post will talk about another fairy tale. One that I actually mentioned in this post...

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Three Little Pigs

Okay, it's time for that other story that has a wolf as a villain; "The Three Little Pigs!"

Now, I first heard this story from a book that was based on the old Disney cartoon. I didn't see the cartoon until years later, but the book was a very entertaining read when I was a kid. So, naturally, I knew the watered-down version before I knew about the more gruesome version.

Now let's say that line that you're probably getting tired of me saying.

Everybody probably knows the story already (there you go). There are three pigs that leave their mother to seek their fortune. They build houses. The first pig builds a house of straw, the second builds a house of sticks, and the third builds a house of bricks. Despite warnings from the Third Pig that their houses aren't strong enough, the First and Second Pigs refuse to spend the time building stronger houses. Unfortunately for them, the Big Bad Wolf comes to the neighborhood and blows down the straw and stick houses, forcing their owners to flee to the house of bricks. Their brother lets them in, and tells them that his house is the only safe one built, as he said before. Sure enough, the Wolf is unable to blow down the house. Unable to get to the pigs, he gives up and goes home, never to bother the pigs again.

Simple story isn't it? Basically a lesson that hard work really does pay off. But this story has changed quite a bit.

Now, although for the first three months so that I heard this story it was from a book based on the Disney cartoon, my parents later started reading it to me out of two different books. These were "The Golden Goose Book" and "Paul Galdone's Three Little Pigs." Both of these used the text of Joseph Jacob's version (although the Galdone version had simplified vocabulary), which is what most of the modern versions are based on. I have the Jacobs version memorized to this day, and if you asked me to recite it, I would, and I would do it very well.

Now, the stories of Joseph Jacobs are for a considerably younger audience than the tales of the Brothers Grimm or Charles Perrault. As such, they aren't as dark. That's not to say that they're completely child-friendly, but they are more light-hearted and humorous, which makes them very fun.

Now, people who aren't familier with the Jacobs version will probably be surprised to find out that the "house-building" aspect is actually a very minor plot point in the story. Basically, we get something like this:

"The first pig built a house of straw, which the wolf blew down. The second pig built a house of gorse, which the wolf blew down. The third pig built a house of bricks, which the wolf couldn't blow down."

I'm exaggerating a little bit, but that's basically how important that whole section is in this version of the story. In fact, the first two pigs don't even survive in this version. The wolf eats them. They are in this story for such a short time that they might as well have not been in it at all, and the story should have been called "The One Little Pig."

It's understandable though, why this part of the story became so famous, while the rest of it has kid of been pushed into near obscurity. This part of the story includes some repetitive rhyming when the wolf comes to the houses;

"Little pig, little pig, let me come in!"

"No, no, by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin."

"Than I'll huff, and I'll puff, and I'll blow your house in!"

So classic. And yeah, it IS very memorable. Plus, who doesn't want to teach their children about the value of hard work?

On a side note, Jacobs speculates that because pigs don't actually have hair on their chins, that they must have been goats in earlier versions of the story. This somewhat loosely ties this story with "The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids," which actually has variants with three kids instead of seven.

Now, like I said, this opening to the story really has very little importance, it might as well have began with the part with the wolf trying to blow down the brick house, bacause that's where the main part of the story starts. The main focus of the story is that the wolf is trying to get to the third little pig.

Also note that the wolf isn't called the "Big Bad Wolf." I don't know who came up with that idea (though it IS kind of catchy).

And the wolf doesn't just give up either, he's STILL determined to get that pig. He decides to trick him into leaving the house. He invites him to come along with him the next morning to the field to pick turnips. The pig agrees, but sees through the wolf's plan, and cleverly heads out an hour before the wolf intends to meet him. He picks the turnips and gets back home before the wolf arrives, which ticks him off. Then the wolf invites him to an apple orchard.

Once again, the pig heads out an hour early. However, he is at the orchard longer than he expected, and the wolf arrives while he's up on a tree. The pig, however, uses his wits, and tosses the wolf an apple. While the wolf is running to pick it up, the pig climbs out of the tree and runs home.

The wolf then invites the pig to a fair in Shanklin (which definitively sets this version in Britain). The pig once again heads out an hour early and goes to the fair. As he's heading home, he sees the wolf coming. So he hides in a butter-churn he bought at the fair and rolls down the hill in it. The wolf is frightened by it and runs home.

He later goes to the pig's house, only to find that the pig was inside the butter-churn that scared him. Angrily, he resolves to go down the chimney and eat the pig. But the builds a fire in the fireplace and puts a big pot of water over it. The wolf falls into the pot, and the pig slams the cover over it so that the wolf can't escape, killing him. The pig eats him for supper. The end.

Now, not all modern versions end with the wolf just giving up after he can't blow down the brick house. In some (including the Disney cartoon), the story actually cuts to him coming down the chimney. In some versions where this happens, the wolf doesn't die, he just gets burned badly by the hot water, and runs away forever. But this doesn't really make since, because water doesn't heat up that fast. The Jacobs version, where the pig slams the cover on until the wolf has been boiled, actually makes more sense. Some modern versions take note of this, and don't have the pot of water on the fire. Instead, the wolf burns his tail from the flames of the fire.

The modern versions focus more on the value of hard work, while the Jacobs version tells the reader to always be smarter than the villain. Both are valuable lessons, and I've actually combined both lessons in a script I wrote for a comedy movie based on the story (yes, I like to write things in my spare time). I have all three pigs survive. The first half of the script focuses on the house-building aspect, while the second half focuses on the wolf's attempts to get the pigs to leave the house. I honestly wish more of the modern versions had the rest of the story, as it's very humorous. But, for a children's story, I think this does very well.

There's also another, very different, version of the story included in The Green Fairy Book by Andrew Lang. But I'll talk about that in a future post.

Which version of the story do YOU prefer? The version that focuses more on the houses, or the version that focuses more on the wolf's attempts to get the pig(s) to leave the house?