Monday, April 30, 2012

A Walk Through Pans Labyrinth

 Dr. Deveny's lecture on Pans Labyrinth was very unique compared to other classes and fairy tales we have discussed primarily because Pans Labyrinth takes place in a much more contemporary setting than most stories we have looked at. Although it took place a seventy years ago, it is still far more contemporary than any of the other stories, most of which were written at least several hundred years ago, and probably originated far before then.

The contemporary nature of Pans Labyrinth is distinct in the war setting of the movie, in which it portrays the 1940's Spain and the fear and distrust of authority that was prevalent among the rebels at the time. This was well tied in to the story as it was properly intertwined with the fairy tale characteristics of the story, in aspects such as the magical mandrake root that was supposed to heal the mother. Not only was the mandrake root taken by the authority, but even the mother herself had grown too pessimistic to believe in it.

The magical Mandrake Root

Furthermore, Pans Labyrinth replaces the classical one evil model of the fairy tale and replaces it with a dual evil model. In more classic fairy tales, like Snow White, and Little Red Riding hood, the evil character, the witch and the wolf, are combined with the magical aspects of the story. In this story however, there is evil in the natural, in the form of the Franco government, and there is also a separate evil supernatural, in creatures such as the pale man and the toad. This separation is interesting, as they are not actually directly connected, except via Ofelia, other than her they don't much acknowledge each others existence and deem each other far less important than themselves.

The Pale Man

These distinctions in Pans Labyrinth are made more interesting by the fact that it follows that functions of a fairy tale very accurately. In our discussion, Dr. Deveny mentioned that all but one function, the false hero, is found somewhere in the movie, and most of which occur more than once. This causes the movie to be a very archetypical fairy tale in a very non-archetypical setting. Even classic stories such Snow White and Little Red Riding Hood did not nearly follow every function, but Pans Labyrinth took it to the extreme and attached almost all functions.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Look into the Adivasis

   I found Dr. Alles' talk on folk tales of the Adivasis people of India to be truly fascinating a look at a culture whose tales are completely unique from the others we have studied thus far this semester. Beyond the stories, this talk gave an interesting look into another culture and how one can learn about a culture by looking at its stories, and at the same time learn more about its stories simply by looking at the culture.

Several Adivasis people participating in a ritual celebration. 

  On particularly interesting story was a creation story that gave an explanation for the creation of alcohol. This story was quite interesting in that it could never have taken place in a Judeo-Christian-Islamic culture because it centered around the fallibility of gods. In Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions, not only are gods all-powerful but they are all-knowing and just about in every way perfect, and to perhaps think that god made a mistake or could not do something is considered blasphemy. Meanwhile, humans are distinctly seen as fallible, and the idea of a human without flaw is seen as equally blasphemous. This story would have made no sense to these people, because god was out-smarted by a mortal.

  Another interesting story was The Tigress and the Bullock. Was I found unique about this story was how much the “good” and “evil” characters switched throughout the story. At first the cow is evil, because he is a pest to his master, then the cow and tigress are good for helping each other and deciding to go against their nature and work together, then the tigress is evil for eating the cow, then the babies are both good for rejecting the parents, then the baby cow turns evil by testing the friendship and finally the baby tiger turns evil by basically killing everyone. As you can see, the line between good and evil is very complicated but its always there, yet shifting. This is in contrast to most fairy tales where there are clear “good” or saintly characters interacting with clear “evil” or devilish characters, again stemming from the Judeo-Christian-Islamic notion of pure evil. This is even in contrast to Hans Christian Anderson's work which is often void of an evil character, as there are definitely evil characters in this story, their identities are just non-static.

  In all, I believe these stories don't just give us an interesting look at stories from a new culture that we are not familiar with, but also help teach us more about the stories we are familiar with. By looking at what is different in these stories, we can see which values and motifs are culturally relevant to us or at least to our cultures at the time these stories were written. They show us what is unique about are stories by showing us what is unique about theirs.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Hans Christian Anderson Take on the Fairy Tale.

  Hans Christian Anderson has a unique style to his writing that is very judgmental and christian based while still standing apart from other christian folk and fairy tale. In his tale “The Little Mermaid”, he teaches children the importance of being baptized and giving their life to Jesus, by the children of the sky teaching the little mermaid how to achieve and immortal soul. He also teaches them the christian value of sacrifice, where the little mermaid must sacrifice her tongue for legs, her sisters must sacrifice their hair for their sister and then the little mermaid must sacrifice her own life for the prince's. All these Christian metaphors have been hit by fairy tales and folk tales in the past, but rarely so glaringly.

 Anderson also takes an odd twist on Christianity in that he incorporates many non-christian motifs in his work. Mermaids themselves, for example, are not traditionally christian being, but Anderson adapts them for his christian narrative. He does an interesting integration of the two by having the mermaids long to be human, where a core belief in Christianity is that humans are the center of the universe and created long before other creatures. Most other mermaid tales the mermaids are out to kill humans, or live in a world outside humans, but in Anderson's not only are they in the same Christian world as humans, but they realize how subversive their species is the human race.

An artistic rendering of Anderson's The Little Mermaid

 Another interesting characteristic of Anderson's tales is that, for the most part, they do not contain a particular villain. Contrary to Walt Disney's version of the little mermaid, the sea witch of Anderson's mermaid is actually not portrayed and an evil character, but rather as a necessary balancing force. This is actually an interesting way to portray christian values, where no creatures are inherently evil, they are just good creatures influence by the devil. In many other tales, the direct implication is the one of the characters are the devils themselves, but rather Anderson takes a more creative, more stylistic approach in which the devil has influence, but does not show himself.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

African American Folk Art: A Close Neighbor

 As Dr. Johnson-Ross was speaking of African American Folk tradition, its history and its motifs, I could not help but think of how similar it was to the culture I wrote about in last weeks blog, Jewish Folk tradition. While this is surprising, as Jewish and African American is a seldom seen overlap, it is not actually a complete surprise. Last week I spoke about how one of the main characteristics of Jewish Folk tradition that separated it from a previous folk traditions we had learned about was that it was a diaspora based tradition, and this holds true for African American Folk tradition as well.

The diaspora aspect of African American Folk tradition plays itself out very similarly to the how it does in Jewish Folk tradition. We for one, get to see how this intertwined traditions blends and melds itself with other traditions around the world. Furthermore, the protagonists in these stories are often the minorities or oppressed people in the stories themselves, and the stories often revolve around a particularly clever person tricked and overcoming a majority of oppressive force, be it a frog tricking the oppressive alligator, and a rabbi tricking a corrupt court system.

Alligators, always so mean to frogs.

Many things Dr. Johnson-Ross said specifically of African American culture also reminded me of Jewish culture. For example, Dr. Johnson-Ross talked about how it was very typical for African American mothers to be overly protective of their sons. To this point, overly caution and overly protective Jewish mothers are a classic Jewish archetype.

Sooo many Jewish mother cartoons to choose from!

Ok... one more...

Despite their similarities, there are differences between African American and Jewish folk tradition as well. One of the main differences is that Jewish folk tradition has a religious mythology intrinsically behind it. While African American folk tale very often has religious motifs, most often Christian, in it, it is not specifically a religious tradition and many stories have no religious motifs, or have religious motifs from classic religious indigenous to Africa.

What truly amazes me is how similar Jewish and African American folk tradition are for how typically distant we think of them. One tradition came out of the Middle East and Europe, while the other came out of Africa and the Americas. In many of our minds, Jewish and African American are mutually exclusive characteristics for a person. Jewish and African American are even two groups whose communities have been at strife at times in American history. Despite these differences, these two folk tale traditions are about as close as two traditions can get. In a way it reminds me of the origin of dragons, how they arrived in both far east Asian and far west European art long before the two cultures had any contact with each other. This really just goes to show that all over, people are just people, we go through the same experiences are gravitate towards the same ideas, no matter where we are from.

A traditional Chinese Dragon painting.

A traditional European dragon statue in Ljubljana.

Really, dragons are all the proof you need that we as a species are just not that original. These African American and Jewish folk tradition just back up this claim.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Jewish Folktales

  Many of the characteristic elements of Jewish folk tradition can be found in many similar traditions. Religious motifs and religious lessons are very common in many traditions, be it classical Christian tales, or traditional Chinese religious tales, the vast majority of tales have some sort of religious basis. The one characteristic of Jewish folk tradition that is rather unique from most others is that it is a diaspora based tradition.
Jewish tales take place almost exclusively in other cultures, very few take place in the Jewish Holy land. This gives each tale a blending sort of element, it is never solely a Jewish tale but its a Spanish-Sephardi Jewish tale or a Russian-Ashkenazi Jewish tale, and as such we get to see how Jewish motifs interact with other regional motifs.

The Rabbi and the Inquisitor for example very clearly could not equally take place in any region, it is definitely a Spanish tale. It takes place in a land where Christianity is prevalent and even more there is an inquisition against the Jewish people. These are clearly Spanish theme that are pivotal to the story as a whole.
Seville, Spain
Chelm, Poland

In comparison, Chelm Justice could not be a Spanish tale. It is in every way a Polish tale, taking place under the corrupt Chelm Justice system that plagued Poland. Moreover, the style of story is much more similar to the other stories we have read from eastern Europe, while The Rabbi and the Inquisitor is more similar to the western European stories.
Jewish motifs of punishment and justice are clear in both these tales.

While these stories are each distinctly different based upon there location, it is clear the Jewish element in them as well. Chelm Justice and The Rabbi and the Inquisitor are both stories filled with Jewish motifs. They are both punishment stories, and both rather deal with an unfair justice system. These stories are clearly members of the same family but at the same time members of different families.