This is a 20-year-old film student's perspective on the fairy and folk tales read in my Sophomore Interdisciplinary Studies class. I'm not shy and I don't hold back opinions--whether good or bad I'm always honest!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Who, What, and Why

Well, to jump right into the middle of things: I took this class because I have been in love with storytelling from the day I spoke my first sentence. I have written countless stories, poems, and scripts. When my friends slept over when I was a child, I was always the one to tell the bedtime stories. There has never been a moment of my life, not that I can remember anyway, when I have not considered myself a storyteller.

There, how's that for an attention-getting starter?

I'm sorry it's taken right up to the deadline to get this blog post out. I hate to turn in things that aren't my best work and I wanted to give this post in particular its due, because I wanted to make sure that there are no misunderstandings. I did not take this course because "I have to, McDaniel is making me" or "I had to choose an SIS and this looked like the easiest one" or "Because it's about princesses and I like princesses." No. I did not choose to take a class about folktales because I thought it was an easy A. While it's true that I have analyzed fairy tales in an academic setting before, I certainly haven't done it at a college level and I don't think for a minute that this will be an "easy" class.

In fact, I almost took "Understanding Feminism," because I thought that one in particular would be a less-taxing SIS and since I'm taking a science this semester and science is not exactly my strongest subject, I wanted a lighter schedule. But at the last minute, I asked myself, do I really want to take a class in something that I've already studied and analyzed to death? I understand feminism quite clearly, as you'll see when we start to analyze some of these tales from a feminist perspective. I've had classes in gender studies and I've had plenty of real-world experience with feminism. I don't know enough about fairy tales and I don't think I'll ever "know enough" about storytelling.

I learned to read at a very early age; the first book I recall reading was Dr. Seuss' ABC book. I remember telling stories to my mother, rambling on and on while she frantically wrote and tried to get them down on paper so we'd remember them later. I spoke early and read early; I was homeschooled until age fifteen and one thing my mother always encouraged me in was my love for storytelling, reading, and writing. When I began to study film, she reminded me, "You're a storyteller--a filmmaker is just someone who tells a story with imagery instead of just words." I hope that by taking this class, I will further my own storytelling skills by studying classic folklore and analyzing the mechanics of a well-told, well-remembered story.

As for my favorite fairy tale...well, I'm sorry, but I can't choose just one. I tried, I really tried. But it still came down to three: "Lasair Gheug" (a story of the King of Ireland's daughter, a variant of "Snow White"), "Donkeyskin" (a variant of Cinderella wherein the king wishes to marry his own daughter and she escapes wearing the hide of a donkey to conceal her beauty), and "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" (where a young girl marries who she believes to be a polar bear, only to discover that her bridegroom is a handsome young man whom she must save from a clan of trolls). These three tales seem fairly different in plot and theme until you take a closer look and realize that they all have one thing in common: the protagonist is a resourceful female who overcomes seemingly unbeatable challenges in order to save someone she loves or get something she badly wants.

Like I said...I almost went for a feminism class. I tend to lean towards stories with strong women in the lead (my longtime favorite book series is Harry Potter, which just so happens to feature the second-most powerful female lead in literature, second only to Jane Eyre), and while fairy tales are often busted for being "anti-feminist" you can't deny that what some of these women do in these tales takes serious guts. Lasair Gheug, for example, has several of her fingers cut off, is framed by her stepmother, is poisoned by rice-sized pieces of enchanted ice, and still manages to find a way to evade her forced "baptismal oaths" and tell her children the truth about what happened to her. Donkeyskin escapes her crazed father, lives as a servant, endures abuse at the hands of her new employer, and cleverly manages to capture the attention of the man she loves. Yes, there is still emphasis on family and marriage--but in my mind, that does not take away from the courage and resourcefulness of these heroines.

[End note: I just would like to clarify that while the tales I mention can be read with a feminist angle, I acknowledge that they can also be read as promoting sexism/chauvinism, and there certainly are fairy tales that promote sexist/chauvinist ideals--but I personally believe that the three I just mentioned contain strong female leads and do not promote sexism.]

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