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Wednesday 31 March 2010

Too grim for the Grimms...

This is a short film by the wonderful Mucky Puppets based on the tale the Grimms removed from Children's and Household Tales after the first (1812) edition.

I love the film's atmospheric silhouette puppetry, and I'm intrigued by its treatment of this very dark story (the tale can be read online here, along with a commentary by Donald Haase on using it in his teaching here).

Watching the film I couldn't help thinking of this article I read in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago. There's no shying away from the fact that this is a very upsetting subject, but then fairy tales often touch upon subjects that we'd prefer to pretend didn't exist: murder, child abuse, rape, forced marriage, incest, cannibalism, bestiality. In their simple prose, and with their refusal to engage in explicit sensationalism, they have, perhaps, always offered us a way of discussing these subjects. But from the Grimms to the present day there has been a dominant move towards the sanitisation of fairy tales for children. I can understand the desire to protect children but this leaves us with a problem—we can edit our collections of stories, but can we can't edit the world.

Thanks to Richard Mansfield for giving me permission to post the film here.

Tuesday 30 March 2010

Call for papers - Anti-Tales: The Uses of Disenchantment

(this is an edited version of the call for papers, the full version is now available online here)
“…most intellectual development depends upon new readings of old texts. I am all for putting new wine in old bottles, especially if the pressure of the new wine makes the old bottles explode…” - Angela Carter
An interdisciplinary research forum and subsequent publication of proceedings (Cambridge Scholars Publishing) based around the currently under-researched notion of the 'anti-tale' to be held at the University of Glasgow, Thursday 12th - Friday 13th August 2010. Our confirmed plenary speaker is Dr. Anna Kérchy (Senior Assistant Professor, University of Szeged), and our resident artists will include Robert Powell (Edinburgh College of Art).

The anti-fairy tale has long existed as a shadow of the traditional fairy tale genre. First categorized as the 'antimärchen' in Andre Jolles' seminal Einfache Formen (c.1930), the anti-tale was found to be contemporaneous with even the oldest known examples of fairy tale collections. Rarely an outward opposition to the traditional form itself, the anti-tale takes aspects of the fairy tale genre and re-imagines, subverts, inverts, deconstructs or satirizes elements of them to present an alternate narrative interpretation, outcome or morality. Red Riding Hood may elope with the wolf. Or Bluebeard's wife is not interested in his secret chamber. Snow White's stepmother gives her own account of events and Cinderella does not exactly find the prince charming. The anti-fairy tale takes many forms. Some revisit and deconstruct familiar narratives (as above) or formulate new stories, characters and ever-afters, relying on and subverting familiar archetypes and plot devices.

This project is interdisciplinary in its scope, and our call goes out to a diverse range of disciplines including, but not limited to, scholars and students from: Literature, History of Art, Media/ Film Studies, Psychology, Creative Writing, Music. Our call for new research on 'anti-tales' is intended to provoke creative, imaginative responses, though we are particularly interested in contributions on the following topics:

Once upon a time…
…happily ever after?
The use of the anti-tale and disenchantment in children's and/or adult's literature
Rewritings/ re-readings of the fairy tale
Narrative voice in anti-tales; authorship and authority
Dialogues between the creative and the critical
Morality versus immorality
Feminist interpretations
Decolonizing the fairy tale; culture versus anti-culture?
Context and politics
New perspectives: new writers, new illustrators
Pedagogy (lessons unlearnt)
After 'ever after'?

Please email abstracts of 300 words (max.) for 20 minute papers and C.V. to David Calvin (University of Ulster) and Catriona McAra (University of Glasgow): by 30th April 2010.

Saturday 27 March 2010

Islands that are really giants, and the root child from under a tree

I just wanted to link to this gallery of images selected from the work of Kitty Crowther, the Belgian writer and illustrator who won the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Prize this week. The jury said that 'In her world, the door between imagination and reality is wide open. She addresses the reader gently and personally, but with profound effect. In her deeply felt empathy with people in difficulty, she shows ways in which weakness can be turned into strength. '

Judging by these few images there is a definite feel of the fairy tale to her work, which includes 2009 picture book Annie du Lac, which tells the story of Annie and three islands in a lake that turn out to be giants, and enfant racine (2003), which tells the story of Leslie who lives alone in a forest and meets a root child. I'd love to get my hands on these books!

The images in the post are book covers taken from here.

Tuesday 23 March 2010

Forthcoming events

A couple of fantastic looking events are coming up which I'm too far away to get to, but I wanted to highlight them in case any of you are nearby:

The first is the premiere of Peerifool, a fairy tale film made by the Chagford Filmaking Group (I've written about their brilliant work bringing British fairy tales to the big screen before here). The premiere takes place on Sunday 28th March at Exeter Picturehouse at 12noon and you can buy tickets online.

The tale of Peerifool is available to read online here.

The second is a Marina Warner lecture 'Dark Arts: Magic and Strangers after The Arabian Nights' at Queen Mary University of London on Tuesday 30th March:
'Enchanters in The Arabian Nights are frequently outsiders, infidels who worship fire and command djinns who disobeyed God; in many of the tales, the magicians come from Persia or Africa, or some other elsewhere depicted as faraway and exotic. Marina Warner will explore how these representations combined with a European desire to distance western culture from its tradition of magical thinking, and - in the writings of Voltaire and William Beckford, for example - offered fertile proxies for conveying the enduring fascination - and uses - of enchantment.'
This is Warner's second public lecture as a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University. The podcast of her first 'Figures in the Carpet: Magic and the 1001 Nights' is available here.

Wednesday 10 March 2010

Competition for unpublished fairy tales:

The following details are taken from the website for the award and their press release (note that on the website in quite a few places it talks about 'inedited' fairy tales, but I think this is a mistranslation of unpublished, there are also two different closing dates mentioned–the 15th and the 25th–it's probably best to go for the earlier one!)

The Hans Christian Andersen Fairy-tale Award, devoted to children’s literature and unpublished fables, has been taking place in Sestri Levante since 1967. It is an important and prestigious price recognized both in Italy and at international level. In the past editions, the Andersen Award has involved as main characters and jurors, renowned names such as Italo Calvino, Alberto Moravia, Sergio Zavoli, Peppino De Filippo, Mario Soldati and Emanuele Luzzati.

The Award is dedicated to unpublished fables which are divided into four categories differentiated by the authors’ age. These are: Nursery School (between 3 and 5 year old, in groups), children (6 to 10 year old), teenagers (between 11 and 16 year old) and adults (over 16 year old). The Award is also open to foreign authors who can write fairytales in English, French, German and Spanish.

Fairytales can be sent online through the website: The rules state that foreign authors can participate in the Andersen Award with an unpublished fable, no longer than three pages, to be sent, no later than March 15 th, 2010.

The winners will be announced at the Andersen Festival (27th to the 30th of May 2010) which will take place in Sestri Levante, a place which Andersen visited and said this about:

“What a fairy-tale evening did I spend in Sestri Levante! The inn was very close to the sea, and a strong undertow lapped against it; clouds in the sky were crimson red and the mountains were sparkling in the brightest colours. The trees themselves were like gigantic fruit baskets, full of rich bunches of grapes.” 1883

The town's Baia delle Favole (Bay of Fables) is named in honour of Andersen.

Tuesday 2 March 2010

Down rabbit holes...

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is not really a fairy tale, but, like Peter Pan and the Oz books, it is often considered to be one of what L. Frank Baum called the 'newer "wonder tales". But before I get properly started I have a confession to make. Alice is not one of my favourite tales, in fact far from it, but as there's no escaping Alice this week I wanted to collect together some of the many great Alice links I've come across.

My problem with Alice is the ending. Reading a beautiful pop-up version with my sons over the last few days I've been reminded just how much I loved the stories as a child—until I got to the end. And Lewis Caroll does it to us not once but twice. In both stories we reach the dreaded waking. Why create such a wonderful reality only to destroy it with 'Wake up, Alice dear!' .... 'Why, what a long sleep you've had!'

No! Of course as an adult re-reading the books I can see all the metaphors and symbols. I can admit that we are told Alice is feeling very 'sleepy and stupid' and falling down the rabbit hole could be a metaphor for falling asleep... but the details: the sides of the well 'filled with cupboards and bookshelves...maps and pictures hung upon pegs'. As a child I read the story literally and I still want this to be an actual doorway into another world. Just as the back of the wardrobe was in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. These magical doorways were the most exciting thing to me about stories when I first began reading. There was the picture of the Dawntreader too, and when I was seven I had a teacher called Miss Jackson who told us wonderful tales of the Tockholes Treacle Miners. Tockholes was a village near where we lived and the doorways into the miners' underground world were to be found in the landscape all around us (and I've looked out for them ever since). In Through the Looking-Glass there is another magical entrance: the glass 'was beginning to melt away, just like a bright silvery mist' so that Alice could step through.

I just wish Caroll had provided a satisfying exit route from Wonderland too, rather than cheating us with it all having been a dream. But despite this, I await the Tim Burton film, which reimagines the Alice stories, with glee. And in the meantime I'm enjoying revisiting Alice with my sons—the eldest keeps standing on the book, trying to get down the rabbit hole...

Digitised manuscripts and illustrations:

Alice's Adventures Under Ground—the original manuscript as written and illustrated by Caroll, on the British Library site
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1866), as illustrated by John Tenniel
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1907), as illustrated by Arthur Rackham
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and what Alice Found There (1911)
Salvador Dali's illustrations (1969)
Illustrators of Alice on the web

Early films (available to watch online):
Alice in Wonderland (1903) silent film by Cecil Hepworth
Alice in Wonderland (1915) silent film by W.W.Young

Tim Burton interview on Radio 4—a brilliant interview, thanks to Faye for the link.
Tim Burton and Johnny Depp on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross—a slightly more awkward interview, and as much as I love Johnny Depp I wish Ross had paid more attention to Tim Burton.
Interview with Mia Wasikowska, the new Alice, in The Times


There's something about Alice, AS Byatt in The Guardian—an engaging article which takes in a lot of other British children's classics but says less than I would have expected about Alice.
Innocence, obsession and the making of Alice in Wonderland, Peter Ackroyd in The Times—an interesting article about the history of the story and Dodgson himself.

Additional interesting links:
A-Z of Alice in Wonderland — eclectic list of all things Alice from The Independent.
Info about Alice in Sunderland — a fantastic looking Graphic Novel, thanks to Andy Hedgecock for the recommendation.

Illustration by Arthur Rackham 'At this the whole pack rose up into the air, and came flying down upon her' P158