Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Nix Nought Nothing: A Male Sleeping Beauty?

Having just finished reading Joseph Jacobs' English Fairy Tales I was particularly struck by one story: 'Nix Nought Nothing'. If you haven't read it, then you really must! It has everything a fairy tale needs!

The beginning resembles 'Beauty and the Beast', with a father unwittingly giving up his child to a giant:
At length the king was on his way back; but he had a big river to cross, and there was a whirlpool, and he could not get over the water. But a giant came up to him, and said "I'll carry you over." But the king said: "What's your pay?" "O give me Nix, Nought, Nothing, and I will carry you over the water on my back." The king had never heard that his son was called Nix Nought Nothing, and so he said: "O, I'll give you that and my thanks into the bargain."
Nix Nought Nothing lives with the giant for many years, and has adventures that will probably be familiar to most fairy tale enthusiasts: he is given three impossible tasks to complete and is helped by his captor's daughter, who he then runs away with. As they are pursued they throw ordinary objects behind them that turn into treacherous terrain for their father-captor-pursuer to cross. 

by Arthur Rackham. Source: SurLaLune
But it is the end of the story that surprised me, because beyond Sleeping Beauty/Snow White stories and their obvious variants, I have never before come across a scenario where a male hero must be rescued from an enchanted sleep.

So when [Nix Nought Nothing] asked his way to the castle [the hen wife] put a spell upon him, and when he got to the castle, no sooner was he let in than he fell down dead asleep upon a bench in the hall. The king and queen tried all they could do to wake him up, but all in vain. So the king promised that if any lady could wake him up she should marry him

In the end, he is woken by a gardener's daughter who the wicked hen-wfie taught the words to break the spell. But when the giant's daughter finds out what has happened she goes into the castle, tells the story of their adventures together and love for one another, and Nix Nought Nothing is able to remember her and confirm the story. The king and queen are sensible enough not to make good on a promise that would result in unhappiness (which in itself is a surprising turn on a familiar plot device) and allow their son and the giant's daughter to marry and 'live happy all their days'.

'Nix Nought Nothing' is such a varied story with so many interesting characters and twists on usual plot conventions, that it has instantly become one of my favourite fairy tales. But I would love to find out more about male characters being put into an enchanted sleep, if anybody can inform me, because this has really intrigued me!

*all quotes from SurLaLune

Saturday, 16 February 2013

The Folk Heritage of Fantasia

I'm sure we've all watched and enjoyed Fantasia at some point, haven't we? The star of the show, without a doubt, is Disney's own Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerer's Apprentice, based on a poem by the famous German writer Goethe.

It is the story of a foolish young apprentice who decides to mess around with his master's book of magic, and ends up getting himself into danger; luckily his master arrives in the nick of time and is able to save him from drowning.

I was rather surprised to come across this story as part of Joseph Jacob's collection of English Fairy Tales, under the heading The Master and His Pupil. It is the same basic story, except that instead of the apprentice enchanting a broom, he accidentally summons the Devil and has to set him tasks to avoid being strangled. In a panic, the apprentice tells the Devil to water a flower, but he keeps bringing barrel after barrel of water into the home and flooding the house. Just when the water level is about to rise above the apprentice's chin, the master comes home and sends the Devil back where he came from.

Jacobs published his collection in 1890 and states that his source is an 1866 collection of traditional folk tales from the Northern counties of England (Yorkshire is named in the text). Goethe's poem was published a hundred years earlier. It will never cease to amaze me how far through space and time these stories have travelled.

Friday, 8 February 2013

My first fairy tale

I had stories galore read to me when I was young, but my earliest memory of a fairy tale isn't from a book, but from an audio cassette. I remember listening to Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes (which you can read online here) when I went to bed, which was always a winner because my little brother loved to hear them too, and when you share a room it helps when you can agree on certain things! These stories scared me in a delightful way, because they were unusual and read out with strange voices, and with music as disjointed as the tales themselves. The music used to freak me out so much I would hide under the covers until the stories started being read out! 

I think they left a lasting impression...mostly because when I think of fairy tale justice, barrels of nails and iron shoes don't spring to mind first for me. No, I think of Little Red Riding Hood, who 'whips a pistol from her knickers, aims it at the creatures head, and bang! Bang! Bang! She shoots him dead.'

Recently I heard an old cassette recording of my brother and I playing when we were really little, I was probably only about 5 (cassettes seem to be playing a big part in my fairy tale memories!) I ask him if he wants a story read to him, and he says yes. So I say...'This one? OK. Once upon a time, Little Red Riding Hood, and that's the end, there isn't any more. Would you like another one? Yes? OK...' This happens about 10 times before mum gets tired of listening to me 'read' various stories to my brother, who loved that I was telling him so many! 

Looking/listening back at this makes me feel guilty. I was a bad big sister. But there's something else to it, too: I didn't need to tell the story. We'd heard them hundreds of times before, and we would hear them hundreds of times more throughout our childhood. Just saying the title, we knew there was a familiar story there. I'm kind of pleased I have this evidence of short changing my brother - it reminds me just how important and common and everyday these stories were in my childhood. And I'm truly grateful for that today.

Would anyone else be willing to share their fairy tale firsts?

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Once upon a strip tease...wait, what?

I watched the first episode of Once Upon a Time when it first aired in the UK last year; after reading so many positive reviews from American viewers, I was excited. But then...it just didn't grab me. I thought it was working far too hard to involve me and get me interested or to care about the characters. And I was gutted. I wanted to save myself from further disappointment so didn't try the next episode.

But last week I saw it was on TV again, so I had a quick look. And who did I see?

Yes please and thank you! That was it. I was hooked. Robert Carlyle makes that show for me! Coming in mid-series made the whole thing seem more natural (ignoring the incompatibility of costumes and accents) and I was able to pick it up pretty quickly.

I only have one problem now: I heard Donna Summer's Hot Stuff on the radio and got a vision of Rumpelstiltskin hip thrusting a la Full Monty. Well, I'll never be watching that film in the same way again!

Friday, 1 February 2013

public domain resource

After reading an article by Jack Zipes in The Public Domain Review I explored the site further and found that it is a beautiful resource for images, audio, film and text. For the fairy tale enthusiasts there is this page, which contains fantastic versions of Tennyson's Morte d'Arthur, Spencer's The Faerie Queene, and various collections of folk and fairy tales from around the world.

Source: Public Domain Review