Magnificent Maleficent: Family Through Blood and Water
By Mauri Lazaro (@darkdeariemauri) and Teresa Martin (@Teresa__Martin)
Maleficent has a rather nebulous past on Once Upon A Time. She died, fans thought, but then it was revealed in Season Two that a spell “sustains her in whatever form she’s in”. How this leads to her return, all are still waiting to see. Until then, an examination of Maleficant’s past on Once and other versions of the tale on which she is based can shed some light on what will be seen in 4b.
In the traditional versions of “Sleeping Beauty”, the character on which Maleficent is based is a “wise woman,” sometimes fairy, of the realm, and the only one not invited to the christening of a new princess. This was indeed a serious matter. A christening is not merely a ceremony. In the traditional sense, it integrates a person into a world-wide family. There are godparents, who have an oath to be the guide to the child both by example and in action. If the parents die, the godparents become the parents de facto. Also, all present welcome the child as their own, and take oaths along with the parents and godparents. So leaving this fairy out of the ceremony was not just a snub. It was a formal acknowledgement that she is not of the family. . . outside, broken away from all. This grave ostracism spurred her to take revenge by imposing a curse upon the child. She is only temporarily successful because the curse is broken with a Prince’s kiss.
On Once Upon A Time, fans first saw the scorned fairy, known now by the name Disney gave her, Maleficent, in “The Thing You Love Most”. She is introduced as Regina’s “only friend.” It is learned that Regina had traded The Curse with Maleficent in exchange for a sleeping potion. Fans also found out that Sleeping Beauty “got the best” of Maleficent when she was around the same age as Snow White. This established that the Charles Perrault version of the fairy tale is being utilized by Once writers. In his narrative the children of the original Sleeping Beauty feature, including a daughter, Aurora. Maleficent’s story on Once might include a snub as in the original tale, but perhaps one less symbolic and more damaging. When her backstory is told, her origins will likely rhyme with the familiar trope “evil isn’t born, it’s made.”
This would be in stark contrast to the Disney cartoon in which Maleficent has no redeemable qualities. She is held in contempt by not only being left out of the christening, but also how she is spoken to by the other fairies. Her curse and determination to thwart Phillip from awakening Aurora is not given any motivation except that of one who does not want her revenge undone. A hint of motivation, envy, is seen in the manner in which she finally appears as a great dragon, traditionally the great enemy of Good; a demon destined for perdition and determined that all should share its fate.
The Cold Bothers Her
by Teresa Martin @Teresa__Martin
The Snow Queen is the fairy tale on which Frozen is loosely based and will be the focus of the arc for Season Four A of Once Upon A Time. The original story by Hans Christian Andersen is a heavily pious, Christian narrative of the Devil, his servant the Snow Queen, and two children who become the victims and ultimately victors over a spiritual assault. In true Andersen fashion, the narrative focuses on children as the spiritually strong, having within them the ability to see truth and beauty, and hence able to conquer. The fairy tale begins with a troll who is the most traditional villain and sparks the
He was the very worst—the ‘devil’ himself. One day he was in a really good
mood, For he had just finished making a mirror that could shrink the image of
whatever was good and beautiful down to almost nothing, while anything
worthless and ugly was magnified and would look even worse.
The mirror would actually laugh whenever in the face of piety. But as in the myth told in The Bible, all was fun and games with the mirror until the demons got the urge to
…Fly all the way up to heaven to make fun of the angels and of God himself.
The higher they flew with the mirror, the more it chuckled until finally they
could barely hold onto it. They flew higher and higher, closer to God and the
angels, but suddenly the mirror shook so hard with laughter that it flew out of
their hands and crashed down to earth, where it shattered in into a hundred
million billion pieces and even more than that (Andersen, 19).
The particles from the mirror scatter all over the world. There are different effects on people depending on where pieces land. The most apparent effect comes from the mirror as a symbol of truth, and hence, when it shatters, truth is shattered. A piece of it gets in the eye, so that perception of what was true and good is distorted. It “made everything looks bad or else it only let you see what was wrong with things.” The worst though was when it went to a person’s heart for “their hearts became as cold as a chunk of ice” (Andersen, 22). Maria Tatar, a master contemporary critic of fairy tales, sees the Devil in this story as “a kind of artistic Anti-Christ whose art consists in finding truth . . . through criticism and satiric distortion.” As a result, this splintering is “the opposite of love, a power that unites and overcomes oppositions and antagonism.” Tatar further elaborates in her commentary that “for many theologians, the devil is seen as the being that divides and creates enmity . . . The transition from plentitude and wholeness to division and sin reveals the action of evil in the world. God’s creation is shattered and atomizes into isolated fragments and creates Hell on Earth” (Andersen, 22).
Hans Christian Anderson: Seeing the World Through the Eyes of a Child
by Teresa Martin--@Teresa__Martin
Hans Christian Andersen was a Danish writer living from 1805-1875. He penned many of the great fairy tales, his stories making up the corpus of some of the classics including “The Little Mermaid,” “The Red Shoes, ”The Little Match Girl,” “The Ugly Duckling,” and “The Snow Queen.” The latter is the tale on which the Disney movie Frozen was loosely based and will play a large part on Once in the Fall. He was prolific, writing poetry and some adult literature, yet it is for his fairy tales for which he remains most famous. Andersen was unique in that most of his stories were not collections from oral folk stories, but inventions of his own and because of this some place him as a forerunner of the fantasy genre (4, 5 Wullschlager).
Andersen’s stories also frequently feature the innocence, and therefore, wisdom of children. A biographer stated, ”Addressing himself to the child in the adult through a revolutionary shift in perspective, he gave voice through his characters to groups which had traditionally been mute and oppressed—the children, the poor, those who did not fit social or sexual stereotypes ” His stories indeed contain sophisticated themes. “ ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ and ‘The Ugly Duckling’ remain bywords for aspects of the human condition, while character emitting terror or sacrifice” (4,5 Wullschlager). “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is particularly a tale which epitomizes vanity, abuse of power, as well as the phenomena of mob behavior.
By Dieuwertje - @Diejj
Among all of the Once Upon A Time teasers during this year's San Diego Comic Con, the most exciting for myself and others was the video in which a certain someone stole Grumpy's fork - or should I say 'dinglehopper'? After which, a green tale and long red hair could be seen in the water. To anyone who knows their fairy tales (and Disney especially) - that could mean only one thing: Ariel is coming! Which leaves me with the question: what will she be like? We have learned from previous characters that the 'Once' writers tend to go with a mix of the original tale and the Disney interpretation - if an equivalent is available. This led me to take a look at the original little mermaid stacked up against Disney's Ariel, hoping that I would find some clues to the impending 'Once Upon A Time' Ariel.
The average person on the street would probably think of dancing crabs, fish and a mischievous red head if I were to say 'The Little Mermaid' and we have the Disney Corporation to thank for that faux image. "The Little Mermaid" written by Hans Christian Andersen in 1836 is far from the happy ending of the Disney story and there is not one dancing or singing crab in the entire story.
The original story tells of six mermaids, daughters of the Sea King. They are all beautiful yet the youngest of them – who remains without a name throughout the entire story – is the most beautiful of them all. Because the Sea King is widowed, it is their grandmother who takes care of them. She tells the mermaids stories about what life above the sea is like, for the mermaids are not allowed to rise up from the water to see for themselves before their fifteenth birthdays. The little mermaid is described as ‘quiet’ and ‘thoughtful’ and although there is no one who longs more to see what is above the water than she is, she patiently awaits the day that she will turn fifteen. It is only when she has turned fifteen and she is allowed to go up, that her love for human beings develops. She then falls in love with a prince she saves from drowning. She brings him to the beach after which a young girl takes further care of him. When the prince awakes he thinks it is this girl who saved him.
First of all, it is interesting to see how Disney changed some of the characters of the original story. In Andersen’s story the grandmother has quite a prominent role in the story. She is displayed as a wise old woman who raises the six mermaids. She knows all about life above the sea and tells this to her granddaughters, who all love, adore and respect her very much. Of course, it is the obvious choice to incorporate this character into the Disney movie transforming the wise respected grandmother into a small, male hothead of a Caribbean crab whose biggest quality is his talent for music – Oh, it’s not? Well, to Disney it apparently was.
Andersen also pays attention to the bond the little mermaid has with her sisters. The story shows you how close all six sisters are. They really care for each other and this is all the more proven when the five older sisters cut their hair and go to the feared Sea Witch. To Disney, this family dynamic was apparently not interesting enough, so apart from their names, we know close to nothing about Ariel`s sisters. It seems that Ariel is not too close with them either. Instead, this part of the story is replaced by the character Flounder, a young male fish who has such a lack of courage that would make our beloved pre-Dark-One-Rumpelstiltskin appear courageous. By introducing Flounder, Disney gave our beloved Ariel the ultimate opportunity to express all her maternal feelings to the fullest.
This brings us to Ariel’s character in general. You can say a lot about this redhead, but ‘quiet and thoughtful’ she is most definitely not. Ariel is disobedient; she disregards rules, and shows little respect to authority. She’s mischievous, yet has a big heart that accepts all and she is dedicated to what she believes in. The only traits the two mermaids have in common are their curiosity and desire to learn more about unknown things. One could say that Ariel’s character would be liked by feminists for the exact reason that she fights for her dreams. Yet when you look at it from another point of view, Ariel doesn’t seem to be so bad ass at all. After all, she sacrifices her voice – her right to speak, her right to be heard – so she can be with a man, a man whom she has to seduce therefore with her looks? According to Grandma Sebastian, that will work just fine, according to the little crab a woman is for the man to take, a verbal consent is not necessary, or so he sings in ´Kiss the Girl’:
There you see her
Sitting there across the way
She don’t got a lot to say
But there’s something about her
And you don’t know why
But you’re dying to try
You wanna kiss the girl
Yes, you want her
Look at her, you know you do
It’s possible she wants you, too
There is one way to ask her
It don’t take a word
Not a single word
Go on and kiss the girl
Also, when things are going wrong, and Ursula seems to win, Ariel does not live up to her courageous nature at all; she willingly lets her father suffer for her, and so breaks the contract. Triton has a much more prominent role in the Disney movie to begin with. He in a way takes the place in the story of the grandmother, as the respected powerful ruler of the seven seas. In this way the Sea World seems to have become more of a patriarchy under Disney’s touch than the matriarchy that it was in Andersen’s fairytale. All feminine aspects of any importance are aborted or changed into male characters. The ocean and mermaids are female, and in Andersen’s story the Sea Witch – who is of course female too – is made hideous and appalling, as to keep the female image pure and associated with positive thoughts. However, in the Disney movie it is practically the other way around: Apart from our feminine ocean, Ariel is surrounded by male characters. The only other female character of importance is Ursula, the Sea Witch. She is still fat and evil, yet not so very disgusting anymore, she’s being transformed into a voluptuous creature that is elegant in an octopus kind of way. She embodies pure evil and in this way the image of the female who is not quiet, calm, graceful, and pure is connected to negative feelings.
The mermaid can’t get the prince out of her head and asks her grandmother for more stories about the humans. Her grandmother tells her that although human beings die sooner than mermaids – who can live for 300 years sometimes – they have an immortal soul that ‘rises up through the clear, pure air beyond the glittering stars...to unknown and glorious regions which we shall never see”. After hearing this, the mermaid is determined to obtain an immortal soul. The only way to do this is by marrying a human being.
And so, the little mermaid decides to turn to the only person who can help her with this: The Sea Witch. The witch is all too happy to help the young mermaid and says she will make a draught that will give her a pair of legs instead of a tail. However she warns the mermaid, telling her that she will feel great pain, and that every step will feel as if she were walking on sharp knives and if the prince does not choose her, she will become the foam that floats on the sea. The mermaid tells the witch that she will carry those burdens happily if it means she will have legs. Not even the payment for the draught can change the mermaid’s mind, and so the witch cuts out the tongue of the young mermaid, so she cannot speak or sing anymore. The Sea Witch tells her that she will simply have to seduce the prince using her expressive eyes, beauty and graceful dancing.
When the mermaid reaches land she is found by the prince. He instantly takes a liking to her, however not in the way the girl had wanted. He doesn’t see her as a potential wife; instead she is a curiosity to him, whom he loves like a sister. When the time comes for the prince to marry, he does not choose the mermaid but the girl he thinks saved his life. This means the mermaid will die and become foam but then her sisters appear, their long hair cut off. They tell their little sister they sold their hair to the Sea Witch in exchange for a knife that will save the young mermaid from dying if she kills the prince with it. The mermaid accepts the knife, but in the end is not able to kill the prince, after which she throws herself into the sea expecting to die and become foam. However the mermaid does not become foam, for she is allowed to join the sisters of the air, who are given the chance to redeem themselves and obtain an immortal soul after all after 300 years of service. For every child that smiles they have to wait a year less, however for every crying child a year is added to their time. And so ends the story.
And they lived not so happily ever after
It is quite obvious that Walt Disney’s The Little Mermaid knows a happier ending. Therefore I feel no need to explain in depth how our Little Mermaid does not find a world where she is accepted like a woman and human being the way Ariel does. However, there are more subtle differences I find more interesting than the more obvious, surface differences.
The Andersen story appears to be the nightmare of every feminist. Fairytales were originally meant to teach us a lesson, and what “The Little Mermaid” basically tells us is: A woman needs to be silent and beautiful and it is only through her marriage with a man that she can go to heaven. However, seeing that this fairytale was written in 1836, this is not really a surprise. What is a surprise though, is the way in which women are discredited in the Disney movie of 1989. At that point there had already been two waves of feminism and the third wave would occur a year after the movie was released. You would expect Disney to have ‘updated’ its view on women since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1946). However, we would be wrong.
by Chris Fitzner (@chrisfitzner)
“Rapunzel” is a deceptively simple tale; even the name of the title character is obviously German, which would make sense seeing as it was first introduced to the world at large by the Brothers Grimm. But as I dug into the soil and began to pull at the roots of the story, I found that they ran much deeper than I had suspected.
It is a story with which most of us are familiar. A husband, desperate to appease his ailing wife, gets caught stealing the lettuce she craves so desperately. The price for the theft is their long awaited child and the witch whisks the baby girl away, eventually shutting her in a tower that has neither a door nor stairs, to keep her safe from the world. Rapunzel grows up beautiful, with golden hair the witch climbs up in order to visit the tower. But the witch cannot keep the world out forever; eventually a prince discovers Rapunzel, drawn by her enchanting singing. He figures out the trick to gaining access to the tower and begins visiting after the witch is gone and the two fall in love. The witch discovers them and banishes Rapunzel far away to fend for herself and springs a trap for the prince, who falls from the tower and blinds himself on the brambles. After a time of wandering, Rapunzel and the prince are reunited, her loving tears restoring his sight.
Happily ever after, right? This story makes me think twice about crossing an old crone at the salad bar.
The tale that we know as “Rapunzel” came to us from the Children’s and Household Tales collection, first published by the Grimm brothers in 1812. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm collected oral folk tales and wrote them down, sometimes editing them over time and removing the more cruel or sexual elements in some of the stories. However, their “Rapunzel” bears a strong resemblance to a French story titled “Persinette”, written by an aristocrat, Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force and published in 1698. This version with its title character, Persinette (parsley), is almost identical to the Grimm’s version save for having a more detailed ending with Persinette and her lover suffering even more than Rapunzel and the prince before their eventual reunion.
But if “Rapunzel” was French, how did Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm come across it as an oral folktale? They have J.C. F. Schulz to thank for that, as his translation of “Persinette” is thought to be the indirect source of “Rapunzel”. Schulz also changed the heroine’s name to Rapunzel. The Grimm brothers, however, were unaware of the stories of Schulz and Madame de la Force and assumed that the story was oral in its origin. Several similarities to Schulz’s translation may imply that at least one of the Grimm’s human sources had heard the Schulz telling. The intermixing of cultures and versions were common with folktales and took place frequently until the printed versions of the Grimm Brothers and Perrault were introduced.
The trail doesn’t quite end (or begin, rather) in France with Madame de la Force either. The first literary traces of “Rapunzel” can be found in 1637, in Giambattista Basile’s Pentamerone in the story “Petrosinella” (which, derived from petrosine, again, means parsley). In Basile’s version, the lovers elope rather than suffer at the witch’s hands before a reunion. It may be that the ending we know best could have been simply the artistic licence of Madame de la Force and a craving for tragedy on the part of her readership.
Flavours of the later “Rapunzel” do seem to carry Mediterranean undertones, though the name of the heroine may change from tradition to tradition. In some cultures, the witches are cannibalistic. The original folktales often involved the heroine and the prince fleeing the tower rather than succumb to the punishment that would result upon discovery. In these variants, the witches pursue the lovers but are outwitted three times (the girl often using magic that the witch taught her, no less). On the third obstacle, the witches in these tales are rendered harmless or killed, and the lovers are free.
The two most memorable components in “Rapunzel”, for me at least, are the tower and the heroine’s long hair. In the versions that I have come across in my life, the witch locks Rapunzel away around age twelve to keep her safe from the world which seems to say that as the elder, she obviously knows what’s best and her child does not. The “maiden in the tower” trope can be found littered throughout old stories and “Rapunzel” holds similarities to the Tenth Century Persian tale of Rudaba, in the epic poem Shahnameh by Ferdawsi (circa 1010 CE); in it, Rudaba offers to let down her hair so that her lover, Zal, may climb up to her.
We also find the tower trope in Saint Barbara, who lived sometime in the Mid-Third Century. Saint Barbara’s father locked her in a tower to preserve her from the world. During her imprisonment, she converts to Christianity from the pagan beliefs of her birth. The message of the tower and its representation of tradition, authority, and power rings loud and clear. As Mother Gothel sang in Tangled: Mother knows best.
Tangled is perhaps the best known adaptation of “Rapunzel” at present and my favourite to date. It is a very loose adaptation from the Grimm’s telling to be sure. Plucky Rapunzel leaves the tower against her “mother’s” wishes in order to achieve her dream of seeing the lights, armed with only an iron skillet, a mile of magical hair, and her incredibly positive attitude. Compared to the rather flat character in the folklore, this plucky princess seems like a huge departure, or is it? The plucky lovers escaping from the witch in the Mediterranean tales seem more on level with Disney’s princess than the Grimm’s, even with all of the liberties the Disney company took with the story.
Once Upon a Time’s very own is slated to appear in Episode Fourteen, “The Tower”. Portrayed by Alexandra Metz, Once has already broken any and all pre-established notions of how this character should look. Will they spin straw into gold with her character as well? Will we have a new member in their ranks of plucky princesses or will she be doomed to be another footnote in the greater story arc? We will have to wait and see.
Above: The Little Mermaid: Dissolving into Foam, Edmund Dulac, 1911
By Chris Fitzner
Glorious red hair, green tail, an amazing singing voice; when you say ‘mermaid’ that is the mental image the average person would draw. When Disney’s Ariel makes her splash debut in season three of Once Upon A Time, there’s a good chance that will be what she looks like. But Ariel is only the tip of the iceberg as far as mermaids go. Mermaids have been a part of folklore traditions throughout the world for thousands of years.
“Mermaid” is a compound of the Old English mere (sea) and maid (girl or young woman). The Old English equivalent being merewif. But the first stories of mermaids (or mere type creatures) make their appearance in ancient Assyria circa 1000 B.C.E. in the form of the goddess, Atargatis, who loved a human shepherd and after accidentally killing him, Atargatis leaped into the water in shame, transforming herself into a fish. The water was unable to hide her divine beauty and she took the form of a mermaid, human above the waist and a fish below the waist (similar to the Babylonian god, Ea). The ancient Greeks recognized Atargatis under the name Derketo.
Though mermaids have long been associated with music, their voices having the ability to enthrall and lure sailors to their deaths, Andersen’s tale contains no singing crabs, annoying sea gulls or cowardly flounders. I certainly can’t blame the Walt Disney Company for wanting to jazz it up a bit; or a lot.
In mermaid fandom, ‘mermaiding’ has grown in popularity alongside fantasy cosplay. Mermaiding is the practice of performing dolphin kicks and other movements underwater while bound in a costume mermaid tail. Mermaid performances, most famously done by the Weeki Wachee Springs Mermaid Show in Florida, began as roadside attractions and reached the height of their popularity in the mid-twentieth century. In Halifax, Nova Scotia, you can even hire a mermaid for your event. Raina the Halifax Mermaid entertains and educates on local ocean ecology issues. (http://rainamermaid.blogspot.ca/)
The most famous story and the origins (if you will) to Ariel is “The Little Mermaid” by Hans Christian Andersen, published in 1837. It has always struck me as a sad tale, especially after the happier Disney version, as the little mermaid doesn’t get her happily ever after with the prince and even her life on land was a torment.
Your tail will then disappear, and shrink up into what mankind calls legs, and you will feel great pain, as if a sword were passing through you. But all who see you will say that you are the prettiest little human being they ever saw. You will still have the same floating gracefulness of movement, and no dancer will ever tread so lightly; but at every step you take it will feel as if you were treading upon sharp knives, and that the blood must flow.
“The Little Mermaid”, Hans Christian Andersen
In the end, her beloved prince marries another and in order to return to her sisters in the sea, the mermaid must stab the prince through the heart. In the end, the little mermaid cannot kill the prince, for love of him and his bride and she flings herself overboard, appearing to become sea foam and turning into a daughter of the air. Mermaids do not have immortal souls and can only obtain one by marrying a human; by becoming a daughter of the air, the little mermaid could earn her way to a soul after three centuries.
From ancient myth and folklore, mermaids have glided through the centuries, most often as unlucky omens, foretelling disaster and provoking it. Though they could occasionally be beneficent and benevolent, they were often dreaded signs to sailors and those in coastal cities. Sailors reported seeing mermaids, sometimes swimming alongside their vessels. In January 1493, Christopher Columbus reported seeing three mermaids swimming ahead of his ship off the coast of present day Dominican Republic. Traditionally depicted as beautiful with long flowing hair, Columbus said they weren’t half as beautiful as they were painted. In this case as with the others, it is believed that it was misidentification. Mermaid sightings (when not made up) were likely manatees, dugongs or Steller’s sea cows (extinct in the 1760s).
Manatees and dugongs belong to the order Sirenia; fully aquatic, herbivorous mammals that inhabit rivers, estuaries, coastal marine waters and swamps. They look clumsy but are fusiform, hydrodynamic and highly muscular. They were often taken for mermaids and if I were at sea for as long as mariners before the twentieth century, anything might seem attractive after a while! Sadly, for those of us longing for real mermaids and despite sightings even in the twentieth and twenty first centuries, the U.S. National Ocean Service stated in 2012 that no evidence of mermaids has ever been found.
That doesn’t stop the wild and fertile human imagination though and mermaids are firmly entrenched in it. From Melusine in Western Europe, rusalkas in Eastern Europe (though the rusalkas lacked a fish-like tail), mermaids and their water spirit counterparts haunt the waters of our past and present pop culture.
With Ariel scant months away from our television screens, the directions that the writers of Once could go are as endless as the deep blue sea. Might we see an Ariel with some of the darker, more mischievous traits of old folklore or will she be more the bubbly red head of our childhood memories? We’ll have to wait until season three airs to find out.
The Lives and Works of The Brothers Grimm
by Teresa Martin--@Teresa__Martin
The Brothers Grimm are a staple of popular culture. People see them in television, movies, or passing references. Since the siblings are also inseparable from fairy tales, I have frequently found myself name-dropping and quoting them in my essays. Having read their stories in High School German Class, I recognized their important contribution in recording fairy tales and, later, as the sources for many narratives on Once Upon a Time. Then, to my embarrassment, I realized how little I actually knew about them! What were their lives like, what inspired them, why did they write down the stories in the first place? In other words, who the heck were these guys? With apologies to those for whom this is self-evident, particularly German Oncers, I would put forth the assertion that this is a subject, especially in America, about which many remain ignorant. Therefore, last winter I began to study the biographies of these German scholars and was astonished by the vastness of their work, the drama of their lives, and how indispensable their achievements were to German philology.
The Grimm Brothers, Jacob and Wilhelm, were born a year apart in the late eighteenth century. Their family was devoutly Christian in the Calvinist Tradition, and it was to their faith that the men looked throughout their lives, especially in their political convictions, poverty, and the loss of friends and siblings by distance or death. The boys were always close companions sharing lonely childhood years away from their close-knit family while they attended boarding school. Both studied at the university level to become lawyers, but a love of research led them to work as librarians in Kassel in order to support their widowed mother and siblings. It was during this time that they began the accumulation of fairy tales, using a combination of written sources and oral retellings. The brothers’ opinions on fairy tales are articulated in their introduction to a work on legends:
The fairy tales are thus destined, partly because of their external distribution
and partly because of their innermost essences, to capture the pure thoughts of a
childlike world view. They nourish us directly like milk, mild and delicate, or like
honey, sweet and satisfying, but without the burden of earthly gravity. (Grimm)
The Miller’s Daughter
by Teresa Martin--@Teresa__Martin
“The Miller’s Daughter” episode intrigued me immediately when the news of its airing reached the internet, not because of the plot, not because of “what really happened with Cora and Rumplestiltskin,” but rather in the title itself. The Once Upon A Time audience was going to be treated, for the first time in Season Two, to a classic fairy tale with the Once twist. All had seen Rumpelstiltskin and the miller’s daughter, Cora, but never seen them featured together using the source material. We had not seen the fairy tale that epitomizes one of the most popular characters on the show, Rumplestiltskin. He and the lowly daughter were finally going to be together, acting out the conflict, battle of wills, and their final estrangement. No wonder fans were salivating.
The original tale, as recorded by the Grimm Brothers, presents the narrative of an unfortunate daughter whose father brags that she can spin straw into gold. When word reaches the king, she is locked in a tower to spin the gold or die in the morning. Rumplestiltskin then appears, offering to complete the task in exchange for certain items. Three successive times he does this, and the king marries her. Yet to her horror, she finds that Rumplestiltskin intends to take her first-born as payment. Seeing her distress, Rumplestiltskin takes pity on her and says that she can keep the child if she guesses his name. Sending a servant to assist her, she finds out the name, and when she says “Rumplestiltskin,” he tears himself in two falling into hell.
Maria Tatar notes that while Rumplestiltskin is an imp, and portrayed as a treacherous creature, he nevertheless shows a remarkable pity for the daughter, especially in the face of her despair at losing her child. Like the Rumplestiltskin of Once Upon a Time, there is more behind the evil persona.
These are not concepts reserved to the very young.
Ultimately this is what fairy tales are: stories, albeit with certain characteristics that have been observed by later scholars. J.R.R Tolkien commented in his essay:
And actually fairy-stories deal largely, or (the better ones) mainly, with simple or
fundamental Things, untouched by Fantasy, but these simplicities are made all the
more luminous by their setting. For the story-maker who allows himself to be ‘free with’
Nature can be her lover not her slave. It was in fairy-stories that I first divined the
potency of the words, and the wonder of the things, such as stone, and wood,
and iron; tree and grass; house and fire; bread and wine.
How then did works of this genre begin to receive the reputation of being children’s literature? Tolkien notes that is “an accident of our domestic history . . . .” and explicitly states that “ . . . . fairy-stories should not be specially associated with children.” This “accident of domestic history” includes the fact that many fairy tales were told in the nursery by nannies spreading the oral tales they heard while growing up. The popular children’s adaptations of the Twentieth Century helped perpetuate this perception, especially the Disney movies. Yet just because people view these as stories for children, do not make them so. G.K. Chesterton obliquely asserted this when he wrote that “A fairy tale is a tale told in a morbid age to the only remaining sane person, a child.”
by Teresa Martin--@Teresa__Martin
Once in the days before, there was a king and queen who wished to have a child. One day, while in her bath, the Queen was visited by a frog from the land of the waters, who announced that she would bring a girl into the world. What the frog said came to be. The baby girl was beautiful, and the King was so filled with happiness that he held a great festival. He invited family and friends, and also the wise women who would give the child sweet and favorable gifts. There were thirteen wise women in his kingdom, but there were only twelve golden plates on which they could eat. Therefore, one of them had to be left behind. This feast was celebrated with great magnificence. Towards the end, the time came for the wise women to give the miraculous gifts. One gave virtue, the second beauty, and the third riches so that the baby would have everything in the world she wished. As the eleventh was about to make her proclamation, the thirteenth wise woman suddenly entered. She wanted revenge for not being invited and cried out with a loud voice that on her fifteenth birthday, the girl would prick her finger on a spindle and fall dead. Without a further word, she turned and walked from the hall. The twelfth wise woman then modified the curse to say that the girl would not die, but fall asleep for a hundred years.
The king, not wanting this to befall his daughter, ordered all spindles in his kingdom to be destroyed. Yet upon the girl came all the other gifts that the wise women had prophesied. She had such beauty, goodness, courtesy, grace, and intelligence that everyone who saw her loved her.
On the girl’s fifteenth birthday, the parents were away from the castle, and she went throughout the castle exploring everything with enthusiasm. Finally she went to an old tower where there was a woman working a spindle. The Princess asked the old woman what she was doing and the woman answered that she was spinning. As the princess asked what kind of thing it was that went about so merrily, she took it from the old lady, for she wanted to spin herself.
No sooner had the girl touched the spindle than she was pricked on her finger. In the blink of an eye, she felt the sting and fell onto a bed into a deep sleep. As the King and Queen returned, they too fell asleep as did everyone else throughout the castle and grounds. Then all around there grew thorny hedges. Every year these hedges grew thicker and thicker, until the whole castle was hidden from sight.
As time went on, throughout the land the story spread about the beautiful sleeping princess, Thorn- Rose. From time to time a prince tried to enter the castle through the hedges. But it was not possible because of the thorns, so he would be caught and died a terrible death.
After a longer time, a prince heard from an old man about the castle behind a great thorn-hedge. Inside was a beautiful princess named Thorn-Rose who had slept one hundred years. However, many had died trying to get inside. The prince said he was not afraid and would go to see Thorn-Rose. The good old man tried to dissuade him, but the prince would not hear a word.
Now the hundred years had passed and it was the day that Thorn-Rose was supposed to awake. When the Prince arrived to where the thorn bushes should be, instead there were large, beautiful flowers, which parted by themselves, and let him pass unharmed.
Finally he came to the tower where Thorn-Rose slept. There she lay and looked so beautiful that he could not turn his eyes from her. He approached and gave her a kiss. When his kiss touched her, Thorn-Rose batted her eyes and woke up looking at him with a friendly smile. They went downstairs where all had also awakened. Then there was a wedding between the Prince and Thorn-Rose in all splendor, and they lived happily until their end.*
This is the story of “Sleeping Beauty” as written by the Grimm Brothers in the 19th Century. The lovely girl’s name is Dörnroschen, which in English is Thorn-Rose. That name highlights the rose symbol which runs throughout the story. The rose and the thorn have traditionally been associated with great beauty, but also great pain. The expression, “it’s not a rose without the thorns,” while overused, has a rich meaning. There can never be great beauty without great cost. Thorn-Rose’s gifts of comeliness, goodness, courtesy, grace, and intelligence are never acquired without great effort and suffering. Even beauty is its own curse, for those who are physically attractive have the pain of unwanted attention, as well as the uncertainty of never truly knowing if they are loved for their looks, or for who they are. Thorn-Rose experiences this price, one can extrapolate, long before she was pricked by the spindle.
It is also notable that Thorn-Rose is not the only one who falls into a deep sleep. The entire household shares in the suffering. They too are surrounded by thorns, showing the great cost of the curse. The Prince, playing the role of the Savior, enters at the moment ordained for the curse to end. Thus the brambles had transformed into roses. His reward is his bride. The wedding between the Prince and Thorn-Rose signals the end of their adversity, and the entire household rejoices.
How Thorn-Rose is tricked into pricking her finger on the spindle is worthy of examination. The parallel with Eve in the Garden cannot be avoided. Thorn-Rose is intrigued by the spindle, as Eve is by the apple. Thorn-Rose is entranced by the beauty of the spinning and takes the spindle eagerly. This results in the would-be fatal prick on her finger. It is as though she passes into death, even though she is sleeping. Traditionally the spindle is a symbol of “life and the temporal (Cirlot 304).” That was the fate of Adam and Eve who, in taking the Forbidden Fruit, were cast from an eternal existence into a promise of death. An explicit connection between Adam and Eve with the spindle can be found in the twelfth century Huntenerian Psalter which illustrates this Biblical story. Adam is shown tilling the soil, while Eve is using a spindle.
The Disney version of “Sleeping Beauty” is a magnificent work of art. While it is tempting to watch with a focus on the cute fairies, the love story, and the action-packed fight with the dragon, one must deliberately pause to see that this version retains many of the essential themes of the Grimm version. One feels the great pain and joy of knowing that parents are present, yet the insidiousness of Maleficent escalates from a curse to her transformation as a hideous dragon, vomiting out her hatred with the fatal fire. The Prince, Phillip, conquers the dragon, often a symbol of Satan, and receives his well-earned prize: Aurora, his wife.
The famous scene in which Aurora and the Phillip meet is delightful. First we hear Aurora’s soprano vocalise, with birds echoing her lyrical voice. Then the scene continues into Aurora’s waltz with the birds into which the Prince cuts. The pair waltzes gracefully together until the song ends when Aurora lays her head on Philip's shoulder and both look to the sunset. The next time the Prince sees Aurora is after he has risked his life for her. The movie ends with all secure in the knowledge that that the engaged couple will be exquisitely happy.
Aurora is a very different character from Thorn-Rose. Her name, meaning Dawn, is beautiful and innocent. She does escape into the woods, but with birds and a song. In contrast, Thorn-Rose’s frolic in the castle has the tinge of forbidden fruit as she investigates places to which she had never been. Moreover, she explores while her parents are away. In the movie, Aurora has to be put into a spell to prick her finger, while Thorn- Rose pricks her finger after taking the spindle of her own free will. Yet the stories end in the same manner. The couples get married and live Happily Ever After. This is appropriate as marriage is often used as a symbol in both secular and religious literature of eternal happiness. One could say that this is exactly what is illustrated in the movie since Aurora and her Prince literally dance away into the clouds, as though rising to Heaven. The movie was released in 1959.
Fast-forward to September 30th, 2012. Two lone riders gallop toward an eastern-looking castle. They cross a beautiful mosaic floor to approach a pedestal encircled by brambles. This hearkens back to the thorn bushes from the Grimm story. The rose, the Princess, is at the center, but surrounded by thorns. The Prince begins the process of cutting away the pain of separation by slicing through the circle with his sword. As he enters, a small spinning wheel is visible in the corner of the television screen. The Prince leans over the Princess and expresses some doubt about the effectiveness of what he is to do. Regardless, he kisses her. A loud gasp bursts from the Princess, breaking the curse. She calls him Phillip, and he addresses her as Aurora. He attempts to comfort her since she fears that Maleficent will come after her. In a near panic she says that “first she goes after my mother, then me.”
Wait! Aurora said that Maleficent went after her mother. Those who have read the Charles Perrault story know what that means!
Aurora’s mother is Sleeping Beauty.
“The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood,” penned by Charles Perrault, was the first modern edition of the tale written over 150 years before the Grimm version This “Beauty” is never given a name. She is only called “The Princess.” After her sleeping curse is broken by an unnamed Prince, they marry and have two children. One of them is a daughter named Aurora. There are fantastic adventures which follow, including facing an Ogre nemesis. It would appear, given the information from the Season Two premiere, that the writers of Once Upon a Time have decided to use this version as their source. The audience indeed is surprised, as they are by the use of wraiths as enemies. Moreover, Aurora has been supplied with an unlikely companion and rival, Mulan. These two antagonists appear to be set on adventures with more familiar heroines, Mary Margaret and Emma Swan, who are as fantastic to the princesses as Ogres are to the audience.
Now, what in the name of Rumplestilskin’s Leather Pants were those wraiths?
That is another story altogether.
*my personal and rough translation/summary of the Grimm Brothers’ story, “Dörnroschen.“
Brüder Grimm. “Dörnroschen. “ Aschenputtel und andere Märchen gesammelt von den Brüdern Grimm. Bonn, Inter Nationes, 1985.
Cirlot, J.E. A Dictionary of Symbols, Second Edition. Taylor and Francis e-Library, 2001.
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