Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Is the Wolf the Bad Guy?

This morning I did a quick double-take when I saw the Guardian's commercial for 'open journalism.' It's based around a fairy tale.

From the Guardian:

"This advert for the Guardian's open journalism, screened for the first time on 29 February 2012, imagines how we might cover the story of the Three Little Pigs in print and online. Follow the story from the paper's front page headline, through a social media discussion and finally to an unexpected conclusion."

It's a dramatic commercial with fantastic visuals. I won't comment on the concept of 'open journalism.' What intrigued me, of course, was the use of this particular tale.

The tale of the three little pigs has always straddled fable, fairy and nursery tale. It's a rather peculiar tale from that perspective. I like the Joseph Jacobs version (1890) with the rhyme:

Once upon a time when pigs spoke rhyme
And monkeys chewed tobacco
And hens took snuff to make them tough
And ducks went quack, quack, quack, o!

In Jacobs version, only the last pig survives, having successfully dispatched the wolf and eaten him for supper. The big bad wolf, of course, is a stereotypical villain. Tales of werewolves and Little Red Riding Hood did the wolf no favours in our earlier history. However, in recent years, the wolf has been increasingly vindicated and suspicion thrown on the pigs, as in The True Story of the Three Little Pigs or The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig, or on the girl, as in Honestly, Red Riding Hood Was Rotten. And remember Enchanted, where Giselle is tucking Morgan in?

Giselle: I remember this one time, when the poor wolf was being chased by Little Red Riding Hood around his grandmother's house, and she had an axe... oh, and if Pip hadn't been walking by to help I don't know what would've happened!
Morgan: I don't really remember that version.
Giselle: Well, that's because Red tells it a little differently.

Indeed, even Oz and Team Jacob have redeemed the wolf. (And I keep hearing about a pilates wolf in Grimm.)

The Guardian's 'open journalism' likewise suggests the wolf's innocence, first through video of the wolf with an inhaler (being asthmatic, how could he blow down the houses?), second through showing that the pigs were covering up their own crime, being in financial difficulty due to high mortgage payments.

The redemption of the wolf is almost so familiar now that the surprise would be to discover an actual bad wolf (well, outside of Doctor Who).

Nonetheless, fairy tales have long been used to speak of politics and social problems. Some have suggested that by using a fairy tale, the Guardian's commercial appears 'silly' and at times the men-in-pig-suits do jar with the hype and promise of 'open journalism.' Yet, the fairy tale take on housing difficulties and crime is not so ridiculous. Tales like The Three Bears, Jack and the Beanstalk, Puss in Boots and Hansel and Gretel have long responded to problems of poverty and homelessness and their links to crime.

Speaking of fairy tales, I discovered today that the 'Fairy Tales Re-Imagined' panels are up as podcasts and can be located here.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Today in Craft News

I usually check in on Craft at least a few times a week. Today was a good day.

I've taught Gaiman's Anansi Boys and as you may remember, Fat Charlie had some bad memories of President's Day. Too bad he hadn't seen these crafty ideas.

I then scrolled down and what did I see? A Frog Prince! I love his toes. That sounds a bit odd, I know, but if you go through to the pattern site, you'll see what I mean when you look at the detail. I've always loved the Frog Prince and had particular fun teaching it. It's a great example of the impact of retelling for fairy tales. Not only does the princess smash the frog against a wall (thus turning him into a handsome prince) in earlier versions, but she also spends rather a pleasant night with her new prince before they see to social niceties like marriage.

The princess's actions in these earlier versions are indicative of the violence utilised by fairy tale heroines when their freedoms are threatened by men. There is still a presumption that the fairy tale princess is a passive creature. If you go back far enough, you discover she's really not.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Feeling Witchy

Today I learned about Under My Hat: Tales from the Cauldron (the preorder price is pretty cheap I'll add). It's an anthology of short stories about witches. That can't be bad. Even better, it includes authors like Neil Gaiman, Holly Black and Jim Butcher. I'm really looking forward to it. It's edited by Jonathan Strahan who has some great podcasts up here.

I've actually been doing some witch-related research over the last couple of days. A colleague and I are working on a little project about aging in fairy tales and children's literature. The heritage of fairy tale is delightful contradictory on the topic of old women. Marina Warner has written: "Both the linguistic link between godmothers and old gossips, and the social link between aging women and secret, wicked powers, are crucial in the world of fairy tale; wrestling control of that evil tongue occupied the energies of many of the pioneers of nursery tales" (From the Beast to the Blonde, 48). I personally can't wait to have 'secret, wicked powers.' My part of the project is just starting to investigate how old women exist beyond political and social hierarchies. Not merely 'outside,' but actually beyond. Terry Pratchett's witches, for instance, are some of the best contemporary examples of the older tradition in which witches, godmothers and fairies would reorder kingdoms according to their whims and deliver chaos through blessings and curses.

Got to love some chaos.

On a side note, I just read a piece on fighting cheating through the promotion of learning on BoingBoing. Click through to the blog post itself on 21k12. I'm not in 100% agreement with everything - I think learning goals have to be phrased so that they aren't prescriptive, since students often learn what teachers never expect, and, in any case, goals work better for some topics than others - but it's something to consider when improving curriculum.