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The other day I was talking with one of my best friends about academia. And how it kills absolutely everything it touches. You like Dickens? Take a class on him, that’ll fix that problem. You’re a fan of writing about and analyzing interesting cultural phenomena? Go to grad school, so you can learn to write so well you’ll be unintelligible. Want to share ideas with like-minded people? Learn how to speak jargon so well that you’ll never be understood by humanoid life forms again.
Ah, sweet academia. Being outside it – at last? finally? unfortunately? – feels odd to me. For the first time in a long while, I find myself outside a scholarly community, living in “the real world,” even if only for two years, after which time I shall go to grad school and become a Slave to Academia once more. But this little respite prompts me to ask: is academia useful? For studying fairy tales? Folklore? Does studying something actually partially destroy it, as I’ve suggested elsewhere?
First of all, before you even say it: yes, I agree. Academics need to make themselves – and their work – more accessible. It’s part of the reason why I write this blog, and why I write it the way that I do. I write about what I’m working on, and I write to be read. Understood. Much though I love certain academic thinkers, they specialize in being obscure. Like Lacan! Reading Lacan is like doing mind-gymnatics: how well can you perform on the balance beam? Can you do a triple flippy thingy? Those who cannot do a triple-flippy-thingy are abject failures whose minds are worthless. Or so the prevailing attitude goes.
Some people seem to think of academia the way that Miranda Priestly thinks about fashion. Click here to listen to Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada explain it all, as she rants at her assistant for not caring about fashion. But fashion actually controls us all!
For those international viewers who can’t watch the clip, I’ve copy/pasted the relevant text here: Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve been thinking a lot about speaking lately. This is because I’ve been doing far less of it than usual; my Vietnamese is pitiful, and many of the people I interact with on a daily basis speak little to no English. It’s an odd feeling; I have this whole (crazy, nerdy, whatever) self that I am completely unable to communicate to the world. Same goes for those trying to speak with me, I guess, except their problem has less to do with “the world” and more with “that gal.”
So I’m a mute in my own life. This makes me think about fairy tales! And cultural crticism! Surprise! Joseph Jacobs – collector of English Stories from the late 19th and early 20th centuries – is my target today. Like many fairy tale collectors, Jacobs saw himself as preserving a vanishing tradition. England, he warned, was losing its folk culture due to industrialization. Also, and way more importantly, they were being shown up in the Folklore arena by the Germans and the French. SO not okay, people. But! In his otherwise rather pedestrian Preface, Jacobs says something really interesting:
Who says that English folk have no fairy tales of their own? […] The only reason, I imagine, why such tales have not hitherto been brought to light, is the lamentable gap between the governing and recording classes and the dumb working classes of this country–dumb to others but eloquent among themselves. It would be no unpatriotic task to help to bridge over this gulf, by giving a common fund of nursery literature to all classes of the English people, and, in any case, it can do no harm to add to the innocent gaiety of the nation.
Dumb to others but eloquent amongst themselves. When you first read it, it’s pretty easy to dismiss the comment as dated and classist. And in a way it is. Though Jacobs isn’t using dumb to mean “stupid;” Laura Gibbs of the University of Oklahoma believes that Jacobs’ comment refers to a lack of literacy in the non-governing classes. And this might be the case. But I think that there’s something more in Jacobs’ comment, soemthing more telling, even if there’s also a hefty dose of elitism mixed in.
Thing is: the idea that the underclasses – for lack of a better word until later – can’t communicate themselves may have a grain of truth in it. But it’s not because of a lack of intelligence. It’s because of the nature of communication itself. Read the rest of this entry »
You hear it everywhere, don’t you? People describe things like “Twilight” as “dark fairy tales.” Romantic comedies are always “fairy tale romances.” Any book with love, magic, a fairy, a prince, even *a pony* must be called a fairy tale. I think it’s written somewhere in a Very Important Book. Does this make me shudder? Yes. What do I think we should do about it? Absolutely nothing.
I think that one of my pet peeves is when purists in any given field start whining about how the Great Unwashed Masses are “doing it wrong.” “They just don’t understand” seems to be the sentiment. Why can’t they realize that the fairy tale is a historical, literary form which sprang up from a combo of French Salons, “blue books,” German bourgeois culture, with a little folk culture mixed in? Now what’s so hard about that?
Here’s the thing: I think that the over-use of “fairy tale” should actually be studied as an interesting phenomenon rather than decried as something silly. People are using the words because they mean something, or because they think they should mean something. So what exactly is that “something,” anyway?
Let’s look at two of my favorite example of this phenomenon. I know you’ll like the first one: it’s that timeless Julia Roberts movie Pretty Woman
You remember that scene from Pretty Woman , right? That one where Richard Gere asks Julia Roberts what she wants from him, and she gives him that whole spiel about the prince and the white horse rescuing her from the tower. “I want the fairy tale,” she says. Usually, this is the point in the film when I have a stroke. Read the rest of this entry »
Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays, dear readers! We here at Lit.Scribbles are off celebrating the spirit of Christmas, but cunningly wrote this post in advance and scheduled it to be published today. No matter what you celebrate – we’re of an interfaith family ourselves – we hope you’re having a lovely season.
Of course, it wouldn’t be the holidays without Gregory Maguire. In fact, it wouldn’t be a fairy tale blog without Gregory Maguire, now would it? NPR had Maguire write a new take on Hans Christian Andersen’s classic The Little Match Girl, which he calls Matchless.
First of all, Andersen’s original tale is about a little match girl who happily freezes to death while seeing visions of her grandmother in heaven. It’s heartbreaking:
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You know, I can’t seem to write anything without using a colon. Academics love them! Ah, woe is me, gone haplessly pretentious…
The subject of today’s post suffers from the same thing, actually. “Hapless” is a pretty descriptor for Hans Christian Andersen, whose life was a sad one that was often beyond his control. Andersen penned some of today’s most popular tales – like The Red Shoes and The Little Mermaid and so I think it makes sense to start asking questions about Andersen himself. What was the man like, and how did his life affect the stories that have been told to countless children? What lessons are these children getting from these stories anyway?
As I’ve discussed elsewhere, Andersen was a pretty dependent character, most of his life centered around gaining the approval of his patrons, the Collinses, who never let him forget that he was beneath them. This sadly turned Andersen into a rather timid figure, as the German poet Heinrich Heine noted:
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The lovely folks over at Wonders and Marvels are having a fairy tale week, and want you all to join them! They have a delightful series of posts about fairy tales, and also some *giveaways.* Ah, music to a poor college student’s ears. Giveaways.
One post that I particularly enjoyed was Heidi Anne Heiner’s post (she of SurLaLune fame) about the Five Greatest Fairy Tales you’ve never read. Go check it out! I heartily approve of the list, since one of *my* favorites (The Peasant’s Clever Daughter) is among them.
Heiner’s list is awesome because it showcases tales that go outside the “stereotypical” fairy tale mode. I use “stereotypical” in *scary quotes* because fairy tales are more varied than we give them credit for; it’s their portrayal in mass-media that gives them a super bad rap. Folklore, people! It’s alive and it’s among us!
In 2004, Great Ormond Street Hospital (which owns all rights to Peter Pan c/o J.M. Barrie’s will) launched a search for the person who’d write the Peter Pan sequel, and in 2006 it was released. Peter Pan in Scarlet is a terrific read (and one of these days I’ll actually be able to get my hands on it, and until then I make due with the Google Books edition).
For those of you who don’t know, the basic plot is as follows: the Old Boys (those like the Darlings and the Lost Boys who were once in Neverland but returned) are dreaming of Neverland again. Peter needs them; it looks like the bombs from the Great War are tearing holes in the separation between the world and Neverland. They become children again by putting on their children’s clothes (Toodles only has daughters, so he becomes a girl). In fact, the book’s biggest theme revolves around the idea that clothes do (or don’t) make the man. Once in Neverland, they must help Peter, who is only interested in adventures. They are aided by an old circusmaster named Ravello. But is Ravello more than what he seems? And why is Peter behaving so strangely, since he found Captain Hook’s scarlet coat?
Well guess what? This delightful book is going to be made into a film! And its supposed to be coming out sometime this year. More after the jump.
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