Saturday, July 03, 2004

Fairy tale tales

Classical musicians took folk songs and children's ballads and turned them into classical masterpieces. Think Beethoven, Bach, Grieg, Mozart, etc. It seems modern writers have done the same thing with fairy tales. Even the writers at Tales from the Crypt, which was a copy cat version of Stephen King's Creepshow, have plumbed the fairy tale depths and Stephen King has co-opted a few of his plots from the fairy tale sources.

What brings up this particular idea? A. S. Byatt's Possession is a story about a man who is caught up in an unknown liaison between a married 19th century poet and writer and an unmarried poet who has become the darling of the women's movement because of a long torturous poem about The Fairy Melusine, which is the tale of a woman who married a knight who promised never to follow or watch her on Saturdays. He kept his word for many years until he either cut a hole in the door or watched thru the keyhole to find his wife was a serpent from the waist down. The story is a reverse retelling of Beauty and the Beast, except the beauty is the beast.

Tales from the Crypt used the fairy tale in their rendering of a coupling of a gargoyle who fell in love with an artist, and so on. Even Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid, which MGM used to such lovely purpose in Danny Kaye's portrayal of Anderson, the Danish storyteller whose statue stands in the main square in Copenhagen. Not bad for a Hungarian folk tale to have made such an impact on so many writers and storytellers. You can see vestiges of Fairy Melusine in Fairy Tell True, of which I have written before in this journal.

Sheri S. Tepper won the Locus Award for her novel, Beauty, which takes several fairy tales and weaves them into one woman's life: a sleeping beauty, Cinderella, and so forth. In fact, Sleeping Beauty has sparked many a writer's imagination and even ended up as a really marvelous Disney movie before Disney took itself so seriously into the monopoly of theme parks and all things fantasical market. Tannith Lee, mistress of all tales dark and romantic, in her White as Snow compendium of fairy tales retells several fairy tales, among them Rapunzel, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty, adding her own dark twist to the tales.

Makes you think there are only a few plots and everyone keeps working them and working them. Does that make them derivative or inspired? One actor in a movie said he couldn't listen to Music of the Night from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera without the song, School Days, School Days, running thru his mind.

Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast shares more than its title with the fairy tale and even with Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac. They share the tale of Beauty falling in love with the Beast and realizing only as he dies in her arms. And it was all based on the original French fairy tale, which is obviously taken from the much older tale of Psyche and Cupid. Even C. S. Lewis found the story interesting, but he felt it lacked something so he wrote Till We Have Faces, giving Psyche's sister a part in the tale and a motivation for Psyche to undergo the trials she undertakes so she may be reunited with Cupid.

Fairy tales are not original to Europe. Cinderella's prince has found her slipper in many countries. For instance, Charles Perrault's tale of the beautiful young girl at the mercy of her evil stepmother and stepsisters, has her counterpart in Yeh-Shen who is much older than Perrault's Cinderella.

Don't have an idea for another story? Borrow a fairy tale.

Where does it all end? Hollywood is all for taking stories and ideas in the public domain to make billions and it's obvious writers and musicians have no problems with adapting folk music and fairy tales to form the frame for their original ideas. Are there really no new stories, no new plots, no new ideas or is everything built on the obviously strong bedrock of the past? I guess only time will tell if anywhere there is an original tale, an original story, and original writer, musician or filmmaker. Will it be you or me? Wanna race?

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