Writing the Gilmore Girls

We all have different opinions about the Gilmore Girls Netflix episodes. I think in many ways, the negative responses are an oddly positive sign of how far we’ve come in what we demand of our television shows. Yes, it is basically a show about privileged white women. That has its set of problems and many of those problems have been exasperated in the past decade. However, while the body shaming in the pool scenes was an off-note, it doesn’t detract from the years of positive representation of Miss Patty and Sookie. Never once did the show cast any aspersion upon their weight – they were whole, successful, sexual, and attractive figures. And while there could be more diversity in the casting, that doesn’t take away from what great characters Lane and Mrs Kim, Michel, and even Gypsy and Ceasar have been. I’m also tickled pink to see Lin-Manuel Miranda tweeting about watching the series from the start – I like a nice cultural convergence!

And, honestly, being a musical theatre geek, no, the Stars Hollow musical scenes are not too long. They are perfect. I love them.

However, that’s not what I wanted to write a quick blog post about. Rory’s story in the revival has been the most criticised. Often justly! There’s no denying that she is annoying and we all wanted better from her and for her. I cringed the moment I realised she was with Logan. The bit that particularly intrigued me, though, was Jess’s suggestion that she write the story of the ‘Gilmore Girls.’

I found it oddly satisfying and very frustrating. It felt like a perfect beat, echoing Little Women and Anne of Green Gables. The heroine is stuck, seemingly rootless and directionless, and a man tells her ‘write what you know.’

Of course, two problems. First, a man tells her – why is it always a former or current love interest?* Seriously? Why do they need the man to sweep in and tell them what to write? Secondly, write what she knows?? That advice always frustrated me. Why do female authors always get that advice? Why is there an assumption that they should stick to writing about their own lives, rather than exploring all sorts of exciting alternatives? There’s nothing wrong with writing about one’s own life, of course, but it’s often treated as the sole option for the female author. While I think there is a nice rounding out of the themes in Rory writing about her mother and herself, I miss the Rory who went out on the campaign trail with Obama, who wanted to be in trenches reporting on wars. I actually wouldn’t have even minded a Rory who took the Stars Hollow Gazette to great new heights, whiskey in her desk drawer and all. She could still be a contender. She loves that paper.

In my mind, I’m just going to imagine that she remains as editor of the Stars Hollow Gazette, gets motivated by those last four words, and digs in and makes a life for herself with or without a baby.

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*In terms of Anne of Green Gables, this picks up on the miniseries with Megan Follows.

My Fairy-Tale Mixtape

When I saw Inkgypsy’s Once Upon a Time blog on fairy-tale mixtapes (inspired by Adam’s fantastic take on Andrew Lang), could I resist? Of course, the problem is that I could easily have listed all d’Aulnoy’s tales, but I have tried to restrain myself to a few key favourites. I’m sure I’d reorder this and swap out tales, but I do have a pile of grading to sort through, so I think this will have to be a ‘quickie’! I’ve also included films and novels, because I don’t see why there’s a reason to be restrictive when it comes to fairy tales!

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  1. Finette Cendron, Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy
  2. Viola, Giambattista Basile
  3. The Devil and Gasparino, Giovan Francesco Straparola
  4. The Princess Bride, William Goldman
  5. The Discreet Princess; or The Adventures of Finette, Marie-Jeanne Lhéritier
  6. Pretty as a Picture, Giambattista Basile*
  7. Riquet with the Tuft, Catherine Bernard
  8. How The Milkmaid Struck a Bargain with the Crooked One, C S E Cooney
  9. The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse, Susanna Clarke
  10. The Savage, Henriette Julie de Murat
  11. Labyrinth, Jim Henson
  12. The White Doe, Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy
  13. Peau d’Âne, Jacques Demy
  14. The Pig King, Henriette Julie de Murat
  15. The Green Serpent, Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy
  16. Witches Abroad, Terry Pratchett
  17. Mandosiane in Captivity, Jean Lorrain
  18. The Old Woman’s Hide, Italo Calvino
  19. The Cave of the Golden Rose, Lamberto Bava
  20. Constanza/Constanzo, Giovan Francesco Straparola
  21. Puss-in-Boots, Angela Carter

You might notice the lack of Grimms. What can I say?

 

*Just today I was reading a blog post about a Medieval tale of a woman who sort comfort with her own model of Sir Gawain, which immediately made me think of this tale.

The Future of Fairy Tale in Film

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The other week, the Monash Fairy Tale Salon set off to see the Christophe Gans La Belle et la Bête (2014). It is a scrumptious film and while some found the transformed dogs a little too on the nose and the emotional transformation of the Beast a little undercooked, the visuals were more than enough to delight a fairy tale fan. I particularly loved the giant stone sculptures that were the Beast’s hunting comrades transformed and Beauty’s devotion to her pumpkin patch. As always, the Beast is better as a Beast. It’s always a little disappointing when he becomes a prince again.

There is a lovely, short piece on animal transformation on the Fairy Tale Review site, particularly notable for including female examples.

There is so much cinematic potential in animal transformation and while I’ve loved watching multiple versions of the Beauty and the Beast narrative, I really would love to see filmmakers break out a little.

What about d’Aulnoy’s The White Cat, for instance?

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Not only would it be a film beloved of cat people everywhere, but whenever I read about the disembodied hands, I think of Labyrinth (1986), so I can see definite potential!

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Not to mention d’Aulnoy’s other transformed Princess, Babiole.

a9442These tales have largely fallen out of our popular fairy tale corpus, but they’re amazing tales and have so much to offer the adventurous filmmaker.

Hamilton: A Musical About A Scholar

How does a bastard, orphan / son of a whore and a Scotsman / dropped into the middle of a / forgotten spot in the Caribbean / by Providence, impoverished, in squalor / grow up to be a hero and a scholar?

I was a little late to Hamilton, but yesterday I was listening to a seminar paper and when the author quoted Jefferson, I suddenly had visions of the purple suited Daveed Diggs dancing in my mind. It was particularly ironic since the paper was about the representation of whiteness.

However, that’s not the object of this post – although I am awfully excited about what the hit musical means in terms of representation. No, apart from Lee’s “I’m a general – whee!”, my favourite Hamilton line identifies the founding father as a hero and a scholar. How often do we see academics as the object of a musical? Not enough! And that it comes just as the 44th President becomes the first to publish an academic paper is extra sweet. To me, the most exciting aspect of being an academic is the intellectual adventure. To see that intellectual adventure as the subject of a musical is amazing. There may be some duelling, the occasional stealing of a canon, but what drives Hamilton in the musical is his scholarship and writing. Indeed, writing is the core of the show: the letters, the essays, the words upon which the nation was established.

Today I spotted an interview (Kris Vire in Time Out, Sept. 7 2016) with Lin-Manual Miranda where he says: “And we don’t think of writers as action figures, right? We think of action figures as action figures; we think of soldiers, we think of sports stars. But this is a guy who wrote three lifetimes’ worth of work, and that is really both what got him success and also what got him into trouble. The fact that this guy couldn’t stop writing, as both his biggest strength and his biggest flaw, is the other exciting thing about him.”

Writers are people of action. It takes courage to write, to submit, to publish, to put oneself out in the arena of publish opinion armed simply with ideas.

Writers are action figures.

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Incidentally, I’m really looking forward to seeing Lin-Manuel Miranda’s work with Disney. If you haven’t seen it yet, do have a look at his takeover of Disney’s Instagram. I’m a particular fan of his Gaston!

Moana and noticing the good in Disney

Yesterday, one of my students sent me a link to this article in The Mary Sue, ‘“My Fish”: How The Little Mermaid Helped a Genderqueer Teen Find Strength‘ by Jennie Steinberg:

When Taylor was in kindergarten […] he saw The Little Mermaid in theaters. “I remember seeing her hide who she was from her family and for the first time I thought, ‘I’m not alone.’ It was a revelation to me.

It struck me how often Disney princesses appear ‘normative’ on the outside, but their ‘I wish’ songs reveal that they don’t feel normal inside. The songs offer space to express non-normative experience. Sure, there are a lot of white princesses, but they feel odd, strange, isolated. They yearn for something more.

I am really looking forward to Moana. I’m already noting quite a bit of negative coverage, although the film itself is yet to be released. There’s often an assumption that Disney will get it wrong and, truthfully, they won’t get it exactly right. However, stories and myths and legends all change and evolve. This will be a Disney tale about Maui and it won’t accurately reflect all the stories that have been told. It will be a Disney tale and it can’t be otherwise. However, it has a wonderful cast and I’m really excited about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s involvement. He recently took over the @disneyanimation Instagram and performed a rousing ‘Gaston‘ with the Rock and I didn’t think my day could improve.

“Baba Bobs Her Hair” and other bits and bobs

I recently published a fairy tale over at Timeless Tales Magazine as part of their Baba Yaga issue. Baba Yaga tales are always such great fun! Who doesn’t love a house on chicken legs?

The tale has a 1920s spin, with loads of fantastic 20s slang and a little movie glamour. Just a little! This is a Baba Yaga tale, so most of the story takes place in a less than savoury setting. I also recorded an audio version of the tale, which for a little magazine patronage, you can download. I’ve been incredibly nervous about that audio! It seemed like such a fun idea to record until I started trying to get Baba’s voice right!!!

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I’ve also published a short piece in The Victorian Writer, “The Heart of the Princess.” I explore the glamorous history of princesses, because it never does to forget the glamour.

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I’m also happy to be in such great company in the issue. Louisa John-Krol‘s story, “The Yellow Mansion,” ends with gold slippers, which made me very happy! Kate Forsyth also has a darker take on fairy tale history. It can’t all be about sparkly things!

The Australian Fairy Tale Society is calling for presentation submissions for its annual conference in June next year. The deadline is January 29. The conference will be in Melbourne next year, which I’m really excited about! The theme is “Into the Bush: Its Beauty and its Terror.” I wonder if we’ll run into Prince Eucalyptus  in the Bush?

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Inverting Pygmalion: Fairy Tales and the Male Model

Sometimes I do wander the web, clicking on tumblr posts. I’m having a coffee, a short break from grading papers or providing feedback. Yes, sometimes I am procrastinating! I’ve long ago learned to accept procrastination as part of my writing process – procrastination is often, after all, an opportunity to break from a faltering thought process.

But sometimes, on my wanderings, something catches my eye and I’m on a new research path!

Today I was looking through some posts and I came across “Why, this is my dream prince!” The post features a juxtaposition of Disney princesses with statues and homemade models of their prince charmings. I had never put all the examples together to realise there really is a theme.

It’s a theme that has deep roots in fairy tale. For instance, in Basile’s tale of Betta, the merchant daughter, the erstwhile heroine disdains all the men of her acquaintance. Instead, she moulds her own man, giving her father a bit of a start when a strange man suddenly appears from her room. It is a delightful twist on the Pygmalion myth in which the woman now sculpts her own ideal man. Indeed, Betta does such a wonderful job, the Queen steals away her creation.

The fairy tales of late seventeenth-century France are filled, on the other hand, with portraits of princes and princesses, some of which speak to their future lovers. In d’Aulnoy’s “The Hind in the Wood,” the prince’s portrait utters endless compliments to the princess he has never actually laid eyes upon. The princess, in turn, falls in love with the portrait, for she has not yet met the prince. Portraits were often utilised in the royal marriage market. A flattering portrait along with lands and cash could ensure a profitable marriage between distant strangers.

The use of models and portraits in fairy tale is quite common. I’m now investigating whether it is most common for the princes to be sculpted and painted and how other scholars have thought about this issue.

 

Evil and Fairy Tale’s Female Senior Citizens

This morning I came across Elizabeth Blair’s piece “Why Are Old Women Often the Face of Evil in Fairy Tales and Folklore?” It’s a valid question and one I’ve often contemplated (see Deb Waterhouse-Watson and my chapter here, for instance).

The problem is, we’re often saying the mean, old woman is a negative stereotype – or even evil. Actually, sometimes the mean, old woman just doesn’t care and gets on with what has to be done. Granny Weatherwax taught me that being liked shouldn’t be an object in life.

Nanny Ogg: “No one would come up here this time of night.”
Magrat Garlick: “What’s to be afraid of ?”
Granny: “Us.” 

Granny: “I’ve never claimed to be nice, just to be sensible.”

Yes, Terry Pratchett! It was a little rough this semester. I was teaching The Wee Free Men just after his death and it was difficult to deliver the lecture without tearing up. I definitely read a good portion of his last novel, The Shepherd’s Crown, through a watery haze. I’m just incredibly grateful that he gave us a last novel with Granny (by the way, it’s worth reading Neil Gaiman’s comments when you finish the book) and the novel, while not Pratchett at his most brilliant – it wasn’t, after all, completely polished – is an amazing farewell and leaves Pratchett’s readers with just a little more Granny-style wisdom to keep us going.

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Social media trains us to seek more and more ‘likes’ and to keep clicking ‘like’ even if we just give something a cursory glance and don’t hate it. In fairy tales, life is too difficult, decisions too momentous, to tackle with a click of a ‘like’ button. The old women of fairy tale know that not everyone will love them or protect them and they act accordingly. Granny Weatherwax is not always loved or even liked, but when the going gets tough, you need Granny in your corner, even if Granny herself worries that she’ll turn a corner and follow in Black Aliss’s wicked footsteps.

Not all old women in fairy tale are evil, though. Disney gave us Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather, three incredibly loveable old women.

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One of the reasons I disliked Maleficent (2014) was that the film turned the old women into bumbling fools. In Sleeping Beauty (1959), they are a little silly, but there is no underestimating their power. They take charge when the baby princess is cursed with death. They can wield their wands to bake a cake or send a sword swift and true to defeat a dragon. Their magic and their generosity saves the kingdom.

And when old women are evil, they can be rather wonderful. One of my all time favourite, bad, old women is Yzma from The Emperor’s New Groove (2000). While we may be wary of the negative stereotypes attached to the old woman in fairy tale, I don’t think it hurts to occasionally celebrate her in all her snarky, reckless, insouciant glory. She reminds us we don’t always have to be liked to be incredible women. Indeed, sometimes it’s a lot more fun to be wicked.

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The Female Gaze and Fairy Tales

The male gaze is a fixture of cinema and, to an extent, of literature. Women, more often than not, experience storytelling through a masculine perspective.

However, the female gaze does exist and it’s a wonderful thing. Lately I’ve been encountering examples. I’m working on my own take on the female gaze in Disney, so I was highly amused by a recent Buzzfeed post, “This is What Disney Princes Would Look Like in Real Life.” Prince Eric is particularly noteworthy! I’ve actually always argued there’s a nice parallel between The Little Mermaid (1989) and Dirty Dancing (1987) in which the young heroines peek and openly goggle at their respective princes. The audience is invited to share their gaze. It’s the female gaze in action. Even when Johnny sneaks a peek at Baby changing in the backseat of his car, the audience – and Baby – is watching him sneak that peek.

As I’ve been researching, I’ve come across other examples. Jupiter Ascending (2015) caught my eye because I first read Donna Dickens’ piece on HitFix. I saw the film recently when I downloaded it, having missed it at the cinema. It’s amazing. It really is Cinderella in space. It is trashy and kitschy. It’s not a perfect film – there’s a good review here about the queerness of the villain, for instance – but I really enjoyed the scene with the bees and Jupiter’s female-dominated family life. I also enjoyed the space skates. I would like a pair of those. The film also understands fairy tale. The plot is a little barmy and inconsistent and concerned with capitalism. These are all traits of fairy tale. Logic should never get in the way of a good celebration of and take-down of capitalism!

Then this morning I discovered this great post on Tumblr. I always recommend George of the Jungle (1997) as an entertaining film. I had never explicitly thought about it in light of the female gaze, but it is utterly about the female gaze. I think I’ll have to rewatch it now! The post doesn’t mention one of my favourite scenes, in which George dresses unself-consciously in a short, summery dress. He even does a little twirl! It’s not quite a fairy tale, but it does have many of the elements. The lost son raised by animal friends, the princess from far-off lands who has to be rescued. Yet the tale takes many of the tropes and re-realises them to create a very positive feminine experience.

One of my very favourite fairy tales about the female gaze, though, is that of Betta. A tale by Basile in the 17th century, this is a tale about a girl who rejects all her marriage prospects and literally creates a husband of her own with her own hands. He is beautiful. The Queen even desires him and steals him away. Oh, there should totally be a film about Betta!

Salons to Sydney

It’s been a busy few weeks! The Alice Salon at the Glen Eira Storytelling Festival was fantastic fun. My co-conspirators put together the most wonderful tea party and publication displays and we had a great selection of music and papers.

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I loved learning about Alice’s many media manifestations, her influence on Japanese fashion subcultures and the history of playing card people. Louisa John-Krol as always led us in amazing song, bewitching us with images of flowers! She was joined by her merry, colourful band including a rather intrepid white rabbit child and a surprise appearance by a bunyip! Copious invited us down into Wonderland with wonderful, dark melodies and lyrics. We were exhausted, but happy by the end of the day!

Soon after the Alice Salon, I headed to Sydney for the Australian Fairy Tale Society’s second conference. It’s a fantastic opportunity to re-engage with my peers in fairy tale! And this time I didn’t have the ‘flu! I gave my first paper on Australian pantomime, pantomime rapidly becoming one of my research interests. There’s such fabulous material. This time I focused mostly on Djin Djin.

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We had papers from a number of academics and non-academics interested in the field, including my honours student, who gave a great interview for the Sydney Morning Herald. We also heard from a range of authors, including the keynote speaker, Sophie Masson. Louisa John-Krol was there too and she sang us into each session, which was the best treat. I was especially thrilled as she premiered her new song, ‘Glindering,’ based on my short story, “The Death of Glinda.” What an honour! She knows me so well, too, since there is spindling and swindling in the song! You can find more on the conference in the coming weeks at the society’s website.

I popped down to Sydney a little early, too, because I really wanted to visit the Undressed exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum. Yes, there’s references to underthings in fairy tales, so it was all research! Plus, I did get to see a pair of Queen Victoria’s knickers! I didn’t know this, but the Powerhouse Museum also has the most amazing shoe collection. If you have an interest in shoes, I can’t recommend it highly enough and may have had a little ‘shoe comma’ afterwards. So many red shoes, too!