Thursday, January 18, 2018

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Fairy Tale Spotlight: Donkey-Skin (Perrault Version)

The following poem precedes Charles Perrault's version of "Donkey-Skin" and was dedicated to Marquise de Lambert, a educational writer of the 1700s. Note that the mentioning of the word "ogre" was intended to mean "a savage man who ate small children." Enjoy.

Some lofty persons seldom smile,
And cannot bear to give their time,
Regarding literary style,
To anything that's not sublime.
With views like theirs I can't agree.
The highest minds, it seems to me,
May sometimes condescend to go
To watch, let's say, a puppet show,
Without incurring loss of face.
Given proper time and place,
Sublimity may suit less well
Than some diverting bagatelle.
Nor should it cause much surprise
That men of sense, at times oppressed
By hours of work, should think it wise
To free themselves from reason's bonds,
and pleasantly be lulled to rest
By some old tail of maids distressed,
Of ogres, spells, and magic wands.
Ignoring, then, the blame I may incur
For wasting time, I'll do as you prefer,
Madame; so let me now begin
The tale, in full, of Donkey-Skin.

The synopsis is as follows:

There is a king who was madly in love with his wife, the beautiful queen. He has only a daughter with her and he loves them both very much, but none so great as the queen. They have all the riches they can handle by way of a magical donkey (apparently named Ned in the Perrault version) who literally passes golden coins and sovereigns instead of manure.

It comes to pass that the queen is stricken with a severe illness of which no one throughout the country can cure. As she comes close to death, she confided in the king and makes him swear to her that he will only marry someone who is more lovely and more virtuous than herself. This is actually her own cunning to keep the king from ever marrying again and so keep him always to herself even in death. The king takes the vow, and she dies in his arms.

Time goes by, and the lonely king decides that he must wed again. Although he chooses to stay true to his vow, he can find no woman in the entire kingdom that is lovelier than his late wife. However, there is one who possessed these virtues and even more: his own daughter. The king, now mad with love, orders that she should be married to him. Naturally this greatly disturbs the woman, and she spends the next number of days weeping.

With great sorrow, the woman leaves to see her fairy godmother which is located in a distant grotto filled with many pretty things. The godmother promises that she will help her escape the king's insane love, but that the daughter must follow her orders to the letter. This is agreed to. The daughter goes to her father and agrees to marry him but only if he will make three special dresses for her: One that is "the color of the heavens" (or sky-colored), one that is "the color of the moon," and one that is "the color of the sun." These he agrees to but becomes more and more obsessed with marrying her with each new dress made. It is clearly a desperation to consummate the relationship with finality.

Her last request, as advised by the godmother, is that the magic donkey Ned should die and she should be given his skin. This is a difficult request because the donkey provided all the wealth of the kingdom, but the king desires so much to marry his own daughter that he commits the deed. The godmother places the three dresses in a chest that can disappear and reappear by use of a magic wand which is given to the daughter. She is then told to cover her face in dirt, adorn the donkey skin, and run away right before the wedding commences. She does so leaving her entire life as a princess behind her.

The woman lives the life of a beggar for a very long time. She must do this, for if anyone suspects who she is, she will be returned to her father to be married to him. She eventually gets a job in a farm working with other oafs and louts. Nobody treats her nicely. People across the country would shun her and be very cruel. She is called Donkey-Skin by those who see her, a name that hurt her greatly. There are even bullies who go out of their way to strike her and spit upon her. It is a very difficult existence. However, whenever she is alone, she would make the magic chest reappear and wear her pretty dresses. This would restore some of her morale and allow her to keep going.

As it happens, an extension of this farm kept a number of exotic birds owned by the king of this country. His son, the prince, would often stop by this area with his friends and admire their beauty. Donkey-Skin notices him and instantly realized he is a prince by her own royal intuition. She falls in love with him in that instant. Nevertheless, she knows that she can not expose who she is.

Incidentally, the prince happens to walk in on her while she is sleeping. She had gone to bed in one of her special dresses, and he looks upon her form breathlessly. He admires everything about the woman, not just her dress, but the very contours of her face. He falls in love with her as well but chooses not to awaken her due to his own shyness. Several times, he almost knocks on her door, but cannot bring himself to do it.

Later, he asks the caretaker of the farm for the woman's name. The caretaker explains that he knows of no beauty like the prince describes, but that he must mean Donkey-Skin. It was the only woman he knew to live there after all. He has absolutely nothing but nasty things to say about the woman and makes it a point to expound and expound upon it for a bit. The prince is sure that it must be her who he saw regardless of what he is being told.

The prince confides in his mother that he wants Donkey-Skin to bake a cake for him and him alone. The queen had heard of this woman and explains to him that this Donkey-Skin is nothing but a miserable slut, but the prince stands firm on his request. The mother decides that her son should get his wish if that's really what he wants. Donkey-Skin becomes the prince's personal cook.

She bakes him a cake and purposely drops a golden ring into it so that he will find it. After almost choking on it, he regards the ring with much interest. He remembers seeing it on her hand as she was sleeping, and in case you are wondering, she had apparently been aware that he had been there. The ring was a sign to him that she was that person he had fallen in love with so much. But then, no one would possibly allow a horrible wretch like Donkey-Skin to marry him. And so he decides to play her game and makes a decree that whoever's finger fits the golden ring will be his bride.

Of course, everyone shows up to try the ring. It always fails. Some women even mutilated their fingers so that they could fit. Some snip off parts of their fingers to make them smaller. Others try to burn away some of the skin with acid. These tricks, however gruesome, still do not work. The ring is either too big or too small. All women in the kingdom and castle attempt the ring... except for Donkey-Skin who is not even allowed to try.

The prince asks why Donkey-Skin was not allowed to attempt it, and everyone laughs and tells him that she should not be expected to even bother with such an experiment. "Why not?" he tells them plainly. "Let her appear." Still more laughter comes as Donkey-Skin is led out into the great hall. A dirty hand soon comes out under the ugly skin and slides just perfectly into the ring. Everybody goes dumb silent. The prince has found his bride, but just look at her!

Donkey-Skin then asks that she be allowed to have a more suitable dress. Of course, the prince agrees. Nobody thinks it will do anything for the ugly women, but once she is adorned in a princess' gown, everyone is stricken with her beauty and grace. Even the queen adores her son's bride-to-be and dotes on her with abandon. The wedding is planned and guests from all over the world are invited. The guest list includes the father of the bride.

But the woman's father has since put away his criminal incestuous feelings for his daughter and bestows upon her his blessing to marry the prince. He weeps and proclaims, "Now Heaven be blessed, my dearest child (...) that by its grace we meet again, and that I am allowed to see you here!" They embrace, and the wedding commences with great joy. So ends the tale of Donkey-Skin as told by Charles Perrault.

Alright, let's do this.

The story was actually told entirely in poetry. Not every version of Donkey-Skin was done like that. Some things can be lost in translation when this happens, but all the important points were here. I was particularly fascinated by the three dresses she had made for her. The sky, moon, and stars designs seemed to me to be part of a magical spell that needed to be accomplished by the godmother. Unlike other versions of Donkey-Skin, these dresses do not have a major part of the story after they are entered into it.

As for the magic chest, that is often interpreted in different ways. Sometimes it is a small nut that she can keep in a pocket and retrieve things from it at will. The idea of it is simply that she can take things with her without anybody knowing its there. It is clearly a creation of magic, and the godmother, no doubt, knows exactly how it works.

There was also the donkey that crapped money. This is actually a very common trope in old fairy tales. You would be surprised how often it comes up if you pour through legends like I have. There is also often a special word you have to say to make the donkey do his special business, but it was not included in this particular story. It is assumed that the donkey goes whenever a donkey goes, but when he does go, he goes gold. The name Ned was obviously made up by Perrault.

I did not have time to elaborate too much, but just to be clear, this woman was extremely mistreated while under the guise of a beggar. People went out of their way to abuse her. I do not think she was raped but some men might have attempted it. It is possible that the spell (the dresses) of the godmother helped ward this extreme from happening in order to keep her chaste for her eventual prince. Nevertheless, her treatment was horrible.

It is made perfectly clear that Donkey-Skin not only knew the prince was looking at her in bed but that she had set the whole meeting up. The prince likely realized this when he found the ring in his cake and decided to play the game with her out of pure excitement. If the ring test seems familiar, Donkey-Skin is often referred to as a prototype story for Cinderella. We will be going into these legends more in future blogs.

As to the mutilation of the fingers, this is sadly a reoccurring thing in the Donkey-Skin and Cinderella tales. Clearly, it shows the lengths some people will go to in the name of greed.

The last thing I want to deal with is the strong sexual tension in this story. The king did not only want to marry his daughter, he wanted to have sex with her... badly. It was becoming an insane obsession. It was the only thing on his mind and nothing would get in his way. When he had the dresses made, he told the tailors that they would be executed if they messed up because it would get in the way of him going to bed with his new wife.

There was also an extremely powerful sexual desire on behalf of the prince for Donkey-Skin. It was many times elaborated upon that his desire for her was near infinite. Everything about her excited him. I am sure the honeymoon was amazing.

In closing, Donkey-Skin explodes with strong emotions and sexual tension like few stories ever had. The love and admiration is there, but it is mostly about desire for the opposite sex even when such a thing is inappropriate. It is also a bonafide fairy tale with a fairy in it. Although only showing up for a small part, the godmother seemed to know how things would turn out as long as her orders were performed correctly. Her magic was archaic and, dare I say, realistic. In fact, this is one of the most gritty and realistic old fairy tales out there and it seems to be much older than Charles Perrault. It is quite possible this very thing really happened. Please, tell me what you think!

Thank you for reading this very long blog. You can comment below or you can email me at tkwadeauthor@gmail.com. Thanks!


Monday, January 15, 2018

The Fascinating Life of Animal Robots is published!


"The Fascinating Life of Animal Robots" is my very first published science fiction novel! Available in paperback and Kindle!

In the future, walking and talking robots are a part of daily life. They do things for us with perfect efficiency. However, they are anything but people. James Reiner is the CEO and president of a company who is trying to change that. The only difference is that his line of robots look like cute, cartoony animals.

The animal robots seem to act and feel more like people than any other model on the planet. Soon they are taking the world by storm, but this success comes with disturbing questions. Are these robots really people? Are they alive? And if so, should they be considered property? “The Fascinating Life of Animal Robots” by T.K. Wade deals with these questions and more.


Hurry! It's Cottontail Pines!


But there is plenty of time... OR IS THERE?!


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Snafu


A story written entirely from the perspective of an imaginary friend!


Fairy Tale Spotlight: Anthropomorphization

I apologize for the 7-syllable, 20-letter word that I used for this spotlight's title. It may be a lengthy word, but it is a very common and even important practice, not only in fairy tales, but in actual reality. The word anthropomorphization refers to when human characteristics are ascribed to something that is definitively not human at all. It can be an animal, plant, inanimate object, or really anything as long as the object in question is not already human to begin with.

I first want to ask a question which I plan to answer right away. To what degree are you allowed to anthropomorphize something? The answer: The sky is the limit. You can do it by a little, a lot, or entirely. Whatever suites your fancy. Now, let's look at a few examples.

One of my most favorite works of fiction was "Bambi, a Life in the Woods" by Felix Salten. To only a small degree, he anthropomorphized a number of animals so that you could understand them better. Felix gave these animals a couple things that animals normally do not have. Namely, the ability to communicate in a human language as well as an emotional and social structure that was slightly more organized than animals usually possess in reality. This was done purely to help us relate and understand them.

In my opinion, Disney improved on Mister Salten's book with their film "Bambi" released in 1942 and the brilliant sequel "Bambi II" released 64 years later in 2006. Disney sustained the anthropomorphization level from the novel. However, he added more of his own. Although the cervidae (deer) characters still walk like normal cloven hooved animals, the smaller critter types, such as Thumper the rabbit and Flower the skunk, seemed to have more human style characteristics such as fingers and thumbs. Although they would often stand up to communicate, they would still be compelled to dropped down to all fours to travel.

The facial expressions of all the characters in the Disney movies were far more advanced than explained in Salten's books. Bambi showed true emotion that we could understand. He suffered through problems that we would empathize with far more than an actual deer would. The death of his own mother very likely affected the audience more than it would a real deer. It was all intended to tell a story to us, and it did so quite well.

If Disney were to tell the same story from the actual perspective of the deer without any anthropomorphization at all, it would be an incredibly boring experience. In fact, we would likely need a documentary narrator to give us the play-by-play just so it would all make sense, and even then, we would see our own lives as much more interesting than the survive-or-be-killed lives of deer. Disney's surprising addition of Thumper and Flower added more story to the movies than the book had. We enjoyed their little friendship just as much as the drama happening between Bambi and his parents. Anthropomorphization made all of this possible.

Now let's look at a higher degree of anthropomorphization and even another famous Disney film. I am speaking of the 1973 film "Robin Hood." The contrast with the "Bambi" example here is that, instead of making animals anthropomorphized, we are making human characters into animals. Sort of. In fact, we are taking animals, anthropomorphizing them, and then substituting human characters with our anthropomorphized animals. It totally worked, by the way. The movie is popular to this very day and has formed the groundwork for the study of anthropomorphization in modern animation.

The animals of "Robin Hood" are brought as close as they can to humans without giving up the genuine animal look. They still have fur, a snout, a tail, and ears, but they have the body and physique of a human being. Their personalities are way more like ours. Nothing is left of their animal brains. They are essentially humans that look like animals. And in many ways, the choice of animal often fits the character being introduced. Robin Hood is a clever fox. The sheriff is a big, fat wolf. Little John is a not-so-little bear. It all makes sense and helps us understand who they are and why they do things. I dare say this movie told the story better than any other version of "Robin Hood" ever made for this reason.

Without going on too much into it, there are also many examples of anthropomorphization happening to inanimate objects. Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" did this with all kinds of household furniture. They were merely given eyes and mouths in this case. It was closer to how it was done in "Bambi," I suppose. You might also look into many of the platformer video games made by developer Rare. They love taking just about any kind of inanimate object, plopping a set of eyes on top, and filling it with life. It is a mainstay in most of their games, I have noticed.

I'm not done yet. Let's talk about the anthropomorphization that we do every day. Look at our cars. For one, we made them look a whole lot like they have a face. And sometimes we talk to them. We talk to a lot of things that don't have a bloody idea what we are saying. I am even guilty of this. I talk to my cat Cupcake all the time. I pretend she knows what I am saying, but in truth, she is probably wondering when I am gonna shut up.

The anthropomorphization of something is an aspect of humanity that is built in. We do it to anything we want to understand better. It sometimes works, and in other cases, we are merely diluting ourselves with fantasy. In and of itself, there is no real harm in it. But sometimes I do not think people really understand what anthropomorphization is really for. In the children's show "Dexter's Laboratory," child scientist Dexter gave a dog the gift of speech so he could understand how a dog thinks and comprehends things. All he got for it was a dog who blathered on about the fact that he was a dog and how he thought everything might be food. Dexter's problem was that he half-assed the experiment.

What Dexter should have done was to give the dog an understanding of what it meant to be a human being. It would work a lot better. However, it might also shock the dog into an early grave. Human characteristics are one thing, but to understand the human condition enough to empathize with them can be fairly traumatic all at once. Dexter's method, although incomplete, may have been ultimately humane. The canine was left to live in ignorance and simply be... a dog.

But what if we did turn something inhuman entirely into a human for the sole purpose of understanding them? 100% anthropomorphization. This means we are taking everything inhuman out and putting everything human in. The creature or entity now understands humanity but he is still what he is on the inside. My final question to you is this: Was that a cruel thing to do?

Thank you for reading my blog? Did you love it? Did you hate it? Whatever the case, you can comment below, or you can email me at tkwadeauthor@gmail.com. See you next time!