Sunday, April 29, 2012

Bees and Faun: Magical in Their Own Way

            Dr. Deveny’s lecture about Pan’s Labyrinth and its relation to fairy tales was unique in its relevance to the oral tradition.  Pan’s Labyrinth is a very modern film, relating the intersection of a girl’s life during the Spanish revolution and a girl’s journey to reclaim her family in a mystical land.  Whereas most fairy tales are relatively general, making them more easily relatable to the people of the country of the tale, Pan’s Labyrinth deals with a very specific experience.  However, many themes present in fairy tales are also represented in the movie.  For instance, the protagonist of both strands of the film faces a journey interwoven between both worlds.  As we discussed in class, most of Propp’s functions are fulfilled.  Although we have discussed Propp’s functions in a general sense before, this was the first time we went through step by step and discussed the various scenes that could potentially satisfy each function’s description.  Although in previous discussions of Propp’s functions I have had in my other fairy tale class, the order of the functions was significant, Deveny deviated from this thought and simply discussed the aptitude of a scene to serve as a function regardless of its placement in the tale.  Some examples of the functions and their corresponding scenes are as follows:
·         Absention – where one of the members absents himself from home – occurs in the introduction of the movie when it is described (in subtitles) how the princess left the fairy world for the modern world and died.  She not only physically leaves her family and home, but she leaves earth and life as well.  An alternative to this scene would be as the family arrives at the country home and Ofelia walks off a ways from the family.  This represents her emotional distancing from her step-father and could serve as the absention function.  
·         Interdiction occurs when Mercedes specifically tells Ofelia to not enter the old labyrinth, and of course the interdiction violated occurs when Ofelia walks into the labyrinth and discovers the faun.
·         Trickery – the villain attempts to deceive his victim in order to take possession of him or his belongings – occurs in the scene where Captain Videl asks Mercedes to go to the barn, and as she walks away, reminds her he has the only key, alluding to his knowledge of her betrayal and deliverance of a copy of the key to the rebel forces.  Videl tricks Mercedes into attempting to run and through that revealing Ofelia’s complicity in the rebellion.
·         Victory – the villain is defeated – occurs both when Ofelia escapes from the pale man in the mystical world and when Captain Videl is shot and killed by the rebels.  
            There are several more functions throughout the movie besides those listed here.  These functions were skillfully employed to unite the fairy tale nature of the plot with the realistic account of the Franco-era tragedy.  Both strands of the story are necessary for the protagonist to learn the moral in the end (as morals are usually highlighted during the conclusion of fairy tales) and to be able to move on with her improved life.  There are several possible morals, including that some things require great sacrifice or are worth dying for and also that even grievous mistakes can be forgiven.  Princess Moanna is forgiven for leaving the fairy tale world and is lovingly accepted back to her family.  Ofelia is given another chance by the faun after she disobeys him, eating grapes which resulted in two fairies dying.  Although many fairy tales contain the mystical aspect that pervades Pan’s Labyrinth, none that we have read so far separate and re-intertwine reality with fantasy.  It remains a mystery even at the end as to what is real, imagined, or simply meant to confuse and addle the brains of avid watchers.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Bangladeshi Bees over Bangladeshi Fairies...Because There Aren't Any

          On Tuesday, Dr. Shabbir Mian came to talk to our class about “Folk and Fairy Tales from Bangladesh”, as his presentation was so entitled.  We were to read “Blue Lotus and Red Lotus” to prepare for the class.  However, Dr. Mian began his lecture with a broader view.  Bangladesh is a small country next to India, in fact surrounded by India on most sides.  It is situated on a delta with three large rivers.  Due to the significance of water to their livelihoods, water is an extremely important motif in their fairy tales.  Fairy tales are called Rupkotha in Bangladeshi, or more literally, “Beautiful Words.”  Interestingly enough, Bangladeshi fairy tales do not actually include fairies.  Their tales certainly have magical and fantastical aspects, but the fae are sidelined to the importance of the deities and divine.  The fairy tales come from the Sanskrit work, Panchatantra or The Five Principles, written around 550 AD.  It is based on ancient oral tradition including animal fables in verse and prose.  It can be considered a treatise on human conduct, similar to morals our class has seen in Perrault and the Brothers Grimm’s tales.
          The Jakatas share some of their tales with the Panchatantra.  The Jakatas, written around the fifth century BC, were also based on oral tradition, many referring to the previous lives of the Buddha.  He exhibited a certain virtue in each tale, similar again to those morals we have seen in previous fairy tales.  Dr. Main proceeded to explain how most storylines of Bangladeshi tales related the struggles of good versus evil, vice versus virtue.  The tales clearly delineate one from the other.  The common theme throughout all the tales is that virtue is reward and evil is punished.  These tales do not demonstrate the power of redemption; there are no second chances.  This is because evil is not simply punished with incarceration; evil is killed and exterminated so that it cannot spring up elsewhere later on.   
          This theme challenges the common belief of Western society.  America is the land of second chances.  We draw millions of immigrants to our country with the idea that they can have a second chance, and therefore a better life, simply by coming here.  Disney demonstrates our desire for this in many of their movies, but that concept is also drawn from the European inspirations.  The story of Beauty and the Beast is all about the Beast having a second chance to become more gentlemanly and to refine his wild ways.  Even in Angela Carter’s version, the girl is given a second chance/life to become true to her inner self.  People make mistakes; that is part of what being human is all about.  Making mistakes and learning from them.  As previously stated, this is not emphasized in the Bangladeshi tales.  
          In the story we read for class, “Blue Lotus and Red Lotus”, the two sons rampage through the demon community killing everyone.  Even though one of the sons is half demonic through his mother, no other demonic creature is given mercy.  The mother is depicted as viciously evil, no longer human.  Since she is not human, she does not have the option of a second chance.  This decisive logic that pervades that Bangladeshi stories both simplifies and complicates life.  Sure, abstract decisions are easier.  But when things are personal, they never seem black and white, and therefore there is no simple decision.  Personally, growing up in a culture that doesn't allow for mistakes would seem to constrain innovation and creativity, as people who are condemned for failure may not want to take the chance of success.  This is not to say anything against the Bangladeshi culture.  Americans along with every other culture would not want the ideas present in our stories to simply be extrapolated and placed upon our society.  This is simply to suggest that there are dangers with present any ideas to our youth who then may take it and run with it.

Thanks to my fellow blogger for the image: