Hey all, due to a number of stressful things going on at home in addition to preparing for my next writers’ conference, it looks like the Roger Rabbit review may not be ready in time. I hate leaving you high and dry until February though, especially since the next Faerie Tale Theatre review is 50% done (these I tend to finish a little quicker than the movie reviews). I made a little Patreon poll of what you think I should do here. Let me know what you think, and I’ll hopefully see you soon.
“What is that?” “What does it look like?” “An enchanted castle […] is there a princess inside?” “Of course! You can hardly have an enchanted castle without a princess inside, now can you?” – The “Squire” and the Woodsman on the topic of today’s story
I feel the need to post a Content Warning before we begin: The opening paragraphs include mentions of rape, traumatic childbirth, and sexual harassment. If these things are a trigger or are otherwise upsetting, please skip to “Read More” (or the paragraph after the Jack Sparrow gif) where I look at today’s episode proper.
There’s a a folklorist I follow named Austin Hackney; he’s a talented and disciplined author whose passion for fabulism is evident in his Folklore Thursday videos. His introduction on the story of The Robber Bridegroom, however, gave me pause:
It’s a fine example of just how dark and scary fairy tales can be before…Disney and the like dissolved them in the saccharine solutions of their retellings.
It’s not easy to convey in text but the distaste for Disney is evident in his voice. On the one hand, I get it, gigantic corporate overlord devouring IPs while demanding worship and all that. On the other hand, it’s unfair to cover all of Disney’s fairytales under such a massive blanket statement. Most fairy stories you can recount in five minutes tops; if you’re not going to alter them when adapting to a visual medium, you’re doing the audience and the creative team involved an extreme disservice. The artists would have very little room to stretch their creativity, and audiences, well, to say their tastes and suspensions of disbelief have changed since the fifteenth century would be a gross understatement – and that’s where Sleeping Beauty comes in.
I’ve already gone on record saying how Disney’s retelling is one of the stronger entries in the canon, both visually and in the story department. The wise decision of putting the Fairies front and center transforms the simple plot into a tale of revenge, political intrigue, and espionage with a feminist twist.
The story it’s based on, however, isn’t nearly as riveting. Much of it feels like a series of “this happened then that happened”, not helped by the titular character being there to only snooze through it. Surprisingly, the element of a cursed beauty trapped in eternal slumber and in need of rescue has appeared in many stories before its current incarnation, from Egypt’s “The Doomed Prince”, to Siegfried and Brunhilde in the Volsunga saga, to the medieval courtly romance Perceforest. It’s from there that Italian author Giambatta Basile was inspired to write his version of Sleeping Beauty, otherwise known as “Sun, Moon, and Talia”. Unfortunately, in adapting Perceforst, he kept in one unsavory detail that snowballs into an avalanche of…
Well, a cursory search on Youtube will give you a plethora of clickbaity titles such as “THE DARK HORRIFYING ORIGINS OF DISNEY’S SLEEPING BEAUTY” and “THE REAL EFFED-UP STORY OF SLEEPING BEAUTY”. Loathe as I am to say it, they’re not wrong.
In Basile’s story, Talia is a wealthy lord’s daughter who is prophesized to be doomed by a flax splinter. Her father decrees that all flax, which is used for spinning, is banished from his castle. One day teenage Talia finds an old woman spinning under a tree. A flax splinter gets caught in her finger when she has a go at it and she collapses, seemingly dead. Her father can’t bear to put her in the ground, so he shuts her in an opulent tower bedroom and abandons the estate altogether. The place gets so overgrown that it becomes part of the forest. A king goes hunting and discovers the tower when his hawk flies in through the window. He makes his way in, finds Talia, and is so taken by her beauty that he “grew hot with lust” and…
He rapes her. In no uncertain terms.
While she’s unconscious.
And still underage.
And it gets worse. King Epstein leaves Talia after he reaches his happy ending and completely forgets about her. Nine months later she goes into labor – while still unconscious – and wakes up, no doubt confused and horrified, when one of her babies sucks the flax from her finger. Her, for lack of a better word RAPIST, then suddenly remembers Talia and returns to the tower for another go only to discover he’s a father now. Talia is okaywith the situation when he explains what he did to her, and he visits her frequently for more lovemaking…even though he’s married to someone else.
And it keeps. Getting. Worse.
The queen learns about Talia after the king shouts her name in his sleep one too many times. Rather than call out her philandering rapist husband, she lures Talia to the palace, accuses her of being a whore and orders her and her children to be executed. Talia buys herself some time by doing a slow striptease for the queen, crying and screaming as she’s forced to hand over her clothes. The king returns just as she’s down to nothing and has his first wife killed instead. And the moral of the story is, I kid you not, “Those whom fortune favors find good luck as they sleep”.
So, yeah, regarding adaptations of Sleeping Beauty, you can only go up from there. Most of them tend to be pretty rote retellings of the later Charles Perrault or Brothers Grimm versions – which, to their credit, completely omit the rape, wedlock, infidelity, just about everything that makes this tale traumatic. I am perfectly fine with dragon-slaying and True Love’s Kiss saving the day over…THAT. They also end the story with the prince and princess getting their standard happily ever right after the kiss with no first wives or cannibalistic stepmothers getting in the way*, which is a plus in my book.
Like a number of fairytales, Sleeping Beauty has come under fire from feminists as of late; while their arguments against Snow White and The Little Mermaid seem shallow at best, I understand where they’re coming from in this instance. The thing is, when you get right down to it, the Sleeping Beauty is more of a macguffin than a character. The people in her life want to claim or destroy her, and she often has little to no say in the matter. Whomever chooses to adapt her story has to make the characters surrounding her more interesting if we want to remain invested. Few versions exist where the Sleeping Beauty has a better-defined character or an active role in the plot because of what has to happen to her. Today’s episode of Faerie Tale Theater leans heavily on the former, but I admire their attempt at the latter mainly because of who they cast in the part.
You know, I’ve seen a lot of people ragging on 2021 (not without good reason in some cases) but compared to what came before it that I say it’s a marked improvement. Maybe it’s because I’ve been fortunate enough to have some very good things happen to me that the high points stand out considerably more than the low ones. So as a way of ringing in the New Year, let’s reflect on what went down on the blog these past 365 days.
The first half of 2021 wasn’t as productive as I hoped thanks to a sudden increase in freelance work. I still managed to get six film reviews out this year, including a review of Home Alone which I didn’t finish in time for the previous Christmas, and a fifth anniversary review which was so late that it doubled as my sixth anniversary milestone. Apart from that and a Fievel Goes West review I’ve had to postpone for a multitude of reasons, my posting record was mostly on track for the latter half of the year. I reviewed my first Pixar movie, my first Abbott & Costello movie, returned to Ireland’s Cartoon Saloon with Song of the Sea, and even made the jump to Netflix with the new holiday classic Klaus. Speaking of beloved yuletide favorites, I also reviewed a Christmas short and special as per December tradition; The Little Match Girl I can easily call the most depressing thing I’ve looked at so far, but I’m thrilled that I was able to remind people that Olive The Other Reindeer exists.
I shared a bit of my original writing for the first time – okay, second if you count that Edgar Allen Poe spoof I whipped out near the end of 2020 – and the response has been very uplifting.
By The Cover made a brief return to celebrate Simply Mad About The Mouse’s 30th anniversary. Perhaps I should start that up again if I have the time.
More importantly, this was the year I began reviewing Faerie Tale Theatre, which has attracted more than a few welcome newcomers to the blog. Though we’re only four episodes in, sharing my history with this series and the stories that inspired it has been quite a ride. I’ve also tried to be a bit more analytical than jokey where these reviews are concerned and based on the number of views, I think I’ve found a decent balance (my snark and penchant for references aren’t going anywhere, don’t worry). All in all, not too shabby a year for Up On The Shelf.
In personal news, Mikey’s grown up like a weed (though he still acts like a kitten) and it seems my other cat TC has finally forgiven me for bringing an outsider into his domain. I had the chance to reconnect with more family and old friends from before the pandemic, and even made some new ones. My sister got married (as in she was legally married the year before but finally got to have her long-delayed wedding celebration) and to this day those who attended are still complimenting me on the speech I gave as her maid of honor. My cousin also got married in Pittsburgh, meaning I had the chance to travel there for the first time. It’s a beautiful city I hope to see more of one day. I appeared on three of my favorite podcasts (Channel KRT, The Emperor’s New Podcast, and Escape From Vault Disney) which you should drop everything and listen to right now. Two of my art pieces were featured in the Walt Disney Family Museum gallery, and one of them was highlighted during their virtual tour. While were on the topic of art, I was turned down for a book illustration job, and later almost got scammed by another, but did manage to get contracted for my first legitimate literature illustration; on that note, please forgive me if the next couple of posts go up a bit later than usual, I still have a ton of work to do regarding it.
But of course the biggest piece of news is one I already made known months ago. After years of unsuccessful pitching I’m officially an agented writer and illustrator. My agent is an incredibly kind and encouraging woman who’s helped get my foot in the door where I failed to in the past. They say in my writing group that each “no” you receive isn’t so much another rejection as it is one step closer to the person who will say “yes”; it was hard to believe that it until now. Even though my books haven’t found a publisher yet, each reply has come with some very high praise. It’s only inspired me to keep doing what I’m doing – and it’s given me even more story ideas in the process.
I’ve had something of a realization this year. When you’ve committed yourself for doing something as long as I have, it’s not hard to feel a bit of impostor syndrome. For a long time I’ve wondered how original my opinions and statements are and if I’m presenting them as clear as succinctly as possible, or if I’m just another Doug Walker knockoff typing my ramblings instead of shouting at a camera. I feel like I have a tendency to repeat myself, reuse certain words and turns of phrases, and not elucidate my thoughts to the best of my abilities. But seeing the positive comments you take the time to write, and the growth in Patreon pledges, well, I’m touched. I feel like maybe I’m doing something right after all. Your support means so much to me. So you know what? Forget all this New Years’ pessimism. This will be the year people wise up and take the precautions necessary to end the pandemic. This will be the year you hit that viewer milestone, get that well-paid commission or book deal, and find your dream partner. This will be the year your acne clears up and your favorite tv show gets renewed for another season. It’s time to look ahead to all the wonderful possibilities that await us in 2022.
So Happy New Year, everyone. I hope yours is safe, healthy, heart-filled and –
Oh, I knew I was forgetting something, my tradition of badly explaining the plots of everything I looked at in the previous year! Let’s go:
Home Alone: Two men check on an abandoned child only to be beaten and arrested.
Ratatouille: A garbage boy and a rodent violate sanitary regulations as they take over a dying franchise.
Song of the Sea: Proof that all expecting mothers should write a statement saying “Don’t blame the child if I die because it’ll only make you look like an asshole”.