A Deal Me In catch-up post

Hello again!  Hope anyone who is reading this is doing well and, if it’s winter where you are, staying warm.  🙂 

I was off to a good reading start this year, but the last month has been nothing short of hectic.  My excuse this time is I’ve been mentoring young programmers on a local robotics team, gearing up for a big competition next month.  Between work during the day and robots in the evening, reading was pushed to the back burner.  However, the bulk of our programming is completed, and now we can kick back a little and I can (hopefully) find time to read again.

I’m actually on track with Deal Me In; I’ve just not blogged regularly.  Here are the stories I’ve drawn for the last month or so (and yes, diamonds keep randomly showing up!).

Q ♣ Circles

This essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson is probably quintessential Transcendentalist reading.  In “Circles,” Emerson encourages the reader to look at life in the form of circles – Venn diagrams, really.  He suggests there is always a bigger circle than the one you see; that, for example, knowledge and religious beliefs are circles which can be at some future date surpassed by larger circles, the decryption of the present unknown.

Every man supposes himself not to be fully understood; and if there is any truth in him, if he rests at last on the divine soul, I see not how it can be otherwise.  The last chamber, the last closet, he must feel, was never opened; there is always a residuum unknown, unanalyzable.  That is, every man believes that he has a greater possibility.

It was interesting to read this story at this time.  I recently read up on the Sikh religion and can see certain parallels between Sikhism and Unitarianism, the latter of which has links to Transcendentalism.  I can see the appeal in this philosophy, but I find problems with it, from a religious standpoint – but I won’t go into that here (at least, not for now). 

This is a good one to read if you want to get the gist of Transcendentalism in a short, digestible format.
 
9 ♣ The Death of a Moth 

My first Virginia Woolf was disappointing, actually.  The writing in this sketch is ok, but underwhelming for such a big name.  I still want to read one of her longer works; maybe short stories weren’t her thing.

5 ♦ Rumpelstiltskin

A wicked king enslaves a girl to spin gold…and then marries her?!  I don’t remember this one being so troubling – did I grow up with a censored version?  Either way, another unsettling story collected by the Grimm brothers. 

4 ♦ The Woman with Two Skins

You know it’s a bad story when it starts and ends with slavery.  The Grimms have serious competition with this frightful tale, which I found on World of Tales.  It was collected by a man named Elphinstone Dayrell (there’s a fairytale name!), who apparently worked as a district commissioner in Nigeria and was a member of the Royal Geographical Society…considering he was interested in local folk tales, I’d say he was probably unusual for a colonist.  This story has certain universal elements – a wicked woman, a witch (male, in this case), and a small but strong protagonist.  In any case, though some may not like the turn-of-the-century British vocabulary, I have to give Dayrell credit for documenting the story.  I’m not sure it’s suitable for children; like Grimm, it is what it is!

7 ♦ Hansel and Gretel

I have memories of sitting in a computer science lecture and viewing a graph of what looked to be white noise.  “You may think it looks random, but a truly random pattern wouldn’t look so evenly distributed.”  This Deal Me In challenge is confirming it in every respect – my thorough shuffling may have been random, but that doesn’t necessarily equal balanced!

I’ll assume you know the story of “Hansel and Gretel”…there is really not a whole lot I can add to it.  It does bring me to the question – why are the antagonists in fairy tales so very often female?  And not just female, but in a twisted mother-figure role: the stepmother in “Hansel and Gretel,” the stepmother in “Cinderella,” the Snow Queen, all the witches, etc.  Now I’d be curious to know whether the original storytellers were male or female, and whether any of these stories were based on real life events.  After I finish this challenge, I think I’ll be seeking out further reading about the Grimm brothers and their collection of stories.

What say you – any theories as to why it’s always evil stepmothers and wicked witches?

J ♦ The Prince Who Feared Nothing

Using my Lighthouses deck this time!

The Prince Who Feared Nothing is another strange tale from the Grimm Brothers’ collection.  It is about a young prince who, “sick of living in his father’s house,” goes off into the world to end his boredom by having adventures.  As is usually the case in the world of Grimm, his boredom is soon relieved by the equivalence of an R-rated film, when he falls into the path of an evil giant and vies against demons to save a beautiful princess from her spell.

It is hard to find a rhyme, reason, or moral to this story, since the prince is rather dense, not exactly “fearless” in the best sense of the word.  Some reviewers find the princess’s subplot to be a racist statement; it could be, or it could be referring to some kind of disease, I’m not sure.  Either way, the story has a speed of narrative that is typical of Grimm tales.  Maybe after so many generations, the tale lost some of its old morals and meaning, and became simply one child’s imperfect memory passed on to another.

8 ♦ Ashputtle

Cinderella-Prinsep …also known as Cinderella!

I promise I shuffled the cards very, very well at the beginning of this challenge, and yet here we have another fairytale.   Not that I’m complaining.  (And besides, random selection is unlikely to be uniform.)  I already know my next card – and rest assured! it’s not a diamond.

The Grimm fairytales are an altogether different assortment than Andersen.  For one thing, the Grimm brothers were primarily collectors, scholars, and editors, not inventors of original tales.  There is decidedly less poetry in their stories.  The style is terse and upfront, making these plots fast-paced and very short.  “Ashputtle” is no exception.

Once again, I was unsettled by the violence – and, well, mutilation – found in an otherwise familiar setting.  There was no modern feeling of concern in Ashputtle’s marrying a stranger, since she could hardly do worse than her own family.  Even her father, alive in this version, appears to disown her; he is quick to marry again and also begins to think of her as a servant.  I don’t know…I guess it was a happy ending (?!).

It was interesting how logistics were handled in this story.  The narrator is so careful to explain how Ashputtle could have gone to the ball in her beautiful gown and come back in time to change back into her old dress.  Yet other facts (the origins of the family dysfunction, for one) are completely glossed over.  I suppose that is more characteristic of what a child’s questions would be, as opposed to an adult’s.

I’ve read a few other Grimm stories before this one, and I can say that the difference between the “dark” aspects of Grimm versus those of Andersen are the way they are presented.  Andersen takes his stories pretty seriously and wants the reader to do the same.  Grimms’ stories are almost tongue-in-cheek, self-consciously shocking, and effectively dark humor.  I’ll bet that was more for the storyteller’s benefit than the children’s…

3 stars.

Wait – I ought to mention Hawthorne, since his mythology came first.  He would certainly not have written something so dark as “Ashputtle,” and I think that – dare I say it – his distinctly American type of realism would not have come up with a moral as convoluted as the one in “The Little Mermaid.”  The trade-off is that while I can rate “The Golden Fleece” higher, these other two are vastly more memorable.

To a degree, it may be unfair to compare them exactly.  A mythology should be a bit grand, and a fairytale at least a little weird.  Still, these were all written for children, and I think there is something to get out of each of them, as different as they are.