Sunday, June 29, 2003

Baba Yaga and the Schoolhouse

29 June 2003 Baba Yaga and the Schoolhouse

Stories to grow by: Baba Yaga
illustrated by children

In the deep forest Baba Yaga lives in a hut standing on a single chicken-leg amongst the silver birches. Spinning in circles, it stops to confront the visitor The little yard is encircled with a rickety picket-fence of bones. Skulls serve as lamp-posts .Light dismally gleams through the vacant eye-sockets. She lives there alone with a scrawny black cat and a mangy mongrel whose ribs stick out worse than Ribsey in Beverly Cleary's Beezus and Henry books.

Baba Yaga eats children for breakfast, tossing the fingerbones to the starving cat because they might choke her. The ribs go to the dog. Isn't much food, 'cause no sensible kid ever ventures near there, unless sent by an evil stepmother. There's no shortage of them, unfortunately.

Parents blame Maurice Sendak for giving their kids nightmares with the book, Where the Wild Things Are--a favorite book of mine, mind you. They never consider the torture they inflict on kids themselves. Take a look at these same book-bashing parents—they send their kids off to school each day to face the Land of the Wild Things, meeting up with Baba Yaga in her one-legged chicken hut school. Baba Yaga sits atop her giant desk at the front of the class demanding the impossible from the kids below her. The room spins with information that they can never quite grasp as the school turns on its solitary chicken-leg. Kids get woozey and dizzy from it all. We like to put the Fairy tales out there somewhere in NeverNever Land with Peter Pan. We rarely consider that FairyLand isn't such a cool place in there inside.

Baba Yaga appeared twice in school in two different guises. The first year teacher spooked me out of my wits. I was left tongueless before the end of the year. Like Natasha, I tried to appease her in every way I could. Teachers like parents are generally arcane when it comes to personal demands and expectations. The rules don't usually make sense, but you ar supposed to understand them fully after punishment is inflicted. Kids try rather hard to receive acceptance-- trying to do the right thing at the right time; but often their worlds are just plain irrational and far more dangerous environments than Baba Yaga's hut or the land Where the Wild Things are. There's no lack of evidence on the internet regarding children being chained or locked in closets and forced to eat their feces because they failed to flush a toilet or being given the Chinese water torture drowning them by forcing water down their throats.

Yet these same children get sent to school where Baba Yaga lives atop her desk in the front of the room. Dominated by the Ogres and Giants at home, they may be intimidated easily by a teacher's bullying ways. So the hand or behind isn't smacked any more, but teachers have other ways of tormenting students. Like God, they know everything and they can be merciless in deprecation. Words cut like a whip, tearing at the soul of a person. They might ignore the hard work and struggle of the student who lives in the twilight world of personal fear, or may be brutally unkind in comparison to siblings.

"Your ister was so smart..." with the insinuation that you aren't. A comparison is a denial of a person't individuality. So we're different. I never quacked like a cracked bassoon reed, nor did I receive the National Scholarship or do a zillion things my sisters excelled at. I excelled at shrinking into nothing and wetting my knickers. I was too petrified to raise my hand, terrified to use the school restroom. It wasn't that I didn't try, but that my bladder simply didn't cooperate. Anxiety ate me from the toe up.

Suffering from a bad reputation, I endured endless torment from my fellow students about wet clothes and puddles on the floor. Teachers disapprovingly shake their heads, "Why doesn't she just raise her hand?" without looking in the mirror to see Baba Yaga standing there. Trauma and anxiety grows inside a child like a forest filled with monsters. With just a slight abuse, anger or disapproval, the child shrinks back inside the invisible forest to hide from the danger outside. Between home and school, there's not so many safe places to escape and not so many friends to share secrets with. Although we laugh about little birds warning Little Red Riding Hood, so many have only a cat or dog as a companion. How many times have you seen old Mr. Jones walking his dog in the morning? Did you ever stop by to see if he needed something? Friendly voices are always welcome. Children too, associate their sorrows with their animals. They may sit for hours with a pet, talking to them as an intimate friend-- someone who shows compassion in a compassionless world.

I wanted to be like Natasha, dropping the ribbon from my hair to create a rushing river-- a barricade to stop the evil from pursuing me. Yet I could always hear the shrieking of the witch and the swish of her broom in the air as her mortar sailed after me or drop the comb, transforming into a tall wood to encircle and protect me from the hardships of my life; or be transformed into a deer to leap about in the wood like the boy in Brother and Sister.

Magic? Fantasy? Who am I to tell you? Look deep within yourself to understand the things you fear and the Baba Yaga's of your life. For me, it was the spinning school and the physiology teacher who always made me stand up to recite, cutting me into shreds with his deprecating remarks. There were others, but he was the most skeletal. In times of stress and anxiety, seek a friendly environment. Don't forget to feed the cat or pet the dog and definitely, put a yellow ribbon on a tree.

Old Russia:Baba Yaga
with artist Bilibin

Russian Crafts- Baba Yaga

Ashliman: Folklore and Mythology Electronic Texts: Baba Yaga

cinderella stories

SurLaLune: Baba Yaga

brother and sister
Sister Alyonushka and Brother Vanushka

Sunday, June 22, 2003

The Ugly Duckling

albino mallard in Brevnov Cloister Gardens

22 June 2003 The Ugly Duckling

Writers use stories as soapboxes to protest the injustice of the world or to promote personal viewpoints. Often a glimpse of the writer's portrait can be found within his stories, blurring the lines between reality and fiction.

Dickens was so effective in portraying social injustice that he affected English social law by presenting the hardships and miseries of the homeless and working-class between the covers of his books. As a child, his family had been interred in a debtor's prison. Dickens knew firsthand the hardship of extreme poverty and injustice of the legal system. Absorbed by the panorama of his world, Dickens presents pickpockets, debt collectors, tradesmen, and horse-trainers; but we miss seeing his face amongst them.

Andersen, though is easily recognizable in a cameo appearance of the Ugly Duckling.

HCA Fairytales and Stories: The Ugly Duckling
Zvi Har' El

Unlike Dickens, Andersen was not a self-made man who struggled against social oppression. Dickens apprenticed himself and learned shorthand, reading and writing the hard way and took to attending Parliament to write the proceedings. With skills of a transcriptionist, Dickens was able to summarize accurate digests that were reliable in content. This made him valuable as a court reporter to the press and opened the way for the Pickwick Papers which was originally printed as a serial in the papers. Dickens garnered instant readership as the audience had only to flip pages making his writing widely available on the streets. When his serial had concluded, it was compiled then into a book. Resourceful, Dickens' techniques have been copied by writers and publishers.

Andersen never confronted the intense hardship that Dickens suffered, nor did he fight such a battle for a profession. Andersen opens the first chapter of his autobiography by stating:

"My life is a wonderful faiytale, so eventful it has been and wonderful..."

Perhaps he crafted the words to create an image or like an actor was reluctant to put aside the mask. He continues, "I was an only child and extremely spoiled, but my mother continually told me how very much happier I was than she had been, and that I was being brought up like the son of a nobleman. She as a child had been driven out by her parents to beg...

My father, Hans Andersen, let me have my own way in everything."

Hans Christian Andersen

The Fairy Tale of my life: The first chapter of my life

Although exaggerated regarding plentitude, he accompanied his mother when they went gleaning in the bailiff's fields. Obviously there was not enough food or money in the house to sustain them. In 1819, Andersen fled Odense to make his way to Copenhagen. He was fourteen. Between 1819, he struggled to break into Copenhagen's theaters as a ballet dancer, actor, singer and finally writer. A boy soprano, his voice changed. And although his badly written works were rejected, he showed enough talent that his schooling and training were provided. He succeed through using the hospitality and patronage of the Danish aristocrats and nobility as well as those in Germany. Where Dickens worked his way up through elbow-grease and sweat, Andersen succeeded through patronage like many other artists and composers of his time.

After Andersen's departure, Dickens put up this sign: Hans Christian Andersen slept in this room for five weeks which seemed to the family AGES.

Why? Imagine a guest who comes for a few days, but extends his stay? Dickens had enough domestic problems with a wife and a passel of children. His marriage was breaking up. Mrs Dickens, like most wives, undertook the role of good hostess. Andersen spoke an incomprehensible English and spent his time making paper cut-outs and picking flowers. Upon receiving a rejection letter, he spent the day crying on the lawn. When the family moved from Kent to London, Andersen didn't make the transition. Suspicious, he didn't trust Dicken's coachman and stuffed his personal effects into his boots, including money, timetable, wallet, scissors, pocket watch. books and introductory letters. Why? the coachman might rob him.

HCA 2005: Else Cornelius

Difficult to endure, he demanded constant attention like a child. His self-indulgence is apparent like the swan gazing on its own image in the water. During the time that Edvard Cornelius and his wife lost a child, Andersen compliained that they hadn't written to him.

And although Ugly Duckling is autobiographical, it extends beyond Andersen's personal life into allegory, lifting it up from his childish pettishness and self-centerdness. For a brief moment, the reader glimpses Narcissus gazing into the water, but then the image on the surface is broken.

At 183cm with feet somewhere in the range of 47-50, HCA was indeed an ugly duckling, not easily fit onstage in a ballet costume. Like the Duckling, he was amidst of society and yet alone. He did not mingle easily. Unlike his acquaintance, Brahms, he did not fall in love with someone whose relationship was forbidden because of a difference of social class. Brahms never married, but neither did Andersen. He never gained full acceptance by society or in an intimate relationship. Like the Mermaid who desperately tried to rise above the ocean to live on land, he remained silent in a world where he was never fully embraced.

HCA 2005
commorative site for Andersen

Andersen Links

This site was created by Ann Rox
for IS 567 at the University of Tennessee.

Last updated on 1 December 2001.

HCA Center


Johan de Mylius

HCA: fairytales and stories

Zvi Har' El

168 stories in fulltext
English Translation: H. P. Paull (1872)

Chronological List of Works

titles that are derived from the stories of HCA
there are 82 titles listed here as being presented in film and a short biography

Andersen—The Brave Tin Soldier

Sunday, June 15, 2003

LRRH General Overview

15 June 2003 LRRH General Overview

Charles Perrault is credited with the first written version of LRRH in 1697. Superficially, it appears as a witty parable akin to Aesop's Fables with a twist of satire similar to the Turtle and the Eagle or the Frog and the Ox in presenting a warning about being overly naive or foolish.

Sur la Lune Fairytales: Red Riding Hood Perrault

The Ass in the Lion Skin

The Frog and the Oxc

The Tortoise and the Eagle

The story became immediately popular and jumped the Channel to be included in children's collections in the 18th century, appearing in A Pretty Book for Children and An Easy Guide for the English Tongue in 1784.

When the story appears by Grimm in 1812, it is substantially different. It is written with more melodrama and symbolism that lends itself to a wide array of interpretation. The girl survives; the wolf gets killed and there is a happily-ever-after ending. Nineteenth Romanticism and Victorianism manipulated the story further to make heavy-handed moralizing for children, casting LRRH as an innocent, hapless girl who is deceived by a sly, vicious beast preying on innocent, naive girls entering puberty. With such a theme, there is much interpretation and criticism emphasizing sexual issues within the possible symbols of the story.

Momberger version 1856

Father Tuck's Little Folks version 1890

Ashlimann: Little Red Riding Hood Grimm

The story has suffered from moralists at both extremes; not only those eager to declaim it as chauvinistic propaganda for women's subordinate role in society, but also for abstinence—not of sex, but wine. Two Californian schools banned the story because LRRH was asked to carry a basket containg wine to her granny. The prohibition is ridiculous as California is internationally known for alcohol, drugs and violence; not to mention that it is a major player in the internatioal wine industry. Perhaps the schools shouls also ban Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, becasue the word "grapes" appear in the title. Or better still, California should ban the wine industry altoghether.

University of Penn Books Online Special Collection Banned Books
see Unfit for Schools and Minors banned 1989

Balkan Press Banned Books

Politically controversial LRRH has been used for Nazi propaganda and probably religious satire as early oral versions present a story that closely resembles a Baba Yaga tale in which LRRH wears a red hat and partakes in a cannibalistic feast. Little imagination is required to recognize the red hat of a cardinal and the elements of the eucharist in the bones and blood of granny.

Ashlimann: LRRH version Italy-Austrian

Carina Coulicoglou traces the symbolic nterpretation of fairytale in Reconstruction beginning with Frued's interpretation of Dreams (1900) and his Wolf Man (1918), stating that the child recognizes himself in the wild animals and therefore accepts the mix of human-animal dialogue. Perhaps, this is why Sendak's book, Where the Wild Things Dwell, is universally popular. LRRH is the natural ground for sexual and feminist interpretation with Fromm stressing that the red cape signifies menstruation and sexual vulnerability and Bettelheim later stating that the tale expresses ambivelence between the pleasure and reality principle as well as the reactionary Oedipal-effect in puberty reflecting Freudian interpretation. The wolf-huntsman is actually a dual image signifying two sides of the same person: the father of LRRH.

Psychomedia: Reconstruction

little red

A Study on the Association Between Fairy Tales and the Unconscious
di Carina Coulacoglou (1)

With such interpretations, it is no wonder that feminists bristle and fight back Another perspective concluded in reconstruction by Coulicoglou is that children's identites are easily swallowed up by over-demanding parents, like Saturn devouring his children.

Because LRRH is so easily manipulated by authors to suit their interpretations, it also lends itself to being politically correct. The politically correct version must satisfy all the polarized demands of the special interest groups and yet detonate any possible conflict between deceitful wolves and naive girls.

Politically Correct Little Red Riding Hood

But as any right-thinking, alert person knows, wolves are generally harmless and only help to keep the world in balance.

Defenders of Wildlife : Little Red Riding Hood Lied
Myths and facts about wolves : Do Wolves Affect White-Tailed Buck Harvest
In Northeastern Minnesota
L. David Mech and Michael E Nelson

Little Red Riding Hood Project
University of Southern Mississippi
multiple versions available here with images

The Fairy Tale Project: Bridge from Language to Literature
The Fairy Tale Project, based at Ursinus College last updated 3/23/99.

The Fairy Tale Project: Red Riding Hood
not for the color blind as it is blue type on red background

False Grandmother