Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tall tales and short ones

Most people associate "fairy tale" with brothers Grimm and other people who collected the oral tradition in Europe during the 18th and 19th century; with the French court in the 17th century, where both "Mother Goose" and "Fairytale" were coined, and the original storytellers of 19th century, like H.C.Andersen and Oscar Wilde. (And Andrew Lang, who wrote rather sweet fairytales himself, though didn't write any of the Coloured Fairy Books). I'm sure 90% of examples of fairytales people know, would be found in the collections of Grimm brothers, Perrault, Andersen and Lang.

I grew up with the original Grimm fairytales, "Children's and Household Tales". "The first volumes were much criticized because, although they were called "Children's Tales", they were not regarded as suitable for children, both for the scholarly information included and the subject matter", says Wikipedia :-D Sure they weren't suitable for children, if you think of children as fragile idiots who need to be raised in a barrel and covered from "the bad world".
One could think I was damaged, because I'm a Pagan now, but I don't remember ever being afraid of trolls, witches or my parents leaving me in the forest.

There was a story of a boy whose mother killed him and boiled soup to his father, who ate with good appetite even though his daughter sat and wept and refused to eat a bite. The boy later comes back as a bird, bringing gifts to the family. His sister gets shoes, father gets a golden chain, and mother gets crushed by a millstone. (Yes, "My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me"... It's called "Juniper Tree".)

(Indeed, Juniper Tree has got a place on "5 Grimm Fairy Tales You Should Only Read To Kids You Hate")

There was a story about a curious girl, who went into a weird house, and climbed up the stairs, and in every floor she saw something weird and alarming... like there was a room with a frying pan with fish in it frying, and the fish turned itself, and when they were done, they jumped on a plate and the plate run upstairs... and she followed the plate and saw a hideous black beast from the keyhole eating the fish, but went in... and there was no beast, just an old lady there. And she asked the girl who she was and where she came and what she saw in the house, and the stupid girl told the lady everything, even seeing the black beast through the keyhole, and then the lady ate the girl. (Frau Trude. There are different versions of this story as well :-D) 
I mean, a typical "cautionary tale". Don't be so damn curious and put your nose in business that's none of yours, and don't be so trusting with strangers, especially if people have warned you about them. And obey your parents, because they have managed to live that long, they must be doing something right. :-D

Anyway... here's a long list of definitions of forms of fiction that I consider being related to fairytales, and so have read and studied. (Definitions taken from Wikipedia.)

Folklore, as "oral tradition" consists of legends, proverbs, jokes, popular beliefs, fairy tales, stories and tall tales. In usage, there is a continuum between folklore and mythology.

"Folktales" is a general term for different varieties of traditional narrative. The telling of stories appears to be a cultural universal, common to basic and complex societies alike. Even the forms folktales take are certainly similar from culture to culture, and comparative studies of themes and narrative ways have been successful in showing these relationships. Also it is considered to be an oral tale to be told for everybody.

In folkloristics, a myth is a sacred narrative usually explaining how the world or humankind came to be in its present form, although, in a very broad sense, the word can refer to any traditional story. Bruce Lincoln defines myth as "ideology in narrative form". Myths typically involve supernatural characters and are endorsed by rulers or priests. They may arise as either truthful depictions or overelaborated accounts of historical events, as allegory for or personification of natural phenomena, or as an explanation of ritual. They are transmitted to convey religious or idealized experience, to establish behavioral models, and to teach.

A legend is a narrative of human actions that are perceived to take place within human history. Legend, for its active and passive participants includes no happenings that are outside the realm of "possibility", defined by a highly flexible set of parameters, which may include miracles that are perceived as actually having happened, within the specific tradition of indoctrination where the legend arises, and within which it may be transformed over time, in order to keep it fresh and vital, and realistic. Legends reflect on a psychological level a symbolic representation of folk belief and collective experiences and serving as a reaffirmation of commonly held values of the group to whose tradition it belongs.

Sagas are stories about ancient Scandinavian and Germanic history. Saga is a cognate of the English word say: its various meanings in Icelandic are approximately equivalent to "something said" or "a narrative in prose", somewhat along the lines of a "story", a "tale", or a "history". The texts are tales in prose which share some similarities with the epic, of heroic deeds of days long gone, "tales of worthy men". The tales are usually realistic, except legendary sagas, sagas of saints, sagas of bishops and translated or recomposed romances. They are sometimes romanticised and fantastic, but always dealing with human beings one can understand.

Some of the oldest and most widespread stories in the world are stories of adventure such as Homer's The Odyssey. The heroic mythological stories (monomyth, or the hero's journey) from culture to culture follow a similar underlying pattern, starting with the "call to adventure", followed by a hazardous journey, and eventual triumph. The knight errant was the form the "adventure seeker" character took in the late Middle Ages.

The chansons de geste, Old French for "songs of heroic deeds", are epic poems. Composed in verse, these narrative poems of moderate length (averaging 4000 lines) were originally sung, or recited, by minstrels or jongleurs.

Romance is a fantastic story about marvel-filled adventures, often of a knight errant portrayed as having heroic qualities, who goes on a quest. Romances reworked legends, fairy tales, and history to suit the readers' and hearers' tastes.

An epic is a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily concerning a serious subject containing details of heroic deeds and events significant to a culture or nation. Another type of epic poetry is epyllion, which is a brief narrative poem with a romantic or mythological theme.

A tall tale is a story with unbelievable elements, related as if it were true and factual. Some such stories are exaggerations of actual events, for example fish stories. Other tall tales are completely fictional tales set in a familiar setting. Tall tales are often told so as to make the narrator seem to have been a part of the story. They are usually humorous or good-natured. The line between legends and tall tales is distinguished primarily by age; many legends exaggerate the exploits of their heroes, but in tall tales the exaggeration looms large, to the extent of becoming the whole of the story.

A fairy tale is a type of short story that typically features folkloric fantasy characters, such as fairies, goblins, elves, trolls, dwarves, giants, mermaids, or gnomes, and usually magic or enchantments. Fairy tales may be distinguished from other folk narratives such as legends and explicitly moral tales, including beast fables.

A fable is a succinct fictional story, in prose or verse, that features animals, mythical creatures, plants, inanimate objects or forces of nature which are anthropomorphized (given human qualities such as verbal communication), and that illustrates or leads to an interpretation of a moral lesson (a "moral"), which may at the end be added explicitly in a pithy maxim. A fable differs from a parable in that the latter excludes animals, plants, inanimate objects, and forces of nature as actors that assume speech and other powers of humankind.

A parable is a succinct story, in prose or verse, which illustrates one or more instructive principles, or lessons, or (sometimes) a normative principle. It differs from a fable in that fables use animals, plants, inanimate objects, and forces of nature as characters, while parables generally feature human characters. It is a type of analogy.

Allegory is a device in which characters or events in a story, poem, or picture represent or symbolize ideas and concepts. Allegory has an immense power of illustrating complex ideas and concepts in a digestible, concrete way. In allegory a message is communicated by means of symbolic figures, actions or symbolic representation.

Satire is a genre of literature, and sometimes graphic and performing arts, in which vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement.

A cautionary tale is a tale told in folklore, to warn its hearer of a danger. There are three essential parts to a cautionary tale, though they can be introduced in a large variety of ways. First, a taboo or prohibition is stated: some act, location, or thing is said to be dangerous. Then, the narrative itself is told: someone disregarded the warning and performed the forbidden act. Finally, the violator comes to an unpleasant fate, which is frequently related in expansive and grisly detail.

I have to say that this is a book that gave me nightmares.

"The stories may have started in a playful mode, but they invariably ended badly, 
as a child paid the Draconian consequences for disregarding parental advice.  
Some of the outcomes were cruel, others gruesomely violent. 
Whatever the case, they were altogether unlike the tales of “normal” childhood 
that were being served up to me by mid-20th-century authors.  
No, the Struwwelpeter stories were truly scary, 
because the things that happened to these children
—e.g. severed fingers, dog bites, burning hair, wasting away, drowning—
conceivably could befall a careless 20th-century child."

And yet... the cautionary stories and moral histories written 
by predominantly Christian authors to teach moral and virtues to children... 
horrible stories, and totally incomprehensible to me... 
Actually, very much reminding of the "romance" novels
written by the type of Christians
who consider wife beating the husband's moral duty.
I believe I have spoken about that literary genre somewhere else,
and wish not to visit it ever again.
How ever much humans are fascinated by the most vile and disgusting behavior
and horror stories...

Fantasy is a genre of fiction that commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary plot element, theme, or setting. Many works within the genre take place in imaginary worlds where magic is common. In popular culture, the fantasy genre is predominantly of the medievalist form. Fantasy has also included wizards, sorcerers, witchcraft, etc., in events which avoid horror. Fantasy has also spawned many new subgenres with no clear counterpart in mythology or folklore, although inspiration from mythology and folklore remains a consistent theme. Fantasy subgenres are numerous and diverse, frequently overlapping with other forms of speculative fiction in almost every medium in which they are produced. A couple of examples are the science fantasy and dark fantasy subgenres, which the fantasy genre shares with science fiction and horror, respectively.

Horror fiction, horror literature and also horror fantasy is a genre of literature, which is intended to, or has the capacity to frighten its readers, scare or startle viewers/readers by inducing feelings of horror and terror. It creates an eerie and frightening atmosphere. Horror can be either supernatural or non-supernatural. Often the central menace of a work of Horror fiction can be interpreted as a metaphor for the larger fears of a society. The genre has ancient origins which were reformulated in the eighteenth century as Gothic horror, with publication of the Castle of Otranto (1764) by Horace Walpole. (Here as a librivox recording; a free audio book.)
(And here's Mysteries of Udolpho, a must read for everyone who loves Jane Austen. Why, you might ask? But, of course, because of Northanger Abbey!)

A ghost story is an account of an experience, that includes a ghost, or simply takes as a premise the possibility of ghosts or characters' belief in them. Colloquially, the term can refer to any kind of scary story. It is a form of supernatural fiction and specifically of weird fiction, and is often a horror story. While ghost stories are often explicitly meant to be scary, they have been written to serve all sorts of purposes, from comedy to morality tales. Ghosts often appear in the narrative as sentinels or prophets of things to come. Whatever their uses, the ghost story is in some format present in all cultures around the world, and may be passed down orally or in written form.

Weird fiction can be said to encompass the ghost story and other tales of the macabre. Weird tales often blend the supernatural, mythical, and even scientific.

Supernatural fiction (properly, "supernaturalist fiction") is a literary genre exploiting or requiring as plot devices or themes some contradictions of the commonplace natural world and materialist assumptions about it. In its broadest definition, supernatural fiction includes examples of weird fiction, horror fiction, fantasy fiction, and such sub-genres as vampire literature and the ghost story. Supernatural fiction is often classed as a discrete genre defined by the elimination of "horror", "fantasy" and elements important to other genres. Supernatural fiction is associated with psychological fiction, as both a supernatural and a psychological interpretation of the events is possible. The ambiguity is considered to add to the effect.

Now the following are on this list, just because they have been mentioned... Not that I didn't read them too with pleasure, but on the other  hand, I read anything with pleasure. (More or less... Now... marquis de Sade was unreadable. See the previous comment on a very specific type Christian romance.)

Science fiction is a genre of fiction with imaginative but more or less plausible content such as settings in the future, futuristic science and technology, space travel, parallel universes, aliens, and paranormal abilities. Science fiction is largely based on writing rationally about alternative possible worlds or futures. It is similar to, but differs from fantasy in that, within the context of the story, its imaginary elements are largely possible within scientifically established or scientifically postulated laws of nature.

Burlesque is a literary work intended to cause laughter by caricaturing the manner or spirit of serious works, or by ludicrous treatment of their subjects. It is a grotesque imitation of the dignified or pathetic. Burlesque overlaps in meaning with caricature, parody and travesty. It has been applied retrospectively to works of Chaucer and Shakespeare. Burlesque "fools around with the material of high literature and adapts it to low ends"

A caricature is a description of a person using exaggeration of some characteristics and oversimplification of others.

A parody is an imitative work created to mock, comment on or trivialise an original work, its subject, author, style, or some other target, by means of satiric or ironic imitation. "Parody … is imitation, not always at the expense of the parodied text." "Any cultural practice which provides a relatively polemical allusive imitation of another cultural production or practice." Parody seems to flourish on territory somewhere between pastiche ("a composition in another artist's manner, without satirical intent") and burlesque .

A pastiche is a work of literature that closely imitates the work of a previous artist, usually distinguished from parody in the sense that it celebrates rather than mocks the work it imitates. In contrast to an allusion or a homage, a pastiche of this kind is not a passing reference, but instead covers a work in all its entirety. Alternately, a pastiche may be a hodge-podge of parts derived from the original work of others.

Mistero Buffo is a series of small one-act plays by Dario Fo. They are built around the idea of the travelling players of medieval times, who would travel to towns and villages, bringing the latest news, but also performing theatrical pieces which were sometimes subversive in their content. Absolutely brilliant... go and watch some at YouTube, if you can find any. Though I like the Finnish version better than the English one. But here's some translations. Search with the names of each play.

Mystery plays and miracle plays are among the earliest formally developed plays in medieval Europe. Medieval mystery plays focused on the representation of Bible stories in churches as tableaux with accompanying antiphonal song.

Opera buffa (comic opera) is a genre of opera. It was at first characterized by everyday settings, local dialects, and simple vocal writing, the main requirement being clear diction and facility with patter.

And that leads to Commedia dell'arte, variety shows and such.


Helena said...

I had no idea there were so many definitions and genres for storytelling. Just goes to show you how important telling a tale is in any human culture throughout history.

I came to realize only recently how very grim the Grimmn stories are, and that's thanks to an American TV show called (of course) Grimm. The premise is that the Grimm tales were true and how a family of Grimms have throughout history hunted and controlled these very real beasts, who look like ordinary humans to everyone except Grimms, who can perceive their true nature. There's some humor in the show, which appeals to me, but it does prove that the original stories were not fairy tales meant for children. They're almost too dark and violent even for me.

Ketutar said...

I love Grimm! I think it was a good idea to creatures sort of shapeshifters and the stories "true"... Though I don't like the treatment of witches :-D