Reading Grimm: Marriage and Emotional Labour Jan26

Reading Grimm: Marriage and Emotional Labour...

All fairy tales have a lesson, but I’m not sure what the moral in “The Singing, Soaring Lark” is besides “be a good person.” This tale is not actually about a lark; it’s about a young woman (the youngest and favourite daughter) whose father is tricked into trading her to a lion for a lark. This, as you would imagine, radically changes her life. The lion, it turns out, is a prince cursed to be a lion by day; no light can touch him. He and the young woman marry, and they live happily together sleeping by day and being awake by night. But, one day, the lion is touched by a ray of light “about the breadth of a hair,” and he is transformed into a dove. He tells his wife that he must fly across the world for seven years and that she must follow him, but that every seventh step he will let fall a drop of blood and a white feather. So here we have our beloved tropes: a favourite child, the contrast of red and white, a curse, and someone transformed into an animal. For the rest of the story, the young woman is looking for the prince. She receives help from the Sun and the Moon, who give her gifts to use when she needs them most, and the Night Wind and the South Wind, who give her information about where to find her husband. After battling a dragon that turns out to be an enchanted princess and wandering the wilderness some more, she breaks the spell and they ride off on a griffin, living happily ever after until the end of their days. Emotional labour—the work of managing feelings and expressions—is often considered “woman’s work” and is,...

Reading Grimm: Redefining Family Jan12

Reading Grimm: Redefining Family...

When I first read “Brother and Sister,” I was struck by how many familiar elements it contained that I knew from other fairy tales: siblings who are forced out on their own (like “Hansel and Gretel”); a wicked stepmother (like “Cinderella”) who is also a witch (like “Snow White”); that wicked stepmother also tries to usurp her stepchildren’s position with her own children (again, like “Cinderella”). Add in a little therianthropy (humans transforming into animals) and this odd fairy tale is a weird hodgepodge of tropes. But of all the familiar elements, it’s the portrayal of the domestic that strikes me as the most interesting. As noted folklorist Jack Zipes commented, fairy tales were never the sole domain of children; however a key aspect of fairy tales is an attempt to understand the complexities of the world. Only a superficial reading of these stories would say that home is safe and the outside world is dangerous and full of predators. In “Brother and Sister,” we see the strength of the familial bond between the main characters, but their home life is not safe. To escape the tyranny of their wicked stepmother, Brother and Sister leave their home to make their way into the world and, in essence, find their place in the world. In the broad strokes of fairy tales, stepmothers represent a disruption to the family unit. It’s a wholly unfair portrayal that still has negatively coloured stepparents, but as a sort of literary shorthand, it shows a family that looks whole on the surface with dysfunction just beneath. In the absence of a caring, nurturing home life, Brother and Sister embark on a search to find family. What’s most interesting to me is that although Sister marries the King and has a...