Thursday, March 06, 2014

Inspiration of Mythic Proportions Part II (from Kristina Wojtaszek)

This is part two of a two part series from Kristina Wojtaszek, author of OPAL. Her novella is part of A Winter's Enchantment alongside mine, TAMING FATE. Part One is just one post ago, and discussed Hephaestus, the Tin Soldier, and Hans Christian Andersen, so be sure to check it out! --Amalia

2) Cronus wears a Big Bad Wolf suit

Charles Perrault wrote his fairy tales in defense of courtly society in France.  It was, in fact, his duty to glorify the king in his works.  A large motif in upper class French society was arranged marriage, which depended on the virginity of the young woman, who may have even been cloistered (kept as a nun) to ensure such purity.  All of Perrault's fairy tales ended with a moral, and despite the more modern retellings of Little Red, the original by Perrault was the story of a young woman of society, not that of a little girl.  She wore a red cap; red signifying the color of sin, and hers was a preordained fate believed to befall single women who were allowed to socialize with men.  Not only was her fate the destruction of her worth as a virgin, but death itself; that ultimate fate of sinners.  And that is where Perrault's story ends for Little Red and her grandmother, in death.

But the Brothers Grimm retold the tale with a much younger Little Red, and the sexual connotations pared down.  They also introduced a woodcutter into the tale, to save the grandmother and granddaughter from death.  The woodcutter was careful not to shoot the wolf, lest he injure those inside his belly.  Instead, he cut open the wolf's belly and the grandmother and Little Red leapt out, still alive.  The wolf, too, was still alive (my, what strong anesthetics you must have, Mr. Woodcutter) and in order to fool the wolf so that he wouldn't miss his meal, they filled his belly with stones.  But when the wolf woke, the stones were too heavy for him to run away with, and he fell down dead.

Tell me, why in the world would the woodcutter feel the need to put stones in the belly of the wolf, when he could simply have killed him?  Why try to trick the wolf first?  Was it out of some sinister want of revenge for the wolf's trickery?  Or, could the Brothers Grimm have had other tales in mind as they rewrote this unusual ending?

The image of the wolf's belly full of stones immediately came to mind when I read the story of Zeus's birth.  His father, the Titan Cronus, was determined to avoid the prophesy that foretold his own demise at the hands of one of his children  So he ate every one of his infants as soon as they were born; except his youngest, Zeus.  Zeus's mother hid her newborn (finally!) and fed Cronus a large stone wrapped in swaddling instead.  When Zeus grows up, he confronts his father and either gives him an herb to induce vomiting, or, in some versions, cuts his father's stomach open to free his siblings.

Sound familiar?  The Brothers Grimm weren't, in fact, out to collect tales for children, but were devoted to the study and collection of German folklore and mythology, including sagas about mythical heroes similar to the sagas of ancient Greece.  Although they later softened many of their tales, knowing how popular they were becoming with children, the Brothers Grimm had an initial goal of recording the stories of their Germanic culture before they faded from use, and using these stories to understand the history of their people.  I don't know if a myth similar to that of Cronus influenced their reshaping of the Little Red Riding Hood tale, but they must certainly have known of such a myth, and there is tremendous possibility here.  For my part, I can't help seeing the larger-than-life Cronus in a wolf suit, and the gleam of an all-knowing Zeus in the eyes of the woodcutter.

The analogies between fairy tales and their mythic ancestors are endless, even if they aren't all directly related.  It's a good lesson for any writer, as we find our own imaginings aren't entirely our own, but are often a conglomeration of our emotional lives and those stories that have influenced us more than we know.

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Kristina Wojtaszek grew up as a woodland sprite and mermaid, playing around the shores of Lake Michigan. At any given time she could be found with live snakes tangled in her hair and worn out shoes filled with sand. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Management as an excuse to spend her days lost in the woods with a book in hand. She currently resides in the high desert country of Wyoming with her husband and two small children. She is fascinated by fairy tales and fantasy and her favorite haunts are libraries and cemeteries. 
Follow her @KristinaWojtasz  or on her blog, Twice Upon a Time.

And don't forget to grab a copy of OPAL, or our Anthology together, 

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