Tag Archives: fairytales

Looking at Peter Pan and the Wizard of Oz

Peter Pan, Wendy, fairytales, myth, Neverland, children's fiction, fantasy

Pete Pan as J.M. Barrie envisaged him, and had this statue mounted in Kensington Gardens. Wikicommons: Sebjarod

Somehow, in a childhood rife with reading, and a family of readers, I missed Peter Pan and the Wizard of Oz. I saw the movies, but never read the originals. A few years ago, when I was on my way to Kansas for a writing workshop, I decided to read the Wizard of Oz, partly because a story idea had popped into my head and I needed to know what the original tale was really about.

The first two things I learned was that the original title was The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and that Dorothy’s shoes had not been ruby red. They turned that color when MGM made the film because they needed something that drew the eye better and of course, it was those magical shoes that transported Dorothy home. It was a cyclone that took her away but she returned on her own two feet (more or less). From that discovery, my story “Shoes” was born and explored what happened to Dorothy after she had returned from Oz to the mundane farmlands of Kansas.

So, reading Oz as an adult perhaps gave me more depth than it would have otherwise. There were definitely political statements within Baum’s story, as well as aspects of self and what happens when you go from doubt to believing in yourself. In fact, it is Dorothy’s belief that she can return home which helps transport her there. Dorothy’s adventures take place in a world that is strangely different from a Kansas farm community. Indeed, this is a common tool in children’s stories, and some adult ones as well. While J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books use this, she has it that the world exists in the same place alongside the regular world but it is hidden from muggle eyes. Oz was elsewhere.

Now I’m reading Peter Pan because I’m trying to come up with a green man story. And Peter Pan‘s original title is Peter and Wendy, or Peter Pan: the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. J.M. Barrie wrote it first as a play in 1904 and the Wizard of Oz came out in 1900. Peter Pan has a lot to do with the green man. He lives in a wild land, dresses in green or in skeleton leaves and plays pan pipes. And yes, Peter Pan’s land is Neverland. It is the stuff of dreams and the sugar thread fantasies of children. But whereas Oz seems a fantasy from which Dorothy awakes, Wendy, Michael and John, and the other Lost Boys who return, did in fact leave to another land and their parents missed them.

These two stories are part of our modern fairytales. Along with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and

Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, ruby slippers, silver slipers,

Dorothy’s ruby slippers were originally silver and she took them off the dead witch’s feet. MGM

The Secret Garden, they do not have the generational mythos of fairytales handed down over centuries. Yet they are enduring and endearing and each deals with a child going to a place that is other. What is even more interesting with Peter Pan and the Wizard of Oz is that while these stories were written a little over a century ago, they both have major female protagonists. Since I’m not doing a full essay here I’m curious if there were many tales of quests or journeys that took place before Alice in Wonderland. Of course, such journeys go back to the early myths of Gilgamesh and Herakles and Odysseus, so travels to mythical lands is not a new concept. But when did the children take over?

Dorothy is swept along on her travails, and while she observes and experiences growth through her trials, she makes very few decisions on her own until later in the book. Yet her main adversary is the Wicked Witch, a strong if megalomaniacal female figure, and of course there is Glinda as well. Wendy is the first one wooed by Peter’s pan pipes and while she goes with her brothers, she wishes for nothing but romance and to be a mother, and in fact plays mother to all the lost boys of Neverland. The boys kill and get in skirmishes because “children are gay and innocent and heartless,”  and Wendy keeps them in order. She is also the damsel taken captive. Tinker Bell and the redskin Tiger Lily vie for Peter’s attention but he is oblivious to all. Like many age-old myths of gods Peter is the eternal youth and Wendy is the mother/love figure that is part of the tale of the Egyptian gods Isis and Osiris.  For stories that are a century old I think it’s interesting that the male writers gave the females fairly major roles, even if they were still carried along on the action of the males.

Persephone, underworld, neverland, faery, fantasy, myth

When Persephone eats the food of the underworld, like those who eat the food of Faery, she is bound and can never fully return to the lands of humans. Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Peter Pan actually hearkens back to a far older myth. It is the tale of the grain goddess Demeter, loved by all of humanity, and her daughter the Kore. The Kore is seduced by a narcissus planted in the field. When she plucks it Hades, lord of the underworld, abducts her to his realm. Demeter blights the earth until Kore, now Persephone, is returned, but Persephone’s eaten the fruit of the underworld (the pomegranate). She is only allowed to return for part of the year because she only ate a partial meal in the underworld, and hence we have the seasons. When Peter guides Wendy and the lost boys home, he asks if she’ll come every year for spring cleaning, and her mother (who is loved by all) grants this, though Peter in his eternal youth, forgets some years to come by. It’s a simplified Greek myth but the seeds are still there, as they are in the fairytale Beauty and the Beast.

Both the Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan involve many adventures with different characters, just as Hercules/Herakles had twelve labors or Odysseus encountered sirens and cyclops. The language of Peter Pan is beautiful and evocative, yet compared with the sterilized Disnefication of tales today or even the movie versions of these stories, the children are savage and thoughtless. There is an inherent violence, which like nature, is part of a pattern and lacking morals. It just is.

I could go on but if you have not read these more modern fairy tales, consider that they are of a natural evolution that began with gods long ago, metamorphosed into magical beings and objects, took a trip to the land of Faery and never quite left.

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Book Review: In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed IV

For anyone just tuning in, this is the fourth and last segment of reviewing Mitzi Szereto’s In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed. Mitzi chose fairy and folktales from diverse sources. These aren’t just Grimm brothers or Arabian Nights. There are Japanese,  Persian or Sanskrit, a cultural mosaic of stories from sources around the world.

Written in Sanskrit, “A Tale of the Parrot” is an Indian tale where a talking animal relates various lessons or stories, much as Shahrazad did to her husband. An emir’s daughter is wasting away and the Spanish Infanta comes to try a cure, and discovers the Turkish Khan’s (who wants to marry the girl) emissary stirring a cauldron with a stick. The stick is actually his penis, with which he “agitates” the contents of the cauldron. The Infanta helps stir only believing his penis to be a growing stick. Then she takes a cup of the “creamy” broth to the emir’s daughter to break the spell. Now, whether Szereto is completely ignorant of cleanliness taboos of Arabic lands or not, the cleanliness taboos of Europeans would balk at this. Albeit, many of these tales have fetishistic aspects but the Infanta next takes a scrubbed chamberpot to fill. This would be repulsive to many people, even if they’re fine with a young woman drinking goblets of ejaculate.

I was actually surprised to see “Little Red Riding Hood” because, even with erotic rewriting, it’s almost been done to death. It has similarities to myths of gods changing shape, or magical beings consuming a string of victims. Here, “Red” sets off to Grandmother’s house on the lookout for “handsome young huntsmen.” She has a reputation for twirling about, revealing much beneath her skirts, to the workmen who grab their “bulges.” At least this phrasing makes it clear what they’re doing. When she wanders through the woods she actually hikes up her skirt, given as she is to the thrills of exhibitionism. The story follows the more traditional path when viewed in its sexual context, but with some  amusing twists with Red Riding Hood’s exhibitionistic tendencies, and refreshingly few odd twists of phrase.

“The Traveling Companion” is a popular riddle tale, especially in the Scandinavian countries and reworked by Hans Christian Andersen. Poor Johannes is like his counterpart Michel Michelkleiner and his innocence causes his poverty to increase before he has barely set out on the road. He meets an older, more experienced man who has a magic ointment for curing ills, and that he rubs high up under the skirts of an old lady, and a wooden marionette, which leads to the whole puppet troupe being rubbed and coming alive for a flesh and wood orgy. The two travelers learn of a princess whose suitors must answer three riddles and if they lose, they lose their heads.

Johannes uses the ointment to fluster the princess, and his traveling companion does not rely on the ointment alone but folllows the princess to discover her secret. He enters her bedroom where she is sound asleep with her nightdress having ridden up, “exposing a pair of graceful thighs and the corresponding hills above.” I wasn’t sure at first when he starts spanking her if these were her breasts or buttocks, but presuming buttocks, it would have helped to know she reclined on her stomach instead of trying to be tossed out of the story to figure it out. Other than this one aberration, the story is amusing if somewhat black in humor, and though bawdy, not overly erotic.

“The Turnip” brings us to where we began in Cinderella with the turnip (or parsnip) loving stepsisters who used the vegetative length and firmness for sexual diversion. This poor farmer has magical turnip seeds but his own member grows to gigantic turnip proportions and though he wishes to remove it, the king moves him into residence where the man is used for the king’s riding pleasure. This is another story that disturbingly borders on rape and does not meet erotic content so much as sexual abuse.

Also known as Brier Rose “The Sleeping Beauty” has long had an undercurrent of sexuality or even rape, where the prince kisses or impregnates the sleeping princess. Instead of the witch’s curse, Szereto tosses in a lecherous frog and then the story proceeds apace to the prince many years later breaching the brier thorns. By this point I confess to becoming quite annoyed with the bizarre euphemisms and found I was ejected from the tale when the prince lifts the sleeping princess’s dress where, “A pair of gossamer wings began to slowly unfold….the fragile creature was being held back by two fuzz-covered pods,…” What the–? I could not imagine what this was at first and then believing Szereto to mean the clitoris and labia I was dumbfounded. How is this description, even given to hyperbole, slightly erotic? Fuzzy pods? Gossamer wings? Has anyone ever seen genitalia that looked like this?

“The Twelve Months” is the last tale, with a stepmother and sister who envy the pretty daughter and send her off on tasks designed to kill her. She meets 12 men who are the months and tends to their “branches” in three ways. It is somewhat erotic and one of the better stories.

When I started out reading this collection I really thought I’d love it. I like what I know of Mitzi Szereto and I like the retellings of fairy tales (and many originals as well). Granted, eroticism is different for each person, I still find it hard to believe that many people would find these tales sensual at all; they fall more into the category of bawdy, if anything. The euphemistic phrases don’t work because the description is too bizarre, especially for our modern sensibilities. Why Szereto felt the need to follow this style I’m not sure, except maybe to mimic the style of earlier centuries, but why then the anachronistic aspects dropped in without making the whole tale of another era? It’s as if she was still writing these for children, which is not the projected audience at all. I did like the introductions  about the evolution and history of each story, but I would have liked to have seen a reading list or some lists including The Arabian Nights, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, etc. as well as scholarly works by Zipes or Bettelheim. I believe that Szereto can write but if I was in Sleeping Beauty’s bed, I was left wanting.

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