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Roots

Hey! I'm still here. Let's talk about fairytale re-tellings.


The stories we know as fairytales and folk tales have been a part of human history for longer than we will ever know. They existed first as stories passed down in the oral tradition from generation to generation, and though we can find the first times these stories were written down, we can't say for sure what they were before that. It's like a big long game of Telephone; what we got written down in the 9th century is likely a garbled version of whatever our 4th century ancestors were telling each other. And ever since they were written down, they have continued to evolve and change with each generation that tells them. The basic stories - the rags-to-riches tale of Cinderella, the cruel queen persecuting the innocent princess in Snow White, the beautiful maiden falling in love with a gruesome suitor in Beauty and the Beast - are a template that each generation uses to tell stories that tell us a lot about wh…

Sic Itur Ad Astra: Mass Effect and Mythology

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This was originally written last year for another website, but in planning my next post, I thought it would also be useful to have it here for reference. It was written prior to the release of the fourth game in the series, Andromeda, to put it in context.



One of the best things about studying mythology is it enhances your enjoyment of everything. Mythology references are made in almost all media you encounter, often giving you hints about the story or the characters, or just as a funny reference to make you smile. Mass Effect is no exception to this, jam-packed full of mythology references, and as with all things Mass Effect, some of them will make you laugh and some of them will make you cry.

Before I continue, I want to make clear that the term ‘mythology’ is not analogous to ‘fictional,’ nor do I ever intend it that way. The blanket term ‘mythology’ refers to stories and does not inherently imply those stories are false. ‘Mythology’ is used often to encompass both religious and cu…

Blackberry Blue, Aladdin, and Representation

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As is turning out to be unfortunately usual, I had something to write that was topical last week but didn't have time to write until this week. I've been on my work placement as part of my MA studies at a children's literature museum, which has been absolutely wonderful for many reasons, not the least of which is the mountains of children's books surrounding me at all times. I recently came across Blackberry Blue, a collection of fairytales by Jamila Gavin, and absolutely adored it. The tales are not specific stories like Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty but use elements of many fairytales and related tropes to tell new stories with canonically non-white protagonists. They are beautiful, enchanting, well-told stories and I could not recommend it enough.



I was reading this book as the news that Disney is apparently unable to find a single middle Eastern actor to play Aladdin was making the rounds. There is, of course, an entire film industry full of middle Eastern actors b…

The Kitchen Witch

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I turned in my assignments for the semester yesterday, so today I'm baking! And being in the kitchen for long periods of time always makes me think of the kitchen witch.


The kitchen witch is a witch doll or puppet hung in a kitchen to bring good luck and ward off evil spirits. The origin of the tradition is difficult to pin down precisely - European in general, at least, but it pops up both in Scandinavian and German regions.

For what it's worth, the kitchen witch I remember belonged to my Norwegian grandmother. I wish I had a picture of it, but I remember it. I can't remember if my mom had a similar one, or if she just ended up with my grandmother's witch, but I remember the same witch or a very similar one in both my grandmother's and my mom's kitchens. She had curly brown hair peeking out under a yellow bonnet, and little wire glasses. I think her dress was yellow, too, or perhaps it was white and the kitchen lighting was unkind.

I remember asking about the …

East of the Sun and West of the Moon

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Hurra for Syttende Mai! Today I'm going to talk about my favourite Norwegian fairytale, "East of the Sun and West of the Moon."




I meant to talk about this back when Beauty and the Beast came out, as one of several more interesting alternative takes on the same basic story, but just never found the time. I might still talk about a few more another time, but today it's all this one.

The story begins with a white bear encountering the heroine's father, offering endless riches to the poor man in exchange for his youngest daughter. The man likes the idea, but won't send his daughter away without her consent, so he tells her and she steadfastly refuses. The father tells the bear to come back in a week, and after a week of bribing his daughter with the promises of riches for her and their family, she consents.

At the bear's castle, she is given a bell to ring if she needs anything. After eating, she rings the bell and finds a bedroom in which everything is gold …

My Top Five Women in Fairytales

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I'm a day late for International Women's Day, but right on time for Folklore Thursday! I'm still quite busy with graduate school work, but I wanted to post something to celebrate IWD, so here is a quick list of my top five favourite female characters in fairytales, in no particular order.


Gerda, from "The Snow Queen"

Gerda is one of the few fairytale heroines who gets to be the knight in shining armour. She and Kay are children and it would be inaccurate to portray them romantically, but most fairytale heroines who save male characters are saving their brothers, and Kay isn't Gerda's brother, so she gets to be a bit of an anomaly. Gerda is brave, adventurous, relentless, and smart: all the characteristics heroes get all the time, now in a mighty little girl.

The eponymous Feslihanci Girl

I've written about her at length here. There are quite a few fairytale and folklore heroines like her: feisty, cunning, unyielding. She plays the long game but she figh…

Everyday Folklore: Selkies

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I've always had a fondness for merpeople. The first fairytale I remember reading on my own was Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid, I loved the Disney film, and I loved playing mermaids in my grandmother's pool. My mum always called me a fish because I never wanted to get out of the pool. All merfolk were of interest to me, but I had a particular love of selkies. I loved The Secret of Roan Inish, and the more recent Song of the Sea was another selkie film that I absolutely adored. My boys joke that it's risky to take me to the beach, but I tell them as long as they don't give me back my sealskin, I won't be going anywhere. My aunt wrote a song about a girl raised by selkies, and I portrayed that girl on the cover of her band's album.


Just over five months ago I moved to northeast England. I live 15 minutes from the coast of the North Sea, where seals are rather abundant. Without exception, I refer to them all as selkies. There are many reasons I l…

The Next Disney Movie That Will Never Be: The Snake Sister

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I am finally getting around to Franz Xaver von Schönwerth's The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales, the collection of previously obscure tales found a few years ago in an archive in Germany. Only halfway through the book, I've been struck by how visceral the tales are; it isn't unusual for folklore, to be sure, but the tone is very matter-of-fact. I recall several reactions to the discovery of the stories in 2012 along the lines of, "Think of the new Disney films that will come from these!" I suspect it to be unlikely, though they've certainly shown they don't mind cleaning things up (compare Disney's Snow White to the Grimms' Schneewittchen, or Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame to Hugo's), but if they did choose one to adapt, I'd like it to be this one.

"The Snake Sister" has elements of Cinderella (Schönwerth's "Ashfeathers" is a more straight-forward Cinderella) but is different enough tha…