There's blood in the shoe

Last blog tour event, guys! I’m over at the Book Binge talking about Le Morte d’Arthur and from there, judginess in English literature and my ambivalent feelings about stories where people are punished for being “jerks,” however the author happens to have defined “jerk.” Here’s an excerpt:

There’s a strong strain of what I’ll call “judginess” (it’s a technical term!) in British literature. Virginia Woolf described it best when she said about Dostoevsky, “There is none of that precise division between good and bad to which we are used.” The British reader is really, really used to a precise division between good and bad. You always know exactly which characters you’re supposed to approve of and exactly how much. And the rules are very strict, especially for female characters.

That kind of story makes me uncomfortable. I don’t mind a book having villains, obviously–In for a Penny has several. But I don’t like stories where I feel like the author is punishing characters for being the wrong kind of person, or rewarding them for being the right kind. I don’t like stories that feel punitive. I’ve never felt particularly good or triumphant about seeing mean people get their comeuppance. When I read the Grimm version of the Cinderella legend and discovered that the stepsisters had to cut off their toes and then have their eyes pecked out by birds, I was horrified.

It’s not because I’m just a generous, empathetic person or anything. It’s because I always had a sneaking suspicion I was the wrong kind of person, that I was a wicked stepsister and not a Cinderella.

Check it out!

By the way, I just looked up the Grimm fairytale again, and look at this:

“The two sisters were happy to hear this, for they had pretty feet. With her mother standing by, the older one took the shoe into her bedroom to try it on. She could not get her big toe into it, for the shoe was too small for her. Then her mother gave her a knife and said, ‘Cut off your toe. When you are queen you will no longer have to go on foot.'”

Wow.

7 thoughts on “There's blood in the shoe”

  1. Quite a few of the fairy tales are rather blood chilling in some of their forms. It's amazing how many different versions there are, and how characters can change so much from one version to the next.

  2. It IS amazing. It's almost like stories and characters used to be considered communal property rather than belonging to their creator the way we see it in our post-Romantic construction. The closest you see to that now, I think, is in fanfiction and comic books, where lots of different authors and artists have different takes on the same characters and they are all considered valid by the people who read them.

  3. I think it is about format. Most of the stories that I can think of that have multiple versions and endless variations of characters are stories that were mostly told by storytellers to groups of people. This made the story a more directly collaborative effort between the audience and the teller, so the variants that have made their way to us reflect the different elements that resonated with the audiences. In an age where stories are printed, set and bound before they reach the reader, the feedback process would only be able to impact the next book in the series, not the one that has already been published in most cases. Fanfiction and comics seem to operate on a much shorter feedback loop, and so still have some of the feel of the variation as different people try to highlight the aspects of the stories and characters that they find most important. It's fun to see how adaptable story telling is. I really enjoy reading retellings of fairy tales, there's always something new to see in a story you thought you knew.

  4. That makes a ton of sense! And also fits in with some of the stuff I've read about reader responses to serialized novels in the 18th and 19th centuries–apparently Richardson was quite upset by the sense of almost-ownership some of his fans had about Pamela

    I think it has to do, also, with the shift from viewing writing as a craft to the Romantic idea of the author-as-individual-genius, which I think created a separation between "writer/creator" and "reader/recipient" in people's minds that hadn't been nearly as strong before. I'd love to read an essay about how that Romantic idea might have been influenced by/connected to changes in the publishing industry!

    I love fairytale retellings too–do you have a favorite?

  5. That would be a fascinating article to read.

    I've enjoyed the Once Upon a Time series. They seem to have reached almost every fairy tale. My favorite at the moment is Beauty Sleep by Cameron Dokey.

    Most of the others that I've read are by Robin McKinely. I always forget if it's Rose Daughter or Beauty, but the later published one is a fantastic retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I'm particularly partial to retellings of Beauty and the Beast. 🙂

    I think the retellings that stayed with me the most were movies that I watched growing up. Two were from the Faerie Tale Theatre: The Tale of the Frog Prince and The Snow Queen. My favorite, perhaps because of the sheer number of fairy tales that get woven in was The Polar Bear King. I also liked Ever After and the 10th Kingdom.

    I'm always looking for more great fairytale retelling books or movies. Do you have any recommendations?

    1. I LOVED the earlier one–I’m pretty sure that’s Beauty–as a kid. I must have read it ten times at least. I loved that she was freaked out by the Beast changing into a handsome man.
      I loved Fairy Tale Theatre too! My sister and I watched their “Cinderella” over and over as a kid.
      We also had a movie of a figure-skating version of the Snow Queen that I LOVED, especially the part where she got small and skated on a flower. Or maybe someone else was small and skated on a flower? Anyway it was very pretty, and there was also a bit where they went to an outdoor fair and he bought her a ribbon and they skated around with it that I liked. Although I never actually liked the original story of the Snow Queen much, it creeped me out.
      I can’t think of any fairytale retellings at the moment, but I CAN think of several amazing “Tam Lin” retellings–“The Perilous Gard” by Elizabeth Marie Pope, “Fire and Hemlock” by Diana Wynne Jones, and…okay I’m sure there’s another one I’m not thinking of. I haven’t read the one by Pamela Dean yet, have you?

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