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"MALEFICENT" ...A REVIEW OF THE DISNEY FANTASY


SteveVertlieb
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I do not like the looks of this new film at all.

 

I just saw a preview clip on YouTube. Looks creepy to me. Reminds me of those two 12 year old girls who stabbed another 12 year old girl a few days ago, because of some computer fantasy character. Disney cartoons weren't so creepy when I was a kid.

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I saw this movie the other day and it was fantastic. While it did have elements from the Sleeping Beauty cartoon, it focused (obviously) more on Maleficent. Why is she so angry? Why does she seem to hate the king so much?

 

Some elements of the story (at least the Disney cartoon version, I haven't read the original fairy tale) were changed slightly; but all and all I thought it was a great film. Angelina Jolie made a great hero/villain. Honestly, I was rooting for Maleficent in parts of the film. She isn't all evil.

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I just saw a preview clip on YouTube. Looks creepy to me. Reminds me of those two 12 year old girls who stabbed another 12 year old girl a few days ago, because of some computer fantasy character. Disney cartoons weren't so creepy when I was a kid.

 I think the Lana delRey cover of the Once Upon a Dream song is what makes it eerie...and makes the preview misleading. The movie itself was pretty kid-friendly--a couple of battle scenes, a grisly mutilation that happens offscreen, the King's deteriorating sanity and some tense moments near the ending were the only things that might make kids squirm. I know it sounds like a lot, but really it's no worse than other Disney films;

 

The Lion King: Child Simba watches as his father is crushed to death by charging wildebeasts, then is told it's all his fault by his uncle, sending him running off into the wastelands to die

 

Bambi: Sees his mother shot by hunters in front of him, then later is nearly burned to death in a forest fire

 

Hunchback of Notre Dame: This scene--yikes:

 

 

Snow White: The wicked queen sends her huntsman off to the forest with Snow White, with instructions to bring back S W's heart in a box; Snow White's subsequent flight through a nightmare woods; the inherent creepiness of the Prince kissing Snow White, who's been mostly dead for days

 

Dumbo: a baby elephant is taunted for his handicap and when his mother defends him, she's jailed; he is effectively orphaned and is forced to don clown makeup and fall into a barrell of custard on a daily basis; accidently becomes drunk after a tearful visit to his mother and hallucinates wildly

 

Pinnochio: Pleasure Island. That is all.

 

I could go on and on, but there is plently of horror and creepiness in even Disney's classics.

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...Snow White: The wicked queen sends her huntsman off to the forest with Snow White, with instructions to bring back S W's heart in a box; Snow White's subsequent flight through a nightmare woods; the inherent creepiness of the Prince kissing Snow White, who's been mostly dead for days...

 

Hey, that's one for the "Hollywood's Depictions of Death on Screen" thread.  :mellow:

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Ok, here's my take on "Maleficent" and the current craze for filming fairy/folk tales, live action or animated.

 

I have no desire to see any of them, because these stories are all in my head,  part of my cells by now, and I like them that way -just the way I read them when I was a kid and a teenager and a young adult (authentic fairy and folk tales bear multiple readings) and stored them in my mind. 

I'm not really interested in other people's ideas of how these stories transpire; also, they are inevitably altered from the originals.

 

Now, I get that the very nature of such stories is their flexibility, in terms of being changed according to what region and tradition they were told in. It's part of the o r a l  tradition to alter a story, and of course, over time, the tales get added on to or reduced or changed some other way.

But for me, that's not the same thing as some movie producer who probably never read these tales when he was young, but just thinks they're a cool idea for a money-making film, tweaking them and somehow spoiling their mystery and dignity.

 

Anyway, two things to think about when discussing traditional folk and fairy tales:

 

1) They were not originally intended for children. They were just interesting stories, passed on from one generation to the next. Hence all the covert allusions to sex, and the more overt allusions to violence. They were meant to teach life lessons, and of course,  entertain. If they had an intended audience at all, it was not so much young children as adolescents, teenagers (although the concept of teenager didn't really exist until the 20th century.)

 

So this business of worrying about how appropriate they are for children stems from a fairly recent notion that, because there were magic events and characters in them, they must have been intended for little kids. Nope, not originally.

 

2) So there's a lot of violence in them, the original un-messed with ones, anyway. So what? As I said, they are not really meant for young kids, and an older child (say, from 10 or 11 up) would just appreciate the horrors of a good folk tale (a term I kind of prefer to "fairy" tale.)

Our society today is way too worried about "protecting" children from everything. Let 'em hear the original stories, the more horrific the better (ok, I'm being perverse there.)

I think it's not a bad thing for a child to contemplate horror - at child who's at least, as I said 11 or so. (Of course I don't want to expose a little kid to horrible, violent, and frightening stories or movies.)

Better for them to first learn about the wickedness of the world from a great traditional story, with witches or ogres or even Blackbeards, than from the actual unspeakable horrors that take place on this earth every day. Save that stuff until they're a bit older. Or even much older.

 

I know this is quite a verbose post. I'll just say, the frightening and strange elements of a good folk tale are part of what makes it memorable and magical. I have no problem at all with keeping these kinds of stories intact, violence and all.

There are plenty of gentler stories and films for really little kids. Let's not ruin the original folk tales by sanitizing them, thereby taking away their power.

 

ps: There are a few exceptions to my "I won't watch a fairy tale made into a movie" stance, the best and most obvious one being Jean Cocteau's "La Belle et La Bete". Resonates so much more than the watered down and altered Disney version.

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Ok, here's my take on "Maleficent" and the current craze for filming fairy/folk tales, live action or animated.

 

I have no desire to see any of them, because these stories are all in my head,  part of my cells by now, and I like them that way -just the way I read them when I was a kid and a teenager and a young adult (authentic fairy and folk tales bear multiple readings) and stored them in my mind. 

I'm not really interested in other people's ideas of how these stories transpire; also, they are inevitably altered from the originals.

 

Now, I get that the very nature of such stories is their flexibility, in terms of being changed according to what region and tradition they were told in. It's part of the o r a l  tradition to alter a story, and of course, over time, the tales get added on to or reduced or changed some other way.

But for me, that's not the same thing as some movie producer who probably never read these tales when he was young, but just thinks they're a cool idea for a money-making film, tweaking them and somehow spoiling their mystery and dignity.

 

Anyway, two things to think about when discussing traditional folk and fairy tales:

 

1) They were not originally intended for children. They were just interesting stories, passed on from one generation to the next. Hence all the covert allusions to sex, and the more overt allusions to violence. They were meant to teach life lessons, and of course,  entertain. If they had an intended audience at all, it was not so much young children as adolescents, teenagers (although the concept of teenager didn't really exist until the 20th century.)

 

So this business of worrying about how appropriate they are for children stems from a fairly recent notion that, because there were magic events and characters in them, they must have been intended for little kids. Nope, not originally.

 

2) So there's a lot of violence in them, the original un-messed with ones, anyway. So what? As I said, they are not really meant for young kids, and an older child (say, from 10 or 11 up) would just appreciate the horrors of a good folk tale (a term I kind of prefer to "fairy" tale.)

Our society today is way too worried about "protecting" children from everything. Let 'em hear the original stories, the more horrific the better (ok, I'm being perverse there.)

I think it's not a bad thing for a child to contemplate horror - at child who's at least, as I said 11 or so. (Of course I don't want to expose a little kid to horrible, violent, and frightening stories or movies.)

Better for them to first learn about the wickedness of the world from a great traditional story, with witches or ogres or even Blackbeards, than from the actual unspeakable horrors that take place on this earth every day. Save that stuff until they're a bit older. Or even much older.

 

I know this is quite a verbose post. I'll just say, the frightening and strange elements of a good folk tale are part of what makes it memorable and magical. I have no problem at all with keeping these kinds of stories intact, violence and all.

There are plenty of gentler stories and films for really little kids. Let's not ruin the original folk tales by sanitizing them, thereby taking away their power.

 

ps: There are a few exceptions to my "I won't watch a fairy tale made into a movie" stance, the best and most obvious one being Jean Cocteau's "La Belle et La Bete". Resonates so much more than the watered down and altered Disney version.

I teach 4,5 & 6 year olds and you would be surprised at how "un-upset" they are by the violence in fairy tales. As long as the person/animal/creature getting killed deserved it, at least in their eyes, they are ok with it. They aren't scared by the giant falling to his death in Jack and the Beanstalk (my thought, as an adult is: "Dear god, who's going to clean that up? The giant has to be splatted all over the countryside!" ) or the witch's death at the end of Snow White or The Little Mermaid or the wolf being chopped open in Red Riding Hood. I know that,  developmentally, they don't fully understand what death means, but it's also because kids have a remarkably black and white vision of right and wrong (at least as it applies to other people, not themselves) and they want to see punishment for doing wrong. (Children are blood thirsty little monsters at heart ;) )

 

I don;t know if you've ever read the unadulterated original versions of many fairy tales, but they are DEFINITELY not for kids. Sleeping Beauty marries her prince and has his twin babies, then the prince's mom (who is an ogre) tries to eat the children (there's also a version where she awakens becasue she gives birth to the prince's kids); Snow White's stepmother comes to the wedding and is forced to wear red-hot iron boots and dance until she dies; Cinderella's step-sisters cut off their toes in a vain attempt to fit into the slipper and then as if seeing Cindy ride off with the Prince isn;t enough, they get their eyes pecked out by Cinderella's cute little birdy friends. Yikes.

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ps: a great book about folk and fairy tales, their origins, their tropes, their meanings, is  The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettelheim. 

 

600full-the-uses-of-enchantment_-the-mea

I keep meaning to look up a copy of this book and never remember...

 

Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales by M-L von Franz is interesting too. It looks at fairy tales from a Jungian veiwpoint--how the un-percieved darkness within us, or the Shadow in Jungian terms, is personified by the baddies in fairy tales; what ghots stories show us about grieving and beliefs in an afterlife and so on. Gets a little (as my father-in-law calls it) froot-loopy but an interesting read.

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...I don;t know if you've ever read the unadulterated original versions of many fairy tales, but they are DEFINITELY not for kids. Sleeping Beauty marries her prince and has his twin babies, then the prince's mom (who is an ogre) tries to eat the children (there's also a version where she awakens becasue she gives birth to the prince's kids); Snow White's stepmother comes to the wedding and is forced to wear red-hot iron boots and dance until she dies; Cinderella's step-sisters cut off their toes in a vain attempt to fit into the slipper and then as if seeing Cindy ride off with the Prince isn;t enough, they get their eyes pecked out by Cinderella's cute little birdy friends. Yikes.

 

Well, yes indeed, tracey my friend. That was (so I thought) half of what my post was about - the extreme violence and weirdness in the original fairy tales, and how we should not edit it out. And yes, I'm very familiar with the horrific elements in them, the details you mention in those stories, as well as many others.

People are always having to cut off parts of their bodies, or do so to others, they get tossed in to fires, sometimes a head gets cut off and turns, alarmingly, into something else,  people get turned into stone, or snakes and scorpions emerge from their mouth every time they speak, etc. etc.

And then there's all the stuff about eating one another. 

 

Yet there's something fascinating about it. I don't enjoy horror movies, certainly not of the "slasher" variety anyway; and I don't much go for horror stories in literary form, either.

Except when it comes to folk and fairy tales. 

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Well, yes indeed, tracey my friend. That was (so I thought) half of what my post was about - the extreme violence and weirdness in the original fairy tales, and how we should not edit it out. And yes, I'm very familiar with the horrific elements in them, the details you mention in those stories, as well as many others.

People are always having to cut off parts of their bodies, or do so to others, they get tossed in to fires, sometimes a head gets cut off and turns, alarmingly, into something else,  people get turned into stone, or snakes and scorpions emerge from their mouth every time they speak, etc. etc.

And then there's all the stuff about eating one another. 

 

Yet there's something fascinating about it. I don't enjoy horror movies, certainly not of the "slasher" variety anyway; and I don't much go for horror stories in literary form, either.

Except when it comes to folk and fairy tales. 

 

Sorry--I'm just not used to people who haven't been thoroughly indoctrinated by the Disney versions and I missed the point. I think some of the modern re-tellings are an attempt to get back to that darkness and away from the Disney-fied versions.  There's a series of anthologies out there, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terrie Windling that attempt to do that.  https://www.sfsite.com/09a/fairy16.htm

 

Maleficent isn't really in that category though. It's more a sort of feminist celebration of mother-love, set in the framework of the Disney version of a fairy tale. 

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I don't disagree with what's been said here however I also think that care should be taken not to mistake "darkness" in fairy & folk tales for depth and meaning while dismissing "kinder, gentler", what some call sanitized, versions as saccharine fluff. (Please note, that's a general comment, not directed at anyone in particular.) Especially when the kinder and gentler version is the original - for example, Wicked (book) and, to a lesser degree, Return to Oz compared to their source material. 

 

No denying that "dark" legends and myths can be and are instructive and illuminating. But I must confess that the violence, gore, and despair in some can strike me more as the torture porn of bygone days and/or a means to oppress and control people through superstition and fear.

 

Different verisons of folk tales are cultural fossils. They can reveal much about what a human society & life was like in a particular place and time. In some ways, I think "gentler" stories may show progress in our moral development. And even gentle stories can be shadowed or at least bittersweet in parts (see The Animal Family or Little, Big or The Princess and the Goblin).

 

Trying to be brief so I'm not sure I'm explaining myself well. In my mind, I roughly divide the evolution of fairy tales like this:

 

"Here be dragons" - an old map designation for unexplored territories; also, Scully, The X-Files

 

"Fairy tales, are more than true. Not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be defeated." - G.K Chesterton

 

"Everything we know about you guys (dragons)...is wrong" - Hiccup, How to Train Your Dragon

 

 

I'm used to being alone in left field with my thinking but still, I reckon this won't be a popular view so I'd best skip on out of here.

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Calamity:

Thanks for your thoughts on the ever fascinating topic of folk and fairy tales.

I appreciate what you are saying, and I have heard that opinion before. It does, from one point of view, make sense.

 

I do not disagree that some of the violence and "darkness" in these tales may have been somewhat gratuitous. However, despite that, I love them the way they are, and am unhappy at the idea of altering them by editing out some of the violence, or sexism, or classism, or whatever the nasty aspect of the story may be.

They are what they are, and one of the things they are is an artifact from the past on how people thought and what kind of stories they told. And for that, if for nothing else, I believe we should leave them as they are.

 

And in any case, they are not only full of violence and terror...they do contain "life lessons", and these are lessons we all, child and adult alike, would do well to think about today.

 

such as...kindness and generosity are more desirable than greed and selfishness, and will ultimately stand those who practice these virtues in good stead

Other qualities fairy tales depict: honesty, endurance, perseverance, faithfulness, resourcefulness.

 

The rewards of these virtues (although I kind of dislike that word "virtues") are repaid to the hero or heroine (and there many heroines who demonstrate the above qualities, it's not just male characters) finding what they seek, or at least what they need, and living a happy life thereafter.

 

The tales also encourage and help develop a sense of wonder; they are incredibly imaginative.

 

I agree that it is a good thing to read "gentler" stories to young children, but there are a great many of these - wonderful picture books and tales for little kids that are fun and reassuring for them, without being saccharine sweet. I don't believe the sanitized Disney book fairy tales are among these types of books, though.

 

Edit: Sorry, I don't want to sound argumentative, but "The Wizard of Oz" is not really a good example of how "the original" can be "gentler" than other later versions, because it is not a folk tale nor a traditional story. It's a story -a novel, really, for kids -written by one individual, Frank Baum. Which of course was made into a film. I have not read Baum's book, so can't really speak about it in any detail. But folk and fairy tales which are part of the o r a l tradition are quite different from literature, and this includes children's literature, that was written by one specific person.

 

Also, you say:

 

"No denying that "dark" legends and myths can be and are instructive and illuminating. But I must confess that the violence, gore, and despair in some can strike me more as the torture porn of bygone days and/or a means to oppress and control people through superstition and fear...."

 

But I think we might be thinking of two different types of folklore here. The folk and fairy tales I'm thinking of tell of the opposite of "despair", they have happy - or at least satisfying - endings, and in fact are meant to sustain and encourage young people through difficult times. Far from oppressing or controlling people, I believe their primary intention was, besides the "life lessons" I mentioned earlier, to give heart to others, especially adolescents, to show them that if they are kind and strong and resourceful and courageous, they will be able to overcome the monsters life throws in their path.

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I’m not advocating censoring grim and dark stories nor do I think the older versions should be forgotten. However it's the nature of folklore to be passed on from a storyteller, society, region, language, era, or belief system to others. And usually changes are made as these tales are shared and spread, reflecting the views and circumstances of their new tellers and audiences. As I said, I consider them to be cultural fossils that can give glimpses of the peoples and worlds from which they arose or were adapted by.

 

My previous post was simply an attempt to express my reservations about the popular attitude that the darker the story, the better, more authentic, and meaningful it must be, and not-so-dark interpretations and original works should therefore be regarded as juvenile, false, and saccharine. (Again, please note, this was a general comment, I wasn't replying specifically to anything anyone else had posted.). Certainly there are many sweet and wholesome stories that do fit that unflattering description and I’m not trying to convince anyone to appreciate them. And I don’t deny that some darker stories can be more honest, wise, and encouraging – in their own unsentimental way – than any number of happily-ever-after, power ballad-like tales. Besides, how enjoyable or affecting any story may be is largely subjective and situational, depending on the age, interests, background, etc. of individual readers/listeners/viewers. My issue is the assumption that the gradual trend of “lighter” retellings of older, darker stories should automatically be considered a bad thing. As I said, I think changes in stories reflect changes in our moral development. In many older stories, sexual assault is considered acceptable, expected even. That most newer versions of these stories reject such a notion shows our growth as a society, I believe, and I fail to see how this is something to lament.

 

I suspect one rationale for the bloodier-it-is-the-better-it-must-be attitude is the assumption that these works are more daring, more willing to deal with sordid realities. To some degree, this may be true. But I think it’s also true that dark stories can be just as pandering as the chirpy, cheerful ones can be. They just appeal to our darker selves & aspects. Though I'll admit there can be value in facing the darkness within and without.

 

To try to sum this up, my use of the phrase “kinder and gentler” wasn’t meant to be code for “politically correct” but rather an observation of our moral and intellectual evolution. (This can mean kid-friendly, but not only kid-friendly and not necessarily kid-friendly.)  As I see it, it’s actually the fruit of those life lessons which you mentioned can be found in fairy & folk tales. Our society is gradually becoming kinder, stronger, more resourceful and courageous, better able to “overcome the monsters life throws in (our) path”. Though sometimes, of course, we are the monsters and admittedly we still have far to go.

 

P.S. The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales includes not only L.Frank Baum’s original novel (which it terms a literary fairy tale and he calls a “wonder tale”) but the 1939 movie as well. Fairy tales come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and while I don’t have a problem if you or anyone else doesn’t consider the Oz works (or Andersen’s stories or any number of other examples) as proper fairy tales, I do, so I hope we can agree to disagree on this.

 

P.P.S. On the flipside, one modern – and somewhat “dark” – retelling of famous fairy tales is Sondheim’s Into the Woods. Playbill just had an article in which Sondheim acknowledged that Disney is, shall we say, “sanitizing” the movie version. And I’ll admit to being less than thrilled by that news (or Rob Marshall) but that’s more because my concern is the artistic integrity & quality of the project than in the question of what does omitting <there’d be a couple spoilers here but I don’t want to ruin anything for anyone else> from the screen version say about our cultural development.

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Thanks for sharing your ideas on this topic, Calamity, they're really thoughtful.

 

Just for the record: I love those "fake" fairy tales, the ones actually written by one person as opposed to the o r a l tradition folklore stories (I love them, too.)

Hans Christian Anderson of course, wrote many beautiful, wonderful, and moving stories in the fairy tale tradition. Someone else who wrote a few, and they're very good, although not as well-known, is Oscar Wilde.

 

As for "Into the Woods": I must admit, I've never seen it. It was staged at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival (which is fairly close to where I live) a few summers ago, but I had no interest in seeing it. As far as I can tell, it's a mish-mash of a number of well-known tales, sort of blended together, and rendered much darker, as I inferred from your post, than the original stories the play bases itself on.

 

Anyway, I think we may agree more than you think we do. 

I do not like "rev -ving up" the violence in traditional stories, as many of the more recent movies seem to want to do.

You noted:

 

"...My previous post was simply an attempt to express my reservations about the popular attitude that the darker the story, the better, more authentic, and meaningful it must be, and not-so-dark interpretations and original works should therefore be regarded as juvenile, false, and saccharine...."

 

 

But I, being a "purist" no more approve of making the stories "darker" than they originally were than I do of making them "sweeter". The tales contain both dark and light elements for a reason, and in the "real" stories I'm thinking of, the "light" aspect outweighs the "dark".

The "fairy "/folk tales I'm thinking of may have weirdness or nasty violence in them -some more than others - but they all end well, with the sympathetic and righteous characters being rewarded for their endurance, intelligence, kindness, and courage. The kind of fairy tales I'm thinking of may have some "darkness" in them, but they also offer hope ( as I said in my earlier post, and which, yes, you did acknowledge.) I have never read what I consider to be a "real" folk or fairy tale that wallows in "darkness".

As for rape, again, I've read a lot of traditional stories, many of them with female protagonists, and I don't recall one which had any kind of sexual assault in them.

This is not to say that there are no stories where one character lusts after another, and attempts to make the desired one their mate, but  - at least in the ones I've read - they do not get to carry out their vile plan.

 

I should add, the main thing I love about both traditional fairy stories and the ones that are written by the likes of Anderson and Wilde is, the magic in them. I love the strange and wondrous worlds these characters inhabit. They take me to another place (kind of the way movies do !)

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Hans Christian Anderson of course, wrote many beautiful, wonderful, and moving stories in the fairy tale tradition. Someone else who wrote a few, and they're very good, although not as well-known, is Oscar Wilde.

 

As for "Into the Woods": I must admit, I've never seen it.

 

 

In 10th grade English class, we had to write a biography book report. I selected one on Oscar Wilde because I saw it on the shelf & recognized his name. Most of my classmates griped about how boring their books were but…mine wasn’t. The only thing I’d known about Wilde before that was that he’d written “The Selfish Giant”. We would watch an animated version – Canadian, btw - of it every year at my elementary school and I dearly loved it. It was nominated for an Academy Award so I think it would be lovely if one February TCM would feature it along with some other nominated animated shorts & shorts films. If they have to do Oscar month. I do still have a copy that I’d recorded off the Disney Channel back in the 1980s.

 

Andersen’s writing is so beautiful in his tales but sometimes they can be too pessimistic for me. For example, I find I much prefer Christopher Morley’s “The Christmas Tree that Didn’t Get Trimmed” (which has its own bleak moments but ultimately leaves the reader with a sense of hope) to Andersen’s “The Fir Tree” (which makes me want to curl up in complete depression). Btw, I recorded one Screen Director’s Playhouse presentation on TCM last week & discovered it was written by Morley (just trying to keep this post at least tangentially TCM-related!).

 

If you get a chance to watch the American Playhouse presentation of Into the Woods, it's well worth it, I think.

 

 

As for rape, again, I've read a lot of traditional stories, many of them with female protagonists, and I don't recall one which had any kind of sexual assault in them.

 

(snip)

I should add, the main thing I love about both traditional fairy stories and the ones that are written by the likes of Anderson and Wilde is, the magic in them. I love the strange and wondrous worlds these characters inhabit. They take me to another place (kind of the way movies do !)

 

 

Among the traditional stories that include this theme are the variations on the “beast man” & “animal wife” legends and fables but there are others as well.

 

 

Totally agree with your last comment. On a somewhat related note, I'm glad to see that Essentials Jr. will be featuring The Curse of the Cat People and A Kid for Two Farthings.

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