Friday, September 4, 2015

Around the World: Africa and Anansi, By Christina Ruth Johnson, Vintage Fairy Tale Sleuth

Our next Around the World destination will be . . . Africa! I realized that in all of the posts I have written, not one of them has touched on folklore from this continent. Its rich heritage must not be missed!

But the question becomes: where in Africa shall we travel? It covers 6% of the world’s surface and is the second most-populous continent. Currently, it is home to 54 countries with as many as 3,000 languages spoken. I cannot even find data on how many different cultural and ethnic groups there are. (Keep in mind that the country boundaries are not accurate markers for the boundaries of specific cultures/peoples and their specific folklore, because many of the states today were arbitrarily created by European powers beginning at the Berlin Conference of 1884. Many cultures and their stories were also interrupted, destroyed, and remade by the colonial slave trade.)

If you’re like me before I started this post, you may not be that familiar with African folktales. But many of us are at least familiar with one: Anansi—very likely due to Eric A. Kimmel’s wonderful picture books. Anansi is a sometimes-spider, sometimes-man character from many African and African-Diaspora traditions. I have decided to focus on him not just for this reason but because, according to these traditions, he is in fact the keeper of all stories.


The original Spider-Man, Anansi/Ananse (which translates to “spider”) comes from the Ashanti people of Ghana in West Africa. His popularity spread to other cultures along the west coast (what used to be known as the Gold Coast) as well as to the Caribbean, especially Jamaica, via the slave trade. The Ashanti people had no written language, so oral stories were of paramount importance. Because Anansi was the keeper of these stories, fables of all kinds became known as anansesem (“spider-tales”), whether or not Anansi took part in them.

"Anansi the Spider, Gerald McDermott

There is a fascinating object in the Metropolitan Museum of Art collection, a linguist staff, from the Akan people of West Africa (a people group that includes the Ashanti). The staff is wooden and covered in gold foil. The sculpted top portrays two human figures on either side of a large web with a spider in the center. Such staffs are held as symbols of the office of court linguist (okyeame). The Akan/Ashanti native language Twi is filled with proverbs and euphemisms, the deft use of which is a sign of wisdom. These wise officials have very high standing in Akan society, as their skills with proverbs, stories, and history allow them to act as adjudicators, counselors, and ambassadors. The very first court linguist, according to traditional history, was an aged woman who had need of a cane.

Akan linguist staff, Ghana
around 19th-20th century

“The finial [sculpted top] refers to the saying, 'No one goes to the house of the spider Ananse to teach him wisdom.' Ananse the spider, who brought wisdom and taught weaving to the Akan, is the originator of folk tales and proverbs and is thus linked to linguists. Here, Ananse is the ultimate repository of erudition, as is the linguist at an Akan court, neither of whom should be challenged in that domain” (Met).

So what are the Ashanti “spider-tales” like? The ones that involve Anansi usually showcase his cleverness and trickery (sometimes even his cruelty) as he succeeds in outwitting beings much stronger and more exalted than himself. One of my favorites, and the perfect one to summarize here, is the origin story of how Anansi came to be the keeper of stories in the first place.

In the beginning, the sky god Nyame kept all the stories in a box. Anansi sees that people and their children are bored, so he decides to retrieve the stories to entertain them.  He goes to Nyame and asks him for the box. Nyame replies that he can have the stories if Anansi brings to him three of the most dangerous creatures on earth: a python, a leopard, and a hornet. Many great people had tried to do so and failed. Anansi declares that he will succeed. So he uses his devious mind to set traps for each creature. As he successfully captures them, he taunts them for falling for his trickery. Once he delivers the creatures to Nyame, the sky god gives the promised stories to Anansi, declaring the spider their official keeper. (Arts on the Move)

As is usually the case with oral stories, every version I read online is slightly different. In one, Nyame demands four creatures—the ones listed above, as well as an invisible “fairy” (Myths and Legends). In this same one, Anansi’s wife Aso helps him come up with his ingenious traps.

Which is your favorite Anansi story? Are there other African tales you know and love? Join Enchanted Conversation and let us know!
 
Christina Ruth Johnson has her M.A. in Art History with a research focus on the ancient Mediterranean. She is currently working as a teacher and freelance writer. Her other great love is fantasy literature and folklore from ancient times to present day.


References:
“Anansi Brings Stories to the World.” Myths and Legends. E2Bn. Accessed 20 July 2015. http://myths.e2bn.org/mythsandlegends/textonly11717-anansi-brings-stories-to-the-world.html.
“How Anansi Became King of All Stories.” Arts on the Move. Accessed 20 July 2015. http://www.artsonthemove.co.uk/resources/stories_other.php?story=anansi. 
“Linguist Staff.” Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accessed 19 July 2015. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1986.475a-c#|this.
“The Ashantis.” GhanaWeb. Accessed 20 July 2015. http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/tribes/ashanti.php.

For further reading:
Appiah, Peggy. Anansi the Spider: Tales from an Ashanti Village. Pantheon Books: 1966.
Rattray, R.S. Akan-Ashanti Folk-Tales. Smithsonian Institution Libraries: 1930.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Enchanted Art


I'm super busy these days, but thought I'd share some art I've recently found. I'm  not sure of all the artists, so please pardon the lack of info! I know it's basically not fairy tale art exactly, but it is enchanting!







Monday, July 20, 2015

Celtic Fairy

This "Celtic Fairy" image once graced the cover of Granta, a notable British publication. I bought the image from Frenchfroufrou, an Etsy shop. The different blues made this image grab my attention.


Monday, July 13, 2015

More Than Fairy Tale Princesses, By Brita Long, Fairy Tale Book Reviewer


If you spend enough time with me, then you’ll quickly realize how much I LOVE all things Disney and all things princessy. That said, as a feminist, I seek out books featuring princesses more along the lines of Anna from Frozen than Aurora from Sleeping Beauty. Today’s column features three completely different princesses, each in her own original fairy tale.

In Mette Ivie Harrison’s The Princess and the Hound, the protagonist and narrator is actually young
Prince George, betrothed out of duty to the icy Princess Beatrice. He is heir to a troubled kingdom,
where he is forced to keep his animal magic a secret. She is the princess of a rival kingdom, and she
cares for no one except her hound.

In Donna Jo Napoli’s Hush: An Irish Princess’ Tale, Melkorka is a princess kidnapped into slavery. After taking a vow of silence, she discovers this small act of defiance might help her survive captivity.

In Shannon Hale’s Princess Academy, Miri isn’t actually a princess… but she could become one. Along with other girls from her mountain village, Miri must attend a “Princess Academy” to gain both book knowledge and social graces, essential training before the prince chooses one of them for a bride. The Princess and the Hound is the first book I ever read by Harrison, and when I finished, I promptly ordered several more of her books. This book is a fairy tale unlike any other. Words cannot fully describe the extent of its enchantment. Below is just a short list of the highlights of this book:

Complex, well-developed characters, even among the supporting cast.

A cool form of magic that seems simple and limited at first, but is actually expansive and
wonderful even with its rules.

A big plot twist that I knew was coming, but did NOT predict.

Several small plot twists, some of which I predicted.

An unusual, but realistic love story.

Character growth! For multiple characters!

Beautiful language and imagery.

I appreciated Hush: An Irish Princess’ Tale, but for different reasons. In fact, before reading it, I noticed another reviewer describe it as powerful, but not enjoyable, which is an apt description. Fair warning: it is a fairly dark novel, including a rape scene.

Melkorka and her sister Brigid are both kidnapped by slave traders. Brigid eventually manages to
escape, but Melkorka remains captive, with only her mysterious silence granting her a modicum of
power.

Napoli’s writing is as beautiful and descriptive as ever. While the use of the present tense can feel jarring at first, it’s a solid literary device that kept me in the moment. This book is more historical fiction than magical fairy tale, but it’s too good not to mention.

Finally, I loved Hale’s Princess Academy, and I can’t wait to read the sequels! There just isn’t a great way to summarize Princess Academy without making it seem too fluffy or cliché. That said, Hale takes the “princess school” plot and turns it on its head. This book includes all the elements I look for in a Young Adult novel:

Innocent young love

Close family dynamics

Camaraderie between girls

A spirited protagonist who exhibits character growth—very coming-of-age.

Plot twists and turns!

What princess book or books are your favorites? Share your recommendations in the comments!

Brita Long is a francophile feminist living out her own fairy tale with her husband in Ohio. You can find her online at bellebrita.com, where she writes about her faith, books, and her life as a southern belle in the Midwest.

Brita Long



Friday, July 10, 2015

Brita Long Reviews Books: My Fairly Dangerous Godmother and Views From the Depths


Janette Rallison contacted me recently to ask if I’d be interested in reviewing her latest book, My Fairly Dangerous Godmother. This is the third in her My Fair Godmother series. When authors contact me, I basically feel like a rock star. Since I read Rallison’s My Fair Godmother several years ago, I relished the chance to read another of her books!

First of all, even if you haven’t read the first two books in the series, you can enjoy My Fairly Dangerous Godmother as a standalone novel. While I’ve read the first book, I haven’t read the second. I still fully enjoyed this latest edition, which I received in exchange for my review.

Some people bomb auditions. Sadie Ramirez throws up during her tryouts on TV show America's Top Talent. Her performance is so bad, it earns her a fairy godmother through the Magical Alliance's Pitiful Damsel Outreach Program.

Except Chrysanthemum Everstar is not a fairy godmother; she is a fair godmother. She is still in training, which leads to some hilariously disastrous results.

This is the basic premise of My Fairly Dangerous Godmother, but it barely scratches the surface of the novel. Sadie ends up in her own version of “The Little Mermaid,” with her favorite pop star unwittingly cast in the role of the human prince. Another wish gone awry transports them to “The 12 Dancing Princesses.”

Even with all the magical hijinks, the true beauty of this book is Sadie’s coming-of-age story. She
develops confidence in who she is and what she wants in life, while also realizing there are more singing end goals than becoming famous.



I also recently reread Views from the Depths, a collection of short stories by Jessica Grey. She retells four classic fairy tales:

"The Little Mermaid"

"Snow White and the 7 Dwarves"

"The 12 Dancing Princesses"

"Beauty and the Beast"

Grey retells each fairy tale from multiple points-of-view, with each fairy tale including at least one twist from standard adaptations. Each story is hauntingly beautiful, and not all of them end with a “Happily Ever After.”

My favorite of the four is Grey’s version of "Snow White." Few of the characters are anything like I’d expect, which makes it all the more magical.

What fairy tale books have you read recently? What should I read next? Remember, a fairy tale book
reviewer is a lot like a fairy. I don’t need applause to live, but I do need comments!

Brita Long is a francophile feminist living out her own fairy tale with her husband in Ohio. You can find her online at bellebrita.com, where she writes about her faith, books, and her life as a southern belle in the Midwest.

Brita Long

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A Serendipitous Photoshoot, A 'Grimm' Production, and A Castle in Oz, By Nora Stasio, Fairy Tale News Reporter

 
I like to think of myself as an avid explorer of the world-wide interwebs. During my recent travels, I came across three very different fairy-tale-themed recent event stories, and I'm pleased to share them each with you today.
 
This first story is related to fairy tales in sort of a roundabout way. What famous fairy tale film does the image above make you think of?
 
Benjamin Von Wong is an accomplished American photographer and "visual engineer." He traveled to Austria to do a photoshoot at the world's largest (and probably most beautiful) monastic library, the Stift Admont. The paintings and the architecture were breathtaking enough, but then he brought in a model wearing a perfectly glamorous gown by Polish designer, Agnieszka Ospia. She posed upon a ladder, holding a very old book, leaning in the light of the window.
 
Von Wong was merely hoping to create some beautiful images here, and he did, but he was surprised to find how much the final product was reminiscent of Disney's Beauty and the Beast. Follow this link to see the rest of the fabulous photos, as well as some behind the scene shots: http://www.vonwong.com/blog/stiftadmont 
 
My favorite part of this story is that Von Wong had asked his makeup artist to hide inside the model's dress for some shots, in order to give the gown a more full look. Tricks of the trade!
 
Remember awhile back when I told you about Jack Zipes new publication, The Original Folk and Fairytales of the Brothers Grimm? As it turns out, Philip Pullman, author of The Golden Compass and the His Dark Materials series, has adapted Zipes's translations into an immersive theatre experience at the Oxo Tower on London's South Bank. The show is titled Grimm Tales for Young and Old.
 
There's not a stage--the entire tower was transformed into a unique sort of a theater. There was a different scene from a different fairy tale being represented in each room, and you travel throughout the tower to visit them all, one by one. Even the hallways between the rooms were decorated to represent various themes.
 
As I wrote before, some of the tales from the source material contain rather adult content, but nevertheless, the company recommends this production to ages 8 and up. If you're a European reader, maybe you had the chance to visit this unique attraction. The rest of us hope you'll tell us all about it!
 
Have you ever wanted to buy your own castle? One recently sold in Australia for only a few million dollars!
 
Castumbul Castle, comfortably nestled within a valley in rural Australia, was first erected in 2000 and completed in 2008. Though recently constructed, it has a very medieval look, with gargoyles on the roof, stone archways, turrets, marble halls, gold candelabras, and diamond chandeliers. I personally like the suit of armor on the landing of the grand staircase. But don't worry, it has all the modern conveniences you could hope for in an opulent mansion of this size. There are seven bedrooms, an elevator, a billiard room, a home cinema, and all the doors will lock at the push of a button. What's also interesting is that the curtains were made using fabric purchased from Princess Diana's estate. To see more of the castle, click here.

If you like living simply, don't purchase Castumbul Castle. It's designed to provide a bit more than the bare necessities. But if you're an aspiring royal, you may have just found your new dream home!

That's all for today. Have you ever been to a castle, or an ancient monastery? Did it make you feel like you'd traveled back in time, like you were actually Cinderella? Have you seen Grimm Tales for Young and Old? Leave us a comment!

Bio: Nora writes, "I have been a lover of creative writing and fairy tales for basically my entire life! I graduated Cum Laude from Rutgers where I completed a minor in English, with a focus in Creative Writing and Shakespeare (I majored in Psychology)."

Nora's avatar
 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Paula Richey Art Giveaway Winner

Caroline Yu!! You are the winner! You have 72 hours to contact me at enchantedconversation@gmail.com.

The randomly chosen number was 654. Caroline was closest.

Thank you so much, Paula!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Art Giveaway Ends Tonight at 11:59 EST

There's still time to enter and is super easy! Just look for the Paiula Richey Art Giveaway.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Discovering the Feyland Series, By Brita Long, Fairy Tale Book Reviewer


It’s been a long time since I’ve been this excited about a newly-discovered writer. I recently read the
prequel novella The First Adventure by Anthea Sharp, part of the Faery Realms ebook bundle. I loved it so much that I immediately purchased her Feyland trilogy, including The Dark Realm, The Bright Court, and The Twilight Kingdom. (Editor's note: See all about the books on Anthea Sharp's site,including the free prequel, here.)

The Feyland universe is the perfect blend of science fiction and fantasy. Set in a futuristic Earth, a video game company is developing an immersive virtual reality video game: Feyland. This is no ordinary video game, though. Some game testers have discovered playing the game leads them into an actual faery realm.

Jennet Carter’s dad is the lead developer on Feyland, but she isn’t allowed to play it… So she sneaks into his home office to play when he’s not around. Unfortunately for Jennet, she doesn’t realize Feyland is real until it’s too late. When she loses the final battle, she loses more than just a video game.

I love these books so much, for so many reasons.

The Characters

The Feyland books have a wide cast of characters. Jennet is a reformed spoiled rich girl. Tam is one of the best video game players in the world, but his complicated home life keeps him from pursuing a
normal life. Tam’s best friend Marny is unapologetically herself—bold, fat, and unpopular. Roy is
wealthy, handsome, and hungry for power—but not beyond redemption.

The Setting

The magical faery realm includes the Dark Realm, the Bright Court, and the Twilight Kingdom. Readers familiar with faery tales know the Unseelie and the Seelie Courts, which Sharp masterfully recreates as the Dark Realm and the Bright Court.

The Ballads

In each book, the characters rely on old ballads to learn how to triumph in the final battle. I love how
Sharp weaves real ballads into her futuristic faery tales.

The Video Game

Feyland is an RPG—a role-playing game. Players must complete quests to advance to the next level.
Sharp describes both the game and the actual magical realms with exquisite detail. I love that
progressing through the actual magical realms parallels playing the video game.

The Technology

Smart houses and flying cars join the immersive virtual reality video games as futuristic technologies in these novels. I would love to one day live in Sharp’s vision of the world!

If you want to discover Feyland for yourself, check out that free prequel!

What faery tales have you read lately?

Brita Long is a francophile feminist living out her own fairy tale with her husband in Ohio. You can find her online at bellebrita.com, where she writes about her faith, books, and her life as a southern belle in the Midwest.

Brita Long

Friday, June 26, 2015

Don't Miss the Giveaway!

The fabulous Paula Richey Art Giveaway is winding toward the end. Just look under the banner for details or scroll to the post two below this one from June 1 for details. It's super easy to enter!

Here's a reminder of just one of the four gorgeous works of art the lucky winner will receive.