Monthly Archives: July 2009

Puss in Boots: A Management Case Study

"You have but to give me a sack, and a pair of boots  such as gentlemen wear when they go shooting."  - Illustration by Warwick Goble to Puss in Boots

"You have but to give me a sack, and a pair of boots such as gentlemen wear when they go shooting." - Illustration by Warwick Goble to Puss in Boots

Let us briefly consider the career advancement strategies of Puss in Boots. In order to avoid a potential for being served as dinner for a dispossesed and impoverished master, he organizes a plot, apparently involving foot apparel.

He begins by using his natural feline abilities to catch prey to bribe the king with, which he declares as gifts from his master — a Marquis no less! Although Perault does not say so, his wearing of boots no doubt gave him the necessary credibility to gain an appointment with the royal CEO.

That bribery accomplished, he maneuvers his master (who is completely passive throughout the whole affair) into ‘losing’ his clothes to some imaginary robbers in a place likely for the king and his daughter to come by for a swim. With the king (and the cat’s) assistance, he is given new clothes and captures the fancy of the princess.

But now he must own land to justify his title. Fortunately for him (and for the sake of this being a fairy tale as well) we encounter a magical ogre with powers of transformation. Puss tricks him into turning into a mouse so that he may arrange a hostile takeover. He then manages labor relations with the ogres serfs (who seem not too bothered by their master’s passing) to obey the fake Marquis. Seeing such extensive assets, the king is so impressed by our hero’s master that he insists on a merger by marrying him to his daughter.

"Puss in Boots" Illustrated by Maxfield Parrish

"Puss in Boots" Illustrated by Maxfield Parrish

Now with a title, royal sympathy, fine clothes and land with convenient serfs and a royal wedding, our hero (the cat) is assured of a livelihood serving a great lord at court.

Why is this all so unsurprising?

Of all the stories by Perrault, this allegory is certainly his most autobiographical (not counting the murder of the magical ogre) since this is about status advancement via proper courtly manners. Being an official at the court of Louis XIV, he would have been intimately exposed to the Machiavellian intrigues of courtiers. His prescriptions for advancement initially seem an affront to our sensibilities for modern industrial productivity. Contrast this with the fake Marquis’ brothers who, with a sensible bourgois perspective, agree to share resources towards mutual gain. This latter atitude seems to lie closer to contemporary life strategies than the complicated plots Puss must device in order to advance his master’s and his own career.

But has life really changed so much since Perrault’s day? Career advancement and survival in any large organization requires an understanding of the manners surrounding such a millieu. When one looks at the predeliction among our upper management for owning the right house, the right car, the right school for one’s children, perhaps even the right footwear, all in an effort to conform to expectations of a corporate world, one can see as much management genius in Puss in Boots as in any modern management tome.

Image Credits: Warwick Goble, Maxfield Parrish

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Did The Princess and the Frog Really Kiss?

"A voice asked what was the matter - it was a frog" by  Anne Anderson

"A voice asked what was the matter - it was a frog" by Anne Anderson

The trailer for Walt Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog” (to be released in December amid mounting hoopla, including made up controversy over the fact that everyone in the film is black except for the Prince) makes a major story element out of a universaly enjoyed activity.

“Everyone thinks they know the story of the Princess and the Frog but no one knows what happened after the kiss, until now. This holiday season comes the story of the most magical kiss the world has ever known.”

"The king's daughter was overjoyed when she beheld her pretty plaything again, picked up, and ran away with it." Illustration for The Frog Prince by Warwick Goble

"The king's daughter was overjoyed when she beheld her pretty plaything again, picked up, and ran away with it." Illustration for The Frog Prince by Warwick Goble

Well maybe not quite since the original Grimm’s tale did not actually include any kissing, although it did include the frog being thrown against the wall by the Princess upon which he turned instantly into a Prince. This solved her dilemma between having to obey her father the king and being repeatedly grossed out by a gallant (and somewhat stalkerish) amphibian whom she had to allow to drink out of her cup, eat off her plate and be carried by her to her bedroom.

"She dined with the frog prince at her side" by Anne Anderson

"She dined with the frog prince at her side" by Anne Anderson

So what’s with the kissing and where did this originate? The story of a girl having to keep her promise to care for a frog appears in several versions other than the well known (non-kissing) Grimms’ tale.

“The Well of the World’s End” which appeared in Joseph Jacob’s “English Fairy Tales” (1890) features, rather than a kiss after the same manner of indignities suffered upon our mortified heroine, the frog asks the girl to chop its head off thus ending the enchantment transforming him into a prince.

"Enchanted Prince" by Maxfield Parrish

"Enchanted Prince" by Maxfield Parrish

Other variants, most notably the one from Italo Calvino’s “Italian Folk Tales” (1956), have a frog princess who must prove her abilities at various domestic duties thus proving her suitability for an amphibiophobic prince, therefore simultaneously ending the enchantment while reinforcing gender role stereotypes.

In a more modern variant from her poetry collection “Transformations,” Anne Sexton adheres closely to the Grimms’ version:

She woke up aghast.
I suffer for birds and fireflies
but not frogs, she said,
and threw him across the room.

Like a genie coming out of a samovar,
a handsome prince arose in the
corner of her bedroom.

No kissing involved there either. And in another famous story where kissing was alleged to take place, in the Grimms’ “Snow White” the Prince also does not kiss the Princess but rather the apple bit fell out of her mouth when the carriage carrying her glass coffin was jostled. The only one of their famous fairy tales where a kiss becomes a plot element is in Sleeping Beauty wherein I might add, that the kiss did not in fact break the spell because the prince just happened to come by on the day the hundred years’ spell was up.

"The Frog Bride"  by Kay Nielsen, from Grimm's Fairy Tales

"The Frog Bride" by Kay Nielsen, from Grimm's Fairy Tales

Kissing seems to have been a recent innovation, one often assumed by tradition rather than explicitly told in the collections. But that is the nature of folk tales, and since the idea of a prince and a princess kissing is satisfying to any audience, we may as well accept the fact that this oral (so to speak) tradition is here to stay.

Image credits:  Anne Anderson, Maxfield Parrish, Kay Nielsen, Warwick Goble


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Fairy Politics in Shakespeare: The Quarrel Between Oberon & Titania

The Meeting of Oberon and Titania, by Arthur Rackham (1905)

The Meeting of Oberon and Titania, by Arthur Rackham (1905)

In Act II Scene 1 of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare walks us right into the middle of an argument:

Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania.

What, jealous Oberon! Fairies, skip hence:
I have forsworn his bed and company.

Tarry, rash wanton: am not I thy lord?

This is more than a marital spat, and more than simply a royal argument since these are gods (albeit diminutive.) Arguments between gods often have cosmic consequences that affect all mortals (like you and me) so it is important that we analyze Faerie politics in this (moon)light.

Puck and a Fairy (from A Midsummer Night's Dream) by Arthur Rackham

Puck and a Fairy (from A Midsummer Night's Dream) by Arthur Rackham

The consequences don’t seem to bother the other fairies very much as earlier in the scene we are treated to banter between Puck and one of Titania’s followers:

Those that Hobgoblin call you and sweet Puck,
You do their work, and they shall have good luck:
Are not you he?

Thou speak’st aright;
I am that merry wanderer of the night.

The argument is ostensibly about a changeling from India in Titania’s train who was the son of one of her priestesses. Oberon desires this child as well, though we who are not brought up in English folktale traditions do not understand exactly why. But apparently followers,  especially imported ones, are the currency of power, and as a result are a matter of highest importance to the powers of Faerie (and as well, come to think of it, our own mortal politics.) We are later revealed a more complex exchange between the two monarchs of Faerie:

But that, forsooth, the bouncing Amazon,
Your buskin’d mistress and your warrior love,
To Theseus must be wedded, and you come
To give their bed joy and prosperity.

How canst thou thus for shame, Titania,
Glance at my credit with Hippolyta,
Knowing I know thy love to Theseus?

Ah! So we are really talking about earthly politics as well. The pending marriage between Theseus and Hippolyta, both earthly powers (albeit mythical) has revealed hidden tensions among the immortals.

There could be much more to be said about the psychology and political motives of the fairies, but I believe it is not entirely possible to analyze these effectively since they are more than likely to resort to magic:

Yet mark’d I where the bolt of Cupid fell:
It fell upon a little western flower,
Before milk-white, now purple with love’s wound,
And maidens call it love-in-idleness.
Fetch me that flower; the herb I shew’d thee once:
The juice of it on sleeping eye-lids laid
Will make or man or woman madly dote
Upon the next live creature that it sees.
Fetch me this herb; and be thou here again
Ere the leviathan can swim a league.

I’ll put a girdle round about the earth
In forty minutes.

This interesting exchange is difficult to understand for those who have forgotten the practice of magic. (Interestingly, it also reveals that there were reasonably accurate clocks in mythical Athenian times, at least among the fairies of  Shakespeare.)

Wake When some vile thing is near, by Warwick Goble

Wake When some vile thing is near, by Warwick Goble

Since this writer has not practiced magic for some years now, he feels it best to avoid further commentary at this point or risk being enmeshed in arguments between unearthly powers.

Image credits: 

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Severed Limbs and Vivisection: Those Gruesome Grimms

Little Red Riding Hood by Adrienne Ségur

Little Red Riding Hood by Adrienne Segur

Since most of us first encounter classic fairy tales as children, we are often fed a more palatable (as in one can still have dinner after reading) version of these tales. Folk-tales in general, and fairy stories are just a branch of these, were originally stories told by adults to each other, and as a result, the entertainment value often depended on a fair bit of gruesomeness to make the horror often associated with magic and moral lessons more interesting. The Grimm Brothers had originally meant their stories to be read by adults, but by the time of its original publication in 1812, “Children’s and Household Tales” had already undergone a transformation to make the stories more acceptable for a childhood audience. Notwithstanding that however, the stories retained much of their original gruesome folk story details.

Cinderella by Maxfield Parrish

Cinderella by Maxfield Parrish

Most of us best recall the versions from Charles Perrault, and it is these versions that contain all the elements we are familiar with on film and in children’s books, making him (justifiably) the inventor of the modern fairy tale. His version of Cinderella, in particular, included elements he devised on his own such as the fairy godmother and her effects like the glass slipper and the pumpkin turning into a carriage. Of course the essential plot element of the prince searching for his mysterious dancing partner by looking for a girl whose foot would fit the slipper remains, and the irony of his finding a princess who had been abused by her step-family members is no less meaningful in his version where the stepsisters’ feet merely fail to fit the slipper.

The Grimms’ version is closer to its sources, thus certainly more adult, and in the process a more profound statement of human nature as the stepmother chops off one daughters big toe, and a portion of the heel of the other in order to make it possible for the shoe to fit; and in either case the prince is fooled momentarily until it is revealed to him that blood is flowing from the shoe.

Parallel versions of Red Riding Hood also share most elements between Perrault and Grimm. Perrault’s is still relatively violent by today’s standards; both the grandmother and the protagonist are eaten by the wolf, but does not delve into details and merely mentions these facts, almost in passing, which suited his purpose since he intended this story, like all his others, to contain a moral lesson.

Red Riding Hood by Warwick Goble

Red Riding Hood by Warwick Goble

The Grimms get a bit more explicit in their version “Little Red Cap” when it comes to the resolution once the additional character of the huntsman shows up and sees the sleeping wolf.

He took aim with his gun, and then it occurred to him that the wolf could have eaten the grandmother and that she could still be saved. So he did not shoot but took some scissors and started cutting open the sleeping wolf’s belly. After he made a couple of cuts, he saw the little red cap shining forth, and after he made a few more cuts, the girl jumped out and exclaimed. “Oh, how frightened I was! It was so dark in the wolf’s belly.”(1)

The grandmother is (of course) also saved as a result and the wolf’s belly filled with stones, and unable to get up, he eventually expires.

Despite the gruesome imagery, the Grimms’ versions of these stories seem more satisfying because while the moral focus of is still accomplished (if we don’t bemoan the torture of the stepsisters and the wolf) but with of a sense of justice; that evil is not only unrewarded, but eventually punished and the evil doer suffers. This is a truer sense of what both children and adults want in a story. The expurgation of morbid unpleasantness in order to avoid offence is always less satisfying than an attention to the reason for it in the first place.

Cinderella by Ann Anderson

Cinderella by Ann Anderson

Image Credits:
Adrienne Ségur
Maxfield Parrish
Warwick Goble
Ann Anderson
(1)  Zipes, Jack . Brothers Grimm The Complete Fairy Tales.  London: Vintage Books, 2007

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