Monday, February 11, 2008

HEA? No Way, José!

I have been spending a lot of time lately on blogs and forums for romance novels, and I find it often mentioned, as we all no doubt have already noticed, that they frequently take their themes from fairy tales--Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast being probably the most frequent inspirations. But it is my theory that there are three stories which, as given, CANNOT POSSIBLY have a Happy Ever After ending. I intend to discuss them, and you can, too. In order to keep people reading, I'm going to do it as a series.

1. Rumpelstiltskin

We all know the story, but here's a refresher, with helpful notes:
Whether the instigator of the spinning challenge is a boastful miller, a boastful miller's daughter, or an embarrassed miller lying about his lazy daughter's domestic skills, the rest of the setup is the same: the king puts her in ever-larger rooms full of straw, telling her to spin gold or die; the little man helps her, demanding her first-born as payment; she marries the king, the little man demands the baby, the name-guessing game, and the end of Rumpelstiltskin. A regular fairy tale, right?

No. Consider that from the very beginning, the king threatens her with death, not because she's done something wrong but if she can't do something that no one else can do, either. And he marries her only because of the gold, not for love or her virtue or her beauty or any similar traditional fairy-tale motive.

This is NOT the recipe for Happy-Ever-After. She must be scared spitless of him. Even after marriage, she must dread the moment when he says, "Darling, we're running short of gold again...." Even in the version where she's lazy, she'd have to be dead stupid not to see that it's NOT good to be the Queen when the King is a homicidal miser.

I have seen a few versions in which there is a believable happy ending. Vivian Vande Velde has a whole volume of Rumpelstiltskin stories with various takes on the tale. The happy endings I've seen all, without exception, involve changing the premises of the story in some way. The most common is to have the Rumpelstiltskin figure turn out to be an elven prince in disguise, or a magician of some sort, and the girl dumps the King and goes off with him instead. In a few, she just runs off before she can be forced to marry the King. Sometimes it turns out he was under an evil spell and didn't want to kill her at all. And in one of Vande Velde's, the test was made up by the king to scare off females pursuing him and never intended to be used at all.

The only bridegroom I can think of that's worse than this is Scheherazade's, who is already a serial killer by the time she marries him.

I have a definite bias towards stories with a moral, where virtue is rewarded and evil soundly punished--or at least reformed. There is no moral here at all--the girl does nothing to deserve to become Queen, and the King is not reformed or in any way made to feel that his death threats were wrong. In many fairy tales there is a fairy or animal helper, who rewards the protagonist for his or her kindness in rescuing or in some other way helping it--the bird caught in a snare, the ants whose anthill is about to be flooded, and so on. Sometimes they simply appear because of her goodness, or because of some supernatural protector, like the animals in the various versions of Cinderella. The moral here is that goodness is rewarded by goodness. Rumpelstiltskin is not a kindly helper but has his own agenda: getting hold of the baby prince. And the Queen, once she knows she'll win the guessing game, toys with him by guessing wrong at first. Rumpelstiltskin/Tom Tit Tot is often interpreted as a demonic creature, not a real dwarf in the sense of an earth elemental type or a different species, like Snow White's dwarves. Nobody in this story comes off well, and the baby will probably grow up to be Jack the Ripper, like Prince Albert Victor.

So, have you seen, or can you imagine, any played-straight version of Rumpelstiltskin that has a believable happy ending?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Cats Respond to the Rules

1. Gourmet cat food is not an entitlement.

Oh, yeah? Talk to the paw.

2. It's MY bed. You are not entitled to more than half of it, no matter how much you can stretch out.

All comfy flat surfaces are the property of cats. This is a law of nature and of nations. Move your feet.

3. Synchronized washing of one another's faces is cute. Synchronized hacking up of hairballs is not.

How about synchronized jumping from the top of the bureau onto the human’s bad knee? How about THAT, huh? What have you got to say to that, two-legs?

4. Wait till the human's back is turned before you lick your sister's butt.

Why? It’s a spectator sport. And we don’t understand why you won’t participate.

5. My food is not for cats. My drink is not for cats. My meds are not for cats.

Anything we can get our greedy little paws on is by definition “for cats.” Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to get hold of it, right? Law of nature again, pal.

6. Don't make nice when the cat from next door comes to the back window. He's a homosexual rapist.

He doesn’t live there any more. We now spend our time staring out the window at StalkerCat.

7. Stop being nicer to Bruce than you are to me, just because he's the one who delivers the bags of cat food.

Hey, we like guys! We like James, too. And what have YOU done for us lately?

8. Plaintive Siamese meows are just plain distracting. Please print your messages, on one side of the paper only, if you have something you must say.

Again, talk to the paw. Or read the memos we leave on the computer when you’re out of the room.

9. Stop staring at me when I'm on the john. I don't come and stare at you when you're in the litter box.

Yeah, but you’re funny-looking. And now that Aliera has learned how to lock herself in the bathroom, it’s the only entertainment going on in there.


If you don’t want the stuff any more, why SHOULDN’T we help ourselves to it? Mean old human-in-the-manger!

11. When I am trying to take a nap, or deeply asleep, it is not the time for cat rugby, feet-eating, or “I’m going to yowl at you till you toss the toy for me.”

We took a vote on this. You lost, two to one.

12. Honestly, it really IS possible to play with a toy without ripping all the feathers off it and chewing them to bits.

Sure—but this way we get more new toys.

13. I appreciate the sentiment, really I do; but it is unnecessary to deposit any more Styrofoam pellets on my bed. If I wanted to sleep among Styrofoam pellets, I’d be living in a cardboard box.

Humans have no concept of the appropriate interior décor for a household run by cats. We are doing our best to educate you.

14. You might try exerting yourself occasionally to CATCH the bug, instead of just staring at it in a bemused manner.

Only if you can guarantee that it tastes like a Sheba duck dinner.

15. If you keep making phone calls by stepping on the speakerphone button, you’re going to have to pay for them yourselves.

Hah! Little do you know that we have your AT&T credit card…and we know how to use it.

16. When you yowl for people food like chicken or cheese, and I give you some, you do NOT walk away and leave it crudding up the dish.

We’re female and have the inalienable right to change our minds about anything and everything.

17. Don't go after the people food while the people are still eating it!

But once we take it away from you, you’re not eating it anymore. So what’s the problem?

18. The yard guy and the pool guy are not your long-lost relatives and do not need to be greeted as such. They are outdoor people; you are indoor cats.

We are going to make it out there one of these days, and we’ll need allies against the other neighborhood cats. And, as we’ve said before, we like men.

19. If you’re going to make yourself comfortable on the desk in front of the monitor, LIE DOWN! I need to be able to see what I’m writing.

Shut up and pet us.

20. To quote an old cartoon, never, never, never think outside the box.

No answer—just cats rolling around on the floor laughing their asses off.