Monday, January 15, 2007

Towards a Classification of Fairy Tale Film: Part 3

While none of the distinctive marks I have proposed in this essay can function alone to classify a film as part of the fairy tale genre, personal transformation is the only one I would argue must be present, since metamorphosis is “perhaps the key theme of the fairy tale up to the present” (xvi). All narratives require a change on the part of the lead character, but fairy tales are concerned with a more dramatic sort of change. In the sections of his article concerning “fear and departure” and “illness and death”, Bausinger states that, “transformation, not gradual change, is the way of the fairy tale” (78). Fairy tales involve stories that “not only open abysses” but also provide the means by which the abyss “may be bridged, crossed and overcome” (79).

This is very much the case in the film version of Angela Carter’s The Company of Wolves, where it is difficult to say if good has triumphed over evil or that the heroine is meritorious; within the feminist framework Carter has created it could be argued that Rosaleen’s actions are meritorious, but ambivalence remains. There is the presence of magic, to be sure, from the surreal dreamscape of the forest to the lycanthropic transformations, but both the magic and the extensive exploration of gender and sexuality revolve around the axis mundi of Rosaleen’s final transformation, from little girl to wild woman.

Bausinger states that fairy tales “depict ways of finding independence” (78), which refer us to the idea of rites of passage, bringing us full circle back to the first distinctive of gender and sexuality. Most rites of passage involve the liminal phase of adolescence, that ambiguous time-between-times when one is no longer a child, but not yet an adult. In Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”, the end of the story tells how Kai and Gerda, who began the tale as children, “sat, two grown-ups, and yet they were children—children at heart—and it was summer” (204).

There are two rites of passage in both the novel and film Carrie which bring about two different transformations. One is purely physical; Carrie’s first menstrual cycle, experienced with shame in the high school shower room. The other might be said to be emotional, or perhaps even spiritual, since it is at her high school prom, a North American rite of passage where Carrie discovers her telekinetic abilities. Koven notes how Alex Alexander “made the easy equation between prom and ball” and that there is “even a motif from the ‘Ugly Duckling’ folktale where the ugly duckling turns into a beautiful swan in Carrie’s movement from gawky adolescent to beautiful young woman at the prom, a motif also present in some of the Cinderella versions” (182).

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