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InkGypsy
Registered User
(7/2/07 6:44 pm)


Fairy Godmothers: Research, Retellings & Recent Developm
Hello All!
Now that I'm semi-adjusted to being a new mum I'm back to visiting the boards and slowly getting into writing and researching again (yay).

The project I'm currently involved with has me looking into Fairy Godmothers again. The archived boards have been very helpful re a little of the history (eg. 3 Fates and the Salon women's extension of the concept) but I'm wondering if there's more I'm not finding. I keep ending up in Western tales unless I expand my horizons to include wise women and the dual-natured Baba Yaga. Are there other equivalents that you guys know of that I should look into?

(I've looked into the following so far and found definite parallels but not necessarily any concrete connections: spirit of the dead/absent mother, magical helpers - animal/ nature/ trees/ inanimate objects, spirit guides/ guardian spirits, 'white' witches/ 'white lady', godfather death, blue fairy/ fairy with blue hair [Pinocchio], magical nanny..)

I am finding more frequent references in the Fairy books (Lang) - interestingly with as many 'Carabosse' type characters as good - but would love a faster way to search these texts if anyone knows a way.

My research has led me to think that the 'Fairy Godmother' is more of a convention in 'fairy tale fantasy' (sub-genre of fantasy) rather than a common literary fairy tale convention. And the character of FG - at least these days - tends to be less assigned to a specific child to watch over but instead is more likely to help those in need she comes across (often women/girls). Am I missing something here?

As far as books/movies that deal with Fairy Godmothers (minor and major roles) I have the following list:

Fiction:
The Godmother by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough (+ sequels)
The Fairy Godmother: (Tale of Five Hundred Kingdoms + sequels) by Mercedes Lackey
The Worlds Worst Fairy Godmother by Bruce Coville and Katherine Coville
My Scary Fairy Godmother by Rose Impey
The Fairy Godmothers and Other Tales by Mrs Alfred Gatty
Diary of a Fairy Godmother by Esm Raji Codell
The Downtown Fairy Godmother by Charlotte Pomerantz and Susanna Natti
Godmother Night by Rachel Pollack
Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers

Movies:
The Slipper and the Rose
Pinocchio (Disney's)
Roberto Benigni's Pinocchio
Cinderella (Disney's)
Sleeping Beauty (Disney's)
Happily NEver After
Memoirs of a Fairy Godmother (TV series on DVD - anybody seen this?)
Nanny McPhee
Mary Poppins

Non-fiction Books:
This is a toughie - there's not a whole lot in any I have!

Any others I should be looking at?
Does anybody know anything about Befind (fairy who appears at births)?
Has anyone studied the Fairy Godmother than you know of?

Also, I'm sure this is old news but I couldn't find what happened to the book of FG letters Jane and Midori were working on. Did it get published?

Lots of questions but if anyone has the answers it'll be someone here!

Heidi Anne Heiner
ezOP
(7/2/07 7:28 pm)


Re: Fairy Godmothers: Research, Retellings & Recent Deve
The FG letters by Midori and Jane turned into a story, Except the Queen, that appears in Fair Folk edited by Marvin Kaye.

I haven't seen much scholarship on fairy godmothers, either.

Are you also interested in picture books? Such as The Youngest Fairy Godmother Ever by Stephen Krensky and Diana Cain Bluthenthal. She also appears in Beware of the Storybook Wolves by Lauren Child. There's plenty more but I would actually have to think to write them down.

Also, the fairy godmother appears in Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine as well as in Shanna Swendson's latest, Damsel Under Stress (the FG keeps trying to put the heroine in dangerous situations to win her love although she already "has" him).

Heidi

MaryCatelli
Registered User
(7/2/07 8:42 pm)


Re: Fairy Godmothers: Research, Retellings & Recent Deve
It's not surprising that you should end up with Western tales. There are equivalent figures in other folklores, but the fairy is a Western European figure.

If you're looking for the general case, you might investigate "donors" as Propp termed them. The fairy godmother (as in Cinderella) is a variant of them.

InkGypsy
Registered User
(7/2/07 8:42 pm)


Re: Fairy Godmothers: Research, Retellings & Recent Deve
Thanks Heidi (I don't know how you find time to reply to the boards with all the work you're doing on the site right now! - which is wonderful BTW. Can't wait to see how it looks when it's all done. Thanks again for your amazing work...)

I find it interesting that FGs are commonly 'referred to' now but how they came to be considered a fairy tale staple (in popular thinking) is somewhat vague. Why is the concept of a FG so popular?

I have my own theories of course - some of it is to do with the idea of a guardian angel-type in our corner when we feel alone, some of it is to do with the 'makeover' obsession our society seems to have (my life would be better if I looked different/ was rich/ met the right person/ etc) but I also think some of it is that an FG isn't quite a Deus Ex Machina. It's help - albeit magical help. A girl (because it's usually a girl) still has to use her wits and spunk to achieve her goal. Now that's appealing - even to a politically correct feminist!

I'm interested in any portrayals of the character - what are the common factors represented, how do we define fairy godmother today, why is she so popular and what concepts and/or characters has she been formed from? Almost all the points in my original post on this thread are my own theories and connections but I'd like something a little more solid to base my conclusions on, if there is anything.

Are there 'types' of fairy godmothers? (kind and helpful, devil's advocate, prompter/challenger, working for the 'greater good' of which you are a small player, 'anti'FG, forgetful/vague [films use this one a lot], surrogate parent, etc) I'm making this list up off the top of my head but in doing so it makes me realize why the character lends itself so easily to fantasy fiction (think hero's journey and threshold guardians, tricksters, mentors/sages, caregivers and magicians).

Any thoughts anyone has on the subject or avenues of research to suggest would be very welcome!

InkGypsy
Registered User
(7/2/07 9:06 pm)


Re: Fairy Godmothers: Research, Retellings & Recent Deve
Thanks also Mary (I was busy replying as you posted). I'll definitely look into Propp's categorizations too.

Is there a good book/resource I can buy to have on hand re Propp's element breakdowns as I write/research in the future? Wikipedia is great but I'd like to have a text to refer to as well. Is Morphology of a Folktale something one can read without a Masters degree!? (while I'm keen to learn and happy to put in effort I find some of those texts a little intimidating and I can get lost following the connections) If not, has anyone tackled his analysis in 'laymans' terms that anyone knows of?

And any thoughts anyone has on my multitude of questions re Fairy Godmothers in the above posts would be most welcome!

Many thanks!

MaryCatelli
Registered User
(7/2/07 9:37 pm)


Re: Fairy Godmothers: Research, Retellings & Recent Deve
I read _Morphology_ when I was still in high school. I was a little weird in my reading, but it's not that diffucult.

Rosemary Lake
Registered User
(7/3/07 12:06 am)


misc
Under godmother novels, do add WITCHES ABROAD. This is a marvelous three dimensional multi-aspected weaving of motifs!!!!

For anti-godmothers, of course the Name of the Helper tale type (Rumplestiltskin). And perhaps the witch of Rapunzel?

Male similar mentors/helpers: Puss in Boots, the Fox in the "Fenist the Bright Falcon" type of story.


I found MORPHOLOGY OF THE FAIRY TALE fascinating and not difficult, except for it being rather inconsistent. But brilliant and very useful.

Heidi Anne Heiner
ezOP
(7/3/07 9:15 am)


Re: misc
(It's actually easier to reply on the days when I am living at my computer, forgetting to eat anything but the chocolate next to my desk. I need to take it downstairs, far, far away from me next time I get up!)

Just a bit of trivia: The Fairy Godmother shirts have been SurLaLune bestsellers on CafePress. Bestseller is relative, but it means that about 20 people on the earth are wearing the design on a shirt since I first created it in April 2006. The Cinderella Around the World and Talks to Wolves are the other most popular designs.

Oh, and I've always been amused by Da Vinci taking on the fairy godmother role in Ever After.

I will brainstorm more fairy godmother stuff while working today.

Heidi

Wonderlicious
Registered User
(7/3/07 5:29 pm)


Re: Fairy Godmothers: Research, Retellings & Recent Deve
"And the character of FG - at least these days - tends to be less assigned to a specific child to watch over but instead is more likely to help those in need she comes across (often women/girls). Am I missing something here?"

An idea in your research could be to reference the film "Shrek 2", which sends up this idea. You've probably seen it, but in case you haven't seen it (or at least in a long time), the Fairy Godmother is introduced as a kindly figure devoted to one person, yet is soon shown to be a ruthless capitalist, owning a large factory manufacturing potions and dreams and handing out cards for her business. She also is the mother of a stereotypical Prince Charming, and tries to use her magic business to get what he wants (in this case, him marrying Fiona), even if it means wrecking other people's dreams (in this case Shrek's).

aka Greensleeves
Registered User
(7/3/07 5:57 pm)


Re: Fairy Godmothers: Research, Retellings & Recent Deve
You might also look at Michael Gruber's The Witch's Boy, which presents the fairy godmother as another face of the witch character (and explores what happens when the fairy godmother must assume full-time responsibility for raising a child).

Veronica Schanoes
Registered User
(7/3/07 7:42 pm)


Re: Fairy Godmothers: Research, Retellings & Recent Deve
Congrats on the baby, InkGypsy! Hope that you and she/he are doing well!

I second the adoration of Witches Abroad. For nonfiction, I'm almost embarrassed to recommend From the Beast to the Blonde to an old hand such as yourself, but I believe that it is in there that Warner talks about the prevalence of the figure in the Contes des Fees and advances the thesis that they represent the writer of the tale herself.

InkGypsy
Registered User
(7/4/07 1:40 am)


Thanks and more on Béfind
Thank you so much everyone. As always your comments inspire new avenues of thought and give me more reasons to expand my library (!)

Baby Jack and I are doing well, thank you Veronica, and you were correct about Beast to the Blonde! Having read it fairly recently (I thought - actually I realize now it was nearly three years ago) I thought a cursory glance through would jog my memory... I plead that 'the baby ate my brain'! Silly me. Every time I open it I find myself paying attention to different things - there's so much in there. So thank you for making me go back again. I'll need to do some thinking about the concept in particular of linking the storyteller and the fairy godmother...

For those interested I thought I'd note a little more I found on Béfind (which is not the same as Befana by the way):

Béfind is a fairy from Celtic lore. Essentially she is an Irish fairy godmother. She appears three times in a persons life - at birth, marriage and death - apparently with two other fairies (though I haven't found any much more information on them). Birth is Béfind's specialty and attends for the reasons of telling the child's fortune/future and bestowing gifts. It's thought that belief in these three fairies descended from ancient goddess worship of the Three Fates (or Three Norns) - something which lines up with the European idea behind adding the 12 (13) fairies to Sleeping Beauty and the popular thought that they also were descended from the Three Fates.

The story 'Fairer-Than-A-Fairy' from the Yellow Fairy Book also mentions three fairies in green and white that attended the princess' birth. It doesn't seem to have been noted which country this story came from unfortunately.

A tarot deck I found also referenced Béfind as holding a spindle while the other two hold a measuring stick (for marriage - about which I'm not sure I can accurately speculate!) and shears (presumably to cut the life thread). It also suggested laying out a feast of honey, bread and three white almonds to ensure blessings instead of curses!

Other reading vaguely referred to the fact that belief in fairy godmothers attending births was widespread in many cultures until recently. Does anyone know which cultures? Or know of any customs that were linked to the fairy godmother giving a (hopefully) blessing?

Thanks again everyone - for such a popular figure it certainly seems difficult to find much information on her. It almost seems as if folklore has been growing before our very eyes in this age of readily available books and movies - and yet, somehow, as modern as this character has become she remains rooted in our collective past. Fascinating!

MaryCatelli
Registered User
(7/4/07 9:49 am)


Re: Thanks and more on Béfind
The spindle, measuring stick and scissors come right out of the Fates -- which is the root for the word "fairy".

Italian fairy tales seem to have the fairies closer to their form as fates. The Pig King for one. Catherine and her Fate even more so. (It's in The Pink Fairy Book as "Catherine and Her Destiny")

And if you keep reading Lang's, you will find, in The Crimson Fairy Book, "The Horse Gullfaxi and the Sword Gunnfoder" Which has a woman with supernatural powers giving the hero magic and advice. She's not his godmother however; she is, of all things, his stepmother. But she's a donor character.

Mnemosynehime
Registered User
(7/4/07 12:38 pm)


Re: Nonfiction on Fairy Godmother
It's been a long time since posting, writing has kept me uber-busy. For a good nonfiction book, I highly recommend you pick up Pregnant Fictions by Holly Tucker. I'm in the middle of this one right now for my own research and I love it to pieces. There is a whole chapter on midwives and fairies, which is what the fairy godmother equates to. You might also want to look at From Beast to the Blonde.

Anyway, just had to delurk for a moment as this subject happened to be the very chapter I finished reading last night and I wanted to recommend Tucker's excellent gem to the board. So far my only gripe is the chapters are shorter and quicker than I'd like but they are a good sounding board and introduction to get the mind going and the fingers reaching for further corners to research.

InkGypsy
Registered User
(7/4/07 5:50 pm)


Re: Nonfiction on Fairy Godmother
The more I research and follow these trails of information the more surprised I am that no one has tackled the 'Fairy Godmother' as a subject of scholarly study unto itself/herself (and published a book or paper). Thesis anyone?

I need to look into the Italian tales and folklore a little more it seems (thanks again Mary). I guess looking at birth rituals and celebrations the world over would be a good place to look as well (thank you Mnemosynehime for your timely de-lurk! Gotta get me a copy of that book - it sounds fascinating). When you think of the fairy godmother being a 'midwife' and storytellers narrating, or one could say, 'birthing' stories the connection Maria Tatar suggests (as per From the Beast to the Blonde) seems to carry quite a bit of weight. Quite a bit to think about - and I'll have to re-read those fairy tales with that in mind now too.

I've also been reading up on The Norns and found a very fairy tale-like description of their appearance in the Poetic Edda (the written version of ancient Icelandic literature). This is from stanzas 2 and 3 in the Helgakvitha Hundingsbana I (The First Lay of Helgi Hundingsbane):

'Twas night in the dwelling,
and Norns there came,
Who shaped the life
of the lofty one;
They bade him most famed
of fighters all
And best of princes
ever to be.

Mightily wove they
the web of fate,
While Bralund's towns
were trembling all;
And there the golden
threads they wove,
And in the moon's hall
fast they made them.

Fabulous stuff and suggestive of many other story possibilities!

Wikipedia, it turns out, has a great summary and some fabulous images too (I didn't realize Arthur Rackham had painted The Norns!). You can find the Norn article here.

Rosemary Lake
Registered User
(7/4/07 8:40 pm)


more Italian fees
[[ Italian fairy tales seem to have the fairies closer to their form as fates. ]]

I liked the 'three fees' in Calvino's version of "The King who Would Have a Beautiful Wife" (I don't remember Calvino's title). They are three cheerful old ladies out for a walk who see the false queen dangling outside the king's bedroom, laugh at her, then give her three blessings for giving them such amusement. In context iirc they could be either fairies or witches or something in between. (I see them rather like Disney's 'fairy godmothers': small, plump, brisk, cheerful, competent, non-threatening, non-numinous.)

MaryCatelli
Registered User
(7/5/07 9:49 pm)


Re: more Italian fees
Straparola had similar fees in a tale -- Seven Pieces of Bacon -- not, alas, in the translation that we've got on Sur La Lune.

It's a variant on The Three Spinners, which is, come to think of it, a kind of variant of the fairy godmother. Unlike Rumpelstiltskin, the women make reasonable requests, and get them.

Heidi Anne Heiner
ezOP
(7/5/07 10:44 pm)


Re: more Italian fees
Seven Pieces of Bacon Rind is hidden on SurLaLune under East of the Sun to which it also has similarities. I got it from the Burton translation which I will maybe someday etext after everything else is accomplished...

I've always liked Three Spinners. It's an interesting twist on the tales.

Heidi

MaryCatelli
Registered User
(7/7/07 6:42 pm)


Re: Nonfiction on Fairy Godmother
Besides the derived from fates aspect -- another thing to consider is the godmother aspect of the fairy godmother. The French fairy tales take place in a culture where -- well, Perrault's "moral" for Cinderella is that is all goes to show it doesn't matter what your virtues are, it matters whether you have connections.

Real godmothers would not have used the same techniques, but their role could be quite as crucial.

MaryCatelli
Registered User
(7/7/07 10:02 pm)


Re: Nonfiction on Fairy Godmother
In a couple of Madame D'Aulnoy's tales, The Hind in the Wood and The Blue Bird, the fairy godmothers act as villains precisely because other characters, rather than the heroine, have them as godmothers.

And in Henriette-Julie de Murat's "Bearskin", the heroine has a hard time getting help from her fairy godmother, who was offended that the king and queen arranged her marriage without consulting her (even though they made it under complusion). That would be entirely appropriate in the historical milieu for an ordinary godmother.

MEDATS
Registered User
(7/9/07 7:26 am)


fiction on Fairy Godmother
hello, my login seems to have changed from agathajun to another one of my hats, so I'll post from here.
Thanks for such stimulating forum reading, all. Inkgypsy, your post-baby brain is fairly impressive!
My two cents is: what about M. M. Kaye's The Ordinary Princess, for FG-with-twist; the male FG/donor figure is also interesting (cf. Da Vinci in Ever After). This may be expanding boundaries too far but um, *cough*, Obi Wan Kenobi comes to mind. He even has a magic wand of sorts....

Is there not a sort of theological contradiction in a fairy (heathen/pagan/immortal/magic/godless) godmother (responsible for spiritual health of child in religious context; often conferred at baptism)? Is that tension part of the impossibility? Is it semantic convention for different sets of values, hiding older traditions behind linguistic changes? Is the role of the godmother (as we term it) complex enough to allow the appendage of 'fairy'? Off the cuff thoughts, with no further research!

cheers.

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