Ending the year going Into the Woods

I’ve never been one for the obvious. If it’s too easy, it’s boring. If everyone is doing it, something must be wrong. So there’s no reason I should like Into the Woods. It’s so blatantly a metaphor for a life lesson. You go through the woods naïve and afraid of the unknown only to emerge smarter and warier of the road ahead. Red Riding Hood learns about the dangers of straying from the path. Cinderella finds her voice. The baker realizes he’s not alone. Jack loses a friend but gains independence. Even writing these lines I want to yell “DUH” at the screen.

But I love it. I love the music. I adore the Witch. The message is clever even while being obvious. When I saw the production as a kid I thought it was so cool that someone decided to mash all these fairy tales together. Now as an adult I’ve gained new insight into the lyrics. It’s an honest to goodness family movie mostly because you can watch it all your life and get something new each time. This time I learned about reluctance.

We’re days away from the New Year and that means the dreaded list of resolutions. Last year I did away with the entire idea of it with the notion that making a list is just a way to make me feel bad by April (or March) because I’ve lost interest in them. My resolutions are usually related to moving more and exercise. Despite my best efforts, I am generally a sedentary creature preferring to read and write more than move and sweat.

I searched fairy tales for a good story on reluctance, but I have yet to find one. Reluctant heroes are not a problem in fairy tales. Princes chase down maidens who gratefully accept the assistance. Tailors seek adventures on the basis of having downed seven flies with one hit. Little girls with bold outerwear head to Grandma’s without a thought for the hungry wolf that lies in wait. Reluctance is not something fairy tale characters are acquainted with.

Except in Into the Woods. Only kids have no fear of the woods. Adults are very aware that the unknown could hold danger or at least disappointment. They’re all reluctant to enter, but they go because it’s the only way to get what they want. Hemming and hawing are allowed, but the woods are still waiting. Just like the New Year and my resolutions. So, I’ll make my resolutions yet again and work to get past May with them (at least).

No more hemming and hawing…the woods await.

Ducktales by the ghyll in UK

A touch of whimsy in the woods.

Happy 2015!



The Hidden Minority

I have to say that I am encouraged by the current push of contemporary fairy tales. They give women a voice and often make them front and center as heroes in their own stories. The LGBT community finally has a glimmer of hope in seeing protagonists that have the same thoughts and feelings as they do. Latinos, African-Americans, Asians, and myriad cultures are being discovered within the pages of novels which before had almost ignored their existence. I don’t think we’ve reached the goal of true diversity in stories, but I can see light at the end of the tunnel.

Except for one slice of the underrepresented pie…

Now, I’m willing to be proven wrong on this front, but I think stories have failed to acknowledge a particular segment of society. It’s one that exists across all borders, within every culture and comes from every socio-economic background. I speak, of course, of the Plus-Sized protagonist. In an age where we worry that the population is overweight and health issues like diabetes, high cholesterol and heart disease are of serious concern, I understand why we are reluctant to glorify a state which could bring about all of these things. Then again, we glorify the bad boy who after years of being a dick can find his heart because of the love of a nice girl.

Here’s the deal. I don’t hate skinny girls. I will admit to the occasional bouts of “big girl rage” when I skip dessert but want to chow down on some cake. But I can’t be angry at someone who can eat anything they want while I have to exercise in order to stay in my favorite jeans. Everyone has something! I just don’t understand why every heroine (and hero for that matter) has to be willowy thin with athletic abilities. How is it that the bookishly smart hero, who spends all his time in the library also manages to have a perfect BMI? Is the chubby sister any less deserving of a prince than her wasp-waisted sibling?

I suppose I can imagine anyone as Sleeping Beauty or the miller’s daughter in Rumpelstiltskin. That’s the power of an immersive story. But then I see the story come to life on screen. Yes, I’m one of those annoying people who whispers “The book was so much better”, but we live in a visual age. Even if I don’t want to see the movie version of The Great Gatsby, I can’t help but think of Leonardo DiCaprio whenever I read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book. So unless I want to live under a rock, the actors cast as my favorite characters tend to stick in my imagination. Would it be so wrong to hope for The Zaftig Mermaid (something to keep her warm in the big ocean) or a pleasantly plump set of sisters in Frozen (for the cold winter nights)? Red Riding Hood and Cinderella were work horse, traipsing through the woods with heavy packages and cleaning house for an exacting step-mother, respectively, so I understand their thinness. Couldn’t Belle have been just as…belle…if her voracious reading came with a chocolate and croissant habit? Rapunzel was looked up in a tower, for goodness sakes, and you’re telling me she couldn’t have been cute if she were full-figured? Yes, I’m fixating on Disney, but it has given us the most popular versions of these heroines.

This doesn’t only have to apply to fairy tales. I would love to hear about a popular YA series featuring a sassy and shapely girl or a handsome yet husky guy. They would have to be just as capable as their lean counterparts and most importantly not apologize for their size. Just a thought.

The Tale of Red Riding Hood…Part III

The Tale of Red Riding Hood Part I

The Tale of Red Riding Hood Part II

When last we left our heroine, she was running from a pack of vengeful wolves in the company of her mysterious travel companion, Rummy…

On Red Riding Hood ran, feeling the same panic she felt as a little girl facing down a wolf in her grandmother’s gown. There was no woodsman to save her now, but the thought jolted her memory. Still running, she fumbled with her cape feeling the familiar heaviness of the ax. Her concentration was so focused on freeing the weapon from the billowing fabric, that she didn’t notice the exposed root of an oak in front of her. She landed with a crash, but quickly grabbed up the ax.

The wolves were now in a tight circle around her, snapping and salivating. Rummy was close behind, still laughing at the foolish girl on the ground.

“This is the family of the two wolves you killed. The fairies promised to make me one of them if I could help a creature who is reviled. Nothing is more hated than a wolf lurking in the woods. Now they shall have their revenge and I’ll have my reward.”

Red had little time to think about his words for before long she was beset by teeth and claws. Her ax was her only defense, which she used in short, hacking strokes. The wolves had not expected Red to be armed, but their blood lust and need for revenge fueled their attacks. Two of them continued to lunge even after sustaining terrible wounds and another three tried plunging under the arc of the ax.

Her arm began to feel heavy, but Red continued in fear for her life. The attacks were becoming clumsy on both sides. The two fiercest wolves were beginning to succumb to their injuries and the other three were losing the rhythm of her hacks. Soon all of them were in a heap of fur and blood and Red, bloodied and bruised herself, was the victor. An enraged Rummy stomped his feet and railed against the silence.

“I did as you asked. It’s not my fault they weren’t able to revenge themselves!” he yelled at the heavens. Red raised her ax keeping a safe distance from herself and the man shrieking in front of her. Through the trees a voice whispered on the wind.

“Helping those in need is not hurting others. This is your third such offense. You may not join us and what’s more you will become a figure of ridicule until you can find a soul to love you,” said the voice and Rummy was transformed into small wizened man with scant hair and a pointy face. He looked like an angry man child stomping his feet and then running away from the forest.

“To you Red of the Riding Hood, we give our good wishes. If there is anything you want, please name it.”

Red thought long and hard about her wish and was inspired by the events of the day. The fairies honored her request and sent her back to her cottage in the woods from which an ax shaped sign swung reading, “Red of the Riding Hood, Forest Escort”.

As for Rummy, he found another who needed his help. A miller’s daughter with a room full of straw…


The Tale of Red Riding Hood…Part II

When we last saw our heroine, she was leaving a tavern in search of an adventure and being followed by a mysterious man with a nefarious reputation.

Red continued down the path through the middle of town. The sun wasn’t warm enough to take off her namesake cloak. The chill in the air didn’t seem to bother all the townsfolk walking about and stealing glances at it. But whether they were staring at her or her clothing was of little importance to Red. She was more concerned with finding a quest. What she didn’t know was that adventure was coming for her.

“Are you lost little girl?” asked the man as he approached.

“I am neither little or lost, sir,” she replied making a point not to look the man in the eye. Her hand instinctively went under her cloak to assure herself the ax the woodsman had given her was still accessible. The reflex was not lost on the man and it gave him an idea.

“Ah, an adventurer. I knew from the look of you that you were no ordinary girl…young woman,” said the man warming to his theme. “I think I may be able to help you.”

“I do not need help,” she replied, but she stopped nonetheless. Something in his voice was compelling. Then again she remembered the flattering wolf who led her astray. “Who are you?”

“I am a traveler, like yourself. I was going to the capitol, but I’ve been told there is a fearsome band of outlaws living on the roadway and walking it alone has become treacherous. I had hoped to get a group of people to walk with me. Outlaws are less likely to attack a group. Sadly, none will make the journey with me for they are frightened. Perhaps the party that came with you would allow me to join them?”

“I came alone for I can take care of myself. Wolves are all the same whether on two feet or four,” she replied with a smirk. The man stifled a chuckle at her arrogance.

“Perhaps we two can share the journey together. I can see you are quite capable and it would set my mind at ease to have someone such as you as a companion. My name is Rummy,” he said with an odd smile.

“I am Red and I would happily accompany you on your journey,” she replied feeling the adventure about to being.

What could another trip through the woods hurt? She thought. They decided it would be best to waiting until first light before heading out on their trip. That night, while Red was sleeping in her bed dreaming of heroic acts, her traveling companion was making his way into the woods to make ready for their departure. A low growl carried on the wind.

The next morning, bright and early, Red and Rummy set off for the capital. Rummy said little and Red preferred it that way. They walked in silence through the green wood looking for signs of the band of thieves. On and on they trudged until they reached a section of the woods that was dark despite the midday sun.

“I believe we should stop here and have our lunch. We are nearly half-way to the capital by now,” said Rummy in a loud voice. It felt out of place in the dark of the woods and startled Red.

“It’s best to press on and save our hunger for the capital. Stopping in the woods is never a good idea,” she replied remembering smooth words from a mouth that had eaten her.

“No, no. I cannot take another step without a little rest. We have not seen or heard anyone for hours. Perhaps the outlaws have moved on to a better location,” said Rummy, sitting down and opening his pack. Red was starting to think it would have been better to walk alone, but the sight of food melted some of her resolve. She sat down and opened her pack, as well.

Rummy chewed slowly driving Red mad with impatience. As she was about to give voice to her irritation, she heard rustling in the bushes. She stood up and looked down at a smiling Rummy with teeth she could almost remember.

A pack of wolves circled their picnic area bearing their teeth and growling. Rummy looked completely at ease and Red realized that she had been tricked. One of the wolves crouched low, coiling his muscles for a high pounce. Red ran through the trees narrowly avoiding his lunge. She could hear them running on the underbrush, snapping twigs and gaining ground. The high laugh of Rummy drifted through the trees, mingling with the howls of her pursuers…