On Witches and Witch Hunts

On Thursday (2/8), you are going to be reading about the witch hunts that exploded in Europe and America during the Early Modern period. These were officially-sanctioned searches, inquisitions, and trials of individuals (mostly women) who were quite literally accused of being witches. According to Webster’s Dictionary, a witch hunt is “a searching out for persecution of those accused of witchcraft.” Key to this definition is the implication that those who were accused were, in turn, persecuted – typically because the accused were generally assumed to be guilty in such cases. Since the time of these historical witch hunts, the phrase has taken on a slightly different connotation in colloquial English usage. The dictionary also defines witch hunt as “the searching out and deliberate harassment of those (such as political opponents) with unpopular views.” For this blogpost, we are going to try something a little different, by having you work with our assigned sources about real-life witch hunts and then seeking to connect them to some modern-day “witch hunt” (in the non-literal sense of the term implied by Webster’s second definition).

In your post, then, I’d like you to draw out an interesting idea, a statement, or a quotation from your assigned sources on witch trials for Thursday. Explain why you think that notion is important to the understanding of the persecution of witches, who are some of the most famous human “monsters” of all time. Then, I’d like you to use/apply your chosen idea to some twenty-first century “witch hunt” that you know about, whether it involves a controversial politician, a fallen celebrity, or something from your own experience. The idea here is to carefully consider some of the ideologies and “group thinking” that defines witch hunts, and to connect the real-life inquisitions of the Early Modern period to certain closed-minded events and activities from our own day.

Myth-Making and Fantasy in (Post)Modern Film

Since the earliest years of the cinema, fantasy has been one of the most common filmic modes — and it is no coincidence that many (or indeed most) fantasy films feature significant elements of myth and/or tragedy.  For your final Blogpost of the semester, you have three options: 1) Returning your attentions to the early days of the cinema in America, pick another popular and influential film from, say, sometime before 1970.  Much like with have done with the ‘Wizard of Oz’, I’d like you to consider:  just how does the film fit with some of the key archetypes or heroic adventures we have seen so far this semester? What are the “mythological” elements of your chosen film, how does it fit with the monomyth, and what lessons does it teach?  Be specific and detailed in explaining your answer.  2)  In the wake of our fun-filled screening on Friday of ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’, it would be interesting to hear some more words on the mythological (or tragic) elements, characters, or themes of George Lucas’s influential film.  However, given that we spent our time on Friday with the original ‘Star Wars’ film, it might also be especially interesting to see you address some of the ideas, heroes, or magical symbols in one of the other ‘Star Wars’ films that we did NOT watch in class.  Alternately, you could do something similar with the ‘Star Trek’ series if that interests you.  3) Finally, what do you make of the myth-making in J.R.R. Tolkein’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy and/or the Harry Potter franchise?  Since it is your final Blog of the semester, I have deliberately left this prompt a little bit open-ended, but I’ll be interested in hearing your thoughts on some of the most famous (cinematic) “myths” created in the (post)modern world!

Folklore, Fairy Tales, and Film in Early America

In recent classes, we have been examining fairy tales from the European tradition.  Now, we are moving into folklore and “myths” from our own country of America, and getting closer and closer to our own day and age.  Historically, there are countless “tall tales” from far and wide in the fledgling United States, and the folktales of our land are simultaneously exceptional and unusual while also being discernibly connected to prior tales and traditions.  America is also home to Hollywood, which established new legends and myths during the rise of the cinema in the early twentieth century.  To examine these uniquely American developments, you have two options for this Blogpost:  1)  In response to the stories assigned for Monday (11/13), you should identify and choose a significant theme, idea, or image from a specific tale that you find to be particularly intriguing as a window into the beliefs, behaviors, politics, or social developments of early America.  Then, I’d like you to do a little research into the historical time period in question and the issue in question as it relates to that age.  Next, move on to examine the issue as it appears thematically in the story and offer a brief interpretive analysis of just what the author seems to be doing by way of rendering that issue for the reader in this tale.  As it relates to your chosen social subject, just what is the “moral of the story”?  2)  The second option for this response is intended for all you movie lovers out there.  On Wednesday (the 15th) we will be discussing one of the most famous movies of all time:  The Wizard of Oz.  In the story of Dorothy, this film may offer a new kind of hero for a new age.  On the other hand, Dorothy is simultaneously a hero of old, with traits that are kindred to those of the great heroes of ancient myth, such as Odysseus, Aeneas, and so on.  With this in mind, your second option is to consider how, specifically, The Wizard of Oz connects with some of the key archetypes, traits, behaviors, or heroic adventures we have seen so far this semester? What kind of hero is Dorothy, exactly?  How is her story similar to – or different than – the myths of old?

Comparing Fairy Tales, Old and New

In both the German and English-speaking worlds, the most influential collection of premodern fairy tales was Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which was originally published by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in 1812 (under the German title of Kinder und Hausmärchen, or ‘Children’s and Household Tales’).  Grimm’s tales offer fascinating resources for considering various historical subjects from the early nineteenth century, but especially topics revolving around childhood, gender, family, class, and socioeconomic hardship.  It may come as no surprise, therefore, that these themes are writ large in what has become the most famous series of fairy tales ever produced: the various films by Walt Disney and his company that are based upon earlier fairy tales.  On the date when this Blog post is due, you will be moving past the Grimms and Disney to consider how several well-known literary authors have re-imagined fairy tales for a modern audience, especially for a more mature and cynical twenty-first century reader.  And in class we will be watching clips from several films that work in a similar manner, taking well-known fairy tale material and offering a modern spin on it.  For this response, then, I want you to have a little fun with these various tales, which ARE simultaneously meant for entertainment while also being intended to intrigue and educate readers/viewers about certain moral ideas.  I thought it would be interesting to see what might happen if you precisely and directly bring specific tales from different times into conversation.  Thus, I want you to somehow compare a single, specific story (or character) from Grimm’s Fairy Tales with a particular movie (or character) from the Disney universe.  OR, you could compare one of the modern literary versions — or even filmic reimaginings for adults — with either Grimm’s tales or the Disney fairy stories.  You might consider:  What are these stories and versions about, and in what ways are they notably similar and different?  What did you find shocking or surprising in these stories, and why?  Do these “texts” ultimately suggest different ideas and definitions of “fairy tales”?  How/why so?  Finally, what is the “moral” of the story for your chosen “texts”, and more importantly, what social or political ideas relative to the various time periods in question do your selected stories seem to subtly highlight and comment upon?

Comparing the Knights of the Round Table to other Medieval Mythical Heroes

In a way, this Blog post is meant to introduce you to, and invite you to practice, skills that you will be using for your upcoming Hero Paper – which will be a comparative account of a premodern mythological hero (or theme, etc.).  For this Blog, then, I want you to compare a specific character from Malory’s Morte D’Arthur with a character from another text we have read lately in Unit Two.  So, you could compare King Arthur or one of his companions (Lancelot, Gawain, Guinevere, etc.) to such figures as Charlemagne, Joan of Arc, Sigurd, Roland, Thor, Culhwch, Deirdru, and so on.  Whichever figure(s) you choose to use as the basis of your comparison, the key is not just to note that there are similarities and differences at play but to illustrate them, and investigate them.  In so doing, you must demonstrate how bringing your two characters together reveals something about them (their beliefs, behaviors, society, etc.) that would not have been clear otherwise.  Thus, much like your second major paper, this response is asking you consider how bringing the two characters helps to illuminate their (respective) meaning and significance; it highlights why it is important to read them together and explains what gets learned through this comparative and analytical negotiation.

Literary Adaptation and Filmic Fairy Tales

In our third and final unit of ‘Games of Thrones’, we are going to be thoroughly exploring the ways in which the seeming realities of the Premodern world have been re-imagined and appropriated by the creators of fantasy stories and fairy tales.  Throughout this process we will be considering cinematic “texts” that were, in fact, based on literary originals.  Hence, for this Blog post I want us to consider the subtleties and challenges of literary adaptation in a very specific context.  Namely, for your response, I want you to trace a particular line of descent by comparing and contrasting two versions of fairy tales.  As we have seen in class, the most famous and influential fairy tales ever written are likely the versions found in Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which was published by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in 1812 (originally under the German title of Kinder und Hausmärchen, or ‘Children’s and Household Tales’).  For most of us in this class, however, your sense of fairy tales is NOT driven by the Brothers Grimm but, instead, by the wildly popular movies produced by the Walt Disney Company.  Fairy tales are SO incredibly popular, however, that they have also increasingly been (re)modernized in versions marketed for a more adult audience (as in Snow White and the Huntsman, Maleficent, or Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters).  For this response, I want you to bring into conversation two selected fairy tales of your choosing, and preferably two different versions of the same story.  To do so, you must choose a particular “text” from two of the three categories above (that is to say, a Grimm’s Tale, a Disney “Princess” movie, and/or a recent live-action “re-boot”).  The Brothers Grimm were especially interested in religion, class, family, childhood, and power, but there are a number of themes (if not morals) that can be identified in their textual originals, and the same is true of the later movies (whether Disney or otherwise).  In your response, then, you should offer a thematically-oriented comparison, in which you discuss the modes and meanings of cinematic adaptation(s).  Hence, you might consider such questions as:  What are these stories and versions about, and in what ways are they notably similar and different?  What are some of the key tropes in your selected films/texts, and how do they differ from one another in terms of theme and technique?  How do your chosen works project the Premodern world (both in “imaginary” and “realistic” ways)?  Do these “texts” ultimately suggest different ideas and definitions of “fairy tales”?  How/why so?  Finally, what social and political ideas do your “texts” seem to project, and more to the point, what is the “moral” of each story (both for their own original time and audience and our own purposes in 2015)?

Folktales of the American Frontier (Version 2.0)

Having examined fairy tales from the European tradition, we are now moving on to the folklore of America.  There are countless “tall tales” from far and wide in the fledgling United States, and the folktales of this country are simultaneously exceptional and unusual while also being discernibly connected to prior tales and traditions.  To examine these fascinating stories, you have two options:  1)  In response to the stories assigned for Wednesday (4/8), you should identify and choose a significant theme or image from a specific tale that you find to be particularly intriguing.  Then, I’d like you to do a little (research) reading into the historical time period in question and the issue in question as it relates to that age.  Next, move on to examine the issue as it appears in the story and offer a brief interpretive analysis of  just what the author seems to be doing by way of rendering that issue for the reader in this tale.  2)  The second option for this response is offered in the spirit of light-hearted fun that infuses these American “tall tales.”  For those of you with a creative spirit (and/or those who simply to try out something a little different), I’d like you to write a short “story” of a kind.  Specifically, put together a brief excerpt that presents another “story” featuring one of our three characters for Monday — Davy Crockett, Paul Bunyan, or Daniel Boone.  In your story, try to adopt the tone, diction, and narrative style of your chosen source, and then offer a tale that may somehow seem “authentic” in its representation of this character and type of story.  If you would additionally like to give us any overview of your thoughts and approach in writing your story, of course you may feel free to outline that for us as well.  Have some fun with this!!

Fairy Tales: The Brothers Grimm vs. “Uncle Walt”

Probably the most famous collection of premodern fairy tales was Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which was published by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in 1812 (originally under the German title of Kinder und Hausmärchen, or ‘Children’s and Household Tales’).  Grimm’s tales offer fascinating resources for various historical subjects, but especially topics revolving around childhood and family.  It may come as no surprise, therefore, that these themes are writ large in the other most famous series of fairy tales ever produced: namely, the various films by Walt Disney and his company that are based upon fairy tales.  For this response, then, I want you to have a little fun with these tales, which ARE simultaneously meant for entertainment while also engaged with educating readers/viewers about certain moral ideas.  I thought it would be interesting to see what might happen if you precisely and directly bring the tales of the Brothers Grimm and the films of “Uncle Walt” into conversation.  Thus, I want you to somehow compare a single, specific story (or character) from Grimm’s Fairy Tales with a particular movie (or character) from the Disney universe.  What are these stories and versions about, and in what ways are they notably similar and different?  What did you find shocking or surprising in these stories, and why?  Do these “texts” ultimately suggest different ideas and definitions of “fairy tales”?  How/why so?  Finally, what is the “moral” of the story for your chosen “texts”, and more importantly, what social or political ideas relative to the early nineteenth century (vs. more recent times) do your selected stories seem to subtly highlight and comment upon?

Celtic Connections

In a classic study of the Origins of English History, Charles Isaac Elton offered high praise for the wonders of Celtic mythology.  In a notable passage, he proclaimed that the writing and “religion of the British tribes has exercised an important influence upon literature.  The medieval romances and the legends which stood for history are full of the ‘fair humanities’ and figures of its bright mythology.  The elemental powers of earth and fire, and the spirits which haunted the woods and streams appear again and again as kings in the Irish Annals, or as saints and hermits in Wales.”  Having just begun our second unit with the powerful Anglo-Saxon legend of Beowulf we have made a transition in our course, not only moving forward in terms of our chronological timeline but also addressing texts written in Britain – a place, as Elton suggested, with a rich literary legacy and a place from which we trace our own “mother tongue.”  In this Blog post, then, I want you to do the following as a way to forge some meaningful connections between various legends written in Great Britain.  Specifically, I want you to present a single quotation from one of your assigned Celtic myths, and use it to draw thematic connections with Beowulf.  How does your chosen quote offer us a window into understanding not only the Celtic myth itself that you are drawing from, but looking back, how might it provide an interesting way into making sense out of the complex text of Beowulf?  Drawing on your chosen quotation, what connections can you make between the great Anglo-Saxon legend and the much shorter Celtic tale in question?  In what ways are these two works similar, and in what ways are they noticeably different, and what might we learn about the myths and legends of Britain from these similarities and differences?

Folktales of the American Frontier

Having examined fairy tales from the European tradition, we are now moving on to the folklore of America.  There are countless “tall tales” from far and wide in the fledgling United States, and the folktales of this country are simultaneously exceptional and unusual while also being discernibly connected to prior tales and traditions.  To examine these fascinating stories, you have two options:  1)  In response to the stories assigned for Monday, you should identify and choose a significant theme or image from a specific tale that you find to be particularly intriguing.  Then, I’d like you to do a little (research) reading into the historical time period in question and the issue in question as it relates to that age.  Next, move on to examine the issue as it appears in the story and offer a brief interpretive analysis of  just what the author seems to be doing by way of rendering that issue for the reader in this tale.  2)  The second option for this response is offered in the spirit of light-hearted fun that infuses these American “tall tales.”  For those of you with a creative spirit (and/or those who simply to try out something a little different), I’d like you to write a short “story” of a kind.  Specifically, put together a brief excerpt that presents another “story” featuring one of our three characters for Monday — Davy Crockett, Paul Bunyan, or Daniel Boone.  In your story, try to adopt the tone, diction, and narrative style of your chosen source, and then offer a tale that may somehow seem “authentic” in its representation of this character and type of story.  If you would additionally like to give us any overview of your thoughts and approach in writing your story, of course you may feel free to outline that for us as well.  Have some fun with this!!

Exploring ‘Grimm’s Fairy Tales’

Folktales and fairy tales are fascinating documents that speak to primal urges of survival and selfhood, while also highlighting the beliefs and social anxieties of people living in particular times and places. Arguably the most famous collection of fairy tales ever produced was Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which was published by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in 1812 (originally under the German title of Kinder und Hausmärchen, or ‘Children’s and Household Tales’).  Grimm’s tales offer intriguing resources for historical subjects, most notably issues related to families and childhood.  This makes perfect sense, given that it was in this general time period that the genre became frequently used for the moral education of the young.  Previously, these tales were typically meant for a more general, adult audience, and thus we see that Grimm’s tales are somehow poised between adulthood and childhood, maturity and innocence.  This helps to explain the content in these works that is often seen as shocking, ,harsh, and unnecessarily violent in the eyes of many post-modern readers.  But this was NOT really the view of most nineteenth-century readers, and rather than trying to somehow sanitize them (like Walt Disney would eventually do) we should try to understand them in the context of their time and place.  Consequently, for this response I want you to pick a single tale from the Grimm’s collection and share with us your thoughts about it.  You might consider why these arguably gruesome and disturbing tales were included in the volume, and examine just what defines them as fairy tales.  What are they about, and what stood out to you in reading the text?  What did you find shocking or surprising, and why?  Finally, what is the “moral” of the story, and more importantly, what social or political ideas relative to the early nineteenth century does your selected story seem to subtly highlight and comment upon?