Familiars, Ferrets and Fairy Tales

Today marks the anniversary of the trial, in 1549, of Joan Prentice.  She was accused of sending an imp, in the form of a ferret, to bite children.

 

“She confessed that the Devil appeared to her as a dunnish colored ferret with fiery eyes and asked for her soul. She couldn’t give her soul because it belonged to Jesus, but gave the ferret blood from her finger and cheek. His name was “Bidd”, and when she wanted him to do anything for her, she said:

      “Bidd, Bidd, Bidd,
      come Bidd, come Bidd, come Bidd,
      come suck, come suck, come suck”.

Bidd was a “familiar,” or animal kept by English witches that performed evil deeds for them and was rewarded with sucking their blood from witch teats.)

Joan Prentice’s trial was on 5 July 1589,and she was hanged within two hours after sentencing. “(Source: Robbins, Rossell Hope. The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology. New York: Bonanza Books, 1959)

Other reports say Joan had two imps, or familiars, named Jack and Jill.

 

Now, here’s the thing: why aren’t witches’ familiars allowed to be so active anymore?  Now they get to be cats that are black or dark birds with knowing looks-sometimes they get to deliver messages.  Always, they are underused.  Think of all the things they could do!  All the things they could explain!

1. Why did Humpty Dumpty fall off the wall?  An imp ferret pushed him off!

2. Why did Snow White actually let the old woman into the cottage after being warned by the dwarves and knowing full well she was in danger?  The imp ferret pushed the door in and the woman was just chasing after her poor, lost pet!

3. Why was Sleeping Beauty clumsy enough to prick her finger on the spinning wheel?  Maleficent’s ferret imp was lying in wait on top of it and Sleeping Beauty was reaching out to pet it, when the imp moved so she pricked her finger instead!

4. How did the witch visit Rapunzel before she was old enough for her hair to grow long?  She’d send up a rope with her ferret imp, he’d tie it securely and she could climb up.  When she left, the ferret would fetch it back down so the girl couldn’t escape.

5. Why does Cruella DeVille want all animals made into coats? As a child a witch sent her imp familiars in their animal forms to bite her!  She particularly likes dalmatians because she finds the spots comforting-the witches’ animals were always all one color!  Hence, her reaction on seeing the spot-less puppies: “What a horrid little white rat-eech!”

Also, I feel this is an entire form of vampirism that has somehow been passed over.  Say!  Perhaps Draco is really an imp!  When turned into an animal his form was a ferret, he’s mighty pale, and he does have an obsession with blood.  This is fun-I am thankful to Joan Prentice and her ferrets for all these scrumptious thoughts.  Anyone else have some theories or uses for a ferret imp?

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Merida vs. Cinderella

The more I hear/read people talking about Brave, the more I feel she’s still getting too much credit, particularly when it comes to being empowered.  Cinderella seems the obvious person to compare her to as her situation was also dominated by her relationship with her mother-figure.  Cinderella is often viewed as one of the weakest female characters in fairy tales, while Merida was supposed to be a new, more feminist princess.  The more I think about them together, the more I feel Merida makes Cinderella look good.

First off, I have to say that I have never been as down on Cinderella as many people are.  I always felt she developed relationships with mice and birds in order to preserve her sanity and keep from growing embittered.  As a young girl thrust into a lonely, tough situation, choosing to put forth extra effort (which the mice clothes show she clearly does) for these reasons shows foresight, self-awareness, and resourcefulness.  Add to that, she is forced to work long hours, do many manual jobs, and clearly isn’t allowed enough sleep.  In this situation, putting forth the energy to do that much for yourself and to better your circumstances is incredible.  I think it’s courageous of her to try and hold onto her happiness.  It shows that she doesn’t internalize the messages she gets from her family, she still believes in her own self-worth.  The fact that she is doing so while trying not to vilify her family any more than she must is an added effort of will to keep her sane and from the trap of being bittered, again-lots of foresight, lots of willpower.  Many people have a down on her for not getting out and making her own way in the world, or not doing more.  I think Cinderella was already doing more than many real people would.  Compare her to someone in a dead-end job that they hate-they don’t get along with their coworkers, there’s barely any time for them to have a social life, there’s a lot of pressure and demands.  Sure, they’d rather be somewhere else but finding a job is tough-at least they have a place to sleep and enough to eat, and they know enough to appreciate that.  At least they’re better than these rich, lolly-gagging idlers who just do nothing all day.  You have satisfaction in knowing you can get stuff done, even if it’s not stuff you’d particularly like to do.  People might wish these people into better circumstances, but does it really reflect badly on them that they keep going on and doing their job because they feel that they must?  Particularly if they are still working to keep up a rewarding social life and to not become embittered?  That person is the common hero or heroine of today, and Cinderella is a wonderful guiding light from them.

 

To get back to the comparison, look at Merida’s position.  She’s already a princess, she’s clearly well taken care of physically, she has a family who clearly loves her, days of total freedom, and her biggest complaint is that her mom is trying to control her.  Yeah, tell Cinderella about it.  Now, for the crucial point: how they handle their one magic wish.  To be fair, Merida does show more spirit in needing to insist on receiving a wish instead of simply being given magic like Cinderella, but then Merida also had magical wisps giving her the hint to claim something important.  On to the actual magic.  Cinderella wishes for the equipment to get to the ball.  This may seem shallow or short-sighted.  However, after seeingBrave, I see Cinderella’s wish as more self-assured.  She asked for the equipment to accomplish a certain task-she trusted herself to actually see that task through.  Merida, on the other hand, in spite of starting out with a huge advantage over Cinderella, didn’t think she could “change her fate” on her own, even with a little help.  No, Merida only saw that her mother was in charge, not that Merida herself could take control of her own fate.  In terms of control, I think we can all agree Cinderella’s mother figure had far more control over her than Queen Elinor does of Merida, but Cinderella still managed to think of something she herself could do, if just given the opportunity.  Moreover, Merida was entitled enough to put her wish on someone else.  Cinderella, at least, takes all the consequences of her magic to herself, not using the moment to put something unwanted on her family or trying to change them to make her life easier.  That gives Cinderella’s magic the moral high ground, especially considering how much more Lady Tremain deserved a magical alteration compared to Queen Elinor.  This is even before considering that Merida’s desire to change that particular event shows that the educated princess totally missed the big picture and failed to consider the consequences her actions would take.

 

Who would you rather have running your kingdom?  The resourceful princess who was always forward-thinking and only experiments with magic on herself? Or the entitled princess who’s willing to magically ‘change’ family members and doesn’t wonder about the consequences?

I declare Cinderella the victor.  Merida’s a new, more empowered spin on a princess, my ass.

Snow White and the Huntsman

I wanted to see “Snow White and the Huntsman” primarily for Charlize Theron, who’s clearly having a ball as the wicked witch.  I also am always interested in seeing new versions of fairy tales, but factors such as Kristen  Stewart made me nervous for this particular one.  Having seen this film yesterday, I am satisfied that it exceeded my expectations.  Charlize Theron was all that I wanted her to be.  The gender issues brought up with her character were fascinating, they could have built on that more.  Second in importance to me was the way they presented the fairy tale itself.  I found it very gratifying that this movie actually presented a fleshed-out version of the fairy tale, instead of following simple tropes like modernization, or flipping the “good” and “bad” characters around.  No, they worked from the tale itself, added in things, and kept it within the fairy tale realm of the fantastic, which is my favorite place to be.  I also really appreciated how the romantic part of the story developed.  Many stories where two guys are involved invariably make one of them either a type of person who is obviously wrong-foolish, boring, hateful, etc., or they make one of the guys the romantic unrequited-love type whose clearly dead-end relationship ambitions grow old fast.  “Snow White and the Huntsman” presented both men as having issues and flaws and while one of the relationships clearly had more potential, the other one stayed reasonable and was not allowed to encroach on the other man’s character.  Helpful to all of this was that the role of Snow White’s love was kept understated, but vital, just as the fairy tale indicates.  I expect some people will be dissatisfied with the secondary nature of the romance here, but I found it perfect for the Snow White fairy tale.  Also, the truly disturbing elements of this film were handled very delicately, there but not taking over scenes or minds, simply allowing awareness without pushing shock value or crudeness.  I genuinely respect that.  Last but not least, this movie pleased me by being very, very pretty.  The effects played wonderfully, the shots were lovely, and the costumes, while I would have altered a few choices (such as the neckline of Stewart’s gown at the end), were marvelous.

 

This is not to say the film had no problems.  The writing fell down in several places, most notably in Snow White’s inspirational speech and her last words to Ravenna, the wicked queen.  Luckily, this is a largely visual film, so the weakness in the writing doesn’t appear that frequently.  The ending fell remarkably, and awkwardly, flat.  It needed more lines, more direction, more of almost anything, really, in order to be a real resolution.  This was the only time that Kristen Stewart actually bothered me.  I really liked her acting in the first half of the film, likely due to the large amount of action.  When she began having to deliver more lines, the poor writing let her down.  This made her less likeable, but I will hardly blame her for that.  I feel like she did the best she could with what she was given.  This applies to the ending, too-her acting got insipid and a little ridiculous, but given what the director asked her to do and that the writers gave her nothing, and even her costume here didn’t work for her, I cannot blame her.  Again, I think she did all that she could and tried her hardest to deal with the bad situation this director ended on.  The good news was that my mind automatically came up with reasons why that situation would be awkward in the story, that the credits immediately go back to showcasing the pretty, shiny aspects of the movie, and that it is the end so it doesn’t effect anything else.

 

In short, this movie has some serious faults.  It  made some odd choices and allowed specific issues to mar some key points.  Nevertheless, overall I found it very enjoyable.  Perhaps because I’m a very visual person and this film played up beautifully for my eyes or perhaps simply because I found their attention and respect for the actual fairy tale layer of their plot wonderful and refreshing (especially after “Tangled”), it gave me a lot of pleasure.  I cannot really recommend it without knowing individuals, because I think the problems will outweigh the good for a lot of people.  On the other hand, as a great lover of fairy tales, I can tell you that I want to own this film someday.  Plus, Charlize Theron’s performance is unequivocally killer.  The rest of the film could have been far worse and it still would have been worth seeing once, just for her.

 

Spoiler: In case anyone’s interested, my solution for the ending is that clearly under Ravenna’s rule the Master of Ceremonies didn’t get to plan any parties.  He got so excited to organize the coronation that he forgot he needed something to continue it after the action coronation, itself.  I imagine the minute the cameras panned away that poor man leaped into the middle, beckoned to the fanfare and made some announcement about the queen leading the way to the dance hall or something, since he’d forgotten how to get people there gracefully and is now trying to cover up for it.  During the rest of the festivities the dwarves rib him endlessly about this.