Review: Wise Women, Part 2

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Too much awesomeness for just one post, so here is the second part to the fantastic book Wise Women: Folk and Fairy tales From Around the World. If you need a refresher on Part 1, you can find it here.

When I picked up this book, I didn’t realize that I was surrendering myself to a myriad of situations where people get lost or left in the woods and needed to drop food (peas, lentils, breadcrumbs, etc) to find a way out again. Bitter misfortune often came before everything turning out all right, which was refreshing to read instead of a world where everything is perfect.

Also, I guess Disney isn’t the only one to blame for killing off parents or the absence of parents or barren parents. To be fair, when the parents are present, they do plenty of shady stuff.

We can’t forget the weird romantic relationships. Granted, if you had to free or uncurse a prince or man who’s spent years scrounging around for food and walking around on all fours, that is understandable. People were either really rich or really poor in a lot of these tales. It was interesting to see the few instances where the middle class showed up and decided to say hello. Royalty definitely stole the show though–marriage was usually to royalty, princes or kings usually had some dilemma to be solved, or the girls had to save a prince from some kind of enchantment or save them from marrying the wrong person (meaning any woman who is evil and not them).

The book also had realistic heroics…for women. The tellers of these tales had zero qualms about people thinking that pushing a villain, hugging to save someone, or using your wits was a weak way to save someone. They just went with it and the result was various moments of fantastic story. On that note, it’s not surprising that some of the more modern renditions cut out the moments of heroism (I’m looking at you Sleeping Beauty and 40 Thieves).

Many of the girls and boys in the tales also had a Pandora complex–they were told not to look in a room, or place, or not to open something and then they did it any way because curiosity always kills. Always. 

I have to say, a lot of the folk tales from the U.S. were not that great and they were much shorter than the rest of the stories in the collection. Apparently, the only region to have the tales is the south. Or the deep South, meaning Hawaii. Technically, there was one Native American tale included. I was kind of sad about that fact, although to be fair, if you want to read Native American folk tales, all you need is this:

american-indian-myths-legends-alfonso-ortiz-paperback-cover-art

And at around 500 pages of goodies, it is a great starter for Native American folk tales, myths, and legends. But back to these tales from the south. The first tale features a southern girl who gets her money stolen and ends up taking off with the thief’s horse, which is full of gold. Anticlimactic. Another tale, imaginatively named “How Kate Got a Husband” tells us how a pregnant girl dresses up as a ferocious cow to scare the baby daddy into marrying her.

My reaction:

For some reason, I felt that destitute girls just had more agency and independence that I’d originally thought they’d have in the Middle Ages,  B.C. eras and the like….I’m pretty sure some of it is historically inaccurate (because of the fact that they are tales) but the implications of this are fascinating.

And lastly, we cannot forget the happily ever after. But with corporal punishment attached. I could not believe the number of times an evil person was punished with hanging, burning, flaying, torn apart by horses, insane stuff right before the happily ever after moment. Excuse me, we just watched someone being boiled alive and now you want to have the ceremony?

The truly fabulous thing about this book, is that the fairy tales are often realistic, they are inventive and funny, and they provide fabulous ways for women to do what they do best and be women in the most fabulous ways possible.

And that is truly a happy ending.

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