Wednesday, September 5, 2012

BRAVE - Lessons in magic, bears, and archery

One would think one has an easy job spotting Celtic lore in a movie that is so full of Scottish stereotypes it bleeds blue body paint. However, instead of taking one original legend as the basis of the story, this one was was more like a mix of symbols and motifs from a series of tales.
That means, more stuff to spot!
Let's start with the obvious.


Will-o-the-Wisp
There are dozens, probably hundreds of folktales about the wisp, from any place in the world where they usually occur. Often they are said to be souls, neither here nor there, stuck between heaven and hell, life and death, or our world and the fae realm (if you watch the movie all the way through, you will see a variation on this). They are not, however, generally famous for leading people the right way; more often than not they lead them astray, which makes sense if you think about the places where they are usually seen. One wrong step and you are stuck in the muck.
Here is an online collection of folktales about the wisp. 
Wisps are frequent guests in books of fairy lore; I have read this one recently. Good read!
Will-o'-the-Wisp was featured as a character in S01E02 of Lost Girl. They did a quite decent job of it too.

Bear transformation
People turning into bears and bears turning into people feature quite often in legend and folklore. Here is a quick list of the big names:
Bearskin (Grimm 101) - Ever since I started reading Fables I have an urge to say "Colonel Bearskin" every time I tell this one.
Snow White and Rose Red (Grimm 161) - Again, with Fables...
Whitebear Whittington (Appalachia) - A variation on Beauty and the Beast
East of the Sun and West of the Moon (Norway) - Another variation on Beauty and the Beast
The She-bear (Pentamerone) - Here is one where the bear is female
The Bear Woman (Blackfoot) - The origin of the Big Dipper, and a questionable happy ending
Kallisto (Greek) - Talking about the Big Dipper...
The White Faced Bear (Aleut) - This one is a fair warning to treat nature with respect

Careful what you wish for
The proper use of words in magic has been and remains the moral of many stories. Wishes taken literally can cause a world of trouble, and if there is a loophole in the wording, rest assured the djinn/wizard/witch/golden fish will find it. They are sneaky that way.
Here is an example of a wish well phrased, retold by the amazing Kate Dudding. This story exists in many variations, and storytellers love it to bits.
And here is a whole list of wishes that were... not so well phrased.

The princess who didn't want to marry
Some of these stories make me think Merida got off very easy. Then again, some of these stories are very old.
King Thrushbeard (Grimm 52) 
Cannetella (Pentamerone)
Pintosmalto (Pentamerone)
Queen Brunhild of Iceland (Niebelungenlied) set a series of very masculine tasks only she could win. Or so she thought...
Here is a good one: the Russian Princess in Haft Paykar tells a tale about a red-haired princess who made it very difficult for her suitors to win her hand...

Archery!
... on a second thought, let's not talk about archery right now. It has been so popular lately, I think I'll just write a whole separate post about it. Stay tuned.

Mothers and daughters
After thoroughly skimming the surface, let's take a quick look at what the story really is about. It's a mother and daughter tale, clearly, but one where the mother has a depth to her character, and instead of being the archetypal "queen", she actually behaves like a mother (and, later on, the proverbial mother bear). There are countless tales about motherhood and mother-daughter relationships. To give you an idea, here is Jackie Baldwin's SOS page on this theme.
To give you a taste of how it's done, here is Dovie Thomason's tale, the Bear Child, that I have been regularly listening to for the past 4 years. Get your hands on it, it's absolutely worth it!

And by the way...
... notice the neat little plug about the importance of storytelling in this movie? 
"Legends are lessons!" [insert cute Scottish accent here for full effect]
Thank you, Pixar!

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