Wednesday, May 23, 2007

childhood was better the first time around

As an exercise, I recently bought a copy of Classics Illustrated Junior no.554, The Enchanted Deer, vaguely recalled from my childhood. I'm pretty sure I also had 548 The Magic Pitcher (story of Baucis and Philemon), 553 King Thrushbeard, and 555 The 3 Golden Apples (Hercules and the Apples of the Hesperides). I may have had others, but memory fails.
Some of the Classics Illustrated were excellent. The War of the Worlds and Time Machine (especially the cover paintings), Faust and Macbeth, those stand out. The Juniors were a mixed lot. The art is pretty flat and stereotyped, and the selection of stories is all over the place. The majority are Grimm tales, but Andersen and Ruskin (King of the Golden River) get a look in, as does Browning (Pied Piper) and Frank Baum (Wizard of Oz). Greek mythology, English folktales (Jack and the Beanstalk), American tall-tales (Paul Bunyan) and Russian tales (The Salt Mountain) fill in gaps. The Runaway Dumpling may be Japanese. It's a bit difficult to tell from the cover art.
You may have guessed that my interest in The Enchanted Deer is not only that I read it in childhood, but that it's a retelling of Grimm 11, Brother and Sister. I was curious to see how the adaptation was handled, because the story has some awkward aspects. For instance, our heroine is murdered and comes back as a fairly physical ghost.
So. First off, the children are given names: Gretchen and Jon. Jon is established as the older, and as the caretaker. He carries Gretchen's bucket and shares his bread with her; he's half a head taller. This is a bit jarring when he's the one who can't control his thirst, but ties in nicely with Gretchen's vow "You have always taken care of me. Now I will take care of you." (Though I have to think that a deer is better adapted to surviving in the wild woods than a small girl is.)
The wicked stepmother is a sharp-featured woman in a headscarf, who conjures up the children's images in a bonfire, rather an effective panel, and curses "Brooks and streams, who drinks of thee will be an animal instantly" a scansion not entirely satisfactory. The three animals of the streams are lion, tiger and 'deerlet'--roebuck being too foreign a word, perhaps.
Deer-Jon is a dead ringer for Bambi with a haircut. Gretchen makes a collar for the deer not from her garter (another foreign concept unless elasticised and worn by Goldrush dancehall girls?) but from her golden necklace, which contrasts rather with her patched clothing.
So far we're keeping pretty close to the story, with a few fireworks added. Gretchen and Deer-Jon live happily in the cottage they find, and two panels show them growing older. The deer gets little stubby antlers, then a 4-point rack. Gretchen gets taller, develops a bosom and hips, but her tightly braided hair remains the same length, and her clothes magically grow with her. Her skirts, in fact, lengthen from above her knees as a little girl to below her knees as a young woman. The square blue patch on her red dress remains in the same position.
Not that I worried about any of this as a child.
The young king--whose hair is the same odd grey-brown that Jon's was--comes to hunt, specifically to hunt the enchanted deer with the gold collar, a nice shortcut. Three times the deer begs to go and be hunted and bounds merrily away (yes, with that wording each time) and leads the hunters a merry chase (yes, that too).
Here's where the story diverges. The wicked stepmother (remember her?) chooses this third day to come and spy on them. For unexplained reasons, she changes herself into a black deer with a 5-point rack and follows Deer-Jon, while both are followed by the king's hunters. The king himself is being led to the cottage, where Gretchen lets him in, thinking it's her brother knocking.
Gretchen tells the nice man that her evil stepmother enchanted her brother into a deer (how she figured this out is unclear) and the two of them race off to stop the huntsmen. Fortuitously, both the enchanted deer and the black deer have been captured, not filled full of arrows or had the dogs set on them (hm, no dogs visible). The stepmother, perhaps fearing this fate, turns back into herself and is promptly accused by Gretchen. The king explains that he's the king (something which has escaped everyone's notice, despite the large golden crown he's wearing) and commands the stepmother to break the enchantment.
Jon reappears, startling a small Disneyish bird which has no lines in this scene. Now, when enchanted, he was wearing a blue jacket patched at the elbows, blue overalls with patches on knees and seat (sort of a lederhosen pattern, but not leather) and a white shirt. Reappearing, he wears a short-sleeved white shirt, tight-fitting blue trousers (or hose, I can't be sure) and ankle-boots replacing his low shoes. The golden necklace has vanished--perhaps he bought the clothes with it during the changeover.
The witch skulks off, the king proposes to Gretchen and she accepts. "So they all went off to the palace and lived happily ever after."
It's rather a clever shortcut, really. It avoids the issues of the pregnancy and delivery, the queen's murder, the substitution of the stepmother's daughter, and the burning at the stake. I'm not sure any of the adaptations for children deal with that part of the story. At least, I haven't run across any that provide an illustration for it. A little strong for the picture-book audience, perhaps (by which I mean the reading-out-loud parent).

Writing: The Willow Knot is about 87k, which means 12k more than my original estimate, without quite being finished yet. I'll be in transit for the next few days, so my writing time will be variable, but I'm still reasonably confident of finishing the first draft this month. I'm feeling slightly daunted by the coronation and wedding scenes, and would dearly like to cheat and have it all pass in a blur of colours and noise and be briefly memorialised at the end of the day. But that would be cheating.

I've mostly recovered from the trauma of registering my domain name. There's a placeholder page, with a not-bad template (better than the rest of yahoo's rather dull selections) and a little bit of text. Looking at it, I can't think of very much more to say. Perhaps I should leave it as it stands?
But my son offered, as a Mother's Day present, to design my website. Which was very sweet of him, and I accepted. I shall try not to be too exasperating during the process.

Just finished reading: Blind Justice, a Sir John Fielding mystery, by Bruce Alexander. Good fun and a quick read. The period setting was nicely handled, and young Jeremy isn't terribly irritating. There's some sententiousness, as his older self--the narrator--points out his younger self's failings, but that does fit with the time and tone. Two usages made me blink a bit. Lady Goodhope speaks of a footman who "turned up missing", a jokey phrasing I'd place at not earlier than the 1920s, just off the top of my head. Sir John Fielding warns Jeremy of becoming "disorientated" in the city. I seem to recall orientate arriving as a back-formation from orientation, the previous (in my lifetime!) verb being orient. I haven't verified this with the OED, though. The solution to the mystery is very suited to the time, though it would be completely over the top in a modern setting. One could imagine a broadsheet ballad coming out afterwards, with cheap woodcut headers.

No comments: