In previous weeks, we’ve looked at several modern adaptations of fairy tales. Some of them stick relatively close to the original story; some take a few more liberties and insert some significant changes. Let’s push the limits a bit and examine a variation on the Bluebeard story that really stretches how we classify stories and their relationships. The author has explicitly referenced the story, inviting us to view her work in conversation with the original tale. The question is: why?
Helen Oyeyemi was born in Nigeria, then moved to England at the age of 4, then later lived in cities across Europe. Having roots in many cultures, she draws on multiple traditions of fairy tales and folklore in her writings, which reimagine ancient tales in new and unexpected ways.
Mr. Fox is sort of a novel, sort of a collection of stories. Oyeyemi reimagines Bluebeard as an author who kills off the female protagonist of every one of his novels. His imaginary muse, Mary Foxe, comes to life to challenge his tendency toward authorial serial murder, inducing him into a game of stories, where each vignette imagines new and different plots for the heroine.
The passage entitled “Fitcher’s Bird” is one of those vignettes; considered as a variant of the Grimm tale, it’s way out there, yet Oyeyemi’s choice of title insists that we look for the relationship between her narrative and the classic story.
???? Read Helen Oyeyemi’s “Fitcher’s Bird” from Mr. Fox (2011). You’ll have the chance to respond to the story in the next assignment.
Consider the following questions to help you read thoughtfully and critically:
- Why do you think Oyeyemi titled this vignette “Fitcher’s Bird.” Could we call this a version of that fairy tale? How might Oyeyemi be rewriting, engaging with, or commenting on the Grimm Brothers’ tale? What do you think she wants to communicate by doing so?
- Would we consider Miss Foxe a heroine? Why or why not? What attitude does the story seem to have toward her (admiring, pitying, ironic, etc.)? How does this compare to the way the heroines, or fairy tale princesses, of the classic fairy tales we have read are represented?
- What do you think Miss Foxe means when she refers to the “beautiful risk of the fairy tale”? What details of the story suggest what this “beautiful risk” might be? Is there a “beautiful risk” inherent in any of the tales we have studied so far in this class?
- Why do you think Oyeyemi brings up “The White Cat”? How do the themes of that story compare with this one? What could that story have to do with “Fitcher’s Bird”? Do you think Miss Foxe understands “The White Cat,” or do you think she is misinterpreting it — missing the point of the story?
- What do you think of the ending — not only what happens, but how the ending is told? Specifically, why do you think Oyeyemi chooses to end by stating, “That is not what happened,” rather than actually telling what did happen?