Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Your Weekly Fairy


What would a series on fairies be without this most beloved of all children's book fairies? The brave, the jealous, the beautiful, the strange, the wild and marvelous Tinkerbell of James Barrie's PeterPan.

And yet, would you believe that (through the mouth of Peter Pan) James Barrie described this brilliant creation of his as "a common fairy"?

We know better, however, don't we? We have only to read James Barrie's beautiful words to know that he himself was quite mistaken about her. See here:

"There was another light in the room now, a thousand times brighter than the night-lights, and in the time we have taken to say this, it had been in all the drawers in the nursery, looking for Peter's shadow, rummaged the wardrobe and turned every pocket inside out. It was not really a light; it made this light by flashing about so quickly, but when it came to rest for a second you saw it was a fairy, no longer than your hand, but still growing. It was a girl called Tinker Bell exquisitely gowned in a skeleton leaf, cut low and square, through which her figure could be seen to the best advantage. She was slightly inclined to embonpoint [hourglass figure]."

Perhaps to a mind as full of magic and mystery as was Mr. Barrie's, Tinkerbell might seem "common." But to my not-quite-so enchanted mind, I find her utterly delightful.

And perfectly petulant.

Her voice is a bell, thus earning her half of her name, and is understandable only to those who are gifted with the knowledge of fairy language. According to her creator, she is an actual tinker, a mender of pots and kettles . . . an odd occupation for a fairy, perhaps, but who are we to say what a fairy may or may not do?

Although very tiny (so tiny that, represented on stage she was no more than a flickering mirror light), Tinkerbell can be a bit of a frightening character. She is, according to Barrie, so small that she can only support one emotion at a time . . . therefore, when she is angry, she is ALL angry. Did she not convince the Lost Boys to shoot at Wendy with arrows?

But she is also very brave and very loyal. Did she not knowingly drink poison intended for Peter Pan?

She is, I think, a fabulous portrait of what fairies are supposed to be. They are other. They are different. They are not necessarily comprehensible to us because they aren't us. And this is what Tinkerbell embodies.

She is, of course, best known in her classic Disney representation:

She was, according to my reading, based off the Bathing Beauty ideal of the day, and is a lot more girly and humanized than, for instance, the 1924 silent film vision of her:

A little 1920's modish, here, but perhaps a bit more otherworldly than Disney.

As an icon, she has surpassed even Peter Pan himself with her Disney spin-off show . . . which I have not seen. It doesn't look particularly other, so much as mass-market, so not so much my taste, you understand.

 I might have loved it when I was littler, though!

And in live action movies, we have seen her in the 1991 film, Hook, played with elfin (if a little Hollywood-ized) impishness by Julia Roberts:

And we saw her again in the 2003 Peter Pan movie:

Very much reflecting the Disney bathing beauty interpretation of Tinkerbell here. Must admit, I would have liked to have seen her a little more otherworldly here. But modern audiences have the Disney vision pretty much ingrained in their heads by now. And, while I do love Disney (I'm not a Princess Movie Basher, by any means!), I can't help but wish people would realize there are other options for fairy tale interpretation sometimes . . .

Speaking of Tinkerbell in movies, did you know they are making a live-action film called Tinkerbell?

A far cry from the figure of strange, childlike mystery James Barrie conjured up for us from his imagination. But Tinkerbell remains, nevertheless, one of the most beloved literary fairies of all time!


Faith King said...

I really like the Tinker Bell films, most especially the first two. They don't really make the fairies feel "otherworldly" as you say, but they are very strong stories, not just slapped together on a whim. Also, I'm a sucker for an onslaught of bright, pleasant colors in my animation.

Since you're such a fan of Gail Carson Levine, though, I would recommend the books she's written for Disney that actually kick-started the franchise. The first Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg is a heart-stealer, and the illustrations are breathtaking. I see there's a third one out now as of February! I'll have to track it down!

Laura and I actually did some major overhaul to our fairies in Awakenings, grappling with the very point you bring out here: how do we make them different than tiny human beings with wings? I'm pretty pleased with the decisions we made and implemented.

Galadriel said...

Now I want to go grab a copy of Peter Pan. So many books, so little time...

Eszter said...

I don't think James Barrie knew just what an impact he created with his invention of Tinkerbell. I love her mostly because she is who she is: not perfect-and seemingly proud of the fact. I've actually read the books that Faith King mentioned. Really cute if you ask me! But then, I'm a sucker for children fantasy stories.

Are you serious about the live action Tinkerbell movie? That would be AWESOME! IF they make her true to James Barrie. While I grew up and love Disney's interpretation, it would be interesting to see a new spin on her-just like you said-otherworldly.

Clara said...

Have you read Peter and the Starcatchers, Anne Elisabeth? That features a very other-worldly Tinkerbell. Plus, it's a WONDERFUL book. I think you would enjoy it.

Rachel6 said...

Tinkerbell changed pretty hilariously from Disney's Peter Pan movie to her spin-of series. She was Barrie's all-or-nothing sprite, albeit a Bathing Beauty sprite, and she did try to kill Wendy in the movie. Cue the series, and all she wants is to make pots and pans and get into cute girly adventures. That said, it was a decent movie.

This post makes me reevaluate my faeries. I'm not sure I can hang onto the otherworldly aspect and still create likable, understandable characters....any thoughts?

Anne Elisabeth Stengl said...

@Rachel6: That's a good question about writing faeries! I have dealt with that in my own work, finding that difficult ballance. It's especially hard since we think that a "relatable" character must mean someone "like-us." But the whole point of faeries is that they AREN'T like us!

I'm afraid I have no solutions for you. I have tried various methods myself, but I've never come up with a translatable formula. My biggest recommendation is to read about various famous fairies (Ariel, Tinkerbell, and more) and see what those authors tried. Many of them really AREN'T relatable . . . but they are still lovable.

I'm so not good at giving writing instruction . . . Heheh! What works for me might not work for you, after all! I always end up falling back on the most basic rule of successful writing:

"Read! Read! Read! and Write! Write! Write!"

I suppose my only other suggestion is: "If your fairy/elf characters are nothing more than people with wings/pointy ears, consider making them people with normal ears and skip the fairy element altogether. The point is the character, and I'm MUCH more likely to be captivated by a human with magical abilities than a fairy with human sensibilities . . . "

Happy writing! :)