Visualizing Wonder: English 394R Winter 2017


394 flyer

English 394 is no ordinary English class, this class is specially designed to teach you marketable skills that will help you in the workplace. In this class, you will:

  • Gain a working knowledge of the contemporary scholarship in the field of fairy tale studies in the context of media studies and adaptation studies
  • Build a solid grasp of the field and practice of digital humanities and use those strategies to approach the study of fairy tales and television in innovative ways
  • Contribute to and manage an online database and data visualization tools
  • Visualize and draw conclusions from big data sets through relational graphs and interactive data tools
  • Tailor your critical reading skills
  • Write for both academic and general audiences
  • Learn or improve research skills
  • Contribute to the ongoing FTTV project in the form of the blog, database website, and social media accounts
  • Manage social media and project outreach
  • Collaborate in teams to complete projects and tasks
  • Craft, advertise, host, and reflect on a variety of public programming events
  • Publish on the blog and work to expand its audience
  • Hone skills with WordPress, production and graphic design, and budgeting
  • Create a business plan to extend the reach and contributions of the project in the community as well as the academic field
  • Produce professional products for the public to see

This class is an Applied English class and fulfills the English + requirement for the new English major. Though this is an upper-division course, you do not need to complete English 295 as a prerequisite to this course. This is a specialized course that will not be offered very often, so take advantage of this opportunity to gain all of these skills next semester in Dr. Rudy’s 394R !

Posted in Contests and Events, Working With the Database | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Girls and Boys and Animals: Graphing Patterns in Mash-up Episodes

jack and red

One of the unique elements of TV is that they don’t have to market towards a specific group to buy their product, the way movies, books, or toys do, so they work to make a product that will attract as many viewers as possible across a much wider spectrum. Though children’s TV is created with children specifically in mind, the shows want to attract as many different types of children as possible. This makes studying gender patterns of characters and tales in children’s television interesting, especially when one gender becomes clearly more prominent than the other.

For my project on mashups I used every data point in the Channeling Wonder Database that is from a children’s television show and is tagged with more than one fairy tale type.

My first step in this project, which I outline in this post about my methodology, was to sort different tale types by elements like gender of main character. I expected most of the mashups would be like the Veggie Tales TV movie “Sweetpea Beauty,” which uses the stories and characters of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White, three stories of European traditional origin that contain princesses, magic, and castles.

However, not all of the mashups were the types of mashups I was expecting. (Think how boring research would be if it always turned out how we thought it would!) To visualize my findings, I created the following graph visualizing the mashups as combinations of tales with female, male, or animal protagonists.

better graph

(click graph to expand)

There are several trends contained in this graph. First, the female protagonists show up at a much higher rate than the male protagonists do (there’s more pink!), and are also increasing more than the male protagonists over time. As number of tales combined to create a mashup is rising over time, the number of male protagonist tales stays constant. This means as a whole, there is a higher percentage of female protagonists showing up in these mashup episodes over time.

To me, the most interesting thing about this graph is that, with the exception of two Looney Toons episodes which are made up of only animal tales, every bar has pink touching the bottom of the graph. There is not one case where only male-protagonist fairy tales are combined together, or where an animal tale and a male-protagonist tale are joined for a mash up. Why is this?

One knee-jerk explanation is that there are more common fairy tales that have girls in lead roles, but the data doesn’t support this. The top five fairy tales that are present in mash-up episodes on children’s television are (in order of frequency) Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella,  Jack & the Beanstalk, Three Little Pigs, and Three Bears. Two of these are female tales, one is male, two are animal. This diverse mix shows that it’s not a cut-and-dry “fairy tales are for girls” situation.

top 5

This prevalence of female-focused tales evident in this graph could be caused by the widespread oversimplification that princess = fairy tale, or that all fairy tales are targeted by default for girls. When TV decides to use fairy tales, they use a female tale as an access point to that tradition. I call this “the female anchor” strategy, and make the claim that these female-focused tales are chosen intentionally in order to connect the fairy tale approach to the wider fairy tale context that exists in our minds. Our assumptions about the femininity of fairy tales as a genre might be due to the Disney princess movies operating as our society’s most visible and influential fairy tales. Or, this could be caused by something even further back, the tales’ origination in the oral tradition that existed in nurseries, by kitchen fires, and in other domestic spaces that have been part of the female realm since long before anyone wrote down a single fairy tale.

Children gathered around a grandmother telling a story. This is the most traditional context for fairy tales.

This general association between femininity and fairy tales may cause creators of television mash-up episodes to feel that they need to include at least one female protagonist in order to ground them in the fairy tale tradition. If they are going to go out on a limb and really go for it with the fairy tale thing for one episode (the vast majority of these mashups are single episodes from a series that has little to do with fairy tales at the outset), they may feel they need one female character, a recognizable one with easy-to-read iconography like Little Red Riding Hood with her red cape, in order to tie them securely to that tradition. These female protagonists are used to effectively signal to viewers “This is a fairy tale episode. Adjust your expectations accordingly.”

I offer one explanation to this pattern, but there very well could be others. This could be a pattern based in fairy tale adaptation studies, the process and conventions of creating television, or more generally creating products meant for children. In fact, the issue of children playing roles in television meant for children is the issue I’ll be discussing next in this fairy tale mashup series. If children relate better to other children on television, how will that affect how television uses fairy tales with adult or adolescent characters?

Posted in Working With the Database | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Fairy Tales on the Small Screen: Summing up the Salon


Not so long ago, not so far away, a group of project participants and like minded individuals gathered to discuss the classic salon topic of fairy tales and this newfangled invention of television.


Well, maybe television is not exactly bleeding edge, but it would certainly be foreign to those creating the genre of fairy tales in salons in the 18th and 19th century. We replicated these social and educational gatherings to celebrate and discuss what might be the end of the golden age of fairy tale television.


Lauren kicked off the discussion by sharing Gypsy Thornton’s entry on Once Upon A Blog that claims “Thus Begins the End of the Fairy Tale TV Series Golden Age” right in the title. 


The room discussed whether the age was ending, and even if there ever had been a golden age at all.



Discussion went back and forth from fairy tales to television, then back to fairy tales again. Fairy tales is only one genre, and isn’t television in general going through a revolution now?



Lauren broke out some hard data, graphing the trends of the frequency of different tales across both film and tv. The statistics on film came from The International Fairy-Tale Filmography and those on television from our database.



We discussed the numbers for the shows that had been on during the “golden age” and how exactly these lined up with perceptions about the varying popularity and importance of each series.




There was conversation on Nielsen ratings, the fall of Once Upon a Time, the relevancy of fairy tales, and the fickle nature of endings on television. Eventually Preston and Lauren presented their theory of the duality of fairy tale television: fairy tales have to end, they have a “Happily Ever After” but television is meant to both last for an indeterminate amount of time and be ready to end at any moment. Can there be a satisfying ending for any fairy tale series?




Have any thoughts about fairy tales, television, or both? Find us on our Facebook page and visit our database , or let us know if you find anything missing. We hope to see you at the next event!

Posted in Contests and Events, Working With the Database | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fairy Tale Salon : Event on October 20!

Fairy Tale Salon Signage

We will be having a wonderful event next week in 4101 JFSB where we hope to have some cool conversations about fairy tales and television and their interesting relationship. It’s a salon, so there will be great discussion and some refreshments and we hope that you all come and contribute and join in! From 5 to 6 pm on Thursday, October 20th, we will be on the fourth floor of the JFSB having a great time!

Below is an interview with Dr. Jill Rudy of the BYU English Department and the Fairy Tales on Television Research Group, where she discusses all the reasons that this event is going to be a blast!

What should people expect when they come to this event?

They should expect to be able to talk about their television viewing habits and experiences and, of course, we are going to want to hear about their fairy tale TV viewing experiences and hope that they have some. They should come prepared to talk, to listen, and to get some context about fairy tales on television, but we really do want to hear what people’s experiences are. We hope that they can give us some insights on the question of “is this is the beginning of the end of the golden age of fairy tales on television?”.

We are calling it a salon because there is a history of people gathering together to share fairy tales and talk about fairy tales and we want to tap into that. Part of that will be the refreshments. You should come prepared for conviviality and food, as well as discussion. And, there may be some clips. [On campus], we have film screenings and we have International Cinema and we have lectures before the films, so part of this is that we want to figure out how to have deep, insightful conversations about television as a medium, as a way of telling stories, especially as it connects with fairy tales.

The CW’s Beauty and the Beast series

What are the proposed topics of discussion?

So we started this idea because of a blog post about the end of [CW’s] second Beauty and the Beast series where a blogger wondered if this was “the beginning of the end of the Golden Age.” So we decided that we had some ideas about that and we wanted to share and see what some other people around campus thought about that. So it will start with some of those issues, and, again, ask for people’s experiences, especially with fairy tale shows like Beauty & The Beast, Once Upon A Time, and Grimm, the recent dramas. But then we also want to historicize it because we have our database about fairy tales on television, so we want to see if there have been other “Golden Ages” of fairy tales on television and what happened when they came and went. We’ll talk about specific aspects of television as a story telling medium and ways that endings are particularly interesting when you combine fairy tales and television.

Does a person need any level of expertise or experience to participate in this event?

No, it would be great if you’ve never watched a fairy tale on television because we need to remember that this may not be as popular and fun as we think it is. But if you are a big fan of any of those shows, then that would be great also. Also anything related, one thing we learned with doing the database is that there might be a specific tie-in, like Beauty and the Beast obviously connects to one fairy tale, or Once Upon a Time does a mashup, and Grimm sort of does some specific tales but it also just has more an aura of a specific type of tale. We are interested in other shows that people might be watching that seem like a fairy tale to see: is it in our database? Should it be more on our radar? We want people to participate and also I think they will learn something more about fairy tales on television.
It should be a lot of fun!

Join us at 5pm in room 4101 of the JFSB next Thursday, the 20th of October, for riveting discussion and a whole new appreciation for fairy tales on television!

Posted in Contests and Events | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Cinderella’s Sidekicks and their Choices, or Lack Thereof

Jaq and Gus

When Cinderella is adapted into other mediums, especially when these adaptations are intended for children or families, the animals barely in the original tale become sidekicks with a lot more screen-time. So what happens when you take a plot point and turn it into a character? You give it the ability to make choices within the story — you give it agency.

Betty Boop’s Poor Cinderella is, for my purposes, the first time these animals are given any characterization. And by characterization I mean the ability to sing an absurdly silly song about being free. I have chosen to interpret this musical number as a confirmation of sentience.


It haunts my nightmares

Let’s leave the singing pumpkin to another discussion.

The mice and lizards obviously have some idea of what choice means, or else why would they be so passionate about freedom? They seem to exercise their agency by rolling the singing pumpkin into the street, apparently knowing they are about to be turned into something else. There’s not much in the way of motivations or distinct characters for these very brief sidekicks, but there’s only so much you can expect from a 10 minute cartoon. As the short first premiered in 1934 (it’s a very early example in the Fairy Tales and TV Database), there’s a very real possibility this choice to characterize these specific aspects of the original tale were picked up by other adaptations. I think it is also important to note that Betty Boop cartoons, especially those done by the Fleischer brothers in the 1930s, often gave random elements of the story human characteristics for little reason. Poor Cinderella, in all likelihood, accidentally started a trend of giving Cinderella sidekicks without realizing it.

Pictured: not televison.

Pictured: not televison.

The obvious place to look when talking about sidekicks in Cinderella is Disney’s Cinderella. And while this is a fairy tales and television project, I think it’s important to include the classic film and the reimagining in 2015  and their relationship to the characters they’ve created. It’s very easy to see the agency of the 1950 mice, as they spend the first half of the film with essentially the same amount of deliberate choices as Cinderella. Though despite this control they initially possess, during the iconic transformation scene it is clear they have absolutely no idea what is going on, though seem to be relatively fine with the entire situation once it has happened. Still, there agency no longer matters after this point, whatever personalities they have developed have to be moved aside to make room for the fairy tale.

In the 2015 remake, the mice are portrayed much more realistically. They have a certain amount of presence in the film, but by no means do they have the amount of characterization or level of agency that their earlier counterparts did. The react to the spell in basically the same way as the 1950 film, running away from the strange force, but returning once fully transformed, apparently understanding their new role in the story. Interestingly, they do seem to gain some level of agency after the transformation, the we are shown a deliberate choice between food and opening a window, which is ultimately what saves this Cinderella.

The only real sidekick in the Muppetland TV special Hey Cinderella! is Kermit, and the Fairy Godmother does something different in terms of the transformation as well: she explains the situation. This finally places the choice of whether to go through what must be a terrifying and worldview-altering transformation in the hands, or flippers in this case, of the one it will affect. And when given this choice, he says no.

From The Muppet Movie

You can’t change a character’s species whose entire existence is based around the relative ease of being green.

While this version straddles the line between parody and sincerity, Kermit is given more agency and breadth of choice than any other sidekicks, likely because he is the Muppet: he may not be the central character in this story, but he is the lead in the franchise. Because he is identifiable as a character from outside the tale, he gets to make choices about his role within it.

When these side characters are turned into full sidekicks, suddenly there’s a lot more they can do within the narrative, including demonstrating their own agency. However, the animals to be transformed still need to fulfill this narrative as their original roles, even if it goes contrary to their new available choices. They can’t be the active agent in their story, because they were always a part of someone else’s story.


Real quick: Hi! I’m Gigi Valentine, I’ve just joined the Fairy Tales and TV project and am super excited to be working with very smart people about a subject I’ve always been a little overly-fascinated with. This post is adapted from an essay I wrote in Dr. Rudy’s Late-Summer Honors course about fairy tales, agency, and media, which is why it is not completely about television. Hope you’ll excuse that detail!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

But HOW are the Fairy Tales Mashed-up in Children’s Television?

Fairy Tale Mashups. We all know about them. We’ve all seen them in many forms, from books to movies to TV. Fairy tale narratives are so short, simple, and familiar that it’s easy to combine them to make something new and fun out of these old stories. Studying the ‘why’ of fairy tale mashups gets to the heart of what we do at the FTTV project, but this particular post is about the ‘how’.

HOW are these fairy tales mashed together in children’s TV? What strategies are used? Are there patterns?

While completing this project, I studied many mashups. I read plot summaries on some of them, but some I was lucky enough to be able to find and watch. I found that just because there are multiple fairy tale motifs present in one episode does not necessarily mean the plots are woven together or that the characters play more than one role. There are three dominant strategies used to present multiple fairy tale motifs in a single episode, though most actual mashups are a combination or a creative reworking of these strategies.

First, there is the strategy that uses a fairy tale storyworld where many fairy tale characters live and interact. This is the concept that is used for movies like Hoodwinked or the musical Into the Woods. There are not many single episodes that use this strategy since the building of the storyworld works best if worked into the premise of the entire run of the show. This is the case for the children’s show Super Why!, which takes place in Storybrook Village, “where all the fairy tale friends live.” The very premise of Super Why! is a fairy tale mashup because the four main characters are contextualized in the fairy tale world as relatives of characters from fairy tales like the Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack & the Beanstalk, and the Princess & the Pea. This allows the protagonists to be original characters, but to live in a world where many fairy tale plots happen.

In this episode, Baby Bear’s story has to do with the original plot of “The Three Bears” tale, as we can see both Goldilocks and porridge featured.

The second is the Sesame Street approach. Behind the scenes on our project, we have a note that says “What to do about Sesame Street?” This is a big question for us because of the way Sesame Street works with fairy tales. Sesame Street is a place where many fairy tale characters live, along with original characters like Elmo and Big Bird and humans like Mr. Hooper and Gordon. These characters canonically exist in the same universe, but in creating a database we are left with a problem because characters are separated from their plots. Baby Bear is a recurring character, but most of his appearances have nothing to do with Goldilocks eating his porridge and sleeping in his bed (though some do).

Baby Bear at school with Little Red Riding Hood , Jack, Jill, Hansel, & Gretel, in his class taught by Mother Goose

In “Baby Bear’s First Day of School” he goes to school with characters from fairy tales, like Hansel & Gretel, as well as nursery rhymes, like Jack & Jill, and learns lessons relevant to the kindergarten audience of the show. But is this truly a fairy tale retelling or adaptation, or is the Sesame Street character of Baby Bear distinct from the tale of the Three Bears when he is separated from the narrative? These questions are difficult to answer in a productive and consistent way, especially considering that Sesame Street has 47 years worth of episodes.

The Storybook frame is caught in this picture, as you can see Oscar reading the tale of “Sleeping Grouchy” in the upper left, while the story is portrayed by the characters Gordon, Maria, and Grundgetta

However, other episodes of Sesame Street use fairy tales in a more straightforward way, by separating the plot of the show and the plot of the fairy tale by using a frame story, often an actual storybook.

Barney pulls out a physical storybook and reads to the children in the show, a format that hearkens back to a model of parents reading fairy tales to kids.

This is the third technique, also used on Barney in “Barney’s Once Upon A Time.” In this episode, Barney pulls out a physical story book and starts to read a story to the children, the audience is pulled into the story as we watch the children play the parts of the miller’s daughter, the king, and Rumpelstiltskin. The story finishes, we see the children listening to Barney finish the story, the children react, and then we start “Rapunzel.” Both stories are entirely separate and for this format there is no reason that the tales need to have anything in common to make the episode cohesive. The short, simple, familiar, and highly visual fairy tale stories work perfectly for this format, and it allows the audience to see the actors of the show play fairy tale characters in dress up, promoting imaginative play in the young audience of the show.

My initial expectation starting my project on fairy tale patterns in mashups was that I would find that mashups would consist mostly of fairy tales that had traits in common, whether they came from similar traditions, all had princesses as main characters, or all featured children as protagonists. This turned out to not be the case, and one of the main reasons for that is most single-episode mashups are of the second or third types of mashup, neither of which require that the tales have enough in common to mesh with the same fairy tale story land.

Coming soon: More digital humanities visualizations of fairy tale mashups, also, the first post from our new team member with a piece on agency and sidekick characters in adaptations of Cinderella!


Posted in Working With the Database | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Fairy Tale Mash-ups in Children’s Television: Digital Humanities Strategies (featuring Arthur)


Of all of children’s TV, my favorite show is Arthur, the adventures of that beloved, perpetually-eight-years-old aardvark and all of his friends and family that has been on the air since the year I was born, making it the second-longest running animated series in history.

“It’s ‘Fairy Tales’,” Arthur says, “these are some of the weirdest, scariest, most exciting stories ever.”

A season 5 episode of Arthur entitled “Just Desserts” (link to watch) (IMDb citation) has always been one of my favorites. After Arthur eats too much candy, he is thrown into an imaginative dream sequence (which most episodes of Arthur contain) that, in only seven minutes, skillfully weaves four different fairy tale plots together: Hansel & Gretel, Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, and Jack & the Beanstalk.

arthur and cake

“Grandma, what creamy skin you have. And what frosty hair you have. And what dark chocolatey eyes!”

This process of mashing up fairy tale motifs together in such a short amount of screen time intrigued me enough to research it on a larger scale for presentation at the Western States Folklore Society’s Annual Meeting at UC Berkeley last April (read about my experience at this link)

My first step in completing this project was to go to the database and pull everything I needed. Our Fairy Tales on Television database is huge, containing over 1500 individual data points, and I found each data point that met both parameters of my project:

1) From a children’s TV show

2) Tagged with more than one fairy tale type

And then I, English major and folklore scholar that I am, was met with a set of 31 data points from which to begin to ask questions and draw conclusions about the way that children’s television employs fairy tales in combination with each other. I figured that the best way to find something interesting was to make the data visual, so I embraced digital humanities tactics, made myself a gigantic spreadsheet, and started quantifying and graphing.

I was particularly interested in the first step of the process, where the creators of the television show would choose to use fairy tales. What kind of combinations made the most sense? Which fairy tales lent themselves most easily to combination with other tales? In accordance with this, I focused my research on the tale types in general instead of their specific context within the episodes.


When Arthur finds this red cloak and puts it on, we know what fairy tale to expect next without any words being said.

This picture illustrates that, despite Arthur, who is a male character, playing Little Red Riding Hood in this adaptation, the protagonist code for Little Red Riding Hood remains female. In his dreamscape of this episode, he also plays Hansel, Jack, Little Red Riding Hood, and the Big Bad Wolf. In the process of adaptation for TV and for mashups, many of the tales become twisted in a way that could change the tale beyond recognition if it wasn’t for the trusty fairy tale iconography, such as the red cape.

After gathering the data, I proceeded to lump the data points into groups by what tales they used: gender of protagonist, whether the protagonist was a child or an adult, human or animal tale, the nature of the fairy tale world, the character of the villain in the story, the origin of the tale, the year the episode aired, and on and on.

Here is an inside look at my methodology for the example episode. I continued this system of assigning codes to fairy tale types for the other data points in the sets.

Here is an inside look at my methodology for the example episode. I continued this system of assigning codes to fairy tale types for the other data points in the sets.

This system of converting fairy tale types into numerical data enabled me to create graphs to see trends or interesting patterns. One is the rising number of tales found in each mashup episode.

graph 3

This pattern is an interesting time-dependent pattern. We can see an increase in the number of tales found in each mashup episode. Before a 1978 episode of Super Friends entitled “Fairy Tale of Doom” aired, there were no fairy tale mashup episodes that used more than two tales together. But in the decade between 2000 and 2010, there were more mashups of three or four tales (such as “Just Desserts”) than of only two. Will this pattern increase? Will a show be able to fit five tales together in one episode soon? What about six?

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for my findings concerning gender, age, and villain patterns, mashup strategies, and other questions that arose as I worked with this data.

And go watch that Arthur episode! It’s only eleven minutes long and so much fun!


Posted in Working With the Database | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The Folklore of Folklore Conferences

There was a moment during the Western States Folklore Society 75th annual meeting last month where I realized how specific and special folklore studies scholars are. I was attending this conference, like my peers Ariel Peterson and Lauren Redding, for the first time under the guidance of Professor Jill Rudy. We three students came prepared to present research about our various areas of fairy tale scholarship, but that was only represented a fraction of the time we spent at the conference. It was during the Friday night lecture attended by all on “The Significance of Historical Folklore Studies for the Present” that I found myself looking around and being amazed at the collective wisdom and experience in the room. There were about fifty or so folklore scholars there and if I had to guess I’d say the average age was somewhere above fifty as well. Being in that lecture hall and attending that conference was unlike anything else I’ve done in my professional career–an admittedly short career, but a career nonetheless.

I listened as white-haired scholars discussed studies and papers they wrote from the 60s and 70s and how they influenced scholarship in the 80s and 90s and the implications it meant for the research done by new researchers in the 2000s and 2010s. These academics from all over the world had seen it all and in major ways shaped each of the conversations and presentations taking place that weekend in 2016 in Berkeley, California. These professors weren’t only practicing what they preached in recording and documenting social culture, they were living examples of folklore.

UC Berk

I don’t want to give a false impression of folklore scholars; by no means were all the conference attendees seasoned and gray. There were plenty of middle-aged and relatively young scholars there as well. But never before had I been to a professional gathering where experience, knowledge, and maturity were so invaluable and respected. I saw this recognition play out in Q&As after panels and in conversations at various receptions. I began learning important figures in folklore scholar history as their names and contributions were repeated in presentations. Perhaps this respect was best represented in a series of presentations on the history of folklore programs in the U.S. Professors from Cal-Berkeley, University of Oregon, Utah State University, University of North Carolina, and Brigham Young University. These presentations started a conversation among the conference attendees about the benefits of combining resources, of collaboration, and of the fundamentals of folklore: preservation, study, adaptation, and context. (These are the fundamentals of folklore as I understand them, anyway.) These presentations energized the conference and gave the collected scholars a chance to turn their attention to their very own folklore and the possibilities of continuing this research.

Not only did I learn about the folklore of folklore studies and the unique makeup of this area of scholarship, but I also saw practical and exciting applications of folklore studies on topics like skydiving, Michelle Obama, green-skinned fictional creatures, vloggers, and eating contests. I have had an amazing time focusing on fairy tale scholarship this past year, but it was fascinating to see the varied possibilities of folklore scholarship. As I left the conference I started thinking of untapped possibilities of local folklore yet to be studied and documented.

berk gate

I attended the conference to present my paper “Don Draper Thinks Your Ad Is Cliché: Fairy Tale Iconography in TV Commercials,” but I left the conference with more than a line on my CV.  I began conversations with fellow scholars who happily gave advice about my thesis and shared teaching materials with me. I left with a greater appreciation of academia. Most importantly, I left with a deeper understanding of the importance and possibilities of folklore scholarship.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

One Fairy Tale Girl’s Experience at a Very Serious Academic Folklore Conference

"I Believe in Folklore and Folklore Believes in Me!"

“I Believe in Folklore and Folklore Believes in Me!” (Sorry the picture is out of focus!)

On the final day of the Western States Folklore Society conference, while waiting for Dr Rudy’s presentation to begin, I had a brief conversation with Dr. Tok Thompson of the University of Southern California. After introducing myself and answering affirmatively that this was my first time at a conference, he said “Oh, be careful, they’re addicting. Once you go to one you never want to stop going to them.”

It seems like a strange concept. How can listening to presentations be addicting? How is it different from a normal class?

One of our presentation rooms

However, by the end of the conference, I easily understood what he meant. The conference lasted only two days, but I felt that for the whole time my brain was working at top speed. It was exhilarating!

It took a deep level of engagement just to understand what was being said: these scholars are highly intelligent and use great big words to express complicated ideas. Once my brain was engaged enough to understand, I found myself thinking about EVERYTHING more deeply, and making more interesting connections all the while. I had no idea that intelligent and academic thought processes were contagious!

I was glad that the environment of the conference helped me feel smarter, because this was my first time experiencing anything like this in the academic world outside of BYU, so I started out a little intimidated.

I probably was pulled into fairy tales by Ella Enchanted. I have read this book at least 12 times.

I was probably pulled into fairy tales by Ella Enchanted. I have read this book at least 12 times.

I was hired on to this research project in January. I am an undergrad in English with a Communications minor, and in all of my various interviews with English professors over my degree so far, they advised me to go talk to Professor Rudy because of my background in fairy tale research, which is her focus. My scholarly interest in fairy tales originated with a major research project in high school for my International Baccalaureate diploma. I researched and then wrote my extended essay about masculinity in fairy tales. I have always been interested in and loved fairy tales and especially their retellings, but it wasn’t until this essay I realized that they were something I could study in an academic sense. I was thrilled to be given the opportunity in a university setting to continue researching in this field.


I had background information in fairy tale research, but I knew little to nothing about what the wider field of folklore is or what makes something a folklore subject when leaving for the conference. However, I could make much more sense of it by the end of the conference, and figuring it out during was sort of fun, like putting together a puzzle.

I learned that folklore is not just the study of folktale narratives. Folklore is about the things that warrant study but aren’t written down or recorded in a conventional way (until the fieldwork folklorists come by, that is). It’s a study of parts of culture that circulate without being formalized in the way literature is published or music is commercialized. Proverbs and riddles, legends, games, songs, festival, food, and material culture are all types of folklore and I learned a lot about each of these elements in various panels I attended and conversations I had outside of formal panels.

Folklore is about the stuff that groups of people share, and I learned that conferences are just as much about sharing and community as they are about presentations and papers. The conference was a place where scholars come to be with ‘their people’ who spoke their language and cared about the things they cared about. Being welcomed into this community and finding the ways I could fit into it was the most fun part of this conference.

In short, the Western States Folklore Society Meeting was quite the epic adventure.

Fairy Tale Mash-Ups in Children's Television!

Fairy Tale Mash-Ups in Children’s Television!

Watch out for the blog version of the research I presented at the conference in the coming months: A Data Analysis of Gender, Age, and Other Patterns in Fairy Tale Mash-Up Episodes of Children’s Television Shows!

Posted in Contests and Events, Working With the Database | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

BYU Humanities Center Blog Crosspost: Folklore, Mentoring, and the Work of Art

The following post was originally published on the BYU Humanities Center blog. The post was written by Professor Jill Rudy, a Faculty Fellow for the Center.

byu hum

As a folklorist, I recognize this year’s Humanities Center theme, The Work of Art, resonates with issues of memorable and mundane learning. Is art something we must travel to see and to admire? Is it unique, costly, and rare? Does it exist simply for its own sake? Can art be part of the everyday? Is it common, free, and abundant? If art teaches or works, if art is functional, is it less art and more craft? Is art for everyone? All these yes/no questions imply a multitude of answers. Mine revolve around the relationship of art and life.

The Humanities Center theme accentuates the work element which suggests that art accomplishes something for someone. While in many ways art is an important universal given, art also remains an historical and social construct. Gerald Pocius identifies the Renaissance and colonialism with a converging Western secularism, individualism, and elitism that distinguished art and genius from a medieval understanding of skill and divine order and with a Eurocentric understanding of primitive others.[i] Constructing the term does not grant exclusive rights to creativity and an aesthetic impulse.

Dividing art from excellence is difficult, perhaps impossible. Henry Glassie asserts, “Art is what is best, deepest, richest in every culture,”[ii] yet he also reminds, “Art is thinking and it is doing. It comes out of plans and it comes out of thousands of decisions and reactions made as things unfold out of plans in unanticipated and accidental ways.”[iii] Studying in the humanities affirms that since art comes from thinking, planning, doing, deciding, and adapting, its reception should also involve those acts.

As students and advocates of people’s learning, folklorists remember that “we all strive for the skill to create forms that illuminate the human complexities of daily living.”[iv] The forms folklorists love may be verbal, customary, and material—preferring those that are traditional. This means expressions learned and shared through personal, situated interaction that repeats and varies through group sanction. Proverbs, tales, rites of passage, holiday celebrations, quilts, birthday cakes, and pottery are a few of those forms.

Thinking of traditional forms expressed through daily living, the yearly round of holidays and seasons, and the rites of the human life cycle, folklorists gravitate toward an art that is selectively skilled, keenly evaluated, and utterly common. The work of this art is getting children to put toys away by singing the “Clean Up” song. It is teaching a lesson without giving a lecture by aptly inserting, “Don’t count your chicks before they’ve hatched,” into a friendly conversation. It is laughing and crying about a favorite story. It is marking “us” from “them” by telling an ethnic joke or sharing a conspiracy theory. It is acknowledging the onset of winter with a Halloween costume and the coming of spring with a dance. It is holding an infant up toward the congregation and placing a flower, a rock, a beverage, or a meal on a gravestone.

Bert Wilson acknowledges this relationship of traditional forms shared in apt situations as behavior modification and world building. He asserts, “Through the things people make with their words, hands, and actions, they attempt to create a social world more to their own liking.”[v] This art works to change minds and to confirm continuities. He writes that when people “tell a story, or make a quilt, or perform an initiation ceremony, they are usually attempting, through the power of artistically successful forms, to influence the way people act, including at times themselves.”[vi] This observation links tradition with rhetoric and denotes the persuasive possibilities and consequences of any art work.

This work intentionally and unintentionally identifies individuals with groups and provides worldviews and ways of knowing and believing. Can a work of art be a mentor? My mentors, including Bert Wilson, still serve as guides who ask questions, make suggestions, and open up possibilities that I wouldn’t have noticed by myself. Art can do that.

Since the 1970s, fairy tales have been scrutinized particularly for the possibility that, though imaginative fictions, they provide scripts for living. Alison Lurie[vii]advocated heroines as proactive models for women, referring to lesser known folk tales, while Marcia Lieberman[viii] countered with a withering critique of Disney versions. Decades later, the debate continues over if, how, or how much, the stories and other arts and media we read, listen to, and view may actually influence individual and collective attitudes, beliefs, values, and decisions.


Research my Fairy Tales on Television (FTTV) students recently presented at the Western States Folklore Society meeting at UC Berkeley takes up some of these questions of the real-life work of stories. Ariel Peterson demonstrated that fairy godmothers, as portrayed in movies, tend to be fat and witless which discriminates by connecting body type and intelligence. Lauren Redding’s analysis of fairy tale mash ups in children’s television found that shows always feature female characters but not always males. Preston Wittwer toured television commercials since the 1950s looking for innovative, rather than clichéd, uses of tales to pitch products. The pop-up ads in his YouTube clips implicitly demonstrated how pervasive and targeted advertising has become.

In every case, whether films, shows, or commercials, audiences see fairy tale characters working through human difficulties in productions that tap into powerful traditional forms that therefore should be evaluated on being “aesthetically appropriate to the particular situation.”[ix] The work of art rewards skillful expression and creativity and invites scrutiny and accountability because, as Wilson also observes, “Art, music, literature, and dance come into being not when we move beyond necessity but when we move to a deeper necessity, to the deeper human need to create order, beauty, and meaning out of chaos.”[x] Complicities of chaos and creation manifest as art forms with the mundane acts and ultimate practices that work into everlasting lives.

[i] Pocius, “Art.” Eight Words for the Study of Expressive Culture, edited by Burt Feintuch, U of Illinois P, 2003, 44-48.

[ii] Glassie, The Spirit of Folk Art. Harry N. Abrams, 1995, 39.

[iii] Ibid., 41.

[iv] Pocius, 60.

[v] Wilson, The Marrow of Human Experience. Utah State UP, 2006, 87.

[vi] Ibid, 87.

[vii] Lurie, “Fairy Tale Liberation.” New York Review of Books, 17 Dec. 1970: 42-44.

[viii] Lieberman, “’Some Day My Prince Will Come’: Female Acculturation through the Fairy Tale.” College English 34.3 (1972): 383-395.

[ix] Dell Hymes, “Folklore’s Nature and the Sun’s Myth.” Journal of American Folklore88.350 (1975): 345-69.

[x] Wilson, 13.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment