(4/19/01 4:52:29 pm)
|The power of the name|
i am currently studying the power that names have over characters in fairy tales such as rumplestiltskin, Snow White, Rapunzel and Turnadot. I was curious if anyone had any interpretations about the psychological aspects and also the religious aspects.
(4/19/01 11:39:17 pm)
|Re: The power of the name|
I am not sure what the full intention of your question is since I see the names you listed as being widely different in some ways. Of course, you may just be seeing what we will all start to discuss.
In most fairy tales, names are simply descriptive, common or "plain" to create an everyman type of character. The Grimms use Hans several times for the everyman purpose, similar to "John Doe." Snow White is descriptive of the physical attributes of the character. Rapunzel is a name that serves as a reminder of the price paid for a daughter. Psychological and religious reasons may be assigned to these names, but most interpretations are probably stretching way beyond any truly useful purpose. (Of course, this comes from the me, the person trying to complete the annotations on her site at last and feeling very frustrated in the process.)
However, in tales like Rumpelstiltskin, the knowledge and use of the name becomes very important. It gives power to the user over the owner of the name. There are several articles about this tale and the power of the name. I can't remember any in particular at the moment, but I am sure someone else will pipe up with some in later posts.
Stith and Thompson classified Rumpelstiltskin under "The Name of the Helper." If you are studying this tale, it may be useful to read Jack Zipes' article arguing against this classification of the tale. He contends that the tale is really about spinning, spinners, and their power in their community. His arguments are compelling and quite interesting. I will have to post the name of the article later and which book it appears in. I don't have my shelves handy at the moment.
(4/20/01 6:08:51 am)
|Re: The power of the name|
The tale of Rumplestiltskin always reminds me of old faery lore in which a faery (or other supernatural creature) tends to be wary of humans knowing his/her true name. In some cases, knowing the name gives one power over the faery. The name allows the human to summon the creature, or to bind it some fashion -- or, in other cases, to banish the faery...or, conversely, to unwittingly release it.
(4/20/01 8:40:56 am)
I have asked myself a similar question before, which lead to several hours lying awake one night, pondering the possibilities. My question was, how much is Snow White defined by the colors that "name her." White, black, and red...in every (recent) rendition I have read, they don't just describe her appearance, they can also be said to describe her character and/or her life. To me, this says that the name affects not just the description of the character, but also our interpretation of the character. Consider Tanith Lee's recent "White as Snow" retelling. The Snow White character had a different name, but I would argue that she was still bound by those three colors, in more ways than just appearance. White as snow: she was cold. She had an innocence that seemed affected, a stillness to her personality and a disturbing equanimity. Red as blood: she was surrounded by sacrifice, and herself made sacrifice. More, I felt that she was defined by the color red in its absence, or the absence of the things it symbolizes to me: passion, love, and life. Black as ebony: death, the underworld, the night in which the monsters hide. The strange and twisted things of creation that stay away from the light of day. And, of course, the machinations of her mother.
But this is just a rough look, and faulty in many ways. My conclusion was that I could not write a story of Snow White and feel it was complete without making those three colors a part of the story. However, I could play with their meanings. I could use different symbolism.
But enough of my little tangent. I know a lot of the time my little brainstorms are incomprehensible to others.
Here's a question. Heidi mentions that most of the names are either descriptive of a character's physical appearance, or else generic everyman names. In other words, the names don't mean anything. But I would say that, even if the names didn't begin with any baggage, a lot of them have gathered some along the way. I'm thinking of my Snow White ideas above...would I say that she was bound by those colors (in more that just appearance) when the Grimms wrote down the story? I could say yes, but am I just seeing what I want to see?
When you ask your question about the power names have, do you mean then, when the stories were created, or now, when they are heard?
I know Terri's comment fits in my thinking somewhere, but I'm not sure were yet. This feels like a big gush of unpolished thoughts, but I'm going to post it anyway.
(4/20/01 9:43:24 am)
By the way the -el in the names of Hänsel and Gretel are a German grammatic way of making something smaller, Hänsel and Gretel meaning Little Hans and Little Margarethe.
The Rumpel in Rumpelstilzchen may come from the verb rumpeln = walking loud and clumsily.
However, Rumpel is sometimes also used as a short form for Gerümpel = junk.
(4/21/01 6:35:30 am)
Eirenical: Your "unpolished thoughts" make perfect sense, don't worry. Certainly names have power, and the generic fairy tale names accrue power by association. Han(el) and Gretel may be common in Germany, but who can hear those names in this country without thinking of the fairy tale, for instance? I'm reminded of a woman I know in England who was snamed "Snow" by her mother, although she has adopted a more usual name as an adult. (She's an older woman, born prior to the creative baby naming of the Sixties, and found her odd name to be a real embarrassment growing up.) The only Snow Whites she knew were the modern ones, such as the simpering twit in the Disney cartoon. I gave her some older versions of the story and she found them quite amazing...and empowering, enabling her to think about her name in new ways.
Oh, how I wish Heinz Insu Fenkl had time to join us on this board. The symbolism behind names in fiction and folklore narratives is one of his special interests. He once sent me a breakdown of the symbolism behind some of the names in The Wood Wife that made me feel like a much more clever writer than I actually am, since none of it was conciously done....but I suppose I shouldn't admit that... : - )
(4/21/01 11:45:16 am)
|Names. . .or something more?|
I, on the other hand, read Rumnplestiltskin as a thinly disguised anti-semitic tale. The moral center of the story is surely not the miller (who lies) or his daughter (complicitous in the lie) or the king (greedy for gold) but the little man who is willing to help and does what he says he will do.
Change straw into gold. A money lender, by God. With an unrpounceable name. Who lives outside the hallowed palace grounds. With an unpronounceable name. And who wants the child--so the queen believes--for some horrible blood rite (though there is no evidence of this.)
In the English version, the little man is a "black imp." And in some varients he is a gypsy.