Saturday, October 27, 2012

"La Llorona"

On many a dark night people would see her walking along the riverbank and crying for her children, reads the opening text of episode nine (season two). This Halloween episode is dedicated to the Mexican legend of La Llorona (the weeping woman). Read the Wikipedia entry about variations of this ghostly Latin American tale HERE.

Episode Summary (from Wikipedia):  A series of horrifying child attack and abductions at Halloween pairs Nick and Hank with Valentina Espinosa, a mysterious detective, and Juliette, who joins as the Spanish translator. The more Nick digs into the case, the more he realizes the pattern of the kidnapping matches those in the famed Hispanic horror story La Llorona, a story with its roots intertwined with his own family’s history. Meanwhile, Monroe celebrates the holiday in fine style as he teaches the neighborhood bullies a lesson.

Grimm on Grimm: While fairy tales around the world are teeming with mermaids and water spirits, the legend of La Llorona features a somewhat different link to water. This supernatural spirit is said to wander near the river or the ocean crying. Both her tears and the local topography are two important sources of water that are central to the story. This contrasting pair functions as a microcosm/macrocosm allegory of life: on a small scale, we are made of water and this liquid state harbors human life in its earliest stages. At the larger, macrocosmic level, we are surrounded by powerful, often tempestuous bodies of water that  occupy most of our planet. The latter is life sustaining on a grand scale (source of food, recall the revered annual flooding of the Nile as confirmation of the harvest, etc.), and viewed as the source of life in many creation myths around the world (not to mention water's real-life evolutionary significance), but is also something to be feared for its unknown depths, functioning nicely as a reference to the unconscious mind of the mother in this story. The water of life, symbolized by La Llorona's fertility--we learn that she had three children--is harshly contrasted with the river waters that facilitated La Llorona's drowning of her own offspring (in an act of desperation to secure the love of a man), echoing again the microcosm (birth canal, water of life represented by her children ) and the macrocosm (drowning in deadly river or ocean water). Contrasting the micro/macro can also be read as loss of the individual to society (see below for more correlations between women and repression within the tale that fit this interpretation).

There's certainly room for exploring multiple topics within La Llorona legend, including the role of the mother and family structure (immediately evoking the Greek stories of  Medea and Lamia), as well as the colonial history of Mexico (symbols of death, repression of indigenous culture, etc.). One of the things that strikes me in particular is the importance of sound. In both the episode and the traditional story, witnesses hear the sobs of La Llorona. Banshees, Celtic omens of death who wail when someone is about die, immediately spring to mind for their parallel links to sound and death. In this vein, crying, as represented in the release of suppressed emotions or outrage, could function with the theme of colonialism, an important aspect in the history of both Mexico and Ireland (stronghold of the Banshee legend). The use of sound also serves to draw attention or achieve results, which certainly occurs in the Grimm episode: the first boy is kidnapped when his father is distracted by La Llorona's tears, allowing her plan of abduction to succeed. 

It should not go unnoticed that these mythic creatures, whose wails and cries strike fear in their listeners, are all women. Crying is traditionally represented as a female trait, the "weaker sex" having been historically assigned to the domain of hysteria, unlike the "rational" male mind. Unable to speak using words (or is it simply that no one listens?), their desperate cries are unleashed on the world, followed by catastrophe. 

Speaking of sound, here in the realm of fairy tales, where we are free to explore the depths of the unconscious mind, language and thought need not be entirely logical. Thus, sounds may hold a greater importance in this dream-like space than they do in real life. Perhaps a wail is worth a thousand words...

For those interested in other representations of the La Llorona legend, I recommend several Mexican films that I've viewed recently:

KM 31: Kilometre 31 (film - Mexico - 2006) : film loosely based on motifs found in the legend
La Llorona (film - Mexico - 1960) : classic B&W horror film inspired by the legend
La Llorona (film - Mexico - 1933) : more classic horror based on the legend

Friday, October 26, 2012

"Pinocchio" & "The Other Side"

I thought of making myself a beautiful marionette. It must be wonderful, one that can dance, fence and turn somersaults. Episode eight of season two is inspired by the story of Pinocchio, a late 19th century serial turned novel for children. Released as The Adventures of Pinocchio, the tale was created by Carlo Collodi, a celebrated Italian translator of French fairy tales. The novel is now in the public domain and can be read online or downloaded for e-readers free of charge at Project Gutenberg

Episode Summary: (from Nick and Hank investigate a murdered high school student who was killed because of their involvement in an academic decathlon. Meanwhile, Monroe gets a visitor at the spice shop and Renard must deal with his obsession.

Grimm on Grimm: This episode centers around a troubled teen who has, unbeknownst to him, been genetically manipulated by his scientist mother. His cross Wesen genes are almost like split personalities and the boy is unaware when his violent side surfaces, leading him to murder a number of classmates. The mother is a modern puppet master Geppetto in that her well-meaning genetic modifications were intended to create the perfect son, just as Geppetto crafted the ideal marionette. I haven't yet read The Adventures of Pinocchio, so my only notions of Pinocchio come from the Disney film, which I must have seen as a child, and Pinocchio references found in popular culture. I'm told the original story is much darker and exhibits strong links with older fairy tales, a subject with which the author was intimately familiar due to his passionate work in translation. Collodi's novel is loaded onto my Kindle and I'm very impatient to get started! Until then, I'm ill-prepared to comment further on the episode and look forward to updating this post within the next few weeks, at which point  The Adventures of Pinocchio will be fresh in my mind. I leave you with this link to an article on Pinocchio's "otherness" as the archetypal man-made boy √† la Frankenstein. 

"The Bottle Imp" & "The Spirit in the Bottle"

"Let me out, let me out," the spirit cried. And the boy, thinking no evil, drew the cork out of the bottle. Episode seven (season two) is inspired by the Brothers Grimm tale (99), The Spirit in the Bottle. The original story is about a bottle buried beneath a tree that is found by the son of a woodcutter. The boy then unleashes a violent spirit when he uncorks his mysterious find. You can read the short tale HERE. It's also interesting to consider the story's parallels with variations of the Middle Eastern folk tale of Aladdin, the boy who releases a genie from a magical lamp (a story now found in Western versions of  One Thousand and One Nights, also known as Arabian Nights).

Episode Summary: (from Sidereel) An investigation into a gruesome murder leads Nick and Hank to an unstable father and his daughter. Elsewhere, Monroe fills in for Rosalee at the spice shop; and Capt. Renard deals with women from his past.

Grimm on Grimm: Although many fans have complained that this episode fell short compared to recent developments seen on the show, it nevertheless features  interesting fairy tale motifs and a fun spin on the original story that inspired it. First, the idea of an evil spirit released from a bottle is transposed to a little girl unleashed on the outside world, wreaking  plenty of deadly havoc as a young and untamed Wesen. As the episode begins, we see April Granger innocently seated at home, waiting for her father on the front porch. This establishes an immediate contrast between the interior and exterior, home versus the outside world, that is paralleled in the original story by the bottle spirit being either uncorked or sealed, as well as the bottle's location above or underground (note that in the tale of Aladdin, much of the action takes place underground as well, not to mention the genie that is released from inside the much coveted lamp).

April Granger, the "bottle imp".
Eventually, we learn that the young girl is a Drang-Zorn (urge, stress + wrath) whose Wesen nature has developed prematurely. The harm she causes, however grave, isn't necessarily her fault, but her Wesen parents can hardly count on the City of Portland to understand that, underlining once again the contrast of interior (Wesen and the highly select inner circle privy to their existence) and exterior (general public, oblivious to the supernatural creatures with whom they coexist). In order to conceal his daughter's violent tendencies, the girl's father builds an underground bunker, another reference to the Brothers Grimm story, in which the bottle is buried beneath a tree.

Although not featured in The Spirit in the Bottle story, the episode's plot about a young girl who develops as a Wesen too soon can easily be read as an analogy for puberty and menstruation, specifically. April appears indeed to be the perfect age to represent the youngest end of the spectrum in terms of menstrual onset. Yet again, the inner/outer contrast is at play here: April's outer youthful and sweet appearance versus the discomfort and harsher changes she is experiencing internally. Other fairy tales that tackle (often violently) girls' coming of age include: The Red Shoes, Little Red Riding Hood and Donkey Skin, to name just a few. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

"Over My Dead Body" & "The Three Snake Leaves"

Whilst he thus gazed before him, he saw a snake creep out of a corner of the vault and approach the dead body. So reads the opening text of the sixth episode of season two, "Over My Dead Body", inspired by the story The Three Snake Leaves (Grimm 016). You can read the tale in a variety of languages HERE

Episode summary (from
Monroe's old girlfriend Angelina returns to Portland and he discovers he may pay the cost for associating with a Grimm. Meanwhile, Renard receives a visitor of his own from Europe.

Grimm on Grimm: While the original story recounts the use of special leaves whose magical attributes can bring one back from the dead, this episode reverses the tale's medicinal properties when Monroe imbibes a concoction that allows him to appear dead in order to fool a königschlange (literally "king snake"), a King Cobra-type Wesen, who has taken a price out on Monroe's head as punishment for associating with a Grimm.

One of the most obvious tributes to the Brothers Grimm story is the snake character, keeping the fairy tale's original animal symbolism intact. In this episode, the snake is the villain, but in The Three Snake Leaves, the reptiles are fairly neutral by comparison. They serve to illustrate the magical effects of the  life-endowing leaves when the hero of the fairy tale kills a snake and witnesses another snake bring it back to life. This extraordinary resurrection inspires him to use the magical leaves on his recently deceased princess. In both the story and the episode, the choice of animal is important. Snakes have long been associated with cycles of life and death, their shedding skin akin to being reborn and leaving a previous life behind (the episode goes a bit further by endowing the snake character with evil qualities, a common association in the West). The magical plants that allow one to "cheat' death (original story) or imitate it without actually succumbing (episode) are both reflective of this connection to cycles of death and rebirth.

Most magical endeavors, however, come with a price (especially when they deal with resuscitation--which, Angelina must physically administer to save Monroe from being overcome by the medicine's powerful impact). In The Three Snake Leaves, when the princess is revived, she is no longer her loving former self, while Angelina is shot shortly after she resuscitates Monroe, keeping the balance in check. In each case, the no gift without a price mentality continues its cruel reign.

It's no accident that the number three was chosen in the original story (three leaves revived a snake cut into three pieces), while the episode is set within the context of an important love triangle (Monroe, Angelina & Rosalee). As an interesting side note, the number three in Chinese is considered lucky because it sounds like the word for "alive"(as opposed to the number four, which sounds like "death"). Most likely, however, the original tale viewed the number three from a Western perspective (holy trinity, perfection) as it relates to other Christian symbols in the story, while a few contemporary takes on the number three add spice to the episode. "Three's a crowd" would be an appropriate title for the awkward scene in which Monroe is dining with Rosalee (his love interest) only to be interrupted by his former girlfriend Angelina, who bursts in on the pair with the news that she's been hired to kill Monroe. 

Another common thread between the fairy tale and the episode is the use of ambush to reveal and trap the wrong doers. In the original story, there isn't a violent ambush, but the protagonist collaborates with the king to keep himself hidden, waiting to confront the princess directly when she holds a deceptive audience with her father. Similarly, Nick and Hank keep watch from a hiding place near the drop off point where Angelina is scheduled to deliver Monroe's body to the snake man. When things goes awry, they're close enough to intervene, but things don't go quite as well as planned...

Both versions act as cautionary tales: in the original story, the princess is punished for her lack of loyalty (sent off to sea to drown in a boat riddled with holes!), while Angelina,who has somewhat redeemed herself by protecting Monroe, must die nevertheless for the murders she committed when last seen on Grimm

Saturday, October 20, 2012

"The Good Shepherd" & "The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing"

Dressed in the skin, the wolf strolled into the pasture with the sheep. Soon a little lamb was following him about and was quickly led away to slaughter. Episode five (season two) opens with a quote from The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing, an archetype with both ancient Greek and biblical ties. Although there are numerous variations of stories involving wolves among sheep, the most widely read version can be found in Aesop's Fables (451 in the Perry Index). Read Aesop's The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing  HERE (not to be confused with the tale of The Wolf and the Lamb, another fable). Others may be familiar with the biblical passage in the Christian New Testament: Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves (Gospel of Matthew 7:15, King James Version).

Episode summary (from TV links): When a local Reverend reports that his church has been robbed, Nick quickly learns that it's a Wesen church, and enlists Monroe to check for any suspicious activity regarding the shepherd's flock. Meanwhile, Nick and Juliette continue to figure out the rules of their relationship as a dangerous opponent lurks in the shadows with his sights on Nick.

The Good Shepherd
Grimm on Grimm: While episode five is rather formulaic compared to recent episodes that draw on season two's new and improved story line, it's not just the old throwback to the typical "wolf in sheep's clothing" scenario either. Instead, this fable, which is traditionally recounted in black and white terms-- clear distinctions between good (sheep = innocence and virtuous) and bad (wolf = reprobate and wicked)--moves into shades of gray this time around. The Reverend Calvin, masquerading as a reformed blutbad is the closest to the traditional wolf archetype: he is using his meek congregation of seelengut (sheep creatures) for financial gain and personal pleasure. Worse, he doesn't hesitate to kill anyone who stands in his way. However, one member of his flock, the church secretary, proves to be not so vulnerable after all.  Although she is a different species than the Reverend, she finds no moral dilemma in being his partner in crime (until the day she learns that he has cheated on her--but that doesn't really lead to any sort of moral reform--just a break in their partnership, at which point she leaves him to take the fall).

Calvin's false guise as a transformed blutbad  is juxtaposed with Monroe's sincere and authentic commitment to leading a non-violent lifestyle, contrasting good and evil as it is illustrated in the traditional fable, but this time, within the same wolf species.

The not so virtuous sheep
The episode can also be read as a commentary on group versus individual behavior by using the traditional characteristics of the story's animals, i.e. herd mentality of sheep and the lone wolf. Monroe is the true lone wolf (I was tempted to say "black sheep" ha ha), having struck out on his own after abandoning his inherent hunting instincts as a blutbad. Through his own initiative, he has embodied exemplary behavior, while the seelengut are nervous nellies who never think for themselves and are punished as a result. The secretary, as the only sheep who acts of her own accord, is rewarded in the end by accessing Calvin's stolen money and escaping arrest by fleeing to a tropical island. As the episode ends, she is shown sipping cocktails on a beach alongside the young woman that Calvin has impregnated. Even if her behavior is dubious, the secretary didn't advocate killing, illustrating less violent behavior than her lover Calvin. In short, the role of the individual is elevated over community here (leaving aside the Reverend for a moment, who, as a murderer, figures more prominently in the morality message of the script than its contrasting of individual versus group), which has much more to do with American ideals (the self-made man, individual freedoms and choice) than it does traditional European storytelling. Nevertheless, these animals and their characteristics, so well known to us through their prominence in folklore, serve as an important backdrop for an exploration of the group versus the individual.

Finally, the choice of the episode's setting within a church congregation references the biblical importance of the wolf and sheep archetypes found in the Bible. Even this however, true to American fashion (and given what happens in the episode), carries a message of "dance to the beat of your own drum". The entire congregation appears ridiculous, whereas the individual Monroe appears almost Buddha or Christ-like in his freethinking and solitary non-violence.