Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

"Fitcher's [Queer] Bird": A Fairy-Tale Heroine and Her Avatars

Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

"Fitcher's [Queer] Bird": A Fairy-Tale Heroine and Her Avatars

Article excerpt

I was not raised to think that some day my prince would come. I did not even see the Disney Snow White until I was working on my BA. I didn't identify with princesses. I was two and a half when my grandmother gave me my first folktale book, Fairy Tales from Many Lands (Herda). Frankly, I found some of the illustrations quite frightening. I loved it, though, perhaps because it was almost princess-free. I did identify with the younger sisters, being one myself. And like the younger sisters in the fairy tales, I watched my older sister make all the mistakes and then I learned from them. What I discovered, as in the stories, was the importance of being secretive, not disclosing to authority figures what you knew or what you did. Like the parents in the fairy tales, mine always seemed to be trying to shield me from knowledge and experience-what I most desperately wanted.

My favorite stories, whose main characters I wanted to be, were "The Boy Thirteen" and "Clever Brother Hare." The title character in "The Boy Thirteen," the youngest (of course) in his family, starts out as a cowherd, becomes the king's singer, outwits a jealous courtier by performing three impossible tasks, and gets the king's crown and the princess in the end. Let me be clear; I didn't want to have a man like that, I wanted to be a man like that.

But the best fairy-tale character was Clever Brother Hare. He's a bit of a dandy. Preparing for a meeting with Brother Lion, who plans to eat him for dinner, Clever Brother Hare "washed himself very carefully, put on his best suit, chose his prettiest tie, twirled the ends of his moustache, put his walking stick under his arm and left the house" (Herda 199-200). The central color illustration for this story-which, I must say, was my very favorite visual image in the book-has no textual reference (fig. 1). This depiction of Clever Brother Hare's self-scrutiny evokes the Lacanian mirror phase, when "the child imagines itself to be a whole and powerful individual by identifying with its own more perfect mirror image" (Thornham 54). In this scene, clearly about Clever Brother Hare's imagining, appreciating, and enjoying his power, his wife and children in the background are so busy prematurely mourning his death that they fail to see how swell he looks. Clever Brother Hare, on the other hand, seems totally engrossed in the mirror stage; he watches only his own reflection, unaware of his effect on his family. Yet his contemplation of himself-of his self-creation-is also mirrored later, when the reader learns that his autospectatorship is not mere vanity, but profound self-knowledge. Clever Brother Hare uses the mirror; it is his tool to construct himself in such a way as to manipulate Brother Lion.

The mirror stage is supposed to occur "at a time when children's physical ambitions outstrip their motor capacity, with the result that their recognition of themselves is joyous in that they imagine their mirror image to be more complete, more perfect than they experience in their own body" (Mulvey 61). In fact, Clever Brother Hare's image, fabricated and confirmed in the mirror, is simply the vehicle by which he uses his brilliant mind to manipulate and outwit Brother Lion, tricking the feline adversary into thinking that his reflection in the water at the bottom of a deep hole is a rival lion (fig. 2). Brother Lion jumps in to devour his enemy, and instead drowns. The mirror is again central, this time both in the text and in the illustration, where it's absent from depiction but crucial to understanding the image. Brother Lion, unclothed, mistakes himself for another lion. Clever Brother Hare gestures toward the mirrored lion down the water-filled hole, but looks at the actual one; he's the only character who sees clearly and correctly, who knows that the figure in the mirror is the self. Clever Brother Hare saves himself, his family, and the other animals from becoming Brother Lion's dinner by transcending the patriarchal moment of self- recognition via cognition. …

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