A non-fairy tale heroine: Queen Anahit of The Golden Bracelet

Queen Anahid

The resource here is for using with ‘East of the Sun West of the Moon’.  It is intended for a Year 6 class, though a comparison with an un-alike text is not explicitly suggested in the Power of Reading unit.  The story the resource is based on, ‘The Golden Bracelet’, has similarities with the Norwegian story but it is mostly the differences that underline and draw out the fairy tale features.

It is a US picture book set in ancient Armenia and based on a story written down in the 19th century by Ghazaros Aghayan, an Armenian writer.  I was trying to think of Lost Husband stories and kept coming back to this one.  The thing is, though there is a lost husband, the story as told here is not a fairy tale.  It can be found in an Aghayan collection called ‘Fables and Fairy Tales’ and it tells more like a fable in this version by David Kherdian.

The story has been animated (in Armenian) recently, and from the clips online it seems that there is a lot more magic in it than in the Kherdian version.  However, I’m going with the Kherdian book as a down-to-earth comparison with ‘East of the Sun West of the Moon’.

Anahit animation
A still from a 2014 animation of The Golden Bracelet story, ‘Anahit’

 

The picture at the top of this post illustrates very well the difference between Anahit and the lassie of ‘East of the Sun West of the Moon’: Anahit is a queen with practical tools at her disposal.  The point of ‘The Golden Bracelet’ is that Anahit values practical action above all, and it is this that saves the day.

There are lots of different ways to approach a compare/contrast exercise.  Click here for mine, which sets the magical against the realistic.

P.S.  Anahit gets the ‘Rejected Princesses’ ( or Women too Awesome, Awful, or Offbeat for Kids’ Movies) treatment here, with the sub-heading ‘The Queen Who Made the King Get a Job’.  It also has a link to the entire animated film.

East of the Sun West of the Moon – resources for comparing with similar fairy tales

East of the Sun West of the Moon tale is categorised by the Aarne-Thompson index as a ‘Lost Husband’ type, which can be useful to know when approaching Session 9 in the Power of Reading sequence.  It suggests comparing different versions of the story and this great blog, fairytalez.com, has a wealth of information for teachers.

I’ve copied (and slightly edited) the list of features of the ‘Lost Husband’ type of tale, and then copied the list of similar stories (again, slightly edited) from fairytalez.com:

Characteristics of Type 425A Fairy Tales 

As you read various 425A stories, you’ll likely notice similarities throughout multiple fairy tales and folk tales.

  • The motif of three is often used in these fairy tales and folk tales, such as with three daughters, three days/nights, three questions, three objects, etc. (Read our blog post on the Power of Three: Why Fairy Tales Often Feature a Triple for more on the use of three)

  • The fairy tales typically feature an enchanted man who has become an animal

  • A daughter is required to or is asked to marry the “beast”

  • The husband may appear to be a man at night or when he gets to his home

  • Once at the castle or beast’s home, the bride is treated lavishly but is homesick

  • The bride may go home to her family, but is told to not stay beyond a certain number of days

  • The heroine goes on the quest for her husband after he disappears

  • The bride may receive magical objects to help her return home as well as assist in her quest for the husband

  • The fairy tale or folk tale may feature an appearance by the winds, sun or moon

  • The enchantment over the husband is broken when the bride finds him or performs certain tasks

     

The Enchanted Pig is a Romanian fairy tale about a king’s daughter who is fated to marry a “pig from the North.” She doesn’t want to, however, her father convinces her the pig must be under a magic spell, and she agrees, then heads to his castle to be his bride…

East of the Sun and West of the Moon is one of the more popular fairy tales of this type, and comes to us from Norway…Here the bride is a daughter of a peasant, and marries the bear in exchange for her father gaining riches. East of the Sun and West of the Moon was authored by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe

In the Italian fairy tale The Enchanted Snake, a snake is raised by a woman who longs for a child. After the snake grows up, he wishes to marry a princess. The story was authored by Giambattista Basile for his collection The Pentamerone…

A Sprig of Rosemary is … unusual compared to other stories that are type 425A, because the husband is a magician who can change his shape; his animal form isn’t the result of an enchantment.

The Brown Bear of Norway is an Irish fairy tale originally published by author Patrick Kennedy in 1866. The story was later collected by Andrew Lang, who shared it in The Lilac Fairy Book.

A bear or beast isn’t the only enchanted form that the prince may have in these types of fairy tales. In The Tale of the Hoodie by John Francis Campbell, the prince is a hoodie, also known as a hooded crow. The fairy tale … features a twist from other type 425A fairy tales, as the bride is allowed to choose whether the crow will be a man by day or by night.

Like in East of the Sun and West of the Moon, here the husband is a giant animal upon which the bride can ride…The Black Bull of Norroway features a large bull who gets separated from his bride when she is left in a valley of glass…

White-Bear-King-Valemon or King Valemon, The White Bear comes to us from the Tales of the Fjeld: A Second Series of Popular Tales from the Norse. This fairy tale has traces of East of the Sun, West of the Moon …

The Daughter of the Skies by J.F. Campbell … comes from Scotland. This folk tale features the husband as a dog, however, he goes to the skies, so the author notes he may be a “Gaelic deity.”

The other ones I’ve looked at were from the list here.

I’ve made a table comparing features of five of the fairy tales.  The criteria for comparison are quite comprehensive and it’s up to you how many you wish pupils to examine.  I’m imagining that you could give one tale to a group of six for reading and analysing (perhaps working in mixed pairs), with a version of the table for them to complete, as many boxes as you think they can manage.  You could make the first row empty, for them to fill in the information for East of the Sun West of the Moon.

Once each tale has been analysed by a group using the same format, you can collate them into a class table, for children can then use to look for patterns, similarities, differences etc.  You can of course ask children which is their favourite – which means making sure that they know all the tales.

The tales themselves vary in word count, so I’ve done abridged versions of each to make them similar in terms of length and demand: you should be able to literally print them off and distribute without making any changes, though as ever they are in Word format should you wish to edit.  You can use these abridged versions for the analysis stage, and for reading them to the class yourself.

If I was doing this session with a class, I wouldn’t want to miss the opportunity to ask them to think about what the symbolism in each tale might be.  My experience with children is that they become very engaged, attentive and thoughtful when working at this sort of depth, and are more than capable of coming up with ideas that surprise and impress us.  This can be particularly the case with children whose decoding in reading is at a lower level than others, but whose understanding of human matters might be deeper.

At the same time, it might be useful to give the class some ideas as starting points – such as, ‘the sun shines during the day, the moon at night, but the wind can blow during the day and at night – what could this symbolise in the story?’  Another suggestion is that the children could highlight with highlighter pens the things in the stories that might be symbolic of something – such as the chicken bones in The Enchanted Pig – so that they can discuss some ideas with partners or in groups before a class discussion.

East of the Sun West of the Moon – resources for teaching children about symbolism in fairy tales

Ell-Nosed Princess
The Ell-Nosed Princess, from P J Lynch’s illustrations for East of the Sun West of the Moon

The Power of Reading sequence for East of the Sun West of the Moon treats it to some extent like it does its other literary texts.  For example, it asks the class to examine the characters of the protagonists (Session 3), with a focus on the portrayal of the heroine (Session 5).

But of course – as the sequence acknowledges – fairy tales ‘preserve key features of an oral storytelling tradition’ and are quite different from literary texts in important ways.

From the blog ‘Fairy Tale of the Month’:

The literary writer spends 80,000—90,000—100,000 words to get the reader to see, hear and feel what the author wants the reader to sense and understand. Characters need to be developed: have names, have clear motives, and follow long, logical, exciting, interesting progressions. The reader is allowed into the heads of the characters and experiences the progressions with them.  Fairy tales are short, compact, and sketchy on details. We never get inside the hero or heroine’s head; we may not even know their names. We see them on the surface. Motivations and logic are optional…

…If we are to measure the fairy tale as an artistic form—not that it cares—we would do better to use the terms we use to describe paintings. What are the images? What does it say to us? What is the atmosphere of the work? What memories does it evoke? What is the impression it leaves behind?

The sequence goes some way to acknowledging this by suggesting a focus on ‘how elements of northern folk tales are conveyed through pictures and language’ in Session 4: Looking closely at pictures.  In the notes for this session it directs the teacher and class to ‘note what the pictures show that the words don’t’.

However, this isn’t quite the point that the quotation above is making: for the reader to respond with feeling to the story, rather than to the pictures that go with the story.  In this case, would the writing of a poem be the best way for a class to end this unit?

It is worth saying that the sequence does not explicitly build towards a final piece of writing.  The last session, Session 10, is called ‘Devising a quest story’ and suggests that any plans devised ‘could be continued as piece of extended writing’.  This seems to be an implicit acknowledgment that the real power of fairy tales is in the reading of them rather than the writing.

Whether you choose to end the sequence with the writing of a poem or a fairy tale, it is an opportunity to introduce pupils to the idea that characters, both animal and human, can represent human qualities and fates.  As Nikki Gamble says in her chapter on Traditional Tales and Fairy Tales in ‘Exploring Children’s Literature’:

..characters in folk tales are archetypal, representing ideas rather than attempts at realistic characteristics.

You can use the PowerPoint here to demonstrate this as a starting point for writing a poem or a retelling along these lines.  Before using it, Year 6 children and even more so Year 5, will need parallel input on symbols and symbolism.

I used this essay by a Jungian psychologist Dr Stephen A Martin for this PowerPoint (which is copyrighted).

Resources for ‘The Village That Vanished’ – Power of Reading suggestions fleshed out

story mountain picture

These are some resources that I made to flesh out the suggestions on the Power of Reading notes that go with The Village That Vanished.

Without wanting to give way to lazy hyperbole, this is a truly great book in every way.  The illustrations are deeply-felt; the love of the illustrator (the artist Kadir Nelson) for the text shines out of every picture.  They are also technically very beautiful.

Though the pictures do a great deal to convey the meaning of the text, it’s still one that presents a heavy load.

Firstly, I find the structure complicated (I wouldn’t ask children to re-tell this story – also because it’s too long).  I’ve mapped the structure here, with a ‘classic’ story mountain to compare it with.  There’s also an activity that you can do with a whole class using PowerPoint or an Interactive Whiteboard.

Also, the sentences, in terms of language and structure, are demanding.  Here’s a summary, showing how they include more advanced types of punctuation (a colon, hyphens) as well.  Now that (until it changes again…) fronted adverbials are the only kind that matter, I can say that if you’re looking for those, there are some very good examples, particularly of those starting with adjectives (can be hard to model using a good text) and those starting with ‘-ing’ verbs.

Having said that, you could just go through how good the language is in all its aspects (there are some examples of really complex sentences at the bottom of the sentence summary above).  If you want to do that, I’ve saved you the trouble of typing them out in  this document.

Should you wish to focus on fronted adverbials – and you have to, after all – there are some ideas here and here.

The Power of Reading notes suggest:

  1.  writing a prayer, using Njemile’s as a model.  Here’s an EAL-friendly starting point for that.
  2. having a debate about whether or not to leave the village.
  3. deciding which of the characters Njemile, Abikanile or Chimwala is the heroine.

After doing the heroines activity, the notes suggest comparing your one true heroine with other heroines.  You could try the ‘Barefoot Book of Heroines’ by Rebecca Hazel (NB non-fiction) for that.