The only thing better than modern fashion/great looks Magic Brian is medieval styles/questionable aesthetics Magic Brian. Catch him in his three inch pointy shoes, his spider tabard, and his particoloured hosiery in a cave near you.
My half of an art trade with tosquinha, who in turn made me this fabulous house crashing Thranduil (x). Eeeeehehehehe.
BEHOLD! Hobbit/Feanorians in ugly sweaters. Well, kind of ugly. I wanted a Silmaril sweater for Maedhros and that just sort of ended up looking nice. I don’t think I can make ugly sweaters… Aaaaaaaaand I was done with sketching and everything when I realized you already drew a Maedhros and Maglor with their brother family, the kidnapped adopted Elrond and Elros. And with Maglor as the knitter too! Clearly we have a true understanding of what’s IC for them. Pfft. But in being a novice knitter, Maglor can knit only one size. Because Elf babies in big bulky sweaters. They’ll grow into them eventually. In like eighty years.
In the twins’ world, Maglor is mama. Maedhros is to be tormented. Hehehe.
Fantaghiro: A Quality Feminist/Egalitarian Film Series
So I mentioned in a previous post about how updating fairy tales with a modern, feminist spin is kind of a hot topic right now and that such adaptations are sometimes, well, lacking. While I appreciate the thought behind them, they’re often not very well thought out because they’re put together by Hollywood hacks with the intent of making something that will keep kids quiet for an hour and make critics who don’t think very deeply praise it for its “hip, modern interpretation.” So most of these adaptations are really just GIRL ENJOYS VIOLENCE,PATRIARCHY COLLAPSES FOR SOME REASON stories. I mentioned that, for a truly feminist fairy tale, the Fantaghiro series delivers in spades. Now my American readers might not be familiar with Fantaghiro. Fantaghiro, sometimes called “The Cave of the Golden Rose” in English translations, was a series of Italian made-for-TV childrens’ fantasy movies in the early 90s. In all honesty, they’re pretty corny since they’re intended for children and the special effects, which were already pretty cheap by the standards of the time, did not age well. But still, I think these films hold up really well as fun little fantasy adventures. Even more so, these films have some really interesting, progressive things to say about gender politics, to the point that I would call them feminist and most of my anti-feminist readers would probably describe them as “egalitarian.”
First, a little background. Our protagonist in these films is Princess Fantaghiro (Alessandra Martines), your archetypical tomboy princess who likes to punch things and doesn’t want to have nice quiet tea parties like a good girl should. As the first film opens, her father’s kingdom has been at war with its neighbor for generations, to the point that no one remembers why they were originally fighting. When the neighboring king dies and his son Prince Romualdo (Kim Rossi Stuart) takes the throne, he issues a challenge to Fantaghiro’s father, saying that Romualdo will face off against his best champion in man-to-man combat to settle this war once and for all. Naturally, Fantaghiro ends up being the champion. She and Romualdo fight, but end up falling in love, blah blah blah, you know how this sort of thing goes. The remaining films follow other, unrelated adventures of Fantaghiro and Romualdo as they face other villains. In Fantaghiro 2, Romualdo is kidnapped and turned into a love slave of the evil Dark Witch (Brigitte Nielsen!); Fantaghiro rescues him. In Fantaghiro 3, Fantaghiro rescues kidnapped children from the wizard Tarabas (Nicholas Rogers) and his mother Xellesia (Ursula Andress!). In Fantaghiro 4, Fantaghiro faces a plague-bearing stormcloud sent by the world’s most evil wizard, Darken (Horst Buchholz!). Fantaghiro 5 is some nonsense about a wooden giant; I’m not even going to bother with that one, because everyone agrees it’s lame.
So here’s what makes this series interesting:
1) Fantaghiro: Our main protagonist Fantaghiro kind of a masculinized woman, in that she displays a lot of traits more commonly associated with men. She is head-strong, brave, and unafraid to speak her mind. She loves to fight and is an expert archer, swordsperson and equestrian. Her greatest dream is to be a knight, but, living in her patriarchal quasi-medieval society, that’s an avenue closed off to her unless she pretends to be a man. However, while a lot of supposedly feminist fairy tales will present these masculine traits as uniformly positive in a woman, Fantaghiro also displays some less desirable manly traits. She has a streak of senseless cruelty that she needs to learn to control; as a child, she torments her sisters and smashes up their sisters dolls for no reason. I find her refreshing because her character avoids the LET’S MAKE A WOMAN WHO’S JUST PERFECT AND GOOD AT EVERYTHING trap that so many feminist yarns seem to fall into. She’s a flawed, well-rounded character and her masculinity has both positive and negative aspects.
Fantaghiro is almost definitely just intended to be a tomboy, but given the metatext of the series you could make a plausible argument that she’s actually supposed to be a transman. One of the recurring motifs of the series is Fantaghiro disguising herself as a man, something that she does often and with obvious relish. Interestingly, in the earlier films, she switches hairstyles, between long flowing locks when she’s in her normal appearance and a rather unflattering pageboy haircut when she’s in disguise. In later entries, Fantaghiro abandons long hair completely and is only seen in the pageboy cut. While early entries in the franchise often involve Fantaghiro proving herself against sexist adversaries, villains in the later movies take it as a given that Fantaghiro is a legitimate challenger to their plans. Is it because she’s permanently adopted a look that reads as more male? Or is the male haircut a reflection of her finding her place in the world? I don’t know how to read it, but I find it fascinating.
2) Catherine and Caroline
Fantaghiro has two older sisters, Catherine and Caroline, who present more traditionally feminine foils to our heroine: Caroline is the beautiful ditzy sister who’s mostly interested in fashion and hairstyles, while Catherine is the more level-headed, nurturing sister who dispenses matronly wisdom. Now many ostensible feminist narratives would characterize the feminine sisters as spoiled brats whose love for tea parties and dolls would somehow mark them as inferior to Fantaghiro and her love of slingshots. And while the sisters are kind of helpless and prissy, both are also shown to be forgiving and kind-hearted (When her father forces Fantaghiro to spend a night at the bottom of a well as punishment for disobeying him, Caroline and Catherine sneak food to her – even though she broke their dolls earlier that same day). Again, where Fantaghiro shows both positive and negative male traits, the sisters show both positive and negative female traits.
When a prophecy says that one of the king’s daughters must defeat Romulado in combat, the king pretends that it’s not completely friggin’ obvious that it refers to Fantaghiro and instead sends all three of his daughters disguised as knights. Fantaghiro absolutely loves this, savoring the opportunity to ride around on a horse and shout at people like a man, but her sisters are less enamored. (Caroline is horrified that a helmet might ruin her hair) Fantaghiro keeps berating her sisters for their incompetence at riding and fighting, until they finally blow up at her. This scene is important because this is where the three sisters come to an understanding: Caroline and Catherine, who have never understood Fantaghiro’s tomboyish ways, realize that they shouldn’t stand in the way of how Fantaghiro wants to live her life even if they don’t understand it. At the same time, Fantaghiro realizes that Caroline and Catherine don’t want the same things that she does, and that she shouldn’t judge them for that. This again continues the series’ emphasis on the idea that everyone should make their own choices and live the lives they choose.
While Fantaghiro represents a masculinized woman, Romualdo represents a feminized man – not just because he’s played by bishonen actor Kim Rossi Stuart but also because he displays many traits that are more often associated with women than men, like, for example, compassion and nurturing. When he first becomes king, Romualdo eschews the heavy, spiked armor traditionally worn by the kings of his country because he thinks it would be cruel to force his horse to carry such a load. When there’s not enough food for the common people in his kingdom, he gives up his own luxurious lifestyle and cuts his military budget to better provide for them. Finally, realizing that the endless war is hurting his people and bankrupting his kingdom, he takes steps to end it. However, despite his essential feminity, Romualdo is not portrayed as a weakling. He’s an expert equestrian, swordsman and swimmer as well as a very competent ruler. This is important because a lot of narratives that purport to be feminist don’t have a good idea of how to present a strong female character without contrasting her against a weak male character. Romualdo is always portrayed as Fantaghiro’s equal and, while he frequently ends up playing the damsel in distress that Fantaghiro has to rescue injust about every installment, he’s also had to rescue her on quite a few occasions. (For example, in Fantaghiro 2, Romualdo is bewitched by the Dark Witch. Fantaghiro breaks the spell at enormous cost – it backfires and turns her into a frog, after which the now free Romulado must rescue her.)
Incidentally, just as Fantaghiro is paired with two more traditionally feminine sisters, Romulado is paired with two more traditionally masculine friends: Catualdo, who is brash and impulsive, and Ivaldo, who’s more of a cool-headed tactician. However, both Catualdo and Ivaldo are shown to have many positive qualities: They’re fiercely loyal to their friends and have a strong innate sense of justice. Once again, both positive and negative traits.
This is important because, as you can see, we have a series that features feminine women, masculine women, feminine men, and masculine men and none of them are ever shamed for their behaviors.
Beyond our core group, we also have Tarabas, an initially evil wizard with a surprizing resemblance to Jack Sparrow-era Johnny Depp and who first appears in Fantaghiro 3. Tarabas’ mother has raised him to be the world’s most evil wizard, but, after interacting with Fantaghiro and growing to love her, he decides to give up his evil ways and devote his life to making up for his past cruelties. He has been raised to believe that it is his destiny and his right to dominate and destroy. He falls in love with Fantaghiro, but Fantaghiro only has eyes for her love Romualdo. Knowing that the only way that he will be able to possess Fantaghiro would be through force, Tarabas instead decides NOT to do this. I want to point this out, because so many rape apologists don’t get this ostensibly easy-to-understand point. HE KNOWS SHE WON’T COME TO HIM OF HER FREE WILL AND HE ACCEPTS HER DECISION. A lot of fairy tales feature an evil character reforming to win the love of a woman, but Tarabas has given up all his awesome, phenomenal powers and technically gained nothing – something that I think makes his conversion a little more powerful. Tarabas returns in Fantaghiro 4, still pining for our titular princess, but, when Romualdo is again kidnapped by evil forces, he puts aside his feelings and joins Fantaghiro as a friend to help her find her beloved. Tarabas is an important character because he demonstrates the series’ continuing theme of self-determination and, like The Iron Giant, BEING WHO YOU CHOOSE TO BE.
5) The White Witch/ The White Knight
Also kind of interesting is that, during the first two miniseries, Fantaghiro is mentored by a genderfluid nature spirit that alternatively appears to her as a male knight or a female witch. (Both parts are played by the same actress.) The knight teaches Fantaghiro how to fight effectively, while the witch teaches her self-control and restraint, showing the importance of both male and female aspects in her training.
6) The Dark Witch
Nothing much to say about gender dynamics here, but I really wanted to point out that the hyper-voluptuous, oversexed villainess the Dark Witch is played with hamtasic zeal by the very lovely Bridgette Nielson. If I could abandon by academic analysis briefly to go into drooling fanboy mode, OH MY GOD SHE SO PRETTY C:
That’s enough writing for now. I hope this extremely long post has helped explain some of the reasons that I enjoy these films so much.
First, know that I actually sat through this entire film, and it was a chore. I bounced like a madman between delight and shame and incredulous disbelief over and over again as the movie played out. But anyway, here’s the plot as I understand it. There’s a girl who is afraid of bugs and as such her sister gets her head flushed in a toilet by schoolgirl bullies. To overcome this, she goes on a road trip with a boobie girl, her 40-year-old drug-addled/rapist boyfriend, a normal girl, and a nerd with a pageboy haircut who literally no one on the trip admits to knowing. Why is he there? There’s a scene in which his presence is questioned and no one owns up to even knowing who he is. How did he get there?
I grabbed a cookie and poured some lemonade into a Dixie cup and then turned around.
A boy was staring at me.
I was quite sure I’d never seen him before. Long and leanly muscular, he dwarfed the molded plastic elementary school chair he was sitting in. Mahogany hair, straight and short. He looked my age, maybe a year older, and he sat with his tailbone against the edge of the chair, his posture aggressively poor, one hand half in a pocket of dark jeans.
I looked away, suddenly conscious of my myriad insufficiencies. I was wearing old jeans, which had once been tight but now sagged in weird places, and a yellow T-shirt advertising a band I didn’t even like anymore. Also my hair: I had this pageboy haircut, and I hadn’t even bothered to, like, brush it. Furthermore, I had ridiculously fat chipmunked cheeks, a side effect of treatment. I looked like a normally proportioned person with a balloon for a head. This was not even to mention the cankle situation. And yet—I cut a glance to him, and his eyes were still on me.