Fairy-Tale Files, published once weekly, feature three variations of a fairy tale chosen by one of Fairy Tale Review’s editors, interns, or past contributors.
In the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, the greatest of all musicians descends to the Underworld to retrieve his wife after she is bitten by a viper and dies. Armed with a lyre and great skill, Orpheus is able to charm the Lord and Lady of the Underworld, Hades and Persephone, into granting him permission to return to the land of the living with his wife. But there’s catch. Orpheus must travel ahead of Eurydice and cannot look back until both have arrived safely above ground. It is an exercise in faith and doubt, and in the last moments of their journey, Orpheus succumbs to latter, turning to see the face of Eurydice, just as she vanishes back into the Underworld forevermore.
In the 1959 film Black Orpheus, French writer and director Marcel Camus transposed the classical Greek myth to a modern day slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Orfeu (Orpheus) moves through the city during the popular festival of Carnival—from a trolley station, to the Office of Missing Persons, and then, of course, to the morgue—in search of Eurydice. The film won both the 1960 Academy Award and the 1960 Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film.
The Orpheus and Eurydice myth found another champion in folk musician Anaïs Mitchell. In Hadestown, Orpheus is depicted as a hobo musician who goes in search Eurydice in Hadestown, where “everyone’s pockets are weighted down.” There he is confronted with Hades, an opportunistic bossman overseeing the construction of a wall that will keep the poor out and the free in, and his wife, Persephone, the proprietress of a speakeasy. A recording of the folk opera followed in 2010 to critical acclaim, featuring Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver), Ani DiFranco, and Mitchell in the roles of Orpheus, Persephone, and Eurydice, respectively.
This edition of Fairy-Tale Files is brought to you by Fairy Tale Review Associate Editor Benjamin Schaefer.