June 17, 2011

Some Favorite Fairy Tales

        When I was in fourth and fifth grade I would read pretty much nothing except fairy tales.  I ran my way through every anthology I could get my hands on, from the Ruth Manning Sanders books organized around themes such as Cats and Creatures or Sorcerers and Spells, to the many books collecting tales from particular countries, to the color-titled anthologies by Andrew Lang, who began with The Blue Fairy Book and eventually had to stretch to such obscure colors as Olive and Lilac…
        I admit that I'm not entirely able to say why I was so obsessed with fairy tales, given how strange and unsatisfactory so many of them are as stories, how inclined to sexism and stereotypes, how rife with horrific violence, how short on characterization or even logical plot.  One factor that got me started may simply have been that for my fourth grade year I was living in a city with a very small public library and there probably wasn't a very good selection of other options.  But even after I returned to the excellent library of my native Cleveland Heights, I still continued to haunt the 398 section of the stacks.  It's certainly safe to say that my reading of fairy tales, however unsatisfactory they sometimes are, fueled and was fueled by all those things I love about fantasy to this day.
        Whatever my reasons for my voracious appetite for the traditional fairy tales, there was a point in my youth when I had read them about as comprehensively as any scholar in the field of folklore.  That was a long time ago, and I will no longer claim that I remember them all, much less that I have any particular expertise in the types and tropes into which scholars like to categorize the tales.  But nevertheless, I thought I would list a few of my favorite fairy tales.
        As I began to compile my list, it grew longer and longer, until I began knocking stories back off.  I considered knocking off the famous ones and keeping the lesser known, but as you can see, in the end I mostly stuck with iconic tales.  That's because my idea was to point out some of what it is that I find so compelling about these crazy stories.  (I've also linked each one to a site where you can read it on-line.  How cool is that!)

In the Brothers Grimm version, Sleeping Beauty's name
is Briar Rose.  Rose names are popular in fairy tales.
        Sleeping Beauty (Grimm, based on Perrault)  I like the "rules" of magic followed by the fairies, and I like the mysterious atmosphere of the sleeping castle, with sleep falling over even the flies on the wall and the fire on the hearth.  This one has been used as the basis for an astonishing number of adaptations and variations, from modern horror to the most saccharine of romances.  It's got all kinds of interesting "bits" that can be pulled out and manipulated and reused.

        Snow White and Rose Red (Grimm)  I like that the two sisters are kind not just to the enchanted prince but also to the wicked dwarf, and I like the humor of the dwarf's ingratitude.  I also like that the mother is, for once, not wicked!

        Beauty and the Beast (French)  I like that Beauty is brave and honorable, and that the beast has a heart of gold.  I like that it's a much longer and more complete story than most, with lots of interesting details.  By the way, I also like the Disney version very much.  It's definitely my favorite of the Disney fairy tale movies.

        The Singing Springing Lark (Grimm)  This begins a lot like Beauty and the Beast, and ends with the wife having to go rescue her husband in distress.  Adventures ensue.  (There's a really nice version called The Lady and the Lion in my post on Fantasy Picture Books of Note.)

        Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (The Thousand and One Nights)  I like that most of the conflicts are not face to face, but instead each side makes a move in the dark, waiting to see what the response will be before planning the next move.  I like that it's Morgana who saves the day through her cleverness and her action.

        Jorinde and Joringel (Grimm)  I like this for the rich, evocative descriptive passages and the beautiful, strange, dreamlike quality of the entire thing.

        The Twelve Dancing Princesses (Grimm)  I like the idea of an enticing but dangerous fey kingdom entered through a secret passage.  I like the ordinary man figuring out a solution to the problem.  (If it is a problem!  In some versions the princesses seem perfectly happy with the set-up and don't want it to end.  In others there are definitely overtones of unwanted enchantment.)  I particularly like the versions in which an actual relationship grows between the hero and one of the princesses (it makes a nice change when it's the eldest), so that the eventual marriage seems right, not a mere payment for services rendered to the king.  And in versions with illustrations, I always liked the plethora of princess gowns to admire.  I remember picking out which of the princesses I would be.

        In addition I should add a couple more fairy tales that, as far as I can remember, I either didn't know or didn't care about as a kid, but which I like now.

        Hans in Luck (Grimm)  See more about it in my post on The Root of Happiness.

        The Gentle People (Argentinian)  I adapted this into a traditional Minarian folk tale in my book Vision Revealed.  (I found the story in Tales Alive, by Susan Milord.)

[Pictures:  Magical Symbol, rubber block print by AEGN, 2008 (commissioned for a not-yet-published fantasy novel by a friend of mine);
Sweet Briar, rubber block print by AEGN, 1997 (sold out).]

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