#1 When the little girl everyone knows as Little Red Riding-Hood first appeared in English, in a translation of a story by Charles Perrault, she was given a more conventional name to go along with her famous nickname. Her name was:
D. Sweet Myrtle
#2 Tom Thumb, one of England’s best-loved fairy-tale heroes, was born the size of his father’s thumb, and never increased in stature, yet he went on to have many adventures. In the earliest printed versions of the story, one result of Tom’s small size is that he is repeatedly swallowed (later to escape, one way or another) by various creatures. These did not, however, include:
A. A giant
B. A fish
C. A cow
D. A raven
#3 Jack the Giant-Killer killed numerous giants, but not one named:
#4 Before setting out on a journey, the evil husband in the story of Bluebeard gives his wife the keys to all the rooms in his house. One room, though, he tells her she must not enter. Upon his return, what reveals to Bluebeard that his wife has disobeyed him?
A. A magic mirror that answers any question
B. A fan left by his wife in the forbidden room
C. Drops of blood clinging magically to the key
D. A black cat, who spied on the wife in Bluebeard’s absence
#5 Like many other well-known fairy tales, the story of Sleeping Beauty first appeared in something close to its familiar form in the work of the 17th century writer Charles Perrault. After the prince awakens Sleeping Beauty in Perrault’s version, he marries her and they soon have a son and a daughter. For several years though, the prince keeps this secret from his parents. This is because:
A. His mother is an ogress, who might eat his children
B. He had been betrothed at birth to another princess
C. A fairy warned him that not doing so would bring disaster
D. He is ashamed of her atrocious table-manners
6. Most of us remember the Grimm brothers – Jacob and Wilhelm – as the compliers of the stories we now call Grimm’s Fairy Tales, but collecting these stories, laborious task though it was, had only an indirect connection with their professional lives. By occupation, both Grimm brothers were:
A. Lawyers, who often represented peasants facing eviction from their farms
B. Lingusts, who proposed a principle now known as “Grimm’s Law”
C. Magazine editors, who brought rural literature to an urban audience
D. Historians, whose main research interest was the tribes of ancient Germany
7. In the well-known fairy tale Puss in Boots, a cat
is able to help its master from poverty to riches through a series of clever ploys. What special function did the boots have for the cat?
A. They protected its feet while walking out of doors
B. While wearing the boots, it could walk and talk like a man
C. They allowed it both to travel at great speed, and to become invisible
D. They gave it a power of persuasion that no listener could resist
8. The folklore of many lands includes the character variously known as Rashin Coatie (Scotland), Aschenputtel (Germany), Zezolla (Italy), and Yeh-hsien (China). To us, however, Rashin Coatie is more familiarly known as:
A. Red-Riding Hood
9. The role of the fairy godmother in the story of Cinderella was filled by a variety of magical agents in other versions of the tale, including all but one of the following. Which is it?
A. A dead calf
B. A lame badger
C. A little white bird
D. The bones of a giant fish
10. In the happy ending of Beauty and the Beast, Beauty settles down to a life of bliss with the now-handsome prince and his household, including her father and three brothers. The fate of her two wicked sisters is less agreeable, for they are:
A. Transformed into living statues and set before the palace gate
B. Forced to serve as scullery maids in the palace kitchens
C. Changed into goshawks and fly away, never to be seen again
D. Chained to a rock on a deserted beach, and left to starve
11. The King of Colchester, so one famous tale runs, had a daughter who was beautiful and virtuous, and a step-daughter who was decidedly neither. Owing to the malice of the step-daughter and her mother, the virtuous girl is turned out of her home, but everything turns out happily when she is rewarded for her kindness towards:
A. A blind man chained to a thorny bush
B. A village whose inhabitants have been changed into sheep
C. Three disembodied heads in a well
D. A one-winged bird that can fly only in circles
12. In one well-known story from the Brothers Grimm, an old soldier is given the task of watching over a king’s daughter each night. By feigning sleep he is able to learn that the girls:
A. Are nightly transformed into birds, and fly to a neighbouring kingdom
B. Spend each night dancing in an underground palace
C. Each draw three drops of blood from their forefingers into a diamond bottle
D. Are visited by an evil witch who forces them to sew for her
13. In Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack makes three separate visits to the giant’s castle in the clouds. On the first, he steals a hen who lays golden eggs; on the second, a sack of shillings and a sack of guineas. What does Jack steal on his third visit?
A. An axe that can chop through anything
B. A mirror that foretells the future
C. Three sacks of jewels
D. A harp that plays music on command
14. According to the Grimm story, before Snow White’s wicked stepmother gave her the poisoned apple, she had tried on two previous occasions to kill her, only to be foiled by the seven dwarfs. On the first occasion, the wicked queen laced Snow White’s corset so tightly that the poor girl fell insensible and seemed dead. On the second occasion, the queen tried to kill Snow White (called Snow Drop in the Grimm version) by giving her:
A. An enchanted knife, that would stab its wielder
B. A covered basket containing an asp
C. A poisoned comb
D. A bouquet of sweet-smelling but deadly flowers
15. Snow White’s stepmother was driven to her wicked deeds by envy: her magic mirror told her that Snow White, not she, was “the fairest of them all”. Oddly enough:
A. Snow White was only seven years old
B. The mirror was a gift from Snow White herself
C. Up until now, the queen had been famous for her goodness and charity
D. She and Snow White were both rather plump
16. Trit-a-trot, Tom-tit-tat, Ricdin-Ricdon, and Whuppity-Stoorie, are all variant names for which well-known fairy-tale character?
A. Tom Thumb
B. The frog in The Frog Prince
17. The character we know as the inquisitive little girl called Goldilocks was originally:
A. The lame son of a poor wood-cutter
B. An inquisitive little girl called Silver-Hair
C. An “imprudent, bad old woman”
D. A soldier returning from the war
18. In Hans Christian Andersen’s The Tinder box, the fortunes of an impoverished soldier take a turn for the better when he comes into possession of a magic tinder-box. The soldier obtained the tinder-box:
A. By stealing it from the sleeve of an evil old woman
B. From a room hidden inside a tree
C. As a reward for helping the King of the Dwarfs to cross a river
D. From a tower whose door was visible only once in a hundred years
19. Tommelise, or Thumbelina, is the diminutive heroine of a well-known story by Hans Christian Andersen. Thumbelina’s adventures begin when she is kidnapped from her home to become:
A. The governess of three baby field-mice
B. The mascot of a company of soldiers
C. The bride of a frog
D. Lady-in-waiting to the Queen of the Fairies
20. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm first heard the story of Hansel and Gretel from a girl named Dortchen Wild in the German town of Cassel. In later life, Fraulein Wild became:
A. A celebrated actress
B. Insane, believing herself to be Gretel
C. A noted literary critic, who paned the Grimms’ fairy-tales
D. Wilhelm’s wife
21. According to the Brothers Grimm tale, what was the name of the enchantress who imprisoned Rapunzel in the tower?
A. Lady Rampion
B. Dame Gothel
22. In another Grimm story, four animals – a donkey, a dog, a cat and a rooster – learn that they have outlived their usefulness to their owners, and are to be killed. Rather than meekly accepting their fate, they set off together to start a new life as:
B. A theatrical troupe
D. University professors
23. After Hansel and Gretel have slain the witch in the Grimms’ fairy-tale, and escaped from the gingerbread cottage, one final obstacle confronts them as they make their way home. What is it?
A. A solid wall of thorns, which opens at a touch from the witch’s wand
B. A gate guarded by an unfriendly dwarf, who is slain by a passing huntsman
C. A deep ravine, over which a mighty wind blows them “like two dry leaves”
D. A large body of water, which they traverse with the help of a kindly duck
24. In 1844 Hans Christian Andersen, by then a famous writer and a favourite of the aristocracy, paid an impromptu visit to the Grimm brothers in Berlin. However:
A. They argued over the interpretation of Rumpelstilskin, and never spoke again
B. The Grimms received Andersen coldly, feeling that he had stolen their ideas
C. By unhappy coincidence, the brothers were touring Denmark, Andersen’s home
D. He left in embarrassment upon finding that the Grimms had never heard of him
1. B. Biddy
2. D. A raven
3. A. Manticore
4. C. Drops of blood clinging magically to the key
5. A. His mother is an ogress, who might eat his children
6. B. Lingusts, who proposed a principle now known as “Grimm’s Law”
7. A. They protected its feet while walking out of doors
8. D. Cinderella
9. B. A lame badger
10. A. Transformed into living statues and set before the palace gate
11. C. Three disembodied heads in a well
12. B. Spend each night dancing in an underground palace
13. D. A harp that plays music on command
14. C. A poisoned comb
15. A. Snow White was only seven years old
16. D. Rumpelstiltskin
17. A. An “imprudent, bad old woman”
18. B. From a room hidden inside a tree
19. C. The bride of a frog
20. D. Wilhelm’s wife
21. B. Dame Gothel
22. A. Musicians
23. D. A large body of water, which they traverse with the help of a kindly duck
24. D. He left in embarrassment upon finding that the Grimms had never heard of him
Much of the material for this quiz was gleaned from Iona and Peter Opie’s wonderful book, The Classic Fairytales (Oxford University Press, 1972), which gives the earliest known English versions of 24 tales, along with numerous period illustrations and informative commentary.
Monday, March 19, 2012
The fairy tale is a basic form of literature, and of art in general … The style of the fairy tale and its image of man are of timeless validity and at the same time, of special significance in our age.
Once upon a time: on the nature of fairy tales
Deeper meaning resides in the fairy tales told to me in my childhood than in the truth that is taught by life.
What was your favourite fairy story as a child?
Did you have a favourite fairy story as a child? Can you remember walking through the woods with Little Red Riding Hood as she went to visit her grandmother or cheering as Jack the Giant Killer managed to defeat some very scary giants or bubbling with excitement as Cinderella prepared to go to the ball?
For many adults, the fairy tales they heard or read as children are the childhood stories they remember best. Fairy tales continue to be popular and they form a significant part of the literature available for children these days.
This module describes the characteristics of fairy tales, explains why they continue to appeal, examines one tale, The Sleeping Beauty in detail and provides four reasons for sharing fairy tales with children. It provides you with the skills needed to critically evaluate fairy stories.
The term “fairy tale” first appeared in the Oxford English dictionary in 1749. It first appeared in French as the book title, Contes de fees, written by Madame d’Aulony, a contemporary of Charles Perrault, and published in France in 1698. The book was translated into English and published as the Tales of the fairys in 1699. But the term “fairy tales” may actually be misleading. While the stories do contain an element of magic (see below) they do not always contain fairies. So how to distinguish a fairy tale from a folk tale?
Characteristics of fairy tales
Fairy tales are considered part of the larger body of folk or traditional tales originally passed on orally from generation to generation. Fairy tales differ from folk tales in one key aspect: they include some aspect of enchantment or the supernatural. This element of magic serves to heighten the realism contained in the tales. While the events presented in a tale may be unusual or improbable, they are presented as ordinary within the context of the story. Listeners are thus encouraged to speculate how they would react in similar circumstances.
In addition to the element of magic, fairy tales contain a number of other distinctive characteristics. Because fairy tales are considered part of folk or traditional literature, they share many of the same characteristics including –
o Are stock or flat characterso Are usually all together good or bado Do not grow or develop during the storyo Often have generic names or very common names
* e.g. Sleeping Beauty, Hansel
- Heroo Usually a young persono May also be the youngest person of his familyo May have been disowned or abandoned
- Ploto Is more important than charactero Follows a consistent structure* Beginning, middle and satisfying conclusion
- Settingo Set in a fantasy world
* e.g. “Once upon a time …"o Lends air of enchantment to story
- Detailso Tell us much about the social conditions when these stories were createdo e.g. prevalence of step-mothers* points to the shortness of life and marriage for many women
* husband would usually remarry, as the children needed a mother
Fairy tales appeal to children because they reflect their beliefs about how the world works in four key areas:
First, virtually all young children believe that words, thoughts, actions and objects can somehow exert a magical influence. Therefore, it makes perfect sense to a young child that a humble pumpkin can turn into a beautiful coach. Fairy tales are full of that kind of magic.
Second is the belief that inanimate objects and humans have a consciousness like that of humans. Many fairy tales contain animals or inanimate objects that can speak.
Third is the simple code of justice found in all fairy tales: good is rewarded and evil is punished. In the Grimm Brothers version of Cinderella, she marries the prince and ravens pluck out the eyes of her wicked step-sisters.
Finally, young children believe that they are the centre of their own universe. The heroes and heroines of fairy tales certainly stand at the centre of their worlds: when Sleeping Beauty falls asleep, so does the entire castle (Norton, 270).
But there is an other reason for their popularity: fairy tales contain many levels of meaning. The fairy tale’s deepest meaning will be different for each person. Originally intended for adults, the stories are rich in symbolic meaning.
In his Introduction to The Uses of enchantment, Bettelheim explains:
While it entertains the child, the fairy tale enlightens him about himself, and fosters his personality development. It offers meaning on so many different levels, and enriches the child’s existence in so many ways ... fairy tales are unique, not only as a form of literature, but as works of art which are fully comprehensible to the child, as no other form of art is. As with all great art, the fairy tale’s deepest meaning will be different for each person, and different for the same person at various moments in his life. The child will extract different meaning from the same fairy tale, depending on his interests and needs of the moment. (12)
Analysis of a tale: Sleeping Beauty
This section will briefly discuss the history of Sleeping Beauty and provide two different interpretations of the tale.
This section will briefly discuss the history of Sleeping Beauty and provide two different interpretations of the tale.
The first written version of Sleeping Beauty appeared in the Pentameron, published in 1636. Collected by Basile (c. 1575-1632) and published after his death, the book contained 50 tales, including versions of Beauty and the Beast and Puss in boots. Basile probably heard the stories as a child while listening to the women of Naples telling them. More details about the early history of Sleeping Beauty can be found in Appendix A of this module.
The next written version of Sleeping Beauty appeared in Charles Perrault’s collection of fairy tales published in 1729. The Perrault version is included as Appendix B of this module.
The Grimm brothers version of Sleeping Beauty was translated into English and published as part of a collection of folk and fairy tales in 1823. Here the tale goes by the name of “Rose Bud”. The Grimms altered the ending of the story as well: concluding it with the wedding of Sleeping Beauty and the prince who awakened her. Appendix C contains the Grimm version of this story.
The Grimm brothers version of Sleeping Beauty was translated into English and published as part of a collection of folk and fairy tales in 1823. Here the tale goes by the name of “Rose Bud”. The Grimms altered the ending of the story as well: concluding it with the wedding of Sleeping Beauty and the prince who awakened her. Appendix C contains the Grimm version of this story.
In addition to these three version, there have been many other retellings of this tale. As you read through the three versions contained in the Appendices, you’ll notice some differences between thet different telling. These differences include –
- who or what tells the Queen she is pregnant
- the number of fairies invited to the child’s christening
- the gifts given to the princess
- the King’s and Queen’s absence during the enchanted sleep
- whether the Prince kisses Sleeping Beauty to wake her
But even if some of the details vary, the core of the story remains the same: despite all parental efforts made to protect her, an young princess pricks her finger and falls into an enchanted sleep. She is awakened from the sleep by a prince; they are married and live happily ever after.
In his book, The Uses of enchantment, Bruno Bettleheim explores the meaning of several popular fairy tales including Sleeping Beauty. Bettleheim views the tale as a metaphor for a young person’s coming of age. As we all know, adolescence is time of contrasts. Rapid change and growth alternate with periods of long and quiet concentration as teenagers prepare for adulthood and its responsibilities. He notes that Sleeping Beauty’s enchanted sleep is the equivalent of the turning inward experienced by so many teenagers.
In addition, Bettleheim sees other levels of meaning in the story. Sleeping Beauty’s pricking of her finger and the subsequent bleeding is seen as a metaphor for the onset of menstruation. This is a natural human occurrence which the King, her father, can postpone – remember he had all the spinning wheels in the kingdom destroyed – but he cannot prevent. Regardless of all the precautions taken by the parent(s), puberty comes. It’s interesting to note that in most versions of the story, the girl’s parents are absent from the castle when she pricks her finger, thus underscoring their inability to protect her from this necessary step in her development. (232)
Bettleheim also explores some of the other symbolism in the story: he sees the staircase that Sleeping Beauty climbs as a metaphor for sexual experience. The small door and the room that she enters are symbols for female sexual organs. The key that she uses to unlock the door represents sexual intercourse. As mentioned earlier, the pricking of her finger represents the onset of menstruation. In most versions of the story, Sleeping Beauty encounters an old woman spinning in the room: a reference to the passing on of knowledge about being female from an old woman to a young woman. (233)
Bettleheim also views the enchanted sleep as having a deeper meaning: Sleeping Beauty’s coming of age, that is, her sexual maturation is an overwhelming experience. She is not ready psychologically to find a mate, so she must be protected against all suitors until she is ready. Many try to get through the wall of thorns that surround the castle, but until the Sleeping Beauty is ready, none are allowed to reach her. Bettleheim believes that the message is clear: “this is a warning to child and parents that sexual arousal before mind and body are ready for it is very destructive.” (233)
Furthermore, the story tells us you can’t hurry a natural process (the growth towards emotional and physical maturity) and that seemingly impossible problems will eventually solve themselves. Bettleheim believes that by waiting for her prince and marrying him (and bearing him children as she does in the Perrault version) Sleeping Beauty is “the incarnation of perfect femininity.” (236)
While Bettleheim offers a Freudian interpretation of Sleeping Beauty, more recent analysis of fairy tales view the tales in a different light. Feminist criticism states that “traditional fairy tales fuse morality with romantic fantasy in order to portray cultural ideas for human relationships.” (Rowe, 359) Fairy tales depict cultural ideas that are still seen today in some forms of popular culture such as romance fiction. Taken from this perspective, fairy tales are seen as a mechanism for inculcating roles and behaviour and teaching what is appropriate and expected.
Feminist criticism would agree with Bettleheim that the story of Sleeping Beauty focuses on a crucial period in a young girl’s life. It dramatizes the story of a young and her parents being confronted with her sexual maturation and provides a socially acceptable solution.
But feminist criticism parts company with Bettleheim’s more traditional interpretation. Feminist critics note that Sleeping Beauty is an entirely passive heroine who must wait for her prince to awaken her. She achieves her status and fortune, not from her own efforts, but by blind commitments to a prince she’s never seen before. In addition, by waking Sleeping Beauty, the prince triumphs over the evil fairy, thus punishing this exhibition of female force. Feminist criticism poses a very interesting question about young girls’ identification with the characters in this tale and asks: as a young girl who did you identify with – Sleeping Beauty who demonstrates the traditional feminist qualities of passivity and dependence or the evil fairy who demonstrates the untraditional demonstration of power?
Feminist criticism would agree with Bettleheim that as a story, Sleeping Beauty is a metaphor for teenage girls who must resolve a number of issues in their lives. These issues include their ambivalent feelings towards their parents and the changes occurring in their bodies plus their growing attraction to the opposite sex.
However, feminist critics argue that by placing her fate in the hand of the prince who awakes her, Sleeping Beauty denies her own power to solve her own problems. Her marriage, then continues her “enchanted” state as she conforms to what is expected of her: “Festive nuptials signify the heroine’s conformity to the socially dictated roles of wife and mother and signal her assimilation into the community.” (359) And, even though there is a widening gap between today’s social practices and the romantic idealization shown in Sleeping Beauty, this story, like other fairy tales, still conveys a strong message: “fairy tale portrayals of matrimony as woman’s only option limit female visions to the arena of hearth and cradle, thereby perpetuating the patriarchal status quo.” (360)
Are fairy tales still relevant in today’s modern world? The answer is still a resounding yes. The fact that such a seemingly simple story as Sleeping Beauty can invoke such disparate interpretations show us how deep the meaning lies within the story.
The value of fairy tales
There are a number of reasons for sharing fairy tales with children. The first reason is simply for pleasure. The tales are dramatic and fast-paced. The characters perform marvellous deeds, they overcome what appear to be insurmountable obstacles and they all live happily ever after. Another reason for sharing fairy tales (and traditional literature as well) is to learn about other cultures. One of the best ways to understand a culture is to read its stories. There are many stories that recur in different cultures. For example, over 500 versions of Cinderella have been documented around the world. What does that tell us about the universality of that story?
A third reason for sharing the stories is that fairy tales provide an excellent introduction to how stories work. It is easy to identify the literary elements, such as setting, plot and characters, within these stories. But perhaps the most important reason for sharing fairy tales is that they teach children about the nature of life. Fairy tales clearly demonstrate that there are universal human problems and struggles that can be solved. If we let them, fairy tales (and traditional literature) will show us how to solve those problems.
As Jane Yolen put it: “traditional stories are the perfect guidebook to the human psyche.”
Bettleheim, Bruno. The Uses of enchantment. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1989. (first published, 1975)
Norton, Donna E. Through the eyes of a child. 4th ed. Englewood Cliff, NJ: Merrill, 1995.
Rowe, Karen E. “Feminism and fairy tales.” Folk and fairy tales. ed. Martin Hallett and Barbara Karasek. Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 1991.
Sleeping Beauty bibliography
Bettleheim, Bruno. The Uses of enchantment. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985.
Makes a strong case for the value and importance of traditional folk and fairy tales. Provides Freudian interpretations of the most popular tales.
Early, Margaret. Sleeping Beauty. New York: Harry Abrahams, Inc. 1993.
Based on the Perrault version of story, but stops with the wedding. Illustrations are authentic and the castle depicted is the one Perrault had in mind. Exceptional colour printing, including the use of gold in all the pictures.
Evans, C. S. The Sleeping Beauty. Ill. by Arthur Rackam. London: Chancellor Press, 1987 (1920).
Originally published as a companion volume to Cinderella. Features both colour and black and white silhouette drawings. Text is a more detailed telling of the story that has been divided into chapters.
Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. Grimm’s fairy tales. London: Puffin Books, 1971.
Paperback collection of Grimm brothers’ most popular tales. Here the story of Sleeping Beauty goes by the title Rose-Bud.
Hallett, M. and B. Karasek. Folk and fairy tales. Peterborough: Broadview Press, 1991.
Scholarly study of folk and fairy tales. Includes “original” versions of many significant tales.
Hutton, Warwick. The Sleeping Beauty. New York: Athenum, 1979.
Delicate watercolour illustrations grace this retelling of the Grimm version.
Hyman, Trina Schart. The Sleeping Beauty. Toronto: Little Brown and Company, 1977.
Based on Grimm’s version of the story. Text and illustrations are very well integrated.
Mayer, Mercer. The Sleeping Beauty. New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1984.
Mayer plays with story, giving it even more Freudian overtones. Layout of book is very formal; illustrations are quite detailed.
Munsch, Robert. The Paper bag princess. Ill. by Michael Martchenko. Toronto: Annik Press, 1980.
A new, modern twist on an old theme. Children of all ages identify with Elizabeth who outwits a dragon and rescues an ungrateful prince.
Perrault’s complete fairy tales. Trans. A.E. Johnson and others. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1961.
Contains translations of the classic tales as they first appeared in France in 1697.
Perrault, Charles. The Sleeping Beauty. Ill. by David Walker. London: Heinemann, 1976.
Amber toned illustration grace this retelling of the Perrault version stopping at the wedding. Walker is a British set designer.
Opie, Iona and Peter. The Classic fairy tales. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Authoritative source on fairy tales. Includes reproductions of art from early editions of the tales.
Phelps, Ethel Johnston. The Maid of the North. Ill. by Lloyd Bloom. New York: Holt, Reinehart and Winston, 1981.
Collection of folk tales that feature strong female protagonists. Some tales have been rewritten to fit the feminist criteria.
Yolen, Jan. The Sleeping Beauty. Ill. by Ruth Sanderson. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986.
Based on the Grimm’s version. Illustrations copy the English Pre-Raphelite style. Rose motif is carried through all the pictures.
Opie, Iona and Peter. The Classic fairy tales. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Appendix A: Excerpt from The Classic Fairy Tales
This excerpt from The Classic Fairy Tales examines the origins of Sleeping Beauty in Basile’s Pentamerone.
‘La Belle au bois dormant’ was the first tale in Perrault’s Histoires ou contes du temps passé, 1697; and it is a tale so finely told it is no surprise that the retellings which folklorists have subsequently found in oral tradition have been subsequently found in oral tradition have been flat or foolish in comparison. The story of “Dornröschen”, for instance, collected by the Grimm brothers in Hesse at the beginning of the nineteenth century, which is undoubtedly derived from Perrault’s text, however reluctant the Grimms were to recognize it, possesses little of the quality of the French tale. Yet it is evidence from Basile’s Pentamerone (Day 5, tale 5), 1636, that the tale Perrault immortalized was not the whole story; or rather, that his tale was in part defective.
In this seventeenth-century Neapolitan story a great king commands the wise men of his country to assemble and tell him the future of his newborn daughter, named Talia. The wise men confer, and agree that peril will come to her from a splinter in some flax. To safeguard his child, the king orders that no flax, or any similar material, shall enter his palace. But one day when Talia has grown up, she is standing at a window and an old woman passes by who is spinning. Due to the king’s injunction, the princess has never seen anyone spinning, and she asks if she may try it. No sooner has she taken the distaff in her hand, and began to draw out the thread, than a splinter gets under her finger-nail, and she falls dead. Her father, stricken with grief, places Talia’s body on a velvet chair, and locking the gates of the palace, which is in the middle of a wood, abandons it forever. Sometime later (we are not told how much later) a king is out hunting, and his falcon flies into a window of the palace. Since the bird does not return he follows it, explores the building, and is astonished to find it deserted except for the princess whom he takes to be asleep. He cannot rouse her, yet falls in love with the insensible body as did the prince who came upon Snow White laid out in her coffin; but being less courteous, he rapes her, leaves her, and forgets her. Nine months later Talia gives birth to twins, a boy and a girl. The infants are looked after by fairies, and feed at their mother’s breast. One day one of the infants mistakenly sucks at her finger, the finger that has been pricked, and draws out the splinter, restoring Talia to life. (Compare, again, with the story of Snow White; and with the further tale from the Pentamerone summarized in the forenote to Snow White.) Some while after this, the king, hunting again in the same locality, recollects his adventure with the fair sleeper, revists the place, and apparently is not abashed to find Talia awake, and with two children. He tells her what happened; they form – to quote a nineteenth-century translation – ‘a great league and friendship’; and he remains several days.
At this point the plot rises above Perrault’s, whose seemingly unnecessary appendage, in which the king’s mother turns out to be an ogress yearning to eat her grandchildren – an appetite usually attributed to stepmothers – is here shown to be an essential part of the story incorrectly transmitted. In Basile’s tale it is revealed that the sport-loving king was already married. When he returns home after his compact with Talia, his wife – the queen – soon guesses the reason for his dallying elsewhere, and gains the information that he has begotten two children – whose names, incidentally, are ‘Sun’ and ‘Moon’ (cf. Le Jour and L’Aurore, the two children in Perrault’s tale). Her jealousy, and consuming desire to kill her husband’s bastards, is thus understandable, even if not pardonable. By a trick she obtains possession of the children, and consigns them to the cook, with orders for their throats to be cut and their flesh to be made into a savoury hash. This she encourages the king to eat, repeatedly assuring him ‘You are eating what is your own’. Happily the cook has as tender a heart as has the ‘clerk of the kitchen’ in Perrault’s tale, and the dainty dish set before the king was made from the meat of two kids, although when the treachery is discovered the king at first believes he has eaten his own children. Talia, too, like Sleeping Beauty, narrowly escapes death. The Queen orders her to be burnt alive. Talia plays for time (in a more convincing manner than did Bluebeard’s wife), suggesting that she first undresses, to which the Queen agrees, not out of pity but because Talia’s clothes are embroidered with gold and pearls. Talia removes first her gown, then her skirt, then her bodice, and is about to take off her petticoat when the king, her lover, makes his appearance.
That a story such as this was current before the Pentamerone is apparent from the fourteenth-century prose romance Perceforest, a vast work, printed in France in 1528 and translated into Italian in 1531, which seeks to link the legends of Alexander the Great and King Arthur of Britain. Here, in a chapter entitled ‘Historied de Troylus et de Zellandine’, the deities Venus, Lucina, and Themis, are said to have been invited to the banquet given in honour of the birth of the king’s daughter Zellandine. Themis – with less reason than the uninvited Eris before her – feels slighted because she has not been given a knife like the other guests ‘ and shows her displeasure in the now familiar fashion of putting a curse on the innocent princess. The exact nature of the curse is not known, so no attempt can be made to shield the princess from its effect; but her fate was to be the same as Beauty’s:
‘She took from the hands of one of the maidens a distaff full of flax and began to spin, but she had not finished the first thread when, overcome with sleep, she took to her bed and slept so soundly that no one could rouse her; she neither drank nor ate, nor did her form and colour fade, so that everyone marveled how she could live in that state.’Years later, when Prince Troylus finds his way to the sleeping princess in the tower, he behaves in the same unrestrained and casual manner as did the king who came upon Talia’s sleeping body. Thus when Zellandine awakes she, too, finders herself with child.
The tale of Sleeping Beauty in embryo, and perhaps even a hint of its significance, may be seen in the story of Brynhild in the Volsunga Saga; for when Brynhild was banished to earth, and the decree made that she should wed like any other member of her sex, her uppermost fear, it will be remembered, was that she might find herself mated to a coward. To ensure this would not happen Odin placed her in a deserted castle, and surrounded it with a massive barrier of flame. He then touched her with the thorn of sleep so that her youth and beauty would be perfectly preserved, no matter how much time elapsed before a hero arose courageous enough to make his way through the barrier of flame and enter the castle. Further it was ordained that when such a man removed the armour from her insensible body he would instantly fall in love with him, as indeed happened when Sigurd accomplished the feat.
Perrault’s story ‘La Belle au bois dormant’ was first translated into English by Robert Samber, and the text that follows is from his Histories, or Tales of Past Times, 1729. The story is notable amongst Perrault’s tales in that it early achieved separate chapbook publication in England. Sleeping Beauty is, for instance, the only one of Perrault’s tales listed among the 150 ‘Histories’ published by Cluer Dicey and Richard Marshall in 1764. Sleeping Beauty has also a long history as a pantomime (in 1840 it was the first of Planché’s extravaganzas to be produced at Covent Garden); and pantomime producers have always known, what apparently Perrault did not know, that the way to wake Sleeping Beauty was with a kiss:
Princess. ‘Ah! was that you, my Prince, my lips who prest!’
Prince. ‘She wakes! she speaks! and we shall still be blest! You’re not offended?’
Princess. ‘Oh, dear, not at all! Aren’t you the gentleman who was to call?’
Opie, Iona & Peter. The Classic fairy tales. Oxford: University Press, 1992.
Appendix B: Perrault’s version of The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood
This excerpt from Folk and Fairy Tales contains the Perrault version of Sleeping Beauty. Originally written for the entertainment of the French court at Versailles, the story was the first in Perrault’s collection, published in France in 1697. The book was translated into English and published in 1729.
Damsels in distress
This section, which contains four of the most famous tales in the Western world, suggests why much feminist criticism has been leveled at the folk-fairy tale. Each of the heroines exhibits varying degrees of passivity and much ultimately be rescued by a male and fulfilled by marriage. However, given the social prejudices through which these stories have been filtered and the gender-roles that they reflect, this pattern should not surprise us too much; we were well into the second half of our own century, in fact, before serious efforts were made (in the form of the feminist fairy tale) to redress the imbalance that is firmly entrenched in many traditional tales.
One point worthy of note about this quartet of heroines (and the heroes and heroines of many other tales) is the degree to which they are “in harmony” with the natural world. Their innate innocence and generosity of spirit provoke a protective response from some external agency, whether it be the thorns that surround the spellbound Sleeping Beauty, the birds that sort the lentils from the ashes for Ashputtle, or those that weep for the dead Snow-White as she lies in her glass coffin. Rapunzel’s innocence, by contrast, is revealed from within, as her tears miraculously restore the sight of her long-lost prince.
Feminist criticism has directed our attention not only to the young heroine, but also to other intriguing facets of the female presence in these tales. Contrasting the innocence and helplessness of the young heroine, for example, is the cunning and malice of an older woman – a character who is all the more sinister because her villainy is often insidious and psychological in nature; she will readily resort to trickery and deceit to gain her ends.
The older male, by contrast, plays a minor or even subservient role, and the younger male, the Prince, is more often lucky than brave; in none of these stories does he win his bride through heroic deeds. He is often almost as passive as she: the thorns give way before Sleeping Beauty’s Prince, Snow-White’s life is saved when her coffin is jerked by the Prince’s servants, Rapunzel’s Prince (admittedly after suffering) stumbles upon her by chance – and in the Perrault version of the tale, Cinderella’s beau has his servants do all the hard work in finding the true owner of the glass slipper!
Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty in the Wood provides us with another example of a familiar title that contains a less familiar “sequel” … We expect the story to end with the awakening of Sleeping Beauty, followed by her marriage to the Prince – but now a whole new episode begins, with the introduction of her ogrish mother-in-law, so Perrault’s version has not one but two formidable female antagonists! This second section of the tale clearly invites a Freudian interpretation as the Prince’s mother wages her ruthless campaign to destroy all rivals for her son’s affections.
In one way or another, all four tales in this section deal with the rites of passage between generations. In each one, some effort is made by a parent (or step-parent, or surrogate) to prevent the inevitable, although not always with wicked motive; in the previous section, for instance, we saw how Little Red Riding Hood’s mother’s natural desire to protect her daughter ultimately becomes a destructive force, as the innocent girl is sent defenseless into the waiting jaws of the Wolf (“The poor child did not know how dangerous it is to chatter away with wolves…”). It is significant that each tale (or, in the case of “Sleeping Beauty”, the first part) ends with the celebration of a marriage, denoting that the heroine has survived the loss of childhood innocence and is now ready for initiation into the privileged status of adulthood. Here perhaps is one reason for the enduring popularity of the folk-fairy tale: it offers vital reassurance to the reader/listener that while the road to maturity is both long and difficult, the goal of self-fulfillment awaits those who persevere.
The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood Charles Perrault
Once upon a time, there lived a king and queen who were bitterly unhappy because they did not have any children. They visited all the clinics, all the specialists, made holy vows, went on pilgrimages and said their prayers regularly but with so little success that when, at long last, the queen finally did conceive and in due course, gave birth to a daughter, they were both wild with joy. Obviously, this baby’s christening must be the grandest of all possible christenings; for her godmothers, she would have as many fairies as they could find in the entire kingdom. According to the custom of those times, each fairy would make the child a magic present, so that the princess could acquire every possible perfection. After a long search, they managed to trace seven suitable fairies.
After the ceremony at the church, the guests went back to the royal palace for a party in honor of the fairy godmothers. E ach of these important guests found her place was specially laid with a great dish of gold and a golden knife, fork and spoon studded with diamonds and rubies. But as the fairies took their seats, an uninvited guest came storming into the palace, deeply affronted because she had been forgotten – though it was no wonder she’d been overlooked; this old fairy had hidden herself away in her tower for fifteen years and, since nobody had set eyes on her all that time, they thought she was dead, or had been bewitched. The king ordered a place to be laid for her at once but he could not give her a great gold dish and gold cutlery like the other fairies had because only seven sets had been made. The old fairy was very annoyed at that and muttered threats between her teeth. The fairy who sat beside her overheard her and suspected she planned to revenge herself by giving the little princess a very unpleasant present when the time for present giving came. She slipped away behind the tapestry so that she could have the last word, if necessary, and put right any harm the old witch might do the baby.
Now the fairies presented their gifts. The youngest fairy said the princess would grow up to be the loveliest woman in the world. The next said she would have the disposition of an angel, the third that she would be as graceful as a gazelle, the fourth gave her the gift of dancing, the fifth of singing like a nightingale, and the sixth said she would be able to play any kind of musical instrument that she wanted to.
But when it came to the old fairy’s turn, she shook with spite and announced that, in spite of her beauty and accomplishments, the princess was going to prick her finger with a spindle and die of it.
All the guests trembled and wept. But the youngest fairy stepped out from behind the tapestry and cried out:
“Don’t despair, King and Queen; your daughter will not die – although, alas, I cannot undo entirely the magic of a senior-ranking fairy. The princess will prick her finger with a spindle but, instead of dying, she will fall into a deep sleep that will last for a hundred years. And at the end of a hundred years, the son of a king will come to wake her.”
In spite of this comfort, the king did all he could to escape the curse; he forbade the use of a spindle, or even the possession of one, on pain or death, in all the lands he governed.
Fifteen or sixteen years went by. The king and queen were spending the summer at a castle in the country and one day the princess decided to explore, prowling through room after room until at last she climbed up a spiral staircase in a tower and came to an attic in which an old lady was sitting, along with her distaff, spinning, for this old lady had not heard how the king had banned the use of a spindle.
“Whatever are you doing, my good woman?” asked the princess.
“I’m spinning, my dear,” answered the old lady.
“Oh, how clever!” said the princess. “How do you do it? Give it to me so that I can see if I can do it, too!”
She was very lively and just a little careless; but besides, and most importantly, the fairies had ordained it. No sooner had she picked up the spindle than she pierced her hand with it and fell down in a faint.
The old lady cried for help and the servants came running from all directions. They threw water over her, unlaced her corsets, slapped her hands, rubbed her temples with eau-du-cologne – but nothing would wake her.
The king climbed to the attic to see the cause of the clamor and, sad at heart, knew the fairy’s curse had come true. He knew the princess’ time had come, just as the fairies had said it would, and ordered her to be carried to the finest room in the palace and laid there on a bed covered in gold and silver embroidery. She was as beautiful as an angel. Her trance had not yet taken the colour from her face; her cheeks were rosy and her lips like coral. Her eyes were closed but you could hear her breathing very, very softly and, if you saw the slow movement of her breast, you knew she was not dead.
The king ordered she should be left in peace until the time came when she would wake up. At the moment the princess had pricked her finger, the good fairy who saved her life was in the realm of Mataquin, twelve thousand leagues away, but she heard the news immediately from a dwarf who sped to her in a pair of seven-league boots. The fairy left Mataquin at once in a fiery chariot drawn by dragons and arrived at the grieving court an hour later. The king went out to help her down; she approved of all his arrangements but she was very sensitive, and she thought how sad the princess would be when she woke up all alone in that great castle.
So she touched everything in the house, except for the king and queen, with her magic ring –the housekeepers, the maids of honour, the chambermaids, the gentlemen-in-waiting, the court officials, the cooks, the scullions, the errand-boys, the night-watchmen, the Swiss guards, the page-boys, the footmen; she touched all the horses in the stable, and the stable-boys, too, and even Puff, the princess’ little lap-dog, who was curled up on her bed beside her. As soon as she touched them with her magic ring, they all fell asleep and would not wake up until their mistress woke, ready to look after her when she needed them. Even the spits on the fire, loaded with partridges and pheasants, drowsed off to sleep, and the flames died down and slept too. All this took only a moment; fairies are fast workers.
The king and queen kissed their darling child but she did not stir. Then they left the palace forever and issued proclamations forbidding anyone to approach it. Within a quarter of an hour, a great number of trees, some large, some small, interlaced with brambles and thorns, sprang up around the park and formed a hedge so thick that neither man nor beast could penetrate it. This hedge grew so tall that you could see only the topmost turrets of the castle, for the fairy had made a safe, magic place where the princess could sleep her sleep out free from prying eyes.
At the end of a hundred years, the son of a king who now ruled over the country went out hunting in that region. He asked the local people what those turrets he could see above the great wood might mean. They replied, each one, as he had heard tell – how it was an old ruin, full of ghosts; or that all the witches of the country went there to hold their Sabbaths. But the most popular story was, that it was the home of an ogre who carried all the children he caught there, to eat them at his leisure, knowing nobody else could follow him through the wood. The prince did not know what to believe. Then an old man said to him:
“My lord, fifty years ago I heard my father say that the most beautiful princess in all the world was sleeping in that castle, and her sleep was going to last for a hundred years, until the prince who is meant to have her comes to wake her up.”
When he heard that, the young prince was tremendously excited; he had never heard of such a marvelous adventure and, fired with thoughts of love and glory, he made up his mind there and then to go through the wood. No sooner had he stepped among the trees than the great trunks and branches, the thorns and brambles parted, to let him pass. He saw the castle at the end of a great avenue and walked towards it, though he was surprised to see that none of his attendants could follow him because the trees sprang together again as soon as he had gone between them. But he did not abandon his quest. A young prince in love is always brave. Then he arrived at a courtyard that seemed like a place where only fear lived.
An awful silence filled it and the look of death was on everything. Man and beast stretched on the ground, like corpses; but the pimples on the red noses of the Swiss guard soon showed him they were not dead at all, but sleeping, and the glasses beside them, with the dregs of wine still at the bottoms, showed how they had dozed off after a spree.
He went through a marble courtyard; he climbed a staircase; he went into a guardroom, where the guards were lined up in two ranks, each with a gun on his shoulder, and snoring with all their might. He found several rooms full of gentlemen-in-waiting and fine ladies; some stood, some sat, all slept. At last he arrived in a room that was entirely covered in gilding and, there on a bed with the curtains drawn back so that he could see her clearly, lay a princess about fifteen or sixteen years old and she was so lovely that she seemed, almost, to shine. The prince approached her trembling, and fell on his knees before her.
The enchantment was over; the princess woke. She gazed at him so tenderly you would not have thought it was the first time she had ever seen him.
“Is it you, my prince?” she said. “You have kept me waiting a long time.”
The prince was beside himself with joy when he heard that and the tenderness in her voice overwhelmed him so that he hardly knew how to reply. He told her he loved her better than he loved himself and though he stumbled over the words, that made her very happy, because he showed so much feeling. He was more tongue-tied than she, because she had had plenty of time to dream of what she would say to him; her good fairy had made sure she had sweet dreams during her long sleep. They talked for hours and still had not said half the things they wanted to say to one another.
But the entire palace had woken up with the princess and everyone was going about his business again. Since none of them were in love, they were all dying of hunger. The chief lady-in-waiting, just as ravenous as the rest, lost patience after a while and told the princess loud and clear that dinner was ready. The prince helped the princess up from the bed and she dressed herself with the greatest magnificence; but when she put on her ruff, the prince remembered how his grandmother had worn one just like it. All the princess’ clothes were a hundred years out of fashion, but she was no less beautiful because of that.
Supper was served in the hall of mirrors, while the court orchestra played old tunes on violins and oboes they had not touched for a hundred years. After supper, the chaplain married them in the castle chapel and the chief lady-in-waiting drew the curtains round their bed for them. They did not sleep much that night; the princess did not feel in the least drowsy. The prince left her in the morning, to return to his father’s palace.
The king was anxious because his son had been away so long. The prince told him that he had lost himself in the forest while he was out hunting and had spent the night in a charcoal burner’s hut where his host had given him black bread and cheese to eat. The king believed the story but the queen, the prince’s mother, was not so easily hoodwinked when she saw that now the young man spent most of his time out hunting in the forest. Though he always arrived back with an excellent excuse when he had spent two or three nights away from home, his mother soon guessed he was in love.
He lived with the princess for more than two years and he gave her two children. They named the eldest, a daughter, Dawn, because she was so beautiful but they called their son Day because he came after Dawn and was even more beautiful still.
The queen tried to persuade her son to tell her his secret but he dared not confide in her. Although he loved her, he feared her, because she came from a family of ogres and his father had married her only because she was very, very rich. The court whispered that the queen still had ogrish tastes and could hardly keep her hands off little children, so the prince thought it best to say nothing about his own babies.
But when the king died and the prince himself became king, he felt confident enough to publicly announce his marriage and install the new queen, his wife, in his royal palace with a great deal of ceremony. And soon after that, the new king decided to declare war on his neighbor, the Emperor Cantalabutte.
He left the governing of his kingdom in his mother’s hands and he trusted her to look after his wife and children for him, too, because he would be away at war for the whole summer.
As soon as he was gone, the queen mother sent her daughter-in-law and her grandchildren away to a country, to a house deep in the woods, so that she could satisfy her hideous appetites with the greatest of ease. She herself arrived at the house a few days later and said to the butler:
“I want to eat little Dawn for my dinner tomorrow.”
“Oh my lady!” exclaimed the butler.
“She’s just the very thing I fancy,” said the queen mother in the voice of an ogress famished for fresh meat. “And I want you to serve her up with sauce Robert.”
The poor man saw he could not argue with an hungry ogress, picked up a carving knife and went to little Dawn’s room. She was just four years old. When she saw her dear friend, the butler, she rand up to him, laughing, threw her arms around his neck and asked him where her sweeties were. He burst into tears and the knife fell from his hands. He went down to the farmyard and slaughtered a little lamb instead. He served the lamb up in such a delicious sauce the queen mother said she had never eaten so well in her life and he spirited little Dawn away from harm; he handed her over to his wife, who hid her in a cellar, in the servants’ quarters.
Eight days passed. Then the ogress said to the butler:
“I want to eat little Day for my supper.”
The butler was determined to outwit her again. He found little Day playing at fencing with his pet monkey; the child was only three. He took him to his wife, who hid him away with his sister, and served up a tender young kid in his place. The queen mother smacked her lips over the dish, so all went well until the night the wicked ogress said to the butler:
“I want to eat the queen with the same sauce you made for her children.”
This time, the butler did not know what to do. The queen was twenty, now, if you did not count the hundred years she had been asleep; her skin was white and lovely but it was a little tough, and where in all the farmyard was he to find a beast with skin just like it? There was nothing for it; he must kill the queen to save himself and he went to her room, determined he would not enter it a second time. He rushed in with a dagger in his hand and told her her mother-in-law had ordered her to die.
“Be quick about it,” she said calmly. “Do as she told you. When I am dead, I shall be with my poor children again, my children whom I love so much.”
Because they had been taken away from her without a word of explanation, she thought they were dead.
The butler’s heart melted.
“No, no, my lady, you don’t need to die so that you can be with your children. I’ve hidden them away from the queen mother’s hunger and I will trick her again, I will give her a young deer for supper instead of you.”
He took her to the cellar, where he left her kissing her children and weeping over them, and went to kill a young doe that the queen mother ate for supper with as much relish as if it had been her daughter-in-law. She was very pleased with her own cruelty and practiced telling her son how the wolves had eaten his wife and children while he had been away at the wars.
One night as she prowled about as usual, sniffing for the spoor fresh meat, she heard a voice coming from the servant’s quarter. It was little Day’s voice; he was crying because he had been naughty and his mother wanted to whip him. Then the queen mother heard Dawn begging her mother to forgive the little boy. The ogress recognized the voices of her grandchildren and she was furious. She ordered a huge vat to be brought into the middle of the courtyard. She had the vat filled with toads, vipers, snakes and serpents and then the queen, her children, the butler, his wife and his maid were brought in front of her with their hands tied behind their backs. She was going to have them thrown into the vat.
The executioners were just on the point of carrying out their dreadful instructions when the king galloped into the courtyard. Nobody had expected him back so soon. He was astonished at what he saw and asked who had commanded the vat and the bonds. The ogress was so angry to see her plans go awry that she jumped head-first into the vat and the vile beasts inside devoured her in an instant. The king could not help grieving a little; after all, she was his mother. But his beautiful wife and children soon made him happy again.
Moral A brave, rich, handsome husband is a prize well worth waiting for; but no modern woman would think it was worth waiting for a hundred years. The tale of the Sleeping Beauty shows how strong engagements make for happy marriages, but young girls these days want so much to be married I do not have the heart to press the moral.
M. Hallet & B. Karasek. Folk and fairy tales. Broadview Press, 1991.
Appendix C: The Grimms’ Version: “Rose Bud”
“Rose Bud” was the title the Grimm Brothers gave to their version of “Sleeping Beauty.” This story was first published in England in 1823 as part of Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
Once upon a time there lived a king and queen who had no children; and this they lamented very much. But one day as the queen was walking by the side of the river, a little fish lifted its head out of the water, and said, ‘Your wish shall be fulfilled, and you shall soon have a daughter.’ What the little fish had foretold soon came to pass; and the queen had a little girl that was so very beautiful that the king could not cease looking on it for joy, and determined to hold a great feast. So he invited not only his relations, friends, and neighbours, but also all the fairies, that they might be kind and good to his little daughter. Now there were thirteen fairies in the kingdom, and he had only twelve golden dishes for them to eat out of, so that he was obliged to leave one of the fairies without an invitation. The rest came, and after the feast was over they gave all their best gifts to the little princess: one gave her virtue, another beauty, another riches, and so on till she had all that was excellent in the world. When eleven had done blessing her, the thirteenth, who had not been invited, and was very angry on that account, came in, and determined to take her revenge. So she cried out, ‘The king’s daughter shall in her fifteenth year be wounded by a spindle, and fall down dead.’ Then the twelfth, who had not yet given her gift, came forward and said that the bad wish must be fulfilled, but that she could soften it, and the king’s daughter should not die, but fall asleep for a hundred years.
But the king hoped to save his dear child from the threatened evil, and ordered that all the spindles in the kingdom should be brought up and destroyed. All the fairies’ gifts were in the meantime fulfilled; for the princess was so beautiful , and well-behaved, and amiable, and wise, that every one who knew her loved her. Now it happened that on the very day she was fifteen years old the king and queen were not at home, and she was left alone in the palace. So she roved about by herself, and looked at all the rooms and chambers, till at last she came to an old tower, to which there was a narrow staircase ending with a little door. In the door there was a golden key, and when she turned it the door sprang open, and there sat an old lady spinning away very busily. ‘Why, how now, good mother,’ said the princess, ‘what are you doing there?’ ‘Spinning,’ said the old lady, and nodded her head. ‘How prettily that little thing turns round!’ said the princess, and took the spindle and began to spin. But scarcely had she touched it, before the prophecy was fulfilled, and she fell down lifeless on the ground.
However, she was not dead, but had only fallen into a deep sleep; and the king and the queen, who had just then came home, and all their court, fell asleep too; and the horses slept in the stables, and the dogs in the court, the pigeons on the house-top and the flies on the walls. Even the fire on the hearth left off blazing, and went to sleep; and the meat that was roasting stood still; and the cook, who was at that moment pulling the kitchen-boy by the hair to give him a box on the ear for something he had done amiss, let him go, and both fell asleep; and so every thing stood still, and slept soundly.
A large hedge of thorns soon grew around the palace, and every year it became higher and thicker, till at last the whole palace was surrounded and hid, so that not even the roof of the chimneys could be seen. But there went a report through all the land of the beautiful sleeping Rose-Bud (for so was the king’s daughter called); so that from time to time several kings’ sons came and tried to break through the thicket into the palace. This they could never do; for the thorns and bushes laid hold of them as it were with hands, and there they stuck fast and died miserably.
After many years there came a king’s son into that land, and an old man told him the story of the thicket of thorns, and how a beautiful palace stood behind it, in which was a wondrous princess, called Rose-Bud, asleep with all her court. He told, too, how he had heard from his grandfather that many many princes had come, and had tried to break through the thicket, but had struck fast and died. Then the young prince said, ‘All this shall not frighten me, I will go and see Rose-Bud.’ The old man tried to dissuade him, but he persisted in going.
Now that very day were the hundred years completed; and as the prince came to the thicket, he saw nothing but beautiful flowering shrubs, through which he passed with case, and they closed after him firm as ever. Then he came at last to the palace, and there in the court lay the dogs asleep, and the horses in the stables, and on the roof sat the pigeons fast asleep with their hands under their wings; and when he came into the palace, the flies slept on the walls, and the cook in the kitchen was still holding up her hand as if she would beat the boy, and the maid sat with a black fowl in her hand ready to be plucked.
Then he went on still farther, and all was so still that he could hear every breath he drew; till at last he came to the old tower and opened the door of the little room in which Rose-Bud was, and there she lay fast asleep, and looked so beautiful that he could not take his eyes off, and he stooped down and gave her a kiss. But the moment he kissed her she opened her eyes and awoke, and smiled upon him. Then they went out together, and presently the king and queen also awoke, and all the court, and they gazed upon each other with great wonder. And the horses got up and shook themselves, and the dogs jumped about and barked; the pigeons took their heads from under their wings, and looked about and flew into the fields; the flies on the walls buzzed away; the fire in the kitchen blazed up and cooked the dinner, and the roast meat turned round again; the cook gave the boy the box on his ear so that he cried out, and the maid went on plucking the fowl. And then was the wedding of the prince and Rose-Bud celebrated, and they lived happily together all their lives long.
Grimm Brothers. Fairy Tales. Puffin Books, 1971.
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Once upon a time, not so very long ago...
And they lived happily ever after.
Little pig, little pig,
Let me come in.
Not by the hair of my chinny, chin, chin!
The Three Little Pigs
This unit provides you with the skills needed to effectively evaluate traditional stories and modern fantasy.
The literature we now call folk tales comes from the oral tradition. These are the stories that were created and handed down from generation to generation, long before people could read or write. Considered a “mirror of the people” (Sutherland and Arbuthnot, 163) these stories were meant for all ages, not just children.
It is interesting to note that different versions of the same folk or fairy tale appear in many cultures around the world. This is not an accident. For example, there are more than 500 different versions of Cinderella world wide.
Hillman notes that while those who first studied folk tales developed the theory of monogenesis (mono = one; genesis = beginning) which stated that all traditional stories came from northern Europe:
This has since been refuted with a more logical polygenesis theory, which insists that humans in every culture express the same basic needs and desires – to love, to hate, to search for meaning, to laugh, and to learn – and therefore similar patterns, characters, situations, and so on. (60)
No one knows who first told these stories. But we do know who were the first to collect and publish traditional European tales.
The earliest collectors included –
Charles Perrault (1628-1703)
- Published Histories ou countes du temps passé avec des moralities in France in 1697
- Wrote down oral stories for the entertainment of the court at Versailles
- Included such well-known tales as Sleeping Beauty and Little Red Riding Hood
- Softened the rough edges of the stories and added a moral to each one
- Translated and published in English as The Histories, or Tales of Past Times in 1729
Jacob Grimm (1785-1863) and Wilhelm Grimm (1786-1859)
- First collection published in Berlin in 1812
- First translated into English in 1823
- Collected stories that were familiar to most western Europeans
- First substantial collections of folk tales for their own sakes
- Inspired serious collecting of folk tales in Britain
Joseph Jacobs (1854-1916)
- Collected and retold the stories loved by British young children including Jack the Giant Killer and The Three Little Pigs
Andrew Lang (1844-1912)
- Collected tales from around the world
- Published Blue fairy book, 1889, first of a series of 12 books, all with a colour in their title
It is important to understand the differences between traditional tales and literary folk tales:
Stories written by modern authors and patterned after folk tales, such as the work of Hans Christian Anderson and Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories, are often confused with the traditional tale that has no author. However, these tales are modern fantasy stories, for they originated in written form. (Jacob and Tunnel, 66)
Purpose of folk tales
There are many theories about the origins of folk tales. While the actual beginnings of the stories have been lost in the mists of time, we can still speculate on the origins of the tales. Many believe that some of the stories originated as nightmares or dreams in the minds of the storytellers. Another theory suggests that some of the stories demonstrate some of the unconscious frustrations or daydreams of the people who listened to them. For example, the presence of so many kings can be taken as a sign of wish fulfillment on the part of those who created the stories.
Some folk tales are remnants of early nature myths, devised to explain some aspect of the forces of nature which puzzled the early peoples. For instance, Little Red Riding Hood is believed to be a very early explanation for the sun’s apparent journey across the sky. Finally, other stories may have been created to teach survival skills. Hans in luck, for example, shows how a fool may easily be tricked into loosing everything. (Sutherland and Arbuthnot, 165) But speculation aside, this is what we do know about folk tales. They are created at a very early level of civilization. They often contain elements from past religions and rituals. On a symbolic level they satisfy people’s basic emotional needs. In addition, they served as the “cement” in early societies, providing the rules that everyone was to live by. (Sutherland and Arbuthnot, 166)
Characteristics of folk talesFolk tales have many characteristics in common. These include –
- A brisk beginning
- Lots of action in the middle section of the story
- Stock or flat characters who are not well developed
- A satisfying and definite ending which often appeals to children’s sense of judgment
Most folk tales are quite short. Some include rhyme or repetition making them easier to retell.
If a folk tale contains magical or supernatural elements, it is more properly called a fairy tale.
Distinctive elements of folk tales
Folk tales contain a number of distinctive literary elements. These include plot and story structure, characters, literary style, settings, tone and themes. The plot and story structure for a folk tale includes –
- Beginnings which are brief and to the pointThe first few paragraphs will typically introduce the main characters, describe the setting and outline the problem or conflict that has to be overcome.
- Plots which move quicklyIn folk tales plots are more important than characters. Story lines are characterized by lots of action and suspense and are usually logical.
- Conclusions which are also brief and to the pointEndings come quickly and tie together everything that was started at the beginning of the story. Typically, good behavior is rewarded and wicked behavior is punished.
The characters in folk tales are called stock characters. Because the stories focus more on plot development than character development, the characters tend to be flat or underdeveloped. This does not, however, make them any less interesting. Some of the characters found in both folk and fairy tales include –
- wise women
- witches and wizards
- magicians and sorcerers
- giants and ogres
- animals with magic powers
- enchanted people
Folk tales can also be distinguished by their use of language. Because they originated from the oral tradition folk tales tend to employ a more economical style. There is usually very little in the way of description of settings or characters. The repetition of key phrases make the stories easy to memorize and retell. For example, have another look at the quote at the beginning of this module. Dialogue is often used to keep the story going.
Folk tales are also characterized by their settings. These are usually vague and distant. The teller often begins with the phrase, “Once upon a time…” and the reader is immediately removed to a distant fantasy land.
The tone of folk tales is harder to categorize. Tone is tied very closely to the characters and plot. It can vary from the sentimental or romantic, for example, Beauty and the Beast, to the humorous, such as Hans in luck to the more objective such as Chicken Little.
Finally, themes in most folk tales, especially those from Western tradition, clearly demonstrates the key values of that culture. Russell explains –
Folk tale themes are usually quite simple, but always serious and powerful. Themes deal with such subjects as escaping mighty and evil enemies, earning a place in the world, accomplishing monumental tasks, and so on. Values are clearly defined; there is seldom a question about what is right or wrong, folk-tale heroes and heroines usually do not wrestle with perplexing moral dilemmas. The choices are typically very clear but they are also typically demanding. (111)
A note on multicultural literature
A generation ago, most Canadian children were exposed only to the folk tales of western Europe. Today, a wide range of stories are available from many diverse cultures. Take some time to familiarize yourself with tales from other cultures. Children should be exposed to them as well. Of particular note are the tales that originated with North American native groups.
European versus North American folk tales
A brief comparison between European folk tales and those told by the native people of North America shows that there are significance differences:
European folk tales start in an ambiguous or dreamy fashion, thus encouraging the listen to enter an imaginary setting. North American native stories, on the other hand, tend to have beginnings that seem more straightforward and less ambiguous.
European folk tales are characterized by abrupt and conclusive endings. In contrast, North American native tales often don’t have a clear ending that wraps up all the threads of the story. Sometimes stories are linked together as part of a large circle.
- the use of numbers
Three is the number that so often appears in European folk tales. While in North American native stories, the number four is used. The use of four relates to the four directions the wind blows.
Traditionally, the major expectation from a European folk tale was entertainment. In the North American native tradition, the expectation was more of the passing on of beliefs, culture and history.
Classifying folk tales
Folk tales are grouped according to their content. Some of the more common types of folk tales are –
- Cumulative tales
These stories are short on plot, but long on rhythm. Their episodes neatly follow one another to a logical and sometimes hilarious conclusion. An example of a cumulative tale is The turnip. As each family member or animal comes to help with the task of pulling a giant turnip from the ground, the entire list of participants is repeated.
- Talking beast tales
These stories feature animals who can talk to humans or to each other. Sometimes the animal characters present an exaggerated characterization of humans. “Puss in Boots” is an example of a talking beast tale.
- Droll or humorous tales
These stories use humour to expose human foolishness. They frequently poke fun at the characters in the story. If the main character in the story is a fool, these may be called noodlehead tales. Hans in Luck clearly demonstrates the characteristics of a noodlehead tale. At the beginning of the story, the reader is told Hans has worked for his master for seven years. His reward is a piece of silver “as big as [his] head.” He is on his way home to visit his mother when he encounters a number of characters who manage to swindle him.
His final encounter is with a scissor-grinder:
Hans stood for a while, and at last said, “You must be well off, master grinder, you seem to happy at your work.”
“Yes,” said the other, “mine is a golden trade; a good grinder never puts his hand in his pocket without finding money in it: - but where did you find that beautiful goose?”
“I did not buy it, but changed a pig for it.”
“And where did you get the pig?”
“I gave a cow for it.”
“And the cow?”
“I gave a horse for it.”
“And the horse?”
“I gave a piece of silver as big as my head for that.”
“And the silver?”
“Oh! I worked hard for that seven long years …”
And so it goes – by the end of the tale Hans loses even the grindstone, which he traded for the goose. But even that doesn’t seem to bother him:
“How happy am I!” cried he: “no mortal was ever so lucky as I am.” Then he got with a light and merry heart and walked on free from all his troubles, till he reached his mother’s home.
- Realistic tales
These stories feature a character who was a real person, but in the telling of the tale has been made fabulous. The stories about the character Bluebeard are examples of realistic tales.
- Tall tales
These tales focus on characters and events that may be real or fictional. Tall tales are characterized by their use of humor and exaggeration. Often they have their origins in stories about real people. For example, there are many tall tales about the American hero, Davy Crockett.
- Pourquoi tales
These stories were originally told to explain natural phenomena. An example of a pourqoui story is Why mosquitoes buzz in people’s ears?
- Trickster tales
These tales often feature an animal protagonist who can outsmart everyone else (including the humans!) in the story. Tricksters’ characters vary from sly to helpful. Raven is featured as the trickster figure in many traditional tales from west coast Indian tribes.
- Ghost stories
“…ghost stories are perfect examples of the living folk tale, told by the folk to the folk – with each tale adapted to the occasion.” (Russell, 107) They are enjoyed by many children who like being scared by stories of ghosts and evil spirits.
Why folk tales appeal to children
Folk tales appeal to children for a number of reasons. First, they are often empowering stories. Children learn about heroes who overcome obstacles and achieve their goals. Second, children can laugh at the foolishness of the characters found in noodlehead tales. Third, the clear cut endings, with their rewards for good or glorious behavior appeal to children’s sense of justice.
Other types of traditional literature include fables, myths, epic and hero tales. The balance of this module will discuss these types of traditional literature as well as modern fantasy.
While folk and fairy tales evoke mental pictures of lands far away, fables tend to be more crisp and dispassionate.
Children are not ready for fables until they are at least five years old. They need to have acquired some knowledge of people’s foibles to understand how fables work. Fables are appropriate after folk tales have been introduced and before myths and legends are introduced.
The best known fables are credited to Aesop, a Greek slave. Fables are usually brief and contain one single action that includes a moral lesson. They often feature an animal or inanimate object that behaves like a human being. The virtues celebrated in fables are not the heroic, but rather the commonplace virtues needed for everyday living. For example, the moral from the tale The tortoise and the hare is “slow and steady wins the race.”
Two modern author/illustrators who have produced illustrated collections of fables are Leo Lionni and Arnold Lobel.
Pan, the god of the woods and fields, of flocks and shepherds, dwelt in the grottos, wandered on the mountains and in the valleys, and amused himself with the chase or in the leading the dances of the nymphs.
The Age of Fable
Myths are early science, the results of men’s first trying to explain what they saw around them.
MythologyLike folk tales and fables, myths are very old. They are the stories of gods and goddesses of a culture. Myths are more complicated than fables and frequently contain symbolism. Myths are divided into three categories based on their themes:
- Pourquoi tales
These stories attempt to explain some aspect of nature or human existence. For example, the Greek myth about Demeter, the earth mother and her daughter, Peresphone, was used to explain the onset of winter.
- Ways of gods of mortals
These tales are clear warnings about what happens when mortals interact with the gods. The results, as in the story about King Midas, the man with the golden touch, are usually not positive.
- Warnings against particular sins
These myths carry strongly worded messages against certain kinds of behavior. Arachne, for example, pays clearly for her habit of boasting about her weaving abilities.
Another characteristic of myths is that they frequently give human characteristics to the impersonal forces of nature. Making a god like Zeus responsible for lightning, helped the ancient Greeks to better cope with forces that they didn’t comprehend.
Many myths also deal with the gods’ relationships with one another. These stories frequently contain morals about what is appropriate behavior.
Myths are now available from many different cultures. The Greek, Roman and Norse myths have a significant impact on Western culture. Older children are interested in seeing how the names of many characters from these stories have permeated our culture. For example, mortals’ fear of the god Pan and his magic flute led to the word panic being introduced into peoples’ vocabulary. You can also take a look around your own community and see how many businesses have used names from ancient myths, Midas Muffler being one example.
Epic and hero tales
King Arthur made his court at Camelot and, aided by Merlin, reigned over a peaceful and prosperous land. Arthur was as brave as any knight, always ready to risk his life for justice.
King Arthur and the knights of the round table
Epic and hero tales may still be myth, that is, their basis is a made-up story, but the centre of these tales is a human, not a god. This hero embodies the ideals of his/her culture. They are buffeted violently by both the gods and other humans, but they dare to accomplish great deeds and most often suffer without complaining. They are survivors and they endure until the end.
Many characters in epic and hero tales were probably real. Some were actual historical figures such as the American hero, Paul Bunyan. Other heroic characters were probably real, such as King Arthur and Robin Hood, but they now loom larger than life.
There is a direct link between the ancient heroes such as Achilles and Ulysses to today’s superheroes such as Batman and Superman. Children who enjoy modern tales of derring-do will enjoy retellings of the epic and hero tales.
Epic and hero tales include dynamic and well defined characters. There is plenty of action. The hero is able to overcome all the obstacles placed in his path and emerge victorious at the end of the story.
Evaluating traditional literature
The biggest problem in evaluating traditional tales seems to be our need to determine which version is the “correct” one. Because the tales were originally told orally and because they often changed every time they were told, there is no one “correct” version for folk tales. Instead, we can evaluate traditional tales by a careful analysis of its literary elements.
Hillman suggests that the following characteristics are important:
a linear or cumulative story structure; one dimensional characters with the exception of the hero; clean, spare language with occasional word play and stylistic patterns; and humorous or value-laden themes that speak to the truly important reasons for society’s existence. (70)
If you are looking at a story or a collection of stories from another culture, consider the following questions that are posed by Norton:
- Does the literature help children learn to appreciate the culture and art of a different country?
- Does the literature encourage children to realize that people from another part of the world have inherent goodness, mercy, courage and industry? (286)
Stories from other cultures can help further children’s understanding of other peoples and other places.
Besides analyzing the literary elements, examine any illustrations that accompany the story or stories. There is no “right style” for illustrating folk tales, but the mood of the pictures should match the mood of the story.
Modern fantasy for children began with the publication of the ground-breaking book, Alice in Wonderland, in 1865. Fantasy stories are tales of pure imagination. They contain people or creatures and sometimes a setting that does not really exist. The best fantasy for children demonstrates two characteristics:
- It shows a strongly realized vision of a fantasy world. That world, however fantastic, must still be logical.
- It usually contains a moral or lesson. Themes are frequently demonstrated through symbolism.
Fantasy is created by the author’s manipulation of three elements:
Characters range from humans, such as Alice in the books, Alice in Wonderland and Alice through the looking glass. She interacts with a broad range of fantastical creatures, including a deck of playing cards that can walk and talk. In other fantasies, the characters are humanized creatures, such as the hobbits in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.
Characters can also be personified animals such as The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Anderson.Modern fantasy is divided into a number of subgroups, based on themes:
- Tales of pure imagination
- Modern tales of talking beasts
- Personified toys
- Humorous fantasy
Much fantasy contains some element of humour. But that humour may be too subtle or difficult for a younger child to understand. Younger children prefer a more open, slap-stick type of humour. Dr. Seuss with his many fantastical creatures, such as The Cat in the hat, and Sam-I-Am in Green eggs and ham, remains a perennial favourite. A more contemporary author/illustrator, who is extremely popular, is Stephen Kellog. His cartooning style of illustration is a perfect match for the zany tales he illustrates. His expansion of the old tale, Chicken Little, is particularly enjoyed by young children.
The main criteria for evaluating fantasy is believability. And while that may sound paradoxical, (we are, after all, discussing fantastical – not realistic – literature) it is the key to a well developed fantasy story.
Believability means that within the fantasy world created by the author, everything – characters, setting, plot, and so on, makes sense.Additionally, you’ll want to look for the following:
- Well developed and appealing characters
- Plots that move the action ahead to keep children interested
- Authentic settings
In short, you use the criteria outlined in module 1 to evaluate the literary aspects of the modern fantasy stories.
In addition to analyzing the literary elements, examine any illustrations that accompany the story or stories. As with traditional stories, there is no “right style” for illustrating modern fantasy, but the mood of the pictures should match the mood of the story. Use the criteria outlined in the module when evaluating illustrations.
Traditional tales and fantasy stories are important for children. They represent one way of passing on a culture’s values, but their importance is more complex than that. Jacob and Tunnel express the importance of traditional tales this way:
However simple and straightforward traditional fantasy may seem, it is the mother of all literature. There are literally no character types, basic plots, or themes that have not been explored in the oral tradition. Traditional fantasy is a wonderful metaphor for human existence, and because of its rich imagery and dreamlike quality, it speaks to us deeply. (68)
Cruikshank, George. trans. Grimm’s fairy tales. London, England: Puffin Books, 1971. First published, 1823.
Hillman, Judith. Discovering children’s literature. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Merrill, 1995.
Jacobs, James S. and Michael O. Tunnell. Children’s literature briefly. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1996.
Russell, David L. Literature for children: a short introduction. New York, NY: Longman, 1994.
Sutherland, Zena, and May Hill Arbuthnot. Children and books. 7th ed. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman and Company, 1986.
Appendix A: In defense of traditional fantasy
The use of traditional tales with children is not without controversy. The tales have been the subject of adult scrutiny for a very long time. The following excerpt from Children’s literature briefly by Jacobs and Tunnell explores some of those issues.
“About once every hundred years some wiseacre gets up and tries to banish the fairy tale. Perhaps I had better say a few words in its defense, as reading for children” (Lewis 1980, p. 213). These words by C.S. Lewis, who is known for his enduring fantasy series, the Narnia Chronicles, were written as part of his defense of traditional tales in 1952. Yet, in far less than a hundred years – in fact, on a regular basis – “wiseacres” have been attempting to censor traditional stories. We have already discussed the importance of fairy and folktales but now wish to provide some response to the major complaints voiced against traditional literature. These objections mainly fall into four categories: psychological fantasy, violence, frightening to young children, and waste of time. Psychological fantasy
Some adults fear that fantasy stories will lead children to be somehow out of touch with reality, to suffer from fantasy in the clinical, psychological sense of the word. Psychological fantasy, the inability of the mind to distinguish what is real, does not result from reading literary fantasy. In fact, children who read stories that contain “unrealistic” elements – animals who talk, magical events, time travel – are actually less at risk of losing touch with the realities of daily life. Bruno Bettleheim (1977) confirmed this position when he said that fairy stories not only are safe for children but also necessary, and that children deprived of a rich fantasy life (which traditional tales provide) are more likely to seek a psychological escape through avenues like black magic, drugs, or astrology. Through fairy and folk tales, children may vicariously vent the frustrations of being a child controlled by an adult world, for they subconsciously identify with the heroes of the stories who are often the youngest, smallest, least powerful characters (Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, Aladdin). They also are given a sense of hope about their ultimate abilities to succeed in the world.
C.S. Lewis goes a step further, believing that certain realistic stories are far more likely to cause problems than good fantasy. He points to adult reading as an example:
The dangerous fantasy is always superficially realistic. The real victim of wishful reverie … prefers stories about millionaires, irresistible beauties, posh hotels, palm beaches, and bedroom scenes – things that really might have happen, that ought to happen, that would have happened if the reader had had a fair chance. [T]here are two kinds of longing. The one is an askesis, a spiritual exercise, and the other is a disease. (1980, p. 215)
ViolenceCritics suggest that violence acts in some traditional tales will breed violence in young children. The work of psychologist Ephraim Biblow shows how wrong-minded this sort of thinking is. In his experimental study, Biblow showed that children with rich fantasy lives respond to aggressive films with a significant decrease in aggressive behavior while “low-fantasy” children showed a tendency toward increased aggression. “The low fantasy child, as observed during play, presented himself as more motorically oriented, revealed much action and little thought in play activities. The high-fantasy child in contrast was more highly structured and creative and tended to be verbally rather than physically aggressive” (Biblow 1973, p. 128).
Much of the violence in fairy and folktales involves the punishment of truly evil villains. Children are concerned from an early age with the ramifications of good and bad behavior, which is represented in fundamental, archetypal ways in traditional stories. Kohlberg’s stages of moral development describe the young child as being in the “Premoral Stage” (up to about eight years), which basically means that “the child believes that evil behavior is likely to be punished and good behavior is based on obedience or avoidance of evil implicit in disobedience” (Lefrancois 1986, p.446). According to Bettleheim (1977), the evil person in fairy tales who meets a well-deserved fate satisfies a child’s deep need for justice to prevail. Sometimes this requires destroying the evil altogether.
Violence in movies and many books cannot be equated with the violence in fairy and folktales. Even in Grimm’s version of Cinderella, one of the bloodiest of fairy stories, the violent acts are surprisingly understated. Both truly wicked stepsisters mutilate themselves (a trimmed heel and a cut-off toe) to make the slipper fit and are revealed by the blood. Later, birds peck out their eyes as punishment for their treachery. Yet, the tale simply, compactly states the fact of each violent act. We don’t read of viscous fluid streaming down faces or blood spurting on walls and floors. That’s the stuff of slasher horror movies, sensationalism designed to shock or titillate, but not a careful comment on justice.Frightening for young children
Many adults worry that some of the traditional tales will frighten children, causing nightmares and other sorts of distress. However, because dangerous story elements, such as wicked witches or dragons, are far removed in both time and place from the lives of children, they prove much less frightening than realistic stories of danger that focus on real-life fears (Smith 1989). Lewis felt that insulating a child completely from fear is a disservice. “Since it is so likely they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not bright but darker” (Lewis 1980, p. 216).Waste of time
Fairy and folktales provide children a message of hope. No matter how bleak the outlook or how dark the path, these stories promise children that it is possible to make it through and come out on top. In fact, children who recoil from strong images of danger in fairy tales have the most to gain from the exposure (Smith 1989).
Some adults feel they can circumvent the problem of frightening children by choosing softened versions of fairy and folktales. What if this caused children to be more distressed? Trousdale (1989) tells the story of a mother who used only the softened version of The Three Little Pigs with her young daughter. In this version the pigs are not eaten and the wolf is not killed in boiling water. Instead, he comes down the chimney, burns his derriere, rockets up the chimney, and disappears into the sunset, never to be seen again. The little girl said, “He’s gonna come back,” and began to have nightmares. Trousdale (1989, p.77) advised the child’s mother to read the Joseph Jacobs version and soon received a letter that said, “Well, we put the Big Bad Wolf to rest.” The evil was destroyed and thus the threat eliminated.
Perhaps the most insidious complaint is that traditional fantasy is a waste of time. Adults simply do not select fairy or folktales to use with children in favor of more substantial stories and books about the real world. However, no genre of literature better fosters creativity than fantasy (both modern and traditional). Recall that Biblow’s study showed high-fantasy children to be “more highly structured and creative.” Russian poet Kornei Chukovsky (1968, p. 17) felt that fantasy is “the most valuable attribute of the human mind and should be diligently nurtured from the earliest age.” He even points out that great scientists have acknowledged this fact and quotes eminent British physicist John Tindale:
Without the participation of fantasy … all our knowledge about nature would have been limited merely to the classification of obvious facts. The relation between cause and effect and their interaction would have gone unnoticed, thus stemming the progress of science itself, because it is the main function of science to establish the link between the different manifestations of nature, since creative fantasy is the ability to perceive more and more such links. (Chukovsky 1968, p. 124)
As the story goes, a woman with a mathematically gifted son asked Albert Einstein how she should best foster his talent. After a moment of thought, Einstein answered, “Read him the great myths of the past – stretch his imagination” (Huck 1982, p.316). Teachers bemoan the lack of creative and critical thinking in today’s students. How can we then not promote the very books and stories that cultivate imaginative thought?
Jacobs & Tunnell. Children’s Literature Briefly. Merrill/Prentice Hall. 1996