12 May 2010

Once upon a time...

I love fairy tales.  I have always loved fairy tales.

Since one of my current interests is children's literature, I'm getting to revisit my own childhood reading. A couple of months ago I read Fairy Tales Every Child Should Know by Hamilton Wright Mabie, Doubleday, 1905. KindleLink: Project Gutenberg books by Mabie

When I was in the 3rd & 4th grades--yes, two grades in the same classroom, at the same time, with one teacher--there was a bookshelf along the back filled mostly with volumes of  fairy tales.  I especially remember The Golden Book of Fairy Tales, translated (from the French) by Marie Ponsot and illustrated by Adrienne Ségur.  Link:  Terri Windling's tribute Segur  The book, published in 1957, was well worn when I first saw it 1959 and it was one of the few on the shelf that I actually had to share with my classmates.  When I thought I could get away with it, I hid the book in my desk and read it or studied the illustrations when I finished Mrs. Vardeman's boring lists of glossary words that we were forced to copy into notebooks. Seeing little use to copy things that I could look up in a dictionary, I was already in training to become a reference librarian.

I was fascinated by the various printed versions of Snow White.  I became interested in the transitions that stories undergo from generation to generation, and from story to book to movie.  Walt Disney's  Snow White (I secretly thought she should skip the prince and the palace and stay at the lovely little house in the woods with the animals) and Fantasia (which I credit for my first experience of classical music) were and perhaps still are my favorite movies.  Mrs. Vardeman also had us listen to music while we used Crayolas to "draw what the music makes you feel."   For a brief tour of comparative fairy tale illustrations visit  more fairy tale illustrations & illustrators

One of my rediscovered delights is Der Struwwelpeter.  Heinrich Hoffman (1809-1894) who wrote and illustrated the book in December 1844 as a gift for his three-year-old son.  Link: illustrated Project Gutenberg Struwwelpeter  You may notice a resemblance between Hoffman's drawing of Straw Peter and the movie character of Edward Scissorhands, a movie fairy tale which is evocative of numerous other fairy tales and movies.  "Children are bewitched by this book because it challenges them in ways that adults can no longer fathom nor recall. Struwwelpeter stands or falls on the credo that children can bear to be scared by art and thereby grow."  Link: review of the new Dover edition by Ellen Handler Spitz in The New Republic

Der Struwwelpter is one of several books that Evelyn Whitaker mentions in her novels.  In Gay, [Little Brown, W.R. Chambers, 1903] Oliver Bruce is writing a book "...in London he would be more within reach of books of reference, and be able to consult authorities, and get in touch with those strange and mysterious powers, the publishers, of whom Mrs. Bruce spoke with bated breath, dimly imagining them to resemble Great Agrippa in Struwwelpeter with his gigantic ink-pot." 

I remember being very pleased with the Great Agrippa illustrations.  The story spoke to issues of racial equality which, even as a child, were important to me.  I was also pleased with the ink pot since I was the proud owner of my first fountain pen and ink bottle with which I wrote Mrs. Vardeman's lists in a blotty cursive that was never up to her standards of penmanship.  Hoffman's The Story of the Inky Boys is undoubtedly referenced when later in the book the children, Gay and Do, put a poppy flower in Oliver's ink pot. "...the two children always called his flat the Ogre's Den, and Oliver surmised that the festive mother might have encouraged the idea... The children had added on their own horrifying and blood curdling details selected from Jack the Giant Killer, with a flavour of the Three Bears."

Lovers of fairy tales will fairy tale illustrations will want to take a peek at Neil Gaiman:  Instructions.  Everything you'll need to know on your journey by, illustrated by Charles Vess, Harper-Collins.  The book was first published as A Wolf at the Door, Simon & Schuster, 2000.  Vess dedicates to the above mentioned Terri Windling. A reviewer has called it "how to survive a fairy tale" but I think it could as easily be called "how to survive life."  "Trust dreams.  Trust your heart, and trust your story."
From "once upon a time" to "happily ever after" this is the life I read...


AM said...

Trust dreams. Trust your heart, and trust your story."

I love this.

B2 said...

Great post. Would you consider "Through The Looking Glass" a fairy tale? It is probably my favorite, in all of its incarnations, though I love the Disney cartoon the most. Since Alice isn't original to Disney's canon, it's tough to find memorabilia of that particular Alice. (Though come to think of it, I don't think the Little Mermaid is either).

K Cummings Pipes said...

Yes, I would consider it a fairy tale--although I didn't much like it as a child. I need to reread it--it gets quite a lot of attention from literature academics. Did you know Salvador Dali did some illustrations for it?
There is a wonderful Little Mermaid illustration at one of the links-Terri's I think.
I think most of the later Disney was less about the story and more about selling stuff.

carrots said...

Great post! I particularly enjoyed your thoughts on Hoffman, who I am both interested in and frightened by.

And I do recommend giving Alice a reread, as I think, these days at least, it rewards adult readers more than children. Try Martin Gardner's Annotated Alice, which has lots of trivia, as well as more serious scholarship, in the margins.