Monday, March 22, 2010

Bright, Deardeer, and Kit


"The Fairy Tale Book" (later published as "The Golden Book of Fairy Tales"), translated by Marie Ponsot and illustrated by Adrienne Segur, was well-loved by myself and my sister growing up, and was my first non-Disney venture into the magical world of fairy tales. For more about the artist, check out Terri Windling's tribute.

I used to be fascinated with the tale of "Bright, Deardeer, and Kit," by Madame la Comtesse de Segur, and can't recall ever coming across it in my research. Going back and reading it with a different perspective was interesting.

It starts out very typical of fairy tale plots--beautiful and kind Princess (Bright) whose father (King Kind) remarries an jealous stepmother with a mean daughter. But this tale goes out of its way to emphasize the innocence of the father (his only request for his new wife was that she would be good to his little girl, and when he saw that Bright was unhappy he arranged that Bright "wouldn't see her often." Also, Bright's stepsister, Dark, isn't the typically ugly and cruel stepsister--she was "pretty, though less pretty than Bright," although she was mean.

Reminiscent of Snow White, the Queen (Rigid) bribes Bright's page into leaving her in the enchanted lilac forest. There, she befriends Deardeer and Kit, an enchanted deer and cat, who befriend her.

Another unique aspect of this tale--Bright wakes the next morning as a young lady, instead of a seven-year-old. " 'Today's your fourteenth birthday, child,' said Deardeer. 'You've slept an enchanted sleep for seven years. Kit and I wanted to spare you the tiresome part of growing and learning. We're taught you in your sleep. You've learned what an educated woman should know...' She [Bright] threw her arms around Deardeer's neck. 'What wonderful friends you are!' she said. 'No better present was ever given anyone.' "

Though we may disagree with the philosophy that the years from ages seven to fourteen are purely tiresome and worth skipping over, it makes a very interesting idea to entertain.

Bright lives happily with Deardeer and Kit, but is tricked by a parrot into disobeying Deardeer and picks an enchanted rose (rather reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast), and she finds the mansion destroyed and deardeer and Kit gone. However, after wandering around in the forest, an enchanted turtle instructs her to climb on his back and ride completely silently for half a year, which she does. This is another example of females having to endure silence for long periods of time, which never seems to happen to males. This fairy tale falls into many of the "misogynistic" patterns found in tales, yet it was written by a woman. Madame la Comtesse de Segur lived from 1799 to 1874-born the daughter of a Russian governor, she married a Frenchman. The Victorian period was so different from our own--I wonder if she wrote according to patterns to please her audience, or if she didn't even view things we now think of as misogynist as being demeaning.

Anyway, Bright obeys this time, and finally reaches the house of the Fairy Goodness, who gives Bright the key to a cupboard which contains the stretched out skins of Deardeer and Kit (this is the other image that really stuck with me from childhood). But, it turns out that viewing the skins was the only way to free Bright from enchantment, and the Fairy Goodness really was Deardeer, who marries King Kind in a double wedding with Kit, now a handsome Prince, and Bright.

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