Tuesday, June 12, 2012


I don't know about you, but I find it hard to find tales of sirens-the pathetic figure of the Little Mermaid seems to be the only remnant of supernatural water creatures anyone's aware of anymore.

In The Great Fairy Tale Tradition, Zipes includes siren stories I hadn't read before-Straparola's "Fortunio and the Siren" and Mailly's "Fortunio" are variations of basically the same plot (details below are from the Straparola)
John William Waterhouse

A couple adopts a child (Fortunio) and then has a child of their own. One day the natural son revealed to his brother that he was adopted, and Fortunio felt so grieved he left the house he grew up in to wander the world. But his adopted mother, who did not want him to leave, cursed him and prayed that if Fortunio should ever journey by sea, he would be swallowed up by sirens.

Fortunio travelled for a while and came across a wolf, an eagle, and an ant who were in disagreement about how to divide some meat among themselves, and they decided Fortunio would be a fair judge. He apportioned the meat wisely, according to what they could eat best, and the animals were grateful and rewarded him with the ability to transform himself into one of their kind at any time.

Fortunio continued his travels and happened upon a country in which the king had proclaimed that the winner of a certain tournament he was holding would win the hand of his lovely daughter in marriage, and on that day the winner had been a foul-faced and deformed man, and the thought of being married to him caused the princess much distress. That night, as the princess came to her window, Fortunio turned himself into an eagle and flew up to her, then revealed himself as a man. The princess shouted out at the presence of a man, but Fortunio changed forms as soon as anyone hurried to her rescue. Finally Fortunio was able to tell the princess of his love for her and his intention to win the tournament. He did so, and he and the princess were married.

After being happily married for some time, Fortunio decided it was time to go on a voyage, and he prepared a large ship and set out into the ocean. But next to the ship appeared a beautiful siren, singing softly. Fortunio leaned over the side of the ship and fell asleep, and the siren took him in her arms and plunged deep into the ocean with him.

Fortunio's wife and country were much dismayed at his disappearance, and his wife decided she would take their child and go in search of him, despite the dangers. She brought with her three apples-one of brass, one of silver, and one of the finest gold. When the siren saw the child playing with the bronze apple, she wanted it, but the queen told her she did not want to give away her child's plaything, so the siren promised to show the woman her husband up to his chest. The same episode was repeated with the silver apple, which brought Fortunio out of the water to his knees, and the golden apple brought her husband all the way out, and he transformed himself into an eagle and escaped, living happily with his wife and child.
This book by Surlalune's Heidi Anne Heiner is on my Amazon wish list...

I like this tale not only for its inclusion of sirens, but because it deals with adoption, a subject very close to my family, and shows a woman as the rescuer. Also, in this version, we see another instance of the apple as the object of temptation, more commonly known in the fairy tale Snow White, as well as the story of the Biblical temptation in Eden. The Mailly version has the queen tempting the siren with balls made of precious jewels, so this element doesn't always hold true for this tale. But I was just thinking about this because I've noticed that, in my work with children and people with special needs, imagining an apple is poisoned is one of the most universal games of pretend. I admit I freely use the idea to try and get kids to eat their fruit, but I've come across multiple children who bring this up (without my prompting!) when there are apples around.


  1. I am researching writers and possible book reviewers who appreciate fairy tales for grown-ups and I ran across your site. I hope you will consider having a look at a book we are publishing in Oddly Modern Fairy Tales, a book series edited by Jack Zipes. The Fairies Return is a compilation of re-written fairy tales assembled by Peter Davies (one of J.M. Barrie’s adopted sons) and assembled in Britain during the time following World War 1. Davies assembled an all-star cast of writers to re-tell tales like Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, the Little Mermaid, and The Thousand and One Nights and the resulting book offers, in the words of Maria Tatar who edits and writes a lengthy introduction to this 21st century edition, “sophisticated fare for adults rather than primal entertainment for children… it delivers on the promise of what ‘satire’ originally meant.”

    We are delighted to include this book in our Oddly Modern Fairy Tales series alongside Kurt Schwitters’s Lucky Hans and other Merz Fairy Tales and The Cloak of Dreams: Chinese Fairy Tales by Béla Balázs. We often think of the “cracked” fairy tale as a modern arrival, but these books testify to a long-history of “playing” with these classic tales.

    I would love to send you a copy of The Fairies Return: Or, New Tales for Old, collected by Peter Davies, edited and with an introduction by Maria Tatar. Please let me know if you would like to see a copy and I will arrange a copy of the book later this summer (availability is September). I can also supply additional review copies of the earlier books in the series if needed, too.

    There is more info about The Fairies Return here: http://press.princeton.edu/titles/9826.html

    Thank you so much for considering this,

    Jessica Pellien
    Princeton University Press

  2. ps -- there is a re-telling of The Little Mermaid in the collection too :)

  3. This sounds like a fantastic book-I'd love to have a copy! Thank you so much for the opportunity!