Friday, July 31, 2015

Petite Rouge: A Cajun Red Riding Hood

This children's book, Petite Rouge: A Cajun Red Riding Hood, told by Mike Artell and illustrated by Jim Harris, is not new, but this book caught my eye recently and is very highly rated. Readers are impressed by the authentic Cajun voice and story details, and clever pictures. In this version of the story, the little girl and the wolf are replaced by a gutsy duck and a crocodile.

Fans of the book might also enjoy this page from Jim Harris' website, describing his process in illustrating this story; he shares sketches he did of Petite Rouge as different animals, and why he ultimately decided she should be a duck. He also does so with a sense of humor. My favorite is the caption for Petite Rouge as a bear:
It's always fun to see the behind-the-scenes work of artists! It's clear that Harris did his research, which makes the illustrations rich and authentic. This book does seem like a treasure, check out the duck version of "American Gothic":

*Also: did you enter in the giveaway for Kate Forsyth's Wild Girl over on Once Upon a Blog? It's the last day! Be sure to check out the interview Gypsy did with Kate Forsyth. I am REALLY excited to read this book...

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Gretel and the Dark

"It is many years before the Pied Piper comes back for the other children. Though his music has been silenced, still thousands are forced to follow him, young, old, large, small, everyone...even the ogres wearing ten-league boots and cracking whips, even their nine-headed dogs. We are the rats in exodus now and the Earth shrinks from the touch of our feet. Spring leaves a bitter taste. All day, rain and people fall; all night, nixies wail from the lakes. The blood-colored bear sniffs at our heels. I keep my eyes on the road, counting white pebbles, fearful of where this last gingerbread trail is leading us."

So begins Gretel and the Dark, a novel by Eliza Granville. I spotted it in my library's "New Books" section, and remembered reading about it on Surlalune.

The book description reads:

Gretel and the Dark explores good and evil, hope and despair, showing how the primal thrills and horrors of the stories we learn as children can illuminate the darkest moments in history, in two rich, intertwining narratives that come together to form one exhilarating, page-turning read. In 1899 Vienna, celebrated psychoanalyst Josef Breuer is about to encounter his strangest case yet: a mysterious, beautiful woman who claims to have no name, no feelings—to be, in fact, a machine. Intrigued, he tries to fathom the roots of her disturbance.

Years later, in Nazi-controlled Germany, Krysta plays alone while her papa works in the menacingly strange infirmary next door. Young, innocent, and fiercely stubborn, she retreats into a world of fairy tales, unable to see the danger closing in around
 her. When everything changes and the real world becomes as frightening as any of her stories, Krysta finds that her imagination holds powers beyond what she could ever have guessed.

Rich, compelling, and propulsively building to a dizzying final twist, Gretel and the Dark is a testament to the lifesaving power of the imagination and a mesmerizingly original story of redemption.

It's kind of hard to explain the book other than this, without giving too much away. But fairy tales are a very strong theme throughout the book, as well as many other themes that would make for great group discussions-this would be a great book to read with a mature literature class. We see how the characters use fairy tales to help them cope with the tragedy in their lives, and how the tales evolve and morph to suit the needs of the teller and listener. The story also causes you to think about how fairy tales are perceived by children; how adults use them to manipulate behavior, to reward or punish, or how they can be used to find hope, strength, and inspiration. Obviously "Hansel and Gretel" is a prominent tale featured; the "Pied Piper" and "Robber Bridegroom" are also referenced often (although "Pied Piper" is technically not a fairy tale, but a legend-read more on Adam's excellent post over on Fairy Tale Fandom).

I would highly recommend it. I was hooked; I couldn't put it down. Although, fair warning: this book is not your typical "light summer read": it is very dark and tragic. It can also get quite confusing at times (as the introduction above might indicate-you're often thrown into narration without being aware of what is actually happening). Throughout, there were times I wasn't sure if the storylines would come together to make a satisfactory ending, but I ended up being very pleased with the ending.

This book is for more mature readers-there is violence, death, and sexual content. Not explicit sexual scenes, but there's sexual abuse and very twisted ways of misusing power. But it all makes sense in the end; it was very well written. Read it if you get the chance! I hope to reread this book in the future because it's the kind that, knowing the end, will cause you to read things differently and catch on to lots of hints and foreshadowing I didn't catch the first time around.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Anna K 2015-Little Match Girl

The Fall 2015 line of Anna K uses a refreshing fairy tale as inspiration, Andersen's "The Little Match Girl."

Only one look makes the fairy tale obvious (the title is written on the front of the garment; another one features a match print), but I can see the connection in subtle ways. The set and first look (above) are very wintery; the collection over all is very young, and some of the looks seem to have a "tattered rags" inspiration. View the full collection here.

Anna K's website gives us more insight into translating the fairy tale into fashion:
"To create Pre-Fall 2015 collection Anna K was inspired by her favorite fairy-tale by Hans Christian Andersen, “The Little Match Girl”. The collection is symbolically divided into two main parts: complicated designs, multilayered coats, soft-down jackets and warm knit sweaters in dark palette of blue and green colors narrate the tragic beginning of the fairy-tale about poor girl, who was frozen on Christmas Eve. The second part of collection flashes like the matches lights: trapeze dresses, silky tops with bows, flared skirts, variety of buttons, bright prints and embroidery – everything mirrors the imaginary, fragile world of little match girl. Bow in various forms and applications became the central element of the collection: it is used not only as a decoration, but also as a separate garment. Sweet idea of the collection embodied in the high-quality woolen coats, cotton skirts, silky dresses and knitted sweaters takes us into the dreamy Anna K world."

By the way, Anna K herself is only 19 years old, and began designing at 16.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Fairy Tale Illustrator: Gyo Fujikawa

Gyo Fujikawa (1908-1998) was a Japanese-American children's book illustrator. She is known for being one of the first illustrators to feature multi-racial children in her drawings, although, apparently not for European-based fairy tales...

According to Wikipedia: "Fujikawa's books have been reprinted for mass-market and published worldwide. Her most popular books, BabiesBaby AnimalsA to Z Picture Book and Oh!, What A Busy Day!, unfailingly represent a happy, detailed version of childhood. Her joyous illustrations remain sweet and nostalgic, without ever becoming overly saccharine. "

Overall I agree; characters like Little Red Riding Hood above do look a bit on the infantile side to me, but there's nothing wrong with making fairy tales appropriate for young children, as long as it's not the only way we tell fairy tales. But her illustrations are lovely and full of detail, such as this fabulous woods scene below; many adults fondly remember these books and illustrations from their own childhood. 
From "The Three Wishes"

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Voice of the Narrator

"D'Aulnoy's most popular tales often featured enterprising, clever girls whose lives were tyrannized by wicked kings and fathers-very different from the stories of the better-known Charles Perrault, whose heroines are marked by their modesty, obedience, and reliance on the ingenuity of a prince to save them from the spell of a wicked stepmother or witch." -Susan Bordo* (emphasis mine)

Hmm...what do you think of this quote? I admit I'm not as familiar with Madame D'Aulnoy's fairy tales as a whole, but I do love tales of hers like "Green Snake" which is an unusual example of an ugly heroine desired by a Prince-a tale you probably wouldn't find being invented and told by a man. For while we know that Perrault was part of a feminist group of writers, we can't forget that he was still a man and had a different voice.

As for Perrault-tales of his like "Bluebeard" fit Bordo's claim. Even if you don't take the moral seriously, Perrault took a folk tale in which the heroine cleverly rescues herself (and sometimes her sisters), and turned her into a helpless heroine who had to wait to be rescued and served as a later cautionary tale against the evils of female curiosity.

And yet...although people generally interpret the heroine marrying a Prince at the end as sexist (meaning she needs a man to rescue her), I don't necessarily view marrying a Prince that way. Fairy tale endings generally satisfy human cravings for companionship (marriage) and stability (wealth), which often means marrying a beautiful royal, regardless of which gender the main character is. And if you look at tales like Perrault's "Cinderella," the Prince isn't the agent of change, but the prize. Cinderella's rescue is engineered by her (female) fairy godmother (and in other versions, the spirit of her dead mother). And, if you compare Perrault's "Cinderella" to D'Aulnoy's "Finette Cindron," if anything Perrault's character is more clever for letting her shoe drop on purpose, and Finette's Prince is creepier for having a small shoe fetish.

Also, in Perrault's "Donkey Skin," that heroine really saves herself-she leaves a horrible situation, alone (very brave, especially for a woman to be travelling alone at the time), again with the help of her godmother. She then puts herself in a position to be discovered by the Prince, rather cleverly dropping her ring in his cake.

And yet, there's still the fact that Perrault chose to rewrite "Griselda," an already well-known tale (published by Boccaccio and later included in Canterbury Tales) about how women must endure all kinds of abuse from the men in their lives all for the ultimate ideal of being loving and obedient. Even if you read it as a satire/parody, it's still pretty upsetting and I wonder why he chose that tale out of all the stories he could have chosen...

*Source-The Creation of Anne Boleyn by Susan Bordo

Antique copy of D'Aulnoy's tales
Russian Children's Book
Donkeyskin by Nadezhda Illarionova

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Quote of the Day

*Also, a little housekeeping note: Prince Tony and I will be going on some adventures to far away kingdoms over the next month or so. My goal is to have scheduled posts while I'm away, but posting may get a little slower at times/I might not respond to comments for a few days.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Real Persinette

Charlotte Rose de la Force's "Persinette" has become more well known thanks to Kate Forsyth's novel Bitter Greens, which has enthralled fairy tale fans (and left us all anxiously awaiting Wild Girl, just recently released!) Thanks to Surlalune's Rapunzel and other Maiden in the Tower Tales From Around the World, I was able to read the actual story by Charlotte Rose de la Force.

First of all, it's not exactly like the story Charlotte is told in Bitter Greens, if like me you were only familiar with the novel's version and not the actual de la Force story (I  prefer Forsyth's version, for the record). Secondly, it actually disappointed me. It was surprising because it went against what I've read before in basically any history of Rapunzel-or of the Grimms and their collecting process- which will tell you about how the Grimms took a more feisty, intelligent heroine and made her dumb and naive. I've posted on the earliest version of Rapunzel, Basile's Petrisonella-who really is a pretty feminist Princess who finds her own way to escape the tower. And it's true that, in order to avoid the controversial issue of Rapunzel getting pregnant, the Grimms have her instead carelessly ask the witch one day why she's so much heavier than the Prince. Although, Rapunzel in the Grimms' version has still given birth to the Prince's children by the time he finds her, so unless they REALLY expected their audience to be unable to put two and two together, the Grimms still did allude to Rapunzel's sexuality.

And critics are very upset by Rapunzel's slip of the tongue and how it makes her appear stupid. And yes, it wasn't the brightest comment. But if you look carefully, the Grimms' Rapunzel is actually more clever than she is given credit for.  Just before the infamous "stupid" comment, Rapunzel tells the prince, "I will willingly go away with thee, but I do not know how to get down. Bring with thee a skein of silk every time that thou comest, and I will weave a ladder with it, and when that is ready I will descend, and thou wilt take me on thy horse." So here we have a heroine who is creative enough to think of a way to escape, and she's telling the Prince what he needs to do in order to make that happen. She's showing she's clever and takes initiative, whereas de la Force's Persinette never even mentions wanting to escape. And as for the slip of the tongue, critics will take that one mistake to show that now Rapunzel is unintelligent. But really, haven't we all let something slip in front of the wrong audience and immediately regretted it? With a lifetime of isolation, Rapunzel hasn't had a lot of time to practice the art of social conventions.

De la Force seems more concerned with describing all the luxuries that Persinette has in her tower. It's not too surprising, because French culture at the time was all about having the best and newest luxuries and the court was no stranger to indulgence. (The French versions of "Beauty and the Beast" also go into great detail about the wonders and luxuries Beauty experiences in the Beast's castle). Persinette's tower is not a tiny, barren prison, but even makes Disney's tower look like a cheap hotel. The tower had "grand and beautiful rooms" filled with natural daylight; as a baby, Persinette was wrapped in sheets of gold. Persinette's drawers were full of jewels, and her "wardrobe was as magnificent as that of the queen of Asia." Her food was delicious, and "She read. She painted. She played musical instruments. She entertained herself with all the activities a well-educated girl learns to do...Many people would love to feel as happy as she was!"

This was surprising to me. Especially after Bitter Greens which compares Charlotte being shut away in a strict convent to Persinette being imprisoned-yet from the story it doesn't seem that Charlotte minded her imprisonment that much, if she was really comparing the two. The story tells us that the only thing Persinette lacks is companionship.

Enter the Prince. Since Persinette has never actually seen a man before, she's afraid and thinks he's some kind of monster she's read about before who could kill with his eyes (?). The Prince climbs up (we're told that he impersonated the fairy's voice very well-yes, it's a fairy and not a witch-so we don't think that Persinette is also too stupid to tell a man's voice from the only other voice she's ever heard). This is where it gets kind of creepy-

"He fell at her feet and kissed her knees with persuasive ardor. Persinette was frightened. She cried and then she trembled, nothing could calm her. Her heart was full of all possible love for the prince." How did we go from crying and trembling and thinking he's a monster and "nothing could calm her" to "all possible love?" And then, talk about love at first sight-they were "married that very hour." So, no worries about bad morals here, kids, they were already married!

So she gets pregnant. And let it be known that the naivety of Rapunzel starts here with Persinette, who "did not understand her condition and it upset her. The prince understood but he did not want to distress her further with explanations."

Oh man. So first of all, she doesn't even know she's pregnant, which would be okay because she's been uber sheltered her whole life and how could she have known? But we also know that Persinette had access to every luxury of an educated woman, including books, and surely she had to have read something about pregnancy and childbirth? (Also, men, come to think of it, given her assumptions about the Prince when she first saw him). And how about the prince, who didn't want to worry his pretty little bride with such complications as "explanations"? He thought it would be better for her to just think she was rapidly gaining weight and then all of a sudden she goes into labor and he's like, "Surprise! You're a mom! Good luck sleeping through the night for the next year and keeping your new kid alive!"

Well, we don't get to see how that could have played out. The fairy finds out and is furious, so she banishes Persinette to an adorable cottage by the sea that provides her magically with food. We're told that this is "vengeance" and that she cries all the time, although it seems like a nice vacation to me, other than the fact that she's away from her Prince. He gets blinded and eventually finds his way to her, but not before being pretty melodramatic for a while: "he found himself even more overcome by his love and suffering than usual. He laid himself down under a tree with all of his thoughts and sad reflections. It was a cruel life for someone who deserved better". Yes, after all that taking advantage of a young, naive girl and keeping the details of her pregnancy from her, you should be on a cruise or something.

He eventually hears Persinette's voice again, only there's an extra episode where, when he arrives, all their food and water turns into stone, crystal, snakes, and the like. They decide to die of starvation together rather than live apart and then finally the fairy feels sorry for them and decides to restore them to the Prince's family who was so happy now with his "perfect wife" (who, incidentally, is never restored to HER actual family).

One other thing I noticed from reading this and rereading the Grimms. I had it in my head before that the witch basically demanded the wife's baby as a consequence for the husband stealing the parsley/rapunzel/rampion. But actually, in both versions, the husband has a choice-he can take more pasley/rapunzel, if he gives the witch the child. He didn't have to take those herbs! He could have gone home to his wife and explained, "Sorry, I tried to get you that salad, but the witch wanted our baby and that wasn't really a fair bargain." The fact that he accepts, when it wasn't his craving to begin with, kind of implicates both parents, as if he knew the wife would have chosen the salad over the baby-he wasn't the one with the craving! Interestingly, in Basile's "Petrisonella", it's the wife herself who was stealing the rampion and made the bargain. You could just chalk it up to the characters being the Worst Parents Of All Time, but at one time pregnancy cravings were taken really seriously, so maybe we're supposed to view it as the couple having no choice.

Illustrations by Paul O. Zelinsky

Wednesday, July 8, 2015


Just discovered the tumblr Ink-splotch, which has some very thoughtful insights into the characters in novels and fairy tales. It took some digging (because the tumblr format is very very confusing for me...) but it appears the site is run by E. Jade Lomax, who wrote the novel Beanstalk, a retelling of "Jack and the Beanstalk", which has gotten very good reviews on Goodreads...but is not available on Amazon?? Can a book exist which is not available on Amazon?

But anyway...via the tumblr, there are treasures such as this poem excerpt inspired by "Rapunzel":

"Child, your hair is not a ladder.
It never should have been. 
Your voice belongs to a girl
and not a songbird.
Your home does not live
in your mother’s ribcage
no matter what she says.
You are home—
your feet on the ground,
your hair like a bird’s nest.
You can pick it up
and take it with you
when you go."

Illustration-A.H. Watson

 Or this post on a different way of reading "Little Mermaid"-although the name Ariel implies the Disney version, the author is clearly familiar with Andersen's story too. I love this:

"Let’s talk about an Ariel who walks away—limping, mouthing inaudible sailors’ curses, a sea-brine knife in her belt.
Ariel traded her voice for a chance to walk on land. That was the deal: every time she steps, it will feel like being stabbed by knives. She must win the hand of her one true love, or she will die at his wedding day, turn to sea foam, forgotten. The helpful steward tells her to dance for the prince, even though her feet scream each time she steps. Love is pain, the sea witch promised. Devotion calls for blood.
But how about this? When the prince marries another, nothing happens. When Ariel stands over the prince and his fiance the night before their wedding, her sisters’ hard-won knife in hand, she doesn’t decide his happiness is more important than her life. She decides that his happiness is irrelevant. Her curse does not turn on the whims of this boy’s heart. 
She does not throw away the knife and throw herself into the sea. She does not bury it in the prince and break her curse—it would not have broken. She leaves them sleeping in what will be their marriage bed and limps into a quiet night, her knife clean in her belt, her heart caught in her throat. Her feet scream, but they ache, too, for the places she has yet to see. 
Ariel will not be sea foam or a queen. There is life beyond love. There is love in just living. Her true love will not be married on the morn—the prince will be married then, in glorious splendor, but he had never been why she was here.

Ariel traded her voice for legs to stand on, a chance at another life. When she poked her head above the waves, it wasn’t the handsome biped that she fell for. It was the way the hills rolled, golden in the sun. It was the clouds chasing each other across blue sky, like sea foam you could never reach.
I want an Ariel who is in love with a world, not a prince. I don’t want her to be a moral for little girls about what love is supposed to hurt like, about how it is supposed to kill you. Ariel will be one more wandering soul, forgotten. Her voice will live in everything she does. She uses her sisters’ knife to turn a reed into a pipe. She cannot speak, but she still has lungs. 
Love is pain, says the old man, when Ariel smiles too wide at sunrises. It’s pain, says the innkeeper, with pity, as Ariel hobbles to a seat, pipe in hand. At least you are beautiful, soothes the country healer who looks over her undamaged feet. The helpful steward had thought she was shy. Dance for the prince even though your feet feel stuck with a hundred knives.
Her feet feel like knives but she goes out dancing in the grass at midnight anyway. She’s never seen stars before. Moonlight reaches down through the depths, but starlight fractures on the surface. Ariel dances for herself.
She goes down to caves and rocky shores. Sometimes she meets with her sisters there. Mouths filled with water cannot speak above the sea, so she drops into the waves and they sing to her, old songs, and she steals breaths of air between the stanzas. She can drown now. She holds her breath. She opens her eyes to the salt and brine. 
Ariel uses canes and takes rides on wagons filled with hay, chickens, tomatoes—never fish. She earns coins and paper scraps of money with a conch shell her youngest sister swam up from the depths for her, with her reed pipe, with a lyre from her eldest sister which sounds eerie and high out of the water. The shadow plays she makes on the walls of taverns waver and wriggle like on the sea caves of her childhood, but not because of water’s lap and current. It is the firelight that flickers over her hands. 
Somewhere in the ocean, a sea witch thinks she has won. When Ariel walks, she hobbles. Her voice was the sunken treasure of the king’s loveliest daughter, and so when they tell Ariel’s story they say she has been robbed. They say she has been stolen. 
She has many instruments because she has many voices—all of them, hers; made by her hands, or gifted from her sisters’ dripping ones. Ariel will sing until the day she dies with every instrument but her vocal cords. 
She cannot win it back, the high sweet voice of a merchild who had never blistered her shoulders red with sun, who had never made a barroom rise to its feet to sing along to her strumming fingers. She cannot ever again sing like a girl who has not held a dagger over two sleeping lovers and then decided to spare them. She decided not to wither. She decided to walk on knives for the rest of her life. She cannot win it back, but even if she could, she knows she would not sound the same. 
They call her story a tragedy and she rests her aching feet beside the warming hearth. With every new ridge climbed, new river forded, new night sky met, her feet ache a little less. They call her a tragedy, but the blacksmith’s donkey is warm and contrary on cold mornings. The blacksmith’s shoulder is warm under her cheek.
Her feet will always hurt. She has cut out so many parts of her self, traded them up, won twisted promises back and then twisted them herself. She lives with so many curses under her skin, but she lives. They call her story a moral, and maybe it is.
When she breathes, her lungs fill. When she walks, the earth holds her up. There is sun and there is light and she can catch it in her hands. This is love. "

Little Mermaid illustrations by A. W. Bayes

Monday, July 6, 2015

Katy Tiz- Whistle While You Work It

Does anybody else immediately think of Snow White when you hear Katy Tiz' song "Whistle While You Work It?" I was sure it had to be partly a direct reference to the classic song from the Disney movie, so I did a little digging to see if there might be more to the song and how it relates to fairy tales.

Basically, Snow White's "Whistle While You Work" really was the inspiration, but there's not much more to it than that phrase and cartoon animals coming to life in the official music video. In this article by Mike Wass for The Idolator Katy said "this video comes from my love of graffiti artwork and takes inspiration from some of the greatest fairy tales of all may think this song is about going to the club and 'working it' but if you pay close attention to the lyrics, you'll see it's much deeper than that." (emphasis mine)

In this interview by Anna Moeslein on
So what was your inspiration for the video?
Katy: So the song is called “Whistle (While You Work It),” and that originally is from the Disney movie Snow White—and that scene where she’s with the animals and they’re like “No, we don’t want to clean up” and she’s like “Well, whistle while you work” and they all clean up together. Banksy is one of my favorite artists, so it’s kind of a mixture between like the graffiti he does with the original Disney theme. The video is me going about daily tasks with these four animals who are animated that cause havoc. It’s really cool because I’m not trying to be sexy—I’m not trying to be anything other than a bit of a dork like I actually am. 

I don't think Tiz grasps what normal people consider "dorky"...

The song is about powering through tough times, although I'm not sure I agree with the implication that you should just swallow your emotions, or that that's what fairy tales say ("you won't see me cry", "never let them see you down". But I can get behind lyrics like these:

"Tune out of your darker side/Regret, revenge will eat you up inside/Head up, work that dignity/Let it bounce, let it fly, and make them history"

Overall the song seems well liked and people think it has a positive, upbeat message. There's already a mashup of the pop song with animation from "Snow White":

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Read Villeneuve's BATB ONLINE!!

Sometimes I get asked where one might find an English translation of Madame de Villeneuve's "Beauty and the Beast," and I've been more than happy to refer people to the Surlalune collection of Beauty and the Beast Tales From Around the World-before this book it was a lot harder to get hold of.

But thanks to Persinette in the Tower I have just discovered you can also read the full text online!

Here is a link to the translation by J.R. Planche, and here is a link to download the translation by Ernest Dowson. Dowson is the one who translates the Beast as (correctly) asking Beauty to sleep with him, not to marry him, which clearly has different implications (I've written about this before). The great thing about the Surlalune collection is that Heidi Anne Heiner included both translations for comparison, and in many ways print is easier to read and flip through than online,  but I really wish I had known about this link a few years ago when I first started searching for BATB history!
Illustration by Edward Corbould

I'm also adding the link to my link list on the right, so it should be easily accessible in the future.