Favourite Fairy Tales
Ask someone to tell you the fairy tales they remember from their childhood, and they will likely have an answer within seconds. Here the Five Quills team discuss the stories they grew up with and explore this millennia-spanning genre with folklore scholar Michèle Simonsen.
“In European traditional society, tales of magic were told for grown-ups, to pass the time during tedious work,” explains author and folklore scholar Michèle Simonsen. “They also had a psychosocial function of wishful thinking. A world turned upside down where the poor and oppressed became rich and powerful.
Shortly after the publication of the Grimm Brothers’ Household Tales, the audience changed completely, from rural adults to children of the bourgeoisie; oral performance gave way to written texts.
Their function also changed, from wishful thinking to the moral education of children. It is not surprising that the meaning of tales altered, sometimes considerably. Cinderella is a case in point.”
“Cinderella is a very complex tale, widespread in the whole of Europe, but known too in the other continents. Its many recorded versions take many forms. In most cases, Cinderella does not get help from her fairy godmother, but by visiting the tomb of her dead mother. She finds her pretty clothes in a nut or on the branches of a tree which grows on her mother’s tomb. Moreover, in most French traditional versions, Cinderella and her sisters are not going to the ball, but to church. This is where rural populations met once a week, where contracts were agreed upon, where young men could flirt with young women. Cinderella is not prevented to go to church by her evil family; on the contrary, she refuses to go out, preferring to stay at home, “near the ashes”: social phobia or lack of maturity? In one version, her father states explicitly:
“Poor Cinderella! Won’t you leave the hearth? Then we will never get you married!”
“The first fairytale I have clear memories of reading was Cinderella,” Sky Private Eye author Jane Clarke reminisces, “The pictures I see in my mind’s eye are from the Ladybird version. I remember finding the Ugly Sisters and the mice more interesting than Cinderella, despite the wonderful ball gowns she wore. And, even then, I was unimpressed with the idea of being rescued by a handsome prince! Now I have granddaughters, I’m especially keen that they don’t feel the need to be rescued by a Prince, handsome or otherwise. It’s not a new idea, of course, as a library assistant in the late 1980s I loved sharing the wonderful The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko.”
Fairy Tales have always been part of my life
“Some of my earliest memories are of being told the stories by my mum and dad,” continues Jane. “They were both members of the local amateur dramatics society, so the telling was very dramatic and they used lots of different voices. I can still hear all three of my Dad’s Billy Goats Gruff in my head! I especially loved it when there was a refrain I could join in with, it became part of the telling.”
“My first memory of fairy tales was listening to my mother read the Brothers Grimm in German,” Daniela Schneider, Five Quills founder and publisher, remembers, “I was shocked by Cinderella when the sisters hacked off their toes or parts of their foot just to make the slipper fit. I never understood how the Prince was oblivious to the blood gushing from their feet and covering the lovely golden slipper!”
For many of us, like Jane, Ladybird’s Well-Loved Tales, published between 1964 and the early 1990s, were our introduction to fairy tales as children. Mostly based on the stories by Hans Christian Andersen, the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault, their first title, interestingly, was Cinderella. For me, as a writer, Thumbelina, the little girl who came out of a tulip, facing the challenge of being half as big as a thumb, and The Ugly Duckling who turns out to be a swan, are the Well-Loved Tales that sparked my imagination as a child. Sky Private Eye illustrator Loretta Schauer always comes back to Snow White and Rose Red, the two sisters who befriend a bear, a king’s son put under a spell by an ungrateful dwarf.
A new Cinderella story for younger readers, Sky Private Eye and The Case of the Sparkly Slipper, written by Jane Clarke and illustrated by Loretta Schauer, comes out in March 2018.
Edited by Janey Robinson