Once Upon a Time New Fairy Tales Online - Theodora Goss
Where did it start for you? When did you first discover fairy tales?
For me, it was a book titled Fifty Famous Fairy Stories: no author or editor listed, only the illustrator, Bruno Frost. Published by the Whitman Publishing Company as part of their Famous Classics series, the copyright dates are 1946 and 1954. I think the first version was a traditional hardcover with a dust jacket. My edition is printed on cheap pulp paper—286 pages total—and its “hardcover” is printed in vivid color with a shiny cellophane-like coating over cardboard. Frost’s line drawings are enhanced with spot color of either aqua or pink. I still have it: spine replaced with packing tape and pages crumbling.
I have no idea where the book came from or when, but I know my mother read its stories to me before I could read myself. Then I later read them myself, over and over. The tales are, of course, sanitized versions, but decently written in straightforward, never condescending prose. The selections are a hodgepodge—probably heavily influenced by Andrew Lang’s fairy tale books of various colors—of English and Scandinavian folktales, Charles Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, Madame d’Aulnoy, Arabic literature, and maybe other sources.
I don’t care to analyze the origins of the contents or even ponder why these fifty were selected—this is a holy book to me. It was both magical and very real—it took me away from “real life” but it also was pertinent to my life in many ways—and it was even revelatory.
Far from turning me into the sort of girl who expected some prince to save her, fairy tales were examples of people, animals, even beasts becoming who and what they really were. Bad things happened to all kinds of people, but if you were clever and showed others your value, you’d triumph in the end.
I also remember being deeply outraged at foolishness. As much as I loved the story “Rapunzel,” for instance, I thought the mother—who so desired rampion she endangered her husband and lost her child—to be idiotic. Rapunzel herself was a complete lamebrain for thoughtlessly exclaiming, “Good mother, how is it you are so much heavier to draw up than the King’s son? He takes but a moment to climb up to me.”
In my teens, I discovered that wasn’t the question the girl posed when the tale was first retold by the Grimms. Rapunzel’s query was: “Why it is that my clothes are all too tight? They no longer fit me.” After living nightly with the prince “in joy and pleasure for a long time,” Rapunzel was pregnant. If you lock a girl up in a tower and don’t tell her anything about birth control, pregnancy is a natural consequence of “joy and pleasure.” What a relief! She wasn’t stupid, just ignorant.
Nor did I see the prince as a rapist or a victimizer. He was so devoted to Rapunzel he threw himself off the tower when he thought he had lost her forever. And Rapunzel turned out to be damned resourceful; after giving birth to twins and living through great misery, she healed the prince’s blindness and saved the man she loved . . . and possibly a whole kingdom. The way I saw it, they’d lived through hard times in the unsafe, brutal world outside isolating towers and unprotected by royal entitlement. Rulers with such experience would be a good bet to reign well and serve their people.
I also eventually learned my Fifty Famous/Andrew Lang/Brothers Grimm version of “Rapunzel” was not the only traditional story about a maiden locked in a tower. There are similar tales to be found in many cultures. The Grimms weren’t even correct in calling it a folk tale. Their source may or may not have known it was a retelling of a story published by Friedrich Schultz in 1790, who had—in turn—translated it from “Persinette,” a 1698 French story by Charlotte-Rose de La Force. “Persinette” was evidently inspired by Giambattista Basile’s “Petrosinella,” published in 1634 in the first volume of his Lo cunto de li cunti.
I came to view the vegetable-craving mother-to-be in a different light too. The cravings of a pregnant woman can indicate dangerous vitamin deficiencies, and in many folk traditions fulfilling an expectant mother’s desires for certain foods is of tantamount importance. Perhaps it did amount to a matter of having to have the rampion or dying.
The witch? Maybe she was a wise woman or herbalist who had knowledge that could save both mother and child. Demanding custody of