Thank you for visiting the cupboard. I now have a new blog here.

Monday, 30 November 2009

New Fairy Tales Competition

To celebrate the launch of our fourth issue, and to help raise money for our nominated charity Derian House Children's Hospice, we are holding a fantastic competition and offering readers who make a small donation the chance to win one of two fantastic prizes...

For readers in the UK, the prize is a beautiful, specially commissioned, fairy tale creature called the 'New Fairy Tale Nymph', which has been created by artists Amy Nightingale and Claire Benson of the wonderful Particle Article (who create the magazine's 'Creatures from the Curiosity Cabinet'). The creature, who has a retail value of £130, will thrive in a fairy tale loving home. We can only offer this prize to readers in the UK for fear that the delicate creature might not survive the ravages of international posting.

I hope readers outside the UK won't be too disappointed though, for them the prize on offer is a beautiful hardback illustrated fairy tale called Ream, by paper artist Oona Patterson, whose work features on the front cover of, and inside, the new issue. Oona's delicate papercuttings are truly enchanting and this is a wonderful book (I know because I have a copy). Oona has also signed a lovely postcard which will fly to the winner too.

So, if you'd like to enter: first, to be eligible, you need to make a small donation to Derian House via our JustGiving page here - this is quick, totally secure and all major cards are accepted (from inside and outside the UK). The minimum donation the site accepts is £2. Please note that because your donation is linked to a competition it won't be eligible for GiftAid so make sure you tick the boxes appropriately. Then, and this is really important, you must come back here and fill out your name, email address and country on the form I've linked to below, JustGiving doesn't automatically send all of your details to me so if you don't do this you can't be entered. I will use your details only to enter you into the competition, they will not be passed to anyone else, and will be securely deleted once the competition has been drawn. Please don't fill out this form unless you've made a donation.

The form is here:

The competition will close to entries at midnight GMT on the 30th December. The draw will be made in front of witnesses on the evening of 31st December and the winners will be notified by email on the 1st January 2010.

If you've got any questions please feel free to post a comment below or email me.


New Fairy Tales Issue 4

Issue 4 of the online magazine I edit is launched today!

Thanks to the very exciting flash based technology we've just started using for the magazine I can display it right here:

There is also a PDF version available on the website and I'd also recommend a visit to the site if you want to find out more about the magazine or to sample the delights of our audio collection.

There is also an amazing competition linked to this issue, more details will follow in my next post...

Sunday, 29 November 2009

A little more on red shoes...

Whilst researching the red shoes post below I emailed Amy Leach, Co-Artistic Director of the fantastic En Masse theatre company, whose production The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is on at The Dukes, in Lancaster, until 2nd January. I'd read that theirs was a more faithful representation of the book than we're usually treated to, so I was intrigued to know whether they'd kept the book's silver shoes or changed them to the ruby ones most people are familiar with.

Amy says:
'The film is brilliant and a favourite of ours, but we felt that it was important to find a way of telling the story onstage which was theatrical rather than filmic. So whilst we've still left out lots from Baum's original tale... we kept his original silver slippers. The ruby ones worked brilliantly in the film, especially as they embraced the advances in Technicolor. But our silver ones still get lots of gasps as they are so sparkly.'

And they have also given another piece of footwear importance in the story:

'I think shoes in fairytales and stories have such a potent power and one thing we have changed, which is our own addition to the narrative, concerns the shoes. Near the start of our version, Dorothy goes to discard her worn old boots when she puts on the glittering shoes. She is unhappy that they were made by her Uncle Henry and she really wants some new ones. Glinda holds onto the boots "just in case". At the end of the play, Glinda reappears to tell her that the silver shoes aren't powerful enough to get her home and that she should put her old boots on. As Dorothy puts on the boots, made by her loving Uncle, she remembers the comfort and care of her home and it is these worn old boots that are clicked together to send her home. As a little nod to the film, our worn boots are laced with ruby red ribbons. So we've tried to give the shoes in our new version more power and symbolism.'
There's a rich crop of fairy tale inspired productions on in the UK this Christmas (see the many links in the sidebar), and this is one that's happily close enough for me to get to see - I can't wait!

(yes, I included the picture of my red shoes again, I couldn't help myself!)

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Red shoes

I've been thinking about red shoes. After reading about the forthcoming re-release of Powell and Pressburgers' stunning film The Red Shoes; now restored to its full Technicolor glory (clips of the existing version here and here); and the accompanying exhibition at the BFI, I decided to go back to the Andersen tale, which inspired the film.

This is Andersen at his most moralising and macabre; Karen is a poor orphan, taken in by a well meaning old lady, and when she is unintentionally bought a pair of beautiful red shoes to wear to her confirmation (the old lady can't see very well), all she can think about during the service is the shoes. The shoes seem to call to her to be worn, and once she starts dancing in them she can't stop; they dance her ragged; 'dance she did and dance she must, over field and meadow, in rain and in sunshine, night and day'. Even when Karen begs an executioner to chop her feet off they continue to dance in the shoes and bar her way into the church.

The roots of the story lie in Andersen's own experience at his confirmation, which he relates in The True Story of my Life:
'An old female tailor altered my deceased father's great coat into a confirmation suit for me; never before had I worn so good a coat. I had also for the first time in my life a pair of boots. My delight was extremely great; my only fear was that everybody would not see them, and therefore I drew them up over my trousers, and thus marched through the church. The boots creaked, and that inwardly pleased me, for thus the congregation would hear that they were new. My whole devotion was disturbed; I was aware of it, and it caused me a horrible pang of conscience that my thoughts should be as much with my new boots as with God. I prayed him earnestly from my heart to forgive me, and then again I thought about my new boots.'
In the notes to Tiina Nunnally's translation of his tales, which is edited and introduced by Jackie Wullschlager, it is suggested that 'The red shoes dancing off with Karen's feet may have been inspired by the Grimms' folktale Snow White, where the queen dances herself to death in red-hot shoes.' We do know that Andersen read the Grimms' tales and that he got to know them personally (after a rather awkward first encounter, which you can read about in The True Story of my Life) so this is a plausible theory.

There is also a tale by the Grimms that features red shoes - The Juniper Tree. But here, in a very dark tale, the shoes aren't portrayed in a negative light - they are a wonderful gift, from a murdered little boy (now in the form of a bird), to his sister:
'Then she was light-hearted and joyous, and she put on the new red shoes, and danced and leaped into the house. "Ah," said she, "I was so sad when I went out and now I am so light-hearted; that is a splendid bird, he has given me a pair of red shoes!"
I first read Andersen's The Red Shoes as an adult, so for me, before that, red shoes belonged to Dorothy. I did read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a child, but I had shock when I revisited the story because I hadn't remembered that in the book the shoes are silver not red (perhaps I refused to ever read it as silver - I could be stubborn like that). They changed the colour of the shoes in the film to take advantage of the Technicolor.

In Oz the shoes are worn by the Wicked Witch of the East - until she is squashed by Dorothy's house. One of the Munchkins says, 'there is some charm connected with them; but what it is we never knew'. The magical shoes (silver or red) protect her from the Wicked Witch of the West, and they are, of course, the key to her way home.

So, red shoes; good or bad, they're certainly desirable, and I've always found that wearing them makes me happy; perhaps they lead to dancing, but never too much, and anyway, if I get tired I can always click my heels together three times...

Some other places to look for red shoes: the Anne Sexton poem The Red Shoes, the Kate Bush song The Red Shoes, the Pope's feet, The Ruby Slipper Fan Club, and the mysterious case of the stolen shoes.

Thanks to Graham Dean for the photograph of the red shoes (the feet and the shoes are mine!)

Friday, 20 November 2009

Tim Burton exhibition at MoMA

Couldn't resist posting about this! A major Tim Burton retrospective will be opening to the public at MoMA from November 22, 2009–April 26, 2010. From their website:
'This exhibition explores the full range of his creative work, tracing the current of his visual imagination from early childhood drawings through his mature work in film. It brings together over seven hundred examples of rarely or never-before-seen drawings, paintings, photographs, moving image works, concept art, storyboards, puppets, maquettes, costumes, and cinematic ephemera from such films as Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Batman, Mars Attacks!, Ed Wood, and Beetlejuice, and from unrealized and little-known personal projects that reveal his talent as an artist, illustrator, photographer, and writer working in the spirit of Pop Surrealism.'

Visit the MoMA blog for behind the scenes info, and The Guardian for a video of the exhibition's opening (I love the bit where Helena Bonham Carter, talking about how mind-blowing it is that his work is being celebrated at MoMA, says, 'he's not even dead yet I mean most people are dead when they get celebrated').

You can also see a preview of works from the exhibition on the Guardian website here. And the full MoMA website for the exhibition will be available from the 22nd (it's in preview mode at the moment but still well worth exploring!).

Addition to original post: Just found this too!

Monday, 16 November 2009

Free public lecture by Marina Warner

On Tuesday 24th November, Marina Warner will give her inaugural lecture as Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Humanities at Queen Mary, University of London. If you can get there this is an opportunity not to be missed:
Professor Warner, an expert on fairy tales, will focus on the story of the magic carpet, its appearances in the Arabian Nights and its connection to airborne fantasies prior to the invention of flying machines.

“For as long as people have told stories, flight has been a magical, divine power conferred on fairy tale heroes and heroines,” explains Marina Warner, who is also a professor at the University of Essex, in the Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies.

“And many myths and tales tell of fantastic flying vehicles that enable such characters to take to the skies,” she says. “Most famous of all of these is the ‘magic carpet’; synonymously linked to the Arabian Nights and everything the stories promise – free-floating fantasy, exoticism, pleasure, and trouble-free travel,” she added.

This well-known symbol has a history and a context, and Professor Warner will explore how they are interwoven with modern ideas of narrative, fantasy, and consciousness.

All the details you'll need to attend are here.

And for those, like me, who wish they had a flying carpet so that they could get to London for the lecture, but unfortunately don't, here's an excerpt and link to a tale from the Arabian Nights which features a magic carpet;

The Prince called to the crier, and asked to see the tapestry, which seemed to him to be valued at an exorbitant price, not only for the size of it, but the meanness of the stuff; when he had examined it well, he told the crier that he could not comprehend how so small a piece of tapestry, and of so indifferent appearance, could be set at so high a price.

The crier, who took him for a merchant, replied: "If this price seems so extravagant to you, your amazement will be greater when I tell you I have orders to raise it to forty purses, and not to part with it under." "Certainly," answered Prince Houssain, "it must have something very extraordinary in it, which I know nothing of." "You have guessed it, sir," replied the crier, "and will own it when you come to know that whoever sits on this piece of tapestry may be transported in an instant wherever he desires to be, without being stopped by any obstacle."

From The Story of Prince Ahmed and the Fairy Paribanou (as retold by Andrew Lang in The Blue Fairy Book)

If the story seems familiar it might be because elements of it inspired Lotte Reiniger's 1926 feature-length silhouette film The Adventures of Prince Ahmed (this is a great link if you're interested in Reiniger's work).

And I couldn't resist linking to this 2007 article from New Scientist: Three ways to levitate a magic carpet. Perhaps one day a trip down to London on a magic carpet may be more than just a dream!

Addition to the post: a podcast of the lecture is now available here.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

How to write child-friendly fairy tale opera (keep it nasty, brutish and short)

If you're looking for a show to take children to this Christmas your first thought might not be opera, but in yesterday's Guardian, Johnathan Dove, the composer of two fantastical operas that are being performed for the festive season, explained why fairy tales are the perfect inspiration for opera that children can enjoy:

Family-friendly opera must be nasty, brutish and short – and go easy on the slow passages

In the article he says that 'opera thrives of fairytales' but explains that, when first working with writer Alasdair Middleton on a family-friendly opera three years ago, their first choice for an adaptation, Donkeyskin, hit upon some obstacles;
It begins brilliantly, with a donkey that produces golden faeces – just the thing for a family show, we thought. Then the king decides he wants to marry his daughter (she eventually escapes in the donkey's skin). That was an insurmountable obstacle: the producers agreed with us that this could be told as a funny scene, but they knew that no teacher would bring their class to see it, for fear of the rather tricky questions they might get asked afterwards.

Instead they used The Enchanted Pig, which was an enormous success at the Young Vic and will be performed this year at the Royal Opera House's Linbury Studio from the 10th December - 2nd of January.

The Enchanted Pig is a Romanian fairy tale about a princess who must marry a pig - a pig who luckily turns into a prince at night - and her journey to save him from the enchantment. The quest shares similarities with East of the Sun West of the Moon, and the beginning of the tale, with its forbidden room, resembles Bluebeard.

Andrew Lang included a version of The Enchanted Pig in the Red Fairy Book, which you can read here.

Swanhunter is a new production, touring with Opera North until the 13th December. The story is taken from the epic Finnish poem The Kalevela - which was compiled in the 19th century from Finnish and Karelian folklore - and follows Lemminkäinen as he undertakes a series of tasks to win a wife. Whilst trying to shoot a swan he is killed, dismembered, and thrown into the River of Death, but his mother reassembles his body and brings him back to life.

You can read the tale which is usually referred to as 'The first Lemminkäinen cycle' (runes 11-15), here.

Even if you can't see the shows I hope you still enjoy the tales.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Profile: Goldilocks

Who's that girl? Who indeed, and is she a girl? An old lady? Or even a fox? And is she a real blonde, or a silver locks?

Yes a bit like the three bears' chairs Goldilocks comes in all shapes and sizes. She has morphed from old lady (or a fox - nobody can be certain which came first - although Joseph Jacobs thought that Robert Southey mistakenly took the term vixen to mean an old woman), into the delightful little madam we know today. Other names she's gone by include; Silver Hair, Silver locks, Goldenlocks, and Golden Hair.

Age: The tale appears in one guise or another from the early 1800s although it's likely that it was being told long before that. For a long time Southey's 'The Story of the Three Bears', first published in 1837, was thought to be the oldest surviving literary version, but then in 1951 Eleanor Mure's 1831 version was discovered in Toronto Public Library's Osborne collection. The title page of the book says it's 'The celebrated nursery tale of The Three Bears put into verse and embellished with drawings for a Birth-day present to Horace Broke' (Mure's nephew).

As for our subject's age in the story, she was an old woman until 1849 when Joseph Cundall wrote in the dedication to his children at the beginning of A treasury of pleasure books for young children;
The " Story of the Three Bears" is a very old Nursery Tale, but it never was so well told as by the great poet Southey, whose version I have (with permission) given you, only I have made the intruder a little girl instead of an old woman. This I did because I found that the tale is better known with SILVER-HAIR, and because there are so many other stories of old women.

Location: English, perhaps - as with any fairy tale there's no way of saying for definite where she first came from!

Friends: Well she doesn't seem to have many, the Bears (who incidentally were originally all male) don't seem to like her much and who can blame them - whether she's a 'vagrant' with her 'ugly, dirty head' on Little, Small, Wee Bear's pillow (Southey), or the pretty little girl contemporary illustrators so like to portray; she was still breaking and entering, stealing porridge and thoughtlessly destroying their property. Although the Bear's treatment of her does vary - from trying, unsuccessfully, to burn her and chucking her 'aloft on St. Paul's church-yard steeple' (in Mure's version), to just standing back and letting her jump from the window.

And as Southey says 'whether she broke her neck in the fall; or ran into the wood and was lost there; or found her way out of the wood, and was taken up by the constable and sent to the House of Correction' - who knows?

Best lines written about her:
The prize has to go to Mr Dahl for his alternative finale to the tale:
... in the book as you will see,
The little beast gets off scot-free,
While tiny children near and far
Shout, 'Goody-good! Hooray! Hurrah!'
'Poor darling Goldilocks!' they say,
'Thank goodness that she got away!'
Myself, I think I'd rather send
Young Goldie to a sticky end.
'Oh daddy!' cried the Baby Bear,
'My porridge gone! It isn't fair!'
'Then go upstairs,' the Big Bear said,
'Your porridge is upon the bed.
'But as it's inside mademoiselle,
'You'll have to eat her up as well.'

Places to look for her online:
You can see five pages from Eleanor Mure's 1831 version here. I've also been told by The Osborne Collection at Toronto Public Library that they will be publishing a facsimile of the book next year.

You can read Robert Southey's 1837 version in his book of essays, The Doctor.

Also first published in 1837 was George Niccol's versified version of Southey's tale.

There is a lovely digitised copy of Joseph Cundall's 1849 version in which he changed the old woman into a girl called Silver-hair available on The Internet Archive.

Scrapefoot is the tale of the three Bears and the Fox, and it was collected by Joseph Jacobs in More English Fairy Tales in 1894.

I have searched and searched with no luck for a digitised copy of The Old Nursery Stories and Rhymes, from circa 1904, illustrated by John Hassall, which is thought to be the version in which she was first called Goldilocks. If any one knows of an online copy it would be wonderful if you could leave a comment below.

The story as told by Flora Annie Steel and illustrated by Arthur Rackham in English Fairy Tales 1918 is available on Project Gutenberg.

Read all about her history in pantomime at It's-behind-you.

Visit SurLaLune for an annotated version of the story, more history, a collection of illustrations and a list of modern interpretations.

It should be noted that not many delinquent little girls can say they have scientific theories named after them but Goldilocks can - you can read up on the Goldilocks Principle here.

And just for fun play at being a horrid little girl and splat the bears with some porridge!

The Goldilocks above is by illustrator Darren Wren, you can see more of his great work on his website.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

AS Byatt reviews Maria Tatar

A quick link to a review I very happily discovered on opening this morning's Guardian:
Enchanted Hunters: the Power of Stories in Childhood by Maria Tatar

'This is a grown-up book for grown-up people who haven't forgotten being childhood readers. It satisfies imagination and curiosity, revisiting things you suddenly remember clearly, telling you new things you didn't know.'

Although, as Byatt says, the book is 'not about classic fairytales but about authored children's writing' there are mentions of Andersen and the Grimms, as well as Peter Pan and The Wizard of Oz - which are often considered to be fairy tale like - alongside many other important children's classics. This is a study of 'what children take and need from stories, and how this is not always what parents imagine'.

I can't wait to read the book, and what a treat to read a review of Tatar by Byatt!

Thursday, 5 November 2009

fairy tales and... fireworks

Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason, why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

Bonfire Night - an excuse to glue our teeth together with rock-hard lumps of treacle toffee, gather in front of crackling fires in the dark November chill; and watch fireworks!

Today I thought I'd excerpt and link to two fairy tales, by two of my favourite writers, which feature fireworks; 'The Remarkable Rocket' by Oscar Wilde, first published in The Happy Prince and other Tales in 1888, and 'The Flying Trunk' by Hans Christian Andersen, first published in 1839:

The Remarkable Rocket

The King's son was going to be married, so there were general rejoicings. He had waited a whole year for his bride, and at last she had arrived. She was a Russian Princess, and had driven all the way from Finland in a sledge drawn by six reindeer. The sledge was shaped like a great golden swan, and between the swan's wings lay the little Princess herself. Her long ermine cloak reached right down to her feet, on her head was a tiny cap of silver tissue, and she was as pale as the Snow Palace in which she had always lived. So pale was she that as she drove through the streets all the people wondered. 'She is like a white rose!' they cried, and they threw down flowers on her from the balconies.

At the gate of the Castle the Prince was waiting to receive her. He had dreamy violet eyes, and his hair was like fine gold. When he saw her he sank upon one knee, and kissed her hand.

'Your picture was beautiful,' he murmured, 'but you are more beautiful than your picture;' and the little Princess blushed.

'She was like a white rose before,' said a young Page to his neighbour, 'but she is like a red rose now;' and the whole Court was delighted.

For the next three days everybody went about saying, 'White rose, Red rose, Red rose, White rose;' and the King gave orders that the Page's salary was to be doubled. As he received no salary at all this was not of much use to him, but it was considered a great honour, and was duly published in the Court Gazette.

When the three days were over the marriage was celebrated. It was a magnificent ceremony, and the bride and bridegroom walked hand in hand under a canopy of purple velvet embroidered with little pearls. Then there was a State Banquet, which lasted for five hours. The Prince and Princess sat at the top of the Great Hall and drank out of a cup of clear crystal. Only true lovers could drink out of this cup, for if false lips touched it, it grew grey and dull and cloudy.

'It is quite clear that they love each other,' said the little Page, 'as clear as crystal!' and the King doubled his salary a second time. 'What an honour!' cried all the courtiers.

read on

The Flying Trunk
(in the translation from Andrew Lang's Pink Fairy Book)

There was once a merchant who was so rich that he could have paved the whole street, and perhaps even a little side-street besides, with silver. But he did not do that; he knew another way of spending his money. If he spent a shilling he got back a florin-such an excellent merchant he was till he died.

Now his son inherited all this money. He lived very merrily; he went every night to the theatre, made paper kites out of five-pound notes, and played ducks and drakes with sovereigns instead of stones. In this way the money was likely to come soon to an end, and so it did.

At last he had nothing left but four shillings, and he had no clothes except a pair of slippers and an old dressing-gown.

His friends did not trouble themselves any more about him; they would not even walk down the street with him.

But one of them who was rather good-natured sent him an old trunk with the message, 'Pack up!" That was all very well, but he had nothing to pack up, so he got into the trunk himself.

It was an enchanted trunk, for as soon as the lock was pressed it could fly. He pressed it, and away he flew in it up the chimney, high into the clouds, further and further away. But whenever the bottom gave a little creak he was in terror lest the trunk should go to pieces, for then he would have turned a dreadful somersault-just think of it!

read on

Hope you have a great Bonfire Night!

Today's lovely firework artwork is courtesy of my boys.