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Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Fairy tale favourites...

Katherine Langrish, over at fantastic children's literature blog Seven Miles of Steel Thistles, has been kind enough to nominate the cupboard for a Unicorn Glitter Award. The award was set up by fantasy writer Katherine Roberts to celebrate bloggers who 'post in the spirit of the enchanted mists'. To accept the award I need to nominate some favourites. This is a difficult task for me because I am terrible at choosing favourite anythings. So to make it a tiny (and I mean tiny) bit easier I am going to nominate favourites that are fairy tale related and that have a good link or two to go with them...

My favourite fairy tale book:
This is almost impossible to decide. To the right is a picture of the fairy tale related books currently living by my feet under my desk (so they are always close at hand!). There are others, too, in piles all over the house. But if I go off the book that is looking most worn, that I turn to most often, that represents everything I love about fairy tales it has got to be The Virago Book of Fairy Tales edited by Angela Carter (it's out of print but has now been published together with the second collection as Angela Carter's Book of Fairy Tales).

Carter was, of course, a brilliant fairy tale writer in her own right (The Bloody Chamber is another favourite) and a translator of tales too. In this book she turned gatherer of tales, and she pulled together an eclectic mix of stories with women at their hearts from all over the world. I love the sections she divided them into, they have titles like 'Brave, Bold and Wilful', 'Sillies' and 'Good Girls and Where it Gets Them'. And her introduction gives a real taste of her knowledge of, passion for, and interaction with fairy tales. This quote, in particular, often comes to my mind:
Ours is a highly individualized culture, with a great faith in the work of art as a unique one-off, and the artist as an original, a godlike and inspired creator of unique one-offs. But fairy tales are not like that, nor are their makers. Who first invented meatballs? In what country? Is there a definitive recipe for potato soup? Think in terms of the domestic arts. 'This is how I make potato soup.'
This is also the book in which I first discovered Mossycoat, one of my favourite tales (sadly that version is not available online but there is a Philip Pullman retelling here).

My favourite fairy tale film:
Another tough one. From my childhood I would say Labyrinth, after that Edward Scissorhands and, although I still love and watch both of those, for the last few years it has been Pan's Labyrinth (there are some snippets of Guillermo del Toro on fairy tales, and a lot else, over at io9).

My favourite fairy tale poem:
The wickedly good lines 'The small girl smiles. One eyelid flickers./She whips a pistol from her knickers./She aims it at the creature's head/And bang bang bang, she shoots him dead' have been etched on my brain since childhood. The poem is 'Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf' by Roald Dahl and it's available online, along with a recording of Dahl reading it, here.

My favourite myth or legend:
The Buried Moon, it's a deliciously creepy tale. It was collected in the late 19th century in Lincolnshire, England from a girl of nine who said she'd heard it from her Gran. But in Legends of the Lincolnshire Cars Mrs Balfour noted 'I think it was tinged by her own fancy, which seemed to lean to eerie things, and she certainly revelled in the gruesome descriptions, fairly making my flesh creep with her words and gestures.' It was later collected as a fairy tale by Joseph Jacobs who removed the dialect (that's the version I've linked to above). Jacobs also noted that the tale had an unusually mythic quality.

My favourite enchanted creature:
Trolls. I have never quite stopped believing in trolls. I have to blame this on my parents' insistence that we re-enact Three Billy Goats Gruff whenever we went over a bridge (a tradition I'm continuing with my children). In my teens I loved a slightly bizarre children's programme called The Rottentrolls (which no one I talk to has ever heard of), and as an adult I've discovered John Bauer's wonderful trolls.

And finally, I need to recommend another blog. All the fairy tale blogs I read and enjoy are listed in the sidebar. If I have to pick just one that deserves recognition (they all do really) it is going to be the Fairy Tale Channel for fascinating and informative posts alongside new translations of the Grimms, and of Lithuanian, French and Icelandic tales too. It's a blog I return to frequently and always get enjoyably lost in.


  1. I think you might very much like "Turnipseed", a sort of "Three Trolls Gruff" story by Erik Amundsen :-)

    I *loved* that retelling of Mossycoat you linked to the other day.

  2. That's a great story, thanks so much for the link! :-)

    Another troll story I love is Neil Gaiman's ‘Troll Bridge’. And there’s an audio recording of him reading it here (click on ‘Play direct from Neil Gaiman’ to listen online for free).

    I’ve read the first of Katherine Langrish’s troll books too, and that’s fantastic!

  3. What a great post with lots of interesting links to follow! Ah yes, I loved "Edward Scissorhands" as well... it's really difficult to choose just one favourite, as you say.

    Thank you for answering all the questions in such depth. My unicorn is very excited to have another fairytale blog to read...

  4. wow! congrats on the award! i've got the same from Katherine Roberts :) I do enjoy your choice of everything! Angela Carter is amazing, so is Neil Gaiman)

  5. I have her troll books! But I have yet to read them--but I'm looking forward to it. I got them some time ago for my son, but I'm curious about them for myself.

  6. Claire, this is brilliant - I read your post going, 'yes - yes - YES!' And The Buried Moon - I knew it as The Dead Moon and used to tell it in schools at Hallowe'en! A wonderful, poetical, spooky tale...

    (All I can say, asakiyume, is I hope you'll like the troll books - they improve as they go, I think. The first one was my first novel. I've recently had the interesting experience of abridging it for an omnibus version of all three to come out next year, and I think the cuts have improved it!)

  7. Katherine R - you're welcome. Thank you for setting up such a lovely award!

    Daria - thank you and congratulations to you too!

    asakiyume (and Katherine!) - I really enjoyed Troll Fell, I loved the way all the Scandinavian folklore fed into it, I haven't got the other two yet so I might wait for that omnibus and then I'll have it to read to my sons when they're big enough! Hope you enjoy them too.

    Katherine L - yes, I think it must have been Jacobs who changed the Dead to Buried in the title (it is The Dead Moon in Legends of the Lincolnshire Cars). I first came across a retelling of Jacobs' version in a book of moon tales. What a wonderful tale to tell at Hallowe'en!

  8. Congratulations, Claire! Well deserved indeed.
    Great to hear your selections. The Angela Carter quote is brilliant. I've been re-reading "The Bloody Chamber" recently and am in awe of that woman. Thank you for the lead on "The Buried Moon" which I wasn't familiar with. I'm still getting used to the fact that here in Bavaria, our home of a couple of years, they don't do Hallowe'en, so we've been wanting to start some in-house traditions with our boys. This story will certainly be read by Jack-o'-lantern this year.

  9. Thanks, Lynn. Yes, I am completely awed by Carter and her body of work too. There are sentences in The Bloody Chamber that I read over and over thinking how did she do that? Her writing is stunning.

    And I hope your boys are suitably spooked by the story at Hallowe'en!