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Wednesday 23 December 2009

Merry Christmas everyone

and very best winter wishes.
See you in 2010.
Claire x

ps there's still time to enter the New Fairy Tales competition, all the details you'll need are here.

Monday 21 December 2009

Queens of snow and ice

When I was little I could see two hills from my bedroom window and I was convinced that the White Witch from the Narnia books lived between them (I also spent a lot of time trying to get through the back of wardrobes). I wasn't scared of her - I wanted to find a way to visit her. There's something about cold queens, ice queens that has always fascinated me. When Edmund first meets the White Witch, who has imposed eternal winter (without Christmas) on Narnia, we are told 'Her face was white - not merely pale, but white like snow or paper or icing-sugar, except for her very red mouth. It was a beautiful face in other respects, but proud and cold and stern.'

Her entrance, in a sleigh, is so similar to Hans Christian Andersen's 'The Snow Queen' (1845) that it seems impossible that Lewis was not influenced by the earlier story. Though unlike the White Witch the Snow Queen is actually made of ice:
'This snow-flake grew larger and larger, till at last it became the figure of a woman, dressed in garments of white gauze, which looked like millions of starry snow-flakes linked together. She was fair and beautiful, but made of ice—shining and glittering ice. Still she was alive and her eyes sparkled like bright stars, but there was neither peace nor rest in their glance.'
Andersen's Snow Queen sits in her palace on a frozen lake which she calls 'The Mirror of Reason' and so, cold and barren, she embodies Andersen's ideas about reason and science. But he also created another ice woman - 'The Ice Maiden' (1861) - who he uses for the opposite role - she represents the forces of nature and is the enemy of reason, although she also has to have what she wants...
'Ice Maiden—the queen of the glaciers. It is she whose mighty power can crush the traveller to death, and arrest the flowing river in its course. She is also a child of the air, and with the swiftness of the chamois she can reach the snow-covered mountain tops, where the boldest mountaineer has to cut footsteps in the ice to ascend. She will sail on a frail pine-twig over the raging torrents beneath, and spring lightly from one iceberg to another, with her long, snow-white hair flowing around her, and her dark-green robe glittering like the waters of the deep Swiss lakes. “Mine is the power to seize and crush,” she cried. “Once a beautiful boy was stolen from me by man,—a boy whom I had kissed, but had not kissed to death. He is again among mankind, and tends the goats on the mountains. He is always climbing higher and higher, far away from all others, but not from me. He is mine'
'The Ice Maiden' was inspired by the death of Andersen's father, which he talks about in his autobiography The True Story of my Life:
"He is dead," said my mother, addressing it; "thou needest not call him. The ice maiden has fetched him."

I understood what she meant. I recollected that, in the winter before, when our window panes were frozen, my father pointed to them and showed us a figure as that of a maiden with outstretched arms. "She is come to fetch me," said he, in jest. And now, when he lay dead on the bed, my mother remembered this, and it occupied my thoughts also.'

Snegurochka, a woman made of snow, rather than ice, appears in Russian fairy tales; in one variant, 'The Snow Maiden', she is fashioned from snow by an old childless couple, and in the Russian festive tradition Snegurochka is the granddaughter and assistant of Ded Moroz, Grandfather Frost, the Russian equivalent of Father Christmas (you'll find lots of lovely illustrations of her in a post on A Polar Bear's Tale). In contrast to the cold women I've mentioned above the Snow Maiden is kindlier, and made to suffer by others, and hers is not a happy ending because snow melts too easily.

Ice is hard, sharp and clear; it offers an illusion of permanence - it reminds us of glass. It is this last similarity that A.S. Byatt has played on to wonderful effect in the fairy tale 'Cold', from her collection Elementals. In the tale, Fiammarosa, a princess descended from an icewoman, is docile and doughy when kept in the warmth, but she is enlivened by the cold, and once she discovers this she escapes the palace at night to dance in the snow...
'And one night, as she moved, she found that her whole body was encased in a transparent, crackling skin of ice, that broke into spiderweb-fine veined sheets as she danced, and then reformed. The sensation of this double skin was delicious. She had frozen eyelashes and saw the world through an ice-lens'
Yet she falls in love with Sasan, a desert prince, wooed by his amazingly intricate glass sculptures. She sees the resemblance between glass and ice but she knows nothing of the dangerous heat that glass must be formed in.

Byatt has said the tale is about her relationship to writing, and in her essay 'Ice, Snow, Glass' in Mirror, Mirror on the Wall she says that even as a girl she knew that 'there was something secretly good, illicitly desirable, about the ice hills and glass barriers.' She later says:
'The frozen stony women became my images of choosing the perfection of the work, rejecting (so it seemed to me then, though I have done my best to keep my apple and swallow it) the imposed biological cycle, blood, kiss, roses, birth, death and the hungry generations.'
Fiammarosa also finds a compromise, although this has to be within the confines of a chilled palace in the heart of a mountain, at the edge of the desert kingdom:
'And if Fiammarosa was sometimes lonely in her glass palace, and sometimes wished both that Sasan would come more often, and that she could roam amongst fjords and ice-fells, this was not unusual, for no one has everything they desire. But she was resourceful and hopeful, and made a study of the vegetation of the Sasanian snow-line, and a further study of which plants could thrive in mountain air under glass windows, and corresponded - at long intervals - with authorities all over the world on these matters.'
It seems there is a choice for ice queens, who think, as Fiammarosa does at first, that there is 'more life in coldness. In solitude. Inside a crackling skin of protective ice'. They can stay out in the cold, or, take the risk of melting a little, but either way happiness comes and goes in flurries, just like the snow.

A few other icy paths to travel...
The Snow Queen in a beautiful digitised copy of Stories from Hans Andersen, illustrated by Edmund Dulac.
A lovely digitised copy of The Ice Maiden.
The Snow Queen, a poem by Jeannine Hall Gailey from the JOMA archives.
This week is Snow Queen week on the SurLaLune blog and Heidi Anne Heiner will be featuring several of the adaptations of the tale.

Thank you to Graham Dean and Louise Dean for the fantastic photographs!

Sunday 20 December 2009

What happened to Cinderella?

There was a new Cinderella story in yesterday's Guardian by Man Booker prize winner Hilary Mantel, with lovely illustrations by Posy Simmonds.

'Cinderella in Autumn' is an intriguing look at life for Cinderella 20 years after the wedding. The story is shot through with references to our times - Cinderella is stalked by paparazzi, her remaining stepsister is hoping the Tories get in, and the prince runs a scheme for young people involving white water rafting that 'brings out your potential and fits you for a destiny'. And we discover that the Prince has always had more of a relationship with her shoes than with Cinderella herself: 'She would see him, in absent moments, caressing the glass heel, which would seem to grow higher under his fingertips.'

I'm not going to say too much more because it's a good read, and I don't want to spoil it, but I do like the way Mantel has used the story to comment on our fame obsessed culture and the depressing fact that, for some girls, marrying a prince (or sleeping with a golfer) might still be thought of as the best route to happiness.

Monday 14 December 2009

Grimm Tales

I went to see Grimm Tales at Manchester's Library Theatre last week and it was fantastic! Energetically performed and deliciously dark - it was great to see the Grimm's tales getting an outing with the grim bits left in.

First performed in 1994 at the Young Vic, the play was adapted from the Grimm's tales by Carol Ann Duffy and dramatised by Tim Supple. This production has been directed for the Library Theatre by Rachel O'Riordan and is engagingly performed by eight actors, dressed like a raggedy troupe of storytellers, who dance, act, make music and tell the tales with relish.

One of the things I really enjoyed was the eclectic selection of tales; there was a real mix of the familiar and the unfamiliar. I also thought the inclusion of Ashputtel and The Lady and the Lion worked well as people are usually more familiar with their French literary predecessors, Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast.

Here are the Grimm's tales that are used in the show in versions that are available online:

Hansel and Gretel (here I've linked to a page that gives translations of both the 1812 and 1857 versions - which makes for very interesting reading)
The Golden Goose
Iron Hans
The Mouse, the Bird and the Sausage
The Lady and the Lion (also known as The Singing, Springing Lark)
Little Red Cap

I'd also really recommend Carol Ann Duffy's book Rumpelstiltskin and other Grimm Tales (1999) which includes her versions of all of the above (apart from The Mouse, the Bird and the Sausage), and many more, and is a delight to read.

There's an interview with Duffy on the Library Theatre website, in which she talks about how she went about retelling the tales.

I've also written a review of the show for a site called Artsphere here.

Grimm Tales is on at The Library Theatre until 23rd January - get there if you can!

Monday 7 December 2009

Moss Witch by Sara Maitland

I just wanted to draw your attention to a wonderful story that is on the shortlist for the BBC National Short Story Award and currently available to listen to online, or download, as a podcast.

'Moss Witch' is set in a remote tract of ancient woodland in Western Scotland and involves an encounter between a young bryologist (his hair, 'the colour of winter killed bracken') and a Moss Witch (her face, 'carved with long wrinkles running up and down her forehead and cheeks'). The story is beautifully read by Hannah Gordon and I'm not going to give anything else away because I don't want to spoil it, you will just have to listen to it. Even better, listen to it and buy the book it's published in too (details below).

There is something so magical about moss; I grew up in a house beside a wood, and even in the dead of winter, when empty branches let through so much stark grey sky, and the air is bitterly cold, there is a softness to the wood where the ground is carpeted, and the trees clothed, in moss. I'm sure moss softens sounds too, creating a special hush and adding a sense of otherworldliness to the places where it thrives and hides. 'Moss Witch' captures this perfectly.

Author Sara Maitland, a writer of novels, short stories and non-fiction, is no stranger to writing fairy tale and folklore inspired fiction (see her two most recent collections Far North & Other Dark Tales and On Becoming a Fairy Godmother). She is also currently working on a book about fairy stories and forests.

'Moss Witch' is published in When it Changed, an anthology edited by Geoff Ryman, and published by the brilliant Comma Press, a Manchester based independent publisher who have a talent for bringing wonderful books into being (I've read two of their other books this year Under the Dam, by David Constantine and Stone Tree, by Gyrðir Elíasson, which if you love haunting, well-crafted short fiction I'd highly recommend).

When it Changed is the result of a collaboration between writers and scientists 'Composed collaboratively – through a series of visits and conversations between leading authors and practicing scientists – it offers fictionalised glimpses into the far corners of current research'. Maitland effortlessly combines the scientific detail, I imagine she gleaned from her scientist, with magical prose.

I urge you to listen to 'Moss Witch' when you get a quiet moment. I've only really discovered the delight of listening to audio stories this year, and I find that especially when my eyes are too tired to read, but I'm still longing for a story to help me divide work from sleep, they are the perfect accompaniment to a bath (be sure to cleverly wrap your MP3 player though - I've already lost one to steam damage!).

You can download or listen to 'Moss Witch' and the four other finalists here.

The winner will be announced live from the awards ceremony tonight at 7.15pm on BBC Radio 4's Front Row.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed for Sara Maitland!

The photograph is of a tree in the woods by the house I grew up in.

Thursday 3 December 2009

Marina Warner podcast

Marina Warner's recent lecture ‘Figures in the Carpet: Magic and the 1001 Nights’, which I blogged about here, is now available as a podcast.

If, like me, you love books of hers, such as From the Beast to the Blonde and Phantasmagoria, then you'll really enjoy this (and if you haven't read those books you definitely should!). Warner has a wonderful way of bringing together all kinds of fascinating tidbits from the realms of history, culture and myth, and exploring the connections between them in an engaging and enlightening way.

In this lecture she examines the magic of the flying carpet, from its earliest association with Solomon, through its appearances in the Nights, and in its ongoing influence as a 'metaphor activated as fact'. She explores human fantasies of flight, and some of the other domestic flying vehicles of folklore (including beds and sofas), before settling on Freud's couch and the importance of its own 'magic carpet'.

You can listen to or download the podcast from the Queen Mary, University of London website here.

Photograph by Elke Bock 2003

Fundraising exhibition for The House of Fairy Tales

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.

Saturday 31 October 2009

Scary fairy tales

In The Fairy Tale Cupboard today, for your Halloween viewing pleasure, I present two brilliant short films of two very grim fairy tales. Created by Mucky Puppets, who sometimes also go by the moniker Theatre De Strange, and fresh from the success of last night's performance at the V&A (I wish I could have been there!) Enjoy...

Content Warning: you're probably not going to want to let young children watch these films!

And here's the tale, as collected by Joseph Jacobs.

And here's the tale, as told by the Brothers Grimm.

Thank you to Richard Mansfield, the creative mind and fingers behind Mucky Puppets, for giving me permission post these films here today. His next film will be an adaptation of the Grimm's incredibly dark tale 'When children played at slaughter' (based on two short tales excised from Children's and Household Tales after the 1812 edition, read only if you dare here - and don't say I didn't warn you, there's also an interesting article by Donald Haase on using this tale in his teaching here).

Richard is also working on 'Wolfskin', a silhouette feature film of an adult fairy tale he's written. I'd highly recommend a visit to the Mucky Puppets blog to watch his other fantastic films and keep up-to-date with his work. Richard can also be contacted by email at

Thanks also to Graham Dean for the great spooky banner (the not so great or spooky pumpkin carving was courtesy of me!)

Wednesday 28 October 2009

The House of Fairy Tales

Who are they and what do they do?
The House of Fairy Tales is a child-centred creative education project set up by artists Gavin Turk and Deborah Curtis. Working with an extensive team of artists, performers, writers, educationalists, designers, musicians, film makers, dreamers and philosophers they put on fantastic events which use the vast narrative scope of fairy tales to create brilliant learning experiences for young people and their families.

This summer they toured the UK with their Caravan of Fairy Tales. You can watch a short film about the first event of the tour, at the Tate Modern, on the Tate Channel.

I was invited to be part of their event at the National Trust Clumber Park and I was blown away by the wonderful atmosphere, and the fantastic range of workshops, activities and performances taking place. You can read my previous post about it here.

Latest news
This weekend sees their 'Journey to Old Halloween' at The New Art Gallery in Walsall. If you can get there this really is an event not to be missed...

'Outside in the square a feast will welcome the people of Walsall with parkin, spit roasts and miniature toffee apples served from the Witches Gingerbread House as a series of characters welcome you to the past.

The mischievous and melancholic side of winter is celebrated by this unique celebration of all things dark and ghoulish. Entertainment, as it used to be before TV, will transform Gallery Square into a haunted fairground, with sideshow booths, games and strategies.

Come and join the circus for a journey to old Halloween and be taken on a time-travel journey through Celtic Samhain, Roman (the Goddess Pomona) and Early Christian All Hallows Eve mythology. Meet many characters and cultures along the way including a quick detour to the Mexican Day of the Dead.'
The event is being held to celebrate the launch of their new exhibitions at the gallery; 'Exquisite Trove' (31 October - 10 January 2010)
'A treasure trove of mysterious objects hidden on shelves, in cases, glass vessels, suitcases and assorted containers excitingly revealing their stories and fairy tale narratives.'


The House of Fairy Tales: A Portfolio made by Artists (31 October - 16 October 2010)
'discover the new and exciting ways fairy tales have been interpreted and
explored by the international artists who have produced this extraordinary series of images inspired by these familiar stories. You thought you knew what fairy tales were about? Think again.'

How you can get involved
In Summer 2010 The House of Fairy Tales will present The Festival of the Creative Act and they are looking for enthusiastic people from all over the UK to get involved. They need artists, performers, musicians, knitters, makers, sayers, soothsayer, doers, volunteers to be stewards and magical helpers for their events, and people to help spread the word. You can find more information on their website, where you can also sign up to their newsletter to be kept up-to-date with all of their activities.

The images in this post are by photographer Richard H Smith and are used with permission.

Wednesday 21 October 2009

Once upon an apple day...

Today here in the UK it's Apple day, a day intended to be 'both a celebration and a demonstration of the variety we are in danger of losing – not simply in apples, but richness and diversity of landscape, place, ecology and culture too'. The day was established by Common Ground, an organisation which links nature with culture and aims to inspire 'celebration as a starting point for action'.

So in celebration I thought I'd gather together a few links to fairy tales that feature apples. When I started researching this post only Snow White and the poisoned apple came immediately to mind but I soon found myself lost in a whole online orchard of stories! So for today here are just a few that caught my fancy...

The Glass Mountain - a Polish fairy tale, retold by Andrew Lang
Once upon a time there was a Glass Mountain at the top of which stood a castle made of pure gold, and in front of the castle there grew an apple-tree on which there were golden apples...
read on

Little Shepherd, or the Three Apples - a retelling by Myth Woodling of the tale Italo Calvino collected in his Italian Folktales (the book also contains another great apple story 'The Apple Girl' but I couldn't find any versions of it online)
As a little shepherd boy was driving some of his sheep to market, he passed a woman whom he had never seen before. She was carrying a basket of eggs on her head.

He tossed a stone at the basket. The stone caused the basket to fall and all the eggs to break.

The shepherd boy laughed at his mean prank. Yet, this woman was a strega, or witch, and enraged by his wicked deed, she pronounced a maledizione, or curse, upon him: "You shall grow no bigger until you've wed lovely Bargaglina of the three singing apples."

The shepherd boy just laughed again, but from that day on he ceased to grow...
read on

The Silver Plate and the Transparent Apple - a Russian fairy tale
There lived once a peasant with his wife and three daughters. Two of these girls were not particularly beautiful, while the third was sweetly pretty. However, as she happened to be a very good girl, as well as simple in her tastes, she was nicknamed Simpleton, and all who knew her called her by that name, though she was in reality far from being one.

Her sisters thought of nothing but dress and jewelry. The consequence was that they did not agree with their younger sister. They teased her, mimicked her, and made her do all the hard work. Yet Simpleton never said a word of complaint, but was ready to do anything. She fed the cows and the poultry. If anyone asked her to bring anything, she brought it in a moment. In fact, she was a most obliging young person.

One day the peasant had to go to a big fair to sell hay, so he asked his two eldest daughters what he should bring them.

"Bring me some red fustian to make myself a sarafan [coat without sleeves]," said the eldest.

"Buy me some yards of nankeen to make myself a dress," said the second.

Simpleton meanwhile sat in a corner looking at her sisters with great eagerness. Though she was a simpleton, her father found it hard to go away without asking her what she would like him to bring her, so he asked her too.

"Bring me, dear father," said she, "a silver plate and a transparent apple to roll about on it."...
read on

The Nine Peahens and the Golden Apples - a Serbian fairy tale retold by Andrew Lang
ONCE upon a time there stood before the palace of an emperor a golden apple tree, which blossomed and bore fruit each night. But every morning the fruit was gone, and the boughs were bare of blossom, without anyone being able to discover who was the thief...
read on

The Laughing Apple and the Weeping Apple - a Turkish fairy tale retold by Ignácz Kúnos
In olden time lived a Padishah who had three sons.

One day as the youngest was sitting in a kiosk, near which was a spring, there came an old woman to draw water. The boy threw a stone at her jug and broke it. Saying nothing the old woman went away, and presently returned with another jug. Again the youth threw a stone and shattered the jug. The woman went away as before, and returned a third time. The boy saw her, threw a stone at her jug and broke it as on the two previous occasions. Now spake the old woman:
"May you fall in love with the Laughing Apple and the Weeping Apple!" she said. With these words she disappeared...
read on

The Old Witch - an English fairy tale collected by Joseph Jacobs
Once upon a time there were two girls who lived with their mother and father. Their father had no work, and the girls wanted to go away and seek their fortunes. Now one girl wanted to go to service, and her mother said she might if she could find a place. So she started for the town. Well, she went all about the town, but no one wanted a girl like her...
read on

The Apple Tree Man - a song based on a traditional Somerset tale
In Somerset there lived two sons of a farmer who passed away
The elder son was vain and mean, the younger merry and gay
The elder son was left the farm, to his brother naught gave he
Save a tiny plot with a feeble ox, a donkey and apple tree.

(chorus) Old apple tree, we'll wassail thee and hoping thou wilt bear
The Lord doth know where we shall be to be merry another year
To blow well and to bear well and so merry let us be
Let everyone drink up a cup, here's health to the old apple tree.
read on

And of course Snow White as told by the Brothers Grimm
ONCE upon a time in the middle of winter, when the flakes of snow were falling like feathers from the sky, a queen sat at a window sewing, and the frame of the window was made of black ebony. And whilst she was sewing and looking out of the window at the snow, she pricked her finger with the needle, and three drops of blood fell upon the snow. And the red looked pretty upon the white snow, and she thought to herself, "Would that I had a child as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as the wood of the window-frame"...
read on

There's also a fascinating article on the tale available in the JOMA archives; Snow, Glass, Apples: The Story of Snow White by Terri Windling.

The apple has many connotations in mythologies and folklore from around the world. If you'd like to find out more I'd recommend the following links:

Apple - an interesting article by Susa Morgan Black which explores the apple in folklore and details related traditions.

Apples and Apple Trees in Western European Myths, Legends and Folklore - brief synopses with useful details of sources.

Avalon - some background on the Arthurian 'Isle of Apples'.

And as a starting point for further exploration there are two interesting discussions centred around apples available on the SurLaLune discussion forum archive here and here

I'm off now for a mug of hot apple juice with cinnamon - Happy Apple Day!

The picture of apples above is by photographer Graham Dean (my Dad!) you can see more of his fantastic work here.

Sunday 18 October 2009

A must see - The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Last night I had the wonderful pleasure of settling into the darkness of a cinema and being transported into the fantastical world of Doctor Parnassus. The early reviews I'd read had lead me to believe I would probably be disappointed by the film - and I'm not going to link to any of them here because they were wrong - it's an imaginative masterpiece!

The story is about Doctor Parnassus, a man who won immortality in a bet with the Devil, and who later, to regain his youth and win the love of a beautiful young woman, made another deal - promising to give the Devil any child he fathered once they reached the age of sixteen. Now he must win another wager with the Devil if he is to save his daughter Valentina.

For me this felt like a truly modern fairy tale; there were many echoes from older tales: the parent who has offered up their first born child as payment for what they want at the time; an unwise bargain with the devil; a character who plays a pipe and has a dubious association with a children's charity (which made me think of the Pied Piper). True to the fairy tale form, the magic of a mirror - which is the entrance to the imaginarium - is never questioned, and once someone has stepped through the mirror the world beyond is furnished by their own imagination. This leads to some wonderful settings, including a dark forest of stage prop trees, and ladders which reach up to the clouds...

But the real world is never far away; Doctor Parnassus' imaginarium is housed on a rickety theatre on wheels (read about what inspired it here) and is pulled through modern London's streets by horses. As well as the familiar tourist sites we are treated to the bleaker side of inner-city life - derelict buildings, the streets at pub chucking out time; a Homebase car park.

The corrupt Tony is clearly a comment on our despicable ex-prime minister - at one point we even see a front page from a tabloid with the character Tony's face where Blair's should be, the headline: 'Tony Liar'. Similarly a song and dance scene by violent policemen, which felt very close to Monty Python in style, had especially powerful resonance when I thought of the documented police violence at the G20 protests in April this year.

The film is flawlessly acted by a great ensemble cast, and it's visually stunning - after watching this film I can finally see the point of cgi; misapplied by so many films trying to create realistic versions of reality - here it is used wonderfully to create impossible worlds.

This is a film made with love, against the odds; as has been well documented both Heath Ledger and one of the film's producers, Bill Vince, died during production and the film struggled to find funding - a case of small-minded money men with no vision always taking the easier routes through life - and as Terry Gilliam has explained this was part of the inspiration behind the story. Most of all though this is a film about storytelling and the power of the imagination - as Parnassus at one point realises - 'the Universe is sustained by story'.

Doctor Parnassus is out at UK cinema's now - here is the official UK site.

The film is set for a Christmas release in the US - here is the US site.

The Doctor Parnassus Support Site has a list of other countries official sites, more information on release dates, and info about how you can help support this wonderful film by getting cinemas to show it.

There is also a not to be missed Doctor Parnassus section on Dreams, the online Terry Gilliam fanzine, which includes brilliant interviews, artwork, stills and clips.

Friday 16 October 2009

Must reads -The Guardian, 'Great fairytales' (part 7)

Today is the last in the Guardian's 'Great fairytales' series and the theme is 'Beastly Tales'. There's a fantastic afterword by Marina Warner which looks at the role of animals in fairy tales, I'm going to use an excerpt of it as a foreword here as I think it also serves as a good introduction to the different kinds of animal tales that feature in today's booklet:

'The anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss commented that animals were "bons à penser" (good to think with), and fairytales speak through beasts to explore common experiences – fear of sexual intimacy, terror and violence and injustice, struggles for survival. A tradition of articulate, anthropomorphised creatures of every kind is as old as literature itself: animal fables and beast fairytales are found in ancient Egypt and Greece and India, and the legendary Aesop of the classics has his storytelling counterparts all over the world, who use crows and ants, lions and monkeys, ravens and donkeys to satirise the follies and vices of human beings and display along the way the effervescent cunning and high spirits of the fairytale genre.

By contrast with animal fables, where something of an animal's observable, actual character helps make the point (monkeys are clever, sharks, well, shark-like, in The Heart of a Monkey from Zanzibar), the beast of fairytale romance comes in fantasy shape – mythological creatures such as a dragon, a snake, a yellow dwarf, or, as AS Byatt translates one such beast, Mme d'Aulnoy's "Le Serpentin vert", as a "great green worm". They belong in a world of romance and psychology rather than satire and practical wisdom.'

Today's first tale is Beauty and the Beast by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont (this link is to a French site which as well as a biography also contains a reproduction of the original text), first published in 1756 in France and 1757 in England, this is usually referred to as an abridgement of the first literary version of the tale by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. There's an excellent article by Terri Windling about the writers of literary fairy tales in France available online in the JOMA archives which I'd highly recommend if you'd like to find out more about these tales.

Also included in today's booklet are the tales; Hans My Hedgehog by the Brothers Grimm and translated by champion of fairy tales and children's literature Jack Zipes; and The Heart of a Monkey as retold by Andrew Lang from the Lilac Fairy Book.

The illustrations are today provided by Eleanor Davis (the one I've featured above is taken from The Beauty and the Beast) and once again I can't stress enough just how much better represented they are in the paper booklet; my favourite illustration from today is of the forlorn Beast, hunched over an image of Beauty; but you can only see it on the cover of the paper booklet, they've not included it online. If you've missed the paper booklets this week they are all available to buy online here.

I thought I would also give the credits for the whole of this brilliant series here, as they are featured inside the booklets but not anywhere that I could find online:

Editor: Lisa Allardice
Assistant editor: Ginny Hooker
Research: Stephanie Cross
Series editor: Philip Oltermann
Subeditor: Christian Sadler
Art Director: Gavin Brammall
Picture editor: Rachel Vere
Production: Russel Turk (part 1, part 2, part 3), Steve Coady (part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7),
Production editor: Amy Thompson

You can read my other posts on the series here:
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6