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Friday 24 July 2009

fairy tales and... beds

Why beds? Well as a sleep deprived mother of toddlers a bed laden with plump mattresses and eiderdowns and some time to spend in it is one of my favourite fantasies, easily fuelled by the wonderful SurLaLune's gallery of Princess and the Pea illustrations (I will be linking to SurLaLune frequently as it is a wonderful site and the best fairy tale resource on the web!). The beautiful illustration on the right by Nicki Dennett, a lovely printmaker and illustrator who worked on issue 2 of New Fairy Tales, shows seven peas which is the number in the traditional Swedish tale which is thought to have influenced Andersen. The pea (or peas depending on which translation you read) has always fascinated me, I love the fact it is valued enough to be placed in the royal curiosity cabinet and I like to imagine it wasn't lost or stolen but is sitting there still, all shrivelled and dusty, looking like a little old lump of earwax.

Two brilliant picture book versions of the story are Mini Grey's hilariously inventive tale told from the point of view of the pea The Pea and the Princess and Lauren Child's The Princess and the Pea, with photography by Polly Borland. Child's version uses paper cut out people and dolls house furniture to create an enchanting miniature world. I was so excited to see some of the sets for the book (including the gorgeous little bed) at Manchester Art Gallery last summer as part of the Green Drops and Moonsquirters: The Utterly Imaginative World of Lauren Child exhibition. Now on tour, this incredibly child friendly exhibition is currently in Aberdeen and is heading on to Hull, Cardiff and then the wonderful Seven Stories centre for children's books in Newcastle.

Beds also make me think of blankets and one of my favourite recent fairy tales is Carol Ann Duffy's The Princess' Blankets (published by the brilliant Templar) in which a princess who is always cold is smothered, by a stranger, in the ocean's blanket, the forest's blanket, the mountain's blanket and lastly the suffocating earth's blanket:
'The blanket was woven in the darkest brown. It was embroidered with corms and bulbs. There were tangled roots in the blanket, pale, hollow skulls, and the crumbling bones of dead creatures.'
Duffy's lyrical prose is illustrated by Catherine Hyde's sumptuous paintings which convey a real sense of texture and the enchanting beauty of the happy ending 'under a blanket of stars'. This is a stunning book which really has to be held to be appreciated.

I notice that Hyde will be part of the event Introducing Fairytales: Meaning and Making, on Saturday 3 October 2009, at the V&As current Telling Tales exhibition of fantasy and fear in contemporary design. Make sure you visit the exhibition's online treasure trove and look out for the Linen Cupboard House, by Jurgen Bey in the Forest Glade which looks like a lovely place to climb into and curl up for a sleep.

As for other famous fairy tale beds, well plenty of fairy tale characters seem to end up in them, whether in an enchanted sleep (Sleeping Beauty) or in someone else’s bed (Goldilocks, Snow White, the wolf!). And of course fairy tales make perfect bedtime reading but more on all that another time. Sweet dreams!

Illustration Princess and the Seven Peas, Collograph by Nicki Dennett