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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

Thursday 15 October 2009

Must reads -The Guardian, 'Great fairytales' (part 6)

Today in 'Justice and punishment' the Guardian is treating us to some very grim tales indeed (although interestingly none of the tales in today's booklet is by the Grimms). There's Little Red Riding Hood, in her earliest literary appearance - as written by Charles Perrault and translated here by AE Johnson, who interestingly omits Perrault's afterword which warns of the dangers of wolves; 'I say "wolf," but there are various kinds of wolves. There are also those who are charming, quiet, polite, unassuming, complacent, and sweet, who pursue young women at home and in the streets. And unfortunately, it is these gentle wolves who are the most dangerous ones of all.'

Most people will be more familiar with the Grimms' version of the tale Little Red Cap in which the girl is rescued by the huntsman, personally I like the versions where she rescues herself; see here for one of the oldest recorded versions of the oral tale and visit The Poetry Archive for the fantastic version by Roald Dahl. If you're interested in finding out more about the little girl in red see my profile of Little Red Riding Hood.

Today's booklet also includes the terrifying The One-Handed Murderer by one of my favourite writers Italo Calvino (taken from his wonderful collection Italian Folktales) and translated here by George Martin; the disturbing The Red Shoes by Hans Christian Andersen, translated by Naomi Lewis; and from the Arabian Nights The Fisherman and Ifrit, translated by Malcolm C Lyons.

In today's afterword Sarah Churchwell looks at rewards and punishments in fairy tales:

'Fairytales are secular; they believe that rewards come in this world, not the next. They are grounded in the violent truths of human passions, our most unacceptable, untamed, uncivilised, unruly impulses. We learn to rule them eventually, and the tales help teach us how to control our desires. But they also teach the useful lessons of recognising wolves, outwitting genies, and packing a pistol, just in case.'
Today's illustrations are by Tyler Garrison, and the one I've featured above is taken from Little Red Riding Hood. I think these are my favourites so far this week but once again they are much better represented in the paper booklet so get it if you can.

Wednesday 14 October 2009

Must reads -The Guardian, 'Great fairytales' (part 5)

'Most of the fairytales we know best were first published in popular books for young children in the mid-19th-century, and many of the heroines of these stories don't do much but wait patiently for their prince to come, or for someone else to rescue them from dangers and enchantments. But it was a skewed sample: there are thousands of folktales in the wolrd with heroines who are smart, courageous and resourceful, like Clever Gretchen. Hans may be "a bit simple" but he also has great determination. Without realising it he sells his soul to the devil in order to become the best huntsman in the world and marry Gretchen. It is she who figures out how he can ask a question the devil cannot answer, and thus break the contract. Anyone who reads this story can learn two things: not to sign agreements with over-friendly strangers, and to follow the advice of wise women.'
So says Alison Lurie in the afterword to today's Guardian booklet 'Wisdom and Folly' and I thought it was a great place to start this post. Too often in the fairy tales we still tell today women are relegated to pathetic princess part or they are the villainess (where as villains such as Bluebeard and his English incarnation Mr Fox have been banished from the children's canon). So in today's booklet I'd particularly urge you to read two stories where the girls triumph, Clever Gretchen, and the tale of The Black Geese - which is a wonderful retelling of a Baba Yaga tale (for more on Baba Yaga tales see SurLaLune's Baba Yaga page - and yes Baba Yaga is a villainess but at least it's often a girl who beats her!).

I've really enjoyed Lurie's retellings and her afterword this week so I can't wait to pick up a copy of her book 'Clever Gretchen and Other Forgotten Folktales', first published in 1980 (I don't normally link directly to amazon from the blog but it's the only place I could find it so the link is here).

Other tales to enjoy from the booklet today are Jack and the Beanstalk, in the version by Joseph Jacobs, (and for more on Jack see my recent profile of him) and The Mixed-Up Feet and the Silly Bridegroom by Isaac Bashevis Singer, as retold by Elizabeth Shub.

The gorgeous illustrations are today provided by Pietari Posti, the one I've featured above is from Clever Gretchen.

Tomorrow's booklet is 'Justice and Punishment' and will include; The Red Shoes, Little Red Riding Hood, and The One-Handed Murderer.

Posts on Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 of the series.

Must reads - Goblin Fruit - Autumn 2009

I decided to treat myself last night, so I curled up in a shawl in my big old armchair, laptop on knee, whisky in hand, and window open just enough so I could breathe the crisp autumn night air and I read the latest online issue of Goblin Fruit.

I am intrigued by the differences between reading from paper and from a screen, not least because I edit an online magazine myself - from a desk surrounded by a wall of books. I bought Goblin Fruit's recent paper offering, 'Demon Lovers and other Difficulties', which features wonderful work by Nicole Korner-Stace, and lingered over it in the bath, but last night I made what was for me a breakthrough in screen reading - I simply sat and savoured the new online issue. I turned off my email and banished my habitual flicking between tabs - looking up writers or references - which can be useful but distracting and I think can transform you into a bit of a lazy reader (you don't have to re-read and interpret anything yourself when the answer is only a few clicks away). And I found that I could become just as absorbed in the words on the screen and the illusions they were creating as I would have if reading from printed paper.

The wonderful content helped of course, it was a pleasure to read (and listen to - many of the poems are also available as MP3s, read by the writers).

I'll just mention a couple of the fairy tale related poems here: My Bed, Made Up with Down Pillows, by Virginia M. Mohlere is a deliciously dark take on The Six Swans story. At the Woodcutter's, by Rosalind Casey is a disturbing rumination on missing children in fairy tales and our own world. And Mari Ness's visceral Hunger is an appropriately chilling look at Little Red Riding Hood for this time of year.

I was also happy to see a poem by Tori Truslow, the lyrical, image rich, Elsa in the Tontlawald. (Tori's beautiful story 'The Siren's Child' appeared in Issue 2 of New Fairy Tales - there's a lovely atmospheric audio version available, read by Avril Brady, which you can listen to on your default media player by clicking here or you can download it by visiting the New Fairy Tales audio collection here).

I've enjoyed many issues of Goblin Fruit before but never in such a fully absorbed way, so I'm not going to give away any more about this issue - you need to find a quiet space and time, switch off your email, retrain those click happy fingers and relish it yourself.

Tuesday 13 October 2009

Must reads -The Guardian, 'Great fairytales' (part 4)

Today's theme is 'Quests and riddles' and the tales included in the booklet are Rumpelstiltskin, by the Brothers Grimm and translated by Joyce Crick; The Sleeping Prince, retold by Alison Lurie; The Tale of the Boy Who Set Out to Learn Fear, by the Brothers Grimm and translated by Joyce Crick; and The Lion and the Hare, retold from Sanskrit by Ramsay Wood.

Today I was particularly looking forward to The Sleeping Prince as it's not a tale I've come across before. Digging around on the web I've not been able to find any other versions of it online and the only information I've been able to find about it is from its Wikipedia entry which tells us it was collected by Georgios A. Megas and is included in Folktales of Greece (currently out of print, last published by University of Chicago Press in 1977). The tale is delightfully told and it is lovely to read an older story where the Princess rescues the Prince but I was disappointed that after she'd found him she didn't actually have to do anything but sit beside him - where was the kiss? Or if not a kiss at least she could have played some active part in waking him. Instead she sits and waits (for months) and when he is awoken by the bells on St John's Eve he seems to mistakenly think she had something to do with breaking the spell: "Whoever you may be, my life belongs to you," he said. "Will you marry me?"

Today's afterword is by Adam Phillips, I particularly liked his comment that 'The protagonists of these stories don't want to endure or merely survive, they want to triumph. To put it as simply possible, each of the heroes and heroines of these tales really wants something, and is determined and persistent in their quest. They are not Hamlets, like us, bewitched by self-doubt and beset by complications.' Although he later asserts that 'if we read these fairytales as stories, as problem-solving exercises, for guidelines on how to deal with difficult situations, we are none the wiser. They give us examples of something, but there is very obviously no moral to the stories.' - I would have thought that the moral was that if you are determined and persistent then good things will happen!

An interesting post has also appeared on The Guardian Books Blog today: Adult Content warning: beware fairy stories. The warning may not have come early enough though as on the front of Saturday's paper the series was advertised as being 'a new seven-part series of booklets on the best children's stories ever told' and that day's booklet contained the especially gruesome The Tale of the Juniper Tree - I did wonder how many parents would have unwittingly begun to read the tale to their tots only to have to stop at the part where the little boy's head is boiled into a stew and unknowingly eaten by his father.

Today's lovely illustrations (including the one at the top of this post which is taken from The Sleeping Prince) are provided by Rui Tenreiro although I have to say that again the online edition does not do them justice.

Posts on Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of the series.

Monday 12 October 2009

Must reads -The Guardian, 'Great fairytales' (part 3)

In today's free booklet from The Guardian the theme is 'Love' and three well known tales are contained within; The Steadfast Tin Soldier, translated by Naomi Lewis; Rapunzel, translated by Joyce Crick; and The Little Mermaid, again translated by Naomi Lewis.

There is a definite melancholic feel to today's booklet, two of the three tales have unhappy endings; only Rapunzel and the King's son are permitted a 'happily ever after' although even this comes after years of traumatic separation. In her afterword AS Byatt calls Andersen 'an emotional terrorist' and recalls that her 'first experience of a bad ending, of pain and loss, was Andersen's Little Mermaid, who has her tongue cut out and her tail sliced into legs so that she feels she is "walking on knives" – and yet cannot gain her prince. In the Grimms's bounded and wonderful world she would have gained her prince.'

Byatt also starts with the interesting question 'How do we read a tale?' and her examination of the abstract in fairy tales and the difference between the ones in which we remain outsiders, and those like Andersen's which make us feel, is a fascinating, thought-provoking read. She notes,
'As I grow older, the fact of the existence of the world's huge compendium of changing and unchangeable tales seems to me more, not less, mysterious. How can they so steadily resemble each other, wherever they come from? How can they be so abstract and so concrete?'

The fantastic illustrations in today's booklet, by Emily Forgot, aren't represented half as well online - where several have been cropped or even omitted - as they are on paper so if you can get hold of the paper booklet, today is one you really don't want to miss!

Tomorrow's booklet is 'Quests and riddles' and we have Rumpelstiltskin, The Sleeping Prince, The Boy Who Set Out to Learn Fear and The Hare and the Lion to look forward to.

The illustration above is by Emily Forgot and features in The Little Mermaid.

Sunday 11 October 2009

Must reads -The Guardian, 'Great fairytales' (part 2)

Another day another wonderful booklet of fairy tales, free today with The Observer and also available to read online here. Today's theme is 'Rags to Riches' and the contents really are a treat - Angela Carter's translation of Perrault's Cinderella, Naomi Lewis's translation of Hans Christian Andersen's The Tinderbox, and Philip Pullman's retelling of Mossycoat - this one is especially exciting for me as the tale is one of my favourites and, to my knowledge, it is the first time it has been available in any form online. It was originally collected in Lancashire in 1915 by Katharine M Briggs and Ruth L Tongue from the gypsy, Taimie Boswell, for their book Folktales of England and is also currently available in that version in Angela Carter's Book of Fairy Tales (which combines the two, now out of print, Virago books of fairy tales).

Pullman's retelling is a bawdy good-humoured romp - a delight to read - my only small gripe is that he tries to justify Mossycoat taking advantage of the hawker by turning the hawker into a snaggle-toothed old man 'with lank hair combed over his greasy bald pate' who can't keep his hands to himself. I can understand why Pullman made the change but I always quite liked the fact Mossycoat wasn't your typical goody-goody heroine and took advantage of the hawker's love for her by taking her mother's advice to 'git what you can out'n him'.

There are beautiful illustrations throughout the booklet by Heisuke Kitazawa and an afterword by Philip Pullman in which he looks at the influence of Freud and Bettelheim on our reading of fairy tales, talks about what makes a Cinderella story and discusses the craft of writing fairy tales;
'The hardest thing with a story of any kind is to bring it to a conclusion that works every time you read it. The best of the Grimm tales do that, and the ones that work best of all are clearly the work of some ancient and anonymous teller of genius, whose power of shape-creation has resisted generations of hamfisted clumsiness and mishandling.'
Tomorrow's booklet is Love and will include The Steadfast Tin Soldier, Rapunzel and The Little Mermaid with an afterword by AS Byatt.

The illustration above is Heisuke Kitazawa's Mossycoat

Saturday 10 October 2009

Must reads - The Guardian's 'Great fairytales' series

Today sees the publication of the first of seven free little booklets of fairy tales in the Guardian. UK readers I urge you to set out into the autumn chill and pick up the paper now! Tomorrow the booklet will be with the Observer and from Monday to Friday back with the Guardian.

Today's booklet is 'Wicked Parents' and contains Hansel and Gretel, Snow White and The Tale of the Juniper Tree. They are all taken from Joyce Crick's translation of the Grimms (OUP) and beautifully illustrated with silhouettes by Laura Barrett (don't skip by this link, her website is stunning!). There's also a thoughtful afterword by Hilary Mantel, this week's Booker prize winner, which looks at the realities behind the tales in a Europe with high maternal mortality rates and the way fairy tales bring us face to face with realities we don't want to see,
'Hansel and Gretel make their way back to the couple who have tried to abandon them, and hope this time it will be different. We do not want to believe this happens in real life, but the news reports tell us it does. A casual boyfriend tortures and murders a baby while its mother stands by with, at best, glazed indifference. Normal parents cannot understand child-killers, but fairytales hold up a distorting mirror that enhances our petty guilts. There can be few mothers who, trapped with a fractious, wailing, ungrateful baby, have not wished it momentarily removed, and then become afraid of the dark powers the wish might attract.'

For readers from other countries (and those in the UK who don't want to venture out today!) the content of today's booklet is all available online here and the complete set of booklets is available to buy for £16 here. There's also lots more to look forward to over the coming week...

'Great fairytales brings you the finest stories of morality, justice, triumph and enchantment from around the world, collected in seven themes: Wicked parents, Rags to riches, Love, Quests and riddles, Wisdom and folly, Justice and punishment and Beastly tales.
The stories are all nominated by a panel of critics, writers and experts on children's literature: Anthony Browne, AS Byatt, Abdulrazak Gurnah, Robert Irwin, Alison Lurie, Adam Phillips, Philip Pullman, Salman Rushdie and Marina Warner.
Each collection is beautifully illustrated and includes an afterword from a range of leading writers exploring each theme.'
Tomorrow's booklet includes Cinderella, The Tinderbox and Mossycoat (one of my favourites!) and will feature an afterword by Philip Pullman - I can't wait!

Thursday 8 October 2009

Once upon a poetry day...

Today, here in the UK, it's National Poetry Day and with the theme being 'heroes and heroines' and our new poet laureate being Carol Ann Duffy (who also writes brilliant fairy tales and sometimes brilliant poems about fairy tales) I thought I'd celebrate by gathering together lots of links to the fairy tale poetry that's available online.

So a whistle stop tour:

Firstly, the magazines - 
Goblin Fruit - brilliant poetry beautifully presented, as well as the current issue make sure you check out the archive - it's packed with joyously fantastical poetical delights!
Cabinet des Fées - this lovely journal features fairy tale themed poetry in amongst its fiction. 
The Journal of the Mythic Arts Poetry Archive  - sadly JOMA ceased publication in Summer 2008 but their fantastic archives are still available online to be lingered over.
The Journal of Mythic Arts - Sunday Poems - there's so much in these blog posts to be enjoyed!

Then -
Poetry Foundation - this link will take you straight to their large section of Mythology and Folklore inspired poems.
The Poetry Archive  - this link will take you to their selection of fairy tale themed poetry (there's only two there at the moment but maybe one day they'll have more!) 

Another really useful site is SurLaLune, where for each of the forty annotated tales featured there is also a list of the poetry that relates to the tale (just click on Modern Interpretations and then select Poetry), a lot of this is in books but some is out of copyright and available on the SurLaLune website itself, for example click here for the Cinderella poetry.

Of course there's a wealth of fairy tale poetry that's not supposed to be available online as it's still in copyright, for example the brilliant fairy tale poems of Anne Sexton from Transformations - if you hunt around though the texts can usually be found lurking in advert spangled corners of the web...

Now -
for your instant poetry gratification, taken mostly from the sites I've linked to above, here is a small selection of fairy tale poems that are legitimately available online by notable contemporary writers:

'Beauty and the Beast: An anniversary' by Jane Yolen
'Undine' by Jane Yolen
'"Once upon a time," she said' by Jane Yolen
'Fat is not a fairy tale' by Jane Yolen
'Instructions' by Neil Gaiman - also see 'Once upon a Blog's' recent post about the forthcoming illustrated version and to watch a video of the lovely Neil reading the poem.
'Locks' by Neil Gaiman
'Gretel in Darkness' by Louise Glück
'Girl without Hands' by Margaret Atwood
'Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf' by Roald Dahl
'Bone Mother' by Holly Black
'How to Change a Frog into a Prince' by Anna Denise
'Gretel' by Andrea Hollander Budy
'Brother and Sister Duet' by Terri Windling and Barth Andersen

And a few old favourites:
'Goblin Market' by Christina Rossetti, which you can also listen to on LibriVox
'The Day Dream' by Alfred Lord Tennyson
'Fairy Land' by Edgar Allen Poe
'Modern Elfland' by G. K. Chesterton

And why not celebrate poetry today, wherever you are in the world, by sending one of these beautiful Endicott Studio Poetry Postcards to someone who will appreciate it.

The lovely image above is by Sigrid Jones, a research fellow at the University of Vienna. You can see more of her work along with other interesting images and links on her blog 'word and image'.

Monday 5 October 2009

Fairy tale treats

I could not resist posting about this. Two of my favourite things in the world are baths and books, preferably in combination and preferably books of fairy tales. To celebrate the yuletide season Lush, the loveliest purveyors of bath stuff I've ever come across, have released a selection of fairy tale themed bath goodies...

Ladies and gentleman, straight from the Lush website, I introduce:

'Fizz, crackle and pop! A spicy soda scented, crackling candy Bath Ballistic. Ourbrand new Cinders Bath Ballistic is the colour of a glowing ember andit crackles like a warming wood fire, like the one that Cinderellaslept by in the fairy tale. When Mo made this lovely little Ballistic,she added popping candy so it also makes a sound like a burning logs.'

So White
'The fragrance of this lovely Bath Bomb is inspired by the temptingapple a certain wicked stepmother tricked her beautiful stepdaughterinto eating. We assure you however, that this Bath Bomb is not full ofpoison to put you to sleep. It is made with an uplifting fragrance ofrefreshing oranges, apples and romantic rose and is meant to awake youif you've been under a spell (or are just feeling tired). This one isquite a frothy bath as we've grated in some bubble bar mixture, so youcan bathe in apple scented snow and feel fairest of them all.'

Father Frost
'Inspired by chilling Russian folk tales, perfumed with fragrant flowers.
Thisbeautiful new soap which looks like midnight and smells like a gardenof scented blossom. It has a spookily serious fairy tale as itsinspiration, involving a woodcutter, a wicked stepmother, a gooddaughter, a bad daughter and Father Frost, the Lord of Winter, who canfreeze people to death with one icy breath. (We've created his portraitin icy soap on the top of each huge block.) Father Frost's story is amorality tale. Be unselfish and you will be rewarded, perhaps withunexpectedly large pieces of Christmas soap, made with apple juice andcranberries. Be greedy and grasping, and no-one will want to buy you alovely rose and geranium scented soap for Christmas.'

For those with sensitive skins a full listing of the ingredients is available on their website and there are lots more fairy tale goodies to lust after as well. There are Lush shops all over the place - you can see a list of the countries they're in here, or alternatively stick out your nose and follow the intoxicating scent - it wafts its way down busy shopping streets, like a sweet spell, the world over.

And if you'd like to read the tales whilst you're indulging in the bath (once you've printed them off of course!) they are all available on the fantastic SurLaLune:
Snow White
Father Frost