Leatherbound Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales

I have been trying to get my hands on a copy of the Barnes & Noble exclusive leatherbound “Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales” for several months, but the book has always been sold out.  In fact, when my fiance tried to order it for me, we were later contacted and told that the order was canceled because the book would not be restocked in the foreseeable future.  Today, however, I received this beautiful tome as an early birthday gift.

As you can see, the book itself is gorgeous.  The craftsmanship of it is fantastic; each page is decorated with gold edges.  It contains more than 100 stories and many beautiful, full color illustrations, plus a great and informative introduction by none other than Jane Yolen, a frequent reteller of fairy tales.  I’ve only had it for a few hours, but I would already recommend it to any lover of fairy tales.

To my delight, Yolen touches on the continuously evolving nature of fairy tales in her introduction.  Yolen explains that, although the Brothers Grimm collected these old stories and sometimes penned them in a more grisly fashion than today’s versions might suggest, even they softened the original tales for their perceived audiences, removing the most erotic scenes to avoid offense.  Once they realized the tales were being read to children rather than studied for their academic value, they began to make their stories altogether tamer.  While some of the tales recorded by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm may seem dark in comparison to the Disney versions of more recent years, it is fascinating to remember that even older, more sinister tellings are at the root of the oral fairy tale tradition.

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Harry Potter and Fairy Tales

J. K. Rowling puts a lot of emphasis on fairy tales in her famous “Harry Potter” series.  In fact, she suggests that fairy tales often hold more truth than we imagine.  This is true especially in her final book, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.”

The symbol of the Deathly Hallows comes from a wizarding "fairy tale" that turns out to be true. These hallows help Harry to defeat Voldemort.

In this book, Dumbledore bequeaths mysterious objects to Harry, Ron, and Hermione in his will.  To Hermione goes a book of wizarding fairy tales, one of which is “The Tale of the Three Brothers.”  This so-called children’s story describes three magical objects that can’t possibly exist: an invincible wand, a stone that can raise the dead, and an invisibility cloak that renders its wearer completely invisible and endures eternally no matter what spells are cast at it.  Whoever controls all three of these objects would find himself the master of death.

Of course, not only does the story turn out to be based in fact, but all of the objects actually exist.  With some help from each of them, Harry is able to overcome his greatest foe.  Although he could use these objects to master death, his wisdom matches that of the brother who chose the invisibility cloak.  Harry recognizes that he was meant to possess these items for a time, but that wielding the Elder Wand or the Resurrection Stone can only bring trouble to his life.  In the end, he learns the same lesson the fairy tale was meant to teach.

Not only did Rowling provide us with an example of a fairy tale that turned out to be true (not unlike the stories of Robin Hood and King Arthur), but she also published the full book of fairy tales that Hermione received from Dumbledore: “The Tales of Beedle the Bard.”  This book contains five beautifully imagined stories that clearly draw on recognizable fairy tale themes. For instance, the tale of “Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump” bears some resemblance to Hans Christian Andersen’s story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

While this is a way for Rowling to flesh out the fantastical world of her books by providing a peek into wizarding society’s cultural knowledge, it is more than that.  In Rowling’s books, Ron is the least capable of finding deeper meaning in the fairy tales because he, having grown up in a wizarding family, has heard them all his life.  Rowling has already told us that there was deep truth behind one of the stories.  What might the others be hiding and, what indeed can still be gleaned from the fairy tales that we read as children?  If we refuse to look deeper, as Ron did, we might really miss out.  This is especially implied because Rowling also uses more familiar fairy tales in her books as well; Hans Christian Andersen wrote a fairy tale called “The Philosopher’s Stone.”  While he did not invent the concept, his mention of it seems relevant in this context.

“The Tales of Beedle the Bard” also manages to bring some witty critique to the fairy tale table.  Many of today’s fairy tales have been doctored and made less violent for modern children.  In her book, Rowling discusses how the best story it contains, “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart,” has been rejected by some wizarding parents for its violent and disturbing nature.  She portrays those who wish to alter and censor this story and others like it as utter fools, betraying her own opinions on the subject; children may be heartier than we give them credit for, and if the only stories we read them are about happy puppies and beautiful butterflies, they can never hope to find deeper meaning within them.

Robin Hood and King Arthur: Real People as Fairy Tales

Robin Hood and King Arthur are both characters seen in stories that might be considered fairy tales.  In both cases, there seems to be no real author of their stories and no version which is more true than any other.

 

Robin Hood appeared as a fox in Disney's 1973 film "Robin Hood."

Robin Hood appeared as a fox in Disney's 1973 film "Robin Hood."

In fact, their stories are often retold by the same authors who spend their time retelling fairy tales.  For instance, Robin McKinley, who has written many retold fairy tales (My favorites of hers are “Rose Daughter” which retells “Beauty and the Beast” and “Spindle’s End” which retells “Sleeping Beauty.”), tackled the story of Robin Hood in her book “The Outlaws of Sherwood.”  Similarly, Garth Nix, who wrote “Hansel’s Eyes” (the best retelling of Hansel and Gretel I’ve ever come across), retold part of Arthur’s story in “Under the Lake,” a tale about the Lady of the Lake, Merlin, and Excalibur.  Not only that, but both of them starred in Disney versions of their tales; “Robin Hood” was released in 1973 and “The Sword in the Stone” which was based on the first section of T. H. White’s Arthur retelling “The Once and Future King” was released in 1963.

Although the existence of both is debated by modern historians, there is some evidence that each of them may have existed in real life. Robin first cropped up in ballads of which the oldest surviving is “Robin Hood and the Monk,” which dates to about 1450 A.D. and contains many of the characters and details which we still associate with Robin Hood today.  Arthur supposedly ruled Britain in the late 5th and early 6th centuries, according to medieval histories and romances.  The first datable historical reference to him appears in a 9th century Latin text.

Although it is possible that these men have only ever existed in folklore, it is also quite likely that they were once real people who have now become the stuff of fairy tales; their stories have been romanticized, made magical, and ingrained as part of our cultural knowledge. They are retold in books and films every year.  Robin Hood alone has been the main character of more than fifty films and television series, and has been featured in episodes of many shows.

It might be strange to imagine a historical figure becoming the stuff of legend, but it actually still happens today.  We all heard the story of George Washington and the cherry tree, as children, but that is actually a fabricated tale; no such event ever took place.  We also learned that he had false teeth made of wood.  In reality, however, they were carved of fine ivory and gold.  Compared to Robin Hood and King Arthur, George Washington is a fairly recent historical figure.  Despite this, his life is already becoming the stuff of legend.  In all likelihood, the tale will become more fanciful over the years.

Who knows?  Five centuries from now, George Washington may be remembered as a fabled warrior like Arthur or a great wizard like his mentor, Merlin.

Blog Preview: Upcoming Post Ideas

I’ve been brainstorming about my upcoming posts and decided to post a list of them, as a sort of preview.
1. Fairy Tales in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel”

Joss Whedon loves making pop-culture references, and fairy tales are no exception to this rule.  I’ve compiled a list of “Buffy“/”Angel” fairy tale references and will post them along with some analysis.

2.  Fairy Tales in “Harry Potter”

J. K. Rowling shows us, in her Harry Potter books, that fairy tales often hold more truth than we imagine.  In fact, she found them so important that she created a whole book of wizarding fairy tales (“The Tales of Beadle the Bard“).  After all, each culture has its own, unique legends and fairy tales.  I will take a look at what these mean in the world of Harry Potter.

3. The Path: A Contemplative Fairy Tale Video Game

I will review “The Path,” a contemplative video game based on the popular fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood.”

4. No More Disney Princesses:  Is This Good or Bad?

Disney has decided to stop producing its famously retold versions of classic fairy tales.  I will analyze the situation, discussing its positive and negative effects on the fairy tale medium.

5. Andrew Lang’s Colored Fairy Books

Although these books are out of print, I am lucky enough to have a bunch of them.  I will describe these books and their origins, comparing them to some of their original sources, and updating their sparse Wikipedia story synopses.

6. What are Fairy Tales, Anyway?

In this post, I will explain why “Alice in Wonderland,” “Peter Pan,” and “The Wizard of Oz” are not fairy tales.  I will also explain why the works of Hans Christian Andersen and Madame D’Aulnoy are “half fairy tales.”

7. Fairy Tales in Popular Music

Fairy tales, as part of our shared cultural knowledge, are more ingrained in pop-culture than we often realize.  Using song lyrics and clips, I will show how fairy tales have made their way onto all of our mp3 players.

8. Pan’s Labyrinth

Many of us are familiar with director Guillermo del Toro‘s haunting 2006 film “Pan’s Labyrinth.”  This beautiful film was deeply inspired by fairy tales.  This post will take a closer look at del Toro’s inspiration.

9. King Arthur and Robin Hood as Fairy Tales

In this post, I will show how stories based on actual historical figures can and have evolved into fairy tales.

10. Sondheim: Fairy Tales and Urban Legends

Stephen Sondheim has based several of his hit Broadway musicals on fairy tales and their close cousins, urban legends.  In this post, I will detail the ways in which Sondheim was clearly inspired by these stories, as well as what he did to further and expand them.

My plan is to create all of these posts on my blog, but I can not promise that they will all appear.  If there’s anything on this list that you’re particularly excited to see, feel free to let me know.

SurLaLune Fairy Tales Blog

Today, I’d like to take a look at a top blog in my niche.  If you’re as interested in fairy tales as I am, you’ll really enjoy Heidi Anne Heiner’s frequently updated SurLaLune Fairy Tales Blog.  This blog is full of up to date fairy tale news, and exists in conjunction with her web site, SurLaLune Fairy Tales, which offers a variety of annotated fairy tales open to public reading.

SurLaLune

Although I tend to focus more on the continuance of fairy tales as a medium that is essentially dead, I think many of my readers would be interested in her work, and vice versa.

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