Once Upon a Webcomic: Erstwhile Tales

Although I’ve done many posts in my “Once Upon a Webcomic” series, Gina Biggs’ Erstwhile Tales is perhaps my favorite find among them.  Strangely, it’s also the one that seems to require the least amount of explanation.

Instead of just referencing the most obvious fairy tales (i.e. Cinderella, Snow White, etc.), this webcomic’s entire purpose is to shed light on some of the lesser known stories from the Grimm Brothers’ collection.  As someone who loves these less remembered stories best of all, I could hardly believe my luck when I stumbled upon this ongoing comic series that tells some of my favorites in comic form.

The stories, however, are not the only things to love about Erstwhile Tales; Biggs’ playful, storybook-style illustrations are lovely and perfectly capture the feel of the tales she uses this medium to share.

If you love lesser known fairy tales or would like to give some of them a try, you’ll delight in the magic of Erstwhile Tales.

What Fairy Tale Do You Want Retold?

With Hollywood going through a bit of a fairy tale phase, a lot of classic fairy tales are getting retold.  Despite this, many still remain untouched.  When was the last time you read or saw a retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears?  The only one I can think of off the top of my head is the character in Bill Willingham’s “Fables,”  and even then, it’s more of a reference than a full retelling.

In the "Fables" comic series, Goldilocks is a murderous, mentally unstable revolutionary.

With this in mind, I have a question for all of you; what fairy tale would you most like to see retold?  This can be a well-known fairy tale like “Jack and the Beanstalk” or a more obscure story, such as the Romanian tale of “Little Wildrose.”  Feel free to include a story concept!

A Transgender Fairy Tale

Many of the stories we were told as children are built on a foundation of traditional gender roles.  Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White (among others) all need to be rescued by strong, sword-toting young men.  Although they are less well-known, however, there are transgender fairy tales out there.  A perfect example of this is “The Girl Who Pretended to be a Boy,” which can be most easily found in Andrew Lang’s “Violet Fairy Book.”

Since this text is out of print, I’ll summarize. The story starts off a little like “Mulan.” A great emperor takes over a lesser kingdom and offers the king peace on the condition that he send one of his sons in for ten years of service.  The king, however, has three daughters and no sons, so he tests the girls to decide who to send.  Although all three of the daughters try, only the youngest is enough of a “manly” warrior to pass the king’s test.  She goes into the emperor’s service.  After proving her worth to the emperor in many ways, he selects her to go on a difficult quest to bring him the woman of his dreams, the beautiful Iliane.

After being rescued by the disguised princess, however, Iliane falls in love with her.  The princess, who reciprocates these feelings, wishes she was a man.  To make a long story a bit shorter, they eventually run away together.  A hermit who tries to stop them curses the princess, changing her gender.  The princess, however, is glad to finally be the man she wanted to be all along.  The text reads “when the princess suddenly felt she was really the man she had pretended to be, she was delighted.”  Obviously, they get married and live happily ever after.

Although the story is pretty lengthy, I actually find it more engaging than many of the fairy tales I heard as a child.  It certainly beats hearing about helpless heroines.  Maybe, with more publicity and encouragement of tolerance, this tale can find its way back into bedtime stories.

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