Review: “The Fairies Return Or, New Tales for Old,” Compiled by Peter Davies

First of all, I must ask the forgiveness of all my readers.  I have a confession to make.  I’ve been a little selfish with this book, and that’s why the review has been a bit of a long time coming.  Allow me to explain.

I received a review copy of “The Fairies Return” last month.  The book, which is (in its current edition) published by Princeton University Press, is a collection of retold fairy tales.  What sets it apart from most retellings, however, is that these stories were written and collected in 1934 in England.  Although we tend to think of fairy tale retellings as a recent phenomenon, this is a false assumption.  For as long as the oral tradition of fairy tales has existed, the stories have been changing and growing.  It only makes sense that present day writers aren’t the first to twist these stories around and view them through new, often modernized lenses.  However, it’s still rare to come upon a collection of older retellings like this one.

The uniqueness of the collection will make you want to savor it, just as I did.  With slow satisfaction, you will find yourself reading and reflecting upon each tale. This book must be devoured as might a particularly delicious meal, with the care and pace each succulent story deserves.  You will feel drawn to inspect each story closely, not only because of the tales’ fanciful nature, but also because of their fascinating historical placement and significance.  Although I regret that my slow savoring has delayed your knowledge of this wonderful little find, I am certain that any readers of this text will surely understand.

Each story–even a retelling of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”–comes across as unquestionably British.  The various writers are talented in their abilities to transform these familiar tales into stories of a very different sort.  However, even when the topics are closer to parliament and the stock market than magic, the skeletons of the original fairy tales are easily recognizable.

Although the stories themselves are diverse and offer many different tones and topics for closer inspection, perhaps the most interesting part of the collection is its ability to give readers a look at what fairy tale enthusiasts were up to almost 100 years ago.   The references and settings offer clear signs of the times in which the tales were retold, making this book a fascinating piece of history as well as a must-have for any fan of fairy tale retellings.

If your interest is piqued, then you’re in luck.  There’s a giveaway going until Oct. 26, in which entrants are eligible to win a free copy of “The Fairies Return.”  Five winners will be selected to receive this one-of-a-kind book.

For more information on “The Fairies Return,” check out this description from Princeton University Press.

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Aside

Fairy Tale Halloween Costumes: Why So Scandalous?

As someone who loves candy, costumes, and stories of the spooky and supernatural, Halloween has always been my absolute favorite holiday.  Throughout the year, I gleefully dress up for Comic Conventions, movie/book openings, costume parties, and plays (I am an actor, after all.), but Halloween is the one time of the year when I can convince my friends to don their own costumes and take goofy photos with me (The exception is my husband, who humors me year-round.).

Last year, some of my friends and I went as characters from the video game "Left 4 Dead."

Needless to say, when I received a Halloween-themed Victorian Trading Co. catalog in the mail, I was pretty excited.  I couldn’t wait to scan the pages for costume ideas!  Imagine my delight when I spotted their lovely Little Red Riding Hood cape.

The Victorian Trading Company's "L'il Red Riding Hood Cape" is gorgeous.

Although the item itself was a little out of my price range, it inspired me to consider fairy tales as a theme for this year’s Halloween fun.  A quick search of the internet, however, convinced me otherwise; for whatever reason, a huge portion of fairy tale Halloween costumes are really trashy.  In the 2004 movie “Mean Girls,”  the main character (Lindsay Lohan) learns that “Halloween is the one night a year when girls can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.”  Still, I was pretty surprised by some of the results my costume search turned up.  For instance, the photo of a Cinderella costume below (which I can only assume is modeled after the Disney character) bears almost no resemblance to Cinderella.

It's funny, but I remember Cinderella a little differently...

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.  Admittedly, the original versions of fairy tales had a lot of violent and sexual undertones.  For instance, in the earliest versions of “Sleeping Beauty,” the princess isn’t awakened from her slumber by a romantic kiss; instead, she’s raped by the prince  and awoken when she goes into labor to bear twins.

Despite the fact that the original versions of many fairy tales were pretty racy, I think it would be a little far fetched to claim that barely there costumes like this one signify some sort of return to fairy tale roots.  I’m still not decided on what I’ll be going as for Halloween, but I will say one thing; if it’s fairy tale themed, I think I’ll try my hand at making it myself.

Steampunk Fairy Tales Part Two

Since my previous post on steampunk fairy tales was so popular, I decided to do a second entry on the subject.  As before, I’d like to share a few of my favorite steampunk fairy tale images as well as some reflections on them.

“Snow White” by Craig a.k.a. ~xiwik

This steampunk rendition of “Snow White” is fantastic.  The artist kept some of the traditional Snow White elements, such as the dwarf, the apple, and the short dark hair, but was not afraid to branch out.  I love that Snow’s traditional Disney garb was ignored completely.  I also adore the details on Snow’s belt.  Those hanging gears remind me of this steampunk harness I spotted on Etsy.  The pick-axes and striped arm-warmers are beautiful details, while the goggles, shoulder armor, and gears give this image a truly steampunk flavor.  To see more of ~xiwik’s art, visit his deviantART gallery.

“Steampunk Fairy Tale Goldylocks” by Lavah

I can’t get enough of this gorgeous steampunk Goldilocks!  Since her story is so rarely retold, it’s a special treat to see this fairy tale character re-imagined.  My favorite part of this drawing is definitely the bears; their steampunk-style helmets are fantastic.  I also like Goldie’s goggles.  To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of her nearly completely revealed bum, as I don’t feel it really adds anything to the picture, but it doesn’t really detract, either.  Overall, this is a wonderfully detailed image, and I’d love to read a retold fairy tale based on it.  To see more of Lavah’s work, visit her deviantART gallery.

“Steampunk Fairy Tale: Red” by Paul Reck a.k.a. ~o ding raphics

Not only is this an awesome piece of art, but it comes with a story concept as well.  The artist had this to say about it: “This is Red Riding Hood.  She has to get the basket, a revolutionary power source, to ‘Granny’s House’ before the Big Bad Wolf gets her.”  Best of all, he says he might do a short comic starring these characters.  Red’s outfit is incredible, and I love the wolf’s stilts!  The idea of dressing the wolf up in steampunk garb even makes sense; even in the original version of the tale, the Big Bad Wolf is prone to dressing up in other people’s clothing.  For more of Paul Reck’s (~o ding raphics) work, visit his deviantART gallery.

As I mentioned before, the only thing I love more than these two genres is seeing them mixed.  Hopefully, we’ll keep seeing more combinations of the two.

The Muffin Tree

Here’s an example of someone using the patterns they learned from fairy tales to create something new: “The Muffin Tree.”  This silly video, which was created by independent animator Amy Winfrey, aligns itself with fairy tales right away when it opens with the iconic fairy tale phrase “once upon a time.”

The story then draws on further fairy tale norms; the main character discovers something magical, but does not respond in the way she should.  She is greedy and takes advantage of the tree, eating too many muffins and becoming fat.  Then, she makes matters worse by being ungrateful and complaining that the tree does not meet her needs.  The girl, however, should have remembered to be careful what she wished for; her wish was granted with a new kind of muffin that was delicious but poisonous.

This story, which is a morality tale, models itself after a common type of fairy tale.  Although not all fairy tales have morals, many of them do.  For instance, “Little Red Riding Hood” encourages children to listen to their parents and “Snow White” discourages vanity by associating it with the villainous Queen.  Fairy tale characters who are lazy, ungrateful, or otherwise wicked often end up as dead as the little girl in “The Muffin Tree.”

“The Muffin Tree” is especially similar to a Swahili story called “The Story of a Gazelle,” which can be found in Andrew Lang’s “Violet Fairy Book.” In this story, a foolish man is rescued from poverty by a magical gazelle.  The gazelle makes him rich and gives him everything he desires.  Once he gains wealth, respect, and power, however, he becomes ungrateful and neglects the gazelle.  The creature becomes ill, but the foolish man pays him no heed.  Soon, the magical gazelle dies and, with him, takes all the gifts he gave to the foolish man, leaving his former master impoverished and homeless once more.

Even though new fairy tales cannot truly be created, stories like “The Muffin Tree” show us that fairy tale patterns can still be used effectively.

Disney Princesses No More?

The L. A. Times reported in Nov. 2010 that Disney will no longer be producing their famous retold fairy tale films, as many of today’s children find them uncool, and the films have little appeal for boys.  Although this statement was later retracted, Disney’s potential discontinuance of their fairy tale movies could have a large impact on fairy tales themselves.  There would be potential for results both negative and positive.  I’ve broken these into pros and cons for easy reading.

Pros: Although it is perfectly natural for fairy tales to evolve over time, many of the fairy tales Disney has tackled over the years may have been changed a little too much, and many of the most interesting details have been lost.  All of the gore has been edited out of these stories for today’s children.  Maybe it’s just me, but I think if Ariel survives and marries the prince, then she isn’t actually “the Little Mermaid,” and a version of “Rapunzel” where no one gets blinded hardly seems likes Rapunzel at all.  Generations of children have missed out on hearing these stories in their entirety, and the end of Disney fairy tales might mean a return to the originals, either through reading or through another film company willing to more honestly tackle the classics.  Not only that, but the Disneyfication of stories like “Alice in Wonderland,” and “Peter Pan” has led to many people falsely classifying them as fairy tales when, in fact, they are not.  Perhaps, if these beloved stories were less closely associated with actual fairy tales like “Snow White” and “Cinderella,” this confusion could be avoided.

Cons: Disney princess films have done a lot to further the fairy tale genre in our modern society.  Certainly, these tales are a part of shared cultural knowledge leading to constant remakes, but how much of that can be attributed to our exposure to them in their Disney versions?  These movies have been part of childhoods across the globe since the 1937 release of Disney’s “Snow White.”  Certainly, many of these stories had lasted for hundreds of years before Walt Disney ever got his hands on them, but these movies certainly impacted the genre and did their part to extend its already lengthy shelf-life.  I hope that these stories are ingrained enough in our society to be passed down to children long after Disney stops producing fairy tale movies, but it’s possible that Disney has done more to further them than we might imagine.

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