An introduction to a classic fairy tale
A classic example of the fairy tale featuring ‘the animal as helper’, ‘Puss in Boots’ entered the canon of classic fairy tales when Charles Perrault included it (as ‘Le Chat Botté’) in his 1697 collection of fairy stories, although like many of the greatest fairy tales, an earlier version can be found in the 1634 Pentamerone, a collection of oral folk tales compiled by Giambattista Basile. How we should analyse ‘Puss in Boots’ has troubled authors, commentators, and illustrators over the years. George Cruikshank objected to ‘a system of imposture being rewarded by the greatest worldly advantages’. Before we look more closely at this aspect of the tale, here’s a brief summary of the ‘Puss in Boots’ tale:
A miller dies and leaves his three sons all he has: he leaves his mill to his eldest son, an ass to the middle son, and to the youngest son, he leaves his cat. The youngest son thinks he’s drawn the short straw with the cat, but the cat promises that if the son gets him some boots made, he will prove to be a worthy and helpful pet. Once the cat has some boots and a little bag he can wear, he goes off and hunts for rabbits. Having caught a rabbit, Puss in Boots takes it to the King, telling him that it’s a gift from the Lord Marquis of Carabas, the cat’s master. Read the rest of this entry
The meaning of a curious fairy story
‘Sleeping Beauty’ is, depending on which version of the story you read, called Sleeping Beauty, Talia, Little Briar Rose, Rosamond, or Aurora. This is because, like many other classic fairy tales, the tale of Sleeping Beauty exists in numerous versions, each of which is subtly – or, in some cases, quite strikingly – different from the others. In the Italian version published in the Pentamerone, an Italian collection of fairy tales published in 1634, the heroine is named Talia. Charles Perrault, in his version published later in the century, calls her the Sleeping Beauty. The Brothers Grimm call her Dornröschen or ‘Little Briar Rose’, which is sometimes adapted as ‘Rosamond’. In the Disney film, the adult heroine is named Aurora. For the purposes of clarity here, we’re going to call her ‘Sleeping Beauty’ or ‘the princess’.
Nevertheless, the overall plot of these different versions of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ remains broadly the same, so it might not prove entirely impossible to offer a short plot summary. A king is protective of his beautiful daughter, the princess. An evil fairy curses the princess, pronouncing that she will die when she is pricked by a spindle. However, a good fairy manages to intervene so that the prophecy is softened: the princess will not die if she is pricked with a spindle, but she will fall unconscious for a hundred years. The king bans flax and spinning equipment from his palace, so as to protect his daughter from such a fate. Read the rest of this entry
The meaning of a classic story
‘Little Red Riding Hood’ was, Charles Dickens said, his first love. It is one of the most universally known fairy tales: if you were to ask 100 people to name a fairy tale, ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ would be one of the most popular answers. And much like a number of other fairy tales, which seem to have grown up around older oral tales (‘Rumpelstiltskin’, for instance, is reckoned to be a whopping 4,000 years old), ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ can be traced back to the 10th century when it was circulating as a French oral tale, and also existed as a fourteenth-century Italian story named ‘The False Grandmother’, though it only became popular under this name in the 1690s, when it appeared in the work of the French fabulist Charles Perrault. It rapidly established itself as one of the best-loved and familiar fairy stories in the western world. Yet what is the meaning of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’? Before we venture an answer to this – via an analysis of the story’s key features – it’s worth recapping the plot in a brief summary.
A young village girl who lives with her mother is given a little red riding-hood to wear, and everyone starts to refer to her as ‘the Little Red Riding-Hood’ on account of it. One day, the girl’s mother asks her to go and visit her grandmother, who lives in the next village, through the forest. Little Red Riding-Hood is given some food to take with her to give to her grandmother. She sets off, and on the way, while travelling through the woods, she meets a talking wolf, who asks her where she’s going. Little Red Riding-Hood tells him that she’s going to visit her grandmother, and the wolf asks where her grandmother lives. Little Red Riding-Hood tells him she lives in the first house in the village, on the other side of the mill. The wolf says he’ll head there himself, taking a different route, and they can have a competition to see who can get there first. Read the rest of this entry