Favourite fairytale?

I was a child who was often ‘away with the fairies’ –the very first book I remember reading was a Little Golden Book(in French) of three fairytales–Rapunzel, Beauty and the Beast and Toads and Diamonds. Stories about once upon a time in a kingdom far far away were guaranteed to hook me in. Partly that was because my family situation was melodramatically turbulent, hothousy, and confusing, arising out of a wild and difficult past continuing on into the present (one day I’ll have to write a book about my family!) I loved disappearing into those countries of the Otherworld in the middle of family dramas. It was a real escape. But it was also more than that–it gave me insights into real people and real situations that otherwise I might not have coped with.

(If you’re interested in reading more about that aspect of my childhood, have a look at my site, at the Essays section, the essay that’s headlined ‘Away with the Fairies.)
As I grew older, I never lost my taste for fairytale, myth and legend, and as a writer, it’s at the deepest wellsprings of my art. Perrault’s tales, probably because I got to know them in my maternal tongue of French, have stayed the longest with me, but I also loved Grimm, Andersen, and more. I have lots of fairytales now on the shelves and told many of them not only to my own children, but to children in creative writing workshops (including Aboriginal children, in the 4-year workshops I ran for the Anawain Enrichment Project, here in Armidale). And the old stories still pack a huge punch, with children of all backgrounds, because they are both an escape and an illumination. Because they approach so many difficult, even hideous, things laterally, children can cope with them much better than the full-on realistic depictions of such things which I think are far too confrontational and which back you into a corner from which you cannot flee–all well and good if you’re a settled, safe child in a good, loving and sensible family, but not if you are in any emotional trouble. But quite apart from any ‘therapeutic’ value they might have, fairytales in themselves are fabulous things, able to be interpreted and used in so many different ways, with a lightness of touch that belies the often profound things they deal with..
It got me to thinking then, what was my own favourite fairytale? I think every child who knows fairytales has at least one that speaks most directly and closely to them, and that keeps popping up in their life and way of thinking. Mine’s Beauty and the Beast–from as far back as I can remember it’s given me a great thrill. Unlike Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty (which are stories I greatly like, too, but don’t have quite the same strong feeling about, though I based two books on each of those), Beautydoesn’t wait around for someone to help her. She takes on the difficult task her father has had forced on him, because she loves him and because she’s brave. She deals with the Beast as a beast, but also with pity and eventually tenderness. There is something deeply languid and beautiful about their time together, even if it’s scary. And at the end, her breaking of the spell of the Beast is extraordinary. The story has everything–a brave yet feminine heroine, a hero with a terrible burden and a terrible secret and an atmosphere of eroticism, danger, magic and suspense…And unlike most literary fairytales (this one was written by the aristocratic Madame Leprince de Beaumont, one of Perrault’s disciples), it has a genuine core of real passion which links it with the older, folk-derived fairytales, and has ensured its survival when most other literary fairytale confections(except for Andersen’s) have fallen by the wayside..
Why did I respond to it? For all those reasons, but also because I was a shy, secretive child who had secret dreams of being a great adventurer, not in a ‘masculine’ sort of way (can’t stand those ‘kick-ass’ heroines of some modermn pop fantasy movies!) but in a way in which passion and danger might be linked..
So take a moment to think. What was the fairytale you most responded to as a child, and why? And does it still resonate with you today?

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Manas
2021 years ago

I used to love the Princess and the Pea, but I think my favourite was the Ugly Duckling. It has parallels with Swan Lake the ballet too (another favourite), which is almost a fairy tale!

Of the writers, my favourite overall was Hans Christian Anderson. I remember the little movie they made about him too, and I remember a few lines from the little ditty he sang, ‘I’m Hans Christian Anderson…’

Manas
2021 years ago

I loved the Princess and the Pea, but I think my favourite was The Ugly Duckling. I also love Swan Lake, the ballet, which reminds me of the Ugly Duckling and I think almost counts as a fairy tale!

Hans Christian Anderson was my favourite writer. I remember too the movie that was made about him, and even a few lines from the little ditty he sang: ‘I’m Hans Christian Anderson…’

TimT
2021 years ago

Grimm, Andersen, and the Arabian Nights are all wonderful collections, and I love them all. But the collection that most resonates with me has to be the Norse Myths. Why?

– Gripping tales set in a landscape of contrasts
“Burning ice, biting flame: that is how life began.” – first words in the book!

– I suspect the tales appealed to the Anglo-Saxon in me.

– The poetry; the language, (as precise and cutting as a knife); the tragedy (the death of the gentle Baldr); the humour

– The excellent translation by Kevin Crossley Holland, which my family happened to own.

I’ve since read some other versions of the myths, know a bit about Wagner’s Ring Cycle, and have read some of the Sagas and Viking Romances; and I know it wasn’t just a childhood infatuation. Those legends will be with me for life.
(I hope that qualifies, by the way…!)

Fyodor
2021 years ago

Sophie,

You REALLY should see Cocteau’s film version of “La Belle et La Bete”. Without over-emphasizing the point, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Tant mieux, c’est francais!

My favourite fairy tales are usually in the Arthurian cycle, though I’ve always preferred T.H.White’s interpretation of the Lancelot character (i.e. “The Ill-Made Knight”). I also like the Ulster and Fenian cycles of Irish legends. There are also some cracking stories in the Arabian Nights and, of course, the Russian byliny.

sophie
sophie
2021 years ago

I am on the lookout for Cocteau’s film, Fyodor–am trying to get our local library(which stocks lots of films on DVD) to get it–hope it can be got in region 4 as our computer(on which we watch DVDs–it has a 17 inch screen)doesn’t have a multi-region DVD software. incidentally has anyone ever changed that on their computer? any particular software work well? it irritates the hell out of me not to be able to buy films from Amazon etc..
And I love those fairytales you mention, too–loved Prince Ivan, the Firebird and Grey Wolf so much I wrote my own extrapolated novel version of it(called The Firebird, published by Hodder); and also The Arabian Nights (wjhich are getting a run in the current book I’m writing, The Curse of Zohreh–which is also inspired by our trip to the UAE where my brother lives)..and of course the Arthurian legend! How wonderful it is–I love Lancelot–and also Perceval esp in Chretien de Troyes’ version of him as the naive but endearing bogan–who has some rather unpleasant flaws too it must be said but whose basic character remains kind of innocent–unlike Lancelot, who’s born melancholy..
Oh yes, Tim, the Norse myths, aren’t they fantastic! Wonderful imagery, grand as anything..I’ve always been fascinated by the character of Loki in them–he is one of the few figures in myth to have a genuinely disturbing sense of evil about him–incidentally, have you read Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter? One of the best books I have ever read–full of the feel of Norse myth–and rich with detail. Absolutely maginificent..
Andersen is so wonderful, too, manas..my favourite of all of his was The Little Mermaid..and for light relief, I love ‘The Beetle’–so much that I’ve based a character in ‘Curse of Zohreh’ on him–a moth-jinn, custodian of dull and forgotten books, that is very pompous and full of hos own self-importance though he’s actually insignficant, just like The Beetle! But I must say I really, really hate ‘The Red Shoes’, so cruel and puritanical. Besides, I love red shoes and have several pairs of them!

yobbo
2021 years ago

I had an illustrated version of Aesop’s Fables. My favourite was the one about the dog that had a bone, saw his own reflection in the river, and then accidentally dropped his own bone while trying to bark at himself. Great stuff.

TimT
2021 years ago

All of the characters in Norse myths are well worked out Sophie! But you’re absolutely right about Loki. He’s evil – though with redeeming qualities: humour and occasional flashes of kindness.

I’ll look out for Sigrid Undset: I haven’t read her, but will take your word that she’s good. Personally, I love the work of George Mackay Brown, who draws quite strongly on his Viking heritage for his novels about the Orkneys. Possibly his strongest work is Vinland, a saga-like retelling of the Viking journey to America. He’s also a great poet…

Fyodor
2021 years ago

Interesting discussion on Loki. He is not an “evil” character (at least, not in the sense that Satan personifies evil) in Norse mythology, simply a representation of the mischievous/malevolent (“trickster”) side of human nature. His is a recurring character archetype in many pantheistic mythologies. The following wikipedia entry has some good ones:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trickster

My all-time favourite trickster god, is Sun Wukong, otherwise known to most Aussie kids as “Monkey Magic”, the indestructible Monkey King who accompanies the boy-monk on his journey to India.