When working on Black Apples for Belladonna Publishing, one of the best things (besides discovering fantastic new stories) was to revisit the original tales for a series of blog posts on our web site. The last decade has mostly been about new interpretations and adaptions of the stories in books and movies, so it was extremely refreshing to go back and look at some at the earlier versions and their origins. To my surprise I realized that my taste has changed very little over the years when it comes to fairy tales. My favorites today are basically the same as when I was a child – and very girly at that (princesses and queens abounds). The reason why I like them may have changed, though. Or I like them even more because I understand them better (historical, cultural and literary context).
It is agony to choose among jewels, but after much pondering I am fairly confident to say that my six most favorite fairy tales are as follows:
1) Snow White
Not very original, I know. But there’s just something about that story: the colors alone: red, white and black. The powerful images; the blood dripping form the heart in the huntsman’s hand, the Queen with her apple, her poison and her mirror… Also; the Queen was my fist villain crush, and you never forget your first…
Speaking of powerful imagery: Sleeping Beauty is the queen of symbolism. There is the spindle and the cradle and the sleeping and the snake pit. The deflowering of the virgin, the poisonous prick of domestic life, the curse of the 13th fairy… it’s impossible to keep it brief…
I wrote about in Sleeping Beauty, Chapter II.
3) Swan Lake
Before it was a ballet, it was a Russian folk tale, though I must admit my first encounter with the story was an anime from 1981. I watched it over and over as a young fairy tale buff, not sure what I adored the most: the music or the wicked Odile. As an adult I fell in love all over again with the movie Black Swan (2010).
This Norwegian folk tale about an enchanted prince who is man by night, white bear by day, is really Eros and Psyche all over again, just in a Nordic disguise. Like Beauty and the Beast, it has a moral problem (“under all that fur he is really a gem”), but there’s something beautiful about it too: I like that it’s the princess who must go on a quest to rescue the prince, not the other way around.
I wrote about Eros and Psyche and associated fairy tales in Psyche: The Ultimate Fairy Tale Princess.
Red Riding Hood is a new love, I didn’t think much of it as a child. As an adult, however, I can appreciate all the red and the fangs and the claws. I like the brutality of the earlier versions, like the choice between the “path of needles and the path of thorns”. Sadly, Red Riding Hood still has value as a cautionary tale: there are still wolves in the woods and the maidens are still not safe.
More about about Red Riding Hood in The Path of Needles or the Path of Thorns?
I think it’s the Gothic dread of Bluebeard that got me; the vast castle and all those doors: a chamber filled with dead brides. Unlike Valemon, Bluebeard’s true face is a vicious one. This is yet another cautionary tale, but what it warns against is more unclear: not to trust that too-good-to-be-true lover, or not to disobey him by opening that door?
I wrote about that too, here: On the Perils of Marriage.
Strangely, there is no Cinderella on my list, and no little mermaid (I sort of expected there would be). I’m not sure why, but it could be that the religious themes in The Little Mermaid are a bit too much for me, and as for Cinderella… I might be done with that story for a while.
I wonder how much of our literary and aesthetic preferences later in life is determined by the stories we listened to as children. If I’d never read or heard the classic fairy tales, I might have been a very different – if not person – at least reader/writer, today.
It’s something to think about.