“The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, "On Fairy-Stories"
Susan here, thinking about fairy tales lately. My bookshelves are crammed full, like the bookshelves of every Wench author and most if not all of our blog readers. And a couple of my shelves are devoted to fairy tales. From old, tattered, beloved childhood copies to antique fairy tale books to paperback anthologies and academic studies of fairy tale themes, this bunch of books doesn't gather a lot of dust at my house—because I still read fairy tales. I still love them.
“I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.” --Mae West
I have some familiar favorites, like an old copy of the complete tales of The Brothers Grimm, the tales of Hans Christian Anderson, Charles Perrault, and of course Andrew Lang—The Blue Fairy Book, The Red Fairy Book, the Green Fairy Book (and The Yellow, Pink, Grey, Violet, Crimson, Scarlet, Orange, Olive and Lilac Books).
Of the Little Golden Books I had in childhood, my favorite was The Twelve Dancing Princesses, exquisitely illustrated by Sheilah Beckett. When I was very little, I treasured an old copy of The Tall Book of Fairy Tales by Eleanor Graham Vance. Not sure where it came from, but once I got my sticky little hands on it, it was mine, mine. Another favorite is more recent, a beautiful reprint of Steel’s English Fairy Tales, illustrated by Arthur Rackham. And then there are the Joseph Jacobs Celtic Fairy Tales, and Irish fairytales collected by W.B. Yeats … and so many others, old and new.
And that’s just the stories. I enjoy reading studies of fairy tales too. I have a dog-eared, read and reread copy of Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment, Marina Warner’s fabulous From the Beast to the Blonde, and some of the work of Jack Zipes, and more.
“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” --Albert Einstein
Fairy tales go back eons, as far back as myths and legends, probably as far back as the darkest of caves and the brightest of fires, and the urge to explain why the stars wink, why the wind blows, why thunderclouds look like dragons, why a shaft of sunlight or rainbows can be like a good fairy come to the rescue. Stories explore life and give us choices and tools to address and comprehend what we encounter in the realm of reality.
But what did I know about absorbing life lessons--and storytelling techniques--from fairy tales. I was into the princess, the frog, the prince, wicked witch, good fairy, ragamuffin, the castle, the mountain, the happy ending--and the chills when things didn't work out, and the thrill when they did. And I was all about the illustrations, too--sat turning pages just for the pictures, copied them in crayons. Whatever lessons about good and evil, right and wrong were definitely subliminal. I was just having a great time, and yet I was learning life skills for what I might encounter later.