Posts Tagged ‘fairy tales’

King of the Golden River

Saturday, March 11th, 2017

The King of the Golden River (1841) by John Ruskin is a children’s morality tale that still speaks loudly. It’s unique among fairy tales in having a punchy environmental and social message as well as being highly atmospheric. It’s about two brothers who exploit the land and have no compassion for their workers:

They shot the blackbirds, because they pecked the fruit; and killed the hedgehogs, lest they should suck the cows; they poisoned the crickets for eating the crumbs in the kitchen; and smothered the cicadas, which used to sing all summer in the lime-trees.

Their fertile valley becomes a wasteland and is cursed by the Southwest Wind (illustration below by Richard Doyle). To break the curse the brothers must journey to the Golden River but they fail to help the people they meet on the way. Their younger brother cares for the needy and as a result is saved from the fate of his brothers.

200 Years of Grimm

Sunday, August 31st, 2014

Everything in the tales appears to happen by chance – and this has the strange effect of making it appear that nothing happens by chance, that everything is fated. – A. S. Byatt

One of the appeals of the 200 year old tales of the Brothers’ Grimm is how random events seem connected; as A. S. Byatt says in her excellent essay (online here). They are stories of generic princesses, simpletons, brothers and sisters who meet with good or bad ‘luck’ on their quest, yet are bound by the rules of the fairy tale world – a kind of guided randomness, but usually with a happy ending. Perhaps this is the way children see the world: capricious, a little scary, but ultimately, a hopeful place.

When I was a child I loved how the Grimm’s characters met the forces of their fickle, often gruesome, world with kindness and cunning. I’d lay in bed and listen to Danny Kaye’s brilliant reading of Clever Gretel on Sunday morning radio. The illustration above is by the great Arthur Rackham (more Grimm illustrations here).

Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.– G.K. Chesterton

The Day Boy and the Night Girl

Saturday, October 12th, 2013

The Day Boy and the Night Girl (1879) is a classic short fairy tale by George MacDonald (left) about a witch who raises two children in a bizarre experiment – the girl, Nycteris, has never seen the sunlight, and the boy, Photogen, has no knowledge of the night. The two escape and meet at twilight to help each other overcome their fears of dark and light. It’s a lovely romantic allegory which also subverts male/female fairy tale roles. MacDonald was an unorthodox preacher turned writer whose fantasy tales inspired both Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. His other fairy tales are equally fascinating, my favourite being The Light Princess (1864) a witty story about a feisty  princess who has lost her gravity – she floats like a helium balloon and  can’t can’t take anything seriously, even a prince who gives up his life for her.

MacDonald occupied a major position in the intellectual life of his Victorian contemporaries. MacDonald’s stories are profoundly experimental and subversive. – (The Complete Fairy Tales of George MacDonald)

Grimm Birthday

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

Everything in the tales appears to happen by chance – and this has the strange effect of making it appear that nothing happens by chance, that everything is fated. – A. S. Byatt

Two hundred years ago today, the Brothers Grimm published their Household Tales. One of the appeals of the tales is how random events seem connected; as A. S. Byatt says in her excellent essay (online here). They are stories of princesses, simpletons, brothers and sisters who meet with good or bad ‘luck’ on their quest, yet are bound by the rules of the fairy tale world – a kind of guided randomness – usually with a happy ending. Perhaps this is the way children see the world: capricious, sometimes scary, but in the end, a hopeful place. As a child I loved how the characters meet the forces of their fickle, often gruesome world with kindness and cunning. (Illustration  by Arthur Rackham; more Grimm illustrations here).

Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.– G.K. Chesterton

Misunderstood Monster

Sunday, February 12th, 2012

The Groke (Moomins)