The Complete Fairy Tales by Charles Perrault.
|"The prince enquires of the aged countryman"|
from The Sleeping Beauty by Harry Clarke.
The first thing that struck me, superficial as it is, is how short the Complete Fair Tales is - it's less than 200 pages. I've always known Perrault as the writer of fairy tales and for some reason I always supposed that he wrote a great deal more. In actual fact, there's not nearly so many as I assumed. Here's the list:
- The History of Griselda (La Marquise de Salusses ou la Patience de Griselidis; 1691)
- Three Silly Wishes (Les Souhaits ridicules; 1693)
- Donkey-Skin (Peau d'âne; 1694)
- The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood (La Belle au bois dormant; 1697)
- Little Red Riding-Hood (Le Petit Chaperon rouge; 1697)
- Bluebeard (La Barbe bleue; 1697)
- Puss in Boots (Le Maître chat ou le Chat botté; 1697)
- The Fairies (Les Fées; 1697)
- Cinderella (Cendrillon ou la Petite Pantoufle de verre; 1697)
- Ricky the Tufy (Riquet à la houppe; 1697)
- Hop o' my Thumb (Le Petit Poucet; 1697)
Many of these stories I already knew from the likes of the Brothers Grimm, but some of these stories preceded the Grimm's by a good 100 years. The stories themselves are much older: the first one, The History of Griselda, is a take on the story of the 'Patient Griselda' which I first read in Chaucer's The Clerk's Tale (from The Canterbury Tales, 1386-94); Chaucer's version was inspired by Boccaccio's Decameron (the tenth tale of the tenth day). Fairy tales are most often ancient: the story of Cinderella, for example, finding roots in Rhodopis by Strabo (c. 7 B.C.) telling the tale of Rhodopis, a Greek courtesan who marries the king of Egypt (Rhodopis, or Doricha, was mentioned in Herodotus; from the 6th Century B.C., she was a slave along with Aesop, it is said). Little Red-Riding Hood is also a very old tale; this traces back to the 10th Century - peasants' tales recorded by Egbert of Liege, which again possibly has ancient links in a story from Pausanias (2nd Century A.D.).
This is part of the beauty of any fairy tale - the ancient roots: that they seem to be embedded somehow in our very selves, connecting us with our oldest ancestors and making us see that we share some of their spirit that has survived over millenniums. There is an undeniable darkness in fairy tales, like Bluebeard, inspired by Gilles de Rais - a knight and lord, and a leader of the French army who, it was later revealed was a serial killer of children. But they reassure us too that happy endings are possible - that is the other part of the beauty of fairy tales. As for Perrault, he told many of the tales we are familiar with (and, I would note, that we often attribute to the Grimms). They're all lovely to read, perfect escapism, and it was good to finally read Perrault, an author I will certainly enjoy re-reading in the near future.