On The Complete Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault: Enchanted, yes

 For “Donkey-Skin”: The Princess laments her sad situation.

But Heaven grows tired, now and then,
Of giving happiness to men

* * *

I find it peculiar that I first picked up The Complete Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault because I wanted to read the fairy tales in the original [or the original, in-translation]—see, I’d been reading My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales all those months ago, and some of the reworkings / reimaginings / adaptations / spin-offs worked, some didn’t. And, well, I was curious: How did the original author of these tales tell them? Perrault was at hand.

And while I was reading him, I discovered that he himself reworked / reimagined / adapted / spun-off from pre-existing work—from folklore—and its Perrault’s versions that has been passed down to us. See the introduction to the collection, written by the book’s editor and the contes’ translator, Christopher Betts:

To judge by an article about the Contes in the Mercure galant which almost certainly reflected Perrault’s views, he shared the stance on authorship commonly taken by students of folk-tale. The argument was that, although the authors of such works liked to be considered their inventors, it was really a matter of oral tradition: ‘an infinite number of fathers and mothers, grandmothers, governesses and much-loved nannies, who for perhaps as long as a thousand years have contributed, each one improving on the one before, many entertaining circumstantial details which have been preserved, while anything ill-conceived has been forgotten’. As one in the long line of tellers, then, his aim would have been to ‘improve on the one before’, the versions he had heard or found in print, by adding details for entertainment and suppressing those deemed unsuitable or uninteresting.

Well, that was awesome; consider my mind blown. Especially in light of the fact that Perrault’s tales are such an experience, as high an art as any—yes, the history and the romance attached to them are factors to this.

There’s a satisfaction, too, knowing that I’ve brushed this close to what has been immortalized by hundreds of stories told, that I had this opportunity to see for myself the wonders of these tales, as well as their limitations—that I had the opportunity to judge for myself the skewed logic of Sleeping Beauty’s wicked witch, reiterate my love for Bluebeard [he must have a reason for that room; it’s all a great misunderstanding, I tell ya!], and to encounter for the first time the ridiculously martyr-ish Griselda and her a-hole husband.

Actually, I can go on and on with these stories. I want to share how wondrous I found how frogs and worms could pour out of one sister’s mouth, while the other’s spilled diamonds and pearls. I want to share how unfair I found the fates of the sisters in Ricky the Tuft—one sister ugly yet intelligent, the other beautiful yet stupid—that when the beautiful one’s granted intelligence, the ugly sister fades away altogether from the narrative. I want to share every possible sexual reading of every image in these tales; I want to giggle over the haplessness of one-dimensional characters and their satisfying-or-otherwise destinies.

* * *

I can’t help but love this Oxford World’s Classics edition—the introduction by Betts is fascinating, and so are the supplementary material he included, detailing what could be found on each of the tales’ origins, and their more influential adaptation [other than Perrault’s, of course]. The language was as lyrical and rhythmic as I would imagine fairy tales to be—and I very much appreciated that Betts, when relevant, included in his notes contentions to previous translations of certain phrases, and even how he came to a definite version of specific lines.

But, what’s so great about this edition is Gustave Doré’s illustrations. They’re just awe-inspiring, and so very pretty. Even with all the sexy-sinister [or just plain sinister-sinister] elements. I want to blow ‘em up and have them painted on walls. It’s funny how they felt so familiar to me. I know they must have accompanied Perrault texts numerous times, but seeing them so close, so there, I can’t help but feel that Perrault and Doré are an inevitable pair. It slays me.

I leave you, now. I’d love to dork out about each fairy tale here, but we’ll never end—although please, do not be afraid to indulge me if you want to do the same, haha. Instead, let me share some of my favorite illustrations, followed by their captions, Perrault and Doré’s inevitable partnership at work:

For “Bluebeard”: Bluebeard forbids his wife to unlock the private room.

For “Hop O’ My Thumb”: The Ogre cuts his daughters’ throats.

For “The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood”: The Prince sees the beautiful Princess.

For “Cinderella”: Cinderella is admired at the ball.

6 thoughts on “On The Complete Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault: Enchanted, yes

  1. Aw, how fun. I am reading through Hans Christian Andersen stories, and I’m really enjoying them for the most part. But I read a children’s version with about 10 Perrault stories and I loved them. I think Perrault may be my favorite fairy tale teller.

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