I have read several Amerindian “fairy tales.” Shapeshifting is a recurrent motif or “constant” in Amerindian tales. Shapeshifting is often a trickster’s device, but also an attempt to discover the truth and to protect oneself. It is survival through deceit, such as playing dead.
Before Sequoya (1770 – 1840), the gifted Cherokee who created a syllabary, it is reported that Amerindians could not write. Once Sequoya invented his syllabary, literacy among the Cherokee surpassed the rate of literacy among the white. Sequoya, who may have been a Métis, developed 86 syllables, borrowing from several alphabets.
According to Wikipedia, in order to convince other Cherokees to use his syllabary, he wrote down what they were saying and called his daughter, to whom he had taught the Sequoya syllabary. She read her father’s text, and Cherokees recognized that it was what they had said.
John Ross, Cherokee Chief(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Sequoya moved to Oklahoma and may have done so voluntarily. But Scots-Cherokee Chief John Ross left Georgia unwillingly. Yet he organized the removal, at least part of it. He bought 12 wagons, the same wagons as the ones used to carry the white west, but each of which carried a total of 1,000 persons. I do not understand the full logistics of the removal. Some Cherokees travelled by boat, but many also walked during part of the 2,200-mile journey (3,218 km). It was a true “trail of tears.” Reports vary, but it appears 6,000 Cherokees died on their way to Oklahoma, one of whom was Chief John Ross’ first wife.
According to James Mooney, 4,000 lives were lost. (See Myths of theCherokees, Gutenberg [EBook #45634].) In all, the population was “16,542 Cherokees, 201 inter-married whites, and 1592 slaves (total: 18,335 people).” (See Cherokee Removal, Wikipedia.)
Let me return to the Cherokee’s account of a deluge. It begins with the formulaic “A long time ago:”
(A long time ago a man had a dog, which began to go down to the river every day and look at the water and howl.) This formula tends to reinforce the fictional character of a story. It happened a long time ago and, if possible, elsewhere.
The formulaic “A long time ago… ” may be James Mooney’s wording. He is the person who took the tale away from an oral tradition to insert it in a learned, i.e. written, tradition. Yet it could be that storytellers have long used this kind of wording, if only to get attention.
“House [below] built in early 19th century by John McDonald, maternal grandfather of John Ross. Now called the ‘John Ross House,’ it was occupied by Ross’ daughter and her husband, Nicholas Scales. It is located in Rossville, Georgia.” (Caption and photo credit: Wikipedia)
Thumbelina came to live with the Field-Mouse. (Gutenberg [EBook #19993])
Fairy Tales and Fables: a Page
Yesterday, I had every intention of posting a short article on Anansi, a folktale character black slaves brought to the Americas. However, I thought I should first provide a list of posts on fables and fairy tales. It turned into a lengthy process because I had not kept a list of RELATED ARTICLES for most posts on fairy tales.
The page I posted yesterday is therefore incomplete. I will add a list of fables later. I kept a record of these posts, but must add the date on which each was published. I have a list of posts of fables, but each post needs a date. It seems that posts do not exist unless they are listed.
Childhood Favorites and Fairy Stories
However, I would like to invite you to take a peek at the Project Gutenberg’s EBook#19993. It is a collection of literary works for children and it includes poems, limericks, the words to songs, and fables and fairy tales originating from several countries.
The copyright was obtained in 1909, but the book was published in 1927 by the University Society of New York. By 1927, its editors had died. These are HamiltonWright Mabie, Edward Everett HaleWilliam Byron Forbus. William Byron Forbus died in 1927. All three editors are well-known authors, but we may have forgotten them. Today is the day we remember them.
In this collection, the art work is not always attributed to a specific illustrator, which is the fate of the image featured at the top of this post, that of Thumbelina. It’s a little gem. But the illustration contains initials: O. A.. The editors have indicated that “[m]any of the illustrations in this volume are reproduced by special permission of E. P. Dutton & Company, owners of the American rights.”
Several authors are represented in this collection, including Shakespeare. However, I have chosen to end this short post using a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. It’s a lullaby.
“SWEET AND LOW”
Sweet and low, sweet and low,
Wind of the western sea,
Low, low, breathe and blow,
Wind of the western sea!
Over the rolling waters go,
Come from the dying moon, and blow,
Blow him again to me:
While my little one, while my pretty one, sleeps.
Sleep and rest, sleep and rest,
Father will come to thee soon;
Rest, rest, on mother’s breast,
Father will come to thee soon;
Father will come to his babe in the nest,
Silver sails all out of the west
Under the silver moon:
Sleep, my little one, sleep, my pretty one, sleep.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
With warm greetings to all of you.♥
Childhood Favorites is told by LibriVox on YouTube.
Alexander Zick illustrated Cinderella with the doves, inspired by the Grimms’ version. (Caption and photo credit: Wikipedia)
As I mentioned in a post entitled “How the Bear lost its Tail,” published on 4 August 2015, I pressed the “Publish” button instead of the “Save Draft” button. As a result, I published an incomplete post. The above image was also published before the post was complete.
The Brothers Grimm
Kinder- und Hausmärchen (1812)
Cinderella “the persecuted heroine” AT type 510
the lesser success of Grimm’sFairy Tales (1812)
(Unless otherwise indicated, links refer to a Wikipedia entry.)
I reread my post and did not modify it substantially. However, I introduced the BrothersGrimm:Jacob (1785–1863) and Wilhelm(1786–1859). In 1812, they published Children’s and Household Tales(Kinder- und Hausmärchen) or Grimm’s Fairy Tales in the hope of finding cultural similarities between the inhabitants of German-language lands, a quest that did not prove altogether successfully, but created a discipline, first named folkloristics.
It is in this regard that mentioning the Brothers Grimm was essential. The Brothers Grimm’s goal was to find cultural similarities between the yet-to-be unified German-language lands, an undertaking which required them to go from town to town and hamlet to hamlet collecting folklore. As I wrote above, this huge effort proved a lesser achievement than they had anticipated. Grimm’s Fairy Tales was a bestseller, but it would eventually come to light that the tales of Germany had variants in other countries.
As the 19th century turned into the 20th century, a new discipline evolved, which could be called the above-noted folkloristics, and would lead to the development of related disciplines such as ethnology, linguistics, archaeology, all of which could be included under an umbrella discipline we know as anthropology: the “study of humanity,” to quote Wikipedia. (See Anthropology and History of Anthropology).
In the case of the Brothers Grimm’s collection, it led to an international classification of types and motifs which was first published in 1910 by Finnish professor Antti Aarne and which would become the Aarne-Thompson Classification System. For instance, Cinderella had variants and different titles in various lands, but Cinderella is AT type 510: “the persecuted heroine.” There was universality to a large number of fairy tales, fables and other folktales. It was as though these had travelled from Europe to the Orient and vice versa as Venetian Marco Polo and other merchants traced the silk road.
As for their specificity, it resided in the variants, either the type (i.e. tail-fisher) or the motif (i.e. the severed tail).
Kinder und Haus: Märchen, volume one of Grimm’s Fairy tales, 1812
Grimm’s Fairy Tales contains a Cinderella, entitled Ashenputten. We have a coarse stepmother, her two insensitive daughters who belittle Cinderella, a father who brings the two stepsisters the gifts they wish for, birds who provide Cinderella with the clothes she needs, three girls: the stepsisters and Cinderella, a three-day celebration, the slipper, and some mutilation, the removal of a toe and that of a heel. I doubt that mutilation would be allowed in a 17th-century French-language fairy tale, a time when bienséances (decorum) was observed in the literature, the theater in particular, of France.
In the German-language Ashenputten, we do not have a fairy godmother, nor a carriage, nor the fateful 12 o’clock, nor an extended search to find the owner of a glass or vair slipper, a mere slipper in German-language lands. Finally, the prince asks the father if perhaps he does not have a third daughter. The plot of Ashenputten is basically the same plot of as the 700 BCE story of Rhodopis “about a Greek slave girl who marries the king of Egypt” (see Cinderella, Wikipedia). However, Ashenputten differs from Charles Perrault‘s Cendrillon if only because it is a more intimate variant of Charles Perrault’s Cendrillon, which is not irrelevant, and because it features birds. So there is both specificity and universality between Cendrillon and Ashenputten. Fairy tales are “‘arrangements’ d’arrangements.”
Origins: the oral and written tradition and Literature
We have just seen that the plot of Cinderella is rooted in Rhodopis, a 700 BCE written story. In more recent centuries, this ancient tale has been the story of Cenerentole, written by Neapolitan Giambattista Basile (1566 – 23 February 1632). (See Cinderella, Wikipedia). But the tale was also written by Charles Perrault in 1697, at the end of the Grand Siècle, the age of Louis XIV.
In France, Cenerentole became Cendrillonand it is one of Charles Perrault’s Histoires ou contes du temps passé (Tales of Past Times),except that Giambattista Basile’s Cenerentole had already entered a “learned” tradition. Basile himself had introduced Cinderella into the “learned” (i.e. written) tradition. In Charles Perrault, however, Cendrillon was transformed into literature, a major transformation. Charles Perrault (12 January 1628 – 16 May 1703) was an affluent bourgeois, a perfect honnête homme (a gentleman), a frequent guest in the finest salons, and a writer.
A parallel can be drawn between Charles Perrault and La Fontaine, as both men transformed the material (the learned tradition) that constituted their sources into literary works of art and, in the case of La Fontaine, into masterpieces. I doubt, however, that Basile and Perrault knew Cinderella had been a work of literature as Rhodopis. It had perhaps returned to the oral tradition when Basile wrote his Cenerentole, in the early part of the 17th century.
The Brothers Grimm
The Brothers Grimm were philologists who attempted to create a past for the nascent Germany. Most civilizations created a mythology, a pourquoi tale. This process is now known as anamnesis (anamnèse), remembering, but not the religious anamnesis. They retrieved the folklore of German-language lands believing these lands shared a national heritage. Their project did provide the German-language countries with a past of its own. Although the plot of their stories were basically the same as in other countries, there were variants and these variants could not be could not be considered as inconsequential. Variants matter.
Cenerentole, Cendrillon, Ashenputten and Cinderella are rags-to-riches narratives rooted in a story written as Rhodopis in 700 BCE and classified as AT type 510, “the persecuted heroine,” in the Aarne-Thompson Classification System. More than two thousand years had passed.
Yet, such is life. Humans have always hoped for salvation even though their fate seems inescapable. That wish is universal, so it is not in the least surprising that the people inhabiting German-language lands should have adopted and molded an Ashenputten. They needed her.
Charles Robinson illustrated (art nouveau)Cinderella in the kitchen (early 1900s), from “Tales of Passed Times” with stories by Charles Perrault.
But let us return to our animals. We don’t know how a Reynard the Fox episode, the Tail-Fisher, went from Europe to the Black population of Georgia, US where Joel Chandler Harris wrote them down as Uncle Remus: his Songs and his Sayings (1881), using an eye dialect. I have suggested in an earlier post that deported Acadians, the Cajuns, told the Blacks of Georgia the tales they knew, before leaving for Louisiana, still a French colony in 1755, or before walking back north to the Atlantic provinces of Canada. Other tales, however, were brought to America by slaves packed like sardines in the hull of a ship.
As you have noticed,Bluebeardis reminiscent of many folktales and other works of literature, not all of which belong to what we now call children’s literature. Yesterday, we looked at Charles Perrault’s Bluebeard. Perrault’s first audiences were persons who gatheredin French seventeenth-centurysalons, a more refined and sophisticated environment than court: the Louvreand, later in the century, Versailles. Children may have been Perrault’s very last audience.
I also mentioned that in French seventeenth-century literature, one could not combine comedy and tragedy. Like comedies, fairy tales end well, but there may be a “happy ending” to a comedy that does not seem a real comedy. Such is the case with some ofMolière‘s comedies. The best examples are Le Misanthrope, TartuffeandDom Juan. Molière nearly broke the rules as didPerraultin his fairy tales. We know that Bluebeard’s young wife will be saved, but by the time her brothers arrive, we are out of breath. Would that a message-carrying dog had been sent to fetch the brothers!
However, Charles Perrault, a modernein the famousQuerelle des Anciens et des Modernes,has chosen riveting suspense. Here, rulesare being challenged by a member of theAcadémie françaiseitself. Other than the stained key, there is very little enchantment in Bluebeard, in which respect it resembles Puss in Boots. The young wife and Anne are clever girls, but where is the young wife’sfairy godmother?Well, she does not have one. Is this a fairy tale? One wonders.
A Fairy tale “bursting out,” but saved
As for motifs and instances ofintertextuality, seldom have they been as abundant than in Bluebeard. In fact, motifs and intertextualité seem to override genre. Although, “all’s well that ends well,” this is a fairy tale I would call “éclatée” or bursting out. Perrault is taking the new genre to its very limit. Moreover, there is something biblical about this fairy tale: the stain cannot be removed, except miraculously. That stain seems of remembrance of la tache [stain] originelle, the original sin. Moreover, the brothers arrive at the verylast-minute. So not only the young bride, but the genre itself, i.e. fairy tales, are saved. Thisis an “in extremis,” intervention.
As for Bluebeard, he is not the mean second wife who turns her husband’s beautiful daughter by a first marriage into a chimney sweeper. Bluebeard is more than an “animal,” he is a monster. He’s Goethe’s Faust: Mephistopheles.
Having written the above, I can say no more than I did yesterday: “All’s well that ends well.”
Both images are by Danish illustratorKay Nielsen(12 March 1886 – 21 June 1957)
For those of you who are students of folklore, I have provided Alishman’s extremely useful cross-referencing, complete with links to the tales he mentions. Motifs overlap in this surprisingly rich “fairy tale,” so I have listed them.
Particularly helpful is Alishman’s page devoted to the Grimm Brothers. It is entitled:Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The brothers Grimm have a classification system of their own: KHM.
Illustration in The Fairy Tales of Charles Perraultby Harry Clarke (1889-1931), illustrator. London: Harrap (1922) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Charles Perrault‘s (1628-1703) Bluebeard, La Barbe bleue (seeGallica.BnF), is an exceptionally rich source of motifs.InAarne-Thompson-Uther, Bluebeard is classified as ATU 312, ATU 312A:The giant-killer and his dog– Bluebeard. The U in ATU stands forHans-Jörg Uther.[i]Charles Perrault‘s Barbe bleue, Bluebeard,features a killer, butthere is no reference to a dog. However, Bluebeard is rooted in a popular and largely oral tradition. In the more traditional tales, a dog or a bird is sent to warn our heroine’sfamily, her brothers especially.[ii]This element has been removed by Perrault. However, ProfessorD. L. Alishman specifies that folktales classified as ATU 312 and ATU 312A are stories “about women whose brothers rescue them from their ruthless husbands or abductors.” Such is the case with Bluebeard. So, to begin with, the motif of Bluebeard is AT 312 and 312A .
Bluebeard is feared by most women. He owns many properties, in town and in the countryside, “gold and silver dishes, beautifully upholstered (embroidered) furniture and golden carriages: de la vaisselle d’or et d’argent, des meubles en broderie, et des carrosses tout dorés.” (Gilbert Rouger)[iii]However, his blue beard makes him so ugly and terrifying that women run away when they see him. Moreover, despite his blue beard, this colourful but brutal character has married several times, but every wife has disappeared. The moment Perrault reveals this fact, we enter the realms of mystery and suspense. What has happened to the former wives? There will be a moment of revelation.
Bluebeard’s neighbour, a Lady, has two beautiful daughters and is looking for suitable husbands. When they first see Bluebeard, the daughters find him repulsive. However, Bluebeard organizes a feast and invites the young women and a few of their friends (first image). As they go from pleasure to pleasure, the younger daughter begins to see Bluebeard as a less frightening man and marries him.
Bluebeard marries and goes on a trip: forbidden room
Once he has married the younger daughter, Bluebeard tells her he must go away on a trip, but to invite friends (second image). He then starts distributing keys and warns his wife not to enter a certain room yet gives her the key to this room. The telltale key and the forbidden room are motifs dating to the story of Adam and Eve. Eve is tempted by the serpent and bites into the forbidden apple. When collecting folktales, the Brothers Grimm were told the story of Marienkind, Mary’s Child, in which a girl enters a forbidden thirteenth room, sees the Trinity and is then burdened with a telltale gold finger. Marienkind will not confess that she did enter the forbidden room until she is condemned to burn at the stake. As the flamesstart engulfing her, she finally tells the truth and is saved. The motifs of that tale, the forbidden room and the telltale stain, link it to Bluebeard.
Disobedience: the stained key
Likethe archetypal Eve, women are considered curious and, despite their fears,they want to unlock forbidden rooms, closets and cabinets. Again, “folk versions of the tale do not fault the heroine for her curiosity?”[iv] Bluebeard’s young wife trembles, but she unlocks the hidden cabinet (third image). Here we think of the deceptive closet that leads to other rooms. That is another motif. Next, when the young wife sees the bloodstained floor and the bodies of dead women, she drops the key and it gets stained by the blood on the floor of the room. This element seems a variation on the “tache [stain] originelle,” or the original sin. Therefore, our main motif could well be that of the indelible stain. Babies are born “entachés,” stained with the original sin. The young wife cannot clean the key. It is, therefore, an enchanted key.
Bluebeard returns that very evening and is received with open arms. His bride hopes to delay the moment when he will ask for the keys to be returned, one of which is the stained key. The young bride therefore entertains her husband as doesScheherazade, the Persian Queen of theOne Thousand and One Nights who has studied sufficiently to know that fiction, entertainment in the form of storytelling, might save her from death, which it does.
However, the next morning, our poor young wife is asked to return all the keys her rich and ruthless husband has entrusted to her. He sees the stained key and tells her she will join the wives who have died due to their indiscretion. She, of course, falls to her knees begging for forgiveness. Bluebeard was testing her and she has failed the test. She is yet another Eve who has yielded to temptation.
Tests are a common element in fairy talesas are the three requirements that will turn a toad into a prince. But Bluebeard is a one-test, or trap, narrative that resembles the Pandora’s Box narrative. Pandora is given a jar named pithos which she is instructed not to open, but curiosity, the villain, is as irresistible as the serpent. She opens the jar and releases all the bad things in the world. Evil is born and women are to blame. They are the scapegoats.
Fortunately, Bluebeard’s young wife inhabits fairyland. Her sister Anne has not yet returned home. So the young bride has a stand-in, so to speak, and uses a common a ruse. She asks to be allowed to pray for one half of a quarter-hour and goes upstairs to alert her sister. This recourse is reminiscent of Shakespeare’sDesdemona‘s (Othello) request. This is yet another motif or, possibly, an instance of intertextuality, texts that mirror one another. Usually, folktales contain motifs, just as music contains themes. Shakespearean theater is otherwise classified, but the stained finger could be designated as a motif in the broader world of fiction. Our terrifiedhéroïne asks her sister Anne to go to a tower and to watch because their brothers have promised to visit and Bluebeard has returned earlier than expected. Anne is instructed to alert them from her tower. This is ATU type 312 and 312A.
Anne, ma sœur Anne, ne vois-tu rien venir ?
Bluebeard grows increasingly impatient, but the younger wife keeps asking her sister Anne whether or not she can see the brothers. This is a summit of suspense: Anne, ma sœur Anne, ne vois-tu rien venir ? Anne, my sister Anne, can’t you see anything coming? Anne answers twice. Je ne vois rien que le Soleil qui poudroie, et l’herbe qui verdoie. All I see are flurries of the Sun and grass turning green. The third time, however, Anne reports that she sees men on horseback riding in their direction. As you know, the number three is a common element of fairy tales.
At his wits end, Bluebeard starts screaming so loudly that the house shakes (fourth image). He goes upstairs and grabs his young wife by the hair, holding a knife. Once again, she asks to pray, but he will not let her pray. At this point, the reader or listener fears that all is lost, except that we are in fairyland. There has to be a savior, and there is.
Kairos: the opportune moment
At the opportune moment, kairos, the brothers make a racket at the door. The door is forced open and Bluebeard sees one brother, a dragoon, and the second, a musketeer. Bluebeard runs away from them, but the brothers catch him when he reaches the porch and they drive a sword through his body (fifth image).
The younger sister inherits her husband’s possessions. She provides her sister with the dowry that will enable her to marry a kind man she has known for a long time. She buys her brothers appointments as captains and, for her part, she marries a gentleman.
There are two moralités. One is the moral ofcautionary tales. It is anexemplum. The tale tells about the dangers of curiosity:
La curiosité malgré tous ses /attraits,Coûte souvent bien de regretsOn en voit /tous les jours exemples paraître.Curiosity, despite all its /appeal /Often costs many regrets /One sees /everyday examples appear. (literal translation)
However, Perrault uses a second moral that is not altogether a moral, but a form reassurance. He writes that those who have common sense know that this story happened a long time ago. There are no longer such terrible husbands, nor husbands who asks for the impossible, even when they are displeased or jealous, etc.
In other words, he tells readers that he has written a fairy tale.
Criticism of Bluebeard
There has been criticism of Bluebeard. For instance, help is so slow in coming that this fairy tale, nearly fails the “happy ending” rule fairy tales. However, Perrault’s suspense is acceptable in storytelling. It adds piquancy to the tale. In seventeenth-century France, one could not mix comedy and tragedy. Tragedy inspires pity and fear. Featuring a dog or a bird carrying a message would have lessened the degree of suspense, not to mention pity and fear. In more traditional tellings of Bluebeard, the heroine “insists on donning bridal clothes, and they prolong the possibility of rescue by recounting each and every item of clothing.”[v]
As mentioned above, curiosity is not a factor in more traditional tellings of Bluebeard.
Bruno Bettelheim[vi]situates Bluebeard in the animal-groom cycle (Aarne-Thompson), except that our heroine marries the animal before a curse is lifted that transforms him into a kind and beautiful person, which is usually the case in fairy tales. In Beauty and the Beast, Beauty learns to love Beast as Beast is, which lifts the curse. She marries a beautiful man, the appropriate ending of a fairy tale.
The indelible stain seems a particularly important motif. I have mentioned the Bible. Curiosity leads to the original sin, called stain in French: la tache. But it also reminds us of the stain on Lady Macbeth’s hand. It will not wash away: “Out, damn’d spot! out I say!” (Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 1, line 35). Lady Macbeth has killed and the stain on her hand is as permanent as the original sin. She must atone. In this regard, Bluebeard is reminiscent of William Shakespeare‘s Macbeth. But we are reading a fairy tale. The genre itself demands a happy ending, as do comic texts. Moreover, the indelible stain could be a motif, and the original sin, to which it can be compared, an instance of intertextualité.
The indelible stain motif also appears in Le Roman de Perceforest, a medieval narrative usually associated with SleepingBeauty. Blanchette’s fairy godmother has asked her not to touch Lyonnel. But she does, briefly and accidentally. The finger that has touched Lyonnel turns black.
In the Brother’s Grimm’sMarienkind,Marienkind opens the thirteenth door, or the forbidden door. It seems the number thirteen has long been an unlucky number, but the more important element, the motif, is that of the telltale stain.
Let it be short: “All’s well that ends well.” Tout est bien qui finit bien.
Sources and Resources
Perrault fairy tales are the Project Gutenberg [EBook #29021]
[i] The AT-number system was updated and expanded in 2004, the yearHans-Jörg Uther published his Types of International Folktales: A Classification and Bibliography.Hans-Jörg Uther calls types some of the elements formerly named motifs, but some motifs are types. The telltale stained key is a motif, but brothers saving a sister would be a type.[ii] Maria Tatar in Jack Zipes, editor, The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 2000).[iii]Gilbert Rouger, editor. Les Contes de Perrault (Paris: Editions Garnier, 1967).[iv]Op. cit.The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales.[v] Ibid.[vi] The Uses of Enchantment (New York: Vintage Books Edition, 1989 [1975, 1976]), p. 182.Franz Schubert (31 January 1797 – 19 November 1828; aged 31)Piano Sonata in B Flat Major, D. 960Alfred Brendel, KBE(born 5 January 1931,Wiesenberg)
Beauty and the Beast is my favourite fairy tale because beast is transformed into a prince by a beautiful woman who sees beauty beneath a beastly form. Being recognized as handsome and being loved by a woman despite his monstrous appearance is the only way Beast can escape the curse that has turned him into a truly ugly animal.
As the story goes, during a snowy night, Beauty’s father, an impoverished trader, gets lost in a forest where, to his astonishment, he finds a castle. It is a beautiful castle. On the table, there is a meal and logs are burning in a fireplace. Moreover, a bed awaits him in a lovely room and, upon waking, Beauty’s father finds clean clothes and a good breakfast. Obviously, the trader’s host is a generous person.
However, after meeting Beast, matters change. The former trader’s horse is saddled and awaits the lost father, but he picks up a rose for his daughter, as she has asked. Beast is furious and tells Beauty’s father to return three months later, when he will kill him. The father is also told that if he does not come back, one of his three daughters will die in his place. Yet, Beast gives him a trunk filled with gold, which is surprising.
This is a fairy tale, so the number three is used again. The trader lives on a little farm and has three daughters and three sons. Beauty is the youngest and the most beautiful of the three daughters. Unlike her jealous sisters, she is also kind and compassionate.
When three months have elapsed, the trader is ready to return to the castle and die, but Beauty manages to convince her father to let her go in his place.
Beast does not kill Beauty upon her arrival at the castle. In fact, she finds that he has given her an apartment: “Beauty’s apartment.” This is also surprising. The apartment contains many books and a grand piano. At night, she and Beast have supper together and, after a while, he starts asking her to marry him. But she keeps refusing.
One day, her mirror tells her that her father is ill. She asks Beast to let her visit with her ailing father. She promises to return. Beast, who was supposed to kill her, is devastated, but he lets her go and provides her with a ring that will allow her to find herself in the castle the morning after she puts it on. There is magic in this fairy tale, as is usually the case.
Beauty is away from the castle for more than a week, so when she returns, Beast is dying. She asks him to live and tells him she loves him and will marry him. She unknowingly lifts the curse that has transformed a prince into Beast. Beast is again a beautiful prince.
According to the Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales (pp. 45-49), this tale is related, in plot, to Apuleius’s c. 125 – c. 180) “Cupid and Psyche,” an inner fable within Apuleius Golden Ass, the outer fable. In motif, it is also related to the ancient Pañchatantra tale “The Girl who Married a Snake.” So now you know why I blogged on “Cupid and Psyche.” Versions of this fairy tale were also written by Straparola (c. 1480 – c. 1557) and Basile (c. 1575 – 23 February 1632), whom you know.
In 1946, Jean Cocteau (5 July 1889 – 11 October 1963), a poet, novelist, playwright, etc. made a film based on Beautyand the Beast. Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête is still considered one of the finest films in its genre, fantasy. Beauty and the Beast is a film produced in 2017.
From that point of view, i. e. the importance of enchantment in the life of a troubled child, it is perhaps best that the wounded child read fairy tales as opposed to fables, fables being a lesson or didactic.
Puss in Boots is a fairy tale and is therefore a fantasy rather than a lesson. In fact, in an earlier re-telling of the story, Puss licks away the third son’s acne. That’s marvelous. As well, Puss befriends the third son. According to Bettelheim “being befriended by [an animal]” is among those “events” that can “lead to great things” (p. 73).
As for fables, animal fables, as I have just noted, they may fail the troubled child in that they teach lessons. Fables are considered didactic. I cannot disagree with Dr Bettleheim, but let us reflect on the differences between fables and fairy tales.
Although the morality is not always expressed explicitly, fables are lessons. At times, the example, or exemplum, suffices in conveying the moral. Usually, however, the morality is placed at the beginning or at the end of the “story.”
However, although fables have a moral, I believe we could argue
first, that the use of animals as protagonists (characters) shields children from too rude a lesson. Besides, if the King is not a lion, similarly, children are not grasshoppers;
second, that the re-teller (author) of a fable tells a story and that, however real a story may appear, it is still a “story.” It therefore should not have too direct an impact on children, including unhappy children.
In fact, making a story seem real is difficult. Roland Barthes calls the device used to make a story real “un effet de réel.” Now, if creating an “effet de réel” is not easy, when animals talk, the universe of fables and animal fairy tales may well be more hermetic, or distant, than that of fairy tales featuring persons. If such is the case, a troubled child is not likely to be harmed by reading fables instead of fairy tales.
In other words, animal fables are a particularly oblique (dire sans dire) or indirect narrative, which may indeed be a factor in their seeming less “real.” Most of us have heard children commenting that the clumsy animal protagonist of a story they have read is, indeed, rather clumsy. They, the children, would never leap without first looking. So children tend to dissociate themselves not only from animals, but also from a fictitious dramatis personæ (the cast).
Indirection is a dépaysement. Bettelheim writes that “the fairy tale’s happy ending occurs in fairyland, a country that we can visit only in our minds” (p. 133). He is writing, in other words, that fairyland is an “elsewhere,” (un ailleurs) and that we, including children, know that it is. So it would be difficult for the child to identify fully with the denizens of fairyland, particularly if the cast is made up of animals. Animals automatically create a barrier between the story and the reader. It would seem that dépaysement, or feeling you are in another world, is greater when animals, rather than humans, are used as characters in a story.
Animal fairy tales may well be more distancing, or more “otherwordly,” than fairy tales featuring human beings. If Puss is made to wear boots, I believe there is a motivation to introduce an element of magic in the fairy tale. The storyteller confirms we are in fairyland, not to mention that real animals do not talk national languages.
Yet, if animals create a dépaysement, they are also like honey to a bear (or is it a bee?). Animals catch the attention of children. Children like animals. It would be my opinion that we must take into account the Horatian (8 December 65 BCE – 27 November 8 BCE) prodesse et delectare (Ars poetica). Fables instruct and delight, and vice versa. If there is fantasy in fairy tales, fables delight while instructing. So the difference between the two genres may not be that important.
Johann Amos Comenius (28 March 1592 – 4 November 1670) was particularly concerned with pleasing the child. As you know children’s books are usually illustrated which is also consistent with the Horatian “to instruct and delight.” Now, if fables are written so they provide instruction while giving pleasure, the illustrations might well enhance the pleasure.
In a sense, my choice of Malcolm Arthur’s and Fred Marcellino ’s re-telling of Puss in Boots[ii] had very much to do with the illustrations. In fact, I bought the book and showed it to my students to underline the importance of illustrations. They are pleasurable and therefore condition the child’s mind, and the adult’s.
Finally, fairy tales may not be overtly moralizing, but some, if not most, contain a lesson. The third son of the miller did not look beyond appearances. He didn’t see that the cat he had inherited was a person in disguise and very clever.
As well, the third son had the good fortune of watching a very smart cat, a cat who knows how to be successful and takes his master from rags to riches without the intervention of magic. The text does not indicate whether or not he received magical bottes de sept lieues. Yet, the cat’s ingenuity has been the foremost agent of change. Besides, the cat himself has changed.
Marcellino’s last illustration, shows a portrait of Puss dressed like an aristocrat, which underscores his having been successful, successful to the point of being less of a cat and more of a human We are told, moreover, that Puss no longer eats mice, except for sport, i.e. humans hunt. So two mice, standing on the floor, are looking at the picture admiringly. It is as though they could recognize that Puss himself had risen while making the miller’s third son a prince.
In fact, Puss deserves nearly all the praise in making his master an aristocrat. One therefore wonders what the third son would do without his cat.
P. S. The video I had placed at the end of this post has been removed. It consisted of illustrations of fairy tales by Adrienne Ségur. These are available online. Please click on the word illustrations.
The current video tells the story of the fairy tale. It does not mention Italian authors Francesco Straparola‘s (c. 1480 – c. 1557) Il piacevoli notti (The Facetious Nights) (1550–1553) and Giambattista Basile‘s (1566 – 23 February 1632) Lo cunto de li cunti overo lo trattenemiento de peccerille, orIl Pentamerone. It does not mention Charles Perrault, but refers to the 17th-century in France. Fairy tales are the product of Salons.
[i] (New York : Vintage Books and Random House: 1989 ).
[ii] Charles Perrault, Malcolm Arthur, translator, and Fred Marcellino, illustrator, Puss in Boots (New York: Farrar Strauss Giroux, 1990).