Translated by John Bierhorst
Illustrated by Mitchell Miller
Finished: Feb. 28, 2008
Reason for Reading: read aloud to my 7yo
First Published: 1981 (1697)
Genre: fairy tales
Once upon a time there lived a king and a queen who were extremely worried that they had no children, so worried it can't be described.
Comments: This is a recent translation of Perrault's Contes du temps passe published in 1697. The text has not been altered from the original except that the morals have been moved to an appendix at the back of the book. The writing is beautiful and flows as if a grand storyteller is weaving his spell over you as you read. These are wonderful tales. They are, however, not modernized, which is a relief to me but may be a concern for others. I found two instances, as noted below, where I found I needed to edit the text while reading this aloud to my 7yo. (Perrault has a habit of enjoying the gruesome details of bloodshed.) I really enjoyed the illustrations which are detailed black and white drawings with an old-fashioned air to them done in a style which reminds me of Maurice Sendak. The 7yo, however, commented a couple of times that he did not like the black and white illustrations. I highly recommended this to fairy tale aficionados and worth the search for this out-of print title.
#1. The Sleeping Beauty - I can't believe I am not familiar with the original story! The version I've always known ends with Sleeping Beauty waking up and marrying the prince. There is a whole lot more to the story. Turns out the prince's mother is an ogress and like to eat children so he must keep his marriage (and subsequent children) a secret. When he becomes king, his mother is finally told, and she waits for a time when the king is away. Both ds and I loved this!
#2. Little Red Ridinghood - Again I find I'm more familiar with a later variant of this story. In Perrault's original telling, the tale ends with the wolf eating both the grandmother and red ridinghood. The End.
#3. Bluebeard - A girl marries a man with a bluebeard. All is going well until Bluebeard leaves on a trip and forbids the wife to open one closet while he is gone. Of course, she does open the closet and must suffer the consequences. Ds really enjoyed this one, being a typical boy he loves stories where the good guys get the bad guy at the end and he always enjoys (as do I) a really good villain. I did edit this one while reading though as the paragraph that describes the wife finding the other dead wives in the closet was very gruesome with phrases such as "clotted blood".
4. Puss in Books - A youngest son inherits a cat when his father dies. The cat asks for a sack and some boots and sets off to make his master a rich man through trickery.
#5. Diamonds and Toads - The beautiful, kind sister goes to the well and gives an old woman a drink. The woman is really a fairy and she makes diamonds and pearls come from the young girl's mouth when she speaks. So the nasty, ugly sister goes to the well, but when a princess asks for a drink she is very rude to her. Of course, the princess is also the fairy and this time she makes toads and snakes come from the ugly sister's mouth when she speaks.
#6. Cinderella - one of the longer tales in the book. This telling is pretty much the standard version I've always known. The only difference to me was that the ball was actually held two nights in a row. The first night Cinderella caught the eye of everyone and the second night the prince paid attention to her before she ran off at midnight. Cinderella was also called 'Cinderbottom' by her meanest stepsister and 'Cinderella' by her not-quite-so-mean sister.
#7. Rickety Topknot - This one was new to me. A queen gives birth to the most ugliest baby ever who has a little bit of hair on the top of his head. A fairy comes along and says that although he will be ugly, he will also be one of the smartest people around. Seven years later, a neighboring queen gives birth to two daughters, one is extremely ugly and the other is extremely stupid. The same fairy comes along and grants the ugly one intelligence and the stupid one beauty, in fact she will be the most beautiful woman in the land. Once they've grown up, Rickety falls in love with the beauty, and eventually she returns the favour. Essentially, this tale shows that when we are in love we don't notice the other's faults, hence, love is blind.
#8. Hop o' my Thumb - This was the longest tale in the book and bares a striking resemblance to Hansel and Gretel. A woodcutter and his wife have seven sons but they are very poor and one day they decided, regretfully, that they must take the sons into the forest and leave them there because they cannot stand to watch them starve to death. Hop o' my Thumb, an unusually tiny boy, leaves a trail of stones behind and manages to lead the brothers back home. They are taken back to the forest and this time a bread crumb tale has been eaten by all the birds. The brothers eventually stumble upon a house in the forest but it is the home of an ogre who eats children. This one ends up having a very gruesome paragraph as some persons have their throats slit which I edited a bit when reading. Perrault certainly enjoyed describing bloodshed! I think this was my favourite of the book and ds certainly enjoyed it, too.