What We’re Reading Wednesday: Fairy Tale Edition

We just started listening to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in the car, and C.S. Lewis’ dedication at the beginning to his goddaughter, Lucy, struck me. I’d read it before, but this time that phrase “someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again” made me smile.

“My Dear Lucy,
        I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say but I shall still be your affectionate Godfather,”

— C.S. Lewis

Lucia usually enjoys, or at least tolerates, most of the fairy tales we bring home from the library. Of course, the ratio of text/illustrations matters in terms of holding her attention, as well as the translation — we’ve read several Cinderella’s based on Charles Perrault’s version, for example, but the more archaic translations are obviously not going to hold this 3.5-year-old for long (or her mom). Not gonna lie, it gratifies the snob in me that she prefers the Cinderella books to the Disney version. (Then again, she gets stressed out over Daniel Tiger (“AUGHH!! They’re making a mess!!!”) , so Lucifer the cat was a slightly more traumatic viewing experience…) But anyway, here’s a roundup of some of our recent favorites:

CinderellaOkay, I lied, K.Y. Craft’s Cinderella isn’t actually my favorite. The text got a liiitle too long for me (Lucia didn’t seem to mind, but I think everyone here can relate to the 7:45 p.m. speed reading phenomenon), and some of the lines were pretty sappy (overhearing the ending, Luke rolled his eyes and commented, “Well THAT was treacly”), but the illustrations are lavish, and there a couple new details that I hadn’t encountered in other versions of the tale (for instance, the prince meets Cinderella as herself before the ball).

Moving on.

849287The Twelve Dancing Princesses, told by Marianna Mayer and also illustrated by K.Y. Craft. I’d never heard this story before, but it strikes me as such a perfect blend of romance (in the broader sense of the word…adventure! Courage! Awkward glances over bouquets!), fantasy, and that necessary frightening element that underlies every good fairy tale. The nightmarish aspects of the twilight kingdom went over Lucia’s head, I’m sure, but was creeped out. The image of the sorceress prophesying over the dying queen is also pretty vivid (warning: there is a sorceress prophesying over a dying queen!) In the end, the honorable gardener wins the heart of the kindest princess, the shadow of death is defeated, and love wins, with lots of dancing. Now that is the stuff of fairy tales.

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The story of Sleeping Beauty also intrigues me. Have you seen the trailer for Disney’s Maleficent? I’m not sure how I feel about it. I really like the Disney Sleeping Beauty, so if the new story is all about how Maleficent is the victim byproduct of the violent male patriarchy..mmmm. Don’t mess with my head, Disney. Anyways, this version by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Ruth Sanderson, stuck out at me — the storytelling is really good (even when details were probably too complex for Lucia, it still held her attention overall), and the pictures…sigh. The note in the back says Sanderson pulled inspiration from the Pre-Raphaelites, especially John William Waterhouse, and the results are simply lovely to look at.

I would also be remiss to not mention the fact that we’re currently hoarding our library system’s collection of the Ella Bella Ballerina stories. Nice of James Mayhew to give Swan Lake a happy ending — I was wondering where he would go with that 😮

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And finally, my turn:

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I wonder what it’s like to view the world with Neil Gaiman’s mind and imagination. There are a lot of good reviews on Goodreads that basically strike the same note: Gaiman, and with this book in particular, is a league of his own. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is haunting and painfully exquisite at times. The main character, a bookish, lonely child (whom I just realized isn’t even named…is he?) is so believable, even as he flounders in the unbelievable, utterly fantastical world that lies just below the surface of his reality (or literally, “at the end of the lane”). And the writing — Gaiman describes those fringes between wakefulness and dreams with such clarity, and the surreality of that magical world so vividly, that more than once I just had to pause and think…what is going ON in Neil Gaiman’s head?? There’s a lot going in on this book: the theme of memory, and our accuracy in remembering; the fears of childhood; the fears of adulthood; the longing of both children and adults…all so poignantly distilled into the elemental power of fairy tale and myth. I gave it 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads but upon writing this review I’m having trouble thinking why I didn’t just give it all 5. I do think this is the kind of book that only gets better with a reread, so maybe next time I will.

Lest you think we consume only the highest quality literature and media in these parts, the past 45 minutes of blogging time have been brought to you by this little underwater Bella Swan:

and Ursuala’s about to be torpedoed, so I better go — oops, too late. She’s dead. Kids seem unfazed. Phew.

Go visit Jessica for more of What We’re Reading Wednesday!

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One thought on “What We’re Reading Wednesday: Fairy Tale Edition

  1. We really enjoy all the versions of fairy tales here too. Even James Marshall’s witty and irreverent versions. Besides, Disney hasn’t touched some of our favorites: Little Red Riding Hood (the Trina Schart Hyman version is our best favorite) and Goldilocks and the Three Bears. I’m going to have to check out this K. Y. Craft and James Mayhew as they are new to us. Thanks!

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