Lynda Barry on Fairy Tales

They can't transform your actual situation, but they can transform your experience of it. We don't create a fantasy world to escape reality, we create it to be able to stay. 

So wise. This is from the cartoonist Lynda Barry's memoir/exploration of images What It Is (Drawn & Quarterly, 2008). I so enjoyed the whole book, especially the part about the "transformational capabilities" of old stories. Barry's ideas reinforced my tentative plan to read the second graders a whole lot of fairy tales and folk tales this year. 

"The Story of a Fierce Bad Rabbit" and Other Childhood Tales


This morning I happily turn over the blog to my friend Michelle Turner, who also took the beautiful pictures. (Photographs copyright © 2010 by Michelle Turner. All rights reserved.) —ST

Download-1 The few books I have from my childhood, along with a couple of my husband’s, occupy a small stack on our fireplace mantel. These volumes weren’t necessarily my childhood favorites. My copies of Eloise and The Poky Little Puppy didn’t survive through adolescence, and The Tall Book of Christmas is too, well, tall to fit nicely in the stack. But two books offering sound advice to my three-year-old-self definitely have their place. Joan Walsh Anglund’s A Friend Is Someone Who Likes You (inscribed “Happy Birthday, Michelle. Three years old - 1962. Mama and Daddy”) taught me that “everyone ... everyone in the whole world has at least one friend.” And Ruth Krauss’ A Hole Is to Dig, with charming illustrations by Maurice Sendak (more than a decade before Where the Wild Things Are), reminds me, among other things, that “[b]uttons are to keep people warm” and “[a] floor is so you don’t fall in the hole your house is in.”

The endpaper of The Story of a Fierce Bad Rabbit has been ripped out, so I don’t know how old I was when I got it. While my recommendation of this book horrified a friend when her daughter was young, as a girl I loved the “savage”-whiskered bad rabbit’s carrot stealing (“He doesn’t say ‘Please.’ He takes it!”). And I don’t remember being troubled at all by the appearance of the “man with a gun.” Compared to the torments inflicted on bad children in some fairy tales, the bad rabbit got off easy.

Speaking of bad children, at the bottom of my stack of childhood books is the one that remains most vivid–a 1945 version of Andersen’s Fairy Tales, beautifully and terrifyingly illustrated by Polish artist Arthur Szyk. My mother received the book, along with a companion version of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, as a Christmas present in the 1940s. (Someone in my husband’s family must have also, because our set came from his parents.) These tales, and their illustrations, are dark and grisly. A recurring theme in Andersen’s stories is the consequences befalling the vain and ungrateful child. There is hardly one more wicked than little Inger in “The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf,” and its powerful message remains with me today. Be a good, kind, considerate girl—or you’ll wind up with snakes in your hair, toads in your dress folds and wingless flies creeping across your face.

Michelle Turner, a practicing attorney and librarian’s daughter, lives with her husband, Steve, two British Shorthair cats, numerous chickens and an impressive assortment of books on about 14 acres of former Kentucky tobacco farm. Michelle and Steve blog, mostly about food, at Gourmandistan


Poetry Friday: Fairy Tale Follow-up

Today's Poetry Friday selection is "Beauty and the Beast: An Anniversary," by Jane Yolen. I found the poem in the archives of The Journal of Mythic Arts at The Endicott Studio. Told from the point of view of Beauty, the poem checks up on the famous pair some years after the tumultuous events (and imagines a different ending for the original story).

I came to "Beauty and the Beast..." in a roundabout way. Lately I've been reading aloud from a book of Japanese folk tales. My son studied Japan in second grade last spring, and he is still keen to hear more about the country. Digging around on the Internet for more folk- and fairy-tale information, I re-discovered the SurLaLune Fairy Tales web site, which has been re-designed since my last visit. This is one comprehensive site. Wow. If you have any interest in the genre, SurLaLune is a must-see.

SurLaLune highly recommended The Endicott Studio, where I came across the Yolen poem. I've already seen familiar faces and fellow bloggers there: both Gwenda Bond and Colleen Mondor are contributors to the current issue of The Journal of Mythic Arts.

While I didn't find anything on Japanese folk tales, I found fascinating diversions. Yay for the Internet! (Update 7/28: As it turns out, SurLaLune contains the text of the 19th-century book Tales of Old Japan; I just missed it on the first go-round.)

For more Poetry Friday offerings, see Jone, at Check It Out. She has the roundup.

That Danish Guy from Odense

Greetings, y'all! I've been on the road this week. Yesterday I spent five hours in the Baltimore airport, giving me plenty of time and then some to read the entire November/December issue of The Horn Book, the magazine devoted to children's literature. I enjoyed it, particularly Brian Alderson's article "H.C. Andersen: Edging toward the Unmapped Hinterland." (It's not available online.) Noting that Hans Christian Andersen was apparently "not too much preoccupied by illustration," Brian Alderson makes some forthright observations like the following:

The penchant that illustrators have for booking themselves ego-trips on the back of any passing classic tale is of long standing, and a proper judgment of their work hinges not on the aesthetics of the thing but on the adequacy of their response to the text that prompted it.

Alderson was a curator of a recent British Library exhibit devoted to HCA. In the Horn Book piece, he also talks about famous author's "uninhibited storytelling vernacular" (one that would seem right at home in the corner pub) and how hard it has been for translators to capture that colloquial quality of Andersen's work.