“Do you remember 'Rumpelstiltskin'?” my sister asks me; “the heroine’s goal was to spin gold, to marry a prince who wouldn’t let her out of a locked cellar unless she could! I don’t want my three-year-old daughter reading that!”
I hear her; I agree; and yet, I feel a little gasp tightening my chest. Why should I feel so protective of fairy tales when their enduring relevance can be so obviously questioned, I have to ask myself. And out it comes: “But fairy tales are the source of so much imagination!”
... folk legends feel like the original place
for whimsy ...
Yes, folk legends feel like the original place for whimsy. They are filled with mesmerizing oddities that appear as mysteriously as the universe from the dark. We find ourselves surrounded by creatures of luminous shades beyond our color wheel, subject to sciences of uncountable stars and moons, and somehow never seeking solid ground, happy to be lost in the glitter around the edges. The magic of such stories flows in long tendrils through our minds, unfolding and anchoring roots from which new possibilities blossom.
Amazingly these foreign lands that pull us from the straight line of our practical existence have been travelled for centuries. Their storytellers have compiled a codex of cultural quirks. Gathering spoils from visitors over the years, these lands have twisted, turned and been sculpted anew, all the while cataloguing the changes as do rings in a tree. To experience a traditional legend is to be connected to who we once dreamed of being.
... a codex of cultural quirks ...
In the end, this conversation with my sister has actually inspired me to revisit the rich histories embedded in fairy tales and cultural legends. Our current affairs are a good reminder of the importance of exercising our brains, of invoking the freedom of new ideas. And alongside so many great reads showcasing contemporary diversity, folk legends offer a journey into the endlessly varied cultural traditions that have brought vast, gorgeously magical, treasures. As for sharing these stories with three-year-olds, some editorial license probably makes sense.
Here is my recommended and to-read list of traditional tales:
Ramayana: Divine Loophole
by Sanjay Patel
The history of the Ramayana is one of multiple lives. The story has been spun through a tapestry of regions and languages, leaving it a patchwork quilt of honored pieces. Sanjay Patel puts together a mystifyingly beautiful graphic rendition of this central Hindu tale.
The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm
by Jacob Grimm, Wilhelm Grimm, Andrea Dezso (Illustrations), Jack D. Zipes (Translation)
The source of so many a Disney film, the originals boldly embraced the dark and rejected any notion that only bright, airy ideas should be presented to children. This updated release also offers some history on the oral storytelling preceding the Grimms' writings. The illustrations should not be missed; Andrea Dezso’ ink drawings inspired by paper-cutting deftly wield the interplay between light and shadow.
Celtic Tales: Fairy Tales and Stories of Enchantment from Ireland, Scotland, Brittany, and Wales
by Kate Forrester
The eye-catching graphics lured me in; the wit and quirks have me hooked. I am currently reading this compilation of Celtic folklore and have found the rhythm always on a slightly different beat than I am expecting. A welcome expansion of my frog-to-prince knowledge.
Japanese Ghosts and Demons: Art of the Supernatural
by Stephen Addiss
A visual exploration of the spirits and monsters of various Japanese mythology. I look forward to connecting with new tales via the visual interpretations of venerated Japanese painters.
by Neil Gaiman
To-be-released in February, this one will be on my list. Gaiman is offering a compilation of stories that have influenced his own fantasy creations. I have spent a lot of time with the Greeks, but not much with Odin and Thor so I look forward to a new war among the gods.
*Intro image: "The Golden Key" from The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm via Brain Pickings
a pairing for you
food pairing: Spring lamb acorn squash soup with An Ember in the Ashes
food pairing: Cherry coconut toaster pastries with The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland