Fairy Tales about Fairy Tales
By Holly Tucker
The all-so-familiar Tales of Mother Goose have decidedly unfamiliar origins. The fairy tale as a genre dates back to sixteenth-century Italy and late seventeenth-century France. The author of Mother Goose, Charles Perrault, would like us to believe that the tales were collected from rustic old ladies and wetnurses. But really, nothing could be farther from the truth. The first fairy tales were written by adults, decidedly for adults.
Let me just say this: I certainly wouldn’t read some of these stories to my young daughter.
Basile’s early Italian tale, “Sun and Moon and Talia,” is one of the earliest versions of “Sleeping Beauty.” The problem is that Sleeping Beauty (Talia) gives birth to twins shortly after she wakes up. That’s right, the Prince does a lot more than kiss her while she’s sleeping.
And how about Perrault’s later French tale? After Sleeping Beauty is awakened and hops into bed with her Prince, she also gives birth to two children. The narrator tells us that Sleeping Beauty is beginning to show her age; her face is not is taut as it used to be.
But this is the very least of her troubles. It turns out that Prince Charming’s mother is a ogre, who would like nothing more than to eat her daughter-in-law and grandchildren while the Prince is away being Princely. To our relief and some horror, the mother-in-law meets her fate in a pit of snakes.
I have the Mother Goose tales on the highest shelves of my study–out of my daughter’s reach, for now. As much as I cringe at my daughter’s recent fascination with the Captain Underpants series, I do think that it’s the safer bet!
[Illustration: Gustave Dore, "Blue Beard." 19th century. By far, my favorite illustration for the early tales.]