By Christine A. Jones (Regular Contributor)
Fairy tales are how we imagine the unimaginable. Beans can be magic and grow to the heavens. Frightening beasts turn out to be great princes in disguise. And girls are saved from annoying home lives by fairies and talking animals. Crazy things can happen.
Fairy-tale history contains some really juicy stuff, not all of which made it into the Mother Goose canon. For instance, how about a girl who shows up at court dressed as a knight and becomes the queen’s lover? Crazy indeed! Well, during the 1690s three French women authors thought up an ingenious plot for fairy tales where girls did their fighting for themselves. They showed up at court dressed as soldiers and did battle for the king. In each case, in fact, they became the kingdom’s best warriors. They were valiant, but also gentle and kind, and knew how to fold laundry. A rare combination, to be sure. And in the longest and most famous of these stories, by Marie Chatherine d’Aulnoy, the cross-dressed heroine has to fend off the queen’s advances with all her might.
Okay, the girl warrior and the queen never become lovers, but the love triangle among the queen (who loves the knight), the knight (who loves the king), and the king (who loves the knight but cannot figure out why) makes up the entire plot of the story. Historically, there had been woman warriors in France by the seventeenth century, but none of them had had quite this much fun at court. Read d’Aulnoy’s story, “Belle-Belle or the Chevalier Fortunate”, in Jack Zipes, Beauties, Beasts and Enchantments: Classic French Fairy Tales (New York: New American Library, 1989).
Christine A. Jones is co-editing a fairy tale anthology and writing a book on early porcelain experiments in France. She is Associate Professor of French and Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies at the University of Utah.
This post first appeared at Wonders & Marvels on 12 December 2009.