June 29, 2010

A Book I Love

My four-year-olds have been watching Barbie movies. Now, at first, I was pretty skeptical. I was expecting them to be pretty awful. But, you know what, they’re not bad, and some of them are wonderful fairy tales, particularly Swan Lake and The Magic of Pegusus.

That got me thinking about fairy tales. My kids have A LOT of books. Surprise, I know. Among them, we have a lot of books that are funny rehashes of fairy tales. The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, by A. Wolf (but really by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith), to name one. A lot of other books make reference to fairy tales. But, I realized, I don’t have any copies of the real originals. My kids have never heard “The Three Little Pigs,” except for my off-the-cuff retelling.

Well, I do have one copy. I have a copy of my absolutely favorite favorite book of fairy tales from my childhood. God, how I loved that book. It’s lavishly illustrated. (By whom, though? The artist isn’t credited.) It’s wonderfully written. (By whom? Again, not credited.) Only, the copy I have was doused with gasoline somewhere along the line, so you can’t read it without getting light-headed, and all the pages are falling out. I didn’t get rid of it, though.

So, idly one day, I looked online to see if I could get a copy of the book. When I looked at it closer, I realized it was actually the second volume in the two volume series. Amazon had a copy or two, but they were way outrageous in price because they were only printed twice (1968 and 1972). Then I found both volumes on Ebay for what I felt was a reasonable, though fairly expensive, price. I immediately put in a bid, and I got them!

The books are A Treasury of the World’s Greatest Fairy Tales and A Second Treasury of the World’s Greatest Fairy Tales, by Danbury Press. I don’t know who rewrote the classic tales, and I don’t know who illustrated them, but whomever it was, they are (were?) so good.

I have to tell you, when I opened that second volume to look at the illustrations, I got all choked up. I remember being that little girl and yearning from the bottom of my soul to be that beautiful princess, to have that beautiful dress, to have that happily ever after. I remember empathizing with those lost children. After rereading the stories, I realize that the writer did not shirk. He or she told the stories the old-fashioned way, the Grimm way ~ with lots of hunger and hard times and heartache and people dying all over the place. Kind people and vicious people. (Women get it particularly badly. They’re always either dead mothers or wicked step-mothers or evil witches. Yet one more thing that made me question who I am.) It hit me so hard, the way I felt then.

I LOVE THAT BOOK. I’ve been reading two stories out of the collection to my kids every night. (I think all the female-affirming books they read will counterweight but that these fairy tales have a lot of value.)

What I’m Reading Today: Started China Mieville's The City & The City. Such energy in the language.

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