Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Fairy Tale Book

One of my most prized possessions that I will forever keep and treasure is a very old book that my step-grandmother gave to me when I was a child. It was saved from a house fire and she knew that I would love it. If you look closely, you can see the burn marks on the pages. It is called "The Fairy Tale Book" and was compiled in 1958. This book has 28 stories from the French, German, Russian, Japanese, etc. These stories are NOT your typical Sleeping Beauty/Cinderella Disney kind of stories. They are the original fairy tales before Disney and the Victorian-era took over and made everything nice and tidy. Their darker themes are toned down slightly for children, but only slightly. Here, Sleeping Beauty woke not to wedded bliss, but to an ogress mother–in–law, determined to eat her and her children; and Red Riding Hood was devoured by the wolf, awaiting rescue in his belly. One princess lost her finger; another caused the death of the beast who loved her. The pictures and stories in this book were both deeply sad and gloriously triumphant. You cannot help but feel every emotion either by reading the story or looking at an illustration. I have cried many, many tears (happy and sad) while reading this book.
I grew up in a log cabin with no running water in the mountains of New Mexico. So as a child I did not have TV, radio or even any neighbors to play with. That left books and my imagination!! This particular book was so special...I read these stories at least a 100 times, probably more. They took the place of cartoons and other distractions. Every word was scrutinized and every illustration was gone over and over because every time I looked, I saw something I missed before. My favorite stories were "The Tinder Box" by Hans Christian Anderson and "Donkey-skin" by Charles Perrault. Here's the beginning of the story and the illustration for Donkey-skin. The illustrations are all by Adrienne Segur, a little known French artist. I have never in my life seen more detailed and colorful illustrations. They are actually breathtaking, no kidding! Here's one of my favorites from the story "Bluecrest". Isn't it beautiful?!
Now that I am an adult and have children of my own, I understand why these stories and pictures were so fascinating to me as a child. They all basically have the same theme...an oprhaned little girl with an evil stepmother or evil somebody and a fairy godmother. Have you ever noticed that these old fairy tales are about a girl whose mother died, evil stepmother, etc.? I suppose it was because so many women died in childbirth back then. My 'fairy godmother' were my grandparents who I eventually moved in with. I thank God every day for them.

If you'd like to learn more about the illustrations by Adrienne Segur, you can visit http://www.endicott-studio.com/jMA03Summer/segur2.html. Most of her illustrations can be seen at http://www.artpassions.net/segur/ The first site also tells a little bit about the book and has some story excerpts. This particular book is no longer in print but you can buy it in the new version. Hopefully the stories are still the same.

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