Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Andrew Lang, Part 3

The Many-Colored Fairy Books, cont'd.
edited by Andrew Lang
Recommended Age: 6+ (4+ if read to you)

The Olive Fairy Book

From the preface with its thumbnail history of the fairy tale to the final “happily ever after,” this book is as rich a treasury of folklore as any of the other “Fairy Books of Many Colors.” Edited by Lang, adapted from many languages and cultures by his friends and family, and beautifully illustrated by Mr. H. J. Ford, it is filled with romance, adventure, magic, and humor, with a bit of clever nonsense and a lot of no-nonsense entertainment.

The 29 tales in this volume include talesfrom Turkey, India, Denmark, Armenia, and the Sudan. There is even a condensed version of a story by Anatole France. Some of them have strong similarities to tales found elsewhere in Lang’s collections, but all of them have the common ingredients of all great fairy stories: vibrant, exotic imagery to fire the imagination of little readers and hearers. Though the heroes and heroines are not always so colorful, they are instantly recognizable as the naughty child who should be corrected, or the good child whose unjust sufferings will be repaid. Basically, you are the hero or heroine in every one of these tales, and you need only supply a willing suspension of disbelief to enjoy them and to be caught up in their myriad variations of fantasy and fun.

Here are the tales in store for you in The Olive Fairy Book...

"Madschun," which is not a misspelling of the German word for “girl,” but a magic word in a Turkish tale that enables a youth to freeze everyone within earshot. "The Blue Parrot," the tale of a young king who falls in love with the Swan fairy’s daughter, and all the difficulties their love must overcome. "Geirlaug the King’s Daughter" is a variant of the classic “forgetful prince” type of tale, in which a faithful maiden saves her thoughtless lover from marrying a tiresome princess.

"The Story of Little King Loc," from Anatole France’s story of Abeille, a wistful tale about the lengths to which a dwarf king serves the woman he loves, even though she will not love him in return. "A Long-Bow Story" from India turns out to be a contest of cleverness, in which a greedy bunniah (banker) and a farmer settle on a wager over who can tell the tallest tale. "Jackal or Tiger?" is the question a king and queen quarrel over, but that is only the beginning of the adventures involving a banished prince, a maiden under a curse, and a fairy godmother.

"The Comb and the Collar" is a somewhat complex fairy tale in which, as I recall, two princes and two princesses are tested by a spiteful fairy. "The Thanksgiving of the Wazir" is a brief morality tale about a ruler’s lesson in humility. The Sudanese story of "Samba the Coward" concludes with the hero (?) saying of his wife, “It is she who has turned the coward that I was into a brave man.”

"Kupti and Imani" are princesses, one of whom is murderously jealous of the other’s good fortune to be beautiful and in love with a handsome king. "The Strange Adventures of Little Maia" concern the perilous and magical fate of a girl who is only an inch tall. "Diamond Cut Diamond" is another tale of cleverness, in which a merry young man turns the tables on a greedy scoundrel. "The Green Knight" has much in common with “Kupti and Imani,” for both require a princess to find a lifesaving cure for her beloved, who believes she is the one who has poisoned him.

"The Five Wise Words of the Guru" are moral principles that see Ram Singh through his perilous and profitable career. This story also contains an unforgettable subplot (and illustration) about a grief-maddened giant who carries the bones of his late wife everywhere he goes. In "The Golden-Headed Fish," an ancient Egyptian prince who, with the aid of an Arab servant, survives and prospers through many perilous adventures. "Dorani" is a merchant’s beautiful daughter, who finds herself torn between the pleasures of fairy society and the love of a handsome prince.

"The Satin Surgeon" is yet another princess, who goes in disguise to the sickbed of her beloved and cures him of a deadly poison. "The Billy Goat and the King" resembles the tale called “The Language of Beasts” in The Crimson Fairy Book, only without quite as much graphic wife-beating. "The Story of Zoulvisia" is the tale of a terrible maiden, who deceives, robs, and murders everyone who hunts in her forest; of the prince who conquers her and wins her heart; and of how they “both learnt how to keep happiness when they had got it.”

"Grasp All, Lose All" is the gruesome story of how five men tried to cash in on one moment of good fortune...and met their doom. "The Fate of the Turtle" is another sad, cautionary tale about boasting, featuring two young ducks and an ancient turtle. "The Snake Prince" tells of the bizarre origin of a prince, and of the feat of courage which his wife must accomplish in order to repair a terrible mistake. "The Prince and Princess in the Forest," which is similar to a tale known elsewhere as “The Strong Prince,” involves a robber chieftain, a cowardly queen, a troll, and seven worthless youths, besides the titular couple.

"The Clever Weaver" saves a kingdom by deciphering the weird sign language of an powerful emperor’s ambassador. "The Boy Who Found Fear at Last" is a Turkish version of a tale that found its way through the brothers Grimm to The Blue Fairy Book — only this version has a great deal more irony, I think. "He Wins Who Waits" is a tale similar to “The Five Wise Words of the Guru,” only this one comes from Armenia instead of India. "The Steel Cane" is used — alas, without success — to teach a lesson to a young man who spends all day getting drunk and all night beating his wife and child. The Punishment of the Fairy Gangana is the sometimes sweetly whimsical, sometimes impenetrably bizarre story of the battle between two fairies over the fate of three generations of a royal family.

"The Silent Princess," whose wooers must die if they fail to make her speak, is undone by a prince who is wise enough to listen to the advice of a nightingale, who (by the way) tells three stories within the story. From this last tale I draw this one brief quote, just to illustrate how delightful this book can be...

“I see clearly that you are interested in none of these things,” said he at last, “and as I have been forced to hold my peace for so many months, I feel that now I really must talk to somebody, so I shall go and address my conversation to the candlestick.” And with that he crossed the room behind the princess, and cried: “O fairest of candlesticks, how are you?”

“Very well indeed, my lord,” answered the nightingale; “but I wonder how many years have gone by since any one has spoken with me? And, now that you have come, rest, I pray you, awhile, and listen to my story.”

“Willingly,” replied the youth, curling himself up on the floor, for there was no cushion for him to sit on.

“Once upon a time,” began the nightingale....

The Orange Fairy Book

Mr. Lang’s prefaces to his twelve “fairy books of many colours” are often very informative, particularly about what makes fairy stories so important, and how to answer the objections of their critics. The preface to The Orange Fairy Book is no exception. Here Mr. Lang introduces 33 stories from a variety of cultures and traditions, admitting that some of the more “cruel and savage deeds” from the original stories had to be toned down a bit for young readers. He adds, “It is impossible, even if it were desirable, to conceal the circumstance that popular stories were never intended to be tracts and nothing else. Though they usually take the side of courage and kindness, and the virtues in general, the old story-tellers admire successful cunning as much as Homer does in The Odyssey. At least, if the cunning hero, human or animal, is the weaker....”

He goes on to speculate about why the stories of so many different cultures are so similar to each other. Though I won’t quote it, I think you will find Mr. Lang’s theory interesting and worth your attention. But I suppose one reason why different peoples tell similar tales is that people everywhere have similar problems, weaknesses, and needs, and therefore similar fantasies about overcoming them. Take this exchange from the Catalan tale of “The Girl Fish,” which up to a certain point reads like a conversation any modern mother and son could have:

[S]he took her son’s hand and entreated him to tell her the cause of his sorrow. "For," said she, "if I can give you happiness, you shall have it."

"It is no use," answered the prince; "nobody can help me. I must bear it alone."

"But at least let me share your grief," urged the queen.

"No one can do that," said he. "I have fallen in love with what I can never marry, and I must get on as best I can."

"It may not be so impossible as you think," answered the queen. "At any rate, tell me."

There was a silence between them for a moment, then, turning away his head, the prince answered gently:

"I have fallen in love with a beautiful deer!"
Multiply the pleasure of that story by 33, and add 58 fine illustrations by H. J. Ford, and you get a fairy-story extravaganza that will keep readers and listeners—anyone who is at least a child at heart—hooked for days and days! Here is just a taste of each of the tales in this book, to whet your appetite...

From the Senna oral tradition of what is now Zimbabwe comes "The Story of the Hero Makóma," whose name means “greater,” and who challenges and defeats the giants who created the world, one after another. The same tradition gives us "The Magic Mirror," in which a village chief tragically learns how his reward for saving the serpent king’s life will be his own undoing. From the Punjab region of India comes the "Story of the King who would see Paradise," about the fate that befell a king who “was not content to wait patiently to see the Paradise of the faithful.” Another African story is "How Isuro the Rabbit tricked Gudu," the latter being a baboon; see also “Cousin Greylegs, the Great Red Fox, and Grandfather Mole” from Pyle’s Wonder Clock.

The Western Highlands of Scotland provide the setting for "Ian, the Soldier’s Son," who is the only lad “in the leeward, or in the windward, or in the four brown boundaries of the sea” who can defeat three giants and free three captive princesses. An Hispanic tradition gives us "The Fox and the Wolf," in which the moon’s resemblance to a round of cheese helps a mother fox escape from a hungry wolf. Another Highland yarn is "How Ian Direach got the Blue Falcon," in which one impossible task after another is heaped on a lad who seems unable to follow the advice of a magical fox—and all to win himself free from his stepmother’s curse. Hans C. Andersen’s well-known tale of "The Ugly Duckling" is not a fairy story in the strictest sense, but it has its own kind of magic.

"The Two Caskets," from Thorpe’s "Yule-Tide Stories," compares the fate of two stepsisters, each seeking her fortune in a magical world. From India, "The Goldsmith’s Fortune" tells not only how a clever rogue got the best of “the greedy village people,” but also how he paid for his roguish ways. In "The Enchanted Wreath," from Thorpe, an evil witch tries to replace a queen with her own daughter, though the lass is under such a curse that she can say nothing but the words “Dirty creatures!” "The Foolish Weaver" is an exceedingly short “tall tale” about the absurdity of not one, but seven weavers. From the Berbers comes "The Clever Cat," in which a young man steals a wishing stone from an ogre (who had stolen it from him), with the aid of a dog, a falcon, some rats and fish, and yes, a clever cat.

"The Story of Manus," from the highlands, is a condensed version of the legend of a destined king who is persecuted by his jealous aunt. "Pinkel the Thief," from Thorpe, steals three treasures from under the nose of an island-dwelling witch—not because he’s a thief by nature, but because his jealous brothers and a greedy king forced him to do it; see also Pyle’s “Peterkin and the Little Grey Hare.” Then there are three connected Berber tales, "The Adventures of a Jackal," "The Adventures of the Jackal’s Eldest Son," and "The Adventures of the Younger Son of the Jackal," in each of which a roguish beast tries to outwit his friends, only to be outwitted in the end.

In a Slavic tale, "The Three Treasures of the Giants" help the youngest and weakest of three brothers become a powerful king; only in a strange but poignant postscript, it seems his descendants paid dearly for forgetting where they came from. In what I think is a Native American tale, "The Rover of the Plain" is a buffalo whose fate is tragically tied to the family he serves. "The White Doe" is one of Madame d’Aulnoy’s fairy tales, wherein the beautiful princess is under a christening curse, so that something awful will happen if she sees sunlight before her fifteenth birthday. I have already quoted from "The Girl Fish," in which a pretty girl with the power to become various kinds of animals, wins her freedom from a curse and the heart of a prince.

"The Owl and the Eagle" set up a decidedly non-traditional household by marrying two girls and fathering children, one of whom is a toad. "The Frog and the Lion Fairy" appear in another Madame d’Aulnoy story, in which a frog stops a king from remarrying after his queen disappears, then helps a handsome prince save the princess from a dragon. From the Celtic tradition come "The Adventures of Covan the Brown-Haired," who, in contrast to his older brothers, overcomes a host of difficulties by being faithful, kind, and brave. A man named José learns that “we never waste time when we are helping others” in the tale of "The Princess Bella-Flor," which also boasts a picture of a king jumping into a cauldron full of boiling oil. In the Spanish story, "The Bird of Truth" proves that two little orphans are really the king’s son and daughter, whom the wicked courtiers tried to rub out.

"The Mink and the Wolf" tells how a mink cleverly eluded the vengeance of a clan of wolves. "Adventures of an Indian Brave" culminate in a father telling his child “how he caught salmon in the Land of the Sun.” A race of man-eating ogres called Stalos figure in a pair of Lappish stories called "How the Stalos were Tricked" and "Andras Baive." In the first, a family of Stalos is wiped out by the vengeance of two Lapp families; in the other, a heroic mountain man outruns, outjumps, and outwits a pursuing enemy who is half Stalo. Another hispanic tradition gives us "The White Slipper," which, if it contains any magic, is of the potions variety; otherwise it is the story of how a young apothecary wins a princess’s hand and cures a king’s festering wound. Finally, "The Magic Book" teaches a Danish lad named Hans to turn into various kinds of animals. This tale partly resembles Pyle’s “The Clever Student and the Master of Black Arts,” with the addition of a princess and her lover who escape from being buried alive through a tunnel to the other side of the world.

Every one of these stories oozes with romance, adventure, silliness, scariness, and all the things that make little eyes dance and grown-up eyes twinkle. If you love fairy tales, or know someone who does, I recommend The Orange Fairy Book.

The Pink Fairy Book

A single man living in a small town [EDIT: This was before I moved to St. Louis] has to be careful not to let too many people see him reading something called The Pink Fairy Book. He mustn’t take it to the laundromat, or read it in the waiting room while his car is having in oil change, or pass time with it while his supper is cooking at the downtown diner (where, by the way, they actually serve brain sandwiches). If I have to explain the reasons for this, you obviously won’t understand why I also didn’t view the movie “Ice Princess” when it opened at the local cinema. People will gossip without any help from me.

Nevertheless, under the cover of anonymyty furnished by my really unimaginative pen name and the fact that no one in a 30-mile radius of where I live actually reads (to judge by the lack of bookstores), I can confide to you, dear reader, that I read Andrew Lang’s 1897 collection of folk tales and fairy stories. It was a daring venture, but I risked it for your sake. Let no one say that Robbie Fischer was daunted by a mere threat to his manhood. Besides, it took me a month to read it because I couldn’t take it to the laundromat.

Seriously, though, with a title like The Pink Fairy Book, you might not expect it to contain the spookiest story in all of Andrew Lang’s “many-colored fairy books.” Its mixture of mischief, romance, adventure, and magic from cultures all around the globe are nothing new; Lang has never let us down yet! But in his preface to this book, even Lang admits that “The Princess in the Chest” is about as scary as a fairy tale should be allowed to get—and the original Danish version is scarier!

In spite of the title, readers of both sexes and all ages will find excitement, laughs, warmth, and chills in this book, with 41 stories from Japan, Africa, and every corner of Europe from Sicily to Scandinavia. To say nothing of nearly 70 illustrations by the redoutable H. J. Ford! How shall the stories delight thee? Let me count the ways:

First, there are animal stories. The book opens with the wry Japanese story of “The Cat’s Elopement,” in which two talking cats run away together and find their way to a Princess’s palace. Then there are two animal fables: “The Jackal, the Dove, and the Panther,” and “The Little Hare,” which both showcase the cleverness of one beast who outwits the others. Besides that there are several stories of princes or princesses who have been turned into various animals by a fairy enchantment: “The Sparrow with the Slit Tongue,” “King Lindorm” (a giant serpent), and “The Wounded Lion.” In “The Two Brothers,” a little fish, caught by twin brothers, offers a rich reward for setting him free (see also The Brown Fairy Book’s “The Knights of the Fish”). And finally, there are several other stories in which magical creatures play a major role: “How the Dragon was Tricked” (also starring a hippogriff), “The Goblin and the Grocer” (Hans C. Andersen’s moving parable about scholars and businessmen), “Uraschimataro and the Turtle” (a very sad Japanese tale), “The Slaying of the Tanuki” (also from Japan), “The Bird ‘Grip’” (similar to Pyle’s story of “The White Bird”), and the classic tale of “Master and Pupil” in which two wizards duel to the death by transforming themselves into different creatures. I might also mention “Peter Bull,” a merry story about a foolish old couple who adopt a bull as their son; “The Fir Tree,” “The Shirt-Collar,” and “The Snow Man,” each a moral lesson wrapped in a sentimental story by Andersen; and “The Golden Lion,” which is actually hollow and has a prince hiding inside.

Then there are plenty of good, straightforward, magic-and-danger-filled adventures of youths setting out to make their fortunes, princes and princesses passing through fiery trials before they can be married, and the monsters, magicians, fairies, and demons who help or hinder them. “The House in the Wood” contains a test for three pretty woodcutter’s daughters. “The Flying Trunk” transports a merchant’s son to distant lands and gives him an opportunity to marry a princess—if he doesn’t blow it! “The Princess in the Chest” seems at times to be a ghost story rather than a fairy tale, but it ends all right. “The Three Brothers” attempt to prove themselves the master of one art or another, in a tall story from the brothers Grimm. “The Snow-queen” is a big, strange story full of unusual incidents, but mainly it has to do with a little girl’s quest to save the boy she loves. “Hans, the Mermaid’s Son” is a prodigy of brute strength in a Danish tall tale. “Snowflake” is a child who starts life as a doll made out of snow, and ends up as a puff of steam. “I know what I have learned” is a phrase repeated by a remarkably foolish man whose daughters are married to trolls; “The Cunning Shoemaker,” in contrast, is remarkably clever.

“The King who would have a Beautiful Wife” gets, instead, a frightful old hag. “Catherine and her Destiny” are at war from the time the girl chooses to be happiest at the end of her life. “How the Hermit helped to win the King’s Daughter” is another version of the old standby about a ship that sails on land, and its crew of men who can do amazing things. “The Water of Life” shows us how a girl succeeded where her seven brothers failed. “The Man without a Heart” provides some of the folkloric background to the horcruxes in Harry Potter. “The Sprig of Rosemary” contrasts the fate of two stepsisters, one good, the other wicked. “The Troll’s Daughter” becomes the bride of a young man who knows when to play the fool (I should have mentioned it earlier, because the troll turns the youth into different kinds of animals). “Esben and the Witch” may seem unlikely enemies to Harry Potter fans, since Esben rides around on a flying stick. “Princess Minon-Minette” lives in a world where every prince and princess is brought up by a different fairy godmother, some of whom are good, some bad, and some painfully indifferent. “Maiden Bright-eye” suffers dreadfully, but also becomes a king’s bride, because of her stepmother’s malice. “The Merry Wives” each wager that her husband is the daftest. “The Story of Ciccu” relates the fortunes of a lad who has two jealous brothers, a fickle king, a talking horse, and other enchanted items. And finally, “Don Giovanni de la Fortuna” is that rare man who gets the best of a pact with the devil, and who also proves that happiness comes to those who look for beauty below the surface.

For instance, if in the next week or two you see a Hagrid lookalike reading The Lilac Fairy Book in your neighborhood laundromat, don’t rush to judgment. He might be the ideal future husband and the father of your kids! At least he’ll know a lot of bedtime stories!

1 comment:

elikottil said...

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