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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Review: English Fairy Tales

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , , ,
English Fairy Tales
by Joseph Jacobs

Plot Summary:

This book contains over forty of the best-loved fairy stories, beautifully illustrated by Arthur Rackham.

Favourites such as Jack the Giant-killer, Jack and the Beanstalk, Dick Whittington, The Three Little Pigs and The Babes in the Wood are all here among many others, but stories from different traditions also make their appearance, including The Three Bears and Little Red Hiding Hood.


It's difficult to give a review for fairy tales, especially when it is a book of the stories in their original form.  How can I critique it?  They are timeless and awesome. So in my "review", I'm more comparing how this book meets my expectations based on what I have read from the more well known fairy tale compilers like the Grimm Brothers and Hans Christian Anderson.  Some of these English fairy tales are very familiar, but they are not always quite how I know them.

The first impression I had was that this book is more varied in terms of 'fairy tales'.  There are a lot of folk tales, and silly children's stories that don't have any moral or resolution really ("Master of all Masters springs to mind, as a short tale that seems to have the point of reciting silly words).  There is also a fixation on the name Jack for a lot of these characters.  I just thought that was interesting.  I wonder if they are all the same person.  There is also references to King Arthur and his court which I found very fascinating because some of these tales seem grounded in realistic detail.  They mention Kings who reigned and real locations in England as having seen the events in the story.  It makes the tales a little less fantastical, even when there are giants roaming the English countryside.

Probably the tale that most surprised me was the story of Dick Whittington which now I realize I confused with the French "Puss in Boots" fairy tale.  Dick Whittington's story is much less magical, and more about being lucky enough to have a very industrious cat who likes to hunt mice.  The story that is my focus for Project Fairy Tale - "Mr. Fox", kind of stood out to me for its implied romance, gruesomeness, and the confrontation by the heroine. There are not too many stories in this book that are the same ilk. And lastly a story that I was surprised to see included was "The Golden Arm" which I was always more familiar with as a ghost story.  But now I know it is definitely a very old one.

With the more realistic settings, sometimes whimsical nature of a few tales, and the English slang that is used at times, this book of fairy tales is rather different from what I'm used to.  I find it very interesting to read the original of familiar tales and see how things have changed.  For instance "The Story of the Three Bears" is more familiar to readers as "Goldilocks and the Three Bears."  In the original story there is no Goldilocks - rather the intruder is a very disagreeable old woman.  This book is definitely worth a read, for something different than the usual stories and perhaps to find some new favorite fairy tales.

By the way,  I read a very interesting variation in this book on the classic "and they lived happily ever after"
"they all lived happy and died happy, and never drank out of a dry cappy."
Dry cappy?

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  1. This one sounds really cool! I need to check it out!