The Quality of Fairy Tales, Part II

fairy tale illustration

Part The Second: Sheer Whack-a-doodle-ness

Example: The Grateful Prince, Andrew Lang’s Violet Fairy Book

This is one of my all-time favorite stories.

  • First, the girl is the one doing all the saving, hence the awesome title.
  • Second, the way they escape their prison (classic case of strange-old-man’s-house-in-the-forest where they must perform three-impossible-tasks) is the epitome of bizarre: the girl has the prince decapitate a cow with an axe, split its brain open, and take a glowing red ball out of it–no wait, it gets nuttier–which while lighting their way to escape, also changes them into various objects to confound their pursuers: a brook, a rosebush, and a breeze (this being a fairy tale, of course all things happen in threes).
  • Third, the prince has to do some good, hard convincing before this no-nonsense gal is willing to marry him, heir to the throne or not.

Um. A glowing red ball with shapeshifting powers was in a cow’s BRAIN? And this random girl in the forest knew this how? I used to re-read this story regularly just to prove to myself it wasn’t some weird dream I had.

It’s the gutsy suspension of disbelief on the storyteller’s part that gets me. It’s like reading modern magical realism; you read something insane, but all the characters act like it’s normal, so you re-read the last sentence to be sure that in fact, yes, that old man in the chicken coop has angel wings.

This is a related theme to my previous post about illogical plot points. But these aren’t even plot points, these are just bizarre bullet points in the text, randomly funky junkets that appear to have no purpose other than to add to their weirdness of it all.

I do love the craft of animation and I grew up Disney’s fairy-tale adaptations, but they completely lose this lusciously bizarre quality. That, and the lack of bloodiness–who doesn’t love Cinderella’s stepsisters hacking off bits of their feet to fit into the glass slipper? And then having their eyes pecked out at Cinderella’s happily-ever-after wedding? Nice bedtime story, Bros. Grimm.

To be continued…

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6 thoughts on “The Quality of Fairy Tales, Part II

    • Starr Hoffman says:

      It’s the fault of the New Braunfels Dittlinger Memorial Public Library, and the fact that they only had a few of the Andrew Lang fairy books series–The Violet Fairy Book, in which this story is found, was the one with the prettiest binding, so I read it first and often. 😉

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