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Old, Old Fairy TalesAre you a fan of fairytales? Do you watch the mash-up Once Upon a Time on TV? Or the more horror-oriented show Grimm? I’ve been working with a writing student whose project is focused on the life of Charles Perrault, so I’ve been thinking about fairytales a lot lately.

This enduring, and endearing, form of storytelling goes back in time well before our Regency period to the late the 17th century. That’s when Perrault published “The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood” as part of his collection, Tales and Stories of Times Past with Morals: Tales of Mother Goose in 1697. (The English translation was published in 1729.) Actually, it goes back much further into the mists of time, depending on how you define fairytale vs folktale. Many of the stories are ancient, and of course there are some very ancient story traditions in the non-western cultures. But did you know that the Brothers Grimm Early ed of grimmpublished their first three German collections of tales in 1812, 1815, and 1822? Their first English edition was published in London in 1824, illustrated by Cruikshank.

Recasting some fairytales into romances has been a popular strategy for some authors within the romance genre. Turning them back into tales for adults is ironic in some cases, as some of the stories started out as strictly adult fare. But in addition to offering us plot ideas and possible story arcs, fairytales can serve in our stories exactly as they are, as part of the cultural background for our characters.

It’s good to know that if you want a character to read fairytales to children in a Regency story, any of those collected by Charles Perrault would be authentic. That includes such favorites as Cinderella, Puss in Boots, and Little Red Riding Hood.200px-Dore_ridinghood However, the late date of the Grimm Brothers’ English edition means some other best-loved stories, such as Snow White or Rumpelstiltskin, were not familiar in most Regency nurseries.

It’s possible, however, that some of the stories Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm had collected up to 1815 could have been retold in England by returned soldiers or statesmen who encountered Jacob Grimm in Paris or particularly in Vienna. That is how Devenham, the rakish hero of my 2nd Regency, The Persistent Earl, knows the story of the frog prince and recounts a cleaned-up version of it to the children in that book. (Some of this blogpost is taken from the Author’s Note I wrote for that book, a time-saving step for which I beg your indulgence!)

Jacob Grimm worked for his government during the closing years of the Napoleonic Wars. Brueder_GrimmIn 1814-15 he served at the Congress of Vienna in addition to making two trips to Paris to recover important German paintings and books stolen by the French army. In Vienna he was the nucleus of a small literary salon whose members entertained each other with the telling and retelling of folk tales and fairytales. wilhelm_grimm_250(Side note: apparently Wilhelm was struggling in the meanwhile back in their homeland. A novel just released in July, The Wild Girl, by Kate Forsyth,  tells the story of the woman who loved Wilhelm and waited ten years to marry him!) Dorchen Wild-349

Many of these stories were not originally intended for children, and were only made suitable after the Grimms modified, edited, and in some cases embellished them for publication. (a Regency precedence for Disney!) Jacob’s store of tales in Vienna would have included those already published in the 1812 German Nursery and Household Tales, plus others like “The Frog Prince” about to make their appearance in the second volume.

Here is an excerpt from TPE where my naughty hero (still recovering from wounds received at Waterloo) explains about the story my heroine, Phoebe, has just overheard him tell:

“I spent a few weeks on furlough in Vienna last winter, and that is where I chanced to hear the story. In fact, if I can remember them, I heard several others I could tell the children besides that one. There was a scholarly fellow there for the Congress, part of the Hessian delegation, who collects these kinds of stories, and he had formed a little group in Vienna who delighted in exchanging them to pass the time.”

Phoebe saw the wicked light that she had learned to recognize so well come into his eyes, and she quickly turned away to fluff his pillows. What could possibly be wicked about fairytales? And where was Mullins? She realized suddenly that both he and the tea tray had disappeared.

“I must add that many of these stories had more than one version,” Devenham continued. “I saw ladies far less reputable than you put to the blush. Some of the French and Italian stories I heard were enough to curl even my hair. Of course, I would never repeat those to children.”

Over time, the Grimm brothers published some 200 tales. However, the edition we know today as Grimms’ Fairytales was not published until 1857.Perrault's Tales -late illustration

What are your favorite fairytales? Have you ever used one in a story? Have you read (or written) any romances based on one? Let me know in the comments!

(P.S. If you were wondering, The Persistent Earl is one of my backlist books that has been reissued as an ebook by Penguin Intermix. The original paperback version is out of print.)

Time to clear the literary palate…I was brought up in England, so I read some peculiarly English things–for instance, much Enid Blyton, the bane of teachers and parents for her awful and clunky prose, overuse of exclamation points (!!) and general idiocy, but beloved by many generations of English kids. I was a big admirer of the Famous Five series, starring Julian (older brother), Dick (fairly useless younger brother), Anne (their sister, a girly girl), their cousin George and her dog Timmy. George, aka Georgina, really really wanted to be a boy and I think she was destined to have some problems later on in life. The Five, in a fantasy world of endless school holidays, spent their time tracking down Evil Foreigners/Criminals who were doing Dastardly Deeds (usually involving the kidnapping of a geeky sort of scientist for his Big Secrets). Fab stuff. At a tender age I did some math and figured out, that counting three school holidays a year, the Famous Five were well into their 30s (and Timmy must have been a doddering canine geriatric), but they hadn’t aged a bit. Just as well, for George’s sake.

That’s the low end of the pile. How about the good stuff? One outstanding book is A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley, one of the best time-travel stories I’ve ever read. It’s about a young girl who, when visiting her family in the country, goes back in time to become involved in the Babbington plot to overthrow Elizabeth I and put Mary Queen of Scots on the throne. It is a wonderfully dreamy and evocative book with a great use of language and historical detail, and the time travel details are absolutely convincing.

Another writer whose stuff I occasionally dip into now is Rosemary Sutcliffe, who wrote historical novels, concentrating mainly on the Roman-British occupation, and the period after the departure of the Roman legions from Britain. She’s another writer who created a vivid and believable world–you know she’s making stuff up but it feels absolutely right.

I could, but won’t, write a whole blog entry on Edith Nesbit, socialist, feminist, author, whose most famous book in the US is The Railway Children. I was fascinated by the adventures of children in the late Victorian period–even in the books that feature fantasy and magic, it was the ordinary fabric of everyday life that I found the most interesting. The Railway Children was made into a movie starring Jennie Agutter as its heroine Bobbie (another girl who wanted to be a boy but not as adamantly as George), and she starred as the children’s mother in a more recent version made by the BBC. A wonderful, major tearjerker.

And then there’s Rudyard Kipling. Yes, I know he was a racist, sexist misogynous product of his times, but boy, could that gent write. I feel an immediate kinship with anyone who knows what I’m talking about when I mutter the great, grey greasy Limpopo River or I am the Cat who walks by himself and all places are alike to me–both quotes from the Just-So Stories. Check out the lovely art-deco style illustrations by Kipling himself–here, the Elephant’s child is discovering what the crocodile has for dinner.

So, what did you read when you were a kid?

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