Category Archives: Fairy tales

Witches and legends

We talked mostly about toilets. Sometimes you need to cheer yourself up when you’ve strayed too close to the state of things today, as Daughter and I found when we had coffee with Theresa Breslin and Kate Leiper after their Stirling Tinkerbell event on Friday.

Kate Leiper and Theresa Breslin at Tinkerbell

Tinkerbell had invited them to do a signing of An Illustrated Treasury of Scottish Castle Legends. We were quite gratified to find a queue out in the street when we arrived. (Not surprising, I suppose, as we discovered the sign outside promised singing by the two ladies…)

Theresa Breslin and Kate Leiper at Tinkerbell

The deluge of rain had stopped, so we sat on a stone wall outside in the [pedestrian] street, next to the parked police van, studying the fans and waiting for room to enter the shop ourselves.

Kate Leiper and Theresa Breslin at Tinkerbell

Theresa Breslin and Kate Leiper

We went in to chat for a bit, and Daughter might just have had a slight accident, buying something lovely-looking. Then all of us trooped outside and sat on the stone walls again, while Theresa read her Stirling-based story, with Kate as the crazy man who thought he could fly. Thankfully she only jumped off the wall in the street, not the side of Stirling Castle.

Theresa Breslin and Kate Leiper

Kate Leiper

Daughter and I went off to secure and warm up some seats at the Burgh Coffee House before the ladies arrived, each carrying a gift bag full of shop goodies. Where will they keep their new dragons?

Then it was all toilets and laughter.  There were tales about a librarian, and about Terry Pratchett, even a disposable Starbucks mugs, ‘fuel’ in other countries, and so on.

And then I might have suggested they perhaps had trains to catch. They did. I obviously wasn’t trying to get rid of them, but they had further to go than we did.

(Photos by Helen Giles)

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Return to Wonderland

Return to Wonderland

Many writers have a relationship with Alice. A whole bunch of them have now written their own new stories about Wonderland and the wondrous creatures you find there. It’s Alice Day on the 4th of July, or so I’ve been told, and here’s a whole new story collection featuring your favourite characters.

In fact, I was struck by how nicely these authors played; they all seemed to have an affinity with a different character from the other authors, which seems to mean there was no fighting. They simply sat down and mused in an interesting way about the Cheshire Cat, or the Knave of Hearts, or any of the others.

To tell the truth, I only ever read the original Alice once, and don’t have a deep and meaningful relationship with any of them. I like tea parties, but prefer them to be normal. I like my head attached. And so on.

Some of these stories were great, lots of fun and interesting new takes on the old tales. I didn’t like all of them the same, but that’s understandable as the eleven authors don’t write the same way, and maybe for me some of Wonderland’s characters are more my cup of tea than others.

‘One morning, Pig woke to discover he had been turned into a real boy.’

How can you go wrong with a start like that?

Sleeping Beauty?

I had been saving this, but it seems the time has come. Do you know your Sleeping Beauties from your Cinderellas, or more pertinently, from your own obscure and weird little passed-down-the-generations tale? Have you even heard of Simon & Garfunkel?

Apparently you can’t use Sleeping Beauty as a reference in academic circles. It’s not politically correct, for one. And secondly, most people across the world will never have heard of her. They’d be at a disadvantage. Whether because it is truly believed that Sleeping Beauty is a rather limited fairy tale, only found in, say, Hollywood, or because most of the rest of the world’s academics are both foreign and ignorant, I don’t know.

The Guardian article about the prohibition on mentioning Sleeping Beauty was interesting in itself. But then, as the Resident IT Consultant said, what happens to the Goldilocks Zone? This term appears to be used by scientists all over the world, and I’d hazard a guess they know what is meant. (They could always Google it, if not.) They’re astrophysicists, so not all that stupid or badly educated either.

I don’t believe the pc brigade have hit on Goldilocks yet. And please don’t let me be the one who leads them to her!

But it’s rather satisfying having the rightness of porridge define planets in other solar systems, don’t you think?

Arnica, the Duck Princess

This newly translated fairy tale by Hungarian Ervin Lázár didn’t, in all honesty, attract me with its title (the princess sounded more like a homeopathic remedy) nor with the illustrations (which grew on me rather when I read the book), but that brief dip into the text that I like to do, made it look both fun and intelligent. And that’s how it turned out to be.

Ervin Lázár and Jacqueline Molnár, Arnica, the Duck Princess

The style of writing is refreshingly modern and amusing, and the plot does have a poor young man for the Princess Arnica, but there are no three* brothers, nor any stupid or unkind parents. The King is lovely, in fact. Very sensible and kind and fair. Arnica herself is apparently not all that beautiful, or at least not until Poor Johnny, as the hero is called, sees her and falls instantly in love, and that makes her beautiful. Poor Johnny is poor, but the King does not mind this.

All would be just great were it not for the wicked Witch,** who casts a spell making the young couple into ducks. But being so very much in love, they decide to take turns being a duck.

And eventually, after many charmingly different little adventures, the two leave their duck-ness behind and everyone lives happily ever after.

What’s so attractive, apart from the fun story, is the language. I have no way of knowing if this is the style of Ervin Lázár, capably translated by Anna Bentley, or if there is some magic happening in the translation. There is an unusual plot device in that in every chapter the author appears to be chatting to a child about how to proceed and what certain things mean, sometimes having new ideas or names introduced into the story, the way a child might come up with odd little things. It’s really very charming.

And as I said, the illustrations by Jacqueline Molnár turn out to be exactly what the book needs.

*You do get twelve of them at one point…

**The Witch, well, she’s really bad. Mostly.

Bookworm – A Memoir of Childhood Reading

I want to be Lucy Mangan. We are so alike in many ways, but I haven’t read all the books she has, nor can I write like she does. I want to [be able to] write like Lucy Mangan!

I don’t expect that will happen.

I also want to know what her house/library/bookshelves look like. I can’t conceive how you can keep that many books – in a findable way – in a normal house. Assuming she lives in a normal house.

Lucy Mangan, Bookworm

After reading Lucy’s Bookworm, I now love her parents, too. I especially feel I’ve got to know Mrs Mangan better – and that’s without the letter to the Guardian stating that the Mangans were happy to have their daughter adopted by some other Guardian letter writer.

A friend of mine often mentions the fear induced in millions of people by the four minute warning so ‘popular’ in the 1980s. I’d almost forgotten about it, and never really worried all that much. Little Lucy was extremely concerned, but was reassured by her mother, who clearly knew what the child needed to hear. Basically, it would be in the news, so they would be prepared. They’d not send her to school if the end seemed imminent, and they would all die together at home. Problem solved.

Bookworm is about what one bookworm has read – so far – in her life of loving children’s books. She is not repentant (I must try harder), and will keep reading what she wants, as well as keep not doing all those ghastly things other people like, if she doesn’t want to. That’s my kind of bookworm!

This reading memoir is full of the same books we have all read, or decided not to read, as well as some real secret gems I’d never heard of and will need to look for. Lucy rereads books regularly, but doesn’t mention how she finds the time for all this.

It’s been such a relief to discover that she dislikes some of the same books I’d never consider reading, and even more of a relief to understand how acceptable, and necessary this is. Lucy even has the right opinions on clothes. Very useful to know there are sensible women in this world.

I had to read Bookworm slowly. I needed to savour what I could sense wouldn’t last forever. Although one can obviously reread Bookworm, just as one can other books. (Where to find the extra time, though?)

Growing up a generation – not to mention a North Sea – apart, we didn’t always read the same books. But by now we sort of meet in the here and now, and Lucy ends her book by listing a number of today’s must-read authors, and her judgement is almost completely spot on and correct.

So to summarise; I can read the same books. I can probably not store as many in my house. But I will never be able to write as well. (And I rather mind that.)

(According to Lucy, she loves her young son more than she loves books. Bookworm was given to me – after some hinting – by Daughter, whom I happen to love more than books too.)

Through the Water Curtain

Cornelia Funke didn’t like fairy tales as a child. I’m just about with her on that. I did read them, possibly even liked them, but when you think about it, there isn’t much to actually ‘like.’ Is there?

As Cornelia points out in her introduction to her new collection of classic – but less well known – fairy tales, children are less sensitive than us adults tend to believe. I hope that is true, because there are some gruesome stories here, along with some lovely ones too.

I wasn’t really planning on reading all the tales in Through the Water Curtain. But with one thing and another, I discovered I was sitting there, reading one story after another. So much for that.

But I did actually skip one. It was too gruesome for me, adult though I am, and everything. I permitted myself to leave that particularly bloodthirsty and unpleasant tale right where it was. No doubt someone else will find it and enjoy it.

Cornelia Funke, Through the Water Curtain

This is a gorgeous volume, with a cover that I have found myself stroking repeatedly, all in blue and green with gold. Anyone would love to receive one of these for Christmas.

As Cornelia points out, women get a raw deal in fairy tales. There are so many silly young princes and their father the King, and far too many females quite content to marry the cleverest young man, no questions asked.

The pattern of these stories is much the same as in all fairy tales. With one or two exceptions, however, they are mostly new, to me, and to many westerners. Cornelia has long collected tales from all over the world, and in Through the Water Curtain she offers readers plenty of new material.

The Glass of Lead & Gold

Cornelia Funke’s The Glass of Lead & Gold is that best of things, a beautiful, small volume consisting of a Christmas story that can be read at any time. Written in English and illustrated by Cornelia herself, it is set in her Reckless world.

In an alternate, past London, we meet Tabetha, an orphan trying to survive by searching for ‘treasure’ in the Thames mud. Just before Christmas she’s asked by a stranger to look for a sliver of glass. A specific sliver, for which he will pay well.

There is a ‘soup kitchen’ and a troll, as well as a one-armed waitress, and together they work some Christmas magic.

Cornelia Funke, The Glass of Lead & Gold

I reckon anyone would love to discover this in a stocking, or to have it to read in the months leading up to Christmas. It’s small and could lead to better things, just like the sliver of glass.