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The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault

Les contes de Perrault: (D'apr├Ęs les textes originaux) - Charles Perrault


Charles Perrault (1628 – 1703) was a controversial figure who argued before the Académie française (at his initiation ceremony(!)) that "modern" French literature was superior to that of the Greco-Romans. That enlivened the proceedings... Later, he elaborated his reasons and included the less than convincing argument that because the reign of Louis XIV was so enlightened, his age was superior in all respects to that of the ancients. Apparently, he finished his life writing epic poems with Christian themes.


But before he went off on these tangents, he composed fairy tales in verse and prose which have entered into the popular culture and thought of all the peoples of Western Europe and their colonial offspring, including the Land of Unlimited Opportunity: Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Puss-In-Boots, and others. The Brothers Grimm reworked many of these stories and added their own macabre touch, but already Perrault's stories were not the prettified and watered down versions I grew up with. Not at all. 


I don't recall being told in Sleeping Beauty about fairies being transported in fiery chariots drawn by dragons; nor that the Prince's mother was of the race of ogres, so he kept his relationship with Sleeping Beauty secret in order that she not be tempted to devour her grandchildren. When the King died, the Prince and new King made the relationship public, and, shortly after he went off to war, the Queen Mother ordered her four year old granddaughter to be served à la sauce Robert. If you want to know if she succeeded in her desire (with a little Chianti), you'll have to read Perrault's version of the tale. She did like the sauce, though - she ordered her grandson and then the young Queen to be served in the same manner.


I was amused how Perrault hastened to assure the reader that when the prince came by the château ensorcelé, he was of a different royal family (I know how worried I was about the horrid possibilities of incest). But I don't think Walt Disney would have been pleased to read that Sleeping Beauty was not quite 16 years old when she awoke and the Prince made her acquaintance, since over the next two years they had two children which were probably not brought by storks... Or maybe she was not quite 116 years old - then it is OK, yes? But the children were born out of wedlock. Hmmm, not even fairy tales written by future authors of epic poems about obscure bishops are reliable!


If, like me, you only know the strictly abridged versions of these tales, do look at Perrault's originals. You might even want to tell them to your children, because children like the macabre also. At least I was told that the wolf ate poor old grandma...


Due to the immeasurably valuable resources of Gallica




I was able to read an illustrated edition of Perrault's Contes published in 1697 (I was also able to snag a file containing all of Gustave Doré's illustrations, as well - see above).