How Harry Clarke saw Charles Perrault's Fairy Tales?
This is a very special book for at least two reasons. It's a translation of Perrault's Histoires ou Contes du Temps passé (Les Contes de ma Mère l'Oye) or Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals (Tales of Mother Goose).
Although it's practically the last of Perrault's projects, written when he was almost 70 years old, signed by his son's name and written as a sort of parody, it's by far his most important work. He wrote eight fairy tales among which we can see some of the most popular ones ever: Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, The Sleeping Beauty and Puss in Boots. He set the tone of the modern fairy tale as a genre, gave red color to the Riding Hood and described the slippers of Cinderella (here titled as Cinderilla) as made of glass. He added a moral (or sometimes even two of them) to the end of every story, emphasizing the educational potential of fairy tales (even if this was probably not his intention) which were made for grown-ups only in his time.
Thanks to this book the fairy tale as a self-standing-genre was born and Charles Perrault is rightfully proclaimed as the father of fairy tales. While none of the plots in this book is original and all stories were printed before his birth, Perrault showed the way to hundreds of writers who started writing, collecting, editing, and publishing fairy tales in next centuries. Yes, they started and never finished. Fairy tales are still being written after almost the same pattern as he used at the end of the 17th century.
The other reason why is this book so special are illustrations by Harry Clarke. His approach to already classic work of world literature is brave and unexpected, probably not aiming at kids as default audience at all. Thanks to his skills we can enjoy in dramatic black and white drawings where the tension between characters is obvious.
Each fairy tale is accompanied with a full-page color illustration with strong black linings yet often with colors which are often presented with numerous blending shades. Such an approach gave the illusion of space but not a typical 3 D space (children's illustrations are almost always 2 D). Clarke's color pictures are somehow elusive just like the scene is partly present here, in the real world, partly in some other (fairy-tale?) dimension.
There are also many decorative elements, one of the characteristics of the Art Nouveau movement. These are not always pretty as we expect in majority of cases. They often give a grotesque feel, what reminds as of another genius artist - Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1892). There are in general three or four unique illustrations for each fairy tale with a decorative vignette at the end (at the moral of the story). Sometimes there are two decorations and all of them are repeated for several times.
Let's take some time to look at fairy tales as they are sequenced in the book with scans of all illustrations:
Little Red Riding-Hood
This version of Red Riding Hood is slightly different than the version by Brothers Grimm we are mostly used to. At Perrault there is no hunter. The wolf eats the granny, then the girl and it's over.
(He asked her whither she was going)
The moral is simple: don't trust old guys. They are ultimate predators!
You may know this story under a different name: Diamonds and toads.
It's a classic rivalry between sisters. One is a victim and is rewarded for her kindness. The other is punished for her vanity.
Am I come to serve you with water, pray?
One of the girls gets diamonds, the other loads of toads.
Author offer two morals in this case:
- Money is great, manners are even greater.
- Your behavious will evetully be rewarded.
It's next to impossible to find this fairy tale about a mass murderer in modern collections. It's just too scary.
(This man had the misfortune to have the blue beard)
(What, is not the key of my closet among the rest?)
She betrayed his trust by looking into a forbidden chamber. So she must die.
There are two morals again:
- Curiosity can kill you.
- There are no husbends like Blue beard was anymore.
The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood
Everybody knows the story about the princess being cursed and waiting for the prince to wake her up after long long time, right? Wrong. This is an older version, specific to Perrault, which is closer to older variations of the fairy tale, like Sun, Moon, and Talia.
(At this very instant the young fairy came out from behinfd the hangings)
Apart from some minor differences like the number of the fairies in Perrault's (presented in this book) and Grimms' (most known) versions, there is a whole new world of plotswhen we find out the prince has a secret - his mother is a meneating ogre and his wife should fight for her life. And the life of their kids!
(The prince enquires of the aged countryman)
In the end, somebody has to die. Which lady will be prince's new favorite?
(He saw, upon a bed, the finest site was ever beheld)
(I will have it so, replied the Queen, and will eat her with a Sauce Robert)
As we can see, Perrault had a great although sometimes very black sense of humor.
How about the moral?
You may have a hundred years for a good husband and yet there will probably be more obstacles to the relationship.
The Master Cat or Puss in Boots
Another well-known story about the miller's sons who didn't inherit equal parts of father's heirloom. The youngest got just a cat.
But the cat was not an ordinary animal. With a pair of boots it transformed into an extremely resourceful helper and made his master a king!
Once more two morals of the story are offered:
- It's great to have a property, but it's even better to know how to act.
- Youth and good clothes may be enough to win a heart of a princess.
Cinderilla; or, The Little Glass Slipper
While there are more than one thousand known variations of Cinderella, this one is still best know in the world. It's the first one with glass slippers and with a happy ending where Cinderella (in this translation called Cinderilla) forgives her wicked sisters.
(Any one but Cinderilla would have dressed their heads away)
(Away she drove, scarce able to contain herself for joy)
(She left behind one of her glass slippers, which the Prince took up most carefully)
We are already accostumed to two morals:
Grace her make you a queen.
No matter what are your qualities and how many of them you have, you still should obey your godmother.
Riquet with the Tuft
This story doesn't belong to the best. It's about an ugly prince who is blessed by a fairy. He is not only extremely witty and likable but can make smart his true love as well.
When he meets a beautiful princess who is also very stupid, his mission is about to be completed.
Guess what? She was 'blessed' by the same fairy too.
- We are always attracted to beautiful minds. If they are paired with beautiful bodies even better.
- Love can find the best in everybody.
Little Thumb is a fairy tale very similar to Hansel and Gretel. Instead of a brother and a sister there are seven brothers lost in the wood. The youngest is the smartest.
(He brought them home by the very same wy they came)
Instead of the witch they find a house with an ogre. He is a maneater too.
(Little Thumb was as good as his word, and returned that same night with the news)
The second half of the story resembles Jack and the Beanstalk.
The moral of the story?
Sometimes the least respected member of the family brings the best.
The Ridiculous Wishes
There was a poor woodcutter, angry for not having a chance to fullfil a single tiniest wish. But he got a chance. He was granted three wishes!
(Jupiter appeared before him wielding his mighty thunderbolts)
He decided to choose his wishes very carefully. Together with his wife.
(A long black pudding came winding and wriggling towards her)
Well, their wishes were not so smart after all.
(Truth to tell, this new ornament did not set off her beauty)
The moral is obvious. If you are stupid, the gifts of the gods won't help you.
This fairy tale is out of fashion for long time now. It belongs to the family of stories related to Cinderella. But there's a twist - instead of the prince her own father is in love with her.
(He thought the Princess was his Queen)
When the princess realized his intentions, she ran away.
(Another gown the color of the Moon)
She disguised herself, she made impossible wishes, ... It was not enough.
(Curiosity made him put his eye to the keyhole.)
Fortunately, the king found his queen, the princess got her prince and everybody was happy.
The moral is a bit different than the morals before: although the plot in unbelievable, it can still entartain some audience.
With this we conclude the review of The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault, illustrated by Harry Clarke. The book was published by George G. Harrap & Co., London in 1922.