Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Charles Perrault - father of the fairytale...

Turning on the computer this morning I spotted Google’s very fairytale themed Doodle, and obviously had to have a click! What’s that all about then…?

Oh, OK, Charles Perrault (pardon my ignorance)… the chap who pretty much invented the fairytale… hang on, not the Brother’s Grimm then? That’s a turn up! Reads more… apparently he published his tales a full 200 years earlier than the Grimm boys!

He was a French lawyer, born in 1692, who published a volume of tales catchily entitled ‘Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals’ when he was almost 70. And featured in that volume are famous stories such as ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, ‘Puss in Boots’, ‘Cinderella’, ‘Sleeping Beauty’, and ‘Blue Beard’. But he didn’t actually write these stories - they were folk tales that had already been around for so long that everyone was already familiar with them. But he was the first to write them down in a volume and actually publish them, and that laid the ground for every fairytale that followed (including those by the Grimms).

And like the Grimm tales, Perrault’s stories were pretty erm, grim. Over time they’ve become beautified and gentrified, but Perrault embraced the dark side of the tales. In ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ (‘Le Petit Chaperon rouge’) it's clear that the wolf is a man, preying on young girls who walk alone through the woods.

"I say Wolf, for all wolves are not of the same sort; there is one kind with an amenable disposition – neither noisy, nor hateful, nor angry, but tame, obliging and gentle, following the young maids in the streets, even into their homes. Alas! Who does not know that these gentle wolves are of all such creatures the most dangerous!"

And then, there’s ‘Blue Beard’ - the serial killer who marries women, kills them, and stores their bodies in the cellar. Sleep tight children, and don’t forget to do as you’re told!

Of course, Disney films have contributed a lot in the smoothing over of the darker elements within fairy stories - but they weren’t the first to put Perrault’s fairytales and folk stories on the silver screen. The very first film was a Perrault influenced version of ‘Cinderella’ filmed in 1899. (I don’t think Disney have ever tackled ‘Blue Beard’- although it seems the director behind the 1899 ‘Cinderella’ film did, released in 1902!)

So, we have a lot to be thankful to Charles Perrault for - without him we may not have the tradition of fairytales that we do now, and these amazing tales may have been lost in the mist of time. No scary wicked stepmothers or lecherous wolves, no charming princes, and no fair princesses (who perhaps lose their hearts a little too readily to the charming princes, and are forever getting lost in woods - will they never learn?!).

Sarah x

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