Friday, June 01, 2012

The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault by Angela Carter 

Don’t let the title deceive you, this is not a collection of saccharine coated fairly tales for 21st century, or as it was first published in 1977, 20th century children. Instead what we have is a subtle translation and retelling by Angela Cater of ten fairy tales which for the most part were first presented in France by Charles Perraut in 1697.

As the title "Fairy Tales" suggests the collection contains many of the classic stories you would associate with the genre, "Little Red Riding Hood", "Puss In Boots" and "Sleeping Beauty in the Woods" are just three tales contained in the collection. At a glance each tale contains all the ingredients a story more suited to children rather than adults, good overcomes evil and the prince and princess live happily ever after.

However as this is a retelling rather than a literal translation Angela Carter has for her part taken some liberties in her presentation of the stories. The first thing that the reader notices is how modern and immediately accessible the writing is. Nowhere can you say that the tales are written in a faux old world style so beloved and bedevilled of translators with translations.

The heroes are not wooden one dimensional characters rather they come across as being all too human , for example the cat in "Puss In Boots" uses cunning, intimidation and the threat of murder in order to further the cause of his master. While the princess in "Donkey-Skin", pretends not to have seen the prince spying on her as she tries on her dress that is the colour of the sun.

Some of the tales have a dark side not normally prevalent in modern rendering of fairy stories, for example in "Little Red Riding Hood", usually her father shows up, just in the nick of time to save her from the big bad wolf. In Angela Carter’s version, Little Red Riding Hood’s father is notably absent. While in "Donkey-Skin" the original reason for the princess’s departure from her kingdom is that her father was so convinced that she was the most beautiful woman in the land that the wished to marry her. Incest being reason enough for any young woman, princess or not, to flee her home.

Angela Carter was greatly influenced by Charles Perrault’s fairy tales and gave "Puss In Boots", "Beauty and the Beast" and "Cinderella" an outing in The Body Chamber, her own collection of fairy tales, albeit giving each tale an unorthodox twist at the end. She also participated in writing the script of The Company if Wolves which of course was based on her own version of the classic tale.

Each tale in the collection ends with a moral, some enhance the story while in other the moral may appear contradictory to the spirit of the story. The moral in "Sleeping Beauty" states that no modern woman would consider waiting a hundred years for a brave handsome husband. While the moral at the end of "Cinderella: Or, The little Glass Slipper" goes,

"It is certainly a great advantage to be intelligent, brave, wellborn, sensible and have other similar talents given only by heaven. But however great may be your God-given store, they will never help you to get on in the world unless you have either a godfather or godmother to put them to work for you."

In Charles Perrault, Angela Carter chose a godfather with whom she could display all her numerous illuminated talents.


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