It must be quite a few years since I bought my copy of East of the Sun and West of the Moon – Old Tales from the North – illustrated by Kay Nielsen, but I’ve only just got around to actually reading the six fairy tales within it although I’ve often admired the illustrations. You can get the ebook free from Project Gutenberg here. These folk legends were collected by Asbjornsen and Moe in the 19th century.
Like most fairy tales they feature princesses, kings, godmothers, talking animals and quests, but as these tales are from Norway they also all feature trolls which are obviously a big thing in Scandinavian society which explains the presence of troll related ornaments all over tourist gift shops there. I really enjoyed the tales, but not quite as much as the artwork.
The artist Kay Nielsen was a stage designer, illustrator, painter of murals, a theatre art director and he was influenced by the British artist Aubrey Beardsley. In the 1930s he moved from Denmark to the USA where he worked for Walt Disney but it wasn’t a happy time for him and his wife and they ended up moving back to Denmark. He seems to have been a kind and gentle man, well-loved by his friends but was somehow tinged with Scandinavian melancholy.
If you want to see some of his beautiful work have a look here.
It was when I was reading Louise Penny’s latest book Glass Houses that I discovered that in some parts of the world – mainly the ‘new world’ – the words to Ring a ring o’ roses are slightly different with the word ‘ashes’ being substituted where atishoo should be. It’s a bizarre word to choose I think and makes no sense, but that’s what happens as things evolve, a sort of Chinese whisper ensues.
At school we were all taught that what seems like a charming nursery rhyme is actually about the Black Death/Plague as it describes the different stages of the disease.
The ‘ring of roses’ is the red rash that appeared on victim’s skins, usually at the top of the leg to begin with before moving on to under the arm and all over. So the pocketful of posies is describing the rash.
Atishoo atishoo (not ashes) – the next stage is sneezing and a chill, followed by fever, breathing problems and –
We all fall down is – death.
A cheery subject for a nursery rhyme – not. But that’s par for the course. Mary, Mary, quite contrary is about Bloody Queen Mary (Tudor) who had thousands of non-Catholic people executed after Henry VIII’s death.
Most fairy tales in their original guise are quite terrifying, but they’re all warnings of what can happen to children if they don’t take care. For instance Rumpelstiltskin is about the need for young girls to keep away from old men, that needle that they might get pricked with was something much more dangerous – a rumpled stilt in a skin in fact!
I would normally avoid putting children on here but as the clip below has been put on You Tube by a nursery group, I’m still not sure if that’s a good idea. Anyway, they get the song right.
Anbolyn@Gudrun’s Tights has joined in a children’s literature challenge which you can read about here. Really this challenge is right up my street as I love children’s classics, but then again I promised myself that I wouldn’t join in any challenges this year – so I’m not doing it, but I will lurk around the periphery of it, just to see if there are any books which I should have read but haven’t.
Anyway, I had been planning to start a ‘Books from my bookshelves’ series of posts, a sort of – now and again thing, just whenever the urge strikes me – or as we used to say in Scotland – ‘when it comes up my back’ meaning just when I feel like it. Don’t ask me the origins of that strange Scottish phrase!
So, on that note I thought I would share with you one of my lovely Folio books. It’s Perrault’s Fairy Tales Illustrated by Edmund Dulac.
The book contains:
The Sleeping Beauty
Little Red Riding Hood
Puss in Boots
Beauty and the Beast
The Dulac illustrations are beautiful, as indeed is the whole book. This illustration is captioned AND THERE IN A ROW, HUNG THE BODIES OF SEVEN DEAD WOMEN. Well, fairy tales are all about warning youngsters of the dangerous situations that they might find themselves in if they aren’t careful! If you want to see more of Edmund Dulac’s work have a look here.
You can download Charles Perrault’s Fairy Tales here.