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On Fairy Tales

Jan Pienkowski, Sleeping Beauty, from Jan Pienkowski, Fairy Tales

Jan Pienkowski, Sleeping Beauty, from Jan Pienkowski, Fairy Tales

Hiding from Monday’s downpour in the Bondi Junction Westfield, I came across the new Puffin edition of Jan Pienkowski’s Fairy Tales in our local Borders. Originally published in the 1970s, it was a book I loved as a child, as much for its stunning illustrations as for its text. Taken with my discovery I bought it, and brought it home, thinking I could read it to my daughter when she is a bit older.

Clearly I didn’t do much of a job of hiding it, because last night she found it, and bringing it into the kitchen, demanded my partner, Mardi, read it to her. Because she’s not three yet we’ve generally shied away from reading her fairy stories, wary not just of their violence, but of the often complex ideas they involve. At first Mardi refused, telling her it was too long, and too complicated, but Annabelle insisted, and so Mardi sat down and read her ‘Snow White’. I was cooking dinner, so I could see Annabelle listening as the story unfolded, completely enthralled. Once or twice she asked questions, or pointed to a picture, but for the most part she was spellbound, despite the story running to more than 40 pages, and being filled with things she had never heard of, such as dwarves and spells, and kings and queens. And, once it was done, she asked for another, and then another.

Anyway, this morning before childcare I came into her room to find her seated on the floor with her teddy on her lap, and the book open in front of her. Turning the pages carefully she pointed to the pictures, explaining to teddy, ‘that’s a bad lady,’ and ‘that’s a dwarf,’ and ‘that’s a witch casting a spell’. And as she did I was struck anew by the thrilling power of old stories, of the way they seem somehow to be already there, somewhere deep inside of us, waiting only for us to call them back, into the light.

Update: This post reminded me of this piece, which I wrote in 2007 to coincide with the publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows:

The Lands Within

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5 Comments Post a comment
  1. I haven’t looked at your other post yet – but Annabelle might also enjoy the picture book series Pienkowski illustrated for younger children (with author Helen Nicoll), Meg and Mog.

    It has been animated for TV as well – the DVD is simply beautiful, Meg was born to wibble and wobble around a screen…Very gentle, and she is not a scary witch at all.

    April 16, 2009
  2. We’ve got one Meg and Mog book, and when she was small she loved it (though she also tore all the little string feet off the monster at the end, which rather spoiled the counting process (“eight teeth, nine stripes and . . . oh, two and a half feet”)). Weirdly I only realized it was also Pienkowski today. And no – haven’t seen the DVD, but it sounds intriguing. Mostly I now want to find the Pienkowski Arabian Nights.

    April 16, 2009
  3. Oh, and then for later there are the Pienkowski illustrated Joan Aiken Hodge stories – those weird and wonderful modern fairy tales. Lucky Annabelle to have all this ahead of her!

    April 18, 2009
  4. Joan Aiken, I mean. The Hodge is her sister Jane Aiken Hodge. Talented lot!

    April 18, 2009
  5. I had them too, now you mention them. It’s actually one of the odder aspects of having a child, that not infrequent moment of recognition while reading to them that you read a book or had it read to you when you were a child.

    April 18, 2009

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