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: