The Turnip Princess

Almost exactly three years, I wrote about the discovery of a collection of previously unknown fairy tales by Franz Xaver von Schonwerth. At the time, a small collection had been published in German but there was no word on when an English translation would become available. But I just found out a paperback collection of 72 of the tales was published this past February and it is now available to purchase! That is very exciting news. I hope to purchase a copy for myself soon and look forward to adding new fairy tales to my repertoire. The book is of course available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and probably anywhere else that sells new books.

PrincessTurnip

Here is a review from NPR: It’s All Charm and Wolves in “The Turnip Princess”

Here’s a review from the Washington Post: A newly discovered trove of unknown fairy tales: “The Turnip Princess”

And here’s a story from the collection called “Tricking the Witch” that was originally published on the Slate Book Review.

An evil witch kidnapped three princesses and would not set them free. While they were in captivity, the girls learned a few magic tricks from the witch.

One day a young prince lost his way in the woods, and the two-faced witch welcomed him warmly, but she was actually plotting to kill him that night.

Although the princesses were not allowed to speak, the youngest of the three, Reinhilda, alerted the prince to the perils facing him. She had taken a liking to him, and she whispered in his ear: “When the old woman takes you to your room, don’t step on the threshold but jump over it! When she gives you something to drink for the night, don’t touch it because it will be a sleeping potion. Don’t sleep in the bed but under it. Leave everything else to me!”

After dinner the witch took the stranger up the stairs to his bedroom, and the youngest of the three sisters lit the way with her candle. The young man jumped over the threshold, and when the witch handed him something to drink, the candle went out, as if by accident. The prince poured the brew into his boot and settled down to sleep under the bed. Later that night the princess woke the prince up and fled with him using the magic she had learned while in captivity.

The two were able to soar through the air, but just as the day was dawning, Reinhilda realized that they were being followed. And indeed the witch, as soon as she had woken up, had known exactly what had happened with the prince and the youngest of the three princesses. She had sent one of the two other princesses out to catch her and bring her back.

It looked as if the two were about to be caught, when the princess said: “I’m going to change into a rosebush, and I’ll turn you into a rose. My sister is chasing us, and she won’t be able to do a thing because she can’t stand the smell of roses.” Just when the girl was closing in on them, a fragrant rosebush sprang up right in her path with a magnificent rose in bloom. The girl had been tricked, and she had to turn back. The witch scolded her to no end. “You stupid girl,” she grumbled angrily. “If you had just plucked the rose, the bush would have followed.” And then she sent the eldest of the three to find the two fugitives.

In the meantime the couple returned to their human shapes, and they continued on their way. Reinhilda turned around at one point, and she saw that they were still being pursued. She decided to take advantage of her magic powers again, and she said to the prince: “I’m going to turn myself into a church, and you are going to climb up into the pulpit and hold a stern sermon about witches and their sinister magic.”

When the third sister caught up with the pair and was just about to overtake them, she suddenly found herself near a church, and right there in the pulpit was a preacher raging against witches and their black magic. The sister returned, and when the old woman asked her what she had seen, she said: “I could see her from a distance, but when I reached the spot where she had been, there was nothing but a church there with a preacher denouncing witches.”

“Oh, you foolish thing!” the old woman said. “If only you had just shoved the preacher out of the pulpit, the church would have come back with you. Now I have to go after them. Well, they don’t stand a chance against me.”

The princess resumed her natural form, but now the old woman was chasing the two of them, and she was hot on their trail. “My magic is not as powerful as a witch’s,” Reinhilda said to her beloved. “Give me your sword. I’m going to turn myself into a pond and you will become a duck. Just stay in the middle of the pond, no matter how much the old woman tries to lure you to come on shore. Otherwise we will be lost.”

The old woman did what she could to bring the duck on land, using terms of endearment and throwing tasty morsels on the water, all in vain. The duck stayed in the middle of the pond and would not paddle any closer. Then the old woman climbed to the top of a dam in the pond and drank every drop of water in sight. The princess was now in the belly of the witch. She turned back into a human and cut the witch open from inside with the sword the prince had given to her. The witch was now as dead as a doornail.

The loving couple were reunited and in safety. The princess gave her hand to the prince at the altar, and the two lived happily together with the sisters, who had been freed from the spell.

The Journal of Mythic Arts

I love stumbling on things that seem like they were tailor made for my particular interests. Things like this: The Journal of Mythic Arts.

It’s not publishing new content anymore but the material they have will stay there so people like me can read through it at their leisure. And there are some very interesting articles on the site.

There’s a nonfiction section, that has articles like “Baba Yaga in Film” and “A Rune with a View“.

There’s a poetry section, that has poems from Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman.

There’s an art and mixed media section (oh joy!), with articles such as “On Pre-Raphaelites, Then and Now” and “From Fairy Tales to Fantasia: The Art of Kay Nielsen” (all with lots of lovely examples).

And perhaps most dangerously of all there are several reading lists provided, one for mythic fiction and one for fairy tale fiction. Each article also has a further reading list at the end (like I don’t have enough to read already!).

I see many happy days ahead, poring over the articles on this website.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland

GirlwhoCircumnavigatedFairylandCoverHave you ever known someone who you should be best friends with? As in, on the surface, this person has everything in common with you? They like the same things, they read the same books, they listen to the same music. But for some reason, you just don’t mesh well together. Why is this? Because this seems to be the case with me and Catherynne Valente.

I began hearing about Valente sometime last year because of her book The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. Well, Fairyland! I thought. That sounds interesting. And eventually I read her book Deathless. It was good, but not great, and it made me wonder if I would actually like Fairyland. So I finally got the book from the library to read and I’m now wondering why it is so popular.

There is so much about this book that I should love. September is a twelve year old girl living in Nebraska who is taken into Fairyland. Once there, she is left on her own and begins a series of adventures that ultimately lead her into direct conflict with the current ruler of Fairyland. Along the way she makes friends with a wyvern (like a dragon but not quite) and a marid, as well as getting help from fairies, spriggans, panthers and various other sentient creatures. The story owes an obvious debt to old Victorian morality and fairy tales but has a healthy dose of modernness to it.

So why don’t I love this book? I really can’t say. It’s not the first time this has happened- I never could get into the Inkheart books by Cornelia Funke. Valente’s tone bothers me a bit, as it did with Deathless. She seems to patronize a bit and whether that’s intentional or not, I can’t tell. And everything seems so…precious. I don’t really know any other way to explain it. Half the time I’m trying to enjoy the story I just end up rolling my eyes. I also have a hard time connecting or caring about many of the characters.

There is a sequel recently published, also saddled with a horribly cumbersome title: The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There. Will I read it? Probably. But I fear I’m just setting myself up for another disappointingly flat tale.

Deathless

Deathless By Catherynne M. Valente; Published 2011.

Read as part of the unintentional Russian binge I’ve been on.

I checked this out when it passed through my hands at work, partly because of the Russian influence, partly because it sounded interesting and partly because of the author. I’ve been hearing a lot about Valente recently because her book The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making has been getting a good bit of buzz. I haven’t read it yet but it’s on my list. I thought this might be an interesting introduction to her writing.

So I read it and I liked it, for the most part. Valente has a great talent for words, although at times it feels a bit self conscious- as if she knows this will sound interesting or unique but it really could have been said a different, better way. But that’s a small thing and it bothered me more at the beginning of the book than at the end so perhaps I just needed to get used to her voice.

Deathless is the story of Marya Morevna, a young girl born just at the end of the 1800’s. She grows up during the turbulent times in Russian history that began just before World War I and continued through the Communist Revolution. Marya is chosen to be the bride of Koschei the Deathless but before being allowed to marry him, she is given three tasks by Baba Yaga. After her marriage, she is drawn into the war between life and death before rediscovering her humanity after falling in love with a simple soldier.

I feel that I missed a lot of references because of my lack of knowledge regarding Russian myths. There were plenty of things I did understand though. Baba Yaga, for one, and her house with the chicken legs. Firebirds make frequent appearances and the man who reminds Marya of her humanity is named Ivan- a common Russian name that has appeared in all of the few Russian tales I have read.

The one thing that Valente excels at is creating a fairy tale from her novel. If you have read any amount of fairy tales, one thing that tends to stand out is the repetition in the plot. And this is not a bad thing. But there is a certain form in fairy tales that Valente makes good use of. For example, Marya has three older sisters and Valente describes each of their marriages in almost the exact same way. This repetition helps the reader (and, as it was initially intended for, the listener) to remember plot points and for the teller to succinctly and clearly express them.

But the main thing that bothered me about this book was the lack of purpose. The best stories have a problem, a climax, and a solution. The only thing that I can think of that might be the problem would be Marya’s loss of her humanity. But if that is the problem, I’m not really sure why I should care. Lots of stories deal with characters losing their humanity and become more interesting for it. There are also large jumps in the timeline of the plot and characters disappear before we can get to know them enough to care about them.  Deathless seems more of a cautionary tale against meddling in the affairs of magic and mythical characters but Marya takes too much evident pleasure in the world she lives in to make that seem like a viable option either.

So I did enjoy this book and might even read it again but it’s not something that I feel I can recommend as a book to make an effort to read.

The 10th Kingdom

Part of my job involves selecting new A/V materials for the library system I work for. I’m part of the committee that chooses new CDs, audiobooks, DVDs, etc. and I love that it gives me a heads up about new things coming out and specifically what’s coming to our library. As I was looking through one of our supplier’s catalogs, I happened to notice this one: The 10th Kingdom.

Oh my goodness. Guys. I love The 10th Kingdom. I’ve been thinking a lot about it for the past year or two, probably due to the influence of watching Once Upon A Time, but I’ve been unable to find it. Netflix was not carrying it, copies on Amazon were exorbitantly expensive, and our old VHS copies from home were not even an option (I don’t own a TV, much less a VCR!). But it has recently been re-released on DVD and Amazon copies are now an entirely affordable $6. Or check your local Target! They’re not selling it online but they do have some copies available in store for a dollar less and the benefit of immediate gratification! (Or if you’re super cheap and lazy, apparently the whole thing is available on youtube. Did I know this before? Maybe. But somehow the idea of sitting in front of a computer to watch a 7 hour miniseries seems horribly unappealing.)

Basically, here’s the story: Virginia and her father Tony share an apartment in the building he takes care of. Virginia’s mother left them some years before and they have not heard from her since. They discover a magic mirror that transports them to the fairy tale kingdoms we have all heard so much about. We meet all kinds of fairy tale characters like trolls, charming princes, the Big Bad Wolf, Little Bo-Peep, Snow White, and so on. It’s probably been 10 years since I last saw the show but I still remember how much fun it was and what a good story it had to tell. So tonight? I’m heading to the store. I’ve got a long (rainy) weekend coming up and this seems like a pretty good way to spend it.

Happy Independence Day, American friends!

The Beauty of the Illustrated Word

It’s no secret that I love beautiful art and, especially, beautiful book illustrations. I’m a fan of Susan Cooper on Facebook (the author of the fantastic The Dark is Rising sequence) and she occasionally posts information about new editions of the books. A few months ago, new editions from the Folio Society caught my eye. Once I went to the website to explore their other offerings I was quickly sucked into the beauty of their editions.

In their own words, The Folio Society believes that “great books should be outstanding not only in literary content but also in their physical form: this has been the philosophy of The Folio Society since it was founded in 1947 by Charles Ede, with a dream of publishing beautiful books that would be affordable to everyone.” At $40 plus for most of the books, these editions are, unfortunately, out of my purchasing range. I encourage you to visit the website and drool over the books though. And if you’re in a generous mood, let me know! I will send my wishlist to you immediately.

Some highlights from the books (click on the picture for more info on the book and more pictures):

HisDarkMaterials

His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman;
Illustrations by Peter Bailey

HitchhikersGuide

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams;
Illustrations by Jonathan Burton

ArabianNights

The Arabian Nights;
Illustrations by Edward J. Detmold

BackNorthWind

At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald;
Illustrations by Maria L. Kirk

NarniaBynes

From The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis;
Illustrations by Pauline Baynes

DarkisRising

From The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper;
Illustrations by Laura Carlin

Pinocchio

Pinocchio translated by Mary Alice Murray;
Illustrations by Grahame Baker-Smith

OliveFairyBook

From The Olive Fairy Book by Andrew Lang;
Illustrations by Kate Baylay

MerlinOnceFutureKing

The Once and Future King by T. H. White;
Illustrations by John Lawrence

PerraultsFairyBook

From Perrault’s Fairy Tales;
Illustrations by Edmund Dulac

LOTREowynills

From The Lord of The Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien;
Illustrations by Ingahild Grathmer

HobbitSmaug

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien;
Illustrations by Eric Fraser

Yikes. Maybe I went overboard a little bit. But so many beautiful illustrations! Oh and in light of that last one have y’all seen the new Hobbit trailer yet?

Happy New Year!

Well, the holiday season is over and it’s time to get back to posting. Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and best wishes for the upcoming New Year! I had a fantastic Christmas; my supercool brother-in-law gave me a Hobbit notebook that he suggested I use as a travel diary when I take my (as yet unfunded and therefore undated) epic trip to New Zealand. A suggestion I have decided to take!

Just a simple post for today then, to ease my way back into writing. I ran across this article several weeks ago and put it aside to share when I found the time. Fairy tales are what make my reading world go round and Hans Christian Andersen is the first fairy tale author/collector I remember reading. I mean, I had grown up reading fairy tales but usually they were just generic mishmashes of different versions of common stories. Andersen was the first one I read of original tales.

Basically, a Danish historian has come across a short story written by Andersen when he was 18(!). Only six pages long, the story is titled “Tallow Candle”. Perhaps not as big as the German trove found earlier this year, but still exciting nonetheless. Will it be added to Andersen’s canon? Will we begin to see it in new editions of his “Collected Fairy Tales”? We’ll see!