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French fairy tales

The mysterious and enchanting fairy world captured in French fairy tales.

The mysterious and enchanting fairy world captured in French fairy tales.

We dreamed of being a princess with our prince in his castle.

We dreamed of being a princess with our prince in his castle.

Il etait une fois (fr.) . . . . Once upon a time . . . . Those four words were magic to our ears as children. It meant we were going to be taken to the magical, mysterious, and enchanting fairy tale world of long ago. A parent or grandparent was going to read to us about the world 'over the rainbow' and one we would dream about at night.

Here extraordinary events happened - poor cinder girls as Cinderella turned into Princesses, little girls had validating fears as Little Red Riding Hood did with the big bad wolf, and beautiful young girls in deep slumber were awakened by a kiss from a handsome prince as in Sleeping Beauty.

Once upon a time . . . . meant we knew if it could happen to the characters in all those wonderful stories, it could happen to us. So we dreamed and we played pretend to practice what we would say to our prince when he arrived. (Fortunately, we grew up and faced the reality that a prince might not arrive.)

We kissed frogs, flew in fairy pumpkin carriages, had fairy godmothers, and the tooth fairy too. We danced with our prince. If only those little birdies would fly into our bedroom so that we didn't have to make our own beds in the morning. Where were those birdies when you needed them?

But, all in all, Once upon a time . . . . meant a delightful world of merriment we entered if only for half and hour or so as we eagerly looked at the words and pictures of the big fairy tale book.

This was sometimes our first introduction to reading and we lapped up every word of the strange and mysterious stories. Our fears were realized and validated by the bad and evil characters in the stories but we also learned how to deal with those fears by the clever ways the protagonists got out of their predicaments and got rid of those bad and evil characters.

We learned that we could vanquish our foes, many times without violence, through leaning on our cerebral skills to outwit the villains. And, fairy tales ended happily ever after . . . . our three favorite words at the end of the story so that when we skipped off to bed we were content in the fact that all was right with the fairy world.

Interestingly, some of our favorite fairy tales we remember from childhood, Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Bluebeard, Puss 'n Boots, Goldilocks, and The Blue Bird come to us originally from France.

During the 17th century, there were several French writers that were equally important in bringing the fairy tale genre into being. They were the first in Europe to collect and write fairy tales. It is from these writers that the Brothers Grimm collected fairy tales and sometimes rewrote them in their own way during the 19th century.

Portrait of Charles Perrault.  Painting by Phillippe Lallemand 1672.

Portrait of Charles Perrault. Painting by Phillippe Lallemand 1672.

An original French fairy tale.

An original French fairy tale.

A Modern Fairy Tale

Illustration from Mother Goose.

Illustration from Mother Goose.

Charles Perrault 1628 - 1703

Not only is Frenchman Charles Perrault the "father of French fairy tales", but he also created the fairy tale story as a new genre and introduced it throughout Europe. Other fairy tale collectors and tellers such as the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson followed in his footsteps in the 19th century with the genre he began in 1697.

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Charles Perrault was born into a wealthy bourgeois family and remained bourgeois throughout his entire life. He was a French author and member of the prestigious Academie francaise and the leading intellectual of his time. He laid the foundations for a new literary genre - the fairy tale - and his stories and works were derived from pre-existing French folk tales.

He was a forerunner for the Age of Enlightenment, and era not always receptive to fairy tales and tales of magic and fairies.

His best known tales are:

Le Petit Chaperon rouge (Little Red Riding Hood)

Cendrillon (Cinderella)

Le Chat Botte (Puss 'n Boots)

La Belle au bois dormant (The Sleeping Beauty)

La Barbe bleue (Blue Beard)

These stories by Perrault were the ones also collected and re-written by the Brothers Grimm for their fairy tale books.

Perrault was a very influential writer and figure in the 17th century French literary scene. He was a French poet, prose writer and storyteller. Although he initiated literary controversy and was the leader of the Modern faction during the Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns, he is best remembered for his fairy tales for children.

He believed the modern French writers, such as Moliere, were far better writers than the ancients from the times of the Greeks and Romans. He wrote prolifically in support of the moderns and King Louis XIV and his enlightened rule. He felt the present age was far superior in every respect to ancient times.

He even went so far to claim that even modern French literature was superior to the works of classic antiquity.

But it was his Les Contes de ma Mere l'Oye, Tales of Mother Goose, published in 1697, that made him suddenly widely known beyond his own circles and salons. Mother Goose was written to amuse his own children and told in a simple style that was free of affectation. He published Mother Goose in the name of his last son, Pierre, because he feared criticism from the "Ancients."

Tales of Mother Goose, when published, only consisted of eight simple stories and was a rather thin book. With the publication of this thin book he was credited as the founder of the modern fairy tale genre.

Most of the fairy tales we read and/or hear today such as Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood are told as Perrault wrote them. He used images around him in his tales. For example, the Chateau Usse is the castle Sleeping Beauty sleeps in and the Marquis of the Chateau d'Oiron is on whom he based his Puss n' Boots character.

His eight fairy tales that became so popular and famous even up to today in Tales of Mother Goose are:

The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood

Little Red Riding Hood

Blue Beard

The Master Cat or Puss 'n Boots

The Fairies

Cinderella or The Little Glass Slipper

Ricky of the Tuft

Little Thumb

However, Perrault was not the creator of the Mother Goose figure or character. Previous French authors had made reference to Mother Goose in their writings and today no one knows exactly who came up with or created Mother Goose. So, the first popular publication to use Mother Goose as a