Once Upon A Timeless Tale

It’s no secret that our bookshelves are heavily laden with children’s books. The shelves sag from their weight. Yet despite the variety of quality, modern, interesting and quirky books in our collection, it is repeatedly the fairy tales that are selected by small hands.

It intrigues me. Why? Some are so gruesome. So dark. Most are set in bygone eras, that are surely not relatable for our kids.

And yet they go back for more.

I’ve thought long and hard about their attraction, and about their endurance through time.

Is it their rhythmic nature? Three bowls of soup, three chairs, three beds etc.

Or their moralistic, purposeful nature? Don’t talk to wolves etc.

Is it their goriness, and darkness kids are so sheltered from in early years, yet are so clearly drawn to?

Is it their magic, other-worldliness? From what I know of early childhood, children are drawn to magic. Their little imaginations take hold of an impossible idea, like a talking wolf or a fairy godmother, and let themselves soar.

You may have heard that Richard Dawkins recently questioned whether it was possibly ‘harmful’ to read fairy tales to children.

‘I think it’s rather pernicious to inculcate into a child a view of the world which includes supernaturalism – we get enough of that anyway,’ he said.

Dawkins’ comments were followed by a wave of hysteria and outcry. But fairy tales inspire imagination and wonder, the rebuttal sang.

Dawkins himself later commented that he was misrepresented. Like many of the rest of us, he too feels fairy tales are important.

‘I did not, and will not, condemn fairy tales,’ said Dawkins. ‘My whole life has been given over to stimulating the imagination, and in childhood years, fairy stories can do that.’

Clearly, the magic and wonder of these tales is significant.

But I feel that although fairy tales play with supernatural concepts, have archetypal characters and are set in other worlds, they are deeply human, and it is this that makes them so attractive.

At the heart of most fairy tales is a moral, yes, but there’s also a subtle and complex character flaw or problem that needs to be resolved.

Think of naive, trusting Red Riding Hood, the fiercely jealous step mother of Snow White, or the calculating, canny yet well-intentioned mother-in-law-to-be of the Princess and the Pea. And how relatable in fact is the ugly little duckling, who exists on the fringes of his social world, an outcast because of his looks?

I think as well as craving magic, children are drawn like magnets to the complexity and the humanness of these stories. Remember too that the tales were initially orated from one person to another, passed down through generations, until they were captured in writing. These are human traits that ascend advances in technology, and other cultural developments.

Margrete Lamond, publisher at Little Hare, realised there was a distinct gap in the market between high-end luxury-gift collections of folk and fairy tales, and the cheap Disney-inspired versions that were not true to the originals.

This year, Little Hare released the Once Upon A Timeless Tale series to address this. Margrete  describes the series as a ‘classic, collectible set of fairy tales with high production values, beautiful illustrations and a sense of traditional oral storytelling in the style of writing.’

Once Upon A Timeless Tale The stories are depicted by some of the industry’s best known illustrators, like Anna Walker, Anna Pignataro and Cécile Becq. 

Detail from Puss In Boots, Cécile Becq

Detail from Puss In Boots, Cécile Becq

Margrete herself retells the fairy tales. She tried to source the very early versions, and translated from original languages to find the most authentic voice.

From all the versions of fairy tales we have in our collection, these are by far and away my favourite.

Detail from The Ugly Duckling, Jonathan Bentley

Detail from The Ugly Duckling, Jonathan Bentley

They resolve some of the inexplicable threads other versions leave hanging. For example, Goldilocks has a clear motive when entering the house of the bears.

She was wandering through the forest when she chanced upon a house. She politely knocked, but there was no answer and when she pushed, the door opened, so she went in. Goldilocks wondered why the door was left unlocked, and why three bowls of porridge were left standing on the table, but because she loved the smell of porridge, she was drawn in, and curiosity tempted her to taste from each bowl.

Detail from Little Red Riding Hood, Anna Pignataro

Detail from Little Red Riding Hood, Anna Pignataro

I also love their playfulness.

‘That should teach you’ said the grandmother, ‘not to talk to wolves.’
‘It should teach the wolf,’ said Red Riding Hood, ‘not to talk to little girls.’
And once they had agreed on this, everyone lived happily ever after.’

I also like that Puss In Boots is a smart and sassy lady cat with fine red boots.

I guess the clue to the endurance of fairy tales is in the title of this series – they are timeless. No matter what goes on in our busy, ever-changing world, the fairy story still rings true, in a magical sort of way.

The books can be purchased here.

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  • Don’t they look great Zanni! We actually have no fairy tale books, simply because I’ve never found nicely illustrated ones. These will certainly find their way onto our shelves.

    • These will be a lovely addition I think Kate. xx

  • Renee at Mummy, Wife, Me

    Wow! These books look so beautiful. I must have them! You made me smile when you mentioned book shelves bending under the weight as ours do the same. Fairy tales are a favourite here too.

    • They are surprisingly inexpensive for such good quality books Renee. Get them! x

  • Bec | Mumma Tells

    Once again you’re telling takes from inside my home, Zanni. We’ve shelves loaded with books new and old, yet the ones on repeat are the Little Golden books saved from my own childhood days, and a collection of stories from the 60s/70s by Richard Scarry, titled “Best Stories Ever”. Funny, isn’t it? X

    • It’s so funny, and so true. My daughters seem to love the books I loved as a child. It’s like it’s genetically coded. Maybe it is? If I ever to a PhD thesis, I reckon this would be a good topic 🙂 x

  • Bel from Balance in Wonderland

    Even as an adult- the magical nature, morals and otherworldliness call to me. I love nothing better than the modern retellings and adaptations happening in the entertainment world at the moment. Althought I know that the archetypes, lessons and morals are missing from these, they provide a link nonetheless.

    • I like them too Bel. I particularly loved Red Riding Hood. Of course the film versions are going to have some pretty crazy twists from the original, but the original tales certainly lend themselves to some dramatic entertainment.

  • I think there is such wonder and wisdom in the old fairy tales and fables. Long should they live!

  • We love fairytales here too. Love this books, though I haven’t purchased any yet. I’m starting to feel guilty about all the books we have in this house, but then maybe I shouldn’t after reading about your sagging under the weight book shelves!! x

  • My boys have my fairytale books from my childhood and they are very well worn and loved.That being said some of the images in the old books can be more than a little scary. I love the beautiful illustrations in your photos xx