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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