Five of my Favorite Fairy Tales
I passionately love fairy tales. I love the act of storytelling-using words, tone, and gesture to conjure scenes. I love stories told of heroes, fools, and villains in comedic upsets, heart-rending drama and inevitable resolutions. I love being in the audience, watching a master at work and envisioning all they convey; to be immersed in a well-told story is as nourishing for the soul as a bracing meal is for the body. Even if we no longer confine the telling of tales to winter firesides or quilting racks but include movies, televisions, radios, water coolers, buses, libraries, bedsides, and kitchen tables in the tableaux as well, stories still hold families and communities together. It is comforting to be a part of a human tradition that, over the years, has changed settings but never substance. This is the beautiful thing about a story: it is one of the most portable items in the world and certainly one of the most timeless. Here is a list of five of my favorite fairy tales which I submit for your perusal. I change my mind and revise this list in my heart as I squeeze more volumes of tales onto my bookshelves; the world is full of stories and it shall never run out. I hope that you are inspired by this list and its attendant recommendations to go to your local libraries and find your own favorites.
1. Beauty and the Beast
This is my favorite fairy tale in the world. 1 It can be found in as many different time periods and disguise as there are cultures in the world, though the essential story of the transformative power of love is ever the same in spirit. Two of my favorite versions of the story are “The Singing, Soaring Lark,” and “East of the Sun and West of the Moon,” which both feature incredibly intrepid heroines who save their families and go on wondrous adventures in the process.
2. The Seven Ravens 2
I love stories where a sister find the means to save her brothers from evil using creative and surprisingly effective methods like going on adventures to the heavens to interrogate the celestial elements. In this story, the unnamed little sister does not allow herself to merely feel guilty about the loss of her siblings as the townsfolk would have her do 3 but rather takes the initiative to pack her things and save them herself relying not upon the generosity of the stars but ultimately upon her own intelligence. There are many incarnations of this sister-savior theme and a prodigious number seem to involve birds. Maybe it is the ultimate expression of disinterested selfless love that draws me to these tales: to risk your life to help someone with whom you’ve most likely enjoyed a sporting rivalry, to love so much even though you probably will never enjoy the same privileges in real life after “The End,” takes place. The sisters are rarely named, and even though they perform superhuman feats of endurance and courage, the reward they are always supremely contented to receive is the safe restoration of the brothers they love–a sentiment with which I can perfectly sympathize.
One of my new favorites 4, Anait is the story of a wise girl, not a princess by birth, who saves her husband and her kingdom not only by her convictions but also her intelligence, compassion, and her swordplay. Anait also has the distinction of featuring a hero who is more than a “Prince Charming,” but Vachagan, a man with personality, flaws, and the good sense to listen to the person he loves and trusts, his wife.
4. A Fairy Tale About a Boy Who Left Home to Learn About Fear
This story is hilarious. It continues with the traditional fairy tale comedic conceit of the naive fool who triumphs over seemingly stronger forces 5 and it always makes me laugh. There’s something intrinsically reassuring about a hero whom everyone consistently puts down triumphing anyway. I think most children feel stupid and foolish at one point or another (not to mention most adults) and I can perfectly comprehend the enduring popularity of these characters. After all, if that “foolish boy” can triumph, why not the rest of us?
5. The Pigeon’s Bride 6
This tale is arguably a second cousin to the Beauty and the Beast style tales in that a young woman falls for a man who happens to be an enchanted critter. The key difference is that in this branch of the folklore family, the man is not a fearsome predatory beast but rather something cute and basically harmless. In this case the prince is a pigeon; in others, a beautiful blue bird (as in the Andrew Lang story) or even a hedgehog. “Pigeon’s Bride,” is a special story in the way it follows the girl’s point of view so closely. As such we are privileged to see the independence of her spirit as well as her own creative solution to the spell which rather than betraying or punishing her in any way, serves to bring comfort to the community as well as saving the day. Truly, “Pigeon’s Bride” is as remarkable a story as the heroine it chronicles who wins her lover back whilst plain from heartbreak and friendless–hardly a state for any typical Disney princess.
Edits by Tracy McCusker
All images courtesy of the websites to which they are linked.
- Perhaps the sequel to this piece will be a list of five of my favorite incarnations of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale. For now, I will content myself with recommending the original tale by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont which can be found in The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales edited by Maria Tatar. “East of the Sun and West of the Moon” can be found in that collection as well. The “Singing, Soaring Lark” can be found in The Annotated Brothers Grimm ↩
- The Annotated Brothers Grimm edited by Maria Tater ↩
- A careful reading of the story actually lands any potential blame upon the father who makes the idle wish which transforms his sons rather than the newborn daughter but one interesting trend in fairy tales is that fathers rarely get blamed or if they do are easily forgiven rather than brutally punished as stepmothers tend to be. ↩
- I discovered this tale while reading Kathleen Ragan’s brilliant collection entitled Fearless Girls, Wise Women & Beloved Sisters, a book I heartily recommend as an excellent entertaining read ↩
- I highly recommend reading this in The Annotated Brother’s Grimm edited by Maria Tater. Other similar stories in that collection include “The Brave Little Tailor,” “the Devil and His Three Golden Hairs,” as well as “The Magic Table, the Gold Donkey, and the Club in the Sack.” ↩
- Another favorite discovered from Fearless Girls, Wise Women & Beloved Sisters edited by Kathleen Ragan I cannot recommend that book too many times to too many people ↩