April 7, 2013 § Leave a comment
Yesterday marked the 70th anniversary of the publication of Antoine de Saint Exupery’s The Little Prince, one of the most recognizable, but also most thematically nuanced and melancholy, children’s books of the 20th Century. Published in 1943, the short novel draws on Exupery’s own experiences as a pilot. In the book, a pilot finds himself stranded, without fuel, in the Sahara desert. He meets the Little Prince, who is on his own adventure, having set off from his tiny home planet to learn more about life, love, and loss.
Although ostensibly a children’s book, The Little Prince explores, sometimes cynically, the difference between a child-like perception of the universe and adult relationships, and a more jaded “grown-up” point of view. The Prince learns about human trickery and pettiness as well as love on his journey, and though he does not discover that heartache is a purely “grown-up” emotion, having experienced it on his home planet through his relationship with his rose, he does discover that knowledge of the wider adult world does little to stave it off.
The most memorable quotes from The Little Prince spring from the Prince’s encounter with a Fox, whom he loves and tames, and thus feels an unbreakable connection to. And no one encapsulates the mix of child-like wonder and wise, desperate melancholy more than Gene Wilder as the Fox, in this live-action 1974 film adaptation.
Several special editions are in the works to mark the anniversary by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Learn more here.
March 29, 2013 § 3 Comments
Kate Bernheimer, editor of Fairy Tale Review and author of a trilogy of novels, The Complete Tales of Merry Gold, The Complete Tales of Lucy Gold, and The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold, loves to talk fairy tales, even with a grueling schedule of panels and readings at the 2013 AWP Conference. Which is how I found myself lucky enough to be sitting next to her at a flyer-littered table in the AWP Bookfair as she graciously answered my questions about fairy tales, her past work, and her upcoming projects. Just that morning she was among the speakers at a unbelievably packed panel on fairy tale retellings (the other panelists were Jane Yolen, Kelly Link, Anjali Sachdeva and John Crowley), and so fairy tales and their prolific influence on all kinds of literature were on both our minds. In our conversation, we talked about the undefinable nature of fairy tales, writerly childhood nostalgia, the brutality of myths, and the power of the perfect final word.
Kate is the author of the children’s books The Girl in the Castle Inside the Museum, The Lonely Book, and the forthcoming The Girl Who Wouldn’t Brush Her Hair (Random House Children’s Books/Schwartz & Wade Books, illustrated by Jake Parker) as well as the short story collection Horse, Flower, Bird (Coffee House Press, illustrated by Rikki Ducornet). Her second story collection, How a Mother Weaned Her Girl from Fairy Tales, is forthcoming in 2014 (also from Coffee House Press). She is the editor of the award-winning anthology My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me (Penguin Non-Classics), as well as of Fairy Tale Review, which is now accepting submissions for The Emerald Issue, which will be inspired by The Wizard of Oz. She teaches at the University of Arizona in Tucson, where she lives with her husband, the writer Brent Hendricks (A Long Day at The End of the World) and their daughter.
CF: So when I was coming up with questions for you, I came upon a theme, and that is how fairy tales overlap and blur the lines of genre. Mostly because my 1st question is about the Oz issue, and it occurred to me that, like Alice in Wonderland or Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio, it’s not technically, by traditional definition, a fairy tale. It’s a novel with an author that we can point to and say, that’s where it comes from. And yet there are all of these examples in children’s lit that become, in the popular consciousness, fairy tales, and so it still seems to fit.
KB: To speak first to the “traditional definition” of fairy tales, it’s important to point out that many do have authors; authored works are not excluded from the body of work known as “fairy tales.” Pinocchio is a fairy tale. Even the Grimms are author/editors. The stories collected in their editions were painstakingly gathered, and edited by them in literary versions, that is “written.” Of course the stories don’t belong to the Grimms; fairy tales don’t belong to anyone. So that question of authorship and the question of the purity of the author and the individuality of the author comes into play in diverse ways in the fairy-tale tradition. My operating sensibility is to read through fairy-tale techniques and a fairy-tale affect. Reading this way, the entire Oz series is inarguably a fairy tale. Some scholars consider The Wizard of Oz series to be “the first American fairy tale”—I don’t think along those lines – looking for originating definitive versions; that’s a gesture that weirdly obliterates a more expansive sense of history. « Read the rest of this entry »
February 15, 2013 § 17 Comments
I normally try not to address my WordPress Google search term users directly, because it could very well be interpreted as snark. Some do: take, for instance, Amy @ Lucy’s Football , who responds about once a month to the strangest search terms used to find her blog, and attempts to answer questions therein in hopes that whoever searched it once will search again, and find her answer. It’s hilarious, check it out.
I’ve thought about doing it before, but haven’t except now…one thing that is quite close to my heart keeps popping up, ALL THE TIME.
“You know that place between sleep and awake, that place where you still remember dreaming? That’s where I’ll always love you, Peter Pan. That’s where I’ll be waiting.”
Search terms used:
“Place between sleep and awake barrie quote”
“where in Peter Pan does it say place between sleep and awake”
“jm barrie place thats where ill always love you peter”
and on and on and on since the beginning of this blog.
And I have just one thing I’d like to say about these search terms: NO. NO NO NO NO no. « Read the rest of this entry »
January 11, 2013 § 5 Comments
In a now-infamous and oft-quoted NPR interview with Terry Gross in 2011, Maurice Sendak mentioned that he was writing a poem about a nose, and that it didn’t matter if no one understood it.
“I’ve always wanted to write a poem about a nose, but you know…sort of a ludicrous subject,” he continued. “When I was younger, I was afraid of something that didn’t make a lot of sense but time went on, and you don’t have to worry about (your work not making sense to other people). It doesn’t matter.”
He was being completely serious. He was writing a poem about a nose.
His brother Jack’s nose, in fact.
Jack Sendak died on February 3rd, 1995. Now, less than a year after Maurice’s death, My Brother’s Book, his last completed work, is being published. The slim little book is an illustrated poem by Maurice about his brother’s death, and his own journey through grief. « Read the rest of this entry »
December 12, 2012 § 4 Comments
After my grandmother died, my mom told the story of her last minutes to everyone who asked. She’d been with her mother—my grandmother—at the hospital in Franklin, Indiana, and it was nighttime, around Christmas. She was about to leave when she noticed that it was snowing outside. She commented to those there that she was glad, that her mother loved snow. When she left, she watched the snow fall around her and on the lights and decorations outside the hospital. A peaceful knowing came over her: she knew that she wouldn’t see her mother alive again, but that it was ok. She drove to my uncle’s house. My grandmother was gone before my mom pulled into the driveway.
My mom will always tell this story, because she needs to know that her mother’s passing was a quiet, wondrous and good thing at the end of a wondrous and good life. It was acknowledged, not just by her, but by nature itself. This, for her, is the story of my grandmother’s death.
But it’s not quite enough—enough for her, perhaps, but not enough to share. Because there’s the story of what happened, and then there’s more. There’s the story you tell other people, and the story everyone needs to tell themselves. The after-story, the Er-story, the story that can feed everyone. « Read the rest of this entry »
November 27, 2012 § 2 Comments
You might remember my post on three odd news stories that, to this blogger, had the ring of Grimm to them: a woman who wished for children and instead collected over 500 cats, a man who had a fight with his wife about soup and then became lost in the frozen woods for three months, and a girl who was promised in marriage to a man only to be shut away and replaced by a false bride who, together with the groom, tortured the young woman for years. For links, see my original post here.
All of these are real, contemporary stories, and all are perfect ammunition to use against those who claim that we no longer live in the world of “fairy tales.” What, exactly, do these folks believe fairy tales are? It doesn’t take much—certainly not an entire feudal caste system, as some have suggested—for someone to embody an archetype. Shit, brides do it all the time. Cinderella gowns! Fairy tale weddings! And if you pay attention, it isn’t just the ones tossing “Cinderella” around as an adjective who are unwittingly playing what could very well be parts in some of our darkest tales. Let’s stick to our Cinderella theme, shall we, and take a look at the news. « Read the rest of this entry »
November 8, 2012 § 31 Comments
It should be almost as blasphemous to pinpoint a favorite book as it is to single out a favorite child, especially if you’re a Reader with a Capital R. What will the others think? Will the Grimms become bitter? Will Peter Pan, knowing that he’s loved but not (gasp!) my favorite, develop some deeply-seated childish drive for attention? That is, more than he already has? It’s a risky move, both because someone on the shelf might get offended , and because there’s always the chance–some say–that you might change your mind.
But I won’t change my mind, even if my favorite book has lots of competition.
In my apartment there’s a special shelf, where my Grimms live, all of my Sendak, Barrie, and Trina Schart Hyman. Also, most of the criticism of the aforementioned hang out there as well. It’s the place of honor, away from the YA paperbacks and college poetry textbooks, where my 1st edition of Barrie’s The Little White Bird sits next to Lore Segal and Randall Jarrell’s The Juniper Tree, illustrated by Maurice Sendak, which was given to me by a good friend in a time of book-need. All of Maria Tatar’s Annotated series (Hans Christian Andersen, The Grimms, Peter Pan) are here, along with a copy of War of the Worlds, as illustrated by Edward Gorey, and A Child’s Christmas in Wales, as illustrated by the late, beautiful, Trina Schart Hyman. Audrey Niffennegger’s The Three Incestuous Sisters, next to both volumes of Tony Kushner’s study of the work of Maurice Sendak.
All of this is not to brag, but to say that it might surprise some of you readers, who’ll have already been exposed to my rants and exultations about many of these titles, that none of these (not even Peter and Wendy, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman!) is my favorite book of all time. In fact, the author of this book is someone whose name has never appeared on this blog before. It’s a book I grew up with without attaching any significance to the name, the way I now do with my hoarded information about authors of books that I love. I love this book not because there’s any thrilling backstory or deep personal turmoil in the making of it. It’s simple, beautiful, and, sadly, out of print.
This, dears, is my favorite book of all time: