Tag Archives: grimm’s fairy tales

Thursday Myths & Legends 101: Fairy Godmothers

edmund-dulac-fairy-godmotherFairy godmothers are pretty much ubiquitous in the world of fairy tales, right?  I mean, they’re everywhere!  Or… so it seems.  Actually, when you stop to think about it, though, that’s not quite true.  Oh, it’s true when you start to look at contemporary stuff, and retellings, of course, but take a glance at the wide canon of fairy tales out there in the real world, and you start to realize that they’re not quite that common after all. In fact, if you think about it, only two of the basic fairy tales happen to involve fairy godmothers—they just happen to be about the most famous fairy tales of all.

Of course I’m talking about Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty.  You might be surprised (or not) to hear that in many renditions of Cinderella (including the Brothers Grimm story of Aschenputtel) Cinderella is helped,not by a fairy godmother, but by the spirit of her dead mother.

Okay, so now that I’ve told you all about what fairy godmothers, aren’t, let’s take a look at what they are, hm?

Firstly, the reason that fairy godmothers are so rare in fairy tales to begin with, is because they really don’t act much like fairies.  I mean, think about it.  Fairy godmothers are generous, and always looking out for the well-being of their charge, whereas fairies in general will, if they pay any attention to humans at all, do their best to spite them and/or cause them harm in some way that amuses the fairies.  They’re not exactly known for their benevolence.

In early stories, also, fairy godmothers had all the normal duties of a regular godmother, and were often representative of social connections—think of the blessings the three good godmothers give to the princess in Sleeping Beauty.  Fairy godmothers were, in a subtle (or sometimes not so subtle) way, a lesson in the old adage that it’s not what you know, but who.  It certainly would be difficult to turn down connections with someone who had magical powers to bestow!  But fairy godmothers—like any other powerful connection, were understood to be someone you were to show respect to, or beware the consequences.  Think, for example, of the wronged godmother in Sleeping Beauty—you don’t want those powerful connections turning against you!

Fairy godmothers were also largely associated with the Fates of Greek mythology at one time.  You can see this the clearest in Sleeping Beauty also, with the number of three [good] godmothers, and with all that spinning going on. 😉

cinderella2 Interesting, isn’t it, that something fairly rare in fairy tales ended up being so huge in our modern vernacular?  I mean, really, how many times have you heard someone say something like, “She is like, my fairy godmother!” ?  On the one hand I find it kind of strange, but then on the other… I guess it really does make a lot of sense.  Because who would forget the possibility, after you’d heard that story?  Who’s ever walked away from Cinderella not half-hoping or wishing that she had a fairy godmother of her own, to wave a wand and give her a pretty dress and a shot at the kind, beautiful (if not slightly plastic-looking) prince?  Not many of us, I don’t think.

If you want to check out some more modernly tales of fairy godmothers, have a glance at My Scary Fairy Godmother by Rose Impey, or Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story by Carolyn Turgeon.

Lisa’s Tuesday Perspective: The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

the-goose-girl2Ah, the Books of BayernThe Goose Girl is Shannon Hale’s retelling of a classic, albeit slightly lesser-known Grimm’s Fairy Tale about a young princess who travels to a far kingdom to marry a prince, but along the way is sabotaged by her clever, charismatic handmaiden, who then rides into the new kingdom claiming to be the princess, leaving the true princess to try and find her own way, beginning with working for the king as a humble goose girl.

I won’t tell you more than that, (though of course you can look the fairy tale up!) but I have to say that I love this book.  Shannon Hale takes a page-long fairy tale and turns it into a lovely, epic novel.  The book is a bit slow, but it’s so rich it reads like melting chocolate.  This is the book that made me want to write some sort of fairy tale of my own, because the language in it is just so beautiful and expansive, and that’s what I wanted a book of my own to sound like—not that my style is at all like Hale’s, hers leans towards poetry in some spots.

What really makes this novel fantastic are the side characters.  There are characters here that are developed more later on in the Bayern series (that’s the kingdom name, just so you know) that I just love beyond words, but I’ll get to that as I talk of the other books.  The main character here, Ani, the princess Isi in disguise, is a masterful storyteller who gains followers because of the beautiful stories she tells, and that’s a storyline that any writer can fall in love with.

Ani is taken from a world where she is kept from everything, and everything is done for her, to a world where she is nothing but the lowest of the king’s servants, but the way she conducts herself and the waGoose-Girly people are pulled to follow and help her, are proofs of her royal nature.  In the end, the imposter princess has no real chance.  There’s a great twist as to how she’s dealt with, too, that’s straight from the brothers Grimm, so if you don’t like to be surprised, don’t read the fairy tale before you read the book.  Even if you know the original story by heart, though, there’s something here to delight and enchant you.

The book covers have recently been redesigned, probably because it’s difficult to tell from this original, pastoral-painting-esque cover that this is the first novel in a series, or that it’s a Young Adult fantasy.  The new cover, to the right, definitely says that clear as day.  I’ll admit I’m a bit partial to the old covers, but the new ones are quite nice, too.  Either way, I’ll have to get used to them, because the fourth novel Forest Born, available September 15th, is definitely in the new style.  At this point I don’t really mind, though.  I’m just happy to see another book in this beautiful world!

I give The Goose Girl a contented A.

Stay tuned as I talk about the sequels, Enna Burning and River Secrets in the upcoming weeks!

Rapunzel, a Retelling by Lisa


Rapunzel, a Retelling

© Lisa Asanuma, 2009

My mother wasn’t quite the woman the stories have made her out to be.  Ugly, cruel, to lock a beautiful young girl up in a tower with no chance of escape and no one but herself for company.

The truth was, I went in willingly.  She didn’t force me, or put me into an enchanted sleep until the deed was done.  She told me she wanted to protect me, to keep me from the horrible things of the world.  And I was a vain and naïve child.  She told me I was beautiful and I believed her—it was very lucky for me that I truly was.  She might have had a twisted perspective of the world, and she might have taken advantage of my young and trusting mind, but I did trust her, and if I had the option of going back now—not to the tower, understand, but to her—I probably would.

She had been beautiful once, and loved and admired for her talents, one of the last of her kind, of the revered witches.  She was born too late, outlived her sisters, was chased and persecuted.  Can you blame her for wanting to hold fast to something, someone she loved?

I harbor no illusions, however.  I know she is not my true mother, that she stole me from a pair of peasants as a display of power.  I’ve seen them, since, the woman staring longingly after me, a woman who looks like me, who I used to dream of though I was hardly old enough to remember her when I was taken.

But that woman never brushed my long golden hair, or told me stories of the songs the moon would sing, long ago, as my mother did.  My rescuer would only have me remember that in my tower I had no door, but I had a window, and the sky, and every possibility open to the imagination that those things could bring me.

It was more difficult than I can tell to leave that cozy room, full of all the lovely things she could give me.  To give up my entire world, just for him.  She would most likely kill me now, the poor woman, as I’ve betrayed all her trust and broken her heart.  That he is a prince, that he is rich and handsome and benevolent, is easily enough understood.  That he is worth it… remains to be seen.

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