The recent Maria Tatar translations of the classic tales of the Brothers Grimm in The Grimm Reader and Phillip Pullman's artful retellings of the same in Fairy Tales From the Brothers Grimm have occupied me on and off since the start of the year. It all started as a simple idea - I would read each story first in Tatar's translation and then in Pullman's version. Just for the enjoyment of comparison. Which in theory would have been easy fun, but Pullman complicated the whole thing for me with his commentary for each story that tracks the historical evolution of the story, pointing the way to many other versions and other texts about fairy tales.
The temptation of this commentary proved too great for me, and my reading went off in many directions, nowhere more discursive than when it came to Cinderella. One of my favorite innovations Pullman made to the Cinderella tale was the dresses of different colors, an idea he pulled from what he cites as to his mind as "the best Cinderella of all" - "Mossycoat." Then, of course, I had to reread the Charles Perrault version that brings us the pumpkin and the glass slippers and a real fairy godmother in lieu of a hazel tree and a sweetness and charm that only arrived at sappy many years later in the hands of a famed animator. And there were many more: "Grattula-Beddattula" as retold by Italo Calvino in Italian Folktales; "Ashpitel" edited by Katharine M. Briggs in A Dictionary of British Folk-Tales in the English Language; and finally the many offerings in Cinderella Tales From Around the World by Marian Roalfe Cox. And I am still planning on acquiring a copy of The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettelheim for many reasons but in this context to read about his ideas about the troubles of sibling rivalry coming to a head with sexual maturity.
All of this reading was beautifully informed by reading Tatar's translation and Pullman's retelling first though. The reminders that the voice of Grimm was often a brutal one where a father does not die but stands by as his daughter is mistreated, eyes are pecked out by birds in punishment for misdeeds, outward appearance is not always reflective of inner qualities, and the desperate gruesomely self-mutilate upon instructions from their mother. Not a rags to riches story but a tale of the role of mothers as girlhood disappears into womanhood. This is really the best type of reading. A path, a hunt. What Aschenputtel's story becomes as her name and location and era changes.
(The illustration above was found at artMag. This is one of the unfinished drawings made by renowned illustrator Arthur Rackham for Cinderella.)