Wednesday, November 11, 2009

New Book: The Complete Fairy Tales by Charles Perrault

The Complete Fairy Tales by Charles Perrault, a new translation by Christopher Betts was released last month. As usual, I haven't seen a physical copy to review it, so this is a newsy post.

From the publisher, Oxford University Press:

A pumpkin is transformed into a coach. Bluebeard's young wife unlocks the door of the forbidden room. Children lost in the forest find shelter, but the house belongs to an ogre. These and many other scenes from the stories of Charles Perrault reach deep into the imagination and are never forgotten.

Now, in this scintillating new translation, the fairy tales of Perrault--stories that are known and loved around the world--are available in a beautiful gift edition. This superb translation by Christopher Betts exactly captures the tone and flavor of Perrault's world, and the delightful spirit of the originals. In addition to the classic prose tales--including The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood, Little Red Riding-Hood, Bluebeard, Puss in Boots, Cinderella, and Hop o' my Thumb--this new translation adds Perrault's tales in verse: a long poem on the subject of Patient Griselda; the notorious Donkey-Skin, often expunged from nineteenth-century collections; and the comic Three Silly Wishes.

Bett's introduction deftly illuminates why in Perrault's hands these humble fairly tales have such great imaginative power, showing how they transmute into vivid fantasies the hidden fears and conflicts by which children are affected--fears of abandonment, conflicts with siblings and parents--and resolve so satisfactorily the problems experienced by children during the process of growing up. The volume also includes appendices on related tales and selected variants, a bibliography, chronology, and notes.

With twenty-six stunning illustrations by Gustave Dore, an attractive ribbon marker, and colorful end papers, this wonderful collection of Perrault's fairy tales will make a delightful gift for children of any age.

And here is an excerpt from an excellent and helpful review, A New Translation of Old Fairy Tales by Jenny Williams:

Some of the stories and verses have translated correspondence paired with them. Perrault sent the letters along with a copy of the applicable story to someone he knew. They are very interesting to read, too, and they made me giddy with anticipation to read the stories themselves. With the verse stories, I was surprised to find that I had no trouble reading them and following the plot. Poetry usually puts me off, but not in this case. Some words that I would use to describe Three Silly Wishes, for example, are hilarious, sarcastic, clear, playful and excellent.

The book’s valuable front matter includes an extensive Introduction which goes into Perrault’s life and his writings with plenty of footnotes. Especially fascinating to me was the Notes on the Text and Translation. Here Betts talked about what he changed while translating and what he left alone. He said he believed this “to be the first complete English translation in which verse is rendered in verse.” He placed importance on fidelity to the original tales, while still making the story readable. I think he succeeded. Simple language intended for kids can still have some subtleties that are hard to translate, especially since the meaning of some words has changed over time. So, he consulted 17th century dictionaries. Translating verse is additionally difficult because of maintaining rhyme and meter. Translating is a lot more than just changing words from one language to another. The meaning of the passage has to be considered and also brought across.

I admit that as much as I'm excited about a new translation of Perrault, I'm just as excited by the Dore illustrations. It is very difficult to find the Donkeyskin illustrations since the tale is often omitted from collections, too. I'm hoping all of the illustrations are included. The above collection from Dover has been the most comprehensive to date, but Donkeyskin doesn't appear in it.

To date, The Fairy Tales in Verse and Prose/Les contes en vers et en prose: A Dual-Language Book by Charles Perrault and edited and translated by Stanley Appelbaum has been one of my personal favorites since I like comparing the French to the English when referencing the tales. Of course, there are other excellent translations in other collections, too, including Zipes' Beauties, Beasts and Enchantments, also available in a condensed paperback version. The full version was reprinted earlier this year and I recommend it over the small paperback if you want the full Beauty and the Beast by Villeneuve.

So I will add this one to my extensive reference library sometime soon.

And I leave you with a Donkeyskin illustration by Dore. And a link to the Charles Perrault page on SurLaLune.


  1. I had this in my hands in Waterstones the other day and it nearly made me late for work, it's a beautiful book and definitely one I'm adding to my Christmas list!

  2. Must! Get! This! The best part is that the verse is actually translated as verse. I'm always glad to find books that do that so you get the flavor of how it was originally written. I checked this out in the bookstore - at a quick glance I didn't see any illustrations to Patient Griselda or the Three Silly Wishes, but Donkeyskin has them. Thanks for posting this, I wouldn't have heard about this book otherwise!