Saturday, October 1, 2011

Library Essentials Month: The Classic Fairy Tales by Peter and Iona Opie

October is here and I have decided on a new theme for the month. It's so much easier to insure a daily post if I have a theme, so I hope you enjoy these. Each day I will share a book that I consider to be a "library essential." Often these will be some of the most important books in the genre of fairy tale studies. Some will be sentimental favorites. Others will be picked for some other reason as yet to be determined.

To begin, I thought I would start with one of the books that first inspired SurLaLune, The Classic Fairy Tales by Peter and Iona Opie. This was one of the first fairy tale books I acquired beyond my basic fairy tale collections I had owned since childhood, one of the first to open my eyes to the world of fairy tale studies. I was somewhat familiar with the book when I decided to annotate a fairy tale for an HTML programming class and thus acquired it with an eye to gathering more information about Bluebeard, the fairy tale I had chosen.

The rest is SurLaLune early history and The Classic Fairy Tales from the Opies has remained a mainstay in my library ever since. I admit most of the information contained within is very familiar to me, ingrained knowledge even, but I first picked up much within these pages and still keep two copies of the book--one hardcover, one soft--on my shelves even if I don't consult it as often as I did in the beginning. I still refer to it though and always enjoy the time I spend engrossed in its pages.

Here is the book description:

This volume contains twenty-four of the best known fairy tales in the English language, presented here in the exact words of their first English publication or of the earliest surviving text. Including "Sleeping Beauty," "Bluebeard," "Cinderella," "Thumbelina," and "Hansel and Gretel," as well as many others, this collection provides a historical introduction for each tale and a general Introduction which traces the history of fairy tales collected in Asia and Europe long before they appeared in English.

But the book is much more (and a little less) than that. First of all, it collects many illustrations of various tales, too, enchancing the varied history of the tales. Also the volume as well as each tale are given a solid introduction, providing historical background and some analysis of the tales. However, when the volume states that these are the first English versions of the tales, that is mostly true. It offers the first English translations of the most well-known versions of the popular tales, such as Perrault's Cinderella and the Grimms' Hansel and Gretel. In other words, this doesn't mean that the earliest versions of the tales are present in the book, such as the early Italian variants, for less popular variants usually existed previously to Perrault and Grimms. That said, the translations are intriguing and the Opies will often explain the liberties taken with the translations and compare the tales to other variants, too. What they offer is educational and unique in its context.

Overall, the book is a great introduction and thus start to creating a fairy tale apologist. It worked for me. Of course, several other books have helped to make me and SurLaLune what we are today. Those will be discussed thoughout October.


  1. What a great theme for this month, I look forward to it, with no doubt some book purchasing to follow.

  2. I'm very excited about this theme! I've just started to actively grow my own knowledge and understanding of fairy tales, I'll be making note of these books for myself.

    Just this week I've started a Blog of my own, inspired by your work!
    I look forward to the rest of October!