A KIND enchantress one day put into my hand a mystic volume prettily lettered and bound in green, saying, "I am so fond of this book. It has all the dear old fairy tales in it; one never tires of them. Do take it."
I carried the little book away with me, and spent a very pleasant quiet evening at home by the fire, with H. at the opposite corner, and other old friends, whom I felt I had somewhat neglected of late. Jack and the Beanstalk, Puss in Boots, the gallant and quixotic Giant-killer, and dearest Cinderella, whom we every one of us must have loved, I should think, ever since we first knew her in her little brown pinafore: I wondered, as I shut them all up for the night between their green boards, what it was that made these stories so fresh and so vivid. Why did not they fall to pieces, vanish, explode, disappear, like so many of their contemporaries and descendants? And yet far from being forgotten and passing away, it would seem as if each generation in turn as it came into the world looks to be delighted still by the brilliant pageant, and never tires or wearies of it. And on their side the princes and princesses never seem to grow any older; the castles and the lovely gardens flourish without need of repair or whitewash, or plumbers or glaziers. The princesses' gowns, too—sun, moon, and star-colour,—do not wear out or pass out of fashion or require altering. Even the seven-leagued boots do not appear to be the worse for wear. Numbers of realistic stories for children have passed away. Little Henry and his Bearer, and Poor Harry and Lucy, have very nearly given up their little artless ghosts and prattle, and ceased making their own beds for the instruction of less excellently brought-up little boys and girls, and notwithstanding a very interesting article in the Saturday Review, it must be owned that Harry Sandford and Tommy Merton are not familiar playfellows in our nurseries and school-rooms, and have passed somewhat out of date. But not so all these centenarians—Prince Riquet, Carabas, Little Red Riding-hood, Bluebeard and others. They seem as if they would never grow old. They play with the children, they amuse the elders, there seems no end to their fund of spirits and perennial youth.
H., to whom I made this remark, said from the opposite chimney-corner, "No wonder; the stories are only histories of real living persons turned into fairy princes and princesses. Fairy stories are everywhere and every-day. We are all princes and princesses in disguise, or ogres or wicked dwarfs. All these histories are the histories of human nature, which does not seem to change very much in a thousand years or so, and we don't get tired of the fairies because they are so true to it."
After this little speech of H.'s, we spent an unprofitable half-hour reviewing our acquaintance, and classing them under their real characters and qualities. We had dined with Lord Carabas only the day before and met Puss in Boots—Beauty and the Beast were also there; we uncharitably counted up, I am ashamed to say, no less than six Bluebeards. Jack and. the Beanstalk we had met just starting on his climb. A Red Riding-hood; a girl with toads dropping from her mouth: we knew three or four of each. Cinderellas—alas! who does not know more than one dear, poor, pretty Cinderella? and, as for sleeping Princesses in the Woods, how many one can reckon up! Young, old, ugly, pretty, awakening, sleeping still.
from “The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood” in Five Old Friends (1875) by Anne Thackeray Ritchie