Book of the Week: Charles Perrault’s Fairy Tales

August 9, 2011

Today’s book is a gorgeous volume, The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault, illustrated by Edmund Dulac — it’s one of the books in the homeowner’s collection here at La Cressonnière.

I’m no expert, but from what I understand, the fairy tales we grew up with were sourced from 3 main people: Charles Perrault (French), the Brother’s Grimm (German) and Hans Christian Andersen (Danish). And the original stories are often quite a bit harsher than the modern day versions. For example, in Perrault’s Little Red Riding Hood, the girl and the grandma are both eaten by the wolf. The end. There is no woodsman to save the day. Maude’s comment after reading this book, “Some of these stories are pretty gruesome — they seem like something boys would like.”

Have you ever read fairy tales from early sources? Do you think they’re too rough for today’s kids?

P.S. My favorite version of Cinderella is this one — translated from Perrault’s text.

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 annabelvita August 9, 2011 at 5:22 am

I did my dissertation on different versions of cinderella (have you read any feminist fairy tales?) over the last 400 ish years. It was so awesome. I went to the special collections bit of my university library and read some verrry old fairy tales where the books themselves were printed in the 18th century – some didn’t even have the tops of the pages torn apart because they’ve never been read! I loved that project, it was so much fun.
I wouldn’t quite say that Perrault, the Grimms or Anderson were the authors of these texts, they styled themselves as collectors of folk tales. They obviously made some changes that reflected their ideologies, but the stories themselves are older than text.


2 Design Mom August 9, 2011 at 5:50 am

You’re right, of course! I didn’t choose my words very carefully. I should have said called them collectors or editors or something else. : )


3 Design Mom August 9, 2011 at 5:56 am

Also. Your dissertation sounds wonderful! And excuse to spend time in the special collections of a library is fine by me.


4 Sammy August 9, 2011 at 8:06 am

Actually, I believe that while Perrault and the Grimms collected old folk tales, Andersen was the author of his fairy tales. Of course he was inspired by existing “folk tales” as he was imitating the genre, but his stories are original “literary tales” (e.g. the Ugly Duckling).
But then again, I’m really no expert, I’ve just read them (Anderson’s and Grimms’ and some original medieval tales).

I agree with Maude that early fairy tales are pretty gruesome, but I prefer them over Anderson’s, because some of those are really gloomy! (The Little Match Girl…)


5 Alysha August 9, 2011 at 10:15 am

Perrault was more of a writer than a collector, but the Grimms definitely just stole!
Andersen’s Little Mermaid is a heartbreaker! I would definitely suggest reading Mme. Beaumont’s Beauty and the Beast ( Beaumont was an French teacher living in England and wrote beautifully. My favorite part of this story is as my literature professor remarked “The Beast really doesn’t matter, it is all about Beauty!”

6 From Belgium August 9, 2011 at 5:26 am

I’ve got a feminist version of Little Red Riding hood where the little girl kicks the wolf around with a broomstick. My girls love it!
If you have time you should go to The Efteling in Holland, a whole attraction park build around fairy tales. Kids adore it (and mama too, secretly)!


7 annabelvita August 9, 2011 at 5:44 am

Oh my goodness I went to that theme park as a child but have never been able to remember the name! Thank you! x


8 Dee August 9, 2011 at 6:00 am

What a beautiful book! I love fairy tales and have a small collection of versions from around the world. I do read the early versions to my kiddos once they reach 5 or 6. I think they can handle a little scariness then. Have you read A Tale Dark & Grimm? It’s a little dark but so, so funny. The kids and I really like it.


9 Kaet99 August 9, 2011 at 7:10 am

Correct me if I’m wrong, but fairy tales were written as lessons, sometimes cautionary tales. If you let your kids see that and have fun doing a little analysis together, they are great reads by 7-8. Heck, scriptures can be pretty gruesome, too. :) Once again, great discussion opportunity. Side note: Have you ever seen Into the Woods? Such an interesting take on fairy tales. Love, love, love it.


10 amy j. August 9, 2011 at 8:31 am

We own that book…an antique copy. My husband actually has several antique copies of various fairy tales from Europe. His father read him some as a boy and as a father he’s continued that tradition. Yes, they are much darker than the watered down versions children hear today. When our girls were younger (they are nine and six now), I was not pleased when he read them. But the girls loved them and our oldest actually found an antique fairytale book from the late 18oos last year that she gave to him for a Christmas present! Currently, she’s on the last book of the series Sisters Grimm (HIGHLY recommend this book series). So I guess her dad’s influence has rubbed off. My youngest’s favorite is Jack the Giant Killer : ). My husband is very fond of the illustrations in these books as well.


11 Julia's Bookbag August 9, 2011 at 8:37 am

Oh Gabrielle, I wrote about this particular book awhile back! — I agree that the age range for these should be about 7+ depending on your kiddo — I read them when I was pretty young and never batted an eyelash about the rough aspects, for whatever that’s worth :) Your copy has amazing illustrations!!! Lovely!


12 Julia's Bookbag August 9, 2011 at 8:39 am

Oh I meant to also tell you that my husband gave me a Hans Christian Anderson compilation of fairy tales illustrated by Dulac — HE IS AMAZING!!


13 Abbie August 9, 2011 at 9:17 am

I grew up on Hans Christian Anderson and the Grimm brothers (my father also used to read me Edgar Allen Poe and I swear I’m a normal person). Imagine my surprise when Disney came out with their take on the Little Mermaid. I love the old versions, but I think this is one of those things that just depends on your children and their tastes. Even if the stories are “gruesome” the pictures are gorgeous.


14 Rachel August 9, 2011 at 9:59 am

I grew up with Disney’s take on fairy tales (I had the books where you read along with the record and when it chimed you knew it was time to turn the page) and was horrified as a 6 or 7 year old to see an animated version of the Hans Christian Anderson Little Mermaid and when her soul turned to sea foam in the end I was stunned. I’m pretty sure it was the first non happy ending I’d ever seen but I think it really helped me decide at a very young age to never change myself for a boy no matter how much I liked him.


15 Ashlea Walter August 9, 2011 at 11:41 am

I read the Brothers Grimm stories in high school German class and yes, they are pretty evil. A much different perspective on teaching children life lessons… I was even surprised by some of the older Disney movies that we’ve seen since Wren was born, e.g., Pinnochio. Yikes!


16 Heather W. August 9, 2011 at 12:52 pm

I think it’s ok to read these stories to kids. I think there are too many sugar coated versions of stuff out there now. Not every story ends happily ever after.


17 August 9, 2011 at 1:09 pm

What an exquisite book. Thanks so much for blogging about this. I still love fairytales and was buying them as an adult before I had kids!


18 Jeannek August 9, 2011 at 1:56 pm

London based folio society do a lovely edition, looks very like the one in your photo. A delish baby gift.


19 Beth T. August 9, 2011 at 3:46 pm

When I was a very little girl, my babysitter was a German lady and her Portuguese husband. My mom, born in Iowa, loved the way Frieda and Tito expanded our lives with things from their own cultures–food, expressions, holiday traditions, etc. There were times, however, when I would come home with my three-year-old version of something I’d learned at their house and she would have to investigate to find out what the heck I was talking about.

Where I’m going with this, is that my favorite fairy tale from that time came directly from Frieda. My mom thought for sure I had gotten it wrong–I could not have been told a story about a wolf who ate little goats, and then when sleeping was sliced open so that the goats could pop out, and heavy stones placed back inside his belly. This led to his gruesome drowning when he leaned over a stream to get a drink and fell in. The heavy stones held him down, despite his desperate attempts to live.

But no. That’s the story and I loved it. My mother tracked down a copy, in the Book of Knowledge, I think, and read it to me, sans Frieda’s beautiful accent.


20 Sarah August 9, 2011 at 5:16 pm

Yes, they are much more grim than what kids are used to now! However, we read some of them to my 5 year old boy anyway. I’m not sure it’s such a bad thing for them to know about death and bad guys etc… i mean some stories from the bible or book of mormon aren’t that much tidier than the old fairy tales! We recently read a pretty traditional version of “The Gingerbread Man” you know…where he gets eaten by the fox at the end. “That wasn’t a happy ending”" said my kids!


21 Sally August 9, 2011 at 10:00 pm

Gruesome they are. The Grimm’s versions are not neat and tidy and really make Disney look commical. I think the messages come across so much better in the real versions. Cinderelle overcame so much more and her step sisters were much nastier pieces of work (cut of their heals and toes just to make their foot fit and get to marry the prince?!) that it makes the outcome much more significant. But not all end happily ever after, just like life. I’ve been meaning to read more original fairy tales, but my only experience so far are the German ones in the original German.


22 Amanda August 9, 2011 at 11:40 pm

Something interesting about Perrault’s Cinderella – the oldest European version of Cinderella is actually an Italian tale dating from 1634. However, a similar Cinderella tale was found to have originated with the T’ang dynasty in China (618-907 AD). So, the Cinderella tale appears to have migrated from Asia to Europe at some point.

The Chinese version of Cinderella is called ‘Yeh-Shen.’ A friend of mine gave me a copy for my birthday a few years ago :) Here’s a link to the Puffin’s children’s book version at Amazon:


23 Brooke Williams August 10, 2011 at 9:22 pm

I recently enjoyed Adam Gidwitz’s _A Tale Dark and Grimm_, a fun and gruesome read. Depending on the child, I would recommend it for ages 9 and up. My 10-year-old loved it. Here is a brief review I wrote: “Reading the back of the book jacket will give you some idea of what this book is like. But it is also more than that. It is dark and bloody and humorous and self-conscious and completely unbelievable. But there is something wonderful and true about it as well. One of the reasons I like this book is because of its uniqueness. It pushes and tests the boundaries of genre and of what makes a children’s book. By the end (the REAL end), I am seeing the characters as more than flat individuals ruled by crazy fates, which is how I usually see fairy tale characters. I also like something I read in the author’s acknowledgments, which says ‘to trust that children can handle it.’ Now, this all depends on the individual child, but I sometimes think we protect our children from too much when it comes to literature.”


24 Vicki August 11, 2011 at 2:17 pm

I teach a really amazing arts-in-education program called Neighborhood Bridges ( We use classic stories to inspire dialogue, creative writing, and creative drama with school children.

It is incredible to see the kids respond to the “Real” fairy tales that haven’t been Disney-ified. I have learned so much myself. I love talking with the teachers I work with about the stories – we have great conversations about them too!


25 Becky August 12, 2011 at 8:16 am

One lovely online resource for fairy tales and their history is the Sur La Lune website,

which includes fascinating annotated versions of the tales. I grew up with a shelf full of the Andrew Lang “color” fairy books from Dover, and read those to my kids,

so the Disney versions were quite a revelation to them…

When my eldest (14 next week) started home schooling for first grade, we began the adventure with a picture book study of Cinderella around the world, which was great fun.


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