Charles Perrault, the author of Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella was born 388 years ago, January 12, 1628, and Google celebrating it today with a doodle allowed many to remember it and even more people to find out. But who was this French writer to whom we owe most of the most famous fairy tales in the Western world?
From codes to fairy tales. Perrault was born in Paris and was a lawyer before writing. From a wealthy and upper-middle class family, he studied in the best schools in France, graduated in law, later devoting himself to state services. It was also thanks to him that the French Academy of Sciences was founded.
His literary production was not particularly original, but it is to him that we owe, well over 200 years before the Grimm brothers, the first and most important collection of fairy tales in poetry and prose taken from the European oral tradition.
In 1695, at the age of 67, he wrote the collection "Stories and stories of past times, with morality" (Histoires ou contes du temps passé, avec des moralitez), more known as "Tales of Mother Goose" (Contes de ma mère l'Oye). It is a series of moral stories designed to induce the reader to reflect on the dilemmas presented to the protagonists of fairy tales.
The most famous are La belle au bois dormant (Sleeping Beauty), Le petit chaperon rouge (Little Red Riding Hood), Le chat botté (the cat with boots), Cendrillon (Cinderella), Le petit poucet (Pollicino), Peau d'asne (Donkey skin), Riquet à la houppe (Crested Enrichetto).
Success and copies. The book was a huge success and was translated throughout Europe, founding the new genre of fairy tales. His stories and some of his fables influenced the German versions written by the Grimm brothers in the 1800s.A nineteenth-century Little Red Riding Hood. According to some interpretations the purple mantela would represent the blood of the menarche, that is of the entrance in puberty, and the wolf would be the male. Perrault, in his fable had made it more explicitly evident that the "wolf" is a man intent on preying on young girls who wander alone in the woods. |
Happy ending? Not all fairy tales, as we know them, are the "original" ones of Perrault. Take for example Little Red Riding Hood. Perrault's version ends dramatically when the child is eaten by the wolf. Without saving hunters and cuts in the belly of the wolf. But with the moral sting: do not trust strangers.
Even the Sleeping Beauty is a mix between Perrault's original (which in turn was made in an oral tale that dated back to the 14th Century) and the Grimm brothers' version.
Soften the pill. The continuous rewritings of the fairy tales collected by the tradition, to which Perrault and also the Grimms adapted, were intended to sweeten the stories to avoid emotional and bad examples to the children of bourgeois society. But not without creating other victims: the figure of the wicked stepmother derives from the fact that the original accounts of natural mothers hostile towards their children were to be censored for puritan morality. The blame must have been on the second wives.
The rules of the game. The fairy tales, original or reworked, have fixed patterns. They differ from the myths in that they usually serve to embellish the origins of a people or state, or to legitimize the ethical principles of religions. Fairy tales, on the other hand, do not fall within the institutional sphere, but remain within the sphere of experience and popular morality.
The Russian philologist Vladimir Propp in the book Morphology of the Fairy Tale (1927) clarified their common narrative rules. For example, after a normal start in life, the balance is interrupted by a serious problem or injustice, which usually involves an ordinary person. Which becomes the hero of history.
To make up for it he sets out on a journey and meets a powerful or magical character who first tests him, then provides him with the means and information to succeed in the enterprise. The victorious hero (free someone, defeat the bad, recover a particular object and so on) gets back on the way home. But the return is not always peaceful.
Arriving near his goal, he discovers that there are usurpers, so he presents himself in incognito to then reveal himself, defeat them and restore all the balance. These rules, given the due proportions, can bring together a simple fairy tale like Pollicino all'Odissea or a film like The Warriors of the Night.Charles Perrault also wrote the Bluebeard fairy tale (inspired by the true story of Gilles de Rais): Bluebeard's wife, who opened the door of the room where her husband had forbidden her to enter, discovers the bodies of his previous wives, from him He killed. |
Fairy tales with similar plots. There are many fairy tales born of different popular traditions that have similar plots. For example, Hansel and Gretel, Fratellino and Sorellina or Agnellino and Pesciolino (collected by Grimm), Pollicino (from Perrault), Ninnillo and Nennella (from the Neapolitan Basile), Sorella Alionushka and Fratello Ivanushka (from the Russian Alexander Afanasyev) or the English ballad Babies in the Wood, always talk about children abandoned in the woods by family members.
Miraculously, the protagonists get away with it, often come home richer than before and help the family instead of making them pay for the abuse and abandonment.
The reason, according to Propp's analysis, is to be found in rites that still take place today in some tribes of Africa, New Guinea or the Amazon forest. There, to bring young people into the woods are not the relatives of Tom Thumb or Hansel and Gretel, but older brothers and royal fathers in initiation ceremonies. To subject them to painful and fearful tests to make them adults.