Join Kate’s VIP Club Now!

Follow Me

FacebookPinterestTwitter

Kate's Blog

Subscribe RSS

SPOTLIGHT: Dortchen Wild, fairy tale teller

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

To celebrate International Women's Day, I thought I would spotlight the real (and unjustly forgotten) historical women whose lives I have drawn upon in my fiction.

Today I am re-posting a blog about Dortchen Wild, the young woman who told the Grimm brothers many of their most famous tales and - after a long and difficult courtship - married Wilhelm Grimm. I drew upon the true events of their forbidden romance to write my novel The Wild Girl

       
      

Sometimes an idea hits you like a sizzling bolt of lightning, and you know that you have to write it.

That’s how the first idea for my novel THE WILD GIRL came to me.

I was reading a scholarly book about the Grimm Brothers’ when I discovered that one of the primary oral sources for their fairy tales was a young woman who had grown up next door to the Grimm family. Her name was Dortchen Wild, and she was only eighteen when she began to tell Wilhelm some of the world’s most beloved stories. 

I was fascinated by this, having always imagined the sources of the tales being hunchbacked old peasant women. Then I discovered that Dortchen and Wilhelm had fallen in love and - many years later – married. I knew at once that I had to tell her story! It was absolutely electrifying. I could hardly sleep that night for excitement.



Discovering Dortchen’s story was not at all easy. Very little of her life was known – only her birth, marriage and death dates (and people even argued about those). Of her own writing, there remained only a few letters and a brief autobiographical sketch that she dictated to her daughter on her death-bed. All I had to give me a sense of her inner life was the stories she told – and when she told them. 

Dortchen grew up next door to the Grimm brothers in the small kingdom of Hessen-Kassel. When she was in her teens and Wilhelm was twenty, Napoleon Bonaparte’s army invaded and the Hessian people were forced to live under French occupation for many years. Hessen-Kassel was mashed together with a number of other small countries to become the Kingdom of Westphalia. Napoleon put his dissolute young brother, Jerome, on the throne. He was only 22, and marked his ascension to the throne by playing leapfrog through the empty palace in his underwear. 

It was a dark and difficult time. Unable to find work, the two eldest boys in the Grimm family decided to collect and study the old wonder tales they had always loved so much. They were too poor to travel about and so asked friends and neighbours to tell them any old stories they knew. That was when they discovered - right next door - an absolute treasure-house of tales, all stuffed inside one young woman’s head.

Dortchen told Wilhelm almost one-quarter of all the stories in the first edition of the Grimm brothers’ ‘Children’s and Household Tales’, published in 1812. She told him ‘Hansel and Gretel’, ‘The Frog King’, ‘The Elves and the Shoemaker’, and ‘Rumpelstiltskin’. 

On one extraordinary day – 10 January 1812 – she told Wilhelm three stories back-to-back, while huddling about the stove in her sister’s summerhouse so her father would not know.



On 9 October 1812 – the day before the fairy tale collection was sent to the printers – Dortchen told Wilhelm another two tales.  The first was about a good sister who is given the gift of spitting gold coins, while her evil sister who is cursed to spit out snakes and toads. The second was ‘All-Kinds-of-Fur’, a dark and haunting tale about a king who falls in love with his own daughter. 

Dortchen’s own father disapproved mightily of Wilhelm Grimm, and prohibited them from seeing each other. She had to tell Wilhelm her tales in secret. Kept apart by war, poverty, and patriarchal domination, the story of their forbidden romance is as full of drama, heartbreak and triumph as any fairy tale she told. 

I do hope that you will all find her story as fascinating as I did. 








Please leave a comment - I love to know what you think.

A Rapunzel poem by Kate Forsyth

Thursday, February 11, 2016

BITTER GREENS, my imaginative retelling of Rapunzel, has won the ALA Award for Best Historical Fiction!

I also studied a Doctorate of Creative arts on the fairy tale, writing a thesis called 'The Rescue of Rapunzel: A Mythic History of the Maiden in the Tower tale,' and a poem, 'In the Tower': 




In the Tower


Walled in my old stone tower
the bitter taste of tears
always in my throat
only a slit to put my eye to
yet how full of change is that sky
I watch the stars wheel past
seasons turning and turning
the one tree on that faraway hill
once more bursts into life
green in the shadows
golden in the light 


Walled in my silent tower
how can I frame the words
to tell my story
my heart is a riddle
green sickness in my soul
loneliness the heaviest burden
how I long to slip free
of this empty shadowed tower
fly on muffled wings like the owl
white against the thorns
black against the moon


Walled in my cold stone tower
I conjure a steed from flame
An invisible cloak from ashes
A frail ladder from cobwebs
I make a dagger from ice
A key from bone and wishes
I spin a song from the silence
One day someone shall sing my refrain
Green in the shadows
Golden in the light


Free of my shadowy tower
We shall bind ourselves together
With tendrils of green
With tresses of gold
We shall build a castle of light and air
And banish silence with song
Together we’ll dance in the forest
White against the thorns
Black against the moon


by Kate Forsyth



SPOTLIGHT - How grim were the Grimms' fairy tales?

Thursday, February 11, 2016



Just how grim are the Grimm tales?

* In the 1812 version of the Grimm’s tale ‘Little Snow-White’, it is the heroine’s own jealous mother that wants her dead. She tells the huntsman to bring back her daughter’s lungs and liver, for her to eat. Wilhelm Grimm later changed the mother to a step-mother.

* The jealous queen was punished by Little Snow-White and her prince by being forced to dance in red-hot iron shoes till she died. 

* In the original (1812) version of ‘The Frog King’, the princess does not kiss the frog to change him into a prince. Instead, she throws him as hard as she can against a wall. 

* In ‘Aschenputtel’, the Grimm’s version of ‘Cinderella’, one wicked stepsister cuts off her toes to try and make the slipper fit and the other cuts off her heel. In the end, they have their eyes pecked out by pigeons.

* In a later edition (1857) of ‘Rumpelstiltskin’, the dwarf tears himself in two when the queen guesses his true name. This detail was added in by Wilhelm, quite possibly because he thought it was funny 

* in one Grimm tale, ‘The Maiden Without Hands,’ a girl’s hands are chopped off by her own father

* The villain of ‘Fitcher’s Bird’ is a sorcerer that travels about the countryside, kidnapping girls and hacking them to pieces in a hidden room. 

* In ‘All-Kinds-of-Fur’, a girl disguises herself in a coat made from the fur flayed from a thousand animals in order to escape the incestuous desires of her father

* in many cases, Wilhelm made the stories more violent – particularly the punishments for witches and evil step-mothers

Nonetheless, nearly all of the tales end happily, with the hero or heroine triumphing because of their courage, goodness, and wit.

My novel THE WILD GIRL tells the astonishing untold story of how the Grimm brothers came to collect their world-famous tales - and the young woman who was their most important source. Its a story of love, war and the redemptive power of storytelling. 

    

PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT - I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK!

SPOTLIGHT: A Brief History of Fairy Tales

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A BRIEF HISTORY OF FAIRY TALES

For your enjoyment ...  a brief history of fairy tales!



Myth, Legend & Fairy Tale

The differences between myth, legend, fairy tale & fable can be can simply described as:

Myths: narratives about immortal or supernatural protagonists
Legends: narratives about extraordinary protagonists
Fairy Tales: narratives about ordinary protagonists
Fables: narratives with animal protagonists which convey a moral


History of Fairy Tales

Fairy Tales have their roots in ancient oral storytelling traditions.
 
All cultures have their own myths & legends. Many fairy tales wear ‘the easy doublet’ of myth.
 
A.D. 100-200, Ancient Greece – “Cupid and Psyche” written by Apuleius 

A.D. 850-860, China - The first known version of “Cinderella” is written


C. 1300 – Troubadours and travelling storytellers spread tales throughout medieval Europe 

C. 1500 - One Thousand and One Arabian Nights is first recorded 

1550 & 1553, Italy - Gianfrancesco Straparola publishes The Pleasant Nights - he has been called the 'grandfather of fairy tales'

1600s, Italy - Giambattista Basile writes The Tale of Tales – published posthumously in 1634. This contains 'Petrosinella', the earliest known version of 'Rapunzel' 



1690-1710  - The French Salons invented and played with fairy tales - Marie-Catherine D'Aulnoy invented the term 'conte de fées'

1697 France - Charles Perrault's Mother Goose Tales is published in Paris 

1697 – Charlotte-Rose de la Force publishes her collection which includes the tale we now know of as “Rapunzel”

1740 France - Gabrielle de Villeneuve writes a 362 page version of “Beauty and the Beast”

 1756 France – Jean-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont publishes much shorter version of “Beauty and the Beast” - first tale written specifically for children.



1812 Germany - Jacob & Wilhelm Grimm publish Vol 1 of Childhood and Household Tales

1823 Great Britain - Edgar Taylor publishes the first English translation of the Grimms' tales in German Popular Stories. The book is illustrated by George Cruikshank

1825 Germany – Grimms’ first edition for children - known as The Small Edition - illustrated by Ludwig Grimm

1835 Denmark - Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales Told for Children

1889 England - Andrew Lang publishes The Blue Fairy Book -  the first multicultural fairy tale collection 


1890 Russia - Tchaikovsky's “The Sleeping Beauty” premieres in St Petersburg 

1893 Great Britain - Marian Roalfe Cox publishes her book, Cinderella: Three Hundred and Forty-five Variants of Cinderella, Catskin, and Cap O' Rushes’- the first fairy tale scholarship



1910 Finland - Antti Aarne publishes ‘The Types of the Folktale’. Later, Stith Thompson translates and expands it into English in 1961


1937 United States - Walt Disney's first feature length animated film is released, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs



Now – fairy tales have never been hotter! They dominate our TV and movie screens, and influence advertising, music, and fashion. Plus of course ... fairy tale retellings ...



Fairy Tale Tropes
Pure distillation of plot

Setting is anywhere and nowhere

Traditional sentences & archaic language: Once upon a time ... Long long ago … Once, twice, thrice …. 
‘Abstract style’  - dark forest, brave youth, golden bird

Fairy tale numbers and patterns: the numbers 3 & 7 & 13 i.e. the third sister, the thirteenth fairy

Magic & metamorphosis – talking mirror, prince into frog, girl into bear

Binary oppositions i.e. good & evil, rich & poor, beautiful & ugly, strong & weak

Memorable language i.e. rhythm, rhyme, repetition, alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia 

Motifs & metaphors: ‘the language of the night’

Structure – a series of trials & tribulations (often three)

The Fairy Tale ‘happy ending’ .. 

(Though not all fairy tales end happily. Many of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales are very sad, for example) 



FURTHER READING




BOOK LIST: My Seven Favourite Academic Studies of Fairy & Folk tales

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Here are my Favourite Seven Books on Fairy Tales. 


1. The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning & Importance of Fairy Tales by Bruno Bettelheim
First published in 1975, this is one of the most important early books on fairy tales. It is stuffed full of ideas, but must be read with a caveat in mind. Bettelheim was a Freudian psychoanalyst which means that some of his interpretations seem very out-of-date nowadays. Also, he was drawing on limited scholarship because he was essentially the man who sparked the later intense academic interest in the subject. His reputation has also been tarnished by his suicide and the accusations of child abuse that followed. Nonetheless, he was a man of vision that helped rescue fairy tales from the dust balls under a child’s bed. He says that fairy tales teach us ‘that a struggle against severe difficulties in life is unavoidable … but that if one … steadfastly meets unexpected and often unjust hardships, one masters all obstacles and at the end emerges victorious.’ 



2. Why Fairy Tales Stick: The Evolution and Relevance of A Genre by Jack Zipes
All of Jack Zipes’s books are eloquent, insightful and cleverly argued, but this is my favourite because it is so accessible to people outside arcane academic circles. He has the ability to communicate clearly and yet with great depth of scholarship. And he is interested in the socio-historical background of the tales as well as what they may mean. He says: ‘As we know, tales do not only speak to us, they inhabit us and become relevant in our struggles to resolve conflicts that endanger our happiness.’
Other books by Zipes that I would thoroughly recommend are The Irresistible Fairy Tale: The Cultural and Social History of A Genre, which builds on Why Fairy Tales Stick; and Breaking the Magic Spell: Radical Theories of Folk and Fairy Tales.


3
. From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and their Tellers by Marina Warner
I cannot tell you how much I love this book. I have read it so many times I know parts of it off by heart. It’s a massive work of scholarship that looks at the history and meaning of fairy tales with a strong feminist and revisionist slant. This is a must-read. She says: ‘The marvels and prodigies, the seven-league boots and enchanted mirrors, the talking animals, the heroes and heroines changed into frogs or bears or cats, the golden eggs and everflowing supplies of porridge, the stars on the brow of the good sister and the donkeytail sprouting on the brow of the bad – all the wonders that create the atmosphere of fairy tale disrupt the apprehensible world in order to open spaces for dreaming alternatives. The verb ‘to wonder communicates the receptive state of marvelling as well as the active desire to know, to inquire, and as such it defines very well at least two characteristics of the traditional fairy tale: pleasure in the fantatsic, curiosity about the real. The dimension of wonder creates a huge theatre of possibility in the stories: anything can happen. This very boundlessness serves the moral purpose of the tales, which is precisely to teach where boundaries lie.’ 


4. The Witch Must Die: The Hidden Meaning of Fairy Tales by Sheldon Cashdan 
This book sets out to explore how fairy tales can help children deal with psychological conflicts by projecting their own internal struggles onto the characters in the stories. In this way, Cashdan is building on Bettelheim’s legacy. He divides the stories based upon vices such as vanity, gluttony, deceit, greed and lust, which is interesting but can sometimes be a little simplistic. Nonetheless, it’s a fascinating read. He says: ‘Beyond the chase scenes and lastminute rescues are serious dramas that reflect events taking place in the child’s inner world. Wheareas the initial attraction of a fairy tale  may lie in its ability to enchant and entertain us, its lasting value lies in its power to help children deal with the internal conflicts they face in the course of growing up.’


5. The Hard Facts of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales by Maria Tatar
Murder, mutilation, cannibalism, infanticide and incest: the darker side of the Grimm fairy tales are examined in this fascinating book. She looks at the countless wicked women in a chapter entitled ‘Stepmothers and Other Ogres’ and the beastly men in ‘Bluebeard and Other Monsters’ – it’s a racy, clever, and intriguing read. She says: fairy tales are up close and personal, mixing fact with fiction to tell us about our deepest anxieties and desires. They offer roadmaps pointing the way to romance and riches, power and privilege, and most importantly, a way out of the woods, back to the safety and security of home.’ 


6. Grimms' Bad Girls and Bold Boys: The Moral & Social Vision of the Tales by Ruth B. Bottigheimer
First published in 1987, this is a fascinating and insightful look at the history of the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales, and some of the key motifs and story patterns that emerge. She also examines the various different editions and shows how the Grimm brothers had changed the stories over subsequent editions to better suit their devout, middle-class principles. She says: ‘People tell tales: peasants and artisans, lords and ladies, mothers and fathers, priests and preachers, girls and boys. The literate read aloud, the gifted recount. Over and over people tell tales whose contains seem the same but that nonetheless differs in profound ways.’




7. Clever Maids: The Secret History of the Grimm Fairy Tales by Valerie Paradiz
It was this book that inspired me to write my novel ‘The Wild Girl’. It tells the story of the forgotten women who were the primary oral source of the stories the Grimm brothers collected. The book is wonderfully accessible, and draws upon the tales themselves in a way which I think worked wonderfully. She says: ‘Few readers know that more than half of the 210 fairy tales included in the Grimm anthologies had a woman’s hand in them.’ 


I hope you find this post insightful! Please leave a comment - I love to know what you think

SEVEN FASCINATING THINGS about the Grimm Brothers

Thursday, February 11, 2016





To celebrate THE WILD GIRL being released in the US, I'm going to share some vintage Wild Girl posts this week - I hope you enjoy!






Seven Fascinating Facts about the Grimms & their Fairy Tales

1. the last witch executed in Europe died only three years before Jakob Grimm was born 

2. Although the Brothers Grimm are famous for their collection of old tales, it was actually the younger brother, Wilhelm, who did most of the work, particularly after the first edition was published in 1812. 

3. The brothers transcribed all their stories with a quill dipped in ink. Paper was scarce during the Napoleonic Wars, and so they wrote on both sides of the paper and then turned it sideways to write crossways across the page.

4. In 1810, they sent a copy of their manuscript to a poet friend, Clemens Brentano, who had promised to help them find a publisher. Brentano lost the manuscript, which was not found until the early 1920s. Wilhelm had to rewrite the whole collection by hand.

5. Their youngest brother Ludwig was a talented artist who illustrated the first Children’s Edition of their tales, published in 1825. It was this book which became an international bestseller.

6. The Grimm brothers published many other books apart from fairy tales, including writings on linguistics, folklore, and the beginning of the first detailed German dictionary. This was not finished until 120 years after their deaths.

7. the Grimm brothers were rebels who were eventually fired from their jobs at the University of Gottingen for protesting the abolition of the constitution by the King of Hanover.

The story of how the Grimm brothers came to discover their world-famous fairy tales - and the beautiful young woman who told them many of the tales - inspired my novel THE WILD GIRL.

      


Please leave a comment - I love to know what you think!

SPOTLIGHT: The history & meaning of 'Beauty & the Beast'

Sunday, November 15, 2015





"Beauty & the Beast" is one of the world’s most beloved fairy tales. It is also thought to be one of the oldest. It has its roots in a story called ‘Cupid & Psyche’ which was included in the collection of stories known as Metamorphoses, written in the 2nd century AD by Apuleius. That is more than two thousand years ago ... and there are more than one thousand different variants of this tale, in cultures all over the world. 

In many versions, the monstrous bridegroom is a serpent. In the Norwegian version ‘East of the Sun, West of the Moon’, he is a bear. In the Grimm brothers’ version, ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’, he is a lion, and in the English variant, he is a dog. 

* ‘Cupid & Psyche’-type tales usually feature three sisters. The youngest is the most beautiful. She must marry (or live with) a monster, beast, or animal, usually as penance for some kind of theft or misbehavior. In ‘Cupid & Psyche’, she was so beautiful that people began to worship her instead of Venus. In ‘Beauty & the Beast’, her father steals a rose. In ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’, the father tries to catch the beast’s pet lark. 

* The Beast comes to her bed at night in the form of a man, but she must not see him.

* The Beauty betrays the Beast somehow. In ‘Cupid & Psyche’ and ‘East of the Sun, West of the Moon’, her dangerous curiosity leads her to light a lamp so she can see who her bridegroom is. In ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’, she allows light to fall upon him. 

* He is revealed to be a beautiful man - a prince or a god. But since she has seen him, and was forbidden not to, he must leave. In ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’, he is transformed into a dove.

She searches for him, sometimes having to complete many difficult tasks in order to find him. Her journey is to the underworld and back, seeking redemption.




In 1740, a French writer called Madame Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve took the well-known ‘Animal Bridegroom’ tale and rewrote it as ‘The Story of the Beauty & the Beast’. Being over 100 pages long, this is the first time a fairy tale was retold in novel form. Villeneuve’s version was dark, complex, and sensual. In her tale, the danger is very real – the Beast is fierce and wild, and must be tamed by the girl. As Terri Windling has written ‘(in Villeneuve’s story) the Beast is a truly fiercesome figure, not a gentle soul disguised by fur … The emphasis of this tale is on the transformation of the Beast, who must find his way back to the human sphere.’ 

Sixteen years later Mademoiselle Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, a French woman working as a governess in England, took Villeneuve's story and cut it to the bone, removing much of the latent eroticism and complex back-story. She published her simpler version in a magazine for young ladies. In Beaumont’s story, the monstrous shape of the Beast is a kind of furry costume that he wears, hiding the good and noble man within. 



The story was therefore no longer about the Beast's need for transformation, but instead focuses on the heroine’s need to learn to look beneath the surface. So Beaumont’s story is closer to the original ‘Cupid & Psyche’ tale, in which the heroine must undergo a series of trials and tests before she is worthy of her divine lover.

Beaumont’s version of the tale has now been retold so many times it has its own sub-category in the folkloric classification system – Tale Type 425C ‘Beauty & the Beast’. 



The Meaning of the Tale


As always, there are multiple interpretations of the meaning of the story. As P.L. Travers said, ‘we go to fairy tales not so much for their meanings as for our meanings.’ (quoted in The Meanings of "Beauty and the Beast": A Handbook, by Jerry Griswold.)

Bruno Bettelheim looks at the symbols of the tale. For him, the stolen rose is indicative of the ‘broken flower’ of maidenhood, and so anticipates the loss of her virginity. This would make ‘Beauty and the Beast’ a story of sexual awakening, as so many fairy tales are. For Bettelheim, who was a Freudian psychoanalyst, the story is therefore one of oedipal conflict – the daughter must grow away from her childish love of her father and into a more mature love of her husband. 



Steven Swann Jones believes fairy tales are ‘symbolic depictions of social and emotional crises faced by audience members … (‘Beauty & the Beast’-type tales) dramatize the central and apparently problematic experience of coming to terms with marriage.’ 

Old school feminists might argue that – by trying to please her father by marrying the Beast - Beauty is locked into a female-reductive patriarchal society. 

However, newer feminist readings of the tale look back to its mythic roots. Psyche means the vital breath, or breath of life, and so stands for the human soul. Psyche, the heroine of the old tale, has to undergo a long journey down into the dark terror of the underworld and back up into the light, a journey of transformation, redemption and rebirth. 

This mythic reading of the ‘Beauty & the Beast’ tale fills it power. It is the story of a woman’s journey towards true knowledge of her secret lover, and indeed of the nature of love itself (remember that a rose is often a symbol of secrets). 

Marina Warner has written: ‘The Beauty & the Beast story is a classic fairy tale of transformation, which, when told by a woman, places the male lover, the Beast, in the position of the mysterious, threatening, possibly fatal unknown, and beauty, the heroine, as the questor who discovers his true nature …by the end of the tale …. The terror has been faced and chased; the light shines in the dark places.’ 



You may also enjoy reading some of my other blogs on fairy tales:






PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT - I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK!

BOOK REVIEW: The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman

Friday, May 22, 2015



The Sleeper and the Spindle

by Neil Gaiman; illustrated by Chris Riddell 


THE BLURB

A thrillingly reimagined fairy tale from the truly magical combination of author Neil Gaiman and illustrator Chris Riddell – weaving together a sort-of Snow White and an almost Sleeping Beauty with a thread of dark magic, which will hold readers spellbound from start to finish. 

On the eve of her wedding, a young queen sets out to rescue a princess from an enchantment. She casts aside her fine wedding clothes, takes her chain mail and her sword and follows her brave dwarf retainers into the tunnels under the mountain towards the sleeping kingdom. This queen will decide her own future – and the princess who needs rescuing is not quite what she seems. Twisting together the familiar and the new, this perfectly delicious, captivating and darkly funny tale shows its creators at the peak of their talents.

Lavishly produced, packed with glorious Chris Riddell illustrations enhanced with metallic ink, this is a spectacular and magical gift.


WHAT I THOUGHT
This exquisitely illustrated hardback edition is published by Bloomsbury, illustrated by Chris Riddell, and written by Neil Gaiman with all his characteristic flair. 

In this retelling of ‘Sleeping Beauty’, Neil Gaiman has allowed his dark and macabre imagination to run free. Accompanied by the extraordinary illustrations of Chris Riddell – at times beautiful, at times funny, at times disturbing – the story twists the old tale in unexpected ways, to wonderful effect. This was my favourite of the two books, both because of its beautiful production and also because of the way the story is turned inside out. Magical. 


Subscribe RSS

Recent Posts


Tags


Archive


Blogs I Follow