For the rest of the day today, we’re playing Tumblr Tag with the accounts we follow. If you find you’ve been tagged in this post, reply with an answer to the following question:
What is your favorite fairy tale?
Susana is answering this because she has an answer that she thinks is actually interesting.
My favorite fairy tale is East of the Sun, West of the Moon. There are many ways the story is told, but as a kid, I had an edition that was illustrated by Mercer Mayer with
Sadly, no one in my family can find our copy of it now, and it’s out of print.
This version of East of the Son, West of the Moon is a bit of an amalgam of several fairy tales. It starts out exactly like The Frog Prince. Beautiful princess who refuses all suitors drops her gold ball in a well, and a talking frog offers to return it in exchange for a promise that she’ll marry him. Naturally, she promises in order to get her ball back, and then refuses to make good on it, because, duh, marrying a frog. The moment she reveals her intentions, the frog turns into a handsome prince and is whisked away by devils to a castle “east of the sun, west of the moon.” Turns out he was cursed by his his wicked stepmother, an ogre queen, and now he has to go live with her and marry one of her ogre daughters.
The princess immediately realizes that she’s in the wrong here and she’s got to do something about it. So she abandons her pampered lifestyle and embarks on an epic, globe trotting quest where she confronts and is helped by all manner of terrifying, epic elemental beasts: salamanders, great white bears, giant fish, unicorns, asking each one if they know how to get “east of the sun, and west of the moon.” Each one of them points her to another creature that takes her a little farther on her journey and/or offers her aid in the form of items like one of the fish’s silvery scales.
When she arrives at the castle, she is forced into bondage by the prince’s hideous stepmother and stepsisters, while she seeks to find a way to free him from an enchanted sleep within a glass prison. Eventually she winds up shooting one of the ogres in the heart, turning some of them to stone, etc., and she and her prince live happily ever after.
At least, that’s how it goes to the best of my recollection. Like I said, nobody in my family can find our copy of it. Needless to say, between the male character who takes on characteristics of both Cinderella and Snow White; the female character who takes on the Hero’s Quest of personal growth, adventure, and restitution; and those illustrations; it really stuck in my head as a kid.
Quasi unrelated, but one of my favorite lady comic artists, Marjane Satrapi, did a slightly more grown up version of this story framework called The Sigh, if you’d be interested in that sort of thing.
And if you’re interested in another beautifully illustrated out of print fairy tale that has gender role subverting themes (and the additional, you’d-never-notice-it-as-a-kid-but-hey-wow-now-that-I’m-an-adult-yeah theme that worshiping women for their purity and damning them otherwise is bullshit), see if your library has Jane Yolen’s Dove Isabeau.