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Want to get your kid hooked to reading? Here are six unusual fairytales to get you started

Excited about the on-screen remake of Disney’s classic Aladdin? Well, beyond the Disney versions of fairytales and bedtime stories, are unconventional tales you’d love to read

books Updated: Jul 21, 2017 09:00 IST
Lakshana Palat
Lakshana Palat
Hindustan Times
George MacDonald,Oscar Wilde,John Ruskin
The Light Princess, by George MacDonald.

New Delhi

The magic carriages, castles, the fairy godmother, the beautiful princess and the handsome prince and of course, the talking animals — most of us grew up on the diet of Disney’s versions of the fairytales, such as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Beauty and The Beast, and Aladdin, or we read these stories before sleeping. The stories themselves have travelled over centuries, and have been embroidered with each telling, yet with the same essence. We loved the idea that when a princess is distressed, the prince will come and save her.

In male-centric stories like Puss in Boots, the man always went on a quest, and his reward would be — you guessed right, a princess. However, these aren’t the only tales, in fairytale literature. There are other tales which deal with strong women characters, where men and women have mutual respect for each other, and where the two genders learn from each other. There is never one dashing hero, instead there are male and female protagonists, on an equal footing. They respect each other’s needs and inclinations and they share each other’s visions. These tales actually question society, and some even took digs at superficiality of monarchies.

Authors like George MacDonald and Oscar Wilde belonged to this category, and their stories were known for their refusal to comply with the rigid roles of sexuality and sex roles. So why do we not talk about these tales? Will they ever become popular animated films?

So for the moment put away the conventional tales, and try these stories:

This one is written by Scottish writer, George MacDonald.

1) The Day Boy and Night Girl by George MacDonald: In this tale, there is a witch named Watho who keeps the boy Photogen and the girl Nycteris in separate parts of the castle, and exposes one to darkness, and the other to light. They finally see each other during adolescence, and realize Watho’s intentions of crippling them. Here is an interesting dialogue which you will not find in the classic fairy tales:

“Come, come, dear!” said Nycteris, “you must not go on this way. You

must be a brave girl, and—”

“A girl!” shouted Photogen, and started to his feet in wrath. “If you were a man, I should kill you.”

“A man?” repeated Nycteris, “What is that? How could I be that? We are both girls—are we not?” “No, I am not a girl,” he answered; “—although,” he added, changing his tone, and casting himself on the ground at her feet, “I have given you too good reason to call me one.” “Oh, I see!” returned Nycteris. “No, of course!—You can’t be a girl: girls are not afraid—without reason. I understand now: it is because you are not a girl that you are so frightened.”

This one’s a parody of Sleeping Beauty.

2) The Light Princess by George MacDonald: The story revolves around a king and queen who are childless. When they finally have a child, they insult the king’s own sister, Princess Makemnoit who is a witch, and do not invite her to the christening. The insulted witch curses the daughter, by making her lose her gravity. The Princess floats and soars when she wants to walk and it is difficult to control, as she is light bodied. When she becomes seventeen, she learns the pleasure of swimming, gains a sense of gravity, and also meets a young prince, who is willing to sacrifice himself so she can pursue her passion for water. The idea of the story is that, gravity cannot be imposed or learned abstractly. It is gained through passion and is liberating. She does not become dependent on the prince, she gains certain qualities from their encounter, and he benefits as well.

Fairytales are usually about different kinds of magical transformations- from frogs to princes, straw into gold, and beggars into kings. However, Oscar Wilde’s tales are transformations about loss, and the superficiality of society.

3) Happy Prince: This is the story of a heavily jewelled statue, on a pedestal high above the town. One day, a swallow who wants to fly to warmer place, rests at the statue’s (princes) feet for the night. The prince tells him all about the suffering that he can see. He requests the swallow to take the jewels from him and distribute it to the poor. After the swallow takes the jewelled eyes, he realises that he must stay, as the prince is blind. The swallow then dies in the cold. Here, love is the supreme value, and it is love which demands the ultimate sacrifice.

A story of a young boy who believes that he is the son of a star.

4) The Star Child: This is the story of a handsome boy who believes that he is the son of a star. This makes him certain that he is above everyone else. One day, his mother, a beggar woman comes to his village to see him. He wants nothing to do with her, and mocks her ugliness. As a punishment, he becomes monstrously ugly himself, and remains so, till he becomes kind to others. This is similar to Beauty And The Beast, except here there is no princess to make him change his ways- this he has to do himself.

5) King of The Golden River by John Ruskin: Here, the boy at the centre of the story, has feminine traits in him, something which isn’t found in the original fairy tale heroes. He has a childlike innocence, and there are no hints of sexuality and aggression, and is no one’s prince charming. Furthermore, what makes this story stand out, is that there is no father figure whose appreciation needs to be sought, (as in the case of most classical fairy tales with a male protagonist), and no princess to be won.

This one is by the author of Vanity Fair.

6) The Rose and The Ring, by William Makepeace Thackeray: This is a satirical piece of fantasy- where a group of royal cousins have been cursed by the fairy, named Blackstick. You’ll read about confused monarchs, and the weakening of paternal authority, and the power of the matriarchs. This story gives light jabs at the superficial elite.

First Published: Jul 21, 2017 09:00 IST