This week I am posting on the first title from my collection of Ladybird fiction books. And I thought I'd start with my all time favourite Ladybird book from my childhood. It is "Well-Loved Tales" Snow-White and Rose-Red part of the Ladybird Easy Reading Series, 606D. It is retold by Vera Southgate with illustrations by Eric Winter. I am a little ashamed at the state of the cover, but I think it tells you everything you need to know about how well read and how much I loved this book.
"Once upon a time there was a poor widow who lived with her two little girls in a cottage by the edge of a forest.
In front of the cottage was a small garden in which grew two rose-bushes. One bush bore white roses and the other red roses. These rose-bushes were older than the little girls who were named after them."
So begins the story of two sisters named, Snow-White and Rose-Red who, one winters evening, open the door to their house to find a big black bear. It is cold outside and he begs to warm himself by the fire, promising not to hurt anyone. He returns to the house each night during the winter but once spring arrives his visits stop. I will admit the bear is not all that scary in this illustration.
Sometime later the sisters are in the forest when they come across a dwarf whose long beard has got stuck in a tree root. They free him but he is rude and ungrateful, as he is when they rescue him from a huge fish trying to drag him into a lake, and an eagle that tries to make off with him.
I loved this story. First it was about devoted sisters, I have two of these myself. Rose Red who has dark hair and was my favourite, "loved to run about and skip and dance, and she was always lively and gay". Snow White "was fair-haired and she was rather quiet and gentle", it sometimes seemed to me she should have had dark hair. But, this Snow-White has nothing to do with the Snow-White of Seven Dwarves and Brother's Grimm fame, they are completely separate individuals. Although the Grimm brothers did write a version of this tale, that is probably better known in the UK than the original. They must have taken a liking to the name.
I thought it a little unfair that Snow-White got to marry the prince, while Rose-Red gets to marry his brother who we never see. Although I actually preferred the bear when he was a bear. The idea of a talking bear knocking on the door and coming into the house to warm himself by the fire was wonderful to me. Much more exciting than a prince.
Both sisters were incredibly good, which I was not as a child (I mean what child is?) but, I aspired to be good and Rose Red seemed to make being good likely to be a bit more fun. There is a Christian overtone to this telling of the tale. At one point in the book a guardian angel who watches over good children appears, and there just happens to be a lamb and a dove in the house on the first night that the bear comes to visit.
Despite Snow-White and Rose-Red being one of Ladybirds "Well - Loved Tales" I don't remember it being in any of my other collections of Fairy Tales, or any other child having this book, or knowing the tale. I do remember talking about the story in class in primary school and no one else knew the story. I think this made it all the more special to me, it was mine. It is in fact one of Charles Perrault classic fairytales written down by him in the 17th Century, inspired by existing French folk tales.
I have an abiding love of Fairy Tales that continues as an adult and includes a huge collection of Fairy Tale anthologies, and beautiful copies of individual tales I have bought my little foxes, like this version of Red Riding Hood by Louise Rowe. There are incredible paper-craft scenes on every page, the phrase "pop-up book" just doesn't do it justice it is absolutely beautiful.
Fairy tales also led me to discover one of my favourite authors, Angela Carter and the books of the magical realist writers. Angela Carter's Book of Fairy Tales which is for adults is just amazing. One of my favourite films of the 80's was Neil Jordan's The Company of Wolves based on the Little Red Riding Hood story and a short story from Carter's book The Bloody Chamber. To this day I am prepared to sit through absolutely rubbish films and TV programs if there is just a sniff of the fairytale to them. And by this I don't mean the "and they live happily ever after" ending but wolves and dwarves and talking bears and the like.
There is something so magical about fairy tales to me. They are a complete rejection of the things that tie you down and limit you in the real world and celebration of creativity. While I have a very broad palate when it comes to literature I have a fondness for sci-fi and fantasy that I think all stems from my love of fairytales. When I want to read a book to relax it is these books I go for.
So tonight I am going to give little Una Fox this book to read before bedtime. I hope she loves it as much as I do. And if she does I had better get her another copy because this one is falling apart.
This post is part of Ladybird Tuesday started on the Being Mrs C blog, take a look at her posts here.
And the rest of Mrs Fox's Ladybird Tuesday posts are here and if you have a collection of Ladybird books, please do feel free to join in.