Cinderella. Sleeping Beauty. Snow White. Beauty and the Beast. These popular fairy tales (along with a few more I haven’t mentioned) have been illustrated, retold, fractured, and adapted countless times, and they are still going strong. They’re only a small handful of the great number of fairy tales available to us, though. Today I want to highlight five of my favorite lesser-known fairy tales.
The Twelve Dancing Princesses
This is the most popular of the lesser-known fairy tales on this list. It’s enjoying a resurgence in YA fantasy fiction, with such offerings as Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George and Entwined by Heather Dixon.
I loved the imagery of this tale–the tattered shoes, the princesses in their ball finery, the magic staircase and the invisibility cloak, the groves of silver, gold, and diamond leaves, the well-lit castle in the center of the lake. That, and I’m a sucker for the kind man of humble origins solving the mystery and winning the princess.
Tatterhood and the Hobgoblins
I didn’t discover this until a few years ago when I got the Lauren Mills’ picture book retelling out of the library for my children. I instantly adored the wild-haired feisty Tatterhood with her red cloak and her white goat and her big wooden spoon for whacking hobgoblins with. I loved her fierce bond of loyalty to her sister, her courage, her adventurous spirit. And when she does finally settle down to become more of a conventional fairy tale princess, it’s with a twinkle in her eye and on her own terms.
I hesitate to add this one, though I loved it as a child. A haughty princess taunts and rejects all her noble suitors. After dismissing the last one, mockingly calling him “Thrushbeard”, her father loses patience with her and declares he will marry her to the next man to come to his gates. The weeping princess thus finds herself wed to a beggar, who insists she earn her keep. Long story short, the beggar is really King Thrushbeard and the princesses, humbled and kinder, takes her place as his queen at the end.
I like fish-out-of-water stories, and lesson-learned tales, but I don’t like the Taming of the Shrew method of a husband schooling his wayward wife. I include this tale–but with reservations. That, and because I think it would be fun to break some time!
Snow White and Rose Red
I enjoyed the rural setting and loved the non-romantic relationships in this one–the love between mother and daughters, the sisterly bond between Snow White and Rose Red, and the friendship between the bear and the girls. I also found it highly amusing that the girls’ every encounter with the ill-natured dwarf led to the latter losing a piece of his beard as a result of their help!
Liang and the Magic Paintbrush
This is the version I read to my children, though I grew up with a different one, whose illustrations I still remember vividly. Liang, a poor Chinese boy, is gifted with a magic paintbrush that makes pictures come to life. When the greedy emperor discovers this, he hunts Liang down and Liang uses his wits to put an end to the man and escape with his paintbrush.
What are your favorite lesser-known fairy tales?