Tag Archives: Charles Perrault

Book Review: In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed II

Mitzi Szereto starts off her collection, In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed, with an introduction to the erotic fairy tales. Here she talks about the influence of cultures and how scholars have discovered that many of the tales can be traced to Asia specifically. There is a long lineage and evolution to the fairy tale, and though many may have come from Asia and India, others were created in other areas, growing out of legends such as the Greek myths, or taking on local flavors. Indeed, there are common motifs and tales found through many lands and whether they were one migratory tale travelling a winding path, or many tales born of similar seeds, it’s hard to say. After all, Jung talked about the cosmic consciousness and how the human intellect tended to evolve or develop at the same time. A person in South America would come to the same revelations as someone in Europe, based on our understandings of the world, and a common foundation of reasoning and problem solving. This theory has proven true in the case of  inventors creating the same thing within the same time as another (or even such basics designs as the Greek key showing up in Aztec/Mayan Americas as well as in Greece).

With an erotic book I would expect the stories to be erotic; titillating or sensually stimulating in some way. Now one erotic tale won’t do it for everyone but there will at least be some tales in a collection that will appeal to a person’s imagination and sensual sensitivities. This book is marketed as erotica and the cover actually gives no hint to the fairy tale context. I imagine this is probably because erotica sells better than fairy tales, where adults might still think that those tales are for children or are some Disneyfied, pristine production. So it makes sense. Cleis is primarily a publisher of erotica and everything is packaged under that heading.

With a book of modern fairy tales I would expect either completely new tales but done in a fairy tale style, or known fairy tales that are skewed or deviate from the original in some compelling way. Some of the standard fairy tale formats are cautionary tales (if you stray from the rules, you’re going to end up in hot water), coming of age tales (you must go through these trials to attain your reward), common man tales (by virtue of quick wits you will conquer all obstacles to get your reward), and virtue tales (if you are good and pure, you will overcome the greater evils pitted against you and get your reward). In the last, the reward is often a prince/husband for the girl. There are other types of fairy tales but those are common themes. As well, fairy tales almost always have some type of magic or magical being in them, whether they’re the Arabian Nights or Grimm’s fairy tales.

I confess that I was somewhat biased before picking up this book. I love fairy tales and I’m certainly not averse to erotica. From what I can tell Mitzi Szereto is intelligent and energetic and takes her craft seriously. This collection contains 15 tales  from a wide range of sources. The introduction ends with Szereto mentioning that the tales captured the imaginations of such writers as Dickens, C.S. Lewis and Bernard Shaw, thought not mentioning Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen, or Oscar Wilde who sometimes created their own. She states that, “It is in this very same creative spirit that I continue the age-old tale-telling tradition…, choosing to rely not on the unexpurgated  versions of the past, but rather on those considered suitable for all  eyes–including the eyes of children. By working in this way, I can remove myself from all previous erotic influences and make the tales my own.

I found this slightly odd for an erotic fairy tale book, since the expurgated versions certainly are cauterized in many ways.  If she is writing adult erotica, why start with the family version, but I thought, okay, there are erotic undertones to some of the tales so let’s see what happens. Each tale begins with an introduction, talking about its roots, influences and changes through time.

The first tale is “Cinderella,” an extremely well known story. Early variations had such names as “Aschenputtle,” “La Gatta Cenerentola,”  and “Rashin-Coatie.” In Szereto’s introduction to the tale she goes back to its beginnings in China, as well as discussing the original erotic content (or perhaps lack) in this story, which had me wondering how she could remove herself from the erotic influences if she’s read and done all this research before writing her version. The tale unfolds as we know it, with Cinderella taking care of and dressing her ugly stepsisters. When they run off to the ball Cinderella’s fairy godmother appears, which seems to be a hairy fairy in drag. Why this particular character, I’m not sure. He/she eyes the coachmen in buttless pants. Nothing more happens with the godmother and I found it an odd deviation or embellishment that didn’t further the plot.

Cinderella’s ventures veer to her stepsisters having a fondness for parsnips (and not for eating, which the not so sweet Cinderella laces with peppers) and the prince having more of a fondness for the shoe, where he plunges “the bulky protuberance he had released into the right slipper,” than the woman. Her reward is not so rewarding and I was left…let down. I could see the tongue in cheek humor to this piece but there was little of erotic description and odd usages of words (mounds for breasts) to the point of a bevy of euphemisms. But then this was the first tale and perhaps Szereto was trying to capture the flavor of innuendo and tales of old.

So I moved on to the next one, “The Magic Muntr.” I have many fairy tale books; a complete Grimms tales, various ethnic folktales, Hans Christian Andersen’s tales, the modern anthologies by Windling and Datlow, several books on the analysis of tales, several Arabian Nights, etc. However, I have not read all these books. The complete Grimm tales alone is a hefty tome of 279 tales, some only half a page and not too interesting, but extensive nonetheless. So I was intrigued to see this tale and read its history.

Tomorrow, Part III of the review.

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Book Review: In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed I

This will be a very long and involved review of Mitzi Szereto’s In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed, a collection of erotic fairy tales published by Cleis Press. In fact it will be at least three, maybe four parts, so hang on to your hats.

When I received The Sweetest Kiss and In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed for review I decided to do the vampire erotica first (Sweetest Kiss) since it was nearer to Hallowe’en. Plus, I love fairy tales. They’re a good memory of my childhood and I still have (managed to find again actually) some of the volumes I had as a kid. (Those influences can be read in previous blog entries on worlds of what-if.) I took one course in university on children’s lit but specifically fairy tales, which gave me a deeper interest in the form. I’ve read numerous tales from Charles Perrault, Hans Christian Andersen and the brothers Grimm to updated interpretations by Angela Carter, Sarah Moon and the collections edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. I’ve written a few of my own, including poems, and continue to search out and enjoy the varied tales that are there, from the ancient to the new.

Fairy and folktales began a very long time ago. Along with the myths and superstitions that set up the religious structures of culture throughout the world, people were attempting to explain other things or events. And they were entertaining each other. However, not all entertainment had a single purpose. Much was in the way of passing on information: histories, cautionary tales, moral tales, tales of hope and trickery in the little guy/or common person who is rewarded for great deeds/virtue/quick wit, etc. The list is quite extensive.

These tales were told over and over again, passed down through generations and cultures, adapting and evolving with the times. Once Charles Perrault and before him Giambattista Basile, and after, the brothers Grimm, started to set the tales down in writing, gathering them from various sources, the tales began to evolve less and become frozen in time and sentiment of an age. There is evidence that these tales were written down centuries before in various lands, and in different versions but overall I follow the belief that most tales were passed from person to person, tales told by bards and travellers. This is not the view that Mitzi Szereto takes, stating that most tales were gathered from the more noble or richer classes, and there is obvious truth there as written tales would have been for the more educated and therefore wealthy classes. But all these tales started somewhere, being listened to by groups of people. Whichever it may be, there are variations all over.

Just as religions adopted gods from one country to another and similar sun gods, resurrection gods, grain gods and weather gods can be seen in most early religions, so it is that many of these fairy tales are part of the cosmic consciousness that Jung believed in and is quite evident in the evolution and progress of human intellect and thought. Books have been written just on the subject of fairy tales alone, besides the volumes of fairy tales themselves.

The earlier versions are often violent and bloody, and have characters not so redeeming as how they appear in some of Perrault’s and the Grimm brothers’ versions. Indeed, by the time Disney got hold of the fairy tales they were sanitized of any true lessons and every good little princess got her man, as long as she was virtuous, pretty and good, a role model for every submissive female for the 20th century and more.

This brings us to a reclaiming of fairy tales that happened the more adults began to take them seriously again and examine their content. Even though the Grimms edited the tales to suit their views, they were purveyors of folk literature and took their work seriously. Many others have come along to look at the tales and their hidden meanings and mysteries. Some of these scholars of today are A.S. Bayatt, Emma Donohue, and Angela Carter, who did her own rewriting of many a tale. In the Company of Wolves is a great rendition of the Little Red Riding Hood tale and can also be found in a “now” old film of the same name, starring a younger Angela Lansbury. Bruno Bettelheim and Jack Zipes are well-known scholars of fairy tales. Author Sarah Moon did a chilling rendition of the same Little Red Riding Hood as Carter’s but more as a cautionary tale than a coming of age story, with her stark black and white photos of a  young girl in the glare of a car’s headlights and with connotations of a pedophilic stalker, making the tale very modern and terrifying.

Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling edited collections of modern tales that take these fairy tales with leaps in new directions. Jane Yolen, and other authors have also written different rendtions that are darker and deeper than the original tales. Although it is less storytelling, authors are still taking these archetypal tales and bringing them along through the centuries to match our times, with warnings and morals and fears that hit closer to home.

There are many authors, editors and scholars in the realm of fairy tales who are researching, reading and telling new tales. Having written an erotic fairy tale for a Harlequin anthology that I based off of one of the many (and lesser known) Grimm tales, I was excited to see this collection by Mitzi Szereto.

And here I am, at the end of a blog entry and I have yet to actually talk about the book. I’ll start very briefly and say that it had a preface by Tobsha Learner. Though I didn’t know who this was, Tobsha is an Australian author with several books to her credit in which a blend of magic and eroticism are the theme (and some gorgeous covers on top of that). I thought, great, there will be a scholarly bent to the fairy tale aspect and I’ll learn even more about them. This was coupled by Mitzi Szereto’s introduction and an introduction to each story.

I’ll go into the intro and some of the tales tomorrow, but up to this point, I had not yet read any of Szereto’s writing. From what I could tell of reading about her, she’s vivacious, energetic, intelligent and a good writer. I read a couple of excerpts I found of her other pieces which supported that she knows how to write, so I was looking forward to the tales.

Tomorrow, what I found out as I read.

Cleis Press: http://www.cleispress.com/gosearch.php?textfield=in+sleeping+beauty&search_type=TITLE

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