The Fairy Tellers by Nicholas Jubber
The Fairy Tellers: A Journey Into The Secret History Of Fairy Tales is an in-depth study of the subject. Most fairy stories that we know today have been passed down through hundreds and thousands of years. They have been retold, re-invented and re-worded, but where did they originate from?
Nicholas Jubber undertook an enormous task, choosing to focus on just seven writers, although many more are mentioned within the pages. Jubber searched through history, followed trails and investigated who the original story tellers were. The book is broken into seven main parts and takes the reader first to 16th century Venice and Giambattista Basile with his stories that led to Cinderella, Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty. Next are the stories from Hanna Dyab, who brought his tales, one of which was Aladdin, with him from Syria to Paris in the 1700s.
Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve introduced Beauty and The Beast around 1756, while in Germany the Grimm brothers were collecting stories; Rumpelstiltskin, Hansel and Gretel and The Elves And The Shoemaker were told to the brothers by a young girl called Dortchen Wild.
Part five heads to Russia and Ivan Khudiakov’s role in the Baba Yaga retellings. In part six, Jubber travels back to the year 1070 in Kashmir where court poet Somadeva wrote Ocean Of The Streams Of Story, an epic tale. Jubber picks out plots from all of these stories and shows us how the themes became repeated in later accounts as they filter down through history.
Part seven is dedicated to the famous Hans Christian Anderson; his stories reflected what he saw around him and were often his way of escaping a lonely life. We remember him for The Little Mermaid, The Snow Queen and numerous other tales about animals and children.
Sprinkled throughout the book are short versions of lots of fairy stories, and diagrams which guide the reader along routes that the retellings took and how we have come to know them today. It is a fascinating book and at around 300 pages there is a lot of material to read through. Jubber has presented a very interesting analysis of the history of the fairy tale. I recommend this to anyone who is interested in fairy tales. Just as story tellers all through the ages have done so, authors today continue to rewrite such tales using their own slant. Who knows what new versions of these old favourites future generations will be reading?
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Fairy-Tales are not just fairy-tales: they are records of historical phenomena, telling us something about how Western civilisation was formed. In The Fairy-Tellers’ Trail, award-winning travel-writer Nick Jubber explores their secret history of fairy-tales: the people who told them, the landscapes that forged them, and the cultures that formed them.
While there are certain names inextricably entwined with the concept of a fairy-tale, such as the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, the most significant tellers are long buried under the more celebrated figures who have taken the credit for their stories – people like the Syrian storyteller Youhenna Diab and the Wild Sisters of Cassel. Without them we would never have heard of Aladdin, his Magic Lamp or the adventures of Hansel and Gretel.
Tracking these stories to their sources carries us through the steaming cities of Southern Italy and across the Mediterranean to the dust-clogged alleys of the Maghreb, under the fretting leaves of the Black Forest, deep into the tundra of Siberia and across the snowy hills of Lapland.
From North Africa and Siberia, this book illuminates the complicated relationship between Western civilization and the ‘Eastern’ cultures it borrowed from, and the strange lives of our long lost fairy-tellers.