Canadian Fairy Tales
Priscilla Galloway was an English consultant in Willowdale, Ontario.
These twelve intriguing tales were brought from Europe by settlers to Canada. Eva Martin, the suburban Toronto librarian and storyteller who retold them, believes with Italo Calvino that every new teller should adapt the story a little. She points to the prevalence in these stories of vast, dark forests, filled with dangerous beasts and magical creatures, as being particularly Canadian. The forests of these tales, however, do not seem different from the forests in Grimm, nor do the tales seem in any way to belong distinctively to this country, although all of them were collected in Canada. Sources are given for each.
These stories are full of kings and princes (and the occasional princess); castles and giants who eat human flesh abound; here are unicorns and all manner of enchantments. The Bluebeard motif — entering a forbidden room — occurs in two of the stories, although both times it is a man who indulges his curiosity.
Another interesting sex-role reversal is found in “Beauty and the Beast,” where the beast is female. In this fine story, the prince rescues the enchanted princess by playing a passive role as the plaything of three giants. When he is injured, the princess uses her magic salve to restore him.
Except for “The Princess of Tomboso,” these are not well-known stories, although there are three tales of that French-Canadian naive hero, Ti-Jean. “The Healing Spring” is a fine story of two brothers, one good and one evil. Through the power of the magic water, the good brother eventually wins his princess.
Anyone who might hope these stories would be chosen with an eye to the changing social values of the 1980s will be disappointed; or perhaps our Canadian versions of the European tales are even more grounded in a patriarchal worldview than the European tradition which gave them birth. In eight of the twelve tales, males are the chief characters; no story features a female main character; the other four stories include both sexes. In two of these, the evil character is female, though one evil sister has a virtuous counterpart. Only “Beauty and the Beast” presents shared heroism of woman and man. Marriage ends six of these stories, with some promises of continuing bliss.
Leading illustrator Laszlo Gal did more than paint the pictures for this book; he inspired the project. His twelve superb full-colour illustrations are, like the stories, in the European tradition. Here is an armored knight on a war-horse, there a magic garden with marble pillars and statues, there again a romantic forest with unicorn and partridge. (There is also one waterfall scene that evokes the power of Niagara.) The story of the villainous butcher is illustrated by a dark painting with meat hooks and carcasses. The colour art is bordered by rich and intricate line drawings. Each story has its own title page, with the coloured book jacket illustration, child with violin, reproduced in black and white. This is an aesthetically satisfying book, a pleasing addition to a folklore collection.