Friday, May 18, 2012

Fairy Tale Friday: The Twelve Dancing Princesses



It is Fairy Tale Friday. All bloggers are welcome to link up their fairy tale themed posts.  

The Twelve Dancing Princesses has been a beloved fairy tale for centuries.    There are a few things in common in most versions.  First, there is a male protagonist who is a commoner.  He may be a soldier coming back from war, a shepherd, or other laborer.  Generally, this man has shown himself to be worthy by being come combination of these character qualities—hard working, generous, brave, cunning, and patient.   Surely, it gives hope to the masses that they can ascend their current humble stations with the right qualities and some luck.  Luck usually comes in the form of a wise woman who has some magical powers.  She offers clever advice and a magical item (flower or cloak, for instance).  The mystery of the daughters' nightly activities is likely rooted in the universal parental experience of letting go and lacking control over what your children are doing.   It also reflects a fascination with the underworld or otherworld.  This underworld is often cursed but ironically is a source of beauty and riches.   Making a quest into the underworld goes back to ancient times when heroes like Gilgamesh and Odysseus journeyed there.   Fairy tales capture our imagination because of their ability to appeal to the collective hopes, dreams, and fears of humanity. 


The Twelve Dancing Princesses (by Marianna Mayer):
This picture book version is my favorite!  The first thing that drew me to it is the stunning paintings by K.Y. Craft that grace each page.  The text is framed with a nearly full page illustration on one side and a small window picture on the other.  A border beautifully connects everything together.   This version is the more detailed, developing the male protagonist (a former shepherd and eventual castle gardener) well and providing time for the love to grow between him and one of the princesses.  He does not reveal the secret to the king.  Instead, he willing attempts to consume the drink that will attach him to the underworld kingdom forever because he thinks it will please his favored princess. Her act of stopping him (which is an act of true love) breaks the spell.  The only part I don’t like is the addition of the fortunate teller.   Ruth Sanderson’s version is a condensed version of Mayer’s.  It is also beautifully illustrated.   


The pictures in this version are also amazing, but the style is very different from Craft’s depiction.   The colors are vivid, and the details are delicate.  This version is based on the Grimm’s fairy tale.  A soldier comes upon the castle hoping to solve the mystery.  Using a cloak provided by a wise woman, the soldier solves the mystery and tells the king.  The free spirited daughters’ admit it is true.  They had been outwitted. The girls are defying their father to have fun after hours.  The narrative ends with the eldest daughter (now queen) decreeing that she and her sisters should go dancing as often and late as they wish.  There is the sense that the girls felt too confined by their father’s rules, so they were rebelling (rather than being cursed).  John Cech version is very similar.  The pictures are nicely done in more muted colors.  Background information on this fairy tale is provided on the final page.    


The Twelve Dancing Princesses (by Rachel Isadora):
This version relates the story in its simplest form, making it ideal for the youngest readers.  The text is straightforward and concise.  The African setting causes it to stand out from the others which have more of a traditional western European appeal.   The characters dress in traditional African garb.  The energetic illustrations are done with paint and collage paper, offering a distinctive look and feel.  

Fairy Tale Friday is a weekly link-up co-hosted by Literary Transgressions and Books4Learning.  Join in by clicking on the linky below.  


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