Thursday, September 20, 2007

Of Fairy Tales and Books read

Fie! naughty wild and slovenly Peter!
I fear he never will be neater.
For many many many weeks
No water has been near his cheeks;
And 'tis a year now I declare
Since he has let nurse comb his hair.
And then the nails, 'tis very clear
They've not been cut all this year!
It is no wonder that all cry
O naughty Slovenly Peter, fie!

– Heinrich Hoffmann (1844
I’ve been doing a couple of other things besides knitting. No, I am not talking about chores. I’ve been reading some “real” books, not Rita Mae Brown’s Sneakie Pie Brown mysteries (although I hope a new one comes out soon) or Braun’s “The Cat Who…”, or knitting mysteries.

Lake Wobegon Days I love NPR’s Prairie Home Companion; so a number of years ago, my middle daughter bought me as a gift, Garrison Keillors “Lake Wobegon Days.” It was published in 1985 and I bet you that’s how long I’ve had it. I found it slow reading and thus put it aside. Somehow the book snuck out of the Land-of Not-Read-books. I decided since my daughter gave it to me I should finally read it. In my opinion, you may save your money and your time going to the Library for it. It is as boring at the end as it was at the beginning as it was in 1985. I think Garrison Keillor is a wonderful oral story teller and he has captivated me for a long time with his tales of Lake Wobegon, but the book did not captivate his talent of oral story telling.

Adiel by Shlomo DuNour. I found Adiel on one of those tables before you get into the bookstore proper. In reading the book jacket, it looked interesting and the price was right, i.e. under $7.00. (Besides I had an uncle who once lived in Palestine and helped build a pipeline from Haifa to Baghdad and, according to my mother a Polish slave laborer saved our lives during WWII.) The original price was $24.95. I love a bargain, particularly when it is a book of this caliber. According to the book jacket, “Shlomo DuNour was born in 1921, in Lodz, Poland and immigrated to Palestine in 1938. None of his extensive family survived the Holocaust. He taught at the Departments of History at the Hebrew University and the University of Haifa for many years. In 1978, DuNour’s first book, Yet Another, was awarded the Newman Prize. Adiel, published to great acclaim, was awarded the Jerusalem Literary Prize in 1999.” The book was translated into English in 2002. Adiel re-tells the story of the Old Testament from Creation of Adam and Eve through the Flood. Adiel, an angel, was appointed by God to accompany the Archangel Michael who was assigned to record the events of Humanity. DuNour uses the ancient forms of Midrash, the Jewish term for literary and creative Biblical exposition. The book is a reflection on “the place of humanity in the universe, and good and evil.” Adiel is “chosen to witness the tragedies of ten generations of” humanity. The translator, Philip Simpson, has done a masterful job in translating the book from Hebrew to English. I savored every single word as I read the book. As far as I am concerned, this book is a superb read for both Christian and non-Christian.

Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Right now I am reading Grimm’s Fairy Tales. This version is a Barnes and Nobles publication. The title page states that the book is an “anonymous translation of Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm’s Kinder und Hausmaerchen (Fairy Tales for Home and Nursery) first published in 1869. The illustrations by Ludwig Emil Grimm, Jakob and Wilhelm’s younger brother, come from a German edition of the fairy tales, published in 1912.” The introduction and notes are by Elizabeth Dalton, Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Barnard College. Luckily in 1869 the sanitizing of fairy tales was still unknown. The translation isn’t polished, but it is true to the German tales.

This got me to thinking about the tales I grew up with. Although I was born in 1940, 19th century moral tales and Fairy tales were still the most read children’s stories. The moral was simple: Bad behavior resulted in immediate, terrible consequences, good behavior was rewarded, if not immediately, eventually. Thus Struwwelpeter (Slovenly Peter) was the staple reading of my childhood. “Slovenly Peter” didn’t mark me for the rest of my life, but did make me into a human being that is able to live harmoniously in the larger community without engaging in antisocial behavior. That doesn’t mean that we didn’t pull capers on others. I did participate in my share of tricks, especially at the behest of some of my cousins. I was the youngest and always ready to follow their lead.

As I worked in the Michigan Prison System, I continuously was confounded by the fact that prisoners did not grow up with any books—no Aesop’s Fables, no Dr. Seuss, no Owl and the Pussycat, nada, nothing. Bruno Bettelheim, a child psychiatrist, wrote a book on how Fairy Tales aid in forming the character of children. The book’s title is The Uses of Enchantment: The meaning and importance of Fairy Tales. The psychologist in me is starting to get excited and wishes she had had the time to research if there is a connection between reading to a child and the type of book read to the child and criminal behavior. Maybe I’ll have to set aside my knitting and search the Internet to see if such studies exist. I’ve got to add another 60 or so years to my life in order to do all the things I want to.

If you are interested in any of these rhymes, there is a wonderful site on the internet that has a translation of Struwwelpeter.

and if you click on the bottom of the page on “19th Century German Stories”, you can also read the capers of Max and Moritz. If you want the English version, click here and then select dual language

Ah, how oft we read or hear of

Boys we almost stand in fear of!

For example, take these stories
Of two youths, named Max and Moritz,

Who, instead of early turning

Their young minds to useful learning,

Often leered with horrid features

At their lessons and their teachers.

Look now at the empty head: he

Is for mischief always ready.

Teasing creatures - climbing fences,

Stealing apples, pears, and quinces,

Is, of course, a deal more pleasant, And far easier for the present,

Than to sit in schools or churches,

Fixed like roosters on their perches

But O dear, O dear, O deary,

When the end comes sad and dreary !

'Tis a dreadful thing to tell

That on Max and Moritz fell !

All they did this book rehearses,

Both in pictures and in verses.
--Wilhelm Busch

No comments:

Post a Comment