What are your favorite fairy tales?

When my baby sister was a little girl, I generally had the job of putting her to bed and telling her bedtime stories. I liked to tell her traditional fairy tales, which I would modify slightly; for example, when Baby Sis asked why Snow White ate the poison apple after having previously been given a poison comb by the same pedlar woman, I could only answer that she was a flipping idiot (I have changed my mind about that since) and thereafter we referred to the tale as “Snow White, who was obviously trapped under the ice for half an hour when she was about six years old” (or something along those lines). But the more important innovation was to make the stories part of a cycle. Cinderella grew up to be Snow White’s (dead, bio) mom; Snow White was Sleeping Beauty’s mother; Sleeping Beauty was the Frog Prince’s Mom; the the Frog Prince rescued Rapunzel; and so forth. (The Maiden without hands was not part of the cycle.)

I always began this cycle with a story I called “Catherine” back then but which I now know to come from a folk tale called “Love Like Salt.” It has elements of both Cinderella and King Lear. Catherine is youngest of nobleman’s three daughters. One day he askes the daughters how much they loved him, and while her older sisters seek to curry favor by giving ridiculously over-the-top answers, Catherine only says that she loves her father as meat loves spices. For her integrity she gets sent into the wild with only a few possessions, but with grit and pluck and nursing/cooking skill and no magic whatsodamnever proves her worth to another nobleman whom she ultimately marries. Her father is one of the wedding guests but does not know the bride is his daughter. Catherine orders that he be fed meat without any spices. Her father begins to weep as soon as he tastes this dish, for now he realizes what Catherine meant–and also realizes that he has cast out the best of his children. At that point she reveals herself to him, and they are reconciled.

I always liked that fairy tale best; so did Baby Sis, and later my nieces and stepdaughter; hopefully my kids by my wife will like it best too. Catherine is more active than Rapunzel, smarter than Snow White, and unlike the princess in Rumpelstiltskin actually has a name.

But that’s just the Rhymers. What’s YOUR favorite fairy tale?

I used to have a collection of fairytales titled East of the Sun, West of the Moon, which contained a number of less well-known stories, many of them variations on the basic Cinderella and Snow White themes. And this one, which seems to be related to Rumpelstiltskin:

There was a young woman who was absolutely useless at work like spinning, weaving, and sewing. There was also a queen who was very keen on these housewifely crafts and when she heard from some trouble-making villagers that the girl was the very best spinner, weaver, etc, she had her brought to the castle and placed in a room full of flax to spin it into thread overnight.

While the girl sat crying over the spinning wheel she didn’t know how to use, an old woman came into the room and said, “If you’ll call me Auntie on your wedding day, I will spin this flax for you.” The girl agreed and settled down to take a nap while the old woman got to work; when she woke, the old woman had gone and the flax had all been woven into the finest thread.

The queen was so impressed that the next night she shut the girl up in another room to weave the thread into cloth. And, once again, another old woman–not the same person as the night before–came in and said, “If you’ll call me Auntie on your wedding day, I will weave this cloth for you.” The girl agreed and had another good night’s rest, to awake to find a bolt of the finest linen woven for her.

This impressed the queen even more and she set the girl a final task, to make the linen into a shirt. Same thing again–a third old woman shows up to sew the shirt, provided that the girl will address her as Auntie on her wedding day.

After the beautiful linen shirt is done, the queen decides that someone so gifted would be a perfect wife for her son, the prince, and arranges their marriage right away.

In the middle of the wedding feast, three old women show up one after the other. The first has one huge, flat foot and a thumb the size of a bowling pin; the second has a broad, hunched back, and the third enormous red eyes. When each shows up, the girl greets them as “Auntie” and, since, they’re relatives of the bride, they get to sit at the best table next to the newlyweds.

The prince rather tactlessly asks them how they came by their hideous deformities. The three old women explain that it was the result of their constant work at the spinning wheel, or hunched over the loom, or peering at needles to thread them. The prince is horrified and rather than see his lovely wife end up the same way, he announces that she will never have to do housework again!

Skald, “Love Like Salt” is also one of my favorites (although I think it works better the way you suggest in the title, not in the story: she tells her father, “I love you as much as meat loves salt.”)

Miss Mapp, I’d never heard that one before, but I love it! Very cool twist on Rumpelstilskin.

My absolute favorite, though, is Hansel and Gretel. Like “Love Like Salt,” and unlike Snow White or Rumpelstilskin or Cinderella, the protagonists of Hansel and Gretel actually DO stuff. Hansel and Gretel are both clever, observant, active kids, and despite their terribly fucked-up parents (when I read the story to my students I ask them, “Who’s the worst character in the story?” It’s my belief that the dad takes that prize), they look out for one another with a tremendous sibling love. It’s a story of survival through making your own fate, a story of loyalty, a story in which love and smarts and bravery are all required for triumph. It’s a great story.

The real version of The Little Mermaid. The Red Shoes. The Little Match Girl.

Yeah, I’m a sick ****.

Preferring Andersen’s short story to the Disney monstrosity does not make you sick.

I liked Anderson’s tales, but being a strange and precocious child, I really enjoyed The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, and the stories of the Norse gods (Odin, Loki, et al).

I loved the Andrew Lang color fairy tale series as a kid (e.g, “The Red Fairy Tale Book,” “The Lilac Fairy Tale Book,” etc. – I think there were over a dozen in the collection). Great fairy tales from around the world, with beautiful pen-and-ink illustrations. A lot of my favorite fairy tales are from that collection:

The Brown Bear of Norway
Catherine and Her Destiny
The Man Without a Heart
The Crystal Coffin
How to Find Out a True Friend

(You can find the full texts of most of the books in Lang’s collection, plus more, here.)

My all-time favorite fairy tale is Kate Crackernuts. Kate (the older, plainer step-sister) who loves her beautiful, younger step-sister Anne, sets out on a quest to save Anne when she falls victim to a curse, and saves an enchanted prince along the way. You’d think this was written in the 20th century as a knowing antidote to all the lame Sleeping-Beauty do-nothings out there, but no, it’s an authentic English folk tale.

I like BOTH versions of The Little Mermaid: the original for the beauty of its prose (though, as a kid, I felt like Andersen wasn’t playing fair) and the movie for its songs and the artistry of its animation.

But if you’re looking for a faithful Disney adaptation of a sad Andersen tale, I can do no less than direct you to this.

It was supposed to be part of a scrapped Fantasia movie, which explains the classical soundtrack (Borodin’s string quartet). As you can see, it pulls no punches.

The only problem is that I can’t stop my brain from singing “Dawn’s promising skies/Petals on a pool drifting/Imagine this in one pair of eyes/And this is my beloved…”

Beauty and the Beast has always been, and probably always will be, my favorite.

I own a version of Love Like Salt that is set in the south called Moss Gown, and I’ve loved that one forever.

Brave Margaret is another favorite, and A Weave of Words, and Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, all of which have pretty kickass, smart heroines.

I used to like Rapunzel a lot, but I’ve read so many bad versions of it that sanitize the relationship between her and the prince that it just bugs me now.

Beauty and the Beast, hands down. I had a big, oversized picture book of the story when I was a child, it was so beautifully illustrated. No idea what happened to it. Have not been able to find another copy.

While researching the follow-up to my book Grey Fairy/White Wolf: Three Classic Lang Tales Retold ( http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=714273 ), I did extensive study of the Love Like Salt folktale type (923 and 510). This site has fourteen variants available to read (without charge or registration):


I was fascinated by this particular folktale type because it was one of the few that include as a major plot element, a demand for flattery–made by a powerful person to a less-powerful person (most commonly a father demanding flattery from one or more daughters). This is a more subtle aspect of human relations than is the focus of most fairy tales.

As Skald the Rhymer mentions, the “love like salt” tale is a major part of Shakespeare’s King Lear–Shakespeare being no slouch when it comes to human-relationship subtleties.


Aarne-Thompson type 533, probably. Or The Happy Prince.

I’ve always loved Rapunzel!! (And the one where the girl’s brothers were all turned into wild geese, and she had to pick wild nettles, turn it into yarn, and knit them sweaters to turn them back to humans - except one had a wing instead of an arm because she ran out of yarn. Can’t remember the name of this story, but I loved it.)

I have always REALLY loved The Snow Queen. I had a book of fairy tales when young and there were some utterly terrifying stories in them. But The Snow Queen spoke to me in a special way. I remember the girl searching for Kay meeting up with the bandit girl who had a pet reindeer. And a knife…and the broken shards of the mirror that spelled out ‘Eternity’. (Maybe reading this is why I like winter a lot more than summer. Seriously. Why I prefer quiet melancholy over joyful sunniness. Cold dark sky over bright hot sun. I’m saying this badly!)

Of Disney movies, I most loved Sleeping Beauty. Cinderella annoyed me, she was such a wimpy slavey. The witch in Snow White terrified me. Sleeping Beauty was just right.

I also loved Shelley Duvall’s Fairy Tale Theater videotapes we watched when my daughter was young. We watched every one of them, some of them over and over, they were well done.

My favorite is a story like Allerleirauh. A young woman is going to be married off to her own father, so makes him provide a bunch of treasures to her first then skips town as soon as he complies. Sneaking onto the staff list at another castle, she decides that she wants to live it up at the dances, using her treasure to look all dazzling. But then the nice, handsome prince determines that the skullery maid is actually the lovely beauty from the ball. He asks for her hand, and they live happily ever after.

I’m not sure if Allerleirauh was the first version that I encountered - I think the version I knew had her living in the forest for some time, with a jacket of many furs.

I like that she’s entrerprising and tricksie.

I have a volume of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. My favorite was probably “Ashenputtel” the German version of “Cinderella”. She was more active, and instead of a Fairy Godmother, she had a magic tree (watered only by her tears, yet) from which she would summon a fancy dress and shoes at will. Also, she commanded birds to help her with impossible chores her stepmother set.

I also liked a story called “The Three Sons”. Their father was poor, and had only one cottage to leave to them, so he apprenticed them to a blacksmith, barber, and fencing master, saying that whoever did best would be his heir. (And that way, they could all support themselves.) So the now-adult sons return, and the blacksmith sees a coach and four galloping by, and reshoes all four horses without them slowing down. The barber shaves a rabbit racing by without it slowing down. Then it starts to rain, a real downpour, and the fencing master swings his sword over the heads of his family and himself and not one drop touches them. The fencing master wins, although I always thought the blacksmith did the best.

Here are twenty-one additional versions (besides “Allerleirauh”) of that basic tale:


(I have no connection with that site; it’s just a great source of free multi-versions of tales.)

This is Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 510A, sometimes called “unnatural love” and sometimes called “father-daughter incest.” Rather disturbing that the theme inspired so many versions, but there you are. Note that the story was worked into a successful novel by fantasy author Robin McKinley: Deerskin (1993).

I had a book called Tales from old Russia that I loved. My favorite stories were about Vaselisa and Baba Yaga.

The Vaselisa part of the story is standard: A dying mom gives daughter a doll to watch over her. Dad married a total bitch with daughters, then disappears. Girl is given the worst tasks which are carried out by the doll.

Baba Yaga, however, is the best because she is totally out there.

  1. She lives is a hut that stands on chicken legs.
  2. Her mode of transportation? A mortar and pestle. Of course.
  3. Her home is illuminated by glowing skulls.
  4. There are appearances of horsemen.
  5. She’s not always a “bad witch”.
  6. She is (in some stories) a triplet (or at least a sister).

This link shows some images of a book I purchased recently. The drawings are so beautiful! http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baba_Yaga