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?