The forests of Andrew Lang April 18, 2009Posted by Jenny in literature, memoir.
Tags: Andrew Lang, fairy tales, H.J. Ford, Hansel and Gretel, The Red Fairy Book
When I was growing up, one of my favorite books was the collection of fairy tales called The Red Fairy Book by Andrew Lang. I had a copy of it that had belonged to my mother. In fact, I still have it, and it is sitting beside me on my desk right now. The front cover hangs by a few threads, and pages could be removed by the handful, if one were so inclined. In this 1930 edition, my mother’s name is written in a scrawl quite different from the tidy handwriting I knew later. She was seven years old.
The stories don’t waste any time getting down to business. One entitled “Brother and Sister” begins: “Brother took sister by the hand and said: ‘Look here, we haven’t had one single happy moment since our mother died. That stepmother of ours beats us and if we dare go near her, she kicks us away. We never get anything but hard, dry crusts to eat. Come along and let us go forth into the wide world together.'”
So they set forth (do people “set forth” any more?) over fields and meadows, hedges and ditches, and they come to a large forest, where things start to go wrong. Turns out their wicked stepmother (in a shocking development) “was in reality a witch,” and she had cast spells over all of the streams in the forest. Brother and sister became terribly thirsty, but when they stooped down to drink, they could hear the streams warning them not to partake. When they came to the third brook (things always come in threes), the stream said, “Who drinks of me will be a roe! who drinks of me will be a roe!” But the little boy was so thirsty that he drank anyway, and here is what happened:
They stay in the woods for a long time, making beds of moss and leaves, and eating roots, nuts, and berries. Peculiar things happen (no particular surprise there), and somewhere along the way, the sister meets a man with a gold crown on his head, who looks kindly at her, holds out his hand, and says, “Will you come with me to my castle and be my dear wife?” (I like that—no fuss, no muss, no bother!)
She of course immediately accepts, but she insists that the roe deer must come along too. To make a long story short, the wicked stepmother appears once again and casts some evil spells, but in the end the king wises up to her tricks and condemns her to death. “As soon as the old witch was dead, the spell was taken off the little roe and he was restored to his natural shape once more, and so brother and sister lived happily ever after.” (And I guess the king does too, but he isn’t mentioned at the end, which gives the tale a distinctly incestuous spin.)
As a child I spent many hours turning the pages of this and other similar books, living in the world of ghosts and goblins, princes and princesses, magical horses and giant polar bears. I’m afraid to say that all of this strange stuff seems to have left its mark on my impressionable young mind. In particular, the idea of the enchanted forest has always stayed with me. But you already knew that, if you have been following this blog.