Category Archives: Fairies

Knightly Soldiers and Fair Ladies; Una and The Red Cross Knight in WWI


The story Una and the Red Cross Knight was written by N.G. Royde-Smith, first published in 1914. As the title suggests, this was not an original work by Royde-Smith, but a retelling of the original tale written by Edmund Spenser in the 16th century, as a part of a larger collective epic titled The Faery Queene. With her own retelling, Royde-Smith made the creative decision to translate much of Spenser’s original writings, making it more accessible for the child reader of her time period. Not wishing to compromise the integrity of the original work, there are many portions of the original text to be found within Una and the Red Cross Knight, interwoven with her own translations of Spenser’s poetry. This results in a blending of literary styles, resulting in the juxtaposition of the original poetry, while giving the reader more understandable prose to grasp a hold of.

This exhibit will examine the book within the context of World War 1; how it was intended for children of the time period and its overall link with British Nationalism and propaganda of the time. Although it is rarely thought of, Children’s Literature as a category can say much about the time period and country that it was produced in; it is often an example of the values which were considered most important at the time, and, therefore of the utmost important to convey to the child. Although this book was first published in 1905, it would be reprinted four times, up to 1927, which gives evidence that this particular book was considered to be ideal for children.

Taking Place in a medieval land where fairies and witches abound, Una and the Red Cross Knight tells the story of a knight who requests an adventure from Queen Glorianna,, ruler of Faery Land. Granting this, she instructs the young man to travel with Princess Una; a maiden who’s land and family have been seized by a vicious dragon. As they journey together much befalls them, as they face the conniving of witches and wizards who wish to do them harm for no other purpose than the hatred of goodness. Eventually, they overcome their many obstacles, where the Red Cross Knight defeats the dragon after a grueling battle, and the two marry, spending many happy days together.  After much celebration the Red Cross Knight returns to the court of Glorianna to finish his service, promising to return on its completion.

Gender Roles

When a state is in a trying time, such as a depression or war, we see an emergence of more conservative values within the culture. World War I was no different in this; With Una and the Red Cross Knight originally being penned in the 15th century, it shouldn’t be surprising that every traditional gender roles are implicitly encouraged throughout the text, making it an appropriate tome for the time period. What should be paid attention to, however, is the context within which this text was produced and repeatedly reprinted; in a country with a positive notion of propaganda and a conscious effort to indoctrinate the next generation with acceptable values.


The Red Cross Knight himself is proven to be a noble youth, actively seeking to serve his kingdom and more than ready to risk his life for his queen and the maiden he has been pledged to. Yet justice is also a master he fervently serves, making him a knight from a magical medieval kingdom that would have made a perfect soldier for a few centuries after his initial creation.  Even within the first image that we view the Knight, he stands nobly tall, sword held straight to his side as a creature of evil cowers before him.

A knight for the just, he never fails to vanquish evil wherever he see’s it, proving no beast too ferocious or magician too clever. Going above and beyond his called for duty is second nature to the medieval hero, who on more than one occasion chooses to right the wrongs done by others,  and to seek justice for those who cannot do so for themselves. It is, he feels, his responsibility to involve himself in the problems of others. Indeed, it is these acts that elevate the knight and ultimately make him a man. It is not hard to see where such qualities and ideas of virtue would be appealing in a time of war. Beyond just appearing in children’s books these same virtues would come to be often espoused in propaganda of the time, with the Knight himself even used in some of these images.

Yet it is not just makings of a good soldier that is explored within the book. The role of women is also subtly played to within Una and the Red Cross Knight. The first female character to be introduced in the story is Queen Glorianna herself, who is described as beautiful and wise, and a great ruler of her kingdom. The other two most prominent female characters then become princess Una and the witch Duessa. Both are alike in beauty and charm, yet cannot be more different in every other way. Modest and in mourning for the state of her kingdom, Una’s beauty, while present, is more subdued than the glamorous Duessa (whose very name means falsehood). Yet she herself is a pleasant companion for the Red Cross Knight, along with being persevering and loyal. Even when the two are separated by the deceitful Duessa, she pursues her companion dauntlessly, enduring many hardships along the way.

Duess’s abundance of beauty, in turn, proves to be almost a dangerous as her black magic, as she uses it to enchant all around her, to the point of believing her wholly innocent. Within the abundant artwork of the novel, she appears far more adorned than her modest counterpart, with more detailed dresses and her well styled with netting and adornments. Even her facial features differ, sometimes showing a cool expression. It is only later revealed that her beauty is an illusion, which she has used to manipulate and cause chaos for those around her.

Together, these women display traits that are both desired and considered dangerous within the female individual. Much like the qualities that were praised within propaganda for men at the time, these were exemplified within propaganda aimed at the female demographic. A good wartime woman was loyal to both her family and country, proving herself more than willing to make sacrifices for both. She was resourceful, modest, and loving of her husband, waiting for him to return but encouraging him to the front lines. In this, a good woman came to represent the homestead as a place of safety and domestic comfort, for which its protection merited war.

Yet the female form also came to embody the very soul of the nation (along with many others, such as Mother Russia) itself. Britania was the most popular of these personifications, often displayed as a tall and beautiful woman, and royally dressed. A dual character, she could be seen alternately leading the charge into battle, or standing watch to her country, the implication of which that it was in need of defending.

A New Kind of Story Telling

World War 1 was a shock to much of the world, leaving citizens of the west questioning the merit of a war that had started by the assassination of an unknown Archduke. Politicians and others in power were very aware of this fact, and the possible ramifications that could result from a reluctant public and army. Understanding this became created an imperative to change the metanarrative of this new and grand war; rather than have it about powers in far off lands, it would become a tale of righting the wrongs other nations, as the duty of the just and the brave. This threat was not a distant one, but one that, unless stopped, would bring disaster to England’s door. In spite of a much of England being industrialized, it was the small and dwindling number of countryside villages which became representative of  England, symbolizing the simplicity and beauty of family life. (This was also linked to the frequent personification of the country as the woman Britania) These ideals would be linked to Saint George, slayer of dragons and tangible symbol of these ideas. Although propaganda usually featured the modern soldier, it became common for it also feature the saint himself, recalling the past and the very role of a modern knight in shining armor. In this, the frequent reprinting (four times between 1911 and 1927) of the Royde-Smith’s  book was an understandable parallel. These messages were found to be so appropriate that the book would be found on numerous lists of good gift books for children and necessary stock for libraries for years during and after the war.

Beyond centering on this favourite saint (which Royde-Smith makes a deliberate point of stating in her introduction) the story itself offers parallels for the metanarrative being created about the war at the time. Much like the brave soldiers of Britain, the Red Cross Knight selflessly fights for his sovereign lord and country, while rescuing those who are in need. There is no complexity in these tasks, with the just character’s being obviously righteous and the acting agents of goodness, while their counterparts are of simple evil, and can only be stopped by the intervening forces of brave knights of the realm. Upon completion of this task, the Red Cross Knight receives glory and praise, with the chance to finally return to his homestead and enjoy time with his princess. A true hero, he has rid the world of one last dragon, and would be ready at a moment’s notice to return to the service of his kingdom if the need were to arise.



This book is based on the original epic poem of British poet Edmund Spenser, titled The Faery Queene, the first half of which was published in 1590 (Spenser would die before having a chance to finish what would have been the largest epic of its time).As was common for many writers of the time, the first book, although centering on the exploits of the Red Cross Knight, was made in homage to Queen Elizabeth, represented by the fair and wise Queen Glorianna of the Fairy Realm, while the villains within the story represented her political foes, ranging from the Spanish to Queen Mary of Scotland; Even in the 16th century these stories had a very strong tie with politics and war, making Royde-Smith’s decision to rewrite and update the tale of Una and her Knight in time for the first World War all the more interesting of a coincidence.

This would be the first work published by Naomi Gwladys Royde-Smith (or N.G. Royde-Smith was far as scholars can tell, this pen name was the creation of Naomi herself, as a combination of her father’s and married name). In this lengthy opening, Royde-Smith emphasizes the texts role as a work of childrens’ literature, stating the language may be difficult for the younger reader, but, if time is taken over the verses written by Spenser, they would have little trouble. Spenser is reaffirmed as a great British author, “in between Chaucer and Shakespeare”, along with a small biography detailing his life before and after being a writer under the favour of Queen Elizabeth. In this, she explains the allegorical nature of the stories, as well as going to detail of the conflict between the protestants and Catholics during that time period. Although feelings about this conflict have lessened since then, the sense of nationalism that this would have evoked in the early 20th century would have still been strong.

The many beautiful illustrations to be found within the text were created by Thomas Heath Robinson of the Robinson brothers. Although the least known of the two today, he was highly regarded as a black and white illustrator in the early 20th century.

Authors Today and Yesterday, a Companion Volume to Living Authors. New York, 1993.

Birch, Dinah. Fairie Queene, The. Oxford University Press.

Coetzee, Frans. “English Nationalism and the First World War.”History of European         Ideas 15.1-3 (1992): 363-368.  Scholars Portal. Web. 28-03-2014

Collins, Ross F. “This Is Your Propaganda, Kids: Building a War Myth for World War I Children” Journalism History 38.1 (2012): 13-22. Proquest. Web. 28-03-2014

Ferrell, Volker R Berghahn John Whiteclay Chambers David R. Woodward Ronald Schaffer Lloyde E. Ambrosius Robert H. World War (1914-18). Oxford University Press. Web. 28-03-2014

Fox, Carol. “What the Children’s Literature of War Is Telling the Children” Reading. 33.3 (1999): 126-131. Wiley Online Library. Web. 25-02-2014

Denver Public Library. Gift Books for Children. Denver. 1914. Web. 28-03-2014 

“Literature Resource Center — Author Resource Pages.” N. p., n.d. Web. 22 Feb. 2014

Power, Effie. Lists of of Stories and Programs for Story Hours. Rev. New York. 1925. Web. 23-03-2014

Royde-Smith, N.G. Una and the Red Cross Knight and Other Tales from Spenser’s Faery Queene. Reprint of First Edition. London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd/New York: E.P. Dutton&Co. 1927. Print.

Seventy-Five Books of Adventure for Boys and Girls … White Plains, N.Y.,, 1917.

Standard Catalog [for Public libraries]Supplement. A Selected List of about 550 of the Best Novels for Public Libraries; New York,, 1928.

Subject and Title Index to Short Stories for Children /. Chicago :, 1955.

“Thomas Heath Robinson :: Biography and Image Gallery at ArtMagick.” N. p., n.d. Web. 28 Mar. 2014.

“Women in World War One Propaganda.” N. p., n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2014.

—. N. p., n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2014.

“‘Your Motherland Will Never Forget’ – The British Library.” N. p., n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2014.

Human values in the Scottish culture depicted in “The Fairy Washerwoman”

© Copyright 2011, Michelle Gagne, Angie Wu

Mackenzie, Compton. “The Fairy Washerwoman.” The Princess Elizabeth Gift Book. Eds.
Cynthia Asquith and Eileen Bigland. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1935. 73-79

Mackenzie, Compton. “The Fairy Washerwoman.” The Princess Elizabeth Gift Book. Eds. Cynthia Asquith and Eileen Bigland. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1935. 73-78. Print.
Mackenzie, Compton. “The Fairy Washerwoman.” The Princess Elizabeth Gift Book. Eds. Cynthia Asquith and Eileen Bigland. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1935. 73-79. Print.

“The Fairy Washerwoman” written by Compton Mackenzie and illustrated by Paul Bloomfield is the underlying story which this exhibit will examine. This fairy tale is only one of the many stories comprised in The Princess Elizabeth Gift Book collection of fairy tales. This collection was published in 1935 in hopes to help aid in the Princess Elizabeth of York Hospital for Sick Children. This gift book contains a wide array of fairy tales from tales about enchanted princess’ to tales about washerwoman fairies. The book is designed and presented in a very visually appealing and exceptional manner. The first page is a personalized invitation to a party; namely inviting readers to the content of the book. As the reader flips through the pages they will find an illustration of Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, Pluto and Daisy walking down a red carpet to a party. The back cover of the gift book concludes with Mickey taking a photograph of the whole group. And since this year marks the celebration of 100 years of Peter Pan, mermaids, pirates and fairies, this following digital exhibit will be devoted to a fairy tale pertaining to the idea of fairies. More specifically this digital exhibition will explore the categorical and contextual issues revolving around how Scottish values are instilled in this fairy-tale.

About the Author

            Compton Mackenzie was born January 17th1883 in West Hartlepool, England into a theatrical family (University of Glasgow, screen 1). Mackenzie wrote approximately 100 books throughout his life; two of which are among his more famous novels which were both comedy and Scottish based. Mackenzie spent most of his life trying to trace his ancestral roots and found that his ancestors were indeed from Scotland which fuelled his attachment to the Gaelic culture (University of Glasgow, screen 1).  “Mackenzie wasn’t born a Scot, and he didn’t sound like a Scot. But nevertheless his imagination was truly Scottish” (Undiscovered Scotland, screen 1). This shows the passion and love he had for the Scottish culture. When Mackenzie passed away in 1972 he was buried in Scotland because that is where his heart truly lied (University of Glasgow, screen 1).

Fairy portrayed as hard workers

            Like many of Compton Mackenzie stories “The Fairy Washerwoman” is based in a town in Scotland and revolves around the idea of the responsibilities of a Scottish fairy. When the main character of the story – Hector – first finds the fairy washerwoman he tossed his jacket over her, throws her over his shoulders and runs into his house (Mackenzie 75). According to Katherine Briggs you must treat fairies with respect or horrible events will happen to the person who was being disrespectful (107). Thus, Hector has already broken this rule. When Hector finally converses with the fairy washerwoman a contract is made between the two which underlies that the fairy will work for Hector for a year, but once that year is up Hector must let the fairy go (Mackenzie 78). The fairy washerwoman only had one request which was to work outside the house looking after the cattle and sheep, as well as growing corn. However, she had one condition: she will not do any laundry for a mere mortal (Mackenzie 78). Fairies are creatures that only work outside and are portrayed as ones who enjoy doing outdoor chores such as milking cows (Briggs 107). Through research it is still unknown why fairies refuse to work inside and enjoy doing labour intensive work outside. However, an argument is made that fairies live outdoors in forested areas with their friends and families because they enjoy the freedom that living outside provides (Rak 297). The fairy is very hard working throughout the tale as she provides Hector with the best corn, milk and protected all of his sheep. She was very unselfish throughout the one year and kept her promise to Hector.

Appearance of the Fairy Washerwoman

Mackenzie, Compton. “The Fairy Washerwoman.” The Princess Elizabeth Gift Book. Eds.  	Cynthia Asquith and Eileen Bigland. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1935. 73-78
Mackenzie, Compton. “The Fairy Washerwoman.” The Princess Elizabeth Gift Book. Eds. Cynthia Asquith and Eileen Bigland. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1935. 73-79. Print.

Although there is no definite physical description of what fairies look like in the story of “The Fairy Washerwoman”, the reader can grasp an idea simply by looking at the illustration drawn by Paul Bloomfield. Typically when I think of fairies I regard them as bubbly pretty little beings with wings that fly around with sparkly fairy dust. The fairy in this tale is far from what one would expect and/or imagine. The fairy depicted in the illustration is much different from currently held images and representations of a fairy. Here in this story the fairy is dressed in ragged clothes and in bare feet which gives the impression of powerlessness and the association of the poor. “The Fairies in Traditions and Literature” fairies are depicted as half the size of a human and are extremely beautiful (108).  By looking at the illustration one can see that she is indeed half the size of a human. However, since her face is not revealed in the image, her character and her physical features remains a mystery.

In the line drawing above, Hector appears much more powerful than the washerwoman fairy.  While the fairy is drawn with minimal detail and in the most simplistic form, the image of Hector in contrast is very detailed. His facial expressions and his clothes are drawn with such fine details through the use of lines and shading compared to the mere outline of the fairy washerwoman. The drastic height difference between the two characters, as well as the fairy’s back towards the reader gives the impression of Hector’s dominance and authority over the fairy.

 Fairy as loyal, trustworthy but no identity

             The fairy in “The Fairy Washerwoman” does not have a name; she is only addressed as the washerwoman. This makes her presence and role as a fairy seem rather insignificant. Fairies typically do not have an identity; they only have a job or task in which they are held responsible for (Rak 297). Even by looking at Bloomfield’s illustration, the fairy’s back is faced towards the reader which prompts the idea that she is unimportant compared to Hector who in comparison is looking straight at the reader. Hector treats the fairy as a mere servant with no individual identity; he yells at her and forcefully tells her that she cannot leave just so he can have more money to find a wife (Mackenzie 79). He treats her like property and not like her own individual person that she is. At the end of the fairy-tale Hector regrets cursing the fairy. However, by that time it was too late because a fairy never forgives (Mackenzie 79). If Hector had been respectful to the fairy maybe she would not have cursed him and he would be remembered. In the end, not even a blade of grass or a loose stone was present to show where the ungrateful Hector once lived (Mackenzie 79). Hector was greedy, disrespectful, dishonest and selfish – traits that a Scottish man should not portray or yield.

Scottish Context 

Fairytales and folktales alike are written to represent the people and their values and/or beliefs in its given time and culture – the story of “The Fairy Washerwoman” was no different. With that being said, the values and/or beliefs of the people are transferred from their social life into print literature. The tale of “The Fairy Washerwoman” takes place on the island of Sandray, about sixty miles away from the west coast of Scotland (Mackenzie 73). For that reason the cultural context of Scotland in relation to fairies will be examined. And since every story has its roots in the cultural context in which it is influenced by, in the same way, values explicit to its specific culture is instilled and represented in Celtic print culture. The Scottish people’s belief in hard work, honesty and unselfishness are virtues that will be explored with reference to “The Fairy Washerwoman”. Interestingly, while the fairy represents some of the strengths or values of the Scottish people, Hector – the mortal in the story in contrast reveals a failure to live up to these standards, and a failure to render these traits.

It is difficult, almost unfeasible, to provide one definite description of the fairy figure in the cultural context of Scotland. However, Wilby wrote that fairies are “visually extraordinary – a tiny or giant size, shadowy, glowing with light and hollow backed” (287). They resembled ordinary human beings or animals with only slight differences. Although fairies are deemed to be capable of taking different shapes and forms, they are typically in small human figures (Wilby 285). Fairies were believed to possess supernatural powers that either benefited or improved the well being of humans, or on the contrary inflicted harm on them (Wilby 297). In Scotland, fairies were depicted as ones to offer help in household chores, outdoor labour and various other tasks. This is apparent in the fairy-tale since right from the start Hector found the fairy washerwoman doing the very thing that fairies in Scottish folklore were expected of doing: doing chores – in this very case, thumping away at some clothes (Mackenzie 75). And while fairies were usually very kind in nature, they were often rigorous with their demands for reparation as well (Wilby 291) as seen evident in the story of “The Fairy Washerwoman”. A broken promise cost Hector his entire fortune.

In the Scottish culture, work ethic was viewed as God’s underlining purpose for mankind, thus to work hard was a divine order (Natale, Rothschild, Sora & Madden 90). This emphasis and respect for hard work remains a deep characteristic instilled in Scottish culture (Natale et al 90). The notion of hard work is deemed to be a virtuous character which everyone ought to possess.  In other words, those who work hard will reap what they sow. This character mirrors the attitude and work ethics of the fairy portrayed in “The Fairy Washerwoman” whose hard work and dedication in her outdoor labour resulted in great harvest. As a result, Hector flourished. However, Hector on the other hand was the total opposite of the fairy and did not reveal this noble attribute in which the Scottish people deeply value. He made no contributions to his gains and successes, so as a result many would say he got what he deserved. This parallels with what Natale et al said about ones achievements being a mark of hard work (90) which wasn’t the case for Hector as he displayed none of this character. His lack of efforts and sole reliance on the fairy is his primary weakness and has brought him to his fate in the end. This all proved to be true as Hector’s fame and riches were short-lived since in the end he became the poorest man in all of Sandray. Everything that he had once owned was taken away from him immediately simply due to his lack of truthfulness in honouring the agreement.

This draws upon the virtue of honesty. Integrity is a highly valued attribute in the Scottish culture.  In fact, it is regarded very strongly by the Scottish people as an integral virtue that God requires and demands of them (Natale et al 90). In “The Fairy Washerwoman”, the contract bound between the fairy and the human is a symbolism of honesty versus dishonesty. These contractual relationships with fairies are as Wilby reported a part of the nineteenth century belief (290) which would explain its role in “The Fairy Washerwoman” given the time that it was written in which was the year of 1935.  Additionally, in Scotland, fairies were believed to customarily establish relations with mortals in order to work out an agreement to labour for a duration of time for something in return (Wilby 290). So within this specific text of “The Fairy Washerwoman”, while the fairy carried out her duties meticulously and loyally for the agreed length of time, Hector on the contrary failed to fulfill his contractual obligations to release the fairy a year subsequent to her captivity. Although by contract the fairy was to work for the mortal man, Hector has failed to live up to his own words and to keep his side of the bargain. And so this once more proved Hector’s dishonesty, which further deviates him from having the good character in which the Scottish people take value in.

Furthermore, the people of Scotland truly perceive unselfishness as an honourable virtue. The contrast of this quality between the fairy and the human is demonstrated yet again. Hector’s true colors shone through as his selfish character was revealed throughout the story of “The Fairy Washerwoman”. From the beginning, Hector captured the fairy with the intention of keeping her to fulfill and satisfy his own desires and wants. The first thing he asks of the fairy upon releasing her from his grip is essentially what she is willing to do for him (Mackenzie 76). And the moment the fairy approached Hector to announce that the end of the contract has come, he declared that he wanted to be the grandest and the greatest of the eight families in Sandray. Both these scenarios show selfishness, and has implications that he does not wish to share his riches and good fortune with anyone but rather keep it all to himself – as he did so with the fairy washerwoman. So not only did he back down on his own words and broke the contract established between the fairy and himself, he was greedy and selfish. Although the fairy had given him so much already without asking anything in return except for her release after a year as agreed upon, Hector still wanted more because what he had was not enough which later proved to work against him.

The fairy washerwoman does not appear at all like the images of the fairies that we see portrayed in the media in the 21st century. In fact, it deviates from the currently held views and perceptions of how a fairy is presented. Rather than appearing with wings and fitted in beautiful articles of clothing, the fairies in Scottish folklore has preference to outdoor labour. It is also evident that Scottish values such hard work, honesty and unselfishness are characteristics which are coherent and instilled in the story of “The Fairy Washerwoman”. Though interestingly, it is the fairy – not the mortal man, who exhibits these good characteristics. A culture’s influence is pertinent to any literature as it has the influence to shape how its characters are represented, as well as how the structure of the story is formed.

 Works Cited

Briggs, Katherine Mary. The Fairies in Tradition and Literature. London: Routledge., 2002.

“Compton Mackenzie Feature Page on Undiscovered Scotland.” Undiscovered Scotland:
Home. Web. 21 Nov. 2011.  <>

Mackenzie, Compton. “The Fairy Washerwoman.” The Princess Elizabeth Gift Book. Eds.
Cynthia Asquith and Eileen Bigland. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1935. 73-79

Natale, Samuel M., Brian M. Rothschild, Joseph W. Sora, and Tara M. Madden. Values,             work, education: the meanings of work. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1995. Print.

Rak, Michele. “Logic of Fairies.” The Romanic Review 99.3-4 (2008): 297.

“University of Glasgow ::Story :: Biography of Compton MacKenzie.” University of                
            Glasgow. Web. 21 Nov. 2011.

Wilby, Emma. “The Witch’s Familiar and the Fairy in Early Modern English and Scotland.”            Folklore. 111.2 (2000): 283 – 305.

Female Dominance in a Fantasy World; Exploring the Fairy Hierarchy of Genders in Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.

©2011 Rebecca Butcher, Jamie Minaker

May Byron. J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens- Retold for Little People. Illustrated by Arthur Rackham. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1930.

May Byron’s Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens: Retold for Little People, illustrated by Arthur Rackham, is a retelling of J.M. Barrie’s iconic and popular fairytale, Peter Pan. Published in 1930 and found in the Children’s Literature Archive, this story explores the many adventures of Peter Pan, the boy who doesn’t want to grow up, as a baby in the enchanted Kensington Gardens. Talking animals, magical creatures and mystical fairies introduce Peter Pan to a fantasy realm. The role of fairies is an extremely prominent element in the book. Through various illustrations and text descriptions of the fairies, the reader is shown a matriarchal society in which the female fairies are empowered and dominant. In the first section of this Biblio-Digital presentation, Rebecca Butcher explores the relationship between the text descriptions and illustrations of fairies, focusing on the female dominance within the fairy realm. In the second section, Jamie Minaker examines the historical context of the perception of females in the Edwardian society.  This Biblio-Digital presentation demonstrates the stark contrast between the fantasy matriarchal society of the fairies within the story and society’s actual patriarchal supremacy during the Edwardian period.

Curatorial Commentary on Category

Female fairies within May Byron’s Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens: Retold for Little People, are portrayed as dominant and empowered compared to their male counterparts who are shown as inferior and weak. The female fairies are represented as magical, mystical creatures that rule the Gardens at night. Female fairies are a constant theme within the text and illustrations, which help the reader become aware of the matriarchal society in which the fairies live. Ruled and governed by Queen Mab, the predominant female society of fairies favours the female gender and considers them to be of higher class. The sharp contrast between hierarchy and genders is depicted throughout the story with multiple text descriptions and various illustrations created by Arthur Rackham.


In the majority of the illustrations, the differences between the genders of fairies are extremely noticeable. Arthur Rackham defines the genders of the fairies by using extreme opposite characteristics. By using different illustration techniques to show the contrast of genders, Arthur Rackham is able to portray to the readers the hierarchy within the fairy society. This can be seen in Fig. 1.

The female fairies in this illustration are depicted as elegant and embody the perfect Victorian beauty; perfectly proportioned, thin-limbed, white-skinned with long, curly auburn hair (Riley 29). The female fairies are wearing long, flowing gowns with flowers in their hair. They are portrayed as natural and delicate beauties. Although they are mystical creatures, their facial features resemble those of a human woman. The hierarchy between the genders of fairies is very noticeable in this illustration with women wearing stylized female dresses and hairstyles while the males wear lower class attire (Riley 27). Clearly the female fairies are considered to be from a higher class then male fairies. This shows the female dominance over males. In many illustrations, the male fairies are illustrated as having grotesque features and tiny-framed bodies. Compared to the joyous, positive smiles of the female fairies, the male fairies wear mischievous grins or brutish frowns, suggesting the male fairies are a source of negative energy and behaviour (Atzmon 67). A number of the male fairies have elongated facial features, which resembles more of an animal than a human man.  The males do not appear to be powerful or strong. The female fairies are considerably taller than the male fairies, creating a sense of empowerment and authority.

Arthur Rackham’s conspicuous placements of the fairies within the illustrations also help show the female fairies as the dominant gender. This is portrayed in Fig. 2. This illustration shows the female fairies in the foreground, with the male fairies behind a barred fence in the background. Since the female fairies are placed in the foreground of the illustration, the reader’s eyes are directly drawn to the fairies, causing the reader to become aware of their existence and importance. This simple placement makes sure the reader is drawn toward the female fairies first, then the male fairies afterwards. The reader’s attention is attracted to the female fairies first, creating a sense of higher importance over the males. The female fairies are dancing along the pathway, free of any restrictions, while the male fairies are behind a barred fence. This contrast in placement suggests that the female fairies are free and independent and the males are restricted and of lower class. Also in this illustration, the fairies are the only elements that have colour. The colour appears bolder in the illustrations of the female fairies, another technique which draws the eye of the reader directly to them. In various illustrations, male fairies do not appear at all, focusing the attention onto the female fairies. By excluding the male fairies from multiple illustrations, the focus is predominately set on the female fairies, creating a sense of importance. Throughout the story, Arthur Rackham’s illustrations depict a fantasy world where the female fairies are the more dominant and powerful gender, which is opposite of how females were actually perceived in reality’s Edwardian society.

Text Descriptions

Within the text, there are many descriptions of the female fairies that portray them as being the authoritative gender. When referring to the fairies as a collective group, Byron refers to them as “she” instead of the more prominently used “he”. This instills into the readers that the dominant gender of fairies are female.  Another reference within the text that creates the dominant female representation of fairies is the introduction of the fairy Queen Mab. The matriarchal society of fairies is revealed to the readers when Peter Pan discovers the fairy world for the first time. The text describes Queen Mab’s palace, the first mention of a female ruler within the fairy world.  Having a Queen to rule and govern the fairies clearly shows the empowerment of females within their society. There is no mention of a King or a husband to Queen Mab, which further portrays the female gender as superior.

The representation of female fairies from both the verbal descriptions and illustrations portray them as superior and dominant over the male fairies. This representation of fantasy female empowerment within the fairy society is contrary to how females were perceived in the Edwardian era.

Curatorial Commentary on Context

May Byron received permission from J.M. Barrie to retell his story, with the sole intention of creating a more appropriate adaptation for children. In the process, she made changes to many core principles about children and growing up that were previously established by J.M. Barrie.  With that being said, she remained true to one key ideology in the original 1906 version, which was how the Gardens were ruled by the dominant superiority of female fairies. Our contextual analysis bears homage to the original version of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens because of the historical significance found beyond the text.

Historical Context 

In the real world, outside of Kensington Gardens, women belonged to the domestic sphere. This is a result of the beliefs stemming out of the Victorian period in the 19th century. The role of a woman was to strive to be the perfect motherly figure, which entailed bearing and raising children. In the original book, J.M. Barrie talks about when the fairies discover Peter’s nightgown being used as a sail(Fig.3). Because the female fairies take notice right away they, “ straightway loved him, and grieved that their laps were too small… such is the way of women.”(Barrie, 49) It is quite apparent that the original book is a product of its time. J.M Barrie emerged from a period where women were denied simple rights. In fact, women were nothing more than domestic possessions of their socially representative counter part. In other words, women were not considered to be persons at all. Their days were filled with endless obligations and limited freedom outside of the home.

Social Change in the Edwardian Period

The start of the 19th century was traditional in the sense that women were no more than subordinate domestic possessions. In, ‘ The Female Tradition’, Elaine Showalter presents that, “the middle-class ideology of the proper sphere of womanhood, which developed in post-industrial England and America, prescribed a woman who would be a Perfect Lady, an Angel in the House, contentedly submissive to men, but strong in her inner purity … queen in her own realm of the Home.” (Showalter, 1108) However, after being suppressed to this ideology for most of the 18th and 19th centuries, the beginning of the Edwardian period was the time when women began speaking out about these social injustices that were forced upon them for centuries. This began widely known as the suffragist movement. Women sought to create a constitutional change, whereby women would be privileged to basic rights. Many women believed that because the ‘role of a woman’ was in the home, she should not be denied a say in legislation that directly or indirectly influences laws, which impact the home. Women did not approach this social change with any violence, or force. This is unlike men, who have a history of using violent measures as a means to obtain peace or equality. This is alluded to in the book as it stated, “ the men- fairies now sheathed their weapons on observing the behavior of their women, on whose intelligence they set great store, and they led him civilly to their queen.” (Barrie, 49) Women used determination and cunning tactics to raise awareness, and although it took a long time women’s rights were eventually vindicated in the legislation of the Persons Case of 1929.

Contrasting Ideals between Fantasy and Reality

However, this generates the following questions. Why is there a matriarchy-based system in Kensington Gardens? Why has J.M. Barrie, a writer out of the 19th century, decided to put women at such high regards in a social sphere? Perhaps the original story by J.M Barrie was in tribute to the fact that women with such power are ideas that belong in works of fiction alone. The depiction on the cover shows male domination and superiority above all else. Although the female fairies may dominate the fairy world, that is where it ends. The reality of it is Peter Pan is a product of the real world beyond Kensington Gardens. The fairies only dominate the restricted boundaries of the Gardens in the absence of people. In the cover illustration alone, even though the female fairies are bigger in size than the male fairies, it is apparent that Peter Pan is larger than them all. In a sense, reality trumping fantasy. Or, was he conceivably acknowledging the fact that females have the capability to stretch beyond the social norm, outside of the boundaries set upon them by man? It is a possibility that the author’s original intent was to stir up controversy in the reader. This idea that women could be considered equals outside of the home. Jack Zipes believed “that, to be liberating, [fairy tales] must reflect a process of struggle against all types of suppression and authoritarianism and project various possibilities for the concrete realization of utopia.” (Zipes, 312) Maybe Barrie wasn’t so crazy to have Arthur Rackham illustrate women in such a dynamic light. Barrie’s text and Rackham’s illustrations stayed true to so many physical elements pertaining to women outside of the book. It is almost noteworthy to consider why they chose to have such a contrasting element of empowerment within the book.


J.M. Barrie’s book was published in 1906. It is very possible that while the reader took the book at face value, they may have subconsciously been made aware of the possibility of female empowerment within a patriarchal society.  The iconic and admired story of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens has demonstrated how illustrations and text can create a fantasy world that is contrary to society outside of the book.

Works Cited

Atzmon, Leslie. ” Arthur Rackham’s Phrenological Landscape: In-betweens,
Goblibs,and Femme Fatales.” Design Issues 18.4 (2002): 64-83. JSTOR. Web.
11 Oct. 2011.

Barrie, James. Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. Illustrated by Arthur
Rackham. London: Hodder and Stoughton. 1906.

Ripley, Doré. “The Victorian Mirror: A Freudian Slip into a Hellenistic
Gynoculture-Reflections of Peter Pan.” Interdisciplinary Humanities 23.1
(2006): 23-35. Academic Search Premier. Web. 16 Nov. 2011.

Showalter, Elaine. “The Female Tradition.” The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts
and Contemporary Trends.
Ed. David H. Richter. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989.              JSTOR.Web.16.Oct. 2011.

Zipes, Jack. “The Potential of Liberating Fairy Tales for Children.” New Literary
13, no. 2 (1982): 309-25. JSTOR. Web. 11. Nov. 2011.


Fairies in Irish History and their role in The Story Of Childe Charity

© 2011, Chloe Azimian, Amanda Polla.

Frances Browne, The Story of Childe Charity. Illustrated by: Beatrice L Stevens. Boston: Atlatic Monthly, 1924.

The Atlantic Treasury of Childhood Stories – Cover


The Story of Childe Charity was created in 1857 by Frances Browne (Deane et al. 22). In 1924 it was published with a collection of other fairy tales in The Atlantic Treasury of Childhood Stories.This collection is geared towards children; which is evident in the stories and images chosen to appear within the text. The following will examine the representation of fairies both visually, symbolically and their significance within the text. We will also show how The Story Of Childe Charity greatly represents the symbolic beliefs the Irish people had about the Irish fairies and how its represented in the story.

By compiling research from these two areas; we will explore the relevance between Irish beliefs in fairies and the representation of fairies in text. The connection between these topics will highlight many of the underlying messages and themes in fairy tales – it will also explain much of the author’s decisions in terms of content.

By Chloe Azimian
         The Story of Childe Charity is a fairy tale written by Frances Browne in 1857 (Deane et al. 22).  It takes place in the Irish countryside where a young girl who has been orphaned goes to live with her uncle and his family. This family is quite cruel; however Childe Charity gains her name through her kindness towards others. One evening, the poorest, ugliest woman anyone had ever seen came begging at Childe’s house. While everyone refused to help, Childe Charity gave her dinner and her bed to the old woman – this continued for many nights until, one night, the old woman brought her a scruffy dog. She asked Childe Charity to care for her dog which she agreed to, not knowing both the dog and old woman were fairies in disguise. After Childe Charity had cared for the dog for a long time, the old woman returned as a fairy princess and the dog turned into a fairy prince. They rewarded Childe Charity for her kindness by taking her to their kingdom for seven days. After this time, they returned her to her real home with an abundance of riches and she grew to be a great lady.
Visual Representation
          The Story of Childe Charity appears to go against the stereotypical belief of fairies as miniature humans with wings. Instead, they are represented almost as humans with the exception of having magical capabilities. They are first described within the text as “little men” and “little ladies” who are clothed in magnificent, rich fabrics. Other than their size, they would appear as regular human beings. By visually representing the fairies in a very similar way to humans, the story becomes more realistic and believable. Also, because this story was published in The Atlantic Treasury of Childhood Stories and targeted towards children, its reality is important because it encourages children to believe a story such as this is indeed possible.
         Although fairies are a myth, creating a story children believe in all aspects of, helps them understand it’s moral more thoroughly. In The Struggle for Meaning, Bettelheim states that it is not the fact virtue wins at the end which promotes morality, but the identification the child creates with the hero in all their struggles. Because of this identification, the inner and outer struggles of the hero imprint morality on him (Bettelheim, 328). The moral of Childe Charity simply being; good things come to good people. Therefore, the realness of the fairies adds to the realness of the story, thus creating a greater identification with the hero.
        The visual representation of fairies as miniature people gives the impression that people of this time in Ireland viewed fairies in a very real way. Browne’s realistic interpretation of these characters may be due to the fact she did, in fact, believe fairies existed. In 1800 Ireland, many did believe in fairy realms (O’Conor, 545); this is elaborated on within the context section of the exhibit.
Symbolic Representation
         In many fairy tales throughout history, fairies have several different meanings; these range from fairies from doing good, trickery, or as warnings. Fairies in the story of Childe Charity are represented as a symbol of justice. Childe Charity was rewarded by the fairies for her good manners and kindness towards the beggar, while her cruel family was given nothing and were therefore unhappy. Using the fairies as a symbol of justice, Browne created the basis for the moral to her story. This symbolism establishes a very plain message which is easily conveyed through the text and can be understood by its young readers or listeners.
        The purpose of using symbolism, rather than stating the exact meaning of the story, is that it uses unrealistic circumstances to teach real morals. Thus allowing children to visualize themselves in the place of characters within the story. In this way they are more effective in promoting a message than simply explaining a message to a child (Williams and Wilkins 811). Essentially, the fairies teach a simple but vital message in an interesting and entertaining manner.
        During the mid 1800’s in Ireland, it was a common belief that fairies existed (O’Conor, 545), therefore the fact that fairies were used as a symbol of justice, supports that people believed in this as an event which could potentially take place.
Significance of Fairy Figures
        Overall, the use of fairies in The Story of Child Charity, are used to support to message that good things come to those who do good. What is interesting about this story however is that this message is conveyed solely through the use of fairies; there is no romance nor is there any suggestion that a male is needed to save a female. Browne created a tale of maturation without the common use of a male rescuer. This puts a large amount of emphasis on the fact one makes their own happiness and does not need a prince to achieve this. It seems Browne’s intention was to go against this classic structure and she does this by substituting the male rescuer for fairies.
        Through eliminating the romantic element in the story, there is a greater emphasis on the essential moral. Perhaps Browne told her story in this format because she wanted girls in particular to identify with the female hero and not become distracted with a romantic element.
          This may show that feminine ideals were beginning to change in Ireland. It may also show that Browne was thinking ahead of her time or trying to create stories that stood apart from the rest. The fact Childe Charity uses fairies to teach a tale of maturation rather than a male figure may be the reason it was published in 1924 when women were becoming more independent (Gourley 63).
Photo Analysis: The fairies entering Childe Charity’s room to speak with the fairy prince
who is disguised as a dog. Other than their
small size, they are illustrated exactly as a
human would appear. This is a very realistic interpretation of fairies in comparison to other tales where they are portrayed as winged
figures and mainly as females.
By Amanda Polla 

         The Story of Childe Charity was written By Irish Author, Frances Browne in 1857 (Mckean 296), an era where Ireland was known to be the ‘land of the fairies’ (Silver 141). The descriptions and events in the story greatly relate to the history and beliefs that the Irish people had about fairies and fairyland during that era. Ireland is known for their beliefs and values towards fairies, which does not only stem through superstitious tendencies. This is because throughout Galeic literature, which is the inheritance of the Irish race, fairies and fairyland play an important part in its development (O’Conor 545). The Irish have been telling stories of the fairies and the relevance to their country for centuries. Through the centuries, the stories have developed into poems, literature and novels. These were created to describe the features and attributes of the fairies, as well as how they differed from human beings. Stories such as The Story of Childe Charity give interpretations of how authors interpreted these fairies, and the impact the Irish fairies had on their lives.

.         The symbolism and representation of the fairies of Ireland is very distinct . The Irish people believed fairies to be ‘God like’ and to have the ‘magic power of the Gods’, with features of fair brightness that were usually associated with divinity (O’Conor 547). Fairies in Irish literature are described as super human and regularly dressed in green, which was the symbol of hope and immortality (O’Conor 548). The values, morals and descriptions of the Irish fairies also resemble fairies featured in modern age. The Walt Disney version of Tinkerbell is a direct example. The Irish Fairy has been described as having features such as ‘yellow hair and blue eyes admired by the ancient Irish’ (O’ Conor 547). The modernized Tinkerbell, from the classic story Peter Pan is a thimble sized blonde, blue- eyed fairy with a green dress (Disney Fairies). Whether intentional or not, Walt Disney created his own modern interpretation of what the Irish fairies were believed to look like. This evidently makes the symbolism of the Irish Fairy a staple figure in pop culture, and in the childhoods of boys and girls throughout the world.

.        The Irish belief on the origination of the fairies of ancient Ireland ‘belonged to a race known as Tutha De Dannan, people of God, and they were the size of mortals or even larger’ (O’Conor 546). Legend says they came from the northern isles of the world, where they had been learning ‘lore and magic and druidism and wizardy and cunning until they surpassed the stages of the hearts of heathendom’ (O’Conor 546). It has been stated that the reason these Irish fairies came often was in order to take part in the affairs of mankind (O’Conor 548). Irish fairies possessed the gift of fairy transformation, that of where they could transform into subjects or things that weren’t related to them so they could see the true potential of people (O’Conor 550). The shape-transference of these stories combines both an element of history with pure imagination (O’Conor 550).

.       Given the history of Ireland and how important fairies were to the Irish culture, The Story Of Childe Charity was structured pretty accurately to the reality of ancient Ireland. The author, Frances Browne, was born in Stranorlar, Donegal, Ireland, in 1816 (Mclean 296).  The story uses the magic of the fairies and fairyland to bring wealth and fortune to a poor little girl that helped the fairy princess and prince in their tattered, mortal disguises. Many irish cultural references happen throughout The Story Of Childe Chairty, especially in relevance to the portrayal of fairies. The first instance would be the fairy princess and the prince disguised as the old beggar and her dog. This is an example of the Irish fairies gift of transformation discussed earlier in the context, that the Irish fairies were known to posses (O’Conor 550). The fairies in the story were also portrayed as helpers, who prepared the feast for the disguised prince in preparation for him to bring the wholesome child to fairyland. They were also described throughout the story as elegant creatures, having mortal like appearances.  Although the colour green was not mentioned as apart of the fairies attire in the story, the little men and women from the fairyland who helped the prince in preparation were described as being dressed in ‘crimson and gold, and bearing every man a torch, till the room looked bright as day’ (Browne), while the ladies were ‘clad in rose-colored velvet, and carrying each a crystal lamp’ (Browne). These descriptions are also relative to the Irish fairies in the portrayal in the book Heroic Romances of Ireland. Throughout this book, it states that their interpretation of man of the fairy folk is dressed in ‘Green, long and flowing was the cloak about him, his shirt was embroided with an embroidery of red, and a great brooch of gold in his cloak reached to his shoulder on either side (O’Conor 548). Although there are some differences to the exact representation of the Irish fairy man and woman, the key representations still remain. This is also relevant in the description of the ‘Fairyland’ and all the magic and triumph that it possesses.

.       The occupations of the Irish fairies were portrayed as ‘war and chase’ that of chief interest to the people themselves. The fairies were imagined as ‘coming from their own countries to take part in mortal affairs’ (O’Conor 553). They were described as to not only visit Ireland, but to take the mortals back with them to either ‘wage the wars, or enjoy the delights of Fairyland’ (O’Conor 553). The Story of Childe Charity resembles the history of these Irish fairies because the storyline is situated around these practices. In the Story, The disguised prince and princess test Childe Charity, first with the disguised princess frequently coming to her home looking for a place to stay, and then with the prince and the affection Childe Charity gives to him while disguised as a dog. They then take Childe Charity to their Fairyland on a chariot, where she sat astonished, admiring the beautiful sightings around her, and was treated to feasts and jewels because of her kindness and pure heart (Browne). The Story Of Childe Charity was created to teach a lesson. Even with the influence of the immortal realm and the belief in fairies, it states that if you care and respect others no matter what gender or class, you will be rewarded with respect.


Photo analysis: The picture of the back of The Atlantic Treasury or Childhood stories. The photo re-iterates what the Irish describe the fairies to physically look like in terms of Blonde hair and blue eyes. The photo also gves the sense that the fairies are in a state of bliss and harmony, which is true to their described nature.




.        The research and in depth analysis in both the category and the context has shown that The Story Of Childe Charity stands for a lot more than what it seems. The story is more than just a children’s tale of a kind little girl helping out a beggar in need. It is a representation of history, culture, beliefs and values of the Irish people at the time it was published. The story not only represents the symbolism of the Irish Fairies throughout Ireland in the 1800’s, but was created to teach a lesson of morality and good. Childe Charity is a character both little girls and women can identify with, and the lessons and morals in the story show that one should not discriminate others based on appearance or social class. The story shows an alternate view to the traditional fairy tale ending, establishing not a love interest for Childe Charity, but a newfound friendship with the prince and princess of fairyland. It teaches the lesson that you should not judge a book by its cover, and that good things come to those who do good to others.


Selected Works Cited

Ballard, Linda-May. “Fairies and the Supernatural on Reachrai.” The Good People: New                 Fairylore Essays.Lexington:University ofKentucky, 1997. 47-58. Print.

Browne, Frances. “The Story of Childe Charity.” Ed. Mary D. Hutchinson and Beatrice             L. Stevens. The Atlantic Treasury of Childhood Stories.Boston: Atlantic                               Monthly, 1924. 183-88. Print.

Buccola, Regina. Fairies, Fractious Women, and the Old Faith: Fairy Lore in Early                         Modern British Drama and Culture. Selinsgrove: Susquehanna UP, 2006. Print.

Deane, Seamus, Andrew Carpenter, and Jonathan Williams. ContentsThe Field Day             Anthology of Irish Writing: Irish Women’s Writing and Traditions. Ed. Angela                       Bourke.New York: NYU, 2002. 22. Print.

“Disney Fairies | Official Site.” Disney | Official Home Page for All Things Disney. Web.                25 Nov. 2011.
.          <>.

Gourley, Catherine. Music MadnessFlappers and the New American Woman:                              Perceptions of Women from 1918 through the 1920s.Minneapolis,MN: Twenty-First            Century, 2007. 62-63. Print.

McLean, Thomas. “Arms and the Circassian Woman: FrancesBrowne’s “The Star of                   Attéghéi”” Victorian Poetry 41.3 (2003): 295-318. Jstor.West Virginia University                   Press. Web.10 Oct. 2011 <>.

Norreys, Jephson. “The Early Irish Fairies and Fairyland.” The Sewanee Review 28.4: 545-           57. TheJohnsHopkinsUniversity Press. Web.10 Oct. 2011.

Silver, Carole. “On the Origin of Fairies: Victorians, Romantics, and Folk Belief.” The                     Victorian Threshold 14 (1986): 141-56.CambridgeUniversity Press. Web. 10                       Oct. 2011. <>.

“The Use of Fairy Tales.” The American Journal of Nursing 1.11 (1901): 811-12. Jstor.                  Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Web.19 Nov. 2011.                                                                  <>.

Fairies- The Mother of a Child’s Imagination

English Fables and Fairy Stories

© 2011, Jessica Hartwick
Reeves, James. “The Tulip Bed.” English Fables and Fairy Stories. Ill Joan Kiddell-Monroe. London: Oxford University Press, 1954, pages 98-102. Print
Children often picture their mother as a magical, caring, generous being. They see these qualities in the fairies that they hear of and relate them to their mothers. A mother is there to care for their child, just as fairies often do. One can see this same statement within some of the stories in “English Fables and Fairy Stories” written by James Reeves. This book was dedicated to his mother. Joan Kiddell-Monroe illustrated the CLA text and designed beautiful images for almost every story within the book. The book was first published in 1954 by Oxford University Press in London. The purpose of this exhibit is to use the story, “The Tulip Bed” found within the text to examine fairies as the representation of a motherly figure for children.

The Tulip Bed

The story, “The Tulip Bed” was written by James Reeves. He has written a planned series of folk and fairy tales from many different countries. “English Fables and Fairy Stories” is a part of the series. Reeves writes to a child audience since some of the stories he has written have become available to children for the first time. Since Reeves also dedicated this particular book to his mother it could mean that these are stories that remind him of his childhood. It could also mean that these stories make him think of his mother when reading and writing them. According to Dorothy Howard, “Such books as these, with documentation, could find a deserved permanent place on children’s bookshelves.” (Howard, 168). “The Tulip Bed” is found within Reeves book “English Fables and Fairy Stories”. It is a short fairy tale found on pages 98-102. The story starts in the West Country at an old woman’s cottage. The old woman had a little garden that she took much pride in growing. Within the garden were tulips. Fairies lived in a field near the old woman’s cottage. Once the fairy babies would not sleep properly in their original cradles the fairies began bringing the babies to the tulips to sleep in because they rocked in the wind. This shows how the fairies care for the well-being of their children like mothers in real life do as well. They would sing sleepy songs and soft lullabies to the babies. A lullaby is a soft, soothing song which mothers will sing to their children to get them to sleep. According to Anne de Vries, “Each of us is acquainted with the rhythm of rocking and lulling before we are born: it repeats the heartbeat heard in the womb, and thus our first literary and musical activities have a biological background.” (Vries). One can see how the fairies act as a mother from reality with the lulling to sleep of the children and the rocking in the wind of the tulips. With the fairies living in the tulip bed they give the flowers a sweet scent and make them grow bigger and straighter. This relates to a mother from reality because they spend their lives making their babies grow up into proper human beings, just like how the fairies make the tulips grow perfectly. Every evening the fairies go to the fields and sing and dance in honour of their queen. After a while, the old woman believed her garden was under protection of fairies because the flowers were so perfect every year. This shows how people don’t think something so amazing can happen and therefore they blame a more magical creature. This can be seen in everyday life with children who believe that their mother is magical because she helps them feel better when they are sick, as an example. Sadly, the old woman passed away one winter. The fairies became angry when the new owner of the cottage took the tulips out of the garden. The fairies are very protective of their children and their home, just like mothers are. In the story they go to the length of not allowing anything to grow in the new garden the owner created. This is relatable because mothers will often do anything they can in order to protect their children. To show respect for the old woman who provided them their home, they look after her grave and sing for her at every full moon. The mothers doing this show the children how to be respectful to those who treat them well, just as mothers in real life do as well. The story ends explaining how the fairy who sang the sweetest at her grave was the first fairy to ever sleep in the tulips. This shows how the mother teaches the child to be respectful and caring, just like her. In short, the fairies in this story not only act the same as a real life mother when it comes to protection of their children, but they also teach them life lessons in the process.

The cottage and the tulip bed

Picture Perfect

Joan Kiddell-Monroe is the illustrator for Reeve’s book. She illustrated every image in the book, as well as the cover page and endpapers. This shows that Reeves really enjoyed Kiddell-Monroe’s images and thought that they represented his stories really well. The first image seen in the story is of the old woman’s cottage and her tulips. This image addresses the reader because it helps them imagine and understand the story more. It is a simple image and easy to understand. It brings the story to life because now the reader can use this image to visualize the rest of the story. The image is also placed above the title of the story. This is helpful for someone flipping through the many stories of Reeve’s book because it is a quick idea of how the story has to do with flowers and a cottage. Kiddell-Monroe placed many images at the beginning of the stories within this book for the exact same reasoning. The image is a quick reference for the reader rather than having to read the first few lines of the story.The second image of the story is found half way through the story. It is of a mother fairy delicately caring her baby over to the tulip flower. The mother is gazing at her child with a slight grin on her face. This shows how the mother is very caring for her child and wants it to get a good night sleep. The way that she is holding the baby also shows how protective she is of her child and how safe she is keeping it. In everyday life, a mother is often showing the same characteristics in the way that she carries her child around with her. The fairy is almost floating through the air, with her wings in clear sight which shows how magical she is. Her beauty is shown in her face and slender body and with her long hair blowing in the wind as she flies to the tulip bed. All in all, this image gives the reader a good understand what the fairies look like and the motherly characteristics of them. 

A fairy and her baby
A fairy and her baby

To end, through the use of the images in the story and the way the fairies are described one can relate the fairies to their mothers. Reeves and Kiddell-Monroe both grasp the idea that children have of their mothers and they incorporate it within the story. The way that fairies are depicted within this story is very important especially since Reeves books have been written for children.  The fairies are protective, caring, gentle and respective. These are all qualities that mothers tend to have and want to teach to their children. Children look to the fairies as something and someone that they want to be.



De Vries, Anne. “Lullaby”. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature. Edited by Jack Zipes. Oxford University Press 2006.  Ryerson University. Web.  16 November 2011

Howard, Dorothy. “Folklore for Children: A Round-up of Recent Books” Indiana University Press. Web. 10 November 2011

Zipes, Jack. “Fairy Tales and Folk Tales”. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature. Edited by Jack Zipes. Oxford University Press 2006.  Ryerson University. Web.  17 November 2011

The Damsel in Distress to Leading Lady: Do Fairy Godmothers Really Help?

Front cover of The Princess Elizabeth Gift Book which houses the story,  The Unromantic Princess.

Bowen, Elizabeth. The Unromantic Princess. “The Princess Elizabeth Gift   Book: In Aid of the Princess Elizabeth of York Hospital for Children”. Ill. Paul Bloomfield. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1935. 83- 99. Print.

© Copyright 2011, Candice McCrindle, Tara Wong

Rediscovering the Roots

Elizabeth Dorothea Cole Bowen (1899- 1973) was an Irish novelist and short story writer who focused much of her career and writings on the theme of innocence within systematic life as well as those experiences that transform beliefs and notions of current culture (Hoogland 25). Bowen has been said to examine and explore the disloyalty and secrets that inevitably lie between the facet of morality and respectability in everyday society. She has also been credited for forming and paving the way to literacy modernism through her vivid and telling influences of film and film-making techniques. Bowen relates heavily on the psychology of the characters and plots making for an undoubtedly interesting read in all of her publications (Hoogland 27).

Published in 1935 by Hodder & Stoughton, The Princess Elizabeth Gift Book: In Aid of the Princess Elizabeth of York Hospital for Children is a book that houses numerous stories, poems and a single play that is targeted for juvenile audiences. Within the collection is Bowen’s story, An Unromantic Princess that tells the tale of a young princess named Angelica who receives the gifts of punctuality and commonsense from two very unconventional Fairy Godmothers. These gifts however do not give the princess what she essentially longs and desires for. Through Princess Angelica’s tribulations of growing up, longing for beauty, and losing her mother she learns the power of liberty, independence and transformation.

Illustrated by Paul Bloomfield, The Unromantic Princess gives its readers an opportunity to use their imaginations in creative and critical ways, as there are only two black and white illustrations within the sixteen page story (Bowen 41). Perhaps one reason why this book is targeted for juvenile audiences is because of this fact, as it enables readers to imagine the story, ambiance and context for themselves instead of simply painting the picture with vivid illustrations, detail and colour on every page. The story itself is also one that is targeted towards an older audience as the vocabulary, structure and message all in a way represent a more mature world- one that may only truly be understood by established thinking.

Curating The Unromantic Princess first began as a single idea which then became a question which ultimately transcended into a research- filled area of study. With this being said, The Unromantic Princess delves into the world of not only fairies, but more specifically Fairy Godmothers and the roles they play within the lives of the people they affect. Within this piece of work, Tara Wong will be responsible for dissecting the selected category of Fairy Godmothers within the broader category of fairies. Candice McCrindle will be responsible for delving into the historical and contemporary context of Fairy Godmothers and how these mystical women satisfy gender roles within a feminist ideology. The Fairy Godmothers presented in The Unromantic Princess help to illustrate gender identification within a modernized view of how women are independent, powerful and self- sufficient.

This illustration enforces a modern view of how the princess is the independent go- getter woman in charge of her own future. Seen on a horse with her guards behind her, the princess approaches and initiates conversation with the boy she had met at the party her father threw her. Essentially, she finds and approaches the boy, which to this day, is quite uncommon in many fairy tales and stories.

Category: From Fairies to Fairy Godmothers

Bowen created a nontraditional fairy tale of The Unromantic Princess, where the princess is like no other ordinary girl. Princess Angelica, was given the gifts of punctuality and commonsense on the day of her Christening from two Fairy Godmothers. When the princess’ mother passed away, her father took care of her until she fell in love with a boy. The Fairy Godmother’s gifts had caused inconvenience to the princess however once she had lost the ability to be punctual and have commonsense, she came to the realization that she was beautiful inside and out in her own way. No gifts were needed to show or embody beauty as nobody is perfect. The princess depicts that what makes people beautiful, is the confidence they have in themselves.

Traditional fairy tales lead to one ultimate goal, and that is to live happily ever after. With the help of a Fairy Godmother, life is much simpler because of their magical abilities with a simple flick of a wand. The traditional figure of the Fairy Godmother is to help characters that are in need, and to guide people’s lives into living happily ever after (Jorgensen 219). Because of this, they are often seen as elderly, and more wise characters with the need and willingness to assist. In tales like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, the Fairy Godmother is essentially the aid to creating an ending of happiness and love. In these tales, they did this by taking on the mother role and supporting the princess who had just lost her mother (Jorgensen 221). In Elizabeth Bowen’s tale The Unromantic Princess, a different outlook of the role of Fairy Godmothers is presented. They essentially challenge tradition, and cast a new outlook on how females should behave and act.

The representation of Fairy Godmothers in Bowen’s story sheds new light onto the view of the traditional helper as the featured fairies are seen as insensitive, dull and a nuisance. Their personalities show in their appearance, and their clothing contradicts what most Fairy Godmothers look like (Jorgensen 220). Traditionally, Fairy Godmothers, such as the ones in Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella have the same type of colour-coordinated clothing, however in The Unromantic Princess; the Godmothers are represented with musty brown wings and no distinct traits. The Godmothers’ clothing suggests that they go against the traditional views of how women are to be portrayed and fundamentally modernize the outlook of these mythical creatures. The cultural role of women and Fairy Godmothers in Bowen’s tale creates comedic relief for readers as they challenge the status quo and question the dominant ideology of the female gender.

Bowen takes on a satirical approach within the world of fairy tales. She creates a female character that struggles with autonomy and self-expression. The two gifts the Fairy Godmothers had given her do not help, but actually harm the princess (Jorgensen 221). It is actually the realization from the princess herself, that the good characteristics she has inherited are what truly make her beautiful, and loved- not her commonsense or punctuality. Bowen’s representation of the Fairy Godmother contradicts traditional views because instead of helping the damsel in distress, the gifts they bestowed upon her actually held her back from love, happiness, independence and transformation.

The significance of the Fairy Godmother’s portrayal in The Unromantic Princess is to challenge the traditional modern views of women. Fairy Godmothers can either enforce or challenge tradition, and in The Unromantic Princess, the Fairy Godmother’s view of women upheld the values of good looks. However to counteract these traditional views they believed the princess did not exhibit, they gave her the gifts of punctuality and commonsense. The idea of the Fairy Godmother is to inspire hope for a better future and as the likes of the characters in the tale; they tried to change the princess into someone they thought was more desirable. The Fairy Godmothers essentially have their own view of what makes girls beautiful, but that wasn’t necessarily in the best interest of the princess. The traditional view of the female gender is to have beauty and to marry a rich man, but in this modern tale of The Unromantic Princess, Elizabeth Bowen challenges the roles of the female identity and creates a moral that beauty is only skin-deep and happiness is found within. The Fairy Godmothers’ own hegemony of a happy ending is challenged by this nontraditional and heroic princess.

Context: Fairy Godmothers and Their Roles as Traditional Women

Godmothers within a historical and religious context have always been viewed as confidantes to their younger counterparts. In the Christian religion, the Godmother is a mentor of sorts, being of special importance in the nurturing and supporting of children from a very young age. Interestingly enough, Fairy Godmothers are quite rare among fairy tales but have had their popularity increased because of the literary fairy tales of Madame d’Aulnoy and Charles Perrault (Jorgensen 220). Additionally, Fairy Godmothers are vivid characters in both classics Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. Variations of Fairy Godmothers are presented in Perrault’s version of Sleeping Beauty as well as the Grimm Brothers’ and this exposure has been said to have led to the larger and more wide- spread fairy tale motif of Fairy Godmothers (Jorgensen 220). What seems to be clear is the fact that Fairy Godmothers behave in similar ways to traditional Godmothers- they create benefit and gain for their loved ones for a slim price of respect.

Fairy Godmothers, like the ones observed within Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella seemingly always have the same traits bestowed upon them- these being kindness, a gentle demeanor, and loving attitude. These mannerisms are ones that are also found within the female ideology of gender roles that women were allegedly supposed to take on in previous history. Women were never seen as independent, or responsible for their own destiny and positive outcomes. Rather, they were seen as relying on other stronger forces for support such as a man or even a Fairy Godmother.

However The Unromantic Princess proves to detest the older generation, which was a popular movement within tales written in the 1930’s. Bowen observed the plight of displaced and unhappy children, as seen within her writings of numerous orphans (Bowen 44). In an interesting finding, children within Bowen’s publications possess the traits commonsense and bravery, often being in charge of their own destiny. Contrary to Cinderella, Princess Angelica looks for the boy, and in the end good sense rather than good looks prevail.

Princess Angelica does not rely solely on the gifts of commonsense and punctuality her Fairy Godmothers give her, as when they do not seem to work anymore she does not fret. Instead, Princess Angelica continuously takes matters into her own hands and essentially seals her fate and her future all by herself, demonstrating a new and modernized view of the protagonist- one that is independent and self- fulfilling. Princess Angelica also does not fit into the classic fairy tale princess motif as when she looks into the mirror she does not see a woman with the most beautiful face or hair. Perhaps this was another transition to a more modern and contemporary view of women. The fact that princesses can indeed be independent all while not having the most beautiful features we would all assume a princess to have. Princesses and women alike should be shown to be confident to fight for what they believe in instead of simply riding on a higher forces’ coattail.

Bowen was a true advocate for dismantling the language of Western culture which she believed to be devastating for women (Shiffer 2). Her novels are haunted by the fact that female characters are devoted to the search of truth, and importance if nothing else.  She believed in the mindset that women should extend boundaries and in order to find happiness and love, one must fulfill the quest by herself. Essentially, women within Bowen’s standards are seen to protect themselves, their wants and their needs whole- heartedly.

In this illustration, the princess is seen with her father, the king. The princess is represented with short hair, which steers away from the traditional female princess character. The princess is also seen with impeccable posture, again suggesting the comfort and confidence she has with herself, despite her longing for beauty. Traditional accessories are also seen here such as the crowns, pipe and king’s rod.

Final Thoughts

Bowen’s work on The Unromantic Princess puts power behind words and brings the imagined into the reality. New ideals for women were brought into the Western culture, and essentially broke down the stereotypes women were previously confined to. The possibility of a women’s revolution just from language seems in sorts to be a powerful way to deconstruct the ways in which women have been looked upon not only within stories, but in film, and everyday society at work, school and within the home. The representation of Fairy Godmothers in The Unromantic Princess looks at a modernized view of women, one that is quite different from previous fairy tales.  Thus it is safe to conclude that the shift of the damsel in distress to an independent leading lady is a positive one that teaches audiences an essential lesson. After all is said in done, maybe the lesson learned is that there are no Fairy Godmothers looking out for your “happily every after” and maybe that ending that every girl wants is essentially up to nobody else but her.


Bowen, Elizabeth. The Baazar and Other Stories. London, England: Curtis Brown Ltd. , 2008. eBook. < bloomfield- unromantic princess&source=bl&ots=iB2XjHUixH&sig=__HSNNyD_yb-Zh5zAz61dNh34_M&hl=en&ei=_y_PTtr6FMb50gGq7skO&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CBsQ6AEwAA>.

Hoogland, Renee. Elizabeth Bowen: A Reputation in Writing. New York, New York: The Cutting Edge: Lesbian Life and Literature, 1994. Web. <>.

Jorgensen, Jeana. “A Wave of the Magic Wand: Fairy Godmothers in Contemporary American Media.” Marvels & Tales: Journal of Fairy-Tale Studies. 21.2 (2007): 216- 227. Web. 20 Nov. 2011. <>.

Media.” Marvels & Tales 21.2 (2007): 216-27. Web. 10 Oct 2011.

Nicholson, Helen. “Postmodern Fairies.” History Workshop 46. (1998): 205-212. Web. 10 Oct 2011.

Shiffer, Celia. “‘Writing the Body: Women and Language in the Novels of Elizabeth Bowen and Jeanette Winterson.” Dissertation Abstracts International, Section A: The Humanities and Social Sciences . 63.4 (2002): 2-45. Web. 20 Nov. 2011. <>.

Maternity & Magic: Depictions of the Fairy Godmother

Cinderella or The Little Glass Slipper

Perrault, Charles. Cinderella or The Little Glass Slipper. Illus. Errol Le Cain. London: Puffin Books, 1972.

© 2011, Nira Loganathan, Anna Workman

Have you ever picked up a children’s book and wondered why it was written the way it was, or illustrated in a specific way? It is easy to look past the meanings and representations that are behind these books because their commonly referred to simply as a form of entertainment for children. In fact, there are so many thoughts and ideas that have been put into such a creation, which in turn made a tremendous impact on society both historically as well as the present time.  With the magical transformations incorporated in the tale of Cinderella or the Little Glass Slipper, written by Charles Perrault, readers are engaged with the characters, settings and illustrations Errol Le Cain created in the book. There are many aspects to this well known childhood tale, but one that plays a significant role to the storyline is performed by the fairy godmother of Cinderella. Although the common concept of the Fairy Godmother introduced in Cinderella remains the same, Perrault and Cain’s representation leads the reader into a historical view of more than just simply a character with a magical wand.

The fairy godmother comforting Cinderella.

The Fairy Godmother in Text

The fairy godmother is a crucial character to the ever loving tale of Cinderella. The fact that the fairy godmother has within her a very magical persona brings forth the notion of ‘quick fixes and solutions’ (Jorgenson, Par. 1). Aside from the magical events present in this story, the fairy godmother was represented as the one who knows the needs of the despair. Cinderella or The Little Glass Slipper follows the common outline of telling the story of a young peasant girl who overcomes the all negativity because of the goodness of her heart and the help of her fairy godmother, and lives happily ever after in a castle with her prince charming. The role of her godmother is essential to the conclusion of this tale. Perrault’s texts offer such interesting notions and morals that are quoted by the fairy godmother as the ‘mother’ figure, and Cinderella, as the ‘child’ figure. Coming from a historical perspective, children were to maintain their obedience in order to get something in return. This coincides with Perrault’s text, since Cinderella was to ‘be a good girl’ for the fairy godmother to grant her wish of going to the ball. Along with that example of expectations, in the end of the tale, Cinderella is faced with a curfew that she must abide by so that her beautiful gown would not go back to rags in front of the Prince. The fairy godmother instructed Cinderella to come back home at the hour of midnight, because the magic will wear out afterwards. This notion of curfews is culturally expressed towards children, as a way of showing control by the parent, and/or protection from the evil that lurks during the night time. The fairy godmother contains the most power in this tale which gives her way of using it any how she pleases, whether it is for granting a wish, or to maintain the obedience of Cinderella.

It is important to acknowledge the significance of the fairy godmother’s presence in Cinderella or the Little Glass Slipper. This tale almost suggests that nothing can be done alone, but with the help of someone else or even a spiritual being.  During Perrault’s time, there was much emphasis on Christian values, and seeing that ‘magical’ behaviour exists only within the supernatural world, the fairy godmother might have been represented as a heavenly figure. With all the visual representations that Errol Le Cain placed upon the fairy godmother’s figure, one could agree that she comes off as welcoming, trusting, magical, caring, and so much more. Le Cain did an incredible job differentiating the characters between good and evil. Not only was this done with the characters, but also the setting of each page that was transformed into a world of magical adventures. It is interesting to analyze why the fairy godmother only helped Cinderella and not her sisters. It was quite important to Perrault to emphasize the concept of ‘good conquers evil. This can be broke down to the following, the fairy godmother came to Cinderella’s rescue because of the pure heart she had, and by her pure heart, and she won the goodness of her evil sisters, which in the end helped them live happily ever after too. It is almost to say that, even if there are indirect connections with the fairy godmother, good things will begin to happen, as did for Cinderella’s step sisters. With the aid of illustrations created by Le Cain and text written by Perrault, the role of the fairy godmother in a society is accentuated and represented relatively to the 20th century.

Looking more in depth of the text within Cinderella or the Little Glass Slipper, there are many cues on how the fairy godmother is represented. The very fact that, right in front of Cinderella’s eyes, the fairy godmother magically transformed each object shows her supernatural persona. Perrault uses simple text during the moment where the fairy godmother “touched” the rats to become coachmen, or “lightly tapped” the mice into fine horses (Perrault, Cinderella or the Little Glass Slipper). Such words are associated with the gentleness that the fairy godmother represents. Along with her gentleness, Cain depicts the fairy godmother to be a figure of guidance and protection. When referring to most of the pages in this tale, Cain illustrates the guidance and protection by including the face of the fairy godmother’s face in some unique way. In some pages the reader can locate her face at the very top of corners of the pages, signifying her always watching over Cinderella. This coincides with the notion of mothers always being the figure of looking after their children and guiding them into the path of righteousness. Along with that, the fairy godmother is seen to be of an elder figure which also supports the idea that mothers are very similar (Jorgensen, 220). Figures in the entertainment industry are ever changing and the perceptions of fairies, specifically fairy godmothers, are represented in so many different ways hoping to capture the goodness and righteousness of the upcoming generation that will be exposed to such tales.

The fairy godmother resembling a butterfly.

The Fairy Godmother Illustrated

Errol Le Cain was an exceptional illustrator, known for his ability to produce beautiful images that identified with the writer and their text.  He stated that “No matter how exciting or technically brilliant the illustrators are, if they work against the mood of the story the picture book is a failure.” With this attitude, Le Cain was able to adapt his style according to the tone and setting to work with the prose (Eve, 100).  Le Cain was able to follow the tone of Charles Perrault’s literary version of the Cinderella tale by shifting the spotlight to the fairy godmother, making her a central character (Cullen, 59).  As an illustrator, Le Cain successfully expanded on Perrault’s text with to create a unified storybook.  It is with these illustrations that the storybook becomes a true work of art.  During his career, Le Cain illustrated over fifty books however, since losing his battle to cancer in 1898, few of his works have been available in print (Eve, 86).  This version of Charles Perrault’s Cinderella or The Little Glass Slipper is one his preserved masterpieces.

To understand the influences behind Errol Le Cain’s work, a deeper look must be taken into his past and the development of his unique style.  Le Cain left his birth place of Singapore in the spring of 1942 when it was invaded by the Japanese and moved with his family to Agra, India near Delhi.  Here, he learned English from his grandmother who recited the fairy tales that Le Cain would often draw his own picture books for (Eve 86).  “I remember her telling me the story of Aladdin, and I made a picture book of it.  Someone gave me a copy of Hans Andersen which wasn’t illustrated, so wherever there was a space I’d draw a picture for it of what I saw” (Eve, 86).  When Le Cain and his family returned to Singapore, he lived next door to the Roxy Cinema which played some of the classic Disney films.  Le Cain claimed that these Disney films had a “big influence” on his illustrations (Eve 87).  Not only was Le Cain exposed to a mixture of the old tales told by his grandmother and the modern Disney versions he saw in the cinema, but he also got a taste of both Eastern and Western culture.

In the Cinderella or The Little Glass Slipper, Charles Perrault does not give a physical description of the fairy godmother, only details about her magical powers.  While many English illustrators portray the fairy godmother as a nonthreatening witch (Cullen, 73), Le Cain’s godmother takes on a more naturalistic form.  She is displayed with antennae and adorned in a cloak-like swirl of colour that resembles a butterfly’s wings.  She often appears to blend into the sky itself, as if she is part of the clouds.  This mother nature-esque feel to the fairy godmother is unique but still retains the non-threatening, nurturing aspects of Perrault’s character.  Le Cain’s role as the illustrator is to provide visual information that will support the verbal information written by Perrault (Nodelman, 82) and he does so by putting emphasis on the fairy godmother in his illustrations.  The fairy godmother is the most active character in Perrault’s literary version of the story and as a result, she appears in most of the illustrations even as a lone face watching over Cinderella.  When the fairy godmother appears in full view, she is a whirl of patterns that consume most of the page as she wraps herself like a mother around the distraught, child-like Cinderella.  Le Cain’s fairy godmother appears to be very large compared to the other characters which could symbolize Cinderella’s return to the role of the child while she allows the fairy godmother to take on the maternal role.  He captures the personality of the fairy godmother as a watchful, nurturing mother who is an incarnation of the mother Cinderella lost (Cullen 73).

Le Cain’s illustrations in Cinderella or The Little Glass Slipper and many of his works done at that time feature curves and patterns that resemble the Art Nouveaux style mixed with many Eastern characteristics (Eve, 94).  The illustrations’ varying patterns and colours apply to the changing mood of the story as Cinderella transforms from the oppressed step-daughter to the adored princess.  The decadent atmosphere created by Le Cain’s use of ornate borders, patterns, and sharp lines give specific features of the illustrations a grave or menacing feel (Nodelman, 82).  This displays a contrast between the light and dark elements of the story.  Le Cain’s fairy godmother and step-mother have many similar features but still appear to be opposites.  Both mother figures are disproportioned and have elongated features as well as almost identical facial designs and large garments that expose only their faces and hands.  The fairy godmother however, sports an elongated nose that makes her appear almost comical, while the step-mother has an elongated chin that causes her to appear more sinister.  The fairy godmother also appears in an array of colours and patterns unlike the step-mother, who is dressed almost entirely in black with muted patterns.  These two women are clearly represented in Le Cain’s illustrations as the opposing powers of light and dark or good and evil in Cinderella’s life.

Happily ever after farewell to the fairy godmother.

Errol Le Cain described himself as an artist who saw the illustrated page of a book as merely a piece of the artistic whole (Eve, 92).  Charles Perrault’s version of this classic tale, Cinderella or The Little Glass Slipper, is paired with Le Cain’s ornate illustrations to create an elegant but whimsical work of art.  The use of rich colours and fine detail in the illustrations make this storybook enjoyable to both children and the adults who remember the tale of Cinderella from their own childhoods.  Le Cain’s fairy godmother becomes a mother nature-like character as she and acts as the comforting rescuer and protector of the abused Cinderella.  Despite its modern appearance, this version of Perrault’s Cinderella or The Little Glass Slipper manages to maintain the lavish feel of the setting as well as the warm maternal nature of the fairy godmother through the distinct and imaginative illustrations produced for the text.

Select Bibliography

Cullen, Bonnie. “For Whom the Shoe Fits: Cinderella in the Hands of Victorian Writers and Illustrators.” The Lion and the Unicorn, 27.1 (2003): 57-82.

Eve, Mathew. “Errol Le Cain: The very Best Aspects of Book Illustration” Children’s Literature in Education 30.2 (1999) : 85-102

Jeana Jorgensen. “A Wave of the Magic Wand: Fairy Godmothers in Contemporary American Media.” Marvels & Tales 21.2 (2007): 216-227. Project MUSE. Web. 21 Jan. 2011.

Nodelman, Perry. Word’s about Pictures: The Narrative Art of Children’s Picture Books. University of Georgia Press, 1988.

Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother: Undertaking The Same Mission In Different Forms.

© 2011, Andrea Chan, Madeline Li

Charles Perrault. Cinderella or The Little Glass Slipper. Illus. Errol Le Cain. London: Faber and Faber, 1972. Print.





Throughout time, fairies have found their way into many oral folk tales; the term taking on a variety of meanings to the audiences these stories are told to. One of the most recognized of fairies today originates from Charles Perrault’s classic version of the fairytale Cinderella also known as The Little Glass Slipper – the fairy godmother (Ohmer 232). If ever categorized she would be considered a reflection of 3rd generation fairies (Bottigheimer 3). This 17thcentury French writer, known for putting popular oral folk tales on paper first published Cendrillon ou la Petite Pentoufle de Verre in 1698 for a well-bred adult audience. It wasn’t until the late 18th century when the story was filtered down into English chapbooks, did children become part of the target demographic (Cullen 57). As the audiences for fairytales transitioned away from adults and became solely for children, Cinderella followed suit and Errol Le Cain illustrated Perrault’s translated text into a picture book, which got published by Faber and Faber limited in 1972. Furthermore, Perrault’s variant has become the most adapted and commonly known version of the story and if one looks hard enough they would be able to discern the same archetypes in popular western films.

Throughout time, depending on the technology, different types of mediums such as film, text, illustration have represented the fairy godmother figure accordingly and though there may be some necessary alterations to go along with the evolving times, the job of the fairy godmother remains the same. Madeline will be investigating how in Perrault’s variant of the oral folk tale, the fairy godmother plays a crucial role in developing and progressing the story. She will also focus on Le Cain’s more kid friendly portrayal of the character through his illustrations. Andrea will then examine how in a modern context, the essence of the fairy godmother and her function in the story remains intact despite some alterations, in terms of appearance and abilities, adapted in correlation to the era’s culture and ideologies at the time these works were released.

Influences of Charles Perrault And Errol Le Cain On The Definition Of A Fairy Godmother

In Perrault’s The Little Glass Slipper, better known as Cinderella, a young girl is forced into servitude by her cruel stepmother and demanding stepsisters. When the family receives an invitation to the Prince’s ball, Cinderella continues to patiently complete all the menial tasks she is given including helping her sisters dress up in preparation for the ball. Dressed in rags, Cinderella is not eligible to attend so as soon as her step-sisters leave, she bursts into tears. It is at this moment when her fairy godmother appears and to help fulfill Cinderella’s desires to go to the ball and tells her to fetch a list of household items. One by one, the fairy godmother transforms common critters and ordinary objects into horses, coachmen, footmen, a golden coach and finally, a ball gown. Once the transformation is complete, the fairy godmother leaves with one warning: that her enchantments will wear off at the stroke of midnight. At the ball, Cinderella is adored by everyone, including the Prince, but in a hurry to leave before the items return to their original form, she leaves behind a glass slipper. The happy ending occurs when Cinderella is able to prove she is the beautiful girl the Prince fell in love with that night, by slipping on the glass slipper resulting in their marriage.

Many adaptations of Cinderella seem to follow the basic structure of Perrualt’s The Little Glass Slipper because his version of this tale addressed a large audience consisting of highly sophisticated adults. Due to this refined audience, the book became extremely well-known in the era of popular entertainment (Cullen 57). More specifically, Perrault’s version shifts the focus onto the fairy godmother, giving her a more dominant role unlike the versions beforehand (Cullen 59). The fairy godmother is portrayed as a generous, kind and heroic character in the text and throughout the book, the author pays careful attention in demonstrating these acts of generosity detailing certain examples such as showering Cinderella with elaborate clothes, jewellery and other services. Lastly, the fairy godmother is displayed as a powerful and magical figure since Cinderella never questions the fairy godmother’s requests, doing exactly what the fairy asks of her (though this could be a statement about the expected subservience in women during Perrault’s lifetime). Even though the fairy godmother has characteristics similar to that of a witch such as magical spells as well as rat-and-pumpkin tricks, those magical characteristics have remained the same through time (Cullen 59).

Although Perrault provides no physical description of the fairy godmother other than an association with witchcraft through her use of magic, popular 20th century illustrator, Errol Le Cain, manages to alter the figure of the fairy godmother into someone more kid friendly  (unlike Perrault’s original audience). He does this by drawing her with physical cliché traits of a motherly figure such as using an elderly woman who embraces Cinderella, etc. Le Cain’s unique techniques of illustration come from growing up in Singapore along with an Indian upbringing. Other influences on his artwork include his exposure to cinema, which led to his discovery of Disney, ultimately sparking his passion for cartoons (Eve 89).

Errol Le Cain illustrates a lizard transforming into a footman inside the border around the text

During the publication of this book in 1972, Le Cain had distinct elements to his work such as a whimsical component mixed with some cartooning embellishments. His style in general is derived from multiple inspirations including both French and Celtic designs as well as the bold colours used in the East. A prime example of this style is featured in the elaborate patterned borders accompanying the main illustrations in The Little Glass Slipper, which later became his trademark. (Eve 94)

The mystery and power surrounding the fairy godmother figure is demonstrated in Le Cain’s illustrations through the physically larger size of the fairy compared to the other characters. She is also seen holding a magical wand, which is a common trait in the stereotypical modern day fairy godmother. In addition, to the size of the fairy, Le Cain strategically positions the fairy in less than obvious places such as in the corner or slightly off the page, in the borders surrounding the text, in order to enhance the mysteriousness of the fairy.

The Fairy Godmother makes an appearance as Cinderella cries.

Varying Representations of The Same Role In Popular Cinematic Adaptations.

In contemporary popular culture, mass media has proven to be a major influence on western society. The essential role technology has taken in the daily lives of most individuals since the late 20th century has transcended into the 21st century.  In such a mediated society, Perrault’s The Little Glass Slipper, the most prevalent variant in western culture, of the Cinderella folk tale (Ohmer 233), has inevitably been adapted to mediums more popular than print.

The medium in question, through which the story has been told many times over, is film. All these adaptations, over the years, have led filmmakers to alter those customary characters according to a new situation so as to sustain interest in their interpretation of the fairytale for possibly older audiences. Alternatively, just as print cannot replicate the nuances of oral storytelling, or like how illustrations become an additional layer of interpretation to the text (Cullen 57) adapting the story to film requires a renovation of the story in order for it to succeed via the medium. For example, in Pretty Woman (1990), ‘Cinderella,’ played by Julia Roberts, isn’t a maid for her cruel relatives but rather a prostitute named Vivian Ward. Her ‘prince,’Edward Lewis, played by Richard Gere, is a ruthless businessman. Mature audiences are able to enjoy what is considered a children’s tale because of these slight changes but in spite of that, the original characters still manage to be recognizable. This is especially true of the fairy godmother role, who is identified by her familiar function in the story. In Pretty Woman, though, she is played by a male, more specifically, the manager of the hotel where Edward stays. He, Barney, becomes a guide, teacher, and friend to Vivian despite his initial derision towards her. (Kelley 92)

In contrast to the illustrations of the book, which depict the Fairy Godmother as a majestic, omnipotent being with magical abilities while also dressed in fantastical clothing, Barney’s power and abilities as a hotel manager are limited to his occupation (although he is dressed just as nicely in context). Which brings to attention another factor that is often changed in live-action film adaptations: magic doesn’t exist. Despite this lack of magic, Barney is still able to help Vivian fit in amongst the wealthy crowd Edward acquaints himself with. He teaches her table manners, helps her shop for classier clothes, comforts her, etc., and in doing so, he successfully establishes himself as her fairy ‘godfather’.

The powerful Fairy Godmother looks over Cinderella as the enchantment wears off.

Moreover, while Le Cain situates his drawings of the fairy godmother in the corners and margins of the page to preserve some mystery within the character, placing her in those locations but at the top of the page persuades the reader to view her as an all-knowing being. Conversely, the fairy godmothers in modern pop culture film have been developed to fit in everyday life, rather than the fairy tale realm, with more plausible skills convenient enough to aid ‘Cinderella’ in her quest for happiness – Barney being the prime example. This power reduction in the fairy godmother is most likely because of gender stereotypes of the past. Perrault diminished the rebellious and independent Cinderella from earlier oral versions and instead made her embody obedience, politeness, and beauty in order to socialize the bourgeoisie audience for their future of waiting for a man to appreciate these virtues. (Kelley 88). Nowadays, these qualities do not define a ‘proper’ woman, and with these views, the role of the godmother is slightly lessened to just assisting Cinderella rather than doing everything for her as she passively accepts the help, this is further proven in later film adaptations when men have a less dominating role in society.

Cinderella steps out from the coach and all eyes are on her, including the Princes'

As mentioned before, the digital age has determined how the tale is told, but in recent appropriations such as A Cinderella Story (2004) and Another Cinderella Story (2008) plot devices like the glass slipper have been regurgitated as technology so as to suit the era. The dependency on media, increasing with the growing popularity of social networking sites and portable devices such as cell phones and iPods, is reflected in the two films. Both are set during high school in the 21st century but in the former it is already established that Sam (Cinderella; played by Hilary Duff) frequently communicates with the ‘prince’ through text messaging and a variety of online platforms although she is unaware that the identity of her online friend is the popular football player at her school, Tristan (played by Chad Michael Murray). Her cell phone substitutes the glass slipper when she, in a rush to meet her curfew, drops it the night of the dance where the online couple made plans to meet. A portable music player is the replacement in the latter film, starring Selena Gomez as Maria Santiago, as she must name the top 5 played songs to prove she is the owner and the same person who the ‘prince,’ (Joey Parker, a famous celebrity returning to high school) danced with compatibly the night before. Again, she had to flee before midnight to avoid the wrath of her guardian – further evidence to support the loss of magic as Cinderella’s limited time is not because of a spell wearing off.  After all, magic wouldn’t be considered realistic in a high school setting.

The shoe fits Cinderella, to everyone's surprise. In more modern adaptations, the shoe has been replaced by a cellphone or a portable music player.

These two specific cases showcase the stepmother and stepsisters palpably, but the responsibility of the fairy godmother seems to be adopted by multiple characters. Some are definitely more helpful than others based on their skill set and what they can access. Rhonda, a long time employee and co-worker at Sam’s dead father’s diner provides Sam with a costume for the Halloween dance by lending Sam her own wedding dress and offering free breakfast to the costume shop owner who sells them a mask. On the other hand, Carter, Sam’s best friend, is her mode of transportation to the dance when he drives her ‘coach’/his father’s classic car. Less significantly, the remaining employees at the diner collaborate to stall Fiona, the ‘stepmother’, when Sam is running late. Similarly, in Another Cinderella Story, Maria’s best friend, Tami, hires a cleaning crew to lessen the workload for her friend and with the combined efforts of her eventual boyfriend try to get the prince back into Maria’s good graces. These fairy godmothers don’t need magic to assist Cinderella – just their combined efforts and capabilities.

Characters of all shapes, sizes, genders, races, ages, and species fulfill the duty of a fairygodmother in these film adaptations of Cinderella.

From coworkers and best friends of all genders, races, ages, shapes, and sizes, the physical characteristics of the fairy godmother are no longer restricted to that of the stereotypical elderly woman image. This is also true of earlier film adaptations set inside the fairy tale ambit, most notably Disney’s animated version, aptly named Cinderella (1950). Despite being comparable to the book in terms of having a distinct fairy godmother figure, the animals in this animation are much less passive. (Kelley 89) Where Perrault meticulously details the physical transformation of ordinary objects into magnificence worthy of accompanying an extravagantly dressed Cinderella to the ball (Ohmer 233), the animals, like in most Disney movies are personified and actively participate in Cinderella’s life before and after her dreams are achieved.  So Perrault may have been the author to introduce the fairy as a Godmother figure (Ohmer 232), but that definition has changed in terms of description and ability. The core function he established remains intact, even in the ideologies of modern day society and corresponding films, but one cannot deny, that the fairy godmother has since been developed to correspond with the changing times.

However, with stories that follow the archetypes there exists those that challenge it by doing the exact opposite of the films mentioned above. The fairy godmother of the Shrek series introduced in Shrek 2 (2004) is a prime example. She intrinsically looks like a fairy godmother – wings and wands alike – and even possesses the magical abilities but her motives are less than kind. Instead of the ideal helpful, motherly role, she is the main antagonist of the movie, scheming to satisfy her greed and accomplish her own desires (Jorgensen 218).


The Pygmalion story of a down in the dumps girl eventually meeting a guy who fulfills her potential is a tale that has been told over and over – especially so, in the many retellings of Cinderella which includes the addition of a fairy godmother. As the audiences changed along with the beliefs and thought processes of their surrounding society and culture, so did the medium through which it was told, thereby affecting the story, and finally the characters. In general, fairy godmothers as accommodating supporting figures looking over and protecting the protagonist has been the canonical interpretation of the character since Perrault’s text was first published, which was later reaffirmed by Disney. There may be some examples of contradictions to this theory but just like how there are eccentrics who go against the norm, stories have the capability to break rules of an existing archetype in order to advance creativity and demonstrate innovation.

Cinderella has her fairy godmother to thank for this happily ever after.


Bottighimer, Ruth B. “Misperceived Perceptions: Perrault’s Fairy Tales and English Children’s Literature.” Children’s Literature 30 (2002): 1-18. Project MUSE. Web. 20 Nov. 2011.

Cullen, Bonnie. “For Whom the Shoe Fits: Cinderella in the Hands of Victorian Writers and Illustrators.” The Lion and the Unicorn 27.1 (2003): 57-82. Project MUSE. Web. 22 Nov. 2011.

Eve, Matthew. “Errol Le Cain: The Very Best Aspects of Book Illustrations.” Children’s Literature in Education 30.2 (1999): 85-102. Academic Search Premiere. EBSCO. Web. 19 Nov. 2011.

Jorgensen, Jeana. “A Wave of the Magic Wand: Fairy Godmothers in Contemporary America Media.” Marvels & Tales 21.2 (2007): 216-227. Project MUSE. Web. 10 Nov. 2011.

Kelley, Karol. “A Modern Cinderella.” Journal of American Culture (01911813)  17.1 (1994): 87. Academic Search Premiere. EBSCO. Web. 17 Nov. 2011.

Ohmer, Susan. “‘That Rags to Riches Stuff’: Disney’s Cinderella and the Cultural Space of Animation.” Film History 5.2 (1993): 231-49. JSTOR.  Web. 17 Nov. 2011.

Clara Judson’s Flower Fairies: An Eco-Critical Analysis

© Copyright 2011, Megan Matsuda, Michelle Christodoulou

Judson, Clara Ingram. Flower Fairies. Illus. Maginel Wright Enright. New York: Rand McNally and Company, 1915. Print. 

“The fairies are as immortal as the human beings who created them.” (Duffy 13)

Clara Ingram Judson (1879-1960) was an American novelist born in Logansport, Indiana. An award-winning American writer during the early 20th century, she wrote a variety of works ranging from cookbooks to children’s stories.  During her professional career, Judson published over seventy non-fiction and fictional books for young children. Her first novel for the child was Flower Fairies, published in 1915. Flower Fairies provides young readers with various interrelated stories about fairies, accompanied with illustrations by Maginel Wright Enright. Enright was greatly influenced by Japanese prints, which inspired her use of watercolour and simple flat shapes as shown in Flower Fairies. Judson’s picture book presents readers with a close insight of fairies’ daily lives, origins, and society.

Megan Matsuda’s chosen context examines the flower fairy connection with Great Britain, as well as how this book connects with the United States’ arising environmentalism in 1915. The category, provided by Michelle Christodoulou, will investigate how fairies were represented in Judson’s picture book Flower Fairies,supported by the text and images. We will attempt to show how both context and category examines the connection between fairies and the eco-criticisms of the early 20th century. The book depicts the beauty of flowers using fairy illustrations, enticing children and acting against the modern technology and warfare of the time. By appealing to children, the work presents a positive attitude towards nature.


The Flower Fairy Connection with Great Britain

During the time when Judson’s Flower Fairies was published in 1915, the concept of fairies presented in stories and artwork continued to be a popular theme. It was still popular after the “Golden Age” of fairy art and children’s literature, which extended from 1840 to 1870 (Susina, “Dealing with Victorian Fairies”). In 1906, J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens with illustrator Arthur Rackman had produced its famous fairy artwork, which gave another push of the fairy subject in literature and art. Conversely, the rise of the “flower fairy,” and the notion of using fairies within the realm of nature was not as mainstream in the United States than during the British Victorian era. There, fairies appeared in music, art, literature for both adults and children, and decorative arts for the home. Again, the controversial “Cottingley Fairies” series of photographs taken by two cousins in 1917 in England reinforced the admiration for these small beings.

Previously, fairies had been a part of English and Irish folklore since the 14th century (Susina, “Dealing with Victorian Fairies”), but not as widespread in America. Therefore, Judson’s work proves to be one of major influence in the United States, as it was possibly one of the first children’s literature works that mirrored the fairy fever happening in Great Britain during that era. Interestingly, Judson and Enright’s work acted as almost a prelude to the highly established flower fairy illustrations by Cicely Mary Barker, published in 1923. Following Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Coming of the Fairies in 1922, Barker’s illustrations acted as an escape from the Great War and the Depression. In many ways, Judson and Enright’s book did the same thing in the United States, acting as a front against the increasing industry and destruction during WWI. Ultimately, there is a flower fairy connection between Judson’s Flower Fairies and that of other flower fairy stories in English literature and artwork. For instance, in the late 19th and early 20th century, there were a variety of recurring symbols and motifs that were seen within flower fairy stories; many of these alluded to older English symbols found in literature. In Judson’s Flower Fairies, some of these are also used, which further shows the connection between the two countries.

During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I during the 16th century, there was a metamorphosis of her into the Fairy Queen symbol that was seen throughout literature and art during the span of fairy conceptions (Duffy 109). Also, the dress and appearance of fairies that typically wear green and red, with slippers, a cap and golden hair (Briggs 108-109), are also shown in Enright’s illustrations for Flower Fairies. Overall, pictures of sprites among flora have created an industry in memorabilia and stories for many years, (The Daily Telegraph, “Frolicking with the Flower Fairies”) having an impact on Judson’s work.

Spider dressmakers assist the Fairy Queen

Arising Environmentalism in 1915

The publication of Flower Fairies was centred around the time of intensifying world tensions culminated in World War I. With the new forms of industrialization, the new technologies were not only harming the environment through war, but also through advances in factories and agricultural machinery. The dispute over American environmental ideology in the early 20th century soon developed into preserving wild areas, growing from the panic surrounding overdevelopment (Black xv).

In Flower Fairies, Judson chose to use fairies in order to entice children, depicting the beauty and importance of nature. The short stories that Judson has written within the work all aim to explain an aspect of nature. Whether it is to explain the mythology of certain flowers, or why fairies have special names, all the stories use beautiful language to capture the essence of the landscape the fairies live in. There would be a connection many children would feel to these fairies, which are depicted in both writing and illustration as like children themselves. Through this understanding, the audience of Judson’s can adapt a positive attitude towards nature.

There is also a theme of fairies, which symbolize children and the American people, working in harmony with animals and wildlife. This could have been Judson’s intended message or a result of the publication, as the novel was available directly as new eco-criticisms were emerging in the United States. When WWI began, it emerged as a transitional war in which there were new forms of technology mixed with old forms of war (Black 12). This resulted in a brutal warfare system and an immense death rate. Animals were also used to the death, having to be replaced every month throughout the war. This was the context of Judson’s work being published, which in turn acted against the development of mechanized production. Furthermore, child labour was not uncommon at this time. Judson writing a children’s book about flower fairies, before the time of the worldwide popularity of Cicely Mary Barker’s artwork, perhaps speaks to the social setting the United States was situated in. For the work to be successful, the audience needed to be considered. Judson was likely to have known about ideas of environmental appreciation and the desire to revert back to the simple, natural life.

Between 1901 and 1907, Roosevelt reserved land from 50 million acres to 150 million acres in national forests (Rothman 52), which shows a desire to keep land away from industrial takeover. It is evident that there was a social criticism on the increasing technology. Through this, a flower fairies book entirely on the beauty and splendor of nature is more than just that. It represents an encouragement to young children and adults to love the environment around them, just as the fairies do.

Child-like fairies admire the golden flowers


Judson’s Representation of 20th Century Society through Fairies

The late 19th century encouraged the popularity of these magical creatures: fairies. In Flower Fairies,readers are given an idea of a fairy’s daily life, and what it would entail. The text explains how big fairies go to work and little fairies go to school. When they were done, they would go out and play till sundown (Judson 6). The fairies’ daily lives represent the ideal life in the early 20th century society. By romanticizing these fairies as innocent, childlike creatures surrounded by nature, it provides young readers pleasure and protects them from the harsh reality.

The fairies in the book are human in appearance. However, they are significantly smaller and have wings on their back. As well, the fairies value their appearance. One story in the book, “White Violet,” describes a fairy maid who always wore her finest jewels and clothes. A picture is included, with the fairy gazing in the water. The caption says, “they all dressed to look their best” (Judson 16-17). In most of the images, female fairies all wore long flowing dresses. The aesthetic dress was a popular style of dress during the late 19th century and carried well unto the early 20th century. The dress was made of natural materials, consisting of puffed shoulders and long flowing skirts. During this time, “rational and aesthetic dress reformers, long associated with socialism and bohemianism, promoted the “natural” body with only mixed success” (Maltz 398). The use of natural materials and clothing reflects the environmental ideologies through fashion. Fairies all wear different parts of natural materials from their environment upon their head. The fairies’ connection with nature shows the importance of caring for our environment, especially when World War I was destroying the earth through modern technology.

In Flower Fairies, the Fairy Queen governs the fairies. She is a character depicted as beautiful, kind, and wise. All of the fairies hold a great respect towards the queen. For example, when the Fairy Queen summoned all the fairies for a party, they all made sure to dress their best to impress her. In the story “Fairy Names,” the Fairy Queen’s duty is to name all the fairies in order to distinguish them from one another. As she gathered all the fairies in her kingdom to name them she fell asleep. The fairies did not dare wake her up in fear of displeasing her. The connection between the Fairy Queen and nature may reflect environmental ideologies. During the naming ceremony, the Fairy Queen decided all fairies would be named after whatever is on their brow; a twig or leaf. This demonstrates how the Fairy Queen’s integration of nature in the book reflects 20th century environmental ideologies. Furthermore, Susina observes how fairies during the nineteenth century were depicted as governess with wings. Thus, it can be argued that Judson’s Flower Fairies is a fairy tale for children not only to entertain them, but to teach morals to keep them away from the dangers of society, and enjoy nature.

The other aspects demonstrated throughout Flower Fairies are different ages, genders, and ethnicity groups. The book shows different ethnicities supported by Judson’s images. In the book, there is an image of two fairies sleeping. One fairy is a Caucasian fairy with red hair; the other could be a Japanese fairy. In contrast to the other fairy, she has dark hair styled in a Japanese bun and she’s wearing what looks to be a kimono. The illustrator, Maginel Wright Enright, was greatly influenced by Japanese prints, so perhaps she added a Japanese fairy in the book to reflect her interest. As well, there are various age groups and genders. Fairies are represented as adults and children. Although there are children and adults there are no male adult fairies. Judson’s Flower Fairies was published around World War I, where there was a great absence of men due to war. Then, “women began flocking factories, and working in industries in order to support their families while their male relatives were away at war” (Sandman). Judson reflects early 20th century American society. In order to protect children’s harsh reality and absence of male family members, Judson uses nature and beauty.

Enright’s inspiration from Japanese prints

Relations Between Fairies and Nature

The book shows the relationship between fairies and nature. Nature is very important to the fairies’ daily lives. Fairies use flowers as a source of shelter, food, and tools. The front cover has fairies utilizing flowers as trumpets. Also, flowers are used as a bed for the fairies and, “just as the sunrise broke, the flowers would unfold its petals ever so little to wake up the fairy” (Judson 5). The little fairies symbolize children and the need to connect to nature. “There is a large body of literature indicating substantial benefits for health and wellbeing are to be derived from contact with nature and exposure to natural environments generally” (Maller 522). The little fairies symbolize children and the need to connect to nature especially during a stressful time when WWI was happening, Judson uses nature to entice young readers. In the story “fire”, it describes when fairies discovered fire for the first time, and went to the Fairy Queen to tell her their discovery. To show her how the fire looked, they painted flowers the colours of flames. So when you see red geraniums it is to remind people the strength of flames and when roses are crimson it makes people remember the warmth of flames. Overall, all these stories have etiological purposes to explain flowers to the children. Thus, providing stories for the children about the flowers brings children closer to nature, and highlights the environmentalism of the time.

The fairy connection with nature


With influences from Britain’s Victorian era in Judson’s work, the fairies represent both a spiritual creature and the figure of the American child. This means the child is both characterized in the book and are the main readers, ensuring that the readers identify with the fairies. When they read Flower Fairies, a positive attitude towards nature emerges. Generally, the book is made to appeal to children, which furthers the idea that society, especially at a young age, should enjoy and respect nature. In an era of modern technology destroying the earth through warfare, Flower Fairies opposes this idea. The book ultimately gives forth a representation of beauty, presented by the fairies and flowers and through illustration and text. Judson and Enright created a children’s book that was one of the first in the United States to use the flower fairies motif. It was not until a decade afterward that flower fairies, with the artwork and literature surrounding them, started to become popular worldwide. Judson’s work was not just at the forefront of American fairy literature, but gave forth an idealized and utopian perspective of nature. Yet, can this not be said for all children’s books? Judson encourages her readers to help strive for a better world, and be kind to all, no matter if flora or friend.


Works Cited

Black, Brian. Nature and the Environment in 20th-Century American Life. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2006. Print.

Briggs, Katherine M. An Encyclopedia of Fairies: Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures. New York: Pantheon Books, 1976. Print.

Duffy, Maureen. The Erotic World of Faery. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1972. Print

“Frolicking with the Flower Fairies.” The Daily Telegraph2. ProQuest Newsstand (Canada). 16 Jul. 2011. Web. 24 Nov. 2011.

Judson, Clara Ingram. Flower Fairies. Illus. Maginel Wright Enright. New York: Rand McNally and Company, 1915. Print.

Maller, Cecily Jane. “Promoting children’s mental, emotional, and social health through contact with nature: a model.” Health Education 109.6 (2009): 522-543. Web. 22 Nov. 2011.

Maltz, Diana. “Dress Culture.”  English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920 54.3 (2011): 396. Print.

May, Maggie. “Maggie May’s Historic Clothing: Period Attire for Ladies and their Children.” Maggie May Fashions. Maggie May’s Historical Clothing, 2000. Web. 22 Nov. 2011.

Pemberton, Marilyn. “Enchanted Ideologies: A Collection of Rediscovered Nineteenth-Century Moral Fairy Tales”. Reviewed by: Jan Susina. Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 36.3 (2010): 346-348. Web. 17 Oct. 2011.

Rothman, Hal K. Saving the Planet: The American Response to the Environment in the Twentieth Century. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000. Print

Sandman, Catlin. World War 1. Jarred Joly Tripod, 2006. Web. 22 Nov. 2011.

Susina, Jan. “Dealing with Victorian Fairies.” Children’s Literature 28.00928208 (2000): 230-7. ProQuest Research Library. Web. 24 Nov. 2011.

From “Donkey Skin” to Princess Kin: Representation of the Fairy Godmother

© Copyright 2011, Andrew Held and Myles Berdock.

Perrault, Charles, “Donkey Skin.” Andrew Lang, ed. The Grey Fairy Book. Ill Ford, H.J. New York: Dover Publications, 1967. 1-15. Print.

Donkey Skinis one of the many pieces of children’s fantasy by Charles Perrault, a talented French author who had a different view on life than most. He spent much of his time studying and writing different types of literature, but it wasn’t until he retired from public life that he began writing children’s fantasy. The tale “Donkey Skin” describes a king who wishes to marry his step-daughter. Disinterested, she turns to a fairy godmother to help her escape. The godmother makes the princess look like a peasant with the skin of the king’s former pet donkey (hence the title). When she removes the skin one day, a prince sees her and is love-struck. The prince finds a ring in a cake and decides he will marry the girl whose finger it fits. The princess’s finger is a perfect fit, and the two get married and live happily ever after.

This is the first story that appears in The Grey Fairy Book, a compilation of tales edited by Andrew Lang in the early 20th century. Henry Justice Ford does all the illustrations for “Donkey Skin.” The pair has quite the history together, working on a dozen fairy books with a different colour on the cover and in the title. Throughout this exhibit, we will be looking at the importance of the fairy godmother’s role in the story, split into two sections: category and context. A common themewill be the fairy’s mother-like characteristics, helping the princess when she is in trouble. The fairy’s actions will be examined in relation to her role as caregiver and refuge.

The Use of Fairies in Donkey Skin

The fairy godmother’s role is of great significance in the tale, guiding and shaping the princess’s life. After the king demands her hand in marriage, the princess turns to her fairy godmother. After the fairy is unable to prevent it outright, she assists in the princess’s escape. The big turning point of the story, the wearing of the donkey skin, is by her advice. She also provides the princess with a magic chest containing her most precious dresses. As a result of the supernatural gift, a prince discovers the princess’s true beauty. Eventually both of them are able to live happily together. Although the fairy godmother is no longer seen or mentioned in the rest of the story, her actions result in the princess finding her true love, while also allowing the king to find his true love with a different woman.

The Importance of Fairies

The use of fairies to overcome personal trials is common. A famous example is “Cinderella.” The fairy godmother uses her magic so Cinderella can go to the ball, and thanks to her assistance the heroine ends up finding her prince. There are many similarities between the two tales, but when it comes to the fairy godmothers’ respective roles they are nearly identical: both protagonists are faced with an issue regarding their step-parent, and the fairy godmother appears to provide a solution. While this method of problem solving is creative for storytelling purposes, it also creates controversy among readers. It is argued that magic and other fantastical means for characters to overcome their dilemmas will complicate a reader’s ability to distinguish reality from fantasy. Contrary to that belief, there are psychologists, such as Bruno Bettelheim, who argue that people reading fairy tales can have a better understanding of problems people face than they could by reading other forms of literature (Hallett and Karasek, 312).

A fairy’s intervention in times of crisis benefits the character’s development in the story. The fairy is able to provide people alternatives to dealing with their problems, like the unwanted marriage in “Donkey Skin.” The importance of the fairy godmother’s role is emphasized by her representation as a maternal figure that comes to save the princess. Her biological mother is never mentioned in the story. In the absence of a real mother to guide the princess, the fairy godmother acts a maternal substitute. The fairy godmother is seen as a magical being that transforms her physically and emotionally. When the princess needs comfort, the fairy godmother comes to her aid, offering wisdom and a solution. In contrast to “Cinderella,” the plan causes the princess to lose her beauty as a way to save her. This intervention allows the princess to overcome her belief that she cannot be saved by presenting an opportunity to escape her unwanted reality. The decision to make the princess’s protector a female, especially one that has mother-like qualities, is not arbitrary. It stems from an ancient belief that if a female wishes to assert her independence from the restraints of paternal authority, she will only be able to do so within the roles of a wife and/or mother (Rowe, 212).

Visual Representation of Fairies in “Donkey Skin

The Fairy Godmother offering aid to the Princess.

This illustration from Donkey Skin in The Grey Fairy Book shows the fairy’s role as savior. She is depicted looking down on the princess while reaching her hand out as a sign of assurance. The princess is kneeling in front of the fairy godmother, with a tearful expression on her face. Here, the fairy is a symbol of relief and unconditional support. This is shown in the fairy godmother’s expression as well, which is both caring and sincere. In addition, a religious element is introduced that shows the fairy godmother as savior. The fairy’s stance (reaching out her hand) and clothing bear a striking resemblance to depictions of the holy mother. To further the idea of superhuman assistance, the image shows the fairy godmother in midair with an aura around her body. This aura could represent the godmother’s divine powers and presents her as a shining beacon of hope. The princess in this image appears as if she is praying to her godmother when she is faced with a problem she cannot escape alone.

The Princess finally reveals herself to the Prince.

The image at the end of the story shows the princess beautiful and happy. It should be noted that, while in the previous image she was kneeling and asking someone for help, now she is in the position of strength. The person kneeling is the prince. This could not have happened if the fairy godmother did not aid her in the first place. The actions of the fairy are what allowed the princess to become a person of both physical and spiritual beauty, clearly depicted in the image to the left.



History of Fairy Godmothers

Fairy godmothers are very common in the folk and fairy tale genre of fiction. But why? When asked to name a story with a fairy godmother in it, most people would say “Cinderella” or perhaps “Sleeping Beauty” because that is how we have been introduced to them. However, the fact is that the archetypal fairy godmother has appeared in religious literature for centuries, (Knapp, 70) dating back to characters such as the Virgin Mary, Innana (Sumerian Queen of Heaven), Demeter (Persephone’s mother), Kali (Hindu fertility goddess) and Kuan Yin (Chinese deity of compassion).

The reason that fairy tales are common to so many cultures is not simply because they are accessible or taught at a young age, but also because they have characters whom we are meant to relate to. In this exhibit, I’ll discuss the use of fairies in popular culture and how they are designed to be reflections of us in two distinctly different ways. In one way, the fairies act as a surrogate mother figure to characters, reflecting our own deep-seated need for maternal guidance. On the other hand, fairies (as mystical beings) can be given characteristics that we do not possess. In this way, we can project whatever we want onto them. In the case of “Donkey Skin,” it is entirely possible that the fairy is merely a construct of the main characters subconscious.

A Psychological Approach to “Donkey Skin”

In Charles Perrault’s “Donkey Skin,” we see a princess with a serious problem. Her step-father, the king, promises his wife on her deathbed that he will not marry again unless his new wife is smarter, prettier and wiser than she is. After the appropriate mourning period, the king comes to the conclusion that the only woman that meets these high standards is his own step-daughter. While admittedly jarring at first, the theme of incest is not unusual in historical literature: consider Adam and Eve, Osiris and Isis, and of course Oedipus (Knapp 67). As interesting a topic as this is, we will focus elsewhere.

In such cases, whether real or fictitious, the absence of a mother often causes adolescents to search out a supplemental maternal figure. With no intention of marrying her father, the princess seeks guidance from her fairy godmother. In this way, the fairy godmother provides a source of maternal advice and guidance to the young princess. It could be said of all of us that at some point or another we feel lost or directionless. With alienation in society seen as commonplace, the idea of being nurtured by a maternal figure can be greatly comforting.

The Use of Setting in “Donkey Skin”

If we read a little deeper into the story, another layer to the fairy’s characteristics begin to appear. The area that the godmother lives in could be called a grotto or underground cave, decorated with warm soothing colours and smooth surfaces. These features are meant to inspire feelings of comfort in the young girl, acting as a sort of emotional sedative. This soothing effect can be seen as part and parcel with the maternal guidance.

Another interesting sub-textual reference is in Perrault’s use of a grotto. Since prehistoric times, caves and grottos have been symbolic of a womb (Knapp, 70). They are often portrayed as sheltering, and sometimes as a source of spiritual guidance. If we conceive of the grotto as a symbolic womb, then we can interpret the princess entering the womb as a case of regressus ad uterum; that is to say, “to inhabit one’s consciousness where latent energies can be stirred up.”(Knapp, 70). In the case of the princess, this return to a symbol of maternal solace might allow for new ideas on how to deal with her incestuous father. The cave itself is a symbol for personal growth and perspective, allowing the princess to focus on how to deal with the task at hand.

Fairy Godmothers as Alternative Maternal Figures

We often see fairy godmothers as a staple amongst the folk and fairy tale genres. It is easy to see why we find such solace in a mystical being that can give us advice in our most desperate times of need. The idea of a godparent is already prevalent in society as someone who acts as a mentor or confidant. Writers like Perrault and the Grimm Brothers simply added a mystical element to it. A fairy godmother is a strong pillar of order for a downtrodden character to find solace in. In “Donkey Skin” the fairy godmother acts as a conduit to personal growth. Through her advice the princess finds the strength to rise up against her father’s wishes (which was almost unheard of when Perrault was writing). Without the presence of a mystical being offering maternal guidance, she would have been condemned to a life of unhappiness with her step-father. It should not be surprising that when deconstruct the fairy godmother as a character, we see a reflection of what we desire ourselves: the strong hand of a mother figure, guiding us through life’s problems.

Selected Works Cited

“Charles Perrault biography.” A E Television Networks, LLC, n.d. 19                 Nov 2011. <>. Web.

Goldberg, Christine. “The Donkey Skin Folktale Cycle (AT 510B).” Journal of American            Folklore. 110.435 (1997): 28-46. Web. 5 Oct. 2011. <             /541584>. Web.

Hallett, Martin and Barbara Karasek. eds. Folk and Fairy Tales. 4th ed. Canada:                      Broadview Press, 2009. Print.

Knapp, Bettina L. French Fairy Tales: A Jungian Approach. Albany: State University of             New York Press, 2003. Print.

Perrault, Charles. “Cinderella.” The Blue Fairy Book. Ed. Andrew Lang. New York:              Dover Publications, 1965. 64-71. Print.

Rowe, Karen E. “Feminism and Fairy Tales.” Don’t Bet on the Prince: Contemporary            Feminist Fairy Tales in North America and England. Ed. Jack Zipes. New York:             Routledge, 1989. 209-226. Print.

Sale, Roger. Fairy Tales and After: From Snow White to E.B. White. Cambridge, Mass.:           Harvard University Press, 1978. Print.