Category Archives: Fairy Tales

The Analysis of Socio-Cultural and Political Perspectives of Childhood Through Cross-Media Adaptations of “Grimm’s Fairy Tales”

© Olivia Moore, Ryerson University

In twenty-first century Western society, there are many examples of children’s literature, in particular picture books, being altered and adapted to become cross-media sensations. As technology continues to develop and children are exposed to more forms of stimuli, picture books and the stories they depict are also evolving to compete within this multimedia market. This analysis will conduct a focused case study on two texts, “Rapunzel” and “Little Red Cap” within “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” in order to gain a more concrete understanding of how picture books transform into cross-media phenomena. It will additionally explore the manner in which this results in making the stories more attractive to young audiences, and how these changes reflect societal perceptions of what is deemed appropriate for young audiences.

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“Grimm’s Fairy Tales”. New York: Mershon Company, 1901, Children’s Literature Archive, Ryerson University, accessed 2017. Public Domain.

Picture Books & Cross-Media Adaptations

Before analyzing the transformations of the Grimm’s tales, it is imperative to first understand why cross-media adaptations are so popular with young audiences and how incorporating aspects of interactivity cause children to be more likely to engage with these stories. Many picture books have become hybrid book-toy (Meibauer 252) merchandise. In her analysis of the evolution of picture books, Meibauer states, “By and large, these books are distinguished by a playful approach to broadening the child’s spatial concept, but they also demand that the beholders pay active attention,” (Meibauer 252). Instead of simply reading a picture book or having a picture book read to them, children are able to gain tactile, auditory and sometimes scented experiences through picture book-toy hybrids. Being exposed to all of these different forms of stimuli help a child to stay interested within the picture book and thus enable them to engage more directly with the story. This concept can also be applied to the adaptation of picture books to film or apps. Through being able to have an improved visual representation of the story and discover more details about their favourite characters, children can better relate more to the story and therefore become more invested. This heightened engagement of the young audience allows for further marketing and advertising. Toys are developed so that children can continue creating stories with their favourite characters and further invest themselves within the original plotlines. Branding ensures that young readers remain familiarized with their favourite stories and characters, in order to continue consuming goods based on stories that have ultimately derived from picture books. It is evident that in such an age of technological advancement and being in a society where information is obtained so instantaneously, children are currently bombarded with different forms of stimuli. In order for picture books to resonate successfully with children in twenty-first century Western society, they must have the ability to offer different types of stimuli in order to stimulate engagement and interest.

The Evolution of “Rapunzel”

Focusing on the story of “Rapunzel” within “Grimm’s Fairy Tales”, it is apparent that the text has been adapted several times using different methods to appeal to both adults and children. It has been retold in the form of picture books such as Debbie Lavreys’s “Rapunzel” published in 2010. The story has been adapted from that of the Brothers Grimm to be more appropriate for young children. In order to be perceived as suitable for a young audience, the more sinister undertones of the original story are muted. In Zipes’s analysis of the adaptation of the Grimm’s tales he states, “The tendency of most Grimm picture books and small collections for children is to infantilize the texts and to

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“Tangled”, International Movie Database, 2010. Public Domain.

provide illustrations that downplay sensitive but significant social issues,” (Zipes 57). This demonstrates twenty-first century Western society’s perspective towards children as altering these texts demonstrates that they are considered too sensitive and vulnerable to be educated on critical social issues. The most recent adaptation of “Rapunzel” is Disney’s film “Tangled”, released in 2010. Although “Tangled” loosely follows the plot of “Rapunzel”, many important plot points from the original story are dismissed. In this version of the tale, Rapunzel serves as a rambunctious female heroine, thus reflecting changing societal ideologies concerning female independence and empowerment.

Adaptations of “Little Red Cap”

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“Science on the trail of The Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood.” Durham University, November 2013. Public Domain.

The second text, “Little Red Cap”, after further research, seems to be an adaptation of another story altogether. “Little Red Cap” is thought to be an adaptation of “The Wolf and The Kids”, which was published around 1st century AD (“Science on…”). However, the Brothers Grimm also wrote a tale titled “The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids”. This demonstrates how many times the story of “Little Red Cap”, now more commonly known as “Little Red Riding Hood” has been altered over time to appeal to society depending on the adaptation’s time of publication. The story was adapted to children’s film in Disney’s short film “Little Red Riding Hood”, released in 1922. The latest film rendition of “Into The Woods”, released in 2014, is the most recent adaptation of the classic tale. “Into The Woods” exhibits an inquisitive and autonomous Red Riding Hood character, similar to the adaptation of Rapunzel’s character, thus further appealing to societal perceptions that value female independence and expression. As a result of the transcendence of “Little Red Cap” through time and generations, a plethora of merchandise has been created based on “Little Red Riding Hood”. T-shirts, mugs, and even hand-crafted jewelry have extended the story beyond its plot in literature and film. Different forms of media enable a child to navigate different forms of media outside that of literature (Meibauer 261).  As a result, children may be exposed to the plot of certain stories through the acquisition of associated products as opposed to the story itself.

“Grimm’s Fairy Tales” and Childhood in the 21st Century

Through analyzing these two texts belonging to the “Grimm’s Fairy Tales”, it becomes evident that children’s stories are adapted to conform to societal views pertaining to what is deemed as appropriate for young audiences. These stories are then transformed into cross-media sensations as children are able to experience the story through different forms of media. Therefore, having more opportunities to form connections to the stories and thus becoming more likely to invest in merchandise affiliated with the plots and characters. This analysis illustrates the manner in which picture books and children’s literature must adapt to compete with new technology and integrate themselves within the new technological and commercial world in order to appeal to younger audiences. However, this also ensures that these classic tales continue to be passed from generation to generation despite the alterations that have been made to adapt them.

Works Cited

“Grimm’s Fairy Tales.” New York: The Mershon Company, 1901, Children’s Literature Archive, accessed 2017.

Kümmerling-Meibauer, Bettina. “From baby books to picturebooks for adults: European picturebooks in the new millennium”. Word & Image, vol. 33, no. 3, Taylor & Francis, 2015, 249-261.

“Science on the trail of The Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood.” Durham University, November 2013.

“Tangled”, International Movie Database, 2010. Public Domain.

Zipes, Jack. “Two Hundred Years After Once Upon A Time: The Legacy of the Brothers Grimm and Their Tales in Germany.” Marvels & Tales, vol. 28, no. 1, 2014, pp. 54-74.

Romanticizing the War Through the Imaginative Space of Fairy Tales

© Copyright 2014 Lauren Matera, Ryerson University

Fig 1. Front Cover from Arthur Rackham in The Allies’ Fairy Book (London: Heinemann; Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1916; print; cover).
Fig. 1. Arthur Rackham. Front Cover for The Allies’ Fairy Book.

Introduction to The Allies’ Fairy Book

Heroism, bravery, violence, romance, villainy and a love of the land are just some of the important themes found in fairy tales. These themes can also be seen in discourses surrounding the Great War. More specifically, such fairy tale motifs are integrated with the historical context of the Great War in The Allies’ Fairy Book (Fig. 1), a compilation of fairy tales published in 1916 by William Heinemann and J.B. Lippincott, and illustrated by Arthur Rackham. Heinemann was a man in favour of the war effort, and J. Lippincott was a children’s publisher and author himself, which gives insight into their interest in this project (St. John 157; Kokkola). An edition of this text was also circulated in Toronto in 1916 by S. B. Gundy (“The Allies’ Fairy”). The Heinemann and Lippincott edition is housed today in the Children’s Literature Archive at Ryerson University.

Often, the influence of the Great War on both women and children is underestimated. However, children experienced loss of loved ones and were proven to be very much aware of and involved in the war (Gillis and Short). This exhibit will explore the imaginative space of the fairy tale as ideal for selling the themes of war to children. Although not explicitly, these particular fairy tales are resurrected from existing repertoires and employed as propagandistic tools to familiarize children with wartime ideologies such as violence. These tales of fantasy also serve as a form of reassurance for children of the Great War that eventual safety, security and a “happily ever after” are guaranteed.


Fig. 2. Frontispiece from Arthur Rackham in The Allies’ Fairy Book (London: Heinemann; Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1916; print; facing 68).
Fig. 2. Arthur Rackham. “At the dead time of the night in came the Welsh Giant.” Illustration for “Frontispiece” of The Allies’ Fairy Book.

The Allies’ Fairy Book is a collection of thirteen fairy tales from eleven Allied nations of 1916. English, Welsh, Scotch, Irish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Serbian and Belgian countries each are represented by one tale, as well as three shorter Japanese tales. The introduction by Edmund Gosse claims that although these stories have been connected with the folk lore of many nations at different points in time, the form of each story chosen for this particular publication is characteristic of the country with which they are associated in the fairy book (Gosse ix). Although each collected tale is different, many of them share common themes and classic fairy tale tropes including the brave hero, the three part quest structure, the villain and the “happily ever after” ending.

Throughout the book are eleven full page colour illustrations and a frontispiece (fig. 2) depicting scenes from the fairy tales, as well as smaller monotone illustrations all created by Arthur Rackham. Rackham was one of the foremost illustrators of his time and with the onset of war, he was involved in numerous publications of a patriotic nature, like The Allies’ Fairy Book (Hudson 104).

Selling the War: Fairy Tales as a Tool of Wartime Propaganda

Often, literature is contextual in nature and may be used in different ways depending on socio-historical factors. Denise Escarpit as cited by Zipes, notes that, “According to how a tale was cloaked, it could assume very diverse forms that were functions of social and cultural imperatives” (Zipes 9). Although the fairy tales collected in The Allies’ Fairy Book are not written specifically for the purposes of wartime propaganda, popular children’s literature forms, like fairy tales or picture books, become invested with new meanings because of the surrounding context of war (Johnson 60). As the preface to The Allies’ Fairy Book states, “It is when the hearts of country folk are hushed and silent that the mysterious voices of goblins are heard calling…” (Gosse xii). Well known stories are therefore brought back in unstable times to serve a new, political purpose.

Fig. 3. Arthur Rackham. "And thereupon King Lludd went after him and spoke unto him thus: 'Stop, stop,' said he." Illustration for Lludd and Llevelys in The Allies' Fairy Book. Facing p. 32.
Fig. 3. Arthur Rackham. “And thereupon King Lludd went after him and spoke unto him thus: ‘Stop, stop,’ said he.” Illustration for “Lludd and Llevelys” in The Allies’ Fairy Book. Facing p. 32.

Wartime propaganda began in 1914 as an emphasis on values such as patriotism and duty (Simmonds 227). These meanings are latent in fairy tales and can be drawn out only by looking at the themes of these pre-established tales and matching them with similar wartime ideologies. For example, the themes of patriotism and allied interdependence are found in the Welsh tale, “Llud and Llevelys” (Fig. 3.) In this story, one brother rules over France, and one over Britain.  When three plagues fall on Britain, the two brothers come together to free the land of the plagues and live in peaceful prosperity from then on. Although the allied connection was non-existent prior to 1914 when this tale was originally created, the contemporary child of the Great War may imbue the text with this meaning of international camaraderie between allied countries due to the historical moment they are living in.

The child was expected to carry on as normal during the Great War on the home front, and these fairy tales provided a means of coming to understand and accept the effects of war (Gillis and Short). Thus children, presented early on with ideals of patriotism and nationalism, become familiar enough with war to stand in good faith if ever called to support their state (Johnson 65).

Binding the Allied Nations Through a “National Literature”

One propagandistic aspect of this book is in the title of the work itself. Naming the collection The Allies’ Fairy Book carries with it the suggestion of commonalities among the allied countries of 1916. The familiar “once upon a time” narrative is one that is native to the fairy tale genre in general, despite the individual national characteristics of different tales (“Once Upon” 47-48). The idea that a book of fairy tales has been created specifically for citizens of allied countries evokes a common heritage in their folklore. This is affirmed in the introduction by Gosse which notes that “We have not forgotten the almost universal distribution of fairy-tales, and the uniformity with which a certain tradition reappears in the legends of one country after another” (Gosse xii). The children who read this book could understand their own individual nation in relation with the other allied countries mentioned, and could imagine where they fit in on an international level.

The Brave Fairy Tale Hero and the Glorification of Violence

One of the main audiences for the text at the time of its production was young children as it was historically advertised as a beautiful Christmas book for children and was targeted to children in newspapers right through to 1918, the final year of the Great War (“Books for Children” 16). Ideals of the war could therefore be sold to children latently through these fairy tales.

Fairy tales are invested with new meanings due to the context of war, and thus the glorification of violence can be transferred from the pages of The Allies’ Fairy Book, to the real experiences of the child living through political and social upheaval. Cesarino valiantly slays the dragon and is met with celebration in “Cesarino and the Dragon” and the king’s son is thanked heartily for helping a raven defeat and behead a snake in a great battle between animals in “Battle of the Birds ” (Gosse). The Allies’ Fairy Book does not shy away from violence and in fact, celebrates the brave hero committing the violent acts. The question then becomes, how does this impact child readers living through the Great War?

Fig 3. He Tumbled into the pit and Made the Very Foundations of the mount to Shake from Arthur Rackham in The Allies’ Fairy Book (London: Heinemann; Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1916; print; 3).
Fig. 4. Arthur Rackham. “He Tumbled into the pit and made the very foundations of the mount to shake.” Illustration for “Jack the Giant Killer” in The Allies Fairy Book. p. 3.

On the one hand, the child is fascinated not by the upward social mobility in fairy tales, but by the overcoming of dangers and the following praise that comes of it (“Fairy-Tale Hero” 318). Certain aspects of war, such as new technologies, which served as a means of violence and a source of fear for adults, actually emerged as a source of interest and excitement in written work by children during the Great War years (Gillis and Short). Many people viewed the war as a noble crusade and children seem to have adopted similar ideas (Paris 6). With this in mind, the connection between violence and virtuous duty can be drawn out in  “Jack the Giant Killer” as Jack, the young English boy, proudly kills giants in honour of the king of England who rewards Jack’s nobility with a castle and estate (Fig. 4). It would be with pride that a child (especially an English one) read about Jack’s violent victories as a service to his country. The purpose of propaganda was to indoctrinate children into the war (Johnson 59-60). Although the fairy tales do not explicitly elicit children’s support of war, the themes express a valorization of values which are in common with it.

However, there is also more to fairy tales than the external action. As Tatar suggests, there is a question as to whether fairy tales can serve as an antidote to feelings of defenselessness during the period of war (238). To this end, symbolic wish fulfillment or the “liberating potential of the fantastic” as Zipes calls it,  plays a part as well (Tatar 242). In the imaginative space of the fairy tale, children can see their own experiences of danger and trauma located at a distance in the “once upon a time” of the fairy tale and see the potential for safety and security provided by the “happily ever after” (Tatar 242). For example, Little Peachling in the Japanese tale, “The Adventures of Little Peachling,” battles with a band of ogres and takes their king prisoner in order that the conquered ogres will hand over their treasures (Gosse 86). Little Peachling brings his winnings home to his foster parents and they all live in eternal peace. Although the story does not relate directly to the experience of war, the prospect of a peaceful outcome for the brave protagonist following violent battle serves as symbolic reassurance for the child living through a period of total upheaval.

Wartime Values in Rackham’s Illustrations

All editions of The Allies’ Fairy Book are illustrated by popular children’s literature illustrator of the time, Arthur Rackham. It was not unusual for Rackham to sign deals with both American and European publishers in order to increase the printing numbers and thus widen the geographical area of reception (St. John 105). Rackham was an important name to have attached to such a work and his illustrations proved to be a big selling point for buyers at the time. Evidence of this is seen in the fact that a special deluxe edition of only 525 copies was created and signed by Rackham to be sold to collectors (Hudson 169-170). It was common for Rackham to create these special editions on handmade paper, number and sign them and then sell them at a much higher price than trade copies which shows that people were willing to pay for an original and personalized Rackham work (St. John 105). Also, the fact that many historical advertisements have The Allies’ Fairy Book listed under headings such as “This Years’ Rackham” supports the idea that his drawings were indeed a main selling feature (“Heinemann’s” 535). Thus, one of the major targeted audiences for the book was collectors of the illustrator’s work.

Fig. 4. So Valiantly Did they Grapple with Him that they Bore Him to the Ground from Arthur Rackham in The Allies’ Fairy Book (London: Heinemann; Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1916; print; facing 68).
Fig. 5. Arthur Rackham. “So Valiantly Did they Grapple with him that they bore him to the ground.” Illustration for “Cesarino and the Dragon” in The Allies’ Fairy Book. Facing p. 68.

The illustrations in this work serve to reinforce the romanticization of fear and violence, which are both wartime themes. Perhaps the best example of this is the image from “Cesarino and the Dragon” (Fig. 5) where Cesarino stands bravely in front of the king’s daughter, armed with a knife and ready to defeat the monstrous dragon. Cockrell describes Rackham’s drawings as beautiful yet sinister which is apparent in this image which uses light colours to depict a darker scene of violence (313). The violent act is also set up as one of heroism by having the frightened looking woman taking cover behind Cesarino, the hero who can be likened to a soldier of the Great War with his armor and weapon. The protective paper for the image has a quote which states “so valiantly did they grapple with him that they bore him to the ground and slew him” (Gosse, facing 68). The word “valiant” depicts the way that the images expose children to the themes of heroism and excitement which many imagined the war would include (Wilcox). However, the image does little to reflect the actual grim and monotonous life of soldiers in the Great War (Wilcox). Thus, the illustrations highlight specific romantic or chivalric aspects of violence in order to foster a more positive perception of violence in general which can then be transferred to the surrounding context of war.

Link to CLA catalogue entry for The Allies’ Fairy Book 


Works Cited

Books for Children. Advertisement. The Globe (1844-1936) 23 Dec. 1918: 16. ProQuest. Web. 20 Feb.

Gillis, Stacy, and Emma Short. “Children’s Experiences of World War One.” The British Library. British Library, n.d. Web. 9 Feb. 2014.

Gosse, Edmund, comp and intro. The Allies’ Fairy Book. 1st ed. Illus. Arthur Rackham. London: William Heinemann; Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1916. Print. Children’s Literature Archive, Ryerson University.

Heinemann’s New and Forthcoming Books. Advertisement. The Spectator 4 Nov. 1916: 535. ProQuest. Web. 20 Feb. 2014.

Hudson, Derek. Arthur Rackham: His Life and Work. Illus. Arthur Rackham. London: Heinemann, 1974, 1960. Print.

Johnson, Eric. J. “Under Ideological Fire: Illustrated Wartime Propaganda for Children.” Under Fire: Childhood in the Shadow of War. Eds. Goodenough, Elizabeth and Andrea Immel. Detroit: Wayne State U pub., 2008. 59-76. Print.

Luthi, Max. Once Upon a Time: On the Nature of Fairy Tales. Trans. Lee Chadeayne and Paul Gottwald. Bloomington, Ind: Indiana U Press, 1970. Print. 

—. “ The Fairy-Tale Hero: The Image of Man in the Fairy Tale.” Folk & Fairy Tales. Ed. Martin Hallett and Barbara Karasek. 4th ed. Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview Press, 2009. 315-323. Print.

Kokkola, Lydia. “Joseph Wharton Lippincott.” Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature. Ed. Jack Zipes. Oxford Reference, 2006. Web. 10 Mar. 2014

Paris, Michael. Over the Top: The Great War and Juvenile Literature in Britain. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2004. Print.

Simmonds, Alan G.V. Britain and World War One. Abingdon, Oxon; New York: Routledge, 2012. Print.

St. John, John. William Heinemann: A Century of Publishing, 1890-1990. London: Heinemann, 1990. Print.

Tatar, Maria. “‘Appointed Stories:’ Growing Up with War Stories.” Under Fire: Childhood in the Shadow of War. Eds. Goodenough, Elizabeth and Andrea Immel. Detroit: Wayne State U pub., 2008. 59-76. Print.

“The Allies’ Fairy Book (Book, 1916) [].” N. p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.

Wilcox, Vanda. “Combat and the Soldier’s Experience in World War One.” The British Library. British Library, n.d. Web. 9 Feb. 2014.

Zipes, Jack. Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2006. Print.

The Power of Fairy Tales And Nationalism

© 2014 Mariama French, Ryerson University

English Fairy Tales by Flora Annie Steel, with illustrations by Arthur Rackham

As a rite of passage in childhood, a decrease in the popularity of the fairy tale genre remains to be seen and thus, its prevalence and importance continues. In 1918, only a month before the official end of World War I, British author Flora Annie Steel asserted her belief in the relevance of the genre with publishing of her book English Fairy Tales which was illustrated by Arthur Rackham. This book in the CLA catalogue, was published in London and New York by Macmillan & Co. and contains 41 fairy tales. Considering the fact that the collection was published just before the end of World War I, this exhibit will examine the genre of fairy tales and discuss the impact that the war had on children, in order to situate the book within the context of the war.

The British Contents

The selection of fairy tales by Steel is diverse as the contents and themes of the tales deal with topics such as etiquette, marriage and the coming of age. In terms of characters, the tales are just as diverse with heroes, heroines and otherworldly figures featuring prominently. The fairy tales present in Steel’s book include “Jack and the Beanstalk”, “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Mr. Fox”; stories that one could say are still synonymous with the genre even today. What is significant to this collection is the fact that these are not any version of the tales but rather (and specifically) the British version. This is not only reflected in the title of the collection itself but is also asserted from the beginning of its contents with the first tale, “St. George of Merrie England”. The story is about English knight who travels across Egypt, Persia and Morocco performing heroic deeds as one of the Six Champions of Christendom.

“St. George of Merrie England” In Text Illustration by Arthur Rackham

The Six Champions includes knights from France, Spain, Italy and Wales; countries that also banded together in the War to fight against Germany (“Allies”). Tales such as “Tom-Tit-Tot” and “Dick Whittington and His Cat” are included in this collection as they are the Suffolk version of Rumpelstiltskin and a tale of English lore respectively. (Simpson 298; Schacker 726) An important source of the book’s contents was that of Joseph Jacobs’ own collection English Fairy Tales and More English Fairy Tales (published in 1890 and 1894 respectively), evidenced by the fact that 39 of the tales in Steel’s book are also found in those of Jacobs’. (Mistele 155) The tales in Jacobs’ books were taken from both written and oral sources. (Mistele 188) What differentiates Steel’s collection from Jacobs’, is the fact that Steel employed the use of editing in order to add small alterations to her versions of the tales (Mistele 219); hence the “Retold by” feature that is displayed on the book’s title page. The fact that the collection, however, was published with the purpose of having British tales only prior to the end of the war, hints at a theme of nationalism within the book.

Production History and Reception

As indicated by numerous advertisements of the time, including one in London’s The Saturday Review, the main appeal for buyers of the collection was the illustrations drawn by Arthur Rackham. In fact, Macmillan & Co. relied so much on the popularity of Rackham that the initial pressing of the book was done in two editions: an Ordinary Edition and an Edition de Luxe which was not only limited to 500 numbered copies but was also signed by Rackham himself (“Advertisement”; Hudson 170). A copy of the limited edition, which initially sold for £2 12s 6d (“Advertisement”), is currently selling for just over $4,000 in Toronto on the website AbeBooks; making it a collector’s item today. The emphasis on Rackham was not only important to the success of sales, but was also a result of the fact that his drawings are featured heavily throughout the book. In total there are 58

Many’s the beating he had from the broomstick or the ladle. Illustration of “Mr. Fox” by Arthur Rackham

illustrations, 16 of which are full colour plates (with tissue guards) and 42 that are in black and white. The colour plates are particularly interesting as they not only bring the tales to life, but also display the depth of Rackham’s imagination as he depicts their fantastical nature. As per a review in The Bookman, the quality of these illustrations meant that the book was perfect for “all art-loving children”. (“ENGLISH FAIRY TALES”) Another review found that the book would make a great Christmas for an “intelligent child” (“OLD FRIENDS”). The overall reception seemed to be positive, with The Bookman review stating that Steel’s book was one of the more “fascinating” and “artistically produced” out of all the fairy tale books published around Christmas. (“ENGLISH FAIRY TALES”)

A Brief History of The Fairy Tale

The fairy tale genre, as we know it today, had its origins in the oral tradition of storytelling. (Ashliman 2) The only way that these stories could survive is if they were entertaining (Ashliman 50), indicating that people would willingly want to pass them on in order to amuse others. Given the fact that the genre found its origins in the oral tradition, its history can be traced back to a time in which history itself was not recorded. (Jones 1) Additionally, the early written records of almost every culture indicate their pre-existence. (Jones 1) This early presence of tales in every culture reflects the fact that there are different variations of a particular tale and the fact that one tale may be more or less popular in one community than another. (Jones 28) Historically, the prime audience of fairy tales (in their oral form) were adults. (Zipes, Fairy Tales 3) It was only due to writers such as Sarah Fielding and Mme. Leprince de Beaumont that the tales started to be published for children around the mid 18th century. (Zipes, Why Fairy 99) Even then, the written form of the tales was looked down upon by German scholars who found them to be of their utmost purity in the oral form. (Blamires 71) For these German scholars, the act publishing of their beloved tales also became a point of contention with the publishing of one of the most famous collections of fairy tales for children by the Brothers Grimm. (Blamires 71)

She sate down and plaited herself an overall of rushes and a cap to match. Illustration of “Caporushes” by Arthur Rackham

Fairy tales were told with the purpose of entertaining and educating their audiences. (Zipes, Why Fairy 99) In the 1690s, French writer Charles Perrault and the female writers of the salon wrote their tales with the purpose of not only commenting on the youth of their time, but also to guide them on acceptable social behaviors. (Zipes, Fairy Tales 30) As the tales started to be told to an intended audience of children, their tones shifted to that of the cautionary tale. (Davidson and Chaudhri 6) They were also told to children in environments relative to their society such as the court, classroom and even the nursery. (Zipes, Why Fairy 99) What has made the genre popular back then and even today, is the fact that these tales have a wish fulfillment component; that they show how one can achieve happiness, resolve moral conflict and gain a better life. (Zipes, Why Fairy 152) For children specifically, their benefit is not only entertainment but the fact that fairy tales allow them to better understand who they are (as they relate to the main characters) and to ease their anxieties. (Davidson and Chaudhri 5; Zipes, Fairy Tales 1)

Children, Wartime Nationalism & Propaganda

During the First World War, there was a strong sense of British pride and nationalism which resulted from the propaganda that sought to depict the Germans in a negative manner. (Robb 6) This allowed for the breaking down of social barriers relating to gender and class as the focus for citizens was dedicated less to inner conflict and more to that of their German enemy. (Robb 5) The British saw themselves as being the embodiment of values such as peace and democracy, unlike that of their German foe. (Robb 6) As the propaganda against Germany filtered in through newspapers and film (Robb 6), British society sought to invoke nationalism in its young through toys and literature that were war related. (Robb 160) Stories of patriotism were geared to young boys through periodicals such as The Boy’s Own Paper, which featured stories about military training and pictures of military equipment. (Robb 177)

Mr. and Mrs. Vinegar at home. Frontispiece illustration of “Mr. and Mrs. Vinegar” by Arthur Rackham

These periodicals also hoped to instill national pride in their young male readers by having their magazine covers feature boys standing in front of the British flag (Robb 177); boys that their readers could probably relate to and look up to. There were also numerous novel series set during the war that were being published at the time. (Robb 177) These series probably allowed young boys to gain a better understanding of the events of the war and perhaps, served as a source of fantasy for them. British girls were targeted to by periodicals such as Girl Guides’ Gazette which taught them how to “endure the war’s sorrows silently” and to can food and knit socks in order to support their country. (Robb 178) Such content reflected the social codes/expectations of women at the time; especially given their contrast to the content of the boys’ periodicals.  As women’s independence gained more traction during the progression of the war, however, book series which featured characters going on adventures targeted specifically to girls, started to appear. (Robb 178)

“Odds splutter hur nails!” cried the giant, not to be outdone. “Hur can do that hurself.” Illustration of “Jack The Giant Killer” by Arthur Rackham

Outside of literature, children also had a more direct involvement in the war. They were responsible for collecting the leftover fats from cooking in order to aid in the production of scrap metal and explosives for factories which produced war ammunitions. (Robb 174-75) Not only did they use their allowances to buy war bonds, they also had their own gardens which helped with the national production of food. (Robb 175) At school, they also had drills that were military style and had to endure newly established programs such as calisthenics. (Robb 175) The level of British children’s involvement in the war was so vigorous that H.A.L. Fisher, who was the Education Minister at the time, later confessed to the fact that 600,000 children were “‘prematurely’” used for work in the war from 1914 to 1917. (Robb 175)

Steel’s Book In The Context of War

Title Page of English Fairy Tales

Keeping in mind one of the functions of fairy tales as being that of education, in conjunction with the propaganda through literature that was prominent during the war, it is possible to view Steel’s book as a continuation of the nationalistic theme during the war. With its publishing, the book perhaps acts as a tool for children to be proud of their country through its literary history. On the other hand, given the entertainment value that fairy tales have and the nature of children’s involvement during the war (and even that of the war itself), it is possible to place Steel’s book in the position as that of a tool of escapism for children; one that allows them to escape from the harsh realities they have come to know throughout the war years and into that of the imagination. No matter which view is the most plausible or was intended, there is no denying the fact that Steel’s book was meant to be a celebration of the contribution that England made in the development of the fairy tale genre.

English Fairy Tales by Flora Annie Steel is available to read online (with Arthur Rackham’s illustrations) and download at Project Gutenberg.

Works Cited

“Advertisement.” Saturday review of politics, literature, science and art. 126.3291 (1918):1097. ProQuest. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.

“Advertisement.” The Spectator. Nov 30 1918: 635. ProQuest. Web. 27 Feb. 2014. Ashliman, D.L. Folk And Fairy Tales: A Handbook. Wesport, C.T. : Greenwood Press, 2004. Print.

“Allies.” Oxford Reference. Philip’s, 2004. Web. 00 Mar. 2014.

Blamires, David. “A Workshop of Editorial Practice: The Grimms’ Kinder-und Hausmärchen.” A Companion To The Fairy Tale. Eds. Hilda E. Davidson and Anna Chaudhri. Woodbridge: Boyder & Brewell, 2006. 71-84. Print.

Davidson, Hilda E., and Anna Chaudhri, eds. A Companion To The Fairy Tale. 2003. Woodbridge: Boyder & Brewell, 2006. Print.

“ENGLISH FAIRY TALES.” The Bookman. 55.327 (1918): 107. ProQuest. Web. 20 Feb. 2014.

Hudson, Derek. Arthur Rackham: His Life And Work. 1960. London: Heinemann, 1974. Print.

Jones, Steven S. The Fairy Tale: The Magic Mirror Of Imagination. 1st ed. New York: Routledge, 2002. Print.

Mistele, Linda Mae Heddle. “In My Father’s House are Many Rooms: A Study of Father-Daughter Relations in French and English Fairy Tales.” Order No. 9404737 The University of Wisconsin – Madison, 1993. Ann Arbor: ProQuest. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.

Nicolson, Juliet. The Great Silence, 1918-1920: Living In The Shadow Of The Great War. London: John Murray, 2009. Print.

“OLD FRIENDS.” Saturday review of politics, literature, science and art 126.3294 (1918): 1160. ProQuest. Web. 20 Feb. 2014.

Robb, George. British Culture And The First World War. New York: Palgrave, 2002. Print. Schacker, Jennifer.

“Pantomime”. The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Folktale and Fairy Tales. Ed. Donald Haase. Vol. 2. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2008. Print.

Simpson, Jacqueline. “English Tales”. The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Folktale and Fairy Tales. Ed. Donald Haase. Vol. 1. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2008. Print.

Steel, Flora Annie Webster. English Fairy Tales. Illustrated by Arthur Rackham. New York: Macmillan & Co., 1918. Print.

Zipes, Jack. Fairy Tales And The Art Of Subversion: The Classical Genre For Children And The Process Of Civilization. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2006. Print.

—. Why Fairy Tales Stick: The Evolution And Relevance Of A Genre. New York: Routledge, 2006. Print.

Fairy Tales and War through Cyrus Macmillan’s Canadian Wonder Tales

© Copyright 2014 Micheal Vipond, Ryerson University


Front Cover: Canadian Wonder Tales (1918)

F airy tales play a crucial role in childhood. They represent imagination and creativity while allowing children to have a safe way to experience and process mature content, such as poverty, violence, and death. Often, fairy tales act as the first form of exposure children have to other cultures, to morals and values and to the concept of death itself. This sentiment is reflected through Canadian Wonder Tales, published in 1918 by Cyrus Macmillan, which is a collection of Canadian fairy tales and stories located in the Children’s Literature Archive at Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario.

First published in 1918 by the John Lane Company, Canadian Wonder Tales was largely written and edited while Macmillan was fighting in France during WWI. Macmillan, as a member of the 7th Siege Battery in France, played a crucial role in the Canadian victory at Vimy Ridge. Most of his correspondence and editing occurred in between regular military duties while serving in France (Macmillan xii). The collection features illustrations by British artist George Sheringham, who was widely recognized as an influential artist of hist time (“George Sheringham R.D.I. 1937”). The collection was edited and sponsored by Scottish scholar Sir William Peterson, who also contributed the Forward to the book.

The concept of the effect of fairy tales during times of war becomes a critical aspect of childhood development:  fairy tales act as an imaginative escape from the cruel reality of wartime and define foreign cultures in the minds’ of young and impressionable children. During times of heightened hostility amongst different nations and cultures – such as war, fairy tales act as the sole understanding children have of the world around them. These stories mold the perspective children have for their entire lives.


Canadian Wonder Tales is a collection of fairy tales from a Canadian perspective. Macmillan, before he fought in WWI, travelled across Canada hearing stories and tales from fellow travelers, natives, fisherman, sailors, and townsfolk (xii). In similar fashion to how the Grimm brothers collected and wrote their collection of fairy tales a century earlier, Macmillan set out to experience a wide variety of tales that represented Canadian culture (vii). The stories in this collection revolve around the natural wonders of Canada: the fantastic environments of mountains and lakes, the extensive animal life, and the people that inhabit this country.

End Cover Illustration by George Sheringham

Many of the people that told stories to Macmillan brought their tales to Canada after immigrating to the country from foreign lands, specifically Europe. Through this influence, as well as Macmillan’s romanticised European writing style, many of the tales incorporate a European experience or understanding (vii). Combining this European influence with the Aboriginal stories and Canadian landscape, the result is a collection of tales that is uniquely Canadian. These tales focus on the natural wonders of life in Canada and express the multicultural aspects of the country. This collection features 32 various stories including “Glooskap’s Country,” ”The First Mosquito” and “How Summer Came To Canada.” Each story is accompanied by a beautifully drawn illustration from Sheringham in a native style. Sheringham also contributed the native-influenced front and end cover illustrations for a total of 32 pictures.


This collection of stories was largely written and compiled by Macmillan as he fought overseas with many of the stories being written during his time at Vimy Ridge. Canadian Wonder Tales was published in London, New York, and Toronto in 1918. The publishing company – John Lane Company and its subsidiary of The Bodley Head – directed the collection towards children as the target audience (viii). This is evident by their newspaper advertisements in the 1918 Saturday Review newspaper titled “John Lane’s New Books.”

However, this collection of fairy tales is featured directly alongside The Rough Road, which is a fictitious war novel by William J. Locke. The significance of this is that the publishing company recognized a wartime novel and a collection of fairy tales as equals:  they share a similar placing in the advertisement, suggesting they were of relatively equal importance to the company. While it was marketed as a children’s book, the reception of Canadian Wonder Tales demonstrates the crossover between childhood literature and adult literature. This is one significant example highlighting the reduced presence of innocence in childhood as a result of the violence of war.

john lane ad
Saturday Review Advertisement: “John Lane’s New Books” (1918)


Macmillan’s work was highly recognized in Canadian literature, especially in terms of his native stories and content. In a December 1955 review from the Globe and Mail, the author acknowledges another collection written by Macmillan called Glooskap’s Country and Other Indian Tales. This was published more than 30 years after Canadian Wonder Tales, yet features many of the native stories from Macmillan’s original collection. The author of the review recognizes Macmillan as a master craftsman of storytelling (Pratt 16). This demonstrates how Macmillan’s work continued to be relevant in a Canadian and native context for years after Canadian Wonder Tales was published, highlighting both the significance of the work and the importance of the author.

“The Great Eagle Made the Winds for Him” by George Sheringham

Another article from the Globe and Mail in November of 1956 recognizes Macmillan as the winner of the Bronze Book-of-the-Year medal from the Canadian Association of Children’s Librarians for his collection Glookskap’s Country and Other Indian Tales. This further demonstrates how Macmillan’s work in Canadian Wonder Tales continued to be relevant and significant to Canadian literature – especially children’s literature – even after his death in 1953 (“The Fly Leaf” 13).

According to Priscilla Ord and Carole H. Carpenter, Canadian literature is overshadowed by American and British literature. Very little Canadian literature is produced in comparison to these sister countries. However, they argue that the content of these books is uniquely Canadian, separating itself from the likes of American imperialism and British themes, and revealing critical cultural elements of Canada (Ord and Carpenter 3). This idea is reflected in Canadian Wonder Tales, which portrays an exclusively Canadian perspective and has been recognized for such an achievement.

Scholarly Significance:

Both Macmillan and Peterson were respected leaders in the field of education and literature. Macmillan, before going to France, was the Head of the English Department at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, while Peterson was the Principal of the University through wartime. Each man played a significant role in the Canadian war effort.

House of Commons, 1940: Cyrus Macmillan

Peterson led McGill’s contribution to the war, lending his campus and facilities to the training of Canadian troops. He was an avid supporter of volunteer soldiers, sending volunteer students and faculty to Europe in McGill regiments that came to be known as the No. 7 Siege Battery. Macmillan volunteered to fight in France as a member of the 7th Battery, which played a crucial role in the Canadian victory at Vimy Ridge:  both a defining moment in WWI and in Canadian history (Macmillan 261).

Men of Canada: Sir William Peterson

Each man was heavily involved in the Canadian war effort, and each acted as though this collection of tales was of utmost importance to produce during this time. Macmillan spent his shifts off writing and editing the collection, while Peterson spent his spare time editing Macmillan’s work (Macmillan vii). It must be acknowledged that these trusted and respected literary scholars believed in the importance of Canadian Wonder Tales so much that they wrote, edited, and published the book while contributing to the Canadian war effort.

Effect of Fairy Tales on Childhood Development:

According to literary scholars and analysts Marilyn Fleer and Marie Hammer, fairy tales play a key role in the cognitive development of children. They act as cultural devices that allow children to develop tools for emotional regulation (Fleer and Hammer 240). In their analysis, Fleer and Hammer suggest that children incorporate the ideas and concepts of fairy tales and other children’s stories to understand situations in their everyday lives. These situations are emotionally charged, allowing children to experience them and gain an understanding of the imaginative space without feeling threatened (256).

Furthermore, Fleer and Hammer argue that illustrations make the text more engaging for children (250). The detailed illustrations from Sheringham in both black and white and colour contribute to visual stimulation and imagination for children, making the collection more interesting and appealing for younger audiences. These theories of cognitive development directly apply to Canadian Wonder Tales. Both Macmillan and Peterson, as literary scholars, recognized the pedagogical merit of fairy tales and stories – especially during times of violence – and made it their goal for Canadian children to be able to experience these situations and process their emotions in a safe environment.

Fairy Tales and Violence:

During WWI, fairy tales were a safe and simple way for children to understand the perils of violence and death while seeing these evils presented with positive resolution:  the hero is almost exclusively victorious in these stories.

“The Girl Looked Through the Hole, and Saw the Earth Far Beneath Her” by George Sheringham

For example, in “Star-Boy and the Sun Dance,” the young man known as “Star-Boy” is born poor and with an ugly scar on his face which prevents him from marrying the girl he loves. After a long and treacherous journey, the boy meets the Sun and Moon, who promise to remove his scar and guarantee the love of this girl if he has an annual festival in their honour. They boy accepts this deal and they deliver on their promise. The boy marries the girl and lives the rest of his life in happiness (Macmillan 12). This story demonstrates that a child, born into poverty and a victim of violence, can rise from this situation to become happy. This tale is a perfect comparison to children who grew up as victims of poverty and the violence of war, offering hope and happiness and allowing them to cope with the perils of their reality.

Children are able to relate to the characters in these stories and better understand their role in the world through the experiences of these fictional characters (Fleer and Hammer 241). During a time in Canadian culture when the innocence of childhood was sparse, Canadian Wonder Tales was able to reintegrate imagination and creativity into the lives of children, helping them to cope with the mature content of violence and death that surrounded their everyday lives. By reading and understanding the situations in fairy tales, children are able to understand their own circumstances (Feuerverger 234). This learning tool helped mold an entire generation of Canadian children.

Fairy Tales as a Tool for Reflection:

This important role of fairy tales in childhood development is recognized through adulthood. According to researcher Donald Haase, fairy tales act as a point of reference for adults. These stories allow adults to reflect upon how they responded to cultural and societal revelations as children. Specifically, adults acknowledge how they were exposed to specific ideas – such as death, violence, and poverty – through stories (Haase 361). The significance of this is that is demonstrates the impact fairy tales have on children throughout their entire lives.

“That Night When all the Village was Asleep, The Boy Went to the Foot of the Mountain” by George Sheringham

Furthermore, these stories act as the foundation of cognitive development in adults; this understanding is recognized through adulthood (362). This idea supports the strong reception of stories in Canadian Wonder Tales through the 1950’s. Adults in the 1950’s reflect upon literature from their childhood, such as Canadian Wonder Tales, and recognize its significance in their cognitive development. These adults continue to acknowledge the text for its impact on Canadian literary society and its influence on their own lives as children. The strong praise the text and author received decades after its publishing support the concept that fairy tales play a pivotal role in childhood development and the education of society as a whole.


Through analysing the effects of fairy tales on childhood development, it is evident that the imaginative space of the stories in Canadian Wonder Tales contributed to children’s understanding of the violent world around them during the years of WWI. By allowing children to both understand violence and explore the imaginative space of fairy tales in a safe way, this collection of stories acted as an escape for children who were thrust into maturity because of the violent era they experienced. After acknowledging the scholarly virtues of Macmillan and Peterson, as well as their extensive contributions to the war effort overseas, it should be recognized that the production of Canadian Wonder Tales was their contribution to the Canadian war effort at home.

Further Reading:

The Complete Collection – Canadian Wonder Tales by Cyrus Macmillan

Works Cited:

Cooper, John A. Men of Canada. Montreal : Canadian Historical Co., 1901. Internet Archive. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.

Feuerverger, Grace. “Fairy Tales and Other Stories as Spiritual Guides for Children of War: An Auto-Ethnographic Perspective.” International Journal of Children’s Spirituality 15.3 (2010): 233–245. EBSCOhost. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.

Fleer, Marilyn. “Emotions in Imaginative Situations: The Valued Place of Fairytales for Supporting Emotion Regulation.” 20.3 (2013): 240–259. Web. 23 Feb. 2014.

“George Sheringham, R.D.I.” Journal of the Royal Society of Arts 86.4435 (1937): ProQuest. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.

Haase, Donald. “Children, War, and the Imaginative Space of Fairy Tales.” The John Hopkins University Press: The Lion and the Unicorn 24.3 (2000): 360–377. ProQuest. Web. 24 Feb 2014.

“John Lane’s New Books.” The Saturday Review 23 Nov. 1918 : 16–16. ProQuest. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.

Macmillan, Cyrus. Canadian Wonder Tales. Illustrated by George Sheringham. Second Edition. New York: John Lane Company, 1918. Print.

Macmillan, Cyrus. McGill and Its Story, 1821-1921. New York: John Lane Company, 1921. ProQuest. Web. 26 Feb. 2014.

Ord, Priscilla, and Carpenter, Carole Henderson. “Canadian Children’s Literature: A Cultural Mirror.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 2.3 (1977): 3–6. Project MUSE. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.

Pratt, Viola. “Classic Canadian Legends.” The Globe and Mail (1936-Current) 10 Dec. 1955. ProQuest. Web. 23 Feb. 2014.

“The Fly Leaf.” The Globe and Mail (1936-Current) 17 Nov. 1956. ProQuest. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.

“The Honourable Cyrus Macmillan, P.C.” Parliament of Canada. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.


Lessons on Heroicism, Religion, and Manliness in Kingsley’s Retelling of Greek Myths

Inside and Outside Titles
Figure 1: Cover and Title Page

© 2013, Sarah Lane

Kingsley, Charles. The Heroes, or Greek Fairy Tales for My Children. Illus. W. Russell Flint. Plymouth: The Medici Society Ltd., 1912. Print.

The Heroes, or Greek Fairy Tales for My Children by Charles Kingsley was first published in 1855 at Christmas (Alderson 81). The version found at the Children’s Literature Archive was published in 1912, in Great Britain, by the Medici Society who subsequently reprinted it many times throughout the early 20th century. The Medici Society, founded in 1908, originally published works of art for the general public. Eventually, the company began publishing different items including children’s books (“A Short History of Medici”). The nine illustrations featured in this edition of The Heroes are prints of water-colour drawings by W. Russell Flint. Flint, a Scottish born painter, began his work as a medical illustrator and later shifted his focus towards illustrating story books, including this one (“About Sir William Russell Flint”). It is possible that the Medici Society, being interested in publishing artwork, published Kingsley’s The Heroes mainly for the sake of showcasing Flint’s illustrations. Although, arguably, both the illustrations and the text can be considered works of art. Bound with a simple green cover embossed with an image that also appears on its inside title page, this edition of Kingsley’s Heroes is simple in design (see figure 1). Yet, the quality of both Kingsley’s text and Flint’s illustrations make it a beautiful piece of work.

Theseus and the Minotaur
Figure 2: Theseus Slays the Minotaur
[Theseus] caught him by the horns, and forced his head back, and drove his keen sword through his throat
In 1855, when Kingsley wrote The Heroes, England was fighting against the Russians in the Crimean War (“Crimean War”). War is a time when young men, theoretically, go off to fight a common enemy for the benefit of the greater good. This is similar to what the heroes experience in Kingsley’s text. Theseus, for example, ventures out across the country, defeating evil monsters, to reclaim the land for himself and his people (see figure 2). Many of the soldiers who fight in real life wars, as well as the young heroes of the Greek myths, begin their journeys as boys but are matured by their experience and come home as men. Through his reiteration of these Greek myths, Kingsley is showing young boys, for whom the threat of war is very real and the possibility of one day becoming a soldier very likely, that men, particularly warriors, can be heroes. For this reason, it is understandable that Kingsley’s book has continued to be published long after his death. War, unfortunately, plagues the world quite frequently. Whether it be on a grand scale such as the world wars, or on a smaller civil war scale, many young men, and now women, have to do as the Greek heroes did and go out and fight for what they believe is right. In 1912, when this edition of The Heroes was published, England was not at war (though WWI would begin only two years later), but their military was still developing and preparing young soldiers for conflict (“The Army Manoeuvres of 1912”). Therefore, this edition of The Heroes still served a similar purpose as Kingsley’s original version, in that it taught children about heroism and how to be a soldier for the Lord.

Cheiron Prays for the Safety of the Argonauts
Figure 3: Cheiron Prays for the Argonauts
He went up to a cliff, and prayed for them, that they might come home safe and well

It may at first seem surprising that a devout Christian, such as Kingsley (Fasick 106), would choose to write about the Greeks. However, despite the fact that they worshiped different deities, many Christians in Kingsley’s Victorian society were very interested in comparing the similarities between ancient Greek and modern Christian religions (Louis 331). Some of the parallels, such as ideas regarding heaven, hell and sin, make themselves known in The Heroes. These Greek tales gave Kingsley an opportunity to teach his children valuable, religious lessons, while at the same time entertain them with the fantastical elements often found in Greek myths. His children could learn to serve the Lord as the Greeks served their Gods – selflessly and actively. Yet, Kingsley also made sure that his children knew that the Greeks, unlike the Christians, fell from God’s grace. When the Greek heroes pleased their Gods, with prayer and good deeds, the Gods helped them in return (see figure 3). However, when they grew too proud or displeased the Gods, as Theseus did, they were punished. In both 1855 and 1912, when religion was being debated constantly and facing some serious changes, this book and the lessons within it would have been valuable to Christians wanting to instil their own values on their children (“Volume E”; “Volume F”). This text also allowed Kingsley, specifically, to explore his interest in a more unique branch of Christianity.

Christian manliness or, as it was later called, Muscular Christianity, was a branch of Christianity, which Kingsley advocated, that favoured a balance between strength, manliness, and piety (Fasick 106). Kingsley did not like the idea of men being inactive. He wanted them to go out in the world and do God’s work, or do things that would please the Lord (Norman 31). In The Heroes, Perseus, Jason, and Theseus are bold, strong, and courageous, but they are also extremely devout and show a softer side as well. This is the type of man that he wanted his son, and all young boys, to try to become. Through these stories Kingsley was able to give them role models to try to live up to, role models that he shaped into ideal images of Christian manliness.

Beyond the aforementioned reasons, Kingsley’s Heroes has one final appeal that would have been valuable for the books audience in both 1855 and 1912. The Heroes, like many children’s stories, seems as though it is meant to be read aloud and enjoyed by the whole family. Family meant a great deal to Kingsley and that is apparent in this text (Fasick 107). Throughout the stories, he addresses his children; he engages with them. Such a writing style provides a great opportunity for parents to bond with their own children. The limited number of illustrations also allows children and adults alike to use their imaginations to picture the events that occur within the story. Combining stories that are meant to be told, not just read, with minimal illustrations that left much to the imagination, this book would have been a great gift to share with family. In Kingsley’s time, he probably read the book to his children. Whereas, in 1912, when this edition was published, schooling had become compulsory and more and more children were learning how to read on their own (“Volume F: The 20th Century and After”). Yet, despite the fact that the reader, the audience, and the presentation may have changed, at its core, this text remains the same. It remains a beautiful collection of stories that anyone can enjoy.


Works Cited

“A Short History of Medici.” The Medici Society Limited. The Medici Society, n.d. Web. 26 Mar. 2013

“About Sir William Russell Flint.” Sir William Russell Flint Prints. Sir William Russell Flint Prints, 2013.     Web. 26 Mar. 2013.

Alderson, Brian. “Heroic Reading.” Children’s Literature in Education 26.1 (1995): 73-82. Web. 24 Mar. 2013.

“The Army Manoeuvres of 1912.” Cambridge County Council. Cambridgeshire County Council, 12 Mar. 2013. Web. 27 Mar. 2013

“Crimean War.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 27 Mar. 2013

Fasick, Laura. “The Failure of Fatherhood: Maleness and Its Discontents in Charles Kingsley.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 18.3 (1993): 106-111. Web. 24 Mar. 2013.

Louis, Margot. K. “Gods and Mysteries: The Revival of Paganism and the Remaking of Mythography Through the Nineteenth Century.” Victorian Studies 47.3 (2005): 329-361, Web. 26 Mar. 2013.

Norman, Vance. “Kingsley’s Christian Manliness.” Theology 78 (1975): 30-38, Web. 24 Mar. 2013.

“Volume E: The Victorian Age.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Ninth Edition: W. W. Norton StudySpace. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2011. Web. 27 Mar. 2013.

“Volume F: The 20th Century and After.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Ninth Edition: W. W. Norton StudySpace. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2011. Web. 27 Mar. 2013.

view this exhibit on the CLA Omeka site


Mermaids: Exploring Gender Inequality in “Hans, the Mermaid’s Son”

The cover page of The Pink Fairy Book, edited and compiled by Andrew Lang

©Copyright 2011, Katherine Smyk, Mark Moliterni

Andrew Lang, ed. Hans, the Mermaid’s Son. The Pink Fairy Book. Ill. Ford, H. J. New York: Dover, 1967. 112-125. Print.

Andrew Lang as a Patriarchal Storyteller

Andrew Lang’s The Pink Fairy Book, originally published in 1897, was part of a lucrative series of ‘coloured’ fairy tale anthologies.  With 41 stories in this volume alone, Lang covered a vast array of folk and fairy tales over the course of his career. The series was enormously popular and a new book was released each Christmas to much fan fervour (“Andrew Lang”). Lang, who was considered conservative even in his time, championed fairy tales as a storytelling medium mainly for children (“Andrew Lang”). Accordingly, he used his stories to reinforce the patriarchal beliefs of his time, rather than subverting them. H.J. Ford, his long time partner, illustrated the text with sixty-nine classically drawn, black and white images, further emphasizing the book’s conservatism. Tucked away in this version of the Fairy Books is a little known Danish story called “Hans, the Mermaid’s Son” which demonstrates the masculine bias in Lang’s work and its place in the greater historical trend of patriarchal folk and fairy tales. In this story, the mermaid takes a role behind the scenes of the narrative, obscuring her as a subject.

Mark Moliterni will be analyzing the myth of the mermaid by contrasting Lang’s characterization of the mermaid with the characterization of her son. Historically, mermaids have been used in literature and folk tales as a representation of femininity in a condescending manner, depicting them as little more than objects of sex and beauty. In her study of the story’s context Katherine Smyk will be focusing on the origins of “Hans” by analyzing it in the context of Greek mythological figures Hercules and the Sirens. Essentially, this exhibit will explore the inherent gender inequality of the mermaid myth, as has been seen throughout folk and fairy tale history.

The Mermaid as an Object of Sexuality and Beauty

“Hans, the Mermaid’s Son” follows the life of the titular half-merman on his journey of maturation. The plot begins with a human blacksmith named Basmus who goes missing at sea. Three days after his disappearance, Basmus mysteriously returns back to town with a boat full of fish and a life’s supply of treasures. Six years later, when Hans arrives at Basmus’s home, it is revealed that the blacksmith was rescued by a mermaid during his three days at sea and together they conceived a son. Though only six, Hans has the physique and stature of an eighteen year old man and his mother can no longer handle him, thus bringing him to his father’s house.

The story deemphasizes the significance of the mermaid, never going beyond her role as a mythical wish-fulfilling creature and mother. She receives no name, no dialogue, and little agency over the plot. Her main purpose is to serve as a tool for Basmus’ survival and to facilitate a sort of mythical sexual fantasy, sleeping with him during their time together and conceiving his son. Although she receives no descriptive characterization in the text, there is an illustration devoted to her, which further accentuates her position as an object of desire and sex. In a rather beautiful image, the naked mermaid with long, luscious hair guides the fully clothed Basmus by the hand through her magical world under the sea.

H.J. Ford illustrates the mermaid's and Basmus' first meeting

Besides providing Basmus with sexual fulfilment, there is little else that can be concluded about the mermaid other than her inadequacy as a mother. She takes on a subordinate role as a woman who cannot manage her own son, sending him off to his father because he is much too strong for her. This strength manifests itself physically but, in actuality, works as a metaphor for man’s overall power over woman. The mermaid’s lack of characterization, especially in contrast to her son and Basmus, says more than anything else. By deciding not to focus on the mermaid, Lang implicitly suggests that her story is not worth telling and her character lacks significance, despite her importance as a plot-device.

Hans as the Idealized Masculine Figure

In contrast, Hans is characterized as being unstoppably powerful, with no apparent qualities from his mother’s “race,” other than super strength. With the body of a human man, Hans is unrecognizable as a mer-person and little is said of his physical appearance (as opposed to the emphasis placed upon his mother’s beauty). The attribution of supernatural strength for Hans is not particularly inspired; a cliché ability for a male character to be endowed with. Perceived as a metaphorical extension of man’s mental and intellectual power, super strength has defined many male characters throughout literary history from Hercules to the Hulk.

Old Eric attacks Hans, as illustrated by H.J. Ford

Hans is also characterized as intellectually superior to everyone he encounters. Many of the characters Hans meets on his journey attempt to outsmart him by assigning him with seemingly impossible tasks, which he always completes in the end. The story’s only other illustration depicts the sea creature, Old Eric, attempting to drown Hans by sneakily attacking from behind. Hans, of course, lives; he is, after all, the almighty hero of the story.

Instead of carving a new archetype for the mermaid in his story, Lang only perpetuates the myth of the mermaid and many of the misogynistic beliefs which helped define it. In fact, nearly all of the classic tropes of the mermaid myth are played upon here: her elusiveness as a character, her role as a sex symbol and seductress, and the mysteriousness of the mermaid child rearing and birthing process (Banse; Jewitt). After all, she seduces Basmus, a father of many young children (and so, presumably, married), symbolizing sexual temptation and “deviations from the righteous path” (Banse 150). The reader never gets to know the mermaid; she vanishes from the plot after the second page and even then, everything we know of her comes second hand. Due to Lang’s conservatism and his decision to direct his fairy tales at children, there is no explanation as to how she gave birth to Hans (or how, anatomically, she and Basmus were even able to conceive). Furthermore, there is no detail into her relationship with her son or how she raised him to be so out of control that she had to send him away in the end.

The portrayal of the mermaid in Lang’s text only perpetuates the patriarchal views of gender in society and the inherent misogyny in the myth of the mermaid. Where the mermaid could have been more than just an object of affection and an actual character with definitive personality traits, she amounts to little more than a plot device.

Mermaids in Greek Mythology

By analyzing the mermaid from the contextual perspective of Greek Mythology, the earlier qualities conceived of the female archetype as a seductive mythological creature can be examined. By looking at the Sirens as well as the elusive quality of the ocean itself, the influence that the Greeks had upon Andrew Lang’s depiction of the mermaid become apparent. The inequality inherent to the power relations of the male and female can be seen as the female resorts to manipulation and abduction. The development of the mermaid within the lore of the British Isles as well as Denmark drew inspiration from the Sirens of Greek Mythology. Most notably appearing within Homer’s Odyssey, the Sirens assailed Odysseus and his crew. The half-woman, half-eagle creatures accosted these men with their enticing singing, both vicious and mysterious in their beauty (Vredeveld 846). The Greeks, a seafaring people, viewed the sea as a world of its own, parallel to that of earth. The unexpected appearance of the Sirens is a testament to the mystery that the sea possesses (Greene 427-428).

Odysseus is assailed by the Sirens in this Greek vase painting.

Aesthetically, mermaids have been characterized in similar ways to the Sirens. Each feminine creature embodies notions of sexuality, violence, and intrigue. Both the Sirens and the mermaids belong to a single element – air in the case of the Siren, and water in the case of the mermaid (Aggard). The tale of “Hans, the Mermaid’s Son,” offers a story that is also focused upon the luring of a male to sea, as well as the consequences of the man’s vulnerability to the mermaid’s temptation. The intention of the mermaid is similar to that of the Sirens within The Odyssey. Both The Odyssey and “Hans, the Mermaid’s Son” acknowledge the seductive influence of an archetypical female figure, as well as the naivety of man. The mermaid’s son represents the unification between the mermaid’s power and human mortality. The son is sent to live with his father among mortals, where he encounters hostility as a result of this unification. This echoes the trials and tribulations faced by Hercules within Greek Mythology. Hercules, a demigod, cannot truly be comfortable within the company of mortals (Aggard). He is constantly being challenged, mocked, and questioned. The same is true of Hans, who is resented and opposed by the mortals that he comes to live among. Andrew Lang, a Scottish folklorist, historian, and editor, depicted the son of the mermaid as a Herculean figure who overcomes his obstacles, ultimately departing from the land of the mortals for the sea. Once again, the juxtaposition of water and air can be identified as Hercules departs for Olympus, a kingdom elevated above the mortal world.

Perpetuating Patriarchy through the Mermaid Myth 

In summation, Hans, the Mermaid’s Son depicts a literary female archetype that is manipulative and seductive while being mysterious and elusive. During her brief appearance at the beginning of the narrative, she lures a naïve man into her clutches and conceives his child who grows up to be a problem for them both. Later returned to land, the man has been dumbfounded by the mermaid and cannot recall being ensnared by her overt display of feminine power (Greene 430). The man must then deal with the consequences of his naivety when eventually faced with his son. The son, who unites characteristics of his influential mother with those of his credulous father, is a representational bond of the analogous genders as well as that of two races – the mermaid and the mortal. This outcome is a demonstration of female persuasion and coercion. From the contextual perspective of Greek Mythology, this characterization of the mermaid was used as a literary tool, converting femininity into an archetype. This, initially done with the Sirens of Homer’s Odyssey, first offered a female archetype utilizing her sexual appeal as a leveraging tool. Later drawn upon by “Hans, the Mermaid’s Son”, the female harnesses the water as an elemental power within a new narrative. The power struggle displayed between the male and the female ultimately leaves the woman as the antagonist of the story. This depiction is a testament to the gender inequality within literary characterizations. With only a brief appearance within the narrative, the story largely omits the importance of the mermaid for anything other than her use to man, perpetuating a patriarchal ideal.

Works Cited

Aggard, Walter R. “Greek Prototypes of American Myths.” Classical Journal of the Middle           West and South. 54.8 (1959): 338-343. Print. <>.

“Andrew Lang.” Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2000. Literature Resource               Center. Web. 17 Oct. 2011.

Banse, Karl. “Mermaids- Their Biology, Culture, and Demise.” Limnology and                               Oceanography 35.1 (1990): 148-53. Jstor. Web. 14 Oct. 2011.

Greene, William Chase. “The Sea in the Greek Poets.” North American Review. 199.700             (1914): 427-443. Print. <>.

Jewitt, Llewellynn. “The Mermaid of Legend and of Art.” The Art Journal 6 (1880): 117-               20. Jstor. Web. 14 Oct. 2011.

Rosenstein, Roy. “Andrew Lang.” Nineteenth-Century British Book Collectors and                       Bibliographers. Ed. William Baker and Kenneth Womack. Detroit: Gale Research,              1997. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 184. Literature Resource Center. Web. 4            Oct. 2011.

Vredeveld, Harry. “”Deaf as Ulysses to the Siren’s Song”: The Story of a Forgotten Topos.”        Renaissance Quarterly. 54. The University of Chicago Press, 2001. Print.                              <>.