Flashback Fridays: Those dusty old shelves . . .
Maybe you did this when you were a kid. If you were a voracious reader like I was you probably combed over every shelf in the house looking for stuff to read. That included delving through old book shelves where your parents tucked away books from their own youth and childhood. Revisiting some of those memories lately, and many of the books, I came across this particular series:
Classics to Grow On: Grimms’ Fairy Tales translated by Mrs. Edgar Lucas, illustrated by Arthur Rackham (Parents’ Magazines’s Cultural Institute, 1966)
No idea if this will be familiar to anyone else out there. The collection is floating around, made up of, I believe, 11 volumes. My parents had a few of them in the house, including Andersen’s Fairy Tales, Grimms’ Fairy Tales and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. They were my delight of discovery. They were nothing I was told to read or given. They were just there–part of my reader background, waiting for me to pick up. Even now, decades later, I page through these books and remember every single image, every story. I’d settle in bed with a pile of fairy tale collections. I tucked the Alice stories into my bag when I was going to the hospital for surgery when I was 8 years old. There is something organic about reading stuff that is just “around” in the household. You don’t feel the need to advertise the fact that you read it, and you forget, sometimes, that others haven’t read the same things.
These books with their colorful diamond pattern covers were some of my first advanced material that I was able to read without realizing I was shooting above my reading level at a breathless pace. They were just there, enticing me with stories and words that I had not encountered yet. I learned my fairy tales with more than the Disney versions as my reference guide. In the Grimms’ tales here, Cinderella is titled “Ashenputtel”, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is titled “Snowdrop” and they both spin stories quite a bit darker than Disney ever cared to. My favorite story in the collection is “Iron Hans”, about a young prince taken away to the forest by a wild man. The boy is told to guard a well of water that turns anything it touches to gold. The silly boy suffers several mishaps trying to do this, and winds up with a head of golden hair for his troubles. The man sends him away from the forest and the boy gets work as a gardener at a nearby palace. While there, his hat falls off while the princess is watching and she falls for the boy . . . from there the wild man, “Iron Hans”, becomes the boy’s sort of fairy godfather, giving him the items he needs. I’m not sure why this particular story enchanted me so, except that it was so different from other stories I had read at the time.
Looking at this book in particular, it has a preface written by Irene Smith who worked for the Brooklyn Public Library system. She discusses the nature of folklore, and how these stories came to be written down so that we can still read them today. The illustrations in this volume are the work of Arthur Rackham, one of the foremost illustrators of fairy tales and children’s classics at the beginning of the 1900s. I can find little information about Mrs. Edgar Lucas other than the fact that she translated the Grimms’ fairy tales into English . . . no other information appears to be forthcoming about her. Though the pages are yellowed and stained in places, the book has held together remarkably well considering the number of times it was read by my younger self. I’m finding what volumes I can of the series and bringing them home to my shelves so that hopefully another generation of readers will “find” them.
So the question is, what will your kids encounter on your bookshelves? What do you hope they uncover on their own?