Fairytale tellers, part two: the founder of a new genre

Charles Perrault in 1671, painted by Philippe Lallemand

Without this seventeenth-century writer, the fairy tale as we know it today might never have have emerged from the oral tradition: he could in fact be rightly called the founder of a new and hugely successful literary genre.  I’m speaking here of Charles Perrault (1628-1703), writer of such famous gems as Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Red Riding Hood,  Puss in Boots, Bluebeard, Donkey Skin, and several others. The tales he collected and retold in his 1697 book, Histoires ou Contes du Temps Passé (Tales and Stories from Past Times), also known as Contes de ma Mère l’Oye (Tales of Mother Goose) are from anonymous folk sources, embellished in his own sprightly, elegant, sharp and inimitable way, with ‘morals’ that are often raise an ironic eyebrow at the ways of the world.  His retellings of these traditional stories are famous throughout the world even today and have inspired many generations of other writers. Including me–in my own collection, I’ve chosen to retell Perrault’s Le Maître Chat ou le Chat botté (Master Cat or the Booted Cat), usually known in English as Puss in Boots.

From a wealthy bourgeois family, Perrault had an illustrious if occasionally turbulent career at the glittering court of King Louis XIV,  and was a prominent figure in the literary and cultural scene of the time. Retiring from government service at the age of sixty-seven, he wrote Histoires ou Contes du Temps Passé , which was an immediate success and which inspired other of his literary contemporaries, such as Madame d’Aulnoy–who first coined the term contes de fées –(fairy tales)to create their own. And thus the craze for fairy tales was born.

 

 

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