My favourite French castle, an inspirational fairy tale setting

Today I want to write  a bit about the castle that for me, since childhood, has represented the absolute epitome of the classic French fairy tale setting: and that is the gorgeous small chateau of  Azay-le-Rideau, in the Loire Valley.  Of course the Loire Valley is full of beautiful castles; but this one is my favourite of them, indeed it’s my top favourite in all of France. Not only does this absolute jewel of a chateau represent for me that epitome of fairy tale magic and charm, but it’s also the setting for the Beast’s castle in my retelling of Beauty and the Beast, which is the longest story in French Fairy Tales.

Chateau d’Azay le Rideau, September 2018. Photo by Sophie Masson.

Built in the early 16th century on the ruins of the previous fortress suited there, the castle of Azay-le-Rideau has a tumultuous history. It’s situated  within the charming little village of the same name, down a small road away from the main highway, amongst green fields and little woods. The castle is set on a small lake, in superb parkland, and I’ve visited it a number of times, the most recent being in September 2018. That time, in a glorious early autumn with blue skies and trees still green but starting to turn gold, we stayed in a lovely little hotel in the village, a few steps away from the castle. At the time we were there, an extraordinary, eerily beautiful art installation called ‘Les enchantements d’Azay‘, by artists Piet.sO  and Peter Keene, was displayed in the castle. Together, the castle, the parkland gardens, the art installation, and the amazing, magical feel of the whole place, were just the most perfect elements to help create the Beast’s world.

It isn’t just in Beauty and the Beast, however, that you will see the enchanting influence of Azay-le-Rideau; for in the next post, Lorena will be writing about how her own stay there and her visits to other places in the Loire Valley, became the source for her glorious illustrations in French Fairy Tales.

 

 

The five tales…

In this post today I’m listing the five tales which you’ll discover in French Fairy Tales, with a brief introduction to each. I’ll tell you more about sources and inspirations and settings as time goes on, and in the future I’ll also be making an illustrated video talk which will delve more into the background of each individual tale, but this is just by way of a short introduction.

I chose to translate and retell these particular five tales because each of them means something important to me–whether because of my French heritage and memories, my family connections, my cultural and literary interests, or everything together! A couple of them are well-known classic fairy tales which I’ve translated and retold in a fresh new way;  the other three are regional fairy tales, not known in English-speaking countries, but which I hope might become much better-known through French Fairy Tales!

So here are the five tales:

The King of the Crows: Well-known in France, but unknown in English-speaking countries, this beautiful and unusual tale from the rural heart of the southwest province of Gascony has an extraordinarily poetic, imaginative quality. It has a very special place for me as it’s linked not only to my father’s family homelands but also in my imagination to the place of enchantment of my French childhood. My translation is the first into English.

Beauty and the Beast: One of the world’s most beloved fairy tales, here in a retelling which combines elements from two classic French original versions, adding my own twist to create a magical, romantic tale that has the texture of a novel and the elegance of a short story, with a setting inspired by a real-life castle in the Loire Valley (which Lorena and I will both write about in posts soon!)

The Magic Gifts: This rollicking, clever tale from the picturesque  Pays Basque, the French Basque Country, has never been translated into English before.  It highlights bravery, cunning, kindness—and the usefulness of magic tools! My family and ancestral roots in the Basque Country made this a must for me to choose for the collection.

The Booted Cat, or Puss in Boots: This sprightly new retelling, directly translated  by me from the original, showcases the playful, intriguing and mischievously worldly tone of Charles Perrault’s famous fairy tale. One of my childhood favourites!

The Queen of the Korrigans: this never-before-translated tale of the unexpected rewards of kindness and the strange, magical world of the Breton fairies known as korrigans, features a surprising twist. My love of Celtic culture and knowledge of Brittany inspired and informed this retelling.