How to Read a Fairytale


For anyone wishing to delve deeper into fairytales, Angela Carter’s book is a good place to start.

The fairytale is a strange sort of story. It belongs to everyone and it belongs to no one and there are rarely any fairies to be had for love, money or even a handful of magic beans. It thrives on paradox.  It occupies at once a realistic and contradictory world where crushing poverty and immense riches sit side by side. It embraces a narrative of  misfortune, magical events, charms and curses, where strange and often grotesque and unreasonable characters intervene. Relationships are difficult. Death looms large. Nothing is what it seems.  Motivations are not always obvious and are more often than not ambiguous. Different versions of the same stories emerge in all sorts of different cultures. And for those raised on the sanitised Ladybird versions of  Cinderella, Snow White and Goldilocks with their clear boundaries and happy-ever-afters, the older tellings can be hair-raising in their breaking of taboo and exploration of difficult subject matter. For anyone who wants to delve deeper,  Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales published by Virago is a good place to start.

​The story of The White Cat is taken from the Blue Book of Fairytales, edited by Andrew Lang, a nineteenth century Scottish writer who collected myths and fairytales. As a story of transformation, it seemed a good choice for the relaunched Feminist Times and retelling it as La Chatte Blanche or the Tail of the Innocent Pussy was irresistible. For me, the renaming of the story follows a long established tradition of mischievous duality picked up by Angela Carter amongst others, and there is a nod and a wink to her bold and vivid storytelling within it. The teller of the tale, Madame d’Aulnoy was a French writer who inhabited the seventeenth- century Parisian salons. Her stories, like those of the other conteuses of the time were complicated things, stories within stories. The White Cat is the story for which she is best-known.

I like to think that Madame D’Aulnoy, with her habit for slyly critiquing society through her stories, would have approved.

La Chatte Blanche or The Tale of the Clever Pussy was a prelaunch edition of the Feminist Times.

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