A Brief Introduction Into Perrault’s Renaissance Tales

By Benjamin S.

According to Graham Seal, “Stories involving heroes and heroines, transformations, supernatural beings, and happy endings exist- and presumably have existed in most of the world’s many cultures” (460). Stories depicting transformations and supernatural beings date all the way before Aspeh wrote his Greek fables (Ca. 620-640 BC). However, as Seal asserts, a fairy tale is different from other forms of story-telling, and the form “is almost entirely an invention of Western literature” (460). Indeed, it was “in the seventeenth century that the story form we now recognize as the fairy tale began to be given its familiar shape, mainly, though not exclusively, by French writers Charles Perrault (1628-1703) and Comtesse d’Alunoy (1650 or 1651-1705)” (460).

Within the pages of The Complete Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault, Neil Philip’s introduction states that “the fairy tale could be defined as a story which the characters, by means of a series of transformations, discover their true selves the inner meaning of such stories cannot easily be explained or defined. Rather, they are full of possible meanings, which resonate with the experiences and the characters of teller and listener” (12). The original written set of fairy tales such as Goldilocks, Cinderella, and Little Red Riding Hood are credited to the French Renaissance author, Charles Perrault. Perrault wasn’t the person who invented these stories, but he wrote down these oral cautionary tales as told by the public. In doing so, the author captured each tale as it was known by the public, and he did not rush or flourish his texts with literary spoils. However, at the end of each fairy tale, Charles Perrault would write a short moralité, or moral of the story, to address the reader as (s)he finished. These morals were composed of rhyming verses that would allow the reader to identify easily the meaning of each story (Perrault 12).

The picture above is a scene from Perrault’s story Little Red Riding Hood, as illustrated by Gustave Dore. In this illustration, a young girl is lying in bed with a wolf disguised as her grandmother before the wolf eats the small child. Little Red Riding Hood is a cautionary tale of seduction, and warning the reader of the perils that come with being misled by strange men. Story analyst Bill Delaney says that Little Red Riding Hood was told to young children to teach them “not to speak to strangers because you do not know what could be used against you” (71). Delaney speaks about Little Red Riding Hood, and her appearance. He mentions that Little Red is wearing a red garment, carrying a basket full of goods, and is riding a pony alone through a forest in the story. Delaney notes that these activities are uncommon for young girls during this time period, and this raises questions about whether Little Red is actually in a dream state. Delaney questions if the young girl’s dream-like demeanor is the cause of her nativity. Bill Delaney concludes that, if so, it’s no wonder that Little Red doesn’t listen to her mother’s advice of not talking to strangers, and gets eaten by the anthropomorphic wolf at the end of the story (70).

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Image: Dore, Gustave. “Little Red Riding Hood.” Les Contes de Perrault, dessins par Gustave Doré. Paris: J. Hetzel, 1867.

Delaney, Bill. “Perrault’s Little Red Riding Hood.” Explicator 64:2 (2006): 70-72.

Perrault, Charles. The Complete Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault. New York: Clarions, 1993. Print.

Seal, Graham. “Fairy Tale Heroes.” Folklore: An encyclopedia of Beliefs, Customs, Tales, Music, and Art. Charlie T. McCormick and Kim Kennedy White. Vol. 2. California: Santa Barbara, 2011. Print.

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About MGN

Miranda Garno Nesler is a specialist in early material culture, gender, textuality, and animal studies. View all posts by MGN

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