Several years ago I eagerly snapped up a bargain box set of the adorable Beatrix Potter series – or at least that’s the way I’d remembered the stories and naturally wanted to share them with my children. However, no sooner had I opened them up and started reading them out loud, it dawned on me that I’d hit one of those moments of realisation that I should have just let my memory be; if there was ever to be a chance for it to remain beautiful.
So what had happened? The story lines and characters were still endearing, the illustrations remained as fine and delicate as ever and I felt like I was holding something very precious until I opened my mouth and found myself talking like a Victorian! There was no way my children would be enthralled with the likes of a “perambulator” (The Tale of Two Mice), or “galoshes” (The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher), a “pocket-handkins” (The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle) or the “beautifullest” (The Tailor of Gloucester) of lettuces with “soporific effect” (The Tale of Flopsy Bunnies). “Alack I am done!” (The Tailor of Gloucester).
“Sufficeth” (The Tailor of Gloucester) to say I found myself adapting this clunky, long-winded, tongue-twisting, out of date language as I stumbled and soldiered on. Of course since this experience CBeebies have nabbed a regular slot for a modern day Peter Rabbit and his friends and the inevitable spin off books can be easily purchased. Phew!
So what do you think? Should the children’s classics remain untouched, fond, distant childhood memories which are locked within their own time and history? Or should they be allowed to break into the modern world and continue to teach and entertain with an up to date twist? Surely it would make sense for authors to concentrate on engaging us with new literary classics instead? As the reality of my Beatrix Potter memory left an uncomfortable impression on me I can’t help but swing towards the merits of a revamp, feeling that in this case ignorance would have been bliss! If I hadn’t had access to the original version again I wouldn’t have come across any ancient awkward wording and the experience would have enhanced my memory rather than leaving me with a box set caked in dust! After all, a classic can only become a classic tale if it is passed on from generation to generation and that will only happen if it leaves a good reason to be passed on. A re-write that captures that reason could extend the enjoyment for all ages to savour.
Every classic is a story with an inescapable magnetism that pulls you in time and time again. Unless that changes, there will always be room for a revamp. Making something which is old, familiar and much loved into something new can however require some highly tuned skills, of which many excellent examples continue to emerge from the children’s book industry. I will leave you with a selection of modernised fairy tales to keep an eye out for; from humorous skits in contemporary settings to the unexpected with amusing role reversals.
The Pea and the Princess by Mini Gray (author/illustrator) Publisher: Red Fox New ed. 1 Apr 2004. Based on the Princess and the Pea by Hans Christian Andersen.
The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka (author) & Lane Smith (illustrator). Publisher: Puffin New Ed. 31 Oct 1991. Based on The Three Little Pigs by Joseph Jacobs.
Prince Cinders by Babette Cole (author/illustrator). Publisher: Puffin New Ed. 25 Sept 1997. Based on the original story of Cinderella originally by Giambattista Basile and later re-told by the Brothers Grimm.
Jack and the Baked Beanstalk by Colin Stimpson (author/illustrator). Publisher: Templar Publishing 1 Nov 2013. Based on the original story Jack and the Beanstalk by Benjamin Tabart.
Red Riding Hood and the Sweet Little Wolf by Rachael Mortimer (author) & Liz Pichon (author) Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books 3 Jan 2013. Based on the Little Red Riding Hood by Charles Perrault.
Goldilocks on CCTV by John Agard (author) & Satoshi Kitamura (illustrator). Publisher: Francis Lincoln Children’s Books 3 Apr 2014. A poetry book inspired by the original Goldilocks and the Three Bears story by Robert Southey.
YA (Young Adult)
Outlaw: the Story of Robin Hood by Michael Morpurgo. Publisher: Harper Collins Children’s Books 29th Mar 2012 inspired by The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood of Great Renown in Nottinghamshire by Howard Pyle.
The Sleeper and the Spindle – Neil Gaiman (author) and Chris Riddell (author). Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s 23 Oct 2014. Created as a Snow White meets Sleeping Beauty version of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales.
The Pied Piper of Hamlin – Russell Brand (author) & Chris Riddell (illustrator). Publisher: Canongate Books Main Ed. 1st Oct 2015. A story based on the original Pied Piper of Hamlin by Robert Browning.
Tinder by Sally Gardner (author) & David Roberts (illustrator). Publisher: Orion Children’s Books 7 Nov 2013. Based on The Tinderbox by Hans Christian Andersen.
My last mention is The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black who has spun her own original fairy tale for children today. Publisher: Orion Children’s Books 5 Feb 2015. I haven’t read this yet but it has some great reviews on Goodreads so will be adding it to my ever increasing list of books to share with my eldest.
What are your favourite modern fairy tales and why?