W is for Wife of Bath’s Tale

Wife of Bath's Tale in the Ellesmere Manuscript, early 1400s.

Wife of Bath’s Tale in the Ellesmere Manuscript, early 1400s.



In some variants of “What Women Want Most” (AT775), contemporary readers can coax out modern feminist ideals; we hear the hag/beauty affirm our notion that women (people) should have sovereignty over themselves, over their own bodies. When Chaucer’s Wife of Bath tells it, she makes it very clear that what she means by “sovereignty” is jurisdiction over their husbands.

It is hard for me to tell the story “her” way, but when I consider her relationships with her five exes and contemplate her culture and era, it makes perfect sense. For her.

And it is her tale, after all!

Shelve these: a lively prose text for secondary students, a retelling for family reading (with delightful storyboard-style illustrations), and a recent verse translation:

The Canterbury Tales, retold by Geraldine McCaughrean. Puffin Classics, 1997

Williams, Marcia, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Walker Books, 2008.

Wright, David, The Canterbury Tales. Oxford University Press, 2011.

Here is my telling of another Canterbury Pilgrim’s story, “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale.”

V is for Virgin of Guadalupe





A poor man’s daily life is interrupted by the queen of heaven in shimmering attire who assigns him a task. He offers excuses but ultimately obeys. Three times he tries, and three times he returns with the task incomplete. At last, the queen adds magic, and he accomplishes the task. A great temple is built, the man’s dying relative is healed, he lives on happily, his goodness is sung with hers.

When religious legends have a fairy tale structure like “Virgin of Guadalupe,” it helps me understand how to believe them, how to take in their essence, inspiration and power.

Believe these: a bilingual art book, a children’s book, and a new scholarly study:

Annerino, John, The Virgin of Guadalupe. Gibbs Smith, 2012.

DePaola, Tomie, The Lady of Guadalupe. Holiday House, 1988. (Out of print; hold onto yours! Kindle edition available.)

Peterson, Jeannette Favrot, Visualizing Guadalupe: From Black Madonna to Queen of the Americas. University of Texas Press, 2014 (Joe r. and Theresa Lozano Long Series in Latin American and Latino Art and Culture).


U is for Ugly Duckling

Illustration by T. van Hoytema. Amsterdam, 1893

Illustration by T. van Hoytema. Amsterdam, 1893


The Ugly Duckling may be the most imitated literary folktale on earth! How many children’s books tell of an ugly or clumsy outcast finding his or her reward at last, becoming loved, appreciated, even envied? The short-necked giraffe, the swallow who couldn’t fly, the too-fast turtle, . . . all will surely blossom and find their place in the world, and those who judged them early may be shamed–which Andersen did not deign to do.

Without the consummate writing skills of a prose master such as Andersen, most fall by the wayside. But, never fear! More are on the way!

Beautify your shelves with the Ugly Duckling!

Andersen, Hans Christian, The Ugly Duckling, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. Scholastic, 2000.

Andersen, Hans Christian, El Patito Feo, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. Scholastic, Rayo, 2007.

Andersen, Hans Christian, The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen, translated and with an introduction by Maria Tatar, with contributing text by Julie Allen. W.W. Norton & Company, 2007.

T is for Tam Lin

John D. Batten illustrated Joseph Jacobs' Fairy Tale books, including this image from his 1894 More English Fairy Tales.

John D. Batten illustrated Joseph Jacobs’ Fairy Tale books, including this image from his 1894 More English Fairy Tales.




This is another misnamed tale, for the story is about Janet. Oh, Tam LIn has been through a great deal, but that’s another story!

In this one, it is Janet who challenges the words on the well; Janet who calls Tam Lin; Janet who smiles and takes his hand, promising her maidenhood; Janet who returns at midnight; Janet who braves the lizard, the snake, the lion, the bear, the cold iron, the molten lead; Janet who rescues her love; Janet who takes Tam Lin home to marry.

I am willing to compromise; I call the tale “Janet and Tam Lin.”

Which Tam Lin? Consider a novel, a YA, and a juvenile retelling:

Dean, Pamela, Tam Lin, with an introduction by Terri Windling. Firebird (Reissue) 2006.

Jones, Diana Wynne, Fire and Hemlock. HarperTeen, 2002.

Yolen, Jane, Tam Lin, illustrated by Charles Mikolaycak. HMH Books for Young Readers, 1998.


My version of Janet and Tam Lin is on my Web site.

S is for Scheherazade

"Scheherazade went on with her story" by Virginia Frances Sterrett. The Arabian Nights, Penn Publishing Company, 1928.

“Scheherazade went on with her story” by Virginia Frances Sterrett from The Arabian Nights, Penn Publishing Company, 1928.




When I first visited a mosque, I suddenly understood Scheherazade—how she had to save not just herself and Dunyazad, but all the women.

Stepping into the women’s room, awkward and barefoot, I felt instantly, abundantly, embraced, as though I’d been longed for and had arrived! The women caressed me, subsumed me, spoke to me in Farsi with desperate affection, re-wrapped my scarf properly, showed me, cued me, clued me, guided my arms, moved my hands, touched hips as we prostrated ourselves to pray.

Aha! This joyous room of women was part of – the heart of – Scheherazade’s own being.

Embrace these volumes of Scheherazade’s magic: a new translation, a student volume, and a “sequel” for puzzle lovers.


The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights: Volumes 1, 2 & 3 (Penguin Classics), translated by Malcolm Lyons and Ursula Lyons, with an introduction by Robert Irwin.  Penguin, 2010.

McCaughrean, Geraldine, One Thousand and One Arabian Nights (Oxford Story Collections) illustrated by Rosamund Fowler. Oxford University Press, USA, 2000.

Smullyan, Raymond M., The Riddle of Scheherazade: And Other Amazing Puzzles, Ancient and Modern. Knopf, 2012.nightscd



And now you know where the cover art for my Storytelling World Honors Award-winning CD came from!

R is for Red Riding Hood


Maxfield Parrish’s LRR graced the program cover for a theatre production in 1897.



James Thurber did not just fracture the fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood,” he shattered it with this outrageous ending:

She had approached no nearer than twenty-five feet from the bed when she saw that it was not her grandmother but the wolf, for even in a nightcap a wolf does not look any more like your grandmother than the Metro-Goldwyn lion looks like Calvin Coolidge. So the little girl took an automatic out of her basket and shot the wolf dead.

(Moral: It is not so easy to fool little girls nowadays as it used to be.)


Grand -librarian, what a big shelf of 398.2 you have!

Pinkney, Jerry, Little Red Riding Hood. Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2007.

Thurber, James, Fables for Our Time and Famous Poems Illustrated. Harper Perennial, 1990.

Starbright Foundation (with various celebrities), Once upon a Fairy Tale: Four Favorite Stories. Viking Juvenile, 2001.)

Q is for Queens

“Ah, we shall soon see that!” said the queen mother, however, she said not a word of what she was going to do . . .  Illustration for “The Princess and the Pea,” by Edward Dulac from the Snow Queen and Other Stories from Hans Christian Andersen, 1911.

“Ah, we shall soon see that!” said the queen mother, however, she said not a word of what she was going to do . . .” Illustration for “The Princess and the Pea,” by Edward Dulac from the Snow Queen and Other Stories from Hans Christian Andersen, 1911.



Metaphorically speaking–and fairy tales are metaphorical, so let’s do!–Queens are women in midlife.

They have aging issues as they watch their beautiful daughters blossom.

They have princely sons to marry off to a worthy bride—by hook or crook.

They have husbands with midlife crises whom they must nurture or manipulate back into a healthier relationship.

And, suddenly, they have stepdaughters more charming and lovable than their own snooty brats!

So, they behave just like living, breathing human women do in our 40s and 50s.

No snickering, gentlemen! At least not until you’ve read about fairy tale kings!

Have you shelved these queens?

Brothers Grimm, Snow White, illustrated by Camille Rose Garcia. Harper Design, 2012.

“Clever Manka” and “The Lute Player” may be found in . . .
Phelps, Ethel Johnston, Tatterhood and Other Tales. The Feminist Press at CUNY, 1993.

The Princess and the Pea retold by Xanthe Gresham, illustrated by Miss Clara. Barefoot Books, 2013.





“The Lute Player” is also on my CD Ghostly Gals and Spirited Women. If your Texas library does not have a copy, let me know and I’ll see that they get one.


P is for Pushkin

photo 2

This tiny lacquer box from Mstera (2″ wide) illustrates The Tale of the Dead Princess, or The Princess and the Seven Bogatyrs. Unlike Pushkin’s other tales, it was not previously a Russian classic, but rather the Grimm’s Snow White retold by a consummate writer. Now, Russians claim it as their own!




Like Browning or Spenser, Longfellow or Poe, Russian poet Alexander Pushkin created a body of narrative poetry. He drew from the Russian Wonder Tales, setting them in the more “academically respectable” form of poetry and paving the way for the high art of opera by Rimsky-Korsakov and others. Look for Tsar Saltan, The Golden Cockerel, Ruslan and Ludmilla, Tale of the Dead Princess, Fisherman and the Golden Fish . . .

I often introduce Russian folktales with imagery from Pushkin’s evocative Prologue to Ruslan and Ludmilla, spoken in prose: “By the shores of a bay, there is a green oak tree . . .

Not to be pushy, but here are some Pushkin books you might like:

Lowenfeld, Julian Henry, author and translator, My Talisman: The Poetry and Life of Alexander Pushkin (English and Russian Edition). Green Lamp Press, 2010.

Pushkin, A.  S., Pushkin’s Fairy Tales. P-2, 2007.

Pushkin, Alexander Sergeyevitch Pushkin, Collected Narrative and Lyrical Poetry, translated by Walter Arndt. Overlook TP, 2009

O is for Old Dry Fry

Virginia Frances Sterrett illustrated Penn Publishing Company's 1928 edition of Arabian Nights.

Virginia Frances Sterrett illustrated Penn Publishing Company’s 1928 edition of Arabian Nights.




Ever’body knows Old Dry Fry! He’s the preacher who choked on a piece of fried chicken and died. Each character who encountered his body tried to hide it to avoid being accused of murder. It’s an hilarious, rollicking tale told in the American south by black and white storytellers alike, and it fits the culture and environment perfectly!

But the tale’s roots outstretch America’s short history, digging back at least a millennium  to Scheherazade’s “Tale of the Hunchback,” and the storyline likely arose centuries before that legendary storyteller’s rendition.

Matter is not created from nothingness, and neither are stories that matter.

Here are some sources that might matter to your readers and listeners:

Johnson, Paul Brett, Old Dry Frye. Scholastic, 2001.

Yolen, Jane, Favorite Folktales from Around the World. Pantheon Fairy Tale and Folktale Library, 1988.

Scheherazade’s Children, edited by Philip F.Kennedy and Marina Warner. New York University Press, 2013.





“Old Dry Fry” is also on my Storytelling World Honor CD, 1001 Years of 1001 Nights. If your Texas library does not have a copy, send me their address and I will get one to them.

N is for Kay Nielsen













Danish illustrator Kay (“Kigh”) Nielsen began his career at a time when colorful art could be reproduced successfully in books. He illustrated East of the Sun and West of the Moon, some of Perrault and Grimm and his fellow Dane, Hans Christian Andersen. Riding the wave of technology, he designed the “Ave Maria” and “Night on Bald Mountain” segments of Fantasia.

Dismissed by Disney before the film was released, Nielsen was barely able to make ends meet. His work fell out of favor and, after his death in 1957, it was offered to museums in America and Denmark, but none were interested.


These days Kay Nielsen’s art is prized in editions such as these:


Nielsen’s Fairy Tale Illustrations in Full Color (Dover Fine Art, History of Art). Dover Publications; Green Edition, 2006. (Paperback)

East of the Sun and West of the Moon: Old Tales from the North, illustrated by Kay Nielsen. Calla Editions, 2008.

Larkin, David (editor), Kay Nielsen. Peacock Press/Bantam, 1975.

I’m curious to know why Nielsen was dismissed by Walt Disney in 1941. I’ve never seen an explanation.                  Anybody know?