When reading for pleasure, you can lose yourself in situations dissimilar from your own. You imagine yourself in the varying scenarios, in far-off worlds, stepping into the shoes of the characters and finding you relate to their journey, in one way or another.
Growing up in 60s Britain, kids were taught how to read with Ladybird Children’s Books. British Primary Schools were nurtured on the keyword reading scheme, launched in 1964 by Ladybird, in the form of Peter and Jane classics. With simple vocabulary, large typeface and iconic illustrations, these classic books represented an idyllic stereotype of British family life.
Made with character, these enchanting books were produced in pocket-sized hardbacks, with a 56 page format. One standard quad crown sheet could make one book, proving economically beneficial and enabling Ladybird to charge a small price of two shillings and a sixpence. They were affordable and accessible; social levellers providing illumination and comfort at any age. They demonstrated real life in manageable situations and context, so that children could learn history in bite size mouthfuls.
As Historic Newspapers release our own Personalised Ladybird Books, we’ve decided to delve into the history of these classics tales. Exploring the myth, the fables and legends behind the infamous popularity of the fairytales we know and love. The beauty of a fairytale is that they change and evolve over time, sometimes happy. But mostly sinister, demented and thoroughly entertaining.
Personalised Rapunzel Ladybird Book
Rapunzel was a popular oral folklore told from peasant to peasant and changed over time. Like other famous tales, this folklore was collected by the Grimm Brothers; borrowed from Gimabattista Basile. Created from folktales of his region in 1634, Basile's Petronsinella is about a young girl given to an ogress in return for an unfathomable amount of parsley. The most entertaining part is when Rapunzel runs away with her prince with three magic acorns...
In Basile’s version, Rapunzel attempts to medicate the ogress, who wakes up and catches up to them. Rapunzel releases the first two acorns. They materialise into a ferocious dog and a snarling lion, but the ogress lulls the pup with bread and whips out a grazing ass skin, prompting the lion to retreat in fear. Thankfully, the final acorn conjures a wolf that consumes the ogress. (We can't help but think the wolf from Little Red Riding Hood was in the wrong tale.)
100 years later in 1698, Charlotte-Rose De La Force wrote Persinette; a take on Rapunzel that reflected La Force’s contemporary world of oppressed females. Rich in detail, La Force’s version paints an opulent world for Rapunzel’s imprisonment, held captive by a fairy who dotes on her. She falls in love with a prince who is blinded by the fairy out of anger, whilst Rapunzel is sent away. Eventually, thanks to Rapunzel’s singing, the prince finds her and their two children. Rapunzel’s tears heal the princes’ eyes and their love melts the fairy’s heart.
La Force's retelling is the lesser-known story of Rapunzel; concentrating heavily on the repressed female and her loss of innocence. Naive to the world of men and taught by the fairy that men are monsters, Rapunzel does not understand her feelings, or why her stomach proceeds to bulge in the tale; hence, this version has been shadowed for its controversial nature.
Personalised Cinderella Ladybird Book
The earliest account of Cinderella is the tale of Rhodophis in 1BC; about a young slave girl who’s shoe is stolen by an eagle, and drops it in the lap of an Egyptian king. In the Filipino version, Cinderella is helped by a crab - the reincarnation of her mother, whilst Korea’s take on this famous tale depicts Cinders forced to stay at home and fix a broken jar. She’s aided by a toad and an ox and as you can see, the retellings are very imaginative.
The Grimm Brother’s version is a gruesome triumph of good vs. evil in this Cinderella classic. Cinderella’s mother is reincarnated as a tree on her grave with magical powers and grants Cinderella’s wishes. Cinders even gets to go to the ball three times in a handsome array of ball gowns.
A defining moment in fairytale history - the two ugly stepsisters desperately cut off their toes to fit into the glass slipper (and back then, they wouldn’t have had the technology to avoid infection), so they certainly get what they deserve.
One of the most bizarre tales is the Chinese legend of Cinders and the first documented account in history. Ye Xian (Cinderella) befriends a fish with whom she confides in. As the legend goes, the fish is a reincarnation of her mother, who is eaten by Ye Xian’s step-mother out of spite, followed by a visit from a spirit who tells Ye Xian to keep the bones of the fish and tell them of her heart’s desires. She follows this advice, transforms into a princess with golden slippers, enjoys a night at the Spring Festival and loses a shoe.
Like magic, the king of T’o Han comes by the golden slipper and longs to find the maiden belonging to the beautiful little shoes. They find each other, fall in love and it’s a well-deserved happily ever after. However, the end leaves quite an impression. (Literally.)
Whilst Ye Xian and her king live happily ever after, the stepmother is crushed to death in a shower of flying stones. Justice is served.
Personalised The Elves and the Shoemaker Book
The Elves and the Shoemaker Story was also collected by the Grimm Brothers, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm; though the story has been retold, the fable has remained the same – only the prose is different.
The shoemaker has only a piece of leather to make the finest shoes he’s ever made, to earn money and save himself and his wife from destitution. He lays out the fabric and goes to bed. By morning, he’s befuddled to find a pair of shoes, resting comfortably under the warm light of his workshop. He sells the shoes and earns a large sum for more material. Once again, he prepares the fabric and the next day the shoes are magically made.
Though the shoemaker is quite at his leisure to have the shoes made for him, he decides to stay awake and see who’s doing this good deed.
Bewildered, two little elves, dressed in rags (obviously friends of Cinders) make the shoes. Filled with glee, the shoemaker and his wife make clothes and shoes as gifts for the elves and stay awake to see what they’ll do...
In the literary world, perhaps the elves in this story were inspired by the actions of the Silmarillion; elves from Tolkien’s Middle-Earth Writings – heroic creatures who help others selflessly. Or, in the Wizarding World, it’s said that elves are assigned a master they must serve. Some speculate whether these house elves were assigned to help the shoemaker in his time of need and perhaps for the rest of his life, if, he hadn’t of freed them.
Like Dobby is freed by his master in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the little elves are liberated when presented with clothing.
Personalised The Three Little Pigs Book
Joe Jacob’s tale of the Three Little Pigs is the most popular folklore version. As the story goes - three little pigs are sent off into the big wide world because they’ve grown too big for their mother’s house. They each aim to build houses of their own and do so, out of three materials; the first little piggy uses straw, the second sticks and the third, bricks.
In the insipid kid’s version, the wolf blows down the straw and stick houses. Fearing for their lives, the two little piggies run off to the final pig’s house. The wolf becomes exhausted from attempting to blow down the brick house, and eventually gives up. Whereas, the uncouth story by Jacob’s tells of the first two pigs’ delicious demise as they're devoured by the wolf. Eventually, the final pig comes out on top and cooks the wolf in a boiling pot from his chimney.
In literary history, pigs have had a myriad of questionable roles, mainly those associated with greed, indolence and over indulgence – which is why they’re a good metaphor for humans. In Margret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, ‘pigoons’ are pigs with bodies shaped like balloons and bread for human transplantation; William Golding’s Lord of the Flies portrays pigs for their primary use of food for humans; and in George Orwell’s totalitarian epic, Animal Farm, the lead characters, Napoleon and Snowball are pigs that walk upright and represent Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky.
Despite their unfavourable interpretation of the human race, it’s refreshing to see this glorious animal projected in a positive light in our Three Little Pigs Book.
Like all good fairytales, they entertain, they make us think in the most primitive way and reflect on life. Most are filled with menace and cruelty but, as a child, they’re key to helping us deal with fears in life. If our fears are tangible as a witch, fairy or wolf, dispelling that fear through boiling them in a pot or being gobbled by a wolf see’s that fear disappear. This is best explained in Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment, but that delves into the Freudian psychology of fairytales and believe it or not, that’s probably more sinister than any fairytale...
Historic Newspapers has released a whole host of Personalised Ladybird Books, including the new tongue-in-cheek editions for grownups, available when you click the image below. You're guaranteed to be entertained with every read.