Saturday, May 2, 2009

Fairy Godmothers

This godmother of hers, who was a fairy, said to her, "You wish that you could go to the ball; is it not so?"

"Yes," cried Cinderella, with a great sigh.

"Well," said her godmother, "be but a good girl, and I will contrive that you shall go." Then she took her into her chamber, and said to her, "Run into the garden, and bring me a pumpkin."

~from Charles Perrault's Cinderella or The Little Glass Slipper

The idea of good and bad fairy godmothers has always intrigued me, so after the post on Cinderella I decided to investigate. The concept of fairy godmothers is relatively new to the world of fairy tales, being introduced mainly by Charles Perrault, as well as by Madame d'Aulnoy and other précieuses. In older tales, fairies did not by nature give aid to humans, and were usually seen as mischief makers, even as bringers of trouble. They would occasionally help from a mere whim, but they were not seen as benevolent. It was always better for mortals not to offend the fairy folk, and in this they were rather like the pagan gods and goddesses, impetuous and unpredictable.

There are many theories about fairy godmothers, that they are based upon the précieuses themselves, or that they are modeled upon the Three Fates of classical mythology, especially the "wise women" who appear in Sleeping Beauty. The Fates were rather indifferent to humans and did not care to intervene the way the fairy godmothers did. The Brothers Grimm chose to use the term "wise women" rather than "fairy" to describe the godmothers of the Sleeping Beauty, deeming it to be more Germanic.

The most famous fairy godmothers are those who appear in Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. However, they were not introduced into those stories until 1697 when Charles Perrault made the addition. Cinderella was helped by her mother's spirit rather then by a fairy godmother in earlier renditions. The oldest versions of Sleeping Beauty, called Perceforest and Sun, Moon and Talia, did not have fairy godmothers at all.

Perrault also introduced the evil fairy godmother of Sleeping Beauty, she who places the curse upon the baby princess at the christening. The idea of a wicked fairy cursing a child at a christening goes back to a tale of the chansons de geste. Many people nowadays laugh at the idea of curses, but in past times and in other cultures they have been seen as being real. From primitive times, Christians saw sacramentals as ways of not only conferring blessing but of warding away evil. Author Regina Doman gives a modern twist to the ills wrought by the malevolent "godmother" in her novel Waking Rose in a way that impresses upon the reader that the archetypes represented by the old tales are manifested again and again.



Gareth Russell said...

Fascinating! I so enjoyed this post, Miss Vidal. The anthropology and history behind these staples of our culture are always so interesting. Thank you.

elena maria vidal said...

Glad you enjoyed it, Gareth.

Viola said...

How interesting and charming! I often wish that I had a fairy god-mother myself, but I think that I'll have to be my own fairy god-mother!

Anonymous said...

I love it. Very interesting, thank you.

elena maria vidal said...

Thanks! I think I'll write about fairies next......