I’m back from outer space, better known as teaching a writing course, and thought I’d pop back in with thoughts on a recent read Wise Women: Folk and Fairy Tales from around the World retold and edited by Suzanne Barchers. First thought was where has this book been all my life?
Stories of bravery, heroism, and intelligence burst through the pages. I was pleased that a number of different counties and cultures were represented. In just the first two sections, I was treated to tales from China, Japan, Turkey, India, Spain, Russia, the U.S., Scotland, Italy, Korea, and Norway, to name a few. Finally, a book that boasted tales from around the world and had the pages to back it up. Stories about sisters saving their brothers, clever girls, girls as advisors, girls who managed households, determined girls, girls who shaped their own destiny, independent girls, girls who married on their own terms. Next followed girls who outsmarted wizards, queens, and witches, poor girls who improved their circumstances and married kings or princes. Girls were making huge moves in this book.
Poverty was a recurring theme throughout the first part “Daughters: Clever and Courageous” and the second part “Sisters: Resourceful and Steadfast.” The first two chapters definitely piqued my interest for more and it was really encouraging to see how different cultures valued women and gave them important roles in the stories. I really appreciated how the author listed the country of origin for each story.
Another recurring theme was eating children or leaving them to die. Some of this was as a result of poverty, but still. There were a few stories involving giants, but I never felt like the giants were written similarly. A few well-known favorites like The Snow Queen and Hansel and Gretel made their way into the collection, nestled among the many new (to me) stories.
My greatest appreciation of this book is that it gives positive role models and different cultural perspectives to young girls. As an added plus, it does this through the lens of folk and faerie tales. Young girls can have their independence and intelligence reaffirmed by the positive depictions of women and girls in this book. Women and girls who are resourceful, clever, and who advocate for themselves.
Hopefully, we can have more story collections like this: not beating the message through like we’re beating a dead horse, not making the subject matter more palatable for public consumption, but one that honors and uplifts women as the multi-faceted creatures they are. Just like Goldilocks, we can skip the options that are too hot or too cold, and get the tales that are just right.