Through the Water Curtain

Through the Water Curtain & other Tales from around the World

Flip this beautiful book open and discover a very personal selection of fairy tales

Cornelia has long been inspired and fascinated by fairy tales. This anthology is her selection of fairy tales from all around the world – not just from her native Germany but from Russia, Japan and the Native American tradition. A beautiful book for any young reader wishing to discover the wider world of fairy tales.

I didn't like fairy tales when I was a child. No. I had a scratched LP (yes, that's how old I am) that contained several tales of the Brothers Grimm. I definitely recall Cinderella. Then there was the terrifying Goose Maid, with the chopped-off talking head of Falada, the faithful horse (utterly traumatizing), King Thrushbeard, The Frog Prince, Hansel and Gretel, The Wolf and the Seven Goatlings... I grew up in Germany, so the narrator read the original tales--abbreviated, I am sure, but not censored or modified to make them more digestible for children. I therefore knew the darker versions by heart before I encountered the interpretations of Walt Disney or the light-hearted Czech movie adaptations I learnt to love. All that darkness was of course deeply troubling, but as the tales were both bewildering and strangely unforgettable, I listened to that LP almost every night in my bed, over and over again. It taught me how strange an enchantment fairy tales can cast even though the characters stay rather abstract and the plot takes the wildest and often very abrupt twists and turns. Fairy tales break all the rules of a good story and yet they find such powerful images for the deepest human emotions and fears that we sense deep layers of meaning in a poisonous apple or the gruelling setting of a gingerbread house, and more truth than a thousand words would grant. Of course, that's an explanation I came up with much later for the lure of the scratchy LP. As a child I didn't ask myself what cast the spell. We accept the rules of enchanted lands much more easily when we are young. Apart from the Grimm's LP, I also remember a book of Hans Christian Andersen's Tales bound in blue linen, a pale green volume of animal tales that I still own. In some of those stories I felt more at home than in The Grimm's Tales, maybe because their tone was more familiar and less distant in time. I didn't know yet about the difference between folk tales passed on by nameless storytellers over the ages and fairy tales created by modern authors like H.C. Andersen, Oscar Wilde or Rudyard Kipling (it doesn't get much better than Just So Stories). Nevertheless. The dark tales the Grimms had collected, though so much older than The Ugly Duckling or The Happy Prince, stayed with me, along with their mysterious and powerful imagery, their archetypes and the magic of rose-covered castles and shoes filled with blood... which sometimes included a cut-off toe. But I probably still would've shaken my head in disbelief at the age of thirty if someone had told me that one day I'd own quite a collection of fairy-tale books, and I probably would've accepted any bet that I'd never make them a vital part of my own writing. Even when I was reading and rereading tales from all over the world for this anthology, I often felt again what I felt as my sixyear- old self: that I don't really like fairy tales. Oh, all those helpless princesses and scheming old women, all those child-eating witches and stepmothers! Does any literary mirror reflect more unflinchingly, how cruelly women are judged and vilified when they rebel against the parts men want them to play? All over the world, fairy tales describe the golden cages and the punishment for the women who try to escape them. Of course, in most cases the only hope for the heroine is the timely appearance of the prince. Folk and fairy tales tend to be quite reactionary. They don't even try to hide their purpose of confirming and preserving the values of patriarchal societies, with their strict hierarchies anchored by property and armed violence. But from time to time one comes across a tale with a slightly more rebellious message, and each time I discover one of those I wonder whether many others were forgotten exactly because they don't reaffirm the traditional values that even the liberal Grimms believed in.