This past weekend, my cousins came to visit. I’m the oldest out of all my cousins on both sides, so these visits are always an opportunity to stop pretending to be dignified and just be silly for a while. My sister and I took them to the county fair, which lasted most of the evening, but by the time we were home, my eight-year-old cousin was still full of energy and wanted something to do. When I recommended finding something new to read, she asked me if I had any fairy tale books. (What a wonderful question!) This was the one I picked:
Amazingly, it’s still in print today, although it now goes by the name of The Golden Book of Fairy Tales. It wasn’t only my favorite fairy tale book when I was eight — I inherited it from my mother, who remembers it fondly from her own childhood. By the time my cousin was settled with it on the sofa, my mother and my aunt were looking at it too, rattling off the names of their favorite stories. I actually discovered there was a story in the book I’d never read — “The Royal Ram”, because apparently little Libby believed a story about sheep could contain nothing that would interest her. (This is dreadfully ironic now, considering I spend a lot of my time at school writing in a field with about eight rams hanging out just beyond the fence. Inspiring, no?)
But I didn’t read that story today. For the first time, I decided to review a story that I’d already read — one that is known to Golden Book aficionados as “Bright, Deardeer and Kit”, but which is actually called “L’Histoire de Blondine”, or “The Story of Blondine, Bonne-Biche, and Beau-Minon”.
(Continued after the jump.)
One rather cool thing about the Golden Book is that Marie Ponsot, who is described on the title page as the book’s “translator”, actually adapted each story to be more accessible to its audience — which (if little Libby was any example) was an audience of dreamy, magic-mad children. (Not absolutely certain it was Marie Ponsot who did this, I’ll just add here. But I don’t see credit being given to anyone else for these adaptations, so I shall just make an assumption.)
The stories are shorter and clearer than their originals. Characters are given names who didn’t have names before. Sometimes scary and strange things are removed. Other times — unexpectedly — they aren’t, and that’s what makes it such a wonderful book. Adapted and changed though the stories are, they’re written clearly enough for anyone to understand, and yet they’re still capable of sending shivers down your spine.
(If anybody’s interested, and if anybody happens to have this book lying around their house, dorm room, or cardboard box, find “Queen Cat” in the table of contents. It’s almost an exact retelling of “The White Cat” from two weeks ago — but with some subtle changes.)
Anyway, “Bright, Deardeer and Kit” is a story I remember reading a lot. I think it was the image of the forest of enchanted lilacs that got me, and the spookiness of Bright wandering through it, abandoned by her servant, Piggo, who had taken her there in a cart led by ostriches. I mean — an ostrich cart? A forest of lilacs? And then the elements of the rest of the story: a wicked but fragile stepmother, an enchanted doe and cat, a sleep that lasts seven years, a devil-like parrot, a magic rose who is Bright’s own “evil genius”, a silent journey on the back of a tortoise… it’s beautiful. And a little bit terrifying. But that’s why I wanted to know more about it.
It was first written by Madame la Comtesse de Ségur, whose real name was Countess Sofiya Feodorovna Rostopchina, or sometimes just Sophie, Countess of Ségur. She started writing old — fifty-eight years old, in fact — but that didn’t seem to have any bearing on her writing talent. She tended to go more for moral fables than tales of pure adventure (“Bright, Deardeer and Kit” is actually the first Scandareview story that has had a moral so far), but she added a fair dose of wild whimsy, too. She was an exiled Russian-Mongolian aristocrat who unfortunately seems to have had a jerk of a husband — but she hasn’t been forgotten, honored today by both the French and the Russians, along with countless fans around the world.
You go, Soph.
I couldn’t find a legal version of “Bright, Deardeer and Kit” online (though I did find several illegal versions — Scribd’s illegal, isn’t it? ‘Twould be good to know, because if it isn’t, I could link to it.) Personally, my French is awful, but if yours isn’t, you can attempt the original version here. Otherwise, there’s a copy here that seems to be more or less a direct translation — the literary version to Golden Book’s condensed one.
The differences between the online versions and the Golden Book version are so slight that I don’t really feel it’s worth mentioning them, except for the fact that “Bright, Deardeer and Kit” is shorter. And then there are the name changes, which I’ll put here, in case you’ve clicked one of the above links and want to know who on earth Piggo is.
Blondine — Bright
King Benin — King Kind
Queen Doucette — Queen Gentle
Minister Leger — unnamed Secretary of State
King Turbulent — King Battle
Queen/Princess Fourbette — Queen/Princess Rigid
Brunette — Dark (seriously! Apparently Madame la Comtesse de Ségur had a thing against brunettes. Maybe something to do with her hubby?)
Gourmandinet — Piggo
Beau-Minon — Kit
Bonne-Biche — Deardeer
Fairy Bienfaisante — Fairy Goodness
Prince Violent — Prince Fierce
(Illustrated by Adrienne Segur)
Highlights (heavens! I have to pick just four? I’m not sure I can manage that.)
– Gourmandinet’s death in the original French version. This was one of the only things that wasn’t in the Golden Book version, and it actually shocked me. The poor man is already quaking with remorse at having followed Queen Fourbette’s orders and dumped Blondine in the lilac forest. Why does the Queen have to give him a volatile mule that throws him to the ground and kills him instantly? And then that final line, written absolutely humorlessly: “No one regretted him. No one but the poor Blondine had ever loved him.” Poor Gourmandinet!
– Bright’s/Blondine’s seven-year sleep, from the ages of seven to fourteen. “Today’s your fourteenth birthday, child,” said Deardeer. “You’ve slept a special sleep for seven years. Kit and I wanted to spare you the tiresome part of growing and learning. We’ve taught you in your sleep.” Frankly, I’d be furious about that — seven to twelve were lovely years! It’s the years from thirteen to sixteen that would have been nice to avoid — but Bright is delighted and shows off all her new skills, which include calligraphy, piano-playing, and being well-read. All right, maybe I’m a bit jealous. :)
– The utter evilness of the parrot who tricks Bright/Blondine into picking her “evil genius” rose. (The concept of the “evil genius” is also something I find fascinating — does everyone have an evil genius? Does it symbolize the evil within Bright, or is something that causes evil within Bright? And the fact that Kit and Deardeer would have been enchanted forever if she hadn’t picked it — and that they were willing to be — is also fantastically original.)
Anyway, the parrot is evil personified. Constantly squawks at poor Bright and even shouts at her when she won’t pick the rose fast enough. Used to give me shivers.
– The double wedding at the end. It’s such a twisted, spooky, fantastic story that it’s rather funny that it ends this way, especially after the extremely shocking thing that happens right before the resolution. It made me smile as a kid, and it still does.