Okay, gang, even by my standards this one is seriously out there. It starts at “King Lear” and goes straight to bugfuck crazytown. Along the way we encounter ghosts, talking sheep, and an honest-t0-god rain of lobster-patties. It’s…something.
This particular…thingy…was written by Madame d’Aulnoy of France and published in 1697. (d’Aulnoy also gave us rather more well-known stories, including “The White Cat” which shares some of the same window-dressings, although not the rain of lobster-bits.) The translation is found in Andrew Lang’s Blue Fairy Book, nearly two hundred years later.
Racism in fairy tales is hardly uncommon, but most of it is a sort of in-passing commentary (leaving aside things like Orientalism in the Arabian Nights, which is a whole ‘nother can of wet herring.) This fairy tale is somewhat unusual in that it has a black character who gets an actual speaking part, which is something I very rarely run across in European fairy tales and might almost be quite progressive…except that she’s relegated to the same role as the talking animal companions, and it gets worse from there. I honestly don’t know enough about the literature of the era to know how exactly to parse this in the context of the day, but it’s sure cringeworthy now. (If there are any experts on late 17th century French literature who’d like to weigh in on whether this is the equivalent of the crows in Dumbo or was a legitimate attempt at multiculturalism that comes out agonizing three hundred-odd years out, the comments are open!)
Seriously, though, the whole story is just messed up. So of course I had to talk about it.
Without further ado, then…and I may need alcohol to get through this one…I give you:
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