I remember when I was very little, my Grandma Alderson bought me the Gem Fairy Tales—Emerald, Sapphire, Ruby and Diamond–at Wal-Mart. Each time I visited her house, it seemed like, she would read to me from these books, whether my favorite stories (“The Donkey Cabbage” and “The Princess Who Flew Like a White Dove”) or the better known folktales (“Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” or “Hansel and Gretel”). She told me these stories alongside with several she had memorized herself from somewhere–“Cinderella” (with three balls); “The Little Half-Chick”; and “The Little Snow Girl”. Until I saw “The Little Snow Girl” in a series I inherited from her called Book House, I assumed she either made them up or got them from her mother. Either way, she would read the Gem Fairy Tales to me. At that young age my dad showed me Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, and it was at that young age my favorite film. I now have it on DVD on my shelf.
I believe that these stories taught me to like reading. Of course, Grandma and Dad did not teach me to read. I learned my letters off Sesame Street and basic reading in kindergarten and first grade. I would be a voracious reader (for my age) by later on in grade school (I remember reading Lewis Carroll, Rudyard Kipling, Frances Hodgson Burnett, L. Frank Baum, Johanna Spyri, Eric Knight, Shel Stevenson, and others). At that age I would also read the Ladybird Storybook Bible. Nonetheless, cutting my teeth on the fairy tales in the Gem Fairy Tales–Grandma eventually bought me a set–I first entered a world of imagination which has never ceased to occupy my inner life. And I am convinced it was in Grandma’s lap that I first saw that someday I could tell my own stories. True, in kindergarten writing “What I Want to Be When I Grow Up,” I picked “a Ballerina,” yet by the 1st or 2nd grade I believe I knew in my heart that what I wanted to do was tell my own stories.
My stepmother Renae–my dad’s second wife, who has long since lighted out of the territory of my and Dad’s, now deceased’s, life–told me that as a child she read Jane Austen. I do not think I could have read Jane Austen in grade school. It is the same with my friend Cynthia and her insistence that in the 8th Grade she read Gogol’s Dead Souls. I admit that I did read McCullough’s Truman in the summer between the 8th and 9th Grade. But until the summer I was still a kid; and if some other child told me at the same age they could not read that biography, I would not look down on them: children mature at different rates. Yet I remember reading Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter in the 7th grade and getting nothing out of it, barely understanding the kernel of meaning in the story (or if there was one). I would not read it again till the 10th Grade, and then I enjoyed it. I remember in the 7th Grade I watched a film adaptation of Silas Mariner and having the same experience–and even A Separate Peace, though it is supposed to be an adolescent’s book.
In late High School I read the original Grimm Fairy Tales, translated by Jack Zipes. Many of the stories in the Gem Fairy Tales were in that book. Over the years I have read Charles Perreault, Hans Christian Anderson, Joseph Jacobs, and intend to read Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s and Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s versions of “Beauty and the Beast.” Subsequently I have picked up many, many collections of folktales. I have read these stories varying from the 3-volume collection of Russian Stories, The Complete Folktales of A. N. Afanas’ev; to English Fairy Tales and More English Fairy Tales collected by Joseph Jacobs; Folktales of India by A K Ramanujan; to The Seven Swabians and Other German Folktales; The Annotated African American Folklore by Maria Tartar and Henry Louis Gates; and The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales originally compiled by Franz Xaver von Schönwerth. I also have read anthologies by Jack Zipes and Maria Tartar. However, I have many collections I have not read…
Yet it all began with the Gem Fairy Tales. And I have written my own “mock-folk” since: A Child’s Haggadah; The Magic Orchard and Other Stories; and A Pocketful of Stories. I also wrote two books for adolescents based on traditional religion (and not so traditional religion) and folklore: Grace; or, in Search of the Leviathan; and its sequel The Cycle of Ahriman. I have in the future two books coming up, one based on Oz lore (Oz Revisited) and one (Jeanie and the Gentle-Folk) based on legends ranging from an invented myth about the Roman gods; to Paul Bunyan; to Scheherazade; to Judge Ooka. I have written things that don’t have mythology or folklore in them–but it is a common theme for me. Perhaps it all began with the first story Grandma read to me: “The Donkey Cabbages.”