The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault is a little known work of translation by Angela Carter, with illustrations by Martin Ware. Carter worked from Charles Perrault’s Histoires ou Contes du Temps Passé avec des Moralités, published in 1697. Prior to the 17th century, folk tales had existed within an oral tradition of storytelling, passed down between generations. The French author is regarded as the father of the fairy tale as he was the first person to publish many of these folk tales in print.
‘Each century tends to create or re-create fairy tales after its own taste’, Carter writes in the foreword, anticipating her own work later that decade. Carter’s translation of 10 tales was published in 1977, when she was simultaneously drafting The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (1979), her collection of feminist stories based around traditional fairy tales. The Bloody Chamber draws heavily on Perrault’s originals including ‘The History of Blue Beard’ (see Carter’s ‘The Bloody Chamber’) and ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ (see Carter’s ‘The Company of Wolves’).
Like The Bloody Chamber, the tales published here are not straight translations. Carter modernises language and allusions, and subtly distorts Perrault’s original morals. For example, Carter’s concluding moral for ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ reflects 20th-century concerns about the dangers that threaten children:
Now, there are real wolves, with hairy pelts and enormous teeth; but also wolves who seem perfectly charming, sweet-natured and obliging, who pursue young girls in the street and pay them the most flattering attentions. Unfortunately, these smooth-tongued, smooth-pelted wolves are the most dangerous beasts of all.