Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Twelve Dancing Princesses and Other Fairy Tales by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, illustrated by Kay Nielsen

The original title (In Powder and Crinoline) describes this collection very well – the stories are written in an elegant and very formal style and the illustrations show the characters in extravagant ball gowns and elaborate hairstyles. This is not a scholarly collection; aside from the introduction by the editor which is mostly biographical information about Quiller-Couch and Nielsen, there is no background or source notes given for the tales in the collection.

This collection is designed to be read aloud to someone who can appreciate the elegant language and sly humor. The illustrations are integral to the Romantic nature of the text and heighten the touches of absurdity in the tales. There are twenty-four exquisite plates, but they are set in groups throughout the collection, so unless you want to flip back and forth this is not a good selection for a large group.

 I would recommend this for private enjoyment or to share with a small group of children – no more than five. Since much of the stories’ charm depends on the language, to tell them aloud you will need to spend extensive time practicing to be sure you can duplicate the feel of the text. This would be a good choice for a small storytelling/read-aloud with 8-12s who will enjoy the extravagant language or for high school students who have been studying the Romantic period in literature and enjoy Wilde and Nielsen. Caution if you are not familiar with Nielsen – there are several naked people in the illustrations, so consider your audience.

A brief excerpt: “The first thing she did on entering her room was to pick up the cabbage and throw it out of the window. But she was very much astonished, as she threw it, to hear a voice cry out—and seemingly from the heart of the cabbage—‘Oh dear, dear, dear! This will be the death of me!’—because in a general way cabbages do not speak.”

A few of the exquisite illustrations:

Verdict: A title for collectors, as there will be little call for it in the library, but if you are a fairy tale fan, this is a must-have.

ISBN: 0-517-67584-6; Published in 1988 by Portland House (originally titled In Powder and Crinoline and published in 1913) (currently out of print); Reviewed from and purchased for my personal collection

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