Thursday, March 15, 2012

More Treats for the Sacramento Book Fair (part 2)

The Real Story Book (retold by Wallace C. Wadsworth) 1928

the early 1900's was a very good time for folk lore, fairy tales and children's stories of all sorts. An amazing number of compilations (with our without illustrations) were compiled and published during this time period.  Some of the books were cheaply made and didn't last the test of time well. Others have become classics.  All of them, in one way or another, showed the readers a particular perspective of the place and time in which they were formed.

Looking through compilations of children's stories from the turn of the century through the early 1930's a reader in today's world will see attitudes that today can bring shock, embarrassment, or even revulsion.

The book shown above contains two stories in a genre called "Darky stories" or "Darky Tales" -- stories in which the main character is black / African American / ethnically diverse.  One story is Little Black Sambo. The other is Epaminondas -- which I had to look up.

(note, in this case, Wikipedia was my friend as I was not clued in on all the generals of the Classical period of Greece /Rome / Thebes).

I'll get to the classic bit of the story in a moment, but first I'd like to note that these two tales, along with a number of other stories in the compilation  are "Noodle Stories"  or "Noodle Tales" - stories which deal with the "ludicrous doings of very foolish people."

Now that you know that, let's get back to Epaminondas:

 The tale of Epaminondas is a particularly good example of a noodle tale (unfortunately, it is told with the extra punch of the foolish person being a "pickaninny" or foolish black person). The original Epaminondas as related by Wikipedia was "A Theban general and statesman of the 4th century BC who transformed the Ancient Greek city-state of Thebes, leading it out of Spartan subjugation into a preeminent position in Greek politics."  The Epaminondas of this story is a young boy who doesn't have a tenth of the sense that the name was supposed to bring him - he also has a terrible problem with food and following directions exactly as he hears them.  

This particular copy is a 2nd printing -- by the time the book was printed next, these two stories had been excised / removed due to their racial stereotyping.

In an example of a compilation that wasn't quite as politically sensitive we have this:

Ideal Fairy Tales, Mcloughlin Brothers Publishing (1897 with chromolithographs)

This book contains a series of well-known fairy tales, including:  Sleeping Beauty, Diamonds and Toads, Cinderella or the Little Glass Slipper, Puss in Boots, and, Beauty and the Beast.    However, if we read through the stories themselves, I'm sure that the text will have surprises - and probably more graphic violence than you'd expect.

The Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys by Nathaniel Hawthorne (illustrated by Frederic Stuart Church) c1890

This final compilation takes us back to ancient mythology for the stories, including:  The Gorgon's Head, The Golden Touch, The Paradise of Children,  The Three Golden Apples, The Miraculous Pitcher, and, the Chimaera.

The compiler, Nathaniel Hawthorne gave his reasoning for why he chose these stories:  "The author has long been of opinion that many of the classical myths were capable of being rendered into a very capital reading for children. In the little volume here offered to the public, he has worked up half a dozen of them, with this end in view. a great freedom of treatment was necessary to his plan; but it will be observed by every one who attempts to render these legends malleable in his intellectual furnace, that they are marvelously independent of all temporary modes and circumstances."   

Some of these story books were published to be purely entertaining. Others were moralistic in nature, while others still gave examples of how to live a good (meaning Godly) life, or examples of how NOT to behave. All of them give readers today  more than pleasurable reading, but an insight into the attitudes and biases of the people who not only created them, but read them.

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