Charles Perrault (12 January 1628 – 16 May 1703) was a French author and member of the Académie Française and he laid the foundations for a new literary genre, the fairy tale.
Portrait (detail)of Charles Perrault by Philippe Lallemand, 1672
In 1695, when he was 67, Perrault lost his position as secretary and decided to dedicate himself to his children. In 1697 he published Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals, subtitled Tales of Mother Goose . This “Mother Goose” has never been identified as a person, but used to refer to popular and rural storytelling traditions in proverbial phrases of the time. These tales, based on French popular tradition, were very popular in sophisticated court circles. Its publication made him suddenly very widely known and he is often credited as the founder of the modern fairy tale genre.
Frontispiece of the only known copy of the first English edition, 1729 (Houghton Library)
Some of his popular stories, particularly Cinderella and The Sleeping Beauty, are still commonly told similar to the way Perrault had written them, while others have been revised over the years. For example, some versions of Sleeping Beauty published today are based partially on a Brothers Grimm tale, Little Briar Rose, a modified version of the Perrault story, but the Disney version is quite true to the original Perrault tale.
Old, Old Fairy Tales: "Cinderella". She lost her slipper as she ran from the castle...
Sleeping Beauty is shown a spindle by the old woman.
Little Red Riding Hood
Perrault had written Little Red Riding Hood as a warning to readers about men preying on young girls walking through the forest. He concludes his fairy tale with a moral, cautioning women and young girls about the dangers of trusting men. He states, “Watch out if you haven’t learned that tame wolves/ Are the most dangerous of all”. Perrault warns the readers about the manipulation and false appearances some men portray: “I say Wolf, for all wolves are not of the same sort; there is one kind with an amenable disposition – neither noisy, nor hateful, nor angry, but tame, obliging and gentle, following the young maids in the streets, even into their homes. Alas! Who does not know that these gentle wolves are of all such creatures the most dangerous!” Indeed, the girl gets into bed with the wolf and is devoured. There is no happy ending as in most current versions of the story.
Little Red Riding Hood is one of the central characters in the Broadway musical Into the Woods (1987) with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine. The musical intertwines the plots of several Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault fairy tales, exploring the consequences of the characters’ wishes and quests. The main characters are taken from “Little Red Riding Hood”, “Jack and the Beanstalk”, “Rapunzel”, and “Cinderella”, as well as several others. The musical is tied together by a story involving a childless baker and his wife and their quest to begin a family (the original beginning of The Grimm Brothers’ “Rapunzel”), their interaction with a witch who has placed a curse on them, and their interaction with other storybook characters during their journey.