October 14, 2014

500 New Fairy Tales and the First Black Cinderella, By Nora Stasio

Keke Palmer as Cinderella
I've got two bits of news for you today--both very different, both very intriguing. 

The first one isn't a new story, but one that, I think, didn't get enough coverage when it broke. Historian Erika Eichenseer discovered three books packed with a total of 500 fairy tales in Bavaria, Germany in the Spring of 2012. And you've probably never heard most of these before. 

In the 1860s, Franz Xaver Von Schönwerth, also a historian, traveled throughout the Bavarian region on Oberpfalz, Germany, gathering information on the local people's customs, traditions, myths, and folk tales. He published three volumes of the fairy tales he had gathered, but his works were never as popular as those by the Grimm Brothers, and he had been largely forgotten by modern society, until Eichenseer's discovery. The books were locked away in an archive in Regensburg, Germany for approximately 150 years. 

The Grimm brothers were known for putting their own spin on the stories they recorded, inserting their own voice into the narration. Von Schönwerth was more concerned about preserving history, making it a point to transcribe the tales exactly as he was told them. These stories are many generations old, and most are unique to Bavaria and are not well known in other parts of the world, which is why you've probably never heard them. 

For instance:Hhave you heard the one about the princess who turned herself into a lake to hide from a witch? The witch drinks up the lake and then the princess cuts her way out of the witch's stomach. A thousand points to you if you already know that one, but it's new to me. Eichenseer certainly unearthed a long-lost treasure when she discovered these books. 

My question is, why haven't we heard more about this since this 2012? I'm sure fairy tale fanatics like ourselves would love to read these ancient tales. Eichenseer did publish a collection of them - in German, of course, but an English version should be released next year. Let's cross our fingers!

Or, here's a thought: Instead of relentlessly rehashing the same seven world-famous fairy tales, maybe Hollywood can adapt one of these for their next big budget film. Why do I have a feeling that will never happen...?

Anyway, if you're intrigued, you can read one such tale, The Turnip Princess, here: 

Now for a more recent story.

On September 9th, Keke Palmer became the first African American to portray Cinderella on the Broadway stage. She took over for Carly Rae Jepsen, the Canadian pop idol who had the role for seven months. I'm referring, of course, to the 2013 revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's adaptation of the fairy tale, which has been getting a lot of good press since opening.
Keke Palmer was in the news earlier this year for breaking new ground in a different medium. At 20 years old, she became the youngest-ever TV talk show host, with "Just Keke" premiering on BET channel in June. 

You may remember Keke from her 'breakout role' in Akeelah and the Bee in 2006. She released a solo album in 2007 and starred in a Nickelodeon sitcom, True Jackson, VP, from 2008 to 2011.

I must say, this news about Cinderella was a surprise to me. Has there really never before been an African-American Cinderella? Apparently, on Broadway, there hasn't. 

I remember when I was quite young, it was 1997, and ABC produced a TV adaptation of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical with wildly popular (at the time) R&B singer, Brandy, in the title role. My friends and I recorded it (on a vhs tape!) and watched it over and over again. We didn't care what color Cinderella's skin was, we were thoroughly enchanted by her. 

If you've seen that ABC special, you'll remember that Whitney Houston played the Fairy Godmother, and she tore the house down as usual with several solo numbers. Paolo Montalban, a Filipino-American, played the Prince, and Whoopi Goldberg was his Queen mother. Bernadette Peters played the Wicked Stepmother. One of her daughters was played by a white actress (Veanne Cox) and the other, a black actress (Natalie Desselle-Reid). 

What a wonderfully diverse cast, right? This special was well-received and quite successful for ABC. I guess that's why I'm surprised a Broadway production has never taken a similar route until now. I don't see any reason why not. Nevertheless, congratulations to Miss Palmer--for going down in history twice in the same year!

Please share your thoughts on these happenings in the comments section below!

Nora, by Nora Stasio
Bio: Nora writes, "I have been a lover of creative writing and fairy tales for basically my entire life! I recently graduated Cum Laude from Rutgers where I completed a minor in English, with a focus in Creative Writing and Shakespeare (I majored in Psychology)."


  1. Yes! English translation of Von Schoenworth!

  2. Oh my god I completely forgot about that movie. But after you mentioned the cast it brought flash backs. I'll have to track down a copy to re-watch it. Will they ever publish the Von Schoenworth? I'd love to get a copy.

  3. I have a vague memory of the ABC special with Whitney Houston, but never watched it. I'm thrilled that there is finally an African-American Cinderella on Broadway though. :)

  4. D1-D2: Yes, there is a published version of some of the tales. It's available on amazon- http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/048649991X/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=048649991X&linkCode=as2&tag=thesurlalufairyt.
    I've actually been reading through and sharing some of my discoveries on my blog, so far I've covered dwarves, mermaids, and witches, you can read more here http://talesoffaerie.blogspot.com/2014/09/schonwerth-tales-dwarves.html

  5. I loved the movie version of Cinderella with Brandy! It was so good! On a family trip to Disney World, her ball gown was on display at one of the rides in MGM.

    I'm quite interested to read these 500 new tales! Maybe I'll review the English version next year for my column. :)

  6. Hooray for non-traditional casting (and too bad it's still unusual enough for us to notice it when it happens)!

    And hooray for new/old fairy tales to read!