Sunday, November 18, 2007

Good 'n' Plenty

Have you ever been reading a fairy tale, and noticed that the story seemed... familiar?

I have been noticing a few of these themes among folk and fairy tales, as you might imagine - they are, after all, rife with archetype and deeply rooted cultural lore. One that I've been finding attractive in many forms lately is one that seems to speak to the idea of magical freedom from want. Certainly, at any time in history, the idea of bounty without burden has been a dream for many, and these tales, along with such symbols as the cornucopia bear that out. Along with this, though, comes a distrust of such luxury, of not paying the way, and in fairy tales, it comes out as a cautionary moral about the dangers of misusing magic. Each of these stories follows this up-and-down path, but each comes, too, to its own satisfactory conclusion. Eat up, me hearties.

Strega Nona, by Tomie De Paola

This old favourite is a take on the story of the Magician's Apprentice, starring the round, charming witch Strega Nona and her assistant, Big Anthony. When Strega Nona is out of the house, he fires up her magic pasta pot, which soon overwhelms the town, because he does not know how to stop it. Luckily Strega Nona's trip was not a long one, and she gets back in time to save the day. She even makes Big Anthony clean up the mess, and he eats until it hurts. Talk about punishment fitting the crime!

The Magic Porridge Pot, by Paul Galdone

An older precursor to Strega Nona, this tale by a master teller of fairy tales sees a town swamped in porridge when the pot won't stop overflowing. As in the Sorceror's Apprentice tale it is modeled on, the correct magic would stop it, but by the time the pot's owner arrives to perform that spell, there is a huge mess for the townspeople to eat their way out of.

The Full Belly Bowl, by Jim Aylesworth, ill. Wendy Anderson Halperin

When an old man does a favour for a tiny man, saving him, he receives as a gift a Full Belly Bowl, along with a note explaining its use. While he enjoyed some of the riches it brought him, he also causes himself some mischief by forgetting to use it properly a couple of times. In the end, after the bowl is broken and can help or hurt no more, he is not much better off than he started, but was content enough for all that.

Two Of Everything, by Lily Toy Hong

This retelling of a chinese folktale is a favourite of mine, and begins with the finding of an old pot. Quickly, it is discovered that the pot doubles anything that is put in it. The first problem starts when one of them falls into the giant vessel... They sort things out soon enough, though, and lives happily and prosperously ever after alongside their new twins.

Kiss the Cow, by Phyllis Root, ill. Will Hillenbrand

This story by the inimitable Root turns the formula on its ear a bit. Annalisa isn't supposed to try to milk the magic cow that feeds all those hungry children, but she is curious, and she does it anyhow, but she does not kiss the cow after singing for her to stop. Instead of creating more and more milk, though, Luella stops producing any, and the house is soon filled with crying children. It isn't until the stubborn Annalisa gets curious about what it would be like to kiss a cow that she does, and order is restored. Instead of suspicion of magic, this story seems to address a gratitude for bounty that seems magical, and it is a really charming take on the topic (made all the more so by wonderful illustrations).

For more classic food-themed tales, consider also The Gingerbread Man (or Boy or Girl or Baby, depending on the version), The Enormous Turnip (or Carrot, or Potato, again, according to version), or Stone Soup (I love the Jon Muth version).

For these and more magical tales, visit your local library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

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