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Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Snow-White and Rose-Red

Ladybird Well-Loved Tales: Snow-White and Rose-Red
Retold by Vera Southgate
With illustrations by Eric Winter
Publisher: Ladybird Books Ltd, 1969

I loved this book as a child. The illustrations stayed in my memory; fond memories, though I think the pictures have lodged there due to the combination of bizarre, haunting, and quite frightening images. I was given a copy of this 1969 Ladybird classic by a fellow vintage Ladybird fan, and debated whether to share it with the children. On reading it to the boys a year ago ( then 4 and 6), they disliked the story, finding it too long ( the book has that damp, musty hue of 'vintage old' which didn't help the bedtime reading experience). On reading it to my daughter last week, nearly 4, she was captivated. 

The story opens setting the scene on these angelic, well behaved sisters, Snow White and Rose Red, who live with their mother in a cottage in the wood. A rose bush in white and red grow outside. The children spend their days helping their mother ( by arranging flowers in her room) and romping about in the forest. Although the forest is dangerous, the creatures of the forest never hurt the children ( seemingly because they're so good and have a guardian angel protecting them). The children even wake one day to find they've been sleeping by the edge of a cliff, but it's okay, as they're angel looked over them. Bizarre? Truly. And so far removed from any story she's ever heard or been exposed to both, my daughter was fascinated.

The book continues on the classic 50 page Ladybird easy reading format; roughly three short paragraphs per page, and this Ladybird decidedly less pompous and 'wordy' than others in the series. About a fifth of the way into the story, the girls are visited at home by a great brown bear. The mother of the girls instructs her children not to be afraid (biblical angel like), and they rub snow from his fur. The bear and the children become friends, and the bear visits the children every night until spring. Strange so far, but endearing- and then the book takes an even stranger turn. The girls meet an angry dwarf in the forest, with his long white beard trapped in a log. The illustration of this grotesque, angered dwarf is quite scary, it's not like the sanitised Disney of today, more like the surreal age Disney, but a notch up from that. The light pastel pallet of 1960s Ladybird is quite insipid. The dwarf, with no way to escape, is eventually set free by one of the girls snipping his beard off with her convenient pair of scissors, which happen to be on her person. The dwarf is horrified rather than grateful, grabs a nearby bag of gold and scampers away. 

The girls then meet the dwarf twice more, once with his beard tangled in a fishing line, so again they release him by cutting his beard (he's angry and runs off witch a bag of pearls), and finally, they see the dwarf being carried away by a giant bird (a roc?) . The girls pull on the feet of the dwarf to help release him, but again, after he's free he's angered to have been 'manhandled) .No words of thanks. On seeing the dwarf for a final time, the girls stop to admire his spread-out jewels. Just as the dwarf is about to have an almighty tantrum, in bounds the bear, who kills the dwarf. The bear sheds his fur coat and is of course, a prince, trapped under the dwarf's evil spell. With the spell now broken as the dwarf lies dead, the prince brings his friends, Snow-White and Rose-Red home, surprisingly their delighted mother. And to add to all that enchantment, the prince has a brother for the Rose Red to marry! How very convenient!

Yes this book is a bit menacing, if read that way, and yes it's dated, smelly, makes no sense, pushes at the boundaries of 'fairy tale' and farce ( unintentionally), but it's so memorable, so enthralling, so bizarre. Edie has requested this every day this week, , and no doubt it will be laid out ready for me to read tomorrow. Vintage Ladybird at its best.

If you like this book, you might also like another Vintage Ladybird: The Sly Fox and The Little Red Hen

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