Browsing the blog archives for March, 2009.

Cinderella: Murderer


cinderellaThe now-forgotten book Lo cunto de li cunti (The Tale of the Tales, 1634-1636), a collection of fairy tale-like stories by Giambattista Basile, served as the basis for several of our culture’s best-known fairy tales, including Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rumpelstiltskin, Rapunzel, and Hanzel and Gretel. Charles Perrault in particular used Basile’s tales as the basis for his famous versions. The kicker is that the original Basile versions were racy and violent, so Perrault and others have bequeathed bowdlerized, sanitized versions to the world.

In Fairy Tales: A New History, Ruth B. Bottigheimer explains:

Basile’s cinder-heroine is a world away [from Perrault's heroine]. Her name, also the story’s title, “The Cinderella Cat” (La Gatta Cenerentola), prepares us for the hiss and scratch that follow: The widowed father of Basile’s Cinderella took a perfect harridan as his second wife, a woman who made our heroine’s life such a misery that little Cinderella Cat complained to her governess. Seeing opportunity, the governess told Cinderella to slam a trunk lid onto her stepmother’s neck to be quit of her for good and all, and then to beg her father to take her (the governess) as his new wife, promising that she would then give Cinderella the best of everything. And thus it happened. It was as a murderess that Basile’s Cinderella Cat began her ascent to the throne.

Perrault’s “Sleeping Beauty” is nearly as much a part of contemporary narrative culture as is “Cinderella.” The source of his tale was a passing king who had sex with her, with the result that - nine months later and still-sleeping - she gave birth to twins. Only when one of her babies mistakenly sucked on her fingertip and pulled out the sleep-causing splinter did she awaken, amazed at the infant companions she found beside her on the bed. The tale played out with the king’s continued bigamy, an attempted murder, and a comic striptease, after which the bigamous king set everything right. Basile had not invented this tale, but he maintained the essential elements and the spirit of a much longer and far bawdier version - already a few centuries old when Basile took it up - in his reworking.

Williams’ wheelbarrow - opposing views

canon, humor, poetry

Offered at CafePress on tee shirts, mousepads, etc.:


[For those scratching their heads.]

Kudos and a break


I’m honored that the redoubtable Readerville has selected Books Are People, Too as its site of the week. Thanks, Karen!

Now, it’s ill-advised to take a break when I’m just starting to get some momentum going, but due to unforessen circumstances I’m having to move out-of-state in a matter of days. Hopefully new posting will start late next week. In the meantime please check out the archives, and subscribe to the RSS feed so you’ll know as soon as things fire up again. Now, I have to get packing….

George Orwell’s FBI file

FBI files, canon

orwellAs promised, the second in our series of writers’ FBI files. This time the subject is George Orwell (Eric Blair).

Click here to download the PDF file [84 pages | 2.5 meg]

The FBI’s website notes:

The English political satirist was never investigated by the FBI; however, FBI records contain correspondence in 1949 between Orwell’s publisher and J. Edgar Hoover, as well as miscellaneous information regarding him and his published works.

Really, I should say that the FBI’s site did note that back when it contained Orwell’s file, but, like it’s done with more than 50 documents, the FBI has pulled the file off of its website with no notice or explanation. (You can still see it listed here, but it is no longer linked to the file itself.) Let’s stop to bask in the unbearable levels of irony and chutzpah here: The FBI has quietly deleted its online file on the man who wrote 1984.


On a related note, the website for MI5 (basically, the British FBI) has information on its file on Orwell (though not the file itself), plus his passport photo:


Illo from “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”

canon, humor

Quirk Books has posted one of the 20 illustrations that will adorn its much-anticipated title, Pride and Pejudice and Zombies.


“Howl” movie

art/graphics, free speech & censorship, movies, poetry, writers' lives

A movie about Ginsberg’s “Howl” is officially underway:

“Howl” is a genre-expanding feature-length exploration of the courtroom drama of the obscenity trial over Allen Ginsberg’s poem, as well as an animated re-imagining of the poem.

James Franco stars as Ginsberg; Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman are directing; Gus Van Sant is co-executive producer.

illuminated-poemsThe Ginsberg Project reports that the film’s animated version of the poem is being done by Eric Drooker, who graphically adapted “Howl” and other works from Ginzy in the book Illuminated Poems.

NOT “e. e. cummings”

canon, poetry, writers' lives

cummingsNorman Friedman definitively buries “the cutesy-pooh notion” that E. E. Cummings’ name is supposed to be written “e. e. cummings” (or “e.e. cummings” or “e e cummings” or “ee cummings”).

NOT “e. e. cummings”

Not “e. e. cummings” Revisited

Reading the Bible


Slate editor David Plotz - a self-described “lax, non-Hebrew-speaking Jew” - did what almost nobody does these days: He read the Bible cover to cover. He blogged about it as he went, and, inevitably, the blog has become a book, Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible. He offers some thoughts on his adventure:

Everyone should read it—all of it! In fact, the less you believe, the more you should read.

You can’t get through a chapter of the Bible, even in the most obscure book, without encountering a phrase, a name, a character, or an idea that has come down to us 3,000 years later. The Bible is the first source of everything from the smallest plot twists (the dummy David’s wife places in the bed to fool assassins) to the most fundamental ideas about morality (the Levitical prohibition of homosexuality that still shapes our politics, for example) to our grandest notions of law and justice. It was a joyful shock to me when I opened the Book of Amos and read the words that crowned Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

I began the Bible as a hopeful, but indifferent, agnostic. I wished for a God, but I didn’t really care. I leave the Bible as a hopeless and angry agnostic. I’m brokenhearted about God.

Moby Books - gone but not … actually, they are forgotten

art/graphics, canon, out-of-print, publishing


Anybody else remember Moby Books? They put out adaptations of classic lit for kids, and the coolest thing about each chunky little book was that the right-hand page of every single spread was an illustration.


When I Googled “Moby Books,” I expected to find at least one site obsessively devoted to them, with a complete listing of titles, cover scans, interior scans, maybe even interviews with the illustrators, a history of the company (kind of like this site devoted to Big Little Books, or this one that zealously chronicles The War of the Worlds) … but there’s almost nothing. Not even a Wikipedia entry. The only info comes from Book Safari, which sells “vintage series books”:

This paperbound series of adaptions of the classics were similar in style to Whitman’s Big Little Books of the 1930’s and 40’s. These tiny books measure 5.5 inch by 4 inches and feature an illustration on every other page. The artwork depicts the action described on the facing page. At least 41 titles were available in this series during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The books were published under the Moby Books logo by Playmore, under arrangement with Waldman Publishing Corporation. In 2002, selected titles were reissued by Playmore without the Moby Books logo.


I’m cobbling together this little page as placeholder, a reminder … hopefully it’ll spur a fan of the series to put up a full site.

Sources for images:, The Lady Jane Grey Internet Museum, War of the Worlds Book Cover Collection, The Time Machine Project





Our changing language


The days when the dandelion could be called the pissabed, a heron could be called a shitecrow and the windhover could be called the windfucker have passed away with the exuberant phallic advertisement of the codpiece.

–historian Geoffrey Hughes in Swearing

Quoted by Steven Pinker here.

Kurt Vonnegut’s letter home

war, writers' lives

vonnegutAt the Internet Archive, a scan of the now-famous letter Kurt Vonnegut wrote to friends and family after being liberated from Dresden.

Text of the letter is here. Background here.

Great minds….

the "on" series, writers' lives

flaubert“How true it is that concern with morality makes every work of the imagination false and stupid!”

–Gustave Flaubert, 1854


picasso“Ah, good taste! What a dreadful thing! Taste is the enemy of creativeness.”

–Pablo Picasso, c. 1957


Sources. Flaubert: letter to Louise Colet, January 2, 1854, in Madame Bovary: A Norton Critical Edition (second edition), edited by Margaret Cohen, p 308. Letter translated from the French by Francis Steegmuller. Picasso: Quote Magazine, March 24, 1957. Cited here.

The Flowers of Evil

blogs & sites, poetry

baudelaireSupervert - the entity responsible for the subversive classics Extraterrestrial Sex Fetish and Necrophilia Variations - has put together a site devoted to that classic of Decadent poetry and French lit in general, Baudelaire’s The Flowers of Evil [Les fleurs du mal]. Every poem from all three editions in the original French is there, accompanied by two to five different English-language translations of each one. This cleanly designed site is a model of how to present a work of poetry in a foreign tongue.

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