Old tales retold
Kanchan Mehta

The Rupa Book of Favourite Fairy Tales
Ed. Ruskin Bond. Rupa.
Pages 174. Rs 150.

This book brings for readers a body of picturesque and quaint fairy stories, chosen and edited by the famed writer Ruskin Bond. Ruskin Bond’s favourite fairy tales incorporate tales from allover the world, while tales from India dominate in number. They delight both the children and the adult tickling their imagination. They combine the past and the present, the individual and the society, the human and the divine and the natural and the supernatural world. Each story inspires the reader embodying some useful lesson. The atmosphere of mystery and magic adds to the appeal of the stories.

Ruskin Bond is a great appreciator of fairy tales. He rationalises his fondness at the outset: "So such contemporary fiction is ephemeral, quickly forgotten, while the works of yesteryear’s prize-winning novelists gather dust. But the great stories of folk and fairy lore are still with us, alive and ready to be told again, for they have stood the test of generations of readers and listeners."

He has a strong faith in the power of fairy tales to portray the general nature and shared values of humanity, which are not specific to any culture. Fairy literally means a creature who possesses magic powers. In the introduction, he gives his own definition of fairies:

"They are an invisible presence made up of our sweetest thoughts and deepest emotions. The fleeting moments of happiness that come our way, and the delight that comes to us in a beautiful garden—nature’s garden or your very own—are conjured up by the magic words of colour and fragrance. For the flowers themselves are fairies."

Jivaka the Boy Wonder, a tale from Ancient India, an inspirational story of perseverance, tenacity and adventure leading to vast treasure of knowledge and fame, initiate the book. Jivakas spirit of travel for learning recalls Ulysses’s passion for learning. His magical powers of observations surely rub off on us.

The Story of Bird Feng is a romantic tale of love. Ta-Khai, Prince of Tartary, makes an intense search for a dream-beauty, a subtle thief of his heart. His desperate and restless spirit laments his helplessness. The strong response of human soul to the beckoning of love is the essential theme of this story. The Bird Feng, famed for assuming various shapes, solves the mystery and unites the Prince with his beloved.

The Red Spring recalls the story of Rama and his devoted wife Sita, her abduction by the demon and Rama’s struggle to recover her with the succor of Hanuman.

The Friendship of Heera and Lal is a touching story of Heera and Lal’s profound love with a sad finality. On account of her folly and lack of insight, Heera falls a victim to the evil designs of her jealous friend and deprives herself of her true love Lal.

The diabolical Blue Beard, in the story Blue Beard, makes a harsh attack on women folk’s inquisitiveness, which he holds responsible for pathos of humanity. Seven Brides for Seven Princes celebrates values of sincerity and commitment as the parameters of genuine affection in an amusing manner.

The Dance of the Goblins is a fable with a practical message. "It is good for a man to be cheerful, even when in trouble, for, if he is, he will get sympathy and find friends who will be ready to help him. A spiteful and jealous man like Tametomo always makes enemies."

The tragedy of El-Kedir in The Green Man of Senai, a tale from ancient Egypt, brings out the idea emphatically that death is the natural and inevitable end of life. Escape from death is neither desirable nor possible.