The Tale of Charles Perrault

One of my heroes is the French author and man of many talents, Charles Perrault. Not many know his story, so here it is!

Who Is Charles Perrault

Let’s go back in time with the tale of Charles Perrault!

In 17th century France, a man with a new way of visualizing writing made his place. He became the author of a new genre that would pave the way for authors for centuries to come. He is the father of fairy tales and the author of *Cendrillon, *Le Petit Chaperon Rouge, *La Belle Au Bois Dormant, and *Le Chat Botté et plus encore. His name is Charles Perrault.

Member of the Académie Française. He reinterpreted tales in *Histoires ou Contes du temps passé. Despite often being credited for the tales, Charles Perrault is the one who adapted the classic stories to become the ones we know today.

Charles Perrault

Perrault transformed the stories into fairy tales. He added details that we know today, and even companies such as Walt Disney effectively depict in their masterpieces.

His vision for fairy tales, often taken from Brothers Grimm, saw a better light after Perrault rewrote them. Ever since his storytelling, his version of fairy tales is on bookshelves. His version of those tales went through a transition to ballet, theater, opera, and now movies and series.

The Cinderella Example

One story that Charles Perrault adapted and became iconic was Cinderella, from French, Cendrillon or *Les Pantoufles de Verre. The adaptation he wrote in his storytelling was so overwhelming that his Cinderella is the most popular version told to this day.

In 1812, the Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, published Children and Household Tales, a collection German fairy tales. This illustration accompanied the tale “Cinderella” and shows Cinderella being left by her stepsisters to do the housework. This image is from Grimms Eventyr (Grimm’s Fairy Tales) by Carl Ewald, published in 1922.

Charles Perrault is the one who introduced the pumpkin carriage, the glass slippers, the fairy godmother, and the “bibbidi bobbidi boo.” Charles Perrault’s Cinderella interpretation was so great that Walt Disney decided to pick his work to bring to the big screen.

The Early Life of Perrault

Charles Perrault was not of nobility but came from a bourgeois family born in Paris. He was the youngest of a family of seven children. His parents, Pierre Perrault and Paquette Le Clerc were influential and had their son go to school and received excellent higher education in law. He followed the path his father led.

Louis XIV of France
Louis XIV of France

Perrault didn’t only rework fairy tales later in his life but also helped design the Academy of Sciences. He also helped restore the Academy of Painting. Later on, when working under Jean Baptiste Colbert, Perrault became closer to nobility as his employer worked with King Louis XIV. He even was part of a team that worked on a section of the *Musée du Louvres.

Writings of Charles Perrault

It was toward the end of the 17th century that Perrault wrote for the King. One of his works recalled the artist Charles Le Brun who was a painter for the King.

The book is called *La Peinture. His second literary work for the King titled *Courses de Têtes et de Bagues commemorating the king’s mistress’ celebrations of 1662. Her name was Louise-Françoise de La Baume le Blanc, Duchesse de La Vaillière.

The National Trust for Scotland, Fyvie Castle; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Charles Perrault married Marie Guichon in 1672, but sadly, she passed away only a few years later, in 1678. The tale of Charles Perrault was not all happiness ever after.

An Avant-Garde Mind

The famous French castle named Versailles has a popular labyrinth garden. In 1672, Charles Perrault gave Louis XIV the idea of placing thirty-eight statues spread around the labyrinth. Those statues represented the Fables of Aesop.

Chateau de Versailles
Chateau de Versailles

The water jets placed in the animals’ mouths gave the impression that animals were talking among themselves. The poet Isaac de Benserade had a plaque with a quatrain at each statue.

Charles Perrault wrote a guide for the labyrinth named *Labyrinte de Versailles. In 1677, in Paris, the Royal Press released an illustrated edition with the artwork done by Sebastien le Clerc.

The librettist of a new musical field at the time, opera, was a close friend of the Perrault family. Philippe Quinault collaborated with Jean-Baptiste Lully for the Alceste in 1674. Sadly, the piece suffered rejection from traditionalists who said it deviated from the classical theater.

Charles Perrault decided to respond to the public with *Critique de l’Opéra in 1674. The work praised the immense talent in the Alceste piece based on the tragedy by Euripides. The King also supported Charles Perrault in modern art that was rising at the time.

The Rise of a Fairy Tale Master

When Charles Perrault retired at sixty-seven from the royal court, Perrault turned to his grandchildren. He decided to rewrite many of the fables we now know and called it, *Les Contes de ma Mère L’Oye. Those tales were and still are the foundation of European traditions.

Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, 1847
Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, 1847

The differences with Charles Perrault are written moral at the end of each story. Most of his retelling later became one of the many sources of inspiration for the Grimm Brothers. But Charles Perrault received the credit for being the founder of the modern fairy tale author.

However, the term “fairy tale” was first coined by Marie-Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville, Baroness d’Aulnoy. She also, herself, wrote tales of her own.

A Warning From Charles Perrault

When Charles Perrault wrote The Little Red Riding Hood, he had in mind to warn little girls about men predators. His message is evident when he tries his best to have women understand not to trust men. He wrote, “Watch out if you haven’t learned that tamed wolves are the most dangerous of all.”

Charles Perrault used his son’s name, Pierre Darmancourt, because he feared the repercussions of some “ancient” people. To accompany his tales, Perrault added his inspirations for the castles in his tales.

Côté Château Fort d’Ussé

The Château d’Oiron inspired the one in Puss In Boots, and Château Ussé was the one for Sleeping Beauty.

More is there to say that Charles Perrault is one historical figure we should learn so much more about. He is one of my heroes, and I hope I made you like him more! That was it, the tale of Charles Perrault.


French to English Translations

Cendrillon: Cinderella.
La Belle Au Bois Dormant: Sleeping Beauty.
Le Petit Chaperon Rouge: The Little Red Riding Hood
Le Chat Botte: The Puss In Boots.
Histoires ou Contes du temps passé: Stories or Tales of the past.
Les Pantoufles De Verre: The Glass Slippers.
Musée du Louvres: Louvres Museum.
La Peinture: The Painting.
Courses de Têtes et de Bagues: Heads and Rings Races.
Labyrinte de Versailles: Versailles’ Labyrinth.
Critique de l’Opéra: Opera Critics.
Les Contes de ma Mère L’Oye: The Tales of Mother Goose.

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