Brilliant illustrations and a powerful translation make Madame d’Aulnoy’s seventeenth-century fairy tales feel just as immediate and necessary as when they were written.
D’Aulnoy’s stories have their own perspectives when it comes to familiar tales like Cinderella. Their operatic themes are entertaining and—though they were written in a feudal landscape—feminist, pushing the boundaries of womanhood to deliver fresh opinions on women’s roles in society. D’Aulnoy’s heroines take on the “masculine” roles of knights and protectors, as when, in “The Blue Bird,” Princess Florine seeks out and saves a damoiseau in distress, King Charmant, who is trapped in a marriage to someone whom he does not love. These women are their own agents of change, eschewing weakness and suggesting that no woman needs a man to save them. They are both heroines and villainesses, too.
Natalie Frank’s stylized drawings work with the text to bring its heartwrenching and gruesome scenes to life, heightening the emotional impact of crucial moments, as when, on the last page of the titular tale, a princess is pictured crying over a prince’s body; sharp, crude black lines almost scribble out the scene, conveying the darkness that now plagues her life.
Despite inventing the term “fairy tale,” d’Aulnoy’s work defies the tropes used to define the genre. While children will be able to enjoy the stories on their surface, there is substance for adults to contemplate, too. Details, such as the drop cap, embellished first letters that begin each fairy tale, make the book appear to be an ancient religious text of high import.
The Island of Happiness is an enchanting collection of women-focused fairy tales—the perfect way to enter d’Aulnoy’s magical world.
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