Center for Research Libraries - Global Resources Network

Resources for

Collection Spotlight: Fairy Tales at the University of Colorado, Boulder

Alison Hicks
Humanities Reference and Instruction Librarian, University of Colorado, Boulder


Cannibalism, sex, violence . . . Ironically, the princess did not live happily ever after in Charles Perrault's 1697 version of Sleeping Beauty. Instead, she and her two children named Dawn and Day (Aurore and Jour) were almost killed as the evil Queen Mother turned upon them. If Walt Disney knew of this French version, one can understand why he left this part out of the 1959 movie for children, even though it is relatively tame in comparison to earlier versions that show how the Princess was impregnated by the Prince in her sleep and woke up after she gave birth to twins.

Students at the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU), a CIFNAL member, can now study these differences for themselves thanks to the extensive fairy tale collection housed in the University Libraries Special Collections Department. Encompassing French, German, English, and Italian fairy tales, the collection includes a large number of 17th–20th century editions by Perrault, Madame d'Aulnoy, and Madame d'Auneuil, as well as the Brothers Grimm and the Italian Straparola. The two stars of the collection are, undoubtedly, a 1700 Dutch edition of Charles Perrault's Histoires ou Contes du temps passé, and the unique 1697–98 first edition volume one of Madame d'Aulnoy Contes des Fées.

The collection also contains several other 17th and 18th century masterpieces; notably, Perrault's 1695 Griseldi and Madame d'Aulnoy's beautifully illustrated Histoire d'Hypolite (1764), important because it includes the first literary French fairy tale, L’ile de la Félicité, and the first edition of the 41 volumes of the Cabinet des Fées (1784–89). Italian and German fairy tales are well represented too; the collection possesses Straparola's Le Tredici Piacevolissime Notte (1608), as well as the Brothers Grimm Kinder- und Hausmärchen editions of 1857 and 1886.

Many of these volumes form part of the Emily Wood Epsteen Collection of 19th and early 20th century children's fiction and nonfiction. Epsteen was a faculty member at CU in the 1920s and 1930s and the Dean of Women in 1923. Several other books, including many of the older editions, have been donated by Jacques Barchilon, Professor Emeritus of French and Italian at CU, who is one of the important pioneers of French fairy tale scholarship. Founding Editor in 1987 of the scholarly journal Marvels and Tales, originally Merveilles et Contes, Barchilon also edited several collections of fairy tales.

Throughout the years Professor Barchilon's donations and expertise enabled CU Special Collections to expand the collection further. It is in honor of Professor Barchilon that an exhibition of fairy tales at CU Boulder will be on display in May 2009. The fairy tales are used as part of several undergraduate classes in the College of Arts & Sciences. Expecting this to be an easy course, students are often amazed to see how the original European fairy tales differ from the sanitized versions they learned as children. Over the semester, students look at how historical events, cultural circumstances, and literary movements have changed the fairy tales over time.

In the courses, they read the fairy tales from Marxist or Oedipal viewpoints and consider the psychoanalytical and gender issues in the tales. They also learn how these tales are part of a worldwide context of popular tradition through such important reference works as The Types of International Folktales. Later in the semester, these classes visit Special Collections to study the original versions in detail. Students then give presentations on a specific aspect of the collection. Student presentations have sometimes focused on the book as an artefact, such as an examination of fairy tale books with fake covers in order to avoid censors or the 1930s Italian editions of Pinocchio in North Africa with distinct fascist overtones to examine the role of fairy tales in propaganda. The collection is also being used as one of the libraries' projects in the digital humanities.

Inspired by Project Bamboo, which aims to advance humanities research "through the development of shared technology services," five of the tales were scanned and made OCR searchable to form a preliminary digital collection to accompany the exhibition. By looking at these three versions of Puss in Boots and two versions of Sleeping Beauty, one can compare and contrast the stories and see how the different European versions are related. The digital collection will be used by future undergraduate classes and, if it proves popular, will be expanded. The project will explore how the library can support teaching and research by providing digitized resources in the humanities. Digital resources related to the humanities are developing rapidly, and although there is no mysterious cat in a pair of boots or a young, handsome prince magically gifted to help us, a future beckons and librarians must continue to be aware of these trends.