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Today was a Fairy Tale

Many moons ago, we looked at Patricia Borlenghi’s Bloomsbury Nursery Treasury, published in 2011. That was a retelling of a variety of old favourites, and now, having founded her own imprint for children – Pudding Press – she has published another retelling: The Necklace.This time, Borlenghi steps aside from the well-known stories and brings a nineteenth-century fairy tale back to a modern audience, re-written for twenty-first century KS2 readers.

Adapted from The Necklace of Princess Fiorimonde, one of a number of original fairy tales by Mary de Morgan in 1880, The Necklace tells the story of Lucy, the most beautiful girl in the world. Unlike most princesses in fairy tales, Lucy isn’t searching for her Prince Charming, preferring instead to dabble in magic and witchcraft with her friend, Willow. Lucy’s father, the King, is determined to marry his daughter off, but Lucy and Willow devise a cunning plan to stop this... each suitor is magically transformed into a bead on a necklace! Over the course of their plot, however, two faithful servants are rewarded for their courage and marry - but Lucy is punished by her own plan, and is doomed forever to hang as a bead on the necklace, as a warning to others.

Borlenghi adds a codicil to the original darkly-ending story: she allows Lucy to be rescued by her friend Willow, and the pair gallop off to live happily together and dispense all sorts of environmentally friendly products to the community. The tale is well-told and funny, with quirky, colourful illustrations by Jill Newton which complement both style and content. This short read is completed by ten questions testing the readers’ understanding. Borlenghi’s version significantly simplifies the story and the style, removing some of the more frightening aspects of de Morgan’s original - but, quite apart from adding the happy ending, Borlenghi bafflingly turns the Princess’s transport from a big bird into an elephant, and her name from one with a magical sound to the rather bland ‘Lucy’. We might think this was because Fiorimonde is harder to read than Lucy, but Lucy/Fiorimonde’s maid changes a single letter– Yolanda rather than Yolande – and many of the suitors have bee renamed. Is this change is really justified – surely fairy tales are full of odd, exotic, and old-fashioned names? What do you think?

It would be nice to think that readers might seek out Mary de Morgan’s original – de Morgan was part of William Morris’s circle of authors and Arts and Crafts movement artists, all socialist thinkers, and she herself was an advocate of women’s suffrage. Her writings place women as frequently as men at the centre of the story, the women strong, resourceful and sometimes wicked. Despite an outing for Princess Fiorimonde twice during the Jackanory era, the most recent publications of de Morgan’s fairy tales are print on demand, which makes Borlenghi’s version especially useful, but makes me wish that a good new edition of the originals would be taken up by an enterprising publisher.

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