66 – Audiobook: Aschenputtel (1819 Second Edition)

This is a presentation of “Aschenputtel” as published in the 1819 second edition of Kinder- und Hausmärchen by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Translated and performed by T.Q. Townsend. This audiobook may be freely used for non-profit educational purposes.

Illustration: Hermann Vogel

The audiobook is also available on YouTube:

Aschenputtel (1819)
Translated by T.Q. Townsend

The wife of a rich man fell ill and realized she was about to die. She called her only daughter to her bedside and said to her: “Keep your faith and be a good girl. Then God will bless you and I will do my best to look down from heaven and watch over you.” Then the mother closed her eyes and died.

Every day, the girl went to her mother’s grave and wept. She remembered to be pious and good, just as her mother had told her. The winter snows came and covered the grave like a white blanket, and when the summer sun came and took it away, the man took another wife.

The new stepmother had two daughters that she brought with her, but while their faces were fair, their hearts were ugly. Then times became hard for the poor girl.

“Why is this useless thing in the room?” the new ladies asked. “Whoever eats bread should earn it first. Away with this scullery maid,” they laughed, leading the girl into the kitchen. She was given the heaviest work to do, getting up early in the morning to carry water, make the fires, cook, and wash. The stepsisters tormented her, mocked her, and threw the peas and lentils into the ashes, so that she had to pick them all out and clean them again. In the evenings, when the poor girl was tired, she had no bed to sleep in, so she would lie down in the ashes by the hearth to keep warm. Soon she became so dirty and dusty that the stepsisters called her Aschenputtel.

The father prepared one day to go to a market town, and he asked his two stepdaughters what gifts they would like him to bring. “Beautiful clothing,” said one sister. “Sparkling gems,” said the other.

“And you, Aschenputtel?” asked the father. “What do you want?”

“Father, all I want is the first twig that knocks against your hat on the way home,” Aschenputtel answered.

The Father rode away to the market, and as he rode through a thicket on the way back, a hazel tree brushed against him and knocked off his hat. So he broke off a twig and added it to the bundle containing lovely gowns and fine jewels. When he got home he gave the lovely gifts to his stepdaughters and handed the twig to Aschenputtel.

Aschenputtel took the bit of hazel and went to her mother’s grave. She planted the twig in the dark soil and wept so much that the tears spilled all over the green leaves. The cutting took root and soon became a beautiful tree. Aschenputtel visited the grave three times every day to weep and pray. Every time a little bird would visit the tree, and it had the power to give her anything she needed.

It happened that the king declared that there would be a three-day festival, during which his son would choose a bride. The two stepsisters were invited. They called Aschenputtel, saying, “Comb our hair. Brush and buckle our shoes. We will go and dance at the king’s ball.”

Aschenputtel wished with all her heart that she might go too, and begged her stepmother that she might be allowed to do so.

“You, Aschenputtel?” sneered the Stepmother. “You have nothing fit to wear. You shouldn’t be allowed to attend, no matter how badly you want to go. But I’ll tell you what. If you can sort and clean these lentils in two hours, I’ll let you go to the ball.” And with that, she threw a bowl of lentils into the ashes.

As soon as the Stepmother was gone, Aschenputtel went to the garden door and cried out:

“You sweet little doves, you lovebirds! All you birds under the heavens, please help me! Put the good ones in the pot and the bad ones in your crop!”

Two white doves fluttered through the kitchen window. Then came the lovebirds, and finally many little birds flocked down from the sky and went down to the ashes. The birds nodded their heads and began their work. Pick, pick! Pick, pick! They threw all the good grains into the pot, and swallowed the hard ones as a reward. Hardly an hour had passed when the work was all done and the birds fluttered away. Aschenputtel brought the pot of clean lentils to her Stepmother, smiling because she believed that now she would be allowed to come along to the ball.

But the stepmother only sneered “No, Aschenputtel. You have nothing to wear and may not go to the dance.”

Aschenputtel began to weep, and then the Stepmother said, “I’ll tell you what. If you can pick out two bowls in the next hour, I’ll change my mind.” The Stepmother flung two bowls full of lentils into the ashes, thinking to herself that Aschenputtel would never manage the task.

As soon as the Stepmother had gone, Aschenputtel hurried once more to the back door and cried out:

“You sweet little doves, you lovebirds! All you birds under the heavens, please help me! Put the good ones in the pot and the bad ones in your crop!”

Once again two white doves fluttered through the kitchen window. Then the lovebirds came back, and finally the little birds flocked down from the sky and went down to the ashes. The birds nodded their heads and began their work once more. Pick, pick! Pick, pick! They threw all the good grains into the pot, and swallowed the hard ones as a reward. Before half an hour had passed, all the work was done and the birds flew away.

Aschenputtel brought the bowls to her stepmother, filled with hope that she could come along. But the stepmother only said, “It’s useless. You can’t come with us. You have nothing to wear. You can’t dance; we would be ashamed to be seen with you.”

And then the stepmother and her daughters went away to the ball. Once she was all alone, Aschenputtel went to her mother’s grave under the hazel tree and called out:

“Shake, shake, little tree! Gold and silver give to me!”

Then the little bird perched among the hazel branches threw down a gown made of gold and silver cloth, and a pair of slippers embroidered with silk and silver. Aschenputtel put on the lovely clothing and went to the festival. Her stepsisters and stepmother did not recognize her, thinking the lovely, richly dressed maiden must be some foreign princess. They never imagined it could be Aschenputtel, who they believed was lying in the ashes at home.

As soon as he saw Aschenputtel, the king’s son ran to take her by the hand and asked her to dance. He spent the entire evening by her side and would dance with no one else. If anyone else came to ask Aschenputtel to dance, the prince would tell them, “she is my partner!”

Aschenputtel danced and danced until it was time to go home. The king’s son begged, “let me escort you home,” wishing to know which family the beautiful girl belonged to. But as they neared her house, Aschenputtel managed to slip away and ran to hide in the dovecote. The king’s son waited until the father came home and told him about the mysterious girl who was hiding in the birds’ house.

The father wondered to himself if the maiden were Aschenputtel, but he said nothing. Instead he called for an axe and a pickaxe and cut the dovecote in two. But there was nobody in it. When the family went into the house, they saw Aschenputtel lying among the cinders in her old dirty clothes, with her dim oil lamp hanging by the chimney. She had managed to slip out the other side of the dovecote, return the beautiful clothing to the bird sitting in the tree over the grave, and return to the kitchen in her old gray gown before anyone could see her.

The next day, after the father, stepmother, and stepsisters had gone away to the ball, Aschenputtel returned to the hazel tree and called out:

“Shake, shake, little tree! Gold and silver give to me!”

Then the little bird threw down an even more splendid dress than the one from the day before. When Aschenputtel arrived at the ball, everyone was amazed at her beauty. The king’s son had been waiting for her, and when he saw her he took her by the hand and danced with her only. If anyone else came to ask Aschenputtel to dance, the prince would tell them, “she is my partner!”

When evening came and it was time to go, the King’s son tried to follow her again, but she slipped away and fled into the garden behind her house. There stood a beautiful, tall pear tree full of delicious fruit. Aschenputtel climbed it quickly so that the King’s son could not see her anymore. The prince waited until the father came home and said to him, “The mysterious maiden escaped from me. I think she jumped into your pear tree.”

The father wondered once again if the maiden were Aschenputtel, but once again he said nothing. Instead he sent for an ax and cut down the pear tree, but there was nobody in it. When the family went inside, they found Aschenputtel lying by the fireplace as usual. She had jumped down from the tree on the other side, returned her lovely gown to the bird sitting in the hazel tree, and put her old gray dress back on before anyone could spot her.

On the third day, when the father, stepmother, and stepsisters had gone to the ball, Aschenputtel returned to her mother’s grave and said to the little tree:

“Shake, shake, little tree! Gold and silver give to me!”

And then the bird threw down a dress that was more magnificent than any that had ever been seen, with slippers made all of gold. When Aschenputtel arrived at the ball, everyone was so amazed that they could not even speak. The king’s son danced with Aschenputtel alone, and for a third time if anyone else asked her to dance, he would say right away: “She is my partner.”

When evening came, Aschenputtel took her leave and the king’s son begged to escort her home. She sprang away, hoping to escape as before. But as she fled the palace, her left shoe was lost, for the king’s son had ordered that the stairs be coated with pitch. The king’s son retrieved the shoe. The next day he issued a declaration which announced, “the one who fits this golden slipper shall be my wife!”

When the stepsisters heard this, they were very happy, for they had beautiful feet. When it was her turn to try, the elder sister went into her room with the shoe while her mother stood by. But the slipper was too small for her, and her big toe stuck out.

The stepmother handed her daughter a knife and told her, “cut off your toe. When you’re queen, you won’t need to walk anymore.”

And so the girl cut off her toe and squeezed her foot into the shoe. Then she went to see the king’s son. Believing he had found his bride, he lifted the elder sister onto his horse and began to ride away with her. But on the way out they passed the hazel tree growing over the grave, and two doves sitting there cried out:

“Turn and see! Turn and see!
A bloody shoe! How can that be?
The slipper doesn’t fit at all.
Go back! Find your true bride from the ball!”

The king’s son looked down and saw the blood spurting from the foot. He turned his horse around and brought the false bride home.

“This isn’t the right one. Have the other sister try on the shoe,” the king’s son ordered.

And so the younger sister took the golden slipper up to her room to try it on. But her heel was too big, and it did not fit. Then her mother handed her the knife and said, “Cut off your heel. When you’re queen, you won’t need to walk anymore.” And so the girl cut off a piece of her heel and squeezed her foot into the shoe. Then she went to see the king’s son. Believing that he had at last found his true love, he lifted the younger sister onto his horse and began to ride away with her. But once again, as they passed the hazel tree growing over the grave, the two doves cried out:

“Turn and see! Turn and see!
A bloody shoe! How can that be?
The slipper doesn’t fit at all.
Go back! Find your true bride from the ball!”

The king’s son looked down and saw that so much blood was coming out of the shoe that it had dyed the girl’s stockings quite red. He turned his horse around and brought the false bride home.

“She’s not the right one either,” he said. “Isn’t there another daughter here?”

“No,” replied the father. “There’s only one nasty little cinderwench that my first wife left behind when she died, but she couldn’t be your bride.”

The king’s son insisted on seeing Aschenputtel, but the stepmother refused, pleading, “Oh, no, she’s much too dirty to be seen by you.”

But at last the king’s son ordered that the girl be presented to him. When she heard about her royal visitor, Aschenputtel washed her hands and face, then went and bowed before the king’s son. He gave her the golden slipper. She slipped her heavy boot from her left foot, and then stepped into the golden shoe. She stood wearing it as if it had been made for her alone. She bowed her head to him, and at last the king’s son recognized her face.

“This is my true love!” he declared.

The stepmother and stepsisters were both terrified and pale with anger. The king’s son put Aschenputtel on his horse and rode away with her. As they passed the hazel tree, the two doves called out:

“Turn and see! Turn and see!
No blood in the shoe will be
The fit is perfect – can’t you tell?
Now there will be wedding bells!”

And as they finished their song, they both flew down and sat upon Aschenputtel’s shoulders, one upon the right and the other on the left.

On the day of Aschenputtel’s marriage to the king’s son, the stepsisters came, hoping to get something for themselves out of this happiness. The eldest stood at the right of the church door and the youngest on the left. When Aschenputtel and the King’s son went into the church, the doves pecked out an eye from each stepsister. When the couple came back out again, the doves pecked out their other eyes. And so they were punished with blindness for their wickedness.

65 – Audiobook: Aschenputtel (1812 First Edition)

This is a presentation of “Aschenputtel” as published in the 1812 first edition of Kinder- und Hausmärchen by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Translated and performed by T.Q. Townsend. This audiobook may be freely used for non-profit educational purposes.

Illustration: Alexander Zick

The audiobook is also available on YouTube:

Aschenputtel (1812)
Translated by T.Q. Townsend

Once upon a time there was a rich man and his wife who lived happily together with their little daughter. But the woman became gravely ill, and before she died she said to called her daughter to her and said: “Dear child, I must leave you. But when I am in heaven I will watch over you. Plant a tree on my grave, and if you ever need anything, shake it. When you are in need I will send you help. All you must do is remain pious and good.” With these last words, she closed her eyes and died. The girl wept for a long time. But she remembered to plant a tree on her mother’s grave. She never needed to carry water to the tree, for her tears were enough.

The grave was covered in a white cloth of winter snow. Then the warm summer sun pulled the blanket away, and the tree became green for a second season. Then the man took another wife. The new stepmother had been a widow, and had two daughters who were fair of face but proud, wicked, and haughty in heart. As soon as the wedding was over and the three newcomers drove to the house, things went badly for the poor girl.

“What is this nasty useless thing doing in the house?” said the stepmother, taking the girl into the kitchen. “If she wants to eat bread she must earn it first. She can be our maid.”

The stepsisters took away her beautiful clothes and put an old gray gown on her.

“It looks good on you!” the stepsisters cackled.

The poor child had to do the heaviest work in the house. Every morning she rose early, carried water from the well, lit the fire, cooked, and washed. The stepsisters did all the could to mock her. Their favorite prank was to pour the peas and lentils into the ashes by the fireplace so that the girl would have to spend all day picking them out and cleaning them. At night she had no bed to lie in, so she would sleep in the ashes by the hearth to keep from freezing. And because she was constantly digging in the ashes and sleeping by the fire, she became very dusty and dirty. And so her stepsister gave her the name Aschenputtel.

Some time later, the King announced that there would be a splendid ball which would last for three days. It was time for his son to choose a wife. The two proud sisters were invited to attend. They bragged to Aschenputtel even as they made her serve them. “Come up,” they called. ‘Comb our hair. Brush our shoes and buckle them. We’re going to the Prince’s ball!” Aschenputtel did her chores faithfully, but the stepsisters still scolded her.

The stepsisters asked mockingly, “Aschenputtel, would you like to go to the ball?”

“Oh, yes,” Aschenputtel answered. “But how could I go? I have nothing to wear.”

“No indeed,” sneered the eldest stepsister. “That would be a fine thing if you showed up. We would be ashamed if people heard you were our sister. You belong in the kitchen. There you have your bowls of lentils. When we get back they must be properly sorted. Be careful not to leave any bad ones in, or you will regret it.”

And with that the stepsisters went away. Aschenputtel stood at the window and watched until the carriage vanished from her sight. When she could see them no more, she sadly went back to the kitchen and stared at the enormous heap of lentils that she had to sort.

“Oh,” she sighed. “I have to finish all of this work by midnight. No matter how my eyes hurt me, I can’t let them close. Oh, how I wish my mother knew of this!” She knelt before the stove next to the pile of lentils and was about to start sorting them when two white doves flew through the window and sat on the hearth beside her. They nodded their heads politely and asked “Aschenputtel, shall we help you pick through the lentils?”

“Oh, yes please!” Aschenputtel replied. “The bad ones in your crop, the good ones in the pot.”

And pick, pick! Pick, pick! The doves ate away the harder lentils, which they preferred, leaving the ones good for people. In just a quarter of an hour the good lentils were sorted and clean in the pot, with not a single bad one among them.

Then the doves said, “Aschenputtel, if you want to see your sisters dance with the Prince, climb up into the dovecote.” Aschenputtel followed the birds back to their little house. She climbed up to the top of the ladder and peered inside. She saw a vision of the great hall at the palace, and saw her sisters dancing with the prince. The palace glimmered and shone with thousands of lights that sparkled in her eyes. When she had seen enough, she came down from the dovecote with a heavy heart. Then she lay down in the ashes and fell asleep.

The next morning the stepsisters came to the kitchen, hoping to see her still at work sorting lentils so they could scold her. They were angry to see that the work was finished and that Aschenputtel had managed to get some sleep. So instead they decided to tell her all about the ball.

“Oh, it was such a pleasure to be at the ball. The Prince is so very handsome, and such a fine dancer!” They said. “One of us will certainly become his wife.”

“I saw it all,” said Aschenputtel. “The flickering lights were so splendid.”

“What?” the eldest stepsister cried. “How did you see anything?”

“I . . . saw it from the top of the dovecote,” Aschenputtel stammered.

The elder sister was outraged and instantly called for the servants and ordered them to tear down the dovecote. But the younger still had some small amount of pity in her heart, and when Aschenputtel came to wash and brush her hair, she whispered, “you can still try to see the palace from the window.” But the elder sister overheard and shouted, “No! That lazy servant has a sack full of peas to sort. Aschenputtel, tonight you will sort through them, and if you don’t finish before we return tonight I will throw them all in the ashes and you won’t get a bite to eat until you do the job all over again!”

The stepsisters flounced away to the second night at the ball, but as soon as they had gone, the doves returned and said kindly, “Aschenputtel, shall we sort out the sweet peas for you?

And once again Aschenputtel replied, “The bad ones in your crop, the good ones in the pot.”

Pick, pick! Pick, pick! The work went so quickly that it was as if twelve hands did the work. When everything was finished, the doves asked, “Aschenputtel, do you want to go to the ball and dance?”

“Goodness!” she gasped. “How can I go in these dirty clothes?”

“Go to the little tree on your mother’s grave,” cooed the doves. “Give it a shake and wish for a lovely gown. But you must return before midnight!”

Aschenputtel rushed out to the little tree and called out, “Shake, shake, O little tree! Throw down lovely clothes for me!”

As soon as she had spoken the words, a splendid silver dress lay before the tree. There were also pearls, silk stockings with silver gussets, silver slippers, and all of the right accessories. Aschenputtel carried everything back to the house, and after she was clean and dressed, she was as beautiful as a rose washed by the morning dew. As she stepped through the front door, she saw a carriage with six black horses adorned with feathers. Attendants in blue and silver livery lifted her inside, and off they went at a gallop to the King’s palace.

The Prince saw the carriage at the gate and imagined that some princess he had never met had arrived. He went down the stairs himself, and when he saw Aschenputtel he lifted her out and led her into the hall. When the splendor of all the lights fell upon her, everyone was amazed. The stepsisters stood and fumed because there was a woman at the ball more lovely than they were. Yet they never imagined that it could be Aschenputtel, who they imagined was laying in the ashes at home.

The prince danced with Aschenputtel all evening. He accorded her royal honor and thought to himself, “I don’t believe I could choose any bride more perfect than this one.” Although she had lived in ashes and sadness for so very long, Aschenputtel now felt only glorious joy.

But soon midnight came! Before the clock struck twelve, she bowed to the assembly and departed. The prince begged her to stay, but Aschenputtel hurried away, leaped into the waiting carriage, and it hurried off in the same splendor with which it had arrived.

As soon as she got back home, Aschenputtel went back to the little tree on her mother’s grave and sang out, “Shake, shake, O little tree! I return these clothes to thee!” And the tree accepted the clothes back again, returning Aschenputtel’s faded gray dress. The girl returned to the kitchen, smudged some dust on her face, and lay down to sleep among the ashes.

In the morning the stepsisters returned, sullen and silent. Aschenputtel asked meekly if they had enjoyed themselves at the ball.

“No,” the sisters pouted. “Some princess was there, and the Prince would only dance with her. Nobody knew who she was or where she came from.”

“Was it she who had the splendid carriage with six matching horses?” Aschenputtel asked.

“How did you know about that?” snapped the elder sister.

“I was standing by the front door when I saw her drive by,” Aschenputtel answered.

“Well, in the future stick to your chores instead of watching people on the road,” the eldest growled.

For a third time Aschenputtel had to dress and style her stepsisters for the ball, and as a reward they gave her another enormous sack of peas to sort and clean.

“Don’t you dare stop working,” the eldest snapped over her shoulder as she flounced out the door.

“I hope the doves don’t stay away,” thought Aschenputtel, and her heart quivered. But just as on the previous evenings, the doves came!

“Shall we sort the peas for you, Aschenputtel?” the little doves asked sweetly.

“The bad ones in your crop, the good ones in the pot!” Sang out Aschenputtel with a smile on her face.

In moments, the doves had sorted the peas, and then they said, “Go back to the tree and give it a shake. You will get even prettier things to wear tonight. Go to the ball, but be careful to come home before midnight!”

Aschenputtel hurried to the tree, shook it gently, and called out, “Shake, shake, O little tree! Throw down lovely clothes for me!”

Then a dress fell down to her, and it was indeed more magnificent than the one from the night before. It was made entirely of gold and precious stones, with gold-laced stockings and golden slippers. When Aschenputtel had put it on, it shone as brightly as the midday sun. An even more splendid carriage, stood by the door, pulled by six gray horses with tall white plumes on their proud heads. Smiling servants in red and gold livery lifted her inside and she was off to the palace.

When Aschenputtel arrived at the ball, the prince was waiting for her on the stairs. He took her by the hand and led her into the hall. Once again, everyone was amazed by her loveliness, and astonished that she was somehow even more beautiful than before. The stepsisters huddled in the corner, pale with envy. If they had known that Aschenputtel was not lying in the ashes at home but was in fact the enchanting woman standing before them, they might have died of their jealousy.

The prince was desperate to know who the unknown princess was. He wished to know where she came from and where she would go to after the ball, so he sent servants to watch for her carriage when it left. He also ordered that the stairs be spread with pitch, so that she could not run away so quickly all of a sudden.

Aschenputtel danced and danced with the prince. She was lost in so much happiness that she did not watch the clock. Suddenly, even as she was dancing, she heard the bells begin to ring. Recalling the warning of the doves, Aschenputtel fled from the ball. She flew down the stairs, but because they were coated in pitch, one of her golden slippers stuck fast. Too terrified to stop, Aschenputtel left the shoe behind. As she reached the final step, the clock struck twelve. The carriage and horses had disappeared. Gone was the magnificent golden gown. Aschenputtel stood alone in the street wearing her sooty gray clothes. She hurried away before anyone saw her.

The prince, hurrying after the mysterious princess, found the golden slipper on the stairs. He pulled it free, but by the time he reached the street, the maiden was gone. The guards he had put on watch could report nothing. They had not seen the golden carriage, nor the fine gray horses.

Aschenputtel was grateful things had not gone worse. She ran home, lit her little lamp, hung it up by the chimney and lay down in the ashes. Before long, the two stepsisters returned and shouted “Aschenputtel, get up and bring us some light.”

Aschenputtel yawned and pretended that she had been asleep. She brought her little lamp just as the elder sister complained, “Goodness knows who that dratted princess is! I hope she is buried in the ground! The prince would only dance with her, and when she disappeared he refused to stay any longer, so the whole party was ruined.”

“When she left, it was as if all the lights had been blown out,” agreed the younger sister.

Aschenputtel knew the answers to all of their questions, but she didn’t say a thing.

Back at the palace, the prince thought to himself that while all of his other efforts had failed, the slipper offered one last clue to help him find the woman he hoped to make his bride.

He put out a decree: “Let it be known,” the word went out, “That the one who fits this slipper will be the prince’s wife.”

And so all of the ladies in the land tried to wear it, but it was much too small for all of them. Some would not have been able to wear the shoe even if it were twice as big as it was.

At last the stepsisters were to have their chance. They were glad to try, for they both had pretty little feet. Each sister believed she would not fail.

But first, their mother spoke to them in secret. “Listen to me,” she whispered. “Here is a knife. If the slipper is too tight for you, cut off a bit of your foot. It might hurt, but that will pass soon enough.”

The eldest took the slipper into her room. She could get her toe in, but her heel was too big. So she took the knife and cut off a piece of her heel so that she could push her foot into the shoe. She went out to the prince, and when he saw that she was wearing the slipper, he declared her to be the bride he sought. The prince led the elder sister to the carriage and began to drive away. But just as he reached the gate, the doves called out to him”

“Turn and see! Turn and see!
A bloody shoe! How can that be?
The slipper doesn’t fit at all.
Go find your true bride from the ball!”

The prince bent down and examined the slipper. Blood spurted out from it. He realized he had been cheated. He turned the carriage around and returned the false bride to her home.

But the stepmother turned to her younger daughter and said, “Take the slipper. If it doesn’t fit, cut off the front of your toes.”

So the younger sister took the slipper too her room. Her foot was also too big, so she clenched her teeth, cut off a big piece of her toe, and quickly crammed her foot into the shoe. When she emerged from her room, the Prince thought he had at last found his bride. But once again, as his carriage reached the gate, the doves cried out their warning:

“Turn and see! Turn and see!
A bloody shoe! How can that be?
The slipper doesn’t fit at all.
Go find your true bride from the ball!”

The prince looked down, and saw that the girl’s white stockings were dyed red with blood that crept upwards from her foot. He turned the carriage around, brought the girl back to her mother, and said, “This isn’t my true love either. Are there no other daughters in this house?”

“No,” the mother replied. “There is only one nasty cinderwench here. She is sitting down in the ashes, and fine slippers will never fit her.”

Yet still the prince wished to see her. The stepmother refused to call for Aschenputtel until the prince insisted. At last, Aschenputtel was summoned. When she heard that the prince was at her home, she quickly washed her face and hands. As she came into the room, the prince offered her the slipper and said, “Try it on. If it fits, you can become my wife.”

Aschenputtel removed her heavy old shoe from her left foot and put on the golden slipper. It fit as if it were made for her. She bowed to the prince, but he looked her in the face and at last was able to recognize the beautiful princess. “It is you!” he cried. “My true bride!”

The stepmother and her two arrogant daughters turned pale with rage, but the prince led Aschenputtel away and lifted her into the carriage. As they drove through the gate, the doves sang out sweetly:

“Turn and see! Turn and see!
No blood in the shoe will be
The fit is perfect – can’t you tell?
Now there will be wedding bells!”

64 – Two Grimm Cinderellas

The original 1812 edition of “Aschenputtel” was changed by the Brothers Grimm for the 1819 edition. What did they change, and why? Should one or the other be considered the “official” version, or neither?

The first edition of Kinder- und Hausmärchen by the Brothers Grimm was intended mainly for adults studying folklore. But over time, families and children became the main buyers of the book. With each edition, the Grimms altered the stories to make them more socially acceptable to 19th century parents, adding morality designed to teach children how to behave. Unlike the recent trend to posthumously censor the work of authors like Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl, Grimm’s tales were edited by their own authors. So readers can look at the multiple versions of their stories, notice what changed, and decide for themselves which version they prefer.

Accompanying this episode are two audiobooks, in which I perform my translations of the 1812 version and the 1819 version.

Activity: Two Grimm Cinderellas

This activity is best for students aged about twelve and up. Students can explain their answers in a group discussion, a short written response, or an essay.

Compare the 1812 and 1819 versions of “Aschenputtel” by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm. Write down a list of similarities and differences between the two stories. Then ask students to think about which version they prefer, paying extra attention to the ending of the story, the roles of the father and stepmother, and the punishment given to the stepsisters.

Students can consider questions such as:

  • Is it punishment enough to have the sisters watch Aschenputtel drive off with the prince as they stand on the front porch with their bleeding feet, or is it more satisfying to see the wrath of the almighty descend to take away their eyes?
  • How does the role of the father change in the two stories? Which version does a better job of showing his failings as a good father?
  • Do you think either of the versions should have showed the father and stepmother receiving some kind of punishment, or do you think the stories work well as they are?
  • Is it better for a story like “Aschenputtel” to realistically show what happens when people are cruel, with wickedness often going unnoticed, or is the story better for children when it shows good people being rewarded and bad people being punished?
  • Should either of these stories be considered the official version? If so, which one and why?

63 – Mists of Iga by Kyle Mortensen

My brother, Kyle Mortensen, died unexpectedly last week at the age of only 37. He was a wonderful storyteller. He had a singular mix of wit, sarcasm, abrasiveness, affection, and insight, and all of these things bubbled together whether he was telling a story or writing one down. Kyle spent years researching the history of the people who lived in Iga province in medieval Japan, and from this grew a meticulously crafted work of historical fiction that he self-published a few years ago with the title Mists of Iga. It was intended to be the first in a series called Sons of Yōkai. I had planned to review this book when the sequel was ready to be published, but as that will now never happen, I would like to offer this small tribute to the writing of a good man, a wonderful husband and father, and a talented writer who should have had many more years to tell his stories to us all.

The themes and characters in Mists of Iga will appeal to teenagers, who will recognize the struggle of having growing skills and knowledge, but lacking the wisdom and experience to be seen as fully adult. The novel also shows the sort of strong, healthy masculine bonds that help boys grow into good men as two older shinobi take on the role of surrogate uncles to the orphaned sons of their friend and mentor. Set amidst the chaos of Japan in 1581 as Oda Nobunaga’s forces swept across the islands in an unstoppable conquest, Mists of Iga is a stirring tale of adventure and friendship told with wit, wry humor, and the unmistakable talent of a writer who will be dearly missed.

Get your copy of Mists of Iga on Amazon. All of the profits will go to Kyle’s wife and three young sons.

You can also donate to the Kyle Mortensen Memorial Scholarship Fund, which will be invested so that his sons can afford a good education one day.

Music in this Episode

“Kōjō no Tsuki” by Taki Rentarō

62 – Little Lord Fauntleroy Will See You in Court

Little Lord Fauntleroy, a charming story about the nicest kid ever, seems an unlikely subject for a landmark lawsuit. But Frances Hodgson Burnett’s tenacious defense of her rights to her own work forever changed copyright law in Britain, making things better for writers to this day.

Episodes of this show are usually about children’s stories themselves, but I thought it would be fun to share the history of what happened when theater producer E.V. Seebohm decided to rip off Little Lord Fauntleroy and put it on the stage in London, even though he had nothing to do with the book’s creation and its author directly refused her permission. At this point in history, authors had no way to stop unauthorized stage adaptations of their stories. Learn about Burnett’s tenacious defense of her rights and the creative legal strategy that helped win her case.

Activity: What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism means to copy someone else’s work and present it as your own. It’s a terrible idea, because when — not if — someone gets caught plagiarizing, irreparable harm can be done to their grades, reputation, and ability to find a job. It can also, as in the case of E.V. Seebohm’s plagiarized stage production of Little Lord Fauntleroy, result in trouble with the law.

Give children a short passage from Little Lord Fauntleroy to read, then help them to do the following:

  • Directly quote a sentence from the text, using correct punctuation and indicating the chapter number, title of the book, and the author.
  • Paraphrase a few lines from the text without exactly duplicating too many of the words, also indicating the chapter number, title of the book, and the author.
  • Plagiarize a sentence from Little Lord Fauntleroy by copying it partly or entirely into a sentence the student has written as the beginning of a new story.

Discuss the differences between direct quotation, paraphrase, and plagiarism with students, and tell them it is always best to ask for help if they aren’t sure if they have quoted or paraphrased a text correctly.

Sources Used in Research for This Episode

Nierman, Judith. (2010). Piracy Inspires “Real” Stage Version
of Children’s Classic. Copyright Notices, March 2010, p. 16. https://www.copyright.gov/history/lore/pdfs/201003%20CLore_March2010.pdf

Rogers, Edward S. (1902). The Law of Dramatic Copyright. Michigan Law Review, 1(2), pp. 102-120. https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/1272297.pdf

61 – Audiobook: “The Nightingale” by H.C. Andersen

Please enjoy my performance of “The Nightingale” by Hans Christian Andersen. I’ve done a fairly direct translation of the text from the original Danish. Andersen’s dry wit is difficult to convey, but I hope you get some idea of his writing style, even in another language.

The full text of this story can be found on its page, which is listed among other folk tales that I have recorded.

This audiobook is also available on YouTube:

60 – The Nightingale

“The Nightingale” by Hans Christian Andersen tells of an emperor who becomes enthralled with the song of a mechanical bird to the point that he can’t appreciate the song of the genuine article. In the end he comes to realize that human inventions, while impressive, lack the deeper beauty and emotional connection of natural life.

Illustration: “The Nightingale” by Ukrainian artist Georgi Ivanovich Narbut, 1912.

Activity: Reading questions for “The Nightingale”

Before reading “The Nightingale,” ask the following questions to help children prepare for the ideas they will encounter in the story. Children can give their answers in an informal discussion or in short written responses.

  • Have you ever felt pressure to say something was cool because all of your friends were saying so?
  • What would you do if there was something you really enjoyed, but which suddenly became unfashionable?
  • Would you hide the fact that you still liked it, would you stop enjoying it, or would you continue to enjoy it as before?
  • How would you deal with your friends when they told you that the thing you liked wasn’t cool anymore?
  • If you ignored a good friend for a while, would it be hard for you to admit that you had made a mistake and should have been a better friend?
  • Can you think of examples of technology that is pretty amazing, but might not be better than something from real life?

Return to these questions after reading, asking students to connect specific examples from the text to the answers they gave before reading the story.

59 – Censoring Roald Dahl

The works of Roald Dahl are being rewritten by Inclusive Minds at the request of Puffin Books and the Roald Dahl Story Company. Anything deemed offensive by modern-day censors is being deleted or altered, and entirely new writing is being added. In this episode, I explain how modifying Dahl’s writing results in a damaged, adulterated story, as well as give examples of how challenging texts can be adapted for younger writers in a way that is respectful and true to the author’s original work.

I try to keep this show far away from politics and can rarely be compelled to go anywhere near the culture wars, but my conscience wouldn’t let me remain silent while an act of literary vandalism was going on. I’ve included a transcript of this episode here because it’s important to me to be clear about how I feel about censorship and artistic integrity.

Transcript of The Children’s Literature Podcast
Episode 59
“Censoring Roald Dahl”
20 February 2023

This episode of the Children’s Literature Podcast is brought to you by a long, exasperated sigh.

Welcome to the Children’s Literature Podcast. I’m your host, T.Q. Townsend. This episode is called “Censoring Roald Dahl.”

So I had this nice little episode all ready for you about “The Nightingale” by Hans Christian Andersen. It’s a really lovely story about not losing sight of the beauty of nature and the value of personal relationships even if you’re being dazzled by amazing new technology, but I had to put it on hold for a week. I had to stop everything and write this episode about what Puffin Books have chosen to do to the books of Roald Dahl.

I find politics exhausting. I avoid culture war battles like the plague because they are never productive, they never seem to change anyone’s mind, and they tend just to make people think that having a difference of opinion makes it justifiable to hate someone. Living happily in my world of children’s stories, I mostly get to avoid all that. Children’s literature is magical because it is about characters and adventures that are usually blissfully unaware of adult nonsense. I intentionally keep this show G-rated and have, on several occasions, chosen not to do episodes which might have been good for ratings but wouldn’t have been good for my soul.

At the same time, my conscience won’t allow me to let this pass without offering some comments and a plea. Puffin Books has chosen to hire a company called Inclusive Minds to extensively edit the works of Roald Dahl. They have banished words like “fat” and “female” because these are apparently the new F words. The BFG is not allowed to wear a black cloak, and nobody is allowed to turn white with fear. I don’t understand what the problem is with either of these things, but it’s probably something something something . . . racism? In The Witches, an undercover witch is no longer working in a supermarket but is now a top scientist because something something something . . . women in STEM? “Boys and girls” have been expunged in favor of the word “children,” and Oompa Loompas are now gender neutral. I won’t bother listing every change because I don’t need high blood pressure and it would take too long, but there’s plenty of reporting on it now that the story has broken so you can read as much as you can tolerate. Puffin and Inclusive Minds are making the kind of ham-handed, tedious changes that prompt YouTubers to scream about how wokeness is destroying everything, and for blue-haired people on Twitter to start calling everyone bigots. It’s tedious and frustrating and it is no fun to talk about at all.

But we have to, because this cultural moment is out of control and it’s going to affect our children and the integrity of art.

The people who are vandalizing Roald Dahl’s books probably believe that they are doing a good thing that will protect children from harm. Anyone who ever burned a book, censored a piece of art, or put someone on a list of malefactors genuinely believed in the virtue of what they were doing. So you can’t rely on good intentions when it comes to deciding what should and shouldn’t be censored.

It is all too easy to find examples of dogmatic zealots who were guided by the idea that if they didn’t like something, then nobody else should be allowed to like it either. Anyone who disagrees is guilty of impure thoughts and they must be bullied into accepting the new orthodoxy. Book burnings were a regular feature in China during the Cultural Revolution, Germany during the reign of the Nazis, and in Russia during the Soviet Years. Book burning has even happened in western democracies. When Harry Potter books were first published, they were set ablaze by nuts who claimed to be Christians, and today they are burned by nuts who claim to be enlightened.

Puffin books is claiming that the rewriting of Dahl’s books is being done so that they “can continue to be enjoyed by all today.” Except nobody ever stopped enjoying them. Puffin’s statement either implies that people stopped enjoying the books because they have so many naughty ideas in them, which is false, or that people with good morals will want them to be sanitized, which is offensive to readers who think there is value to engaging with complicated stories by complicated people.

When changes are made to books for artistic reasons, that’s editing. When changes are made to books for ideological reasons, that’s censorship and the result is lousy stories. Here’s an example of this artistic adulteration in action. The good people at Inclusive Minds have banished the word “female.” In the novel Matilda, Miss Trunchbull is now no longer a “most formidable female” but a “most formidable woman.” This is a very small change. You might think it doesn’t matter and it oh-so-sensitively expunges a word associated with biology, which is no longer trendy, in favor of a word that is associated with identity politics, which is very trendy. But listen to the difference. “Most formidable female.” “Most formidable woman.” The original, unaltered, alliterative version sounds better. It has a reflexive quality to it. The sounds in “most” and “form” are dominated by the large, strong sounds of the letters O and M. Then the alliterative F sound moves in – “formidable female.” The second version starts off the same way but runs headlong into the word “woman” which has no matching vowel sounds and is slowed down by the sound of the letter W. The first version was better. It has rhythm and moves more quickly. It was an intentional artistic choice made by Roald Dahl. Altering it is like taking a razor blade and putting a single scratch on a beautiful painting. One nick won’t ruin the picture, but when you add up all the tiny mutilations, the overall effect will be catastrophic.

There can be examples of art which have been modified in a way that doesn’t result in vandalism. When Andy Weir’s novel The Martian became an instant smash hit, the author was told by many teachers that they would have loved to recommend the book to their students, but there is just too much bleepity-bleeping swearing in the book. I loved The Martian. It’s a finely crafted survival narrative that incorporates real science in a way that is accessible and gripping. But I agree with the criticism that there’s too much swearing. Some of it’s funny, but it’s also one of the least realistic parts of the book. NASA astronauts are unfailingly professional, and I don’t think they would curse on official communications, even if they were stranded on Mars. But it’s Andy Weir’s book and that’s how he wrote it, and I still really like it despite this minor flaw.

But I also wouldn’t recommend the original version to be read in class because of the swearing. It’s not that I think tender teenage ears can’t handle dirty words – I know what kind of language kids use outside class. Rather it’s that – and listeners who are teachers will be nodding along here – keeping students on task is hard enough without help from a book that gives them an excuse to be potty mouths in class. The original text of The Martian would give that student – you know the kid I mean – just the excuse needed to disrupt class by “faithfully quoting” lines with bad words. So Andy Weir did something really helpful, clever, and profitable. He put out a “young readers” edition that removed all the F-bombs. Some mild language still remains, but that’s not going to destroy fifth period English with rowdy giggling if it’s read out loud. The Martian is a book that can get teenagers stoked about space travel, reading, and even botany. The original author supervised and approved the changes, so the Young Readers Edition of The Martian should get a thumbs up from those of us who care about the integrity of art.

This is quite different from the censorship of people like Thomas Bowdler, who came out with editions of The Family Shakespeare in 1807 and 1818. Bowdler wanted to rewrite the works of the greatest author in the English language so they wouldn’t offend the delicate sensibilities of young ladies with their naughty references to S-E-X. The prudish changes break the poetic flow of some scenes, and they alter Shakespeare’s language for bad reasons. If a play isn’t appropriate for children, don’t read it to children and don’t take them to the theater to see it. Great works of art are worth the wait. Othello isn’t a play that should be seen by kindergarteners, but it will still be there waiting for them when they are seventeen.

This isn’t to say that Shakespeare can’t be adapted or edited down. Some of his plays are really, really, really long. A community theater group may not be able to present all seventeen hours of Hamlet. I’ve seen many Shakespeare productions that were skillfully trimmed down so that they weren’t too long for casual viewers or too difficult for a small theater company to stage. It’s also possible to faithfully condense Shakespeare stories for a young audience in a way that isn’t harmful to the original versions. On the bookshelf in my living room is a spectacular collection of fifteen slim books by Andrew Matthews and Tony Ross and published by Orchard Books. On the cover of each is the name of a Shakespeare play with the subtitle “A Shakespeare Story.” Each play has been retold in prose, remaining true to the story while not tampering with the bard’s iambic pentameter. There’s energetic illustrations on most of the pages, and plot points that are too adult are glossed over or softened to a child-appropriate level. They’re delightful adaptations. They even managed to do a version of Othello. And they’re a great example of how tricky content can be respectfully adapted in a way that honors the author’s original work.

Artists are shaped by their personal, cultural, and historical experiences. An author’s individual voice is special because of the unique path he or she has walked. If that author’s work grates too hard against your moral sensibilities, don’t read it. If you are concerned that the contents of a book might not be good for your children to read, then choose a different book for them to read. But don’t have the gall to think you should be the judge of what other people should be allowed to read.

The literary vandalism being carried out by Puffin Books and Inclusive Minds is a cynical, offensive act. These modifications show that they have no respect for Roald Dahl as an artist and think his writing is defective. Yet as much as they despise Dahl, they aren’t above profiting from his clearly valuable work.

To parents, teachers, librarians, and book lovers, I’d like to make this plea: If you don’t like what Roald Dahl wrote and you aren’t interested in the intellectual struggle required to encounter the complex work of a complex person, don’t read his books and don’t do anything to profit from them. It’s that simple. Please don’t reward literary vandalism by purchasing these adulterated versions, if and when they come out. Even if you agree with the moral positions of those exercising censorship, it’s still censorship. It’s wrong to change an artist’s work, regardless of the intentions behind those changes.

To Puffin Books, the Roald Dahl Story Company, and Inclusive Minds – not that any of you are interested in what I have to say – I will beg: Don’t rewrite Roald Dahl’s work and send the genuine articles down the Memory Hole. You’re just going to create inferior products that will distort readers’ understanding of great stories. You’re going to annoy Dahl’s fans and those who care about artistic integrity with your disrespect. And you will offend readers by implying that they are too stupid or too fragile to engage with challenging texts written by a complicated man so they need your protection.

I find the kind of people involved in this editing process to be puzzling. On one hand, they have the hubris to think they can do better than one of the greatest writers the English language has ever known. But on the other, despite feeling so strongly about the need for stories that appeal to modern audiences, they aren’t courageous enough to write their own stories. I suppose I can understand the people who hire these editors though. They’re in it for the money. They don’t mind if an author’s work is mutilated as long as they can make a quick buck.

I’m going to have to start taking better care of my Roald Dahl paperbacks and perhaps buy some backup copies of older editions. I hope those of you who love this author’s work can do the same. I’m sorry this episode was a bit of a downer. I try to keep this show really positive and use it as a place to share my passion for great books with all of you, but I had to take a moment to defend the integrity of those books or I won’t have anything left to be passionate about.

Censorship is wrong. It was wrong when the Soviets did it. It was wrong when Dr. Bowdler did it. And it’s wrong when “sensitivity experts” do it now, no matter how trendy their politics are. Roald Dahl deserves better, and I hope that parents, teachers, librarians, book lovers, and those who care about the integrity of art will speak up in his defense. Art is our cultural currency, and this editorial adulteration of Roald Dahl’s books is debasing the coinage. I want us to maintain a gold standard.

You’ve been listening to the Children’s Literature Podcast. Please subscribe and give the show a rating. Send comments to letters@childrensliteraturepodcast.com. I’m your host, T.Q. Townsend. Thanks for listening.

58 – Interview with Jonathan Emmett

Jonathan Emmett is February’s Leicestershire Author of the month! I really enjoyed our interview, in which we talk about his fun childhood spent using tools, his training as an architect, and how he blended his interests in problem-solving, design, and storytelling during his successful career as a children’s author.

Each month this year I will be featuring authors who are from Leicestershire or who live here, as my way of using the show and its growing audience to support writers in my local community. If this interview is any indicator of things to come, I’m going to have a lot of fun over the coming months speaking with really interesting people!

Jonathan grew up in Enderby, a village just on the southwestern outskirts of Leicester City. The librarian in Enderby fortunately had an eye for American authors like Maurice Sendak, P.D. Eastman, and Dr. Seuss, all of whom were a big influence on Jonathan as a child. His parents encouraged him not just to read, but to play with real tools, building and designing things from a young age. As he trained to become an architect, he learned that Computer Aided Design (CAD) programs were really useful in designing pop-up books, something he still does today.

This interview gives a glimpse into an interesting career, with sound advice for prospective authors and fun reflections on the importance of allowing just the slightest bit of danger into childhood.

You can learn more about Jonathan Emmett and the books he’s written at jonathanemmett.com. Follow him on Twitter at JonathanEmmett, Facebook at JonathanEmmettAuthor, and Instagram at jonathanemmett. He also has a YouTube channel and a Pinterest page.

Activity: Make A Pop-Up!

Jonathan Emmett doesn’t just write books — he designs them! His background as an architect helps him come up with clever designs for books that pop up into three dimensional pictures. Check out his page on how to make your own pop-up pages.

57 – Anne of Green Gables is Big in Japan

Akage no An, the Japanese translation of Anne of Green Gables, has remained wildly popular in Japan for 70 years. But why has a story about a redheaded orphan from Canada’s smallest province become such an essential part of Japanese literature? Hanako Muraoka, the translator who brought this book to her country, published this story at just the right time, when her war-torn nation was eager for a simple story about a girl with realistic struggles, dreams, and relationships.

In the second of two episodes about the impressive life of Hanako Muraoka, learn about how the translation of Anne of Green Gables was finally published and why it became so popular in Japan. Much of this story can only now be known because of the publication of Anne’s Cradle: The Life and Works of Hanako Muraoka, Japanese Translator of Anne of Green Gables. This engaging biography was written by Hanako’s granddaughter Eri Muraoka and has much to teach us about the power of literature to bring people together, even when they come from countries that were once enemies.

Activity: Discussion or Essay Questions for Anne’s Cradle

After reading chapters nine and ten of Anne’s Cradle, consider the following questions. Answers could come in the form of a class discussion, short reflection, or essay.

Chapter 9: Hanako had mixed feelings about her father’s death. Do you feel that he did a good or bad job as a father toward his children?

Chapter 10: Hanako gave her mother a Buddhist funeral, even though she herself was a Christian. What does this say about Hanako’s ability to understand and respect different beliefs?