Through the Water Curtain and Other Tales from Around the World by Cornelia Funke

Lesser known tales but every bit as magical

I discovered this gem of a book while browsing the fairy tales section of Waterstones. Cornelia Funke’s name on the cover attracted me. I had read and enjoyed her Inkheart trilogy and The Thief Lord, and I was excited to find a collection of fairy tales “selected and introduced” by her. Funke is well known for her love of fairy tales which indeed she heavily draws inspiration from for her novels, and I felt sure that an anthology by her was going to be worth a read.

Through the Water Curtain and Other Tales from Around the World (978-1782692003) is a collection of lesser-known stories so don’t expect to find the likes of Snow White, Cinderella or Goldilocks within its covers. What you will find are tales from different cultures that are refreshingly different and yet familiar at the same time. Magical creatures and items abound, good deeds are rewarded and bad ones punished, while courage and love prevail – as you would expect from any fairy tale. But you will also find unexpected delights from exotic settings and mysterious cultures, with stories originating from different countries. Here are the stories included:

  • The Boy Who Drew Cats (Japan)
  • Kotura, Lord of the Winds (Siberia)
  • Through the Water Curtain (Japan)
  • The Areca Tree (Vietnam)
  • The Maid of the Copper Mountain (Russia)
  • The Tale of the Firebird (Russia)
  • Bluebird (France)
  • The Six Swans (Germany)
  • Golden Foot (France)
  • The Story of the One Who Set Out to Study Fear (Germany)
  • The Frog Princess (Ukraine)
  • The One-Handed Murderer (Italy)
  • The Girl Who Gave a Knight a Kiss Out of Necessity (Sweden)

Funke’s highly readable seven-page introduction, a witty account of her relationship with fairy tales and the tropes that characterise them, sets the scene of the book. In this anthology, she sets out – and succeeds – to serve a favourite dish but with the recipe tweaked to offer something new. We have a hero whose love for art and not his physical strength saves the day, a community saved by a fat monk and not a handsome prince and a love triangle that does not end happily ever after. These are just a few examples of the stories that take us to the less trodden roads of the land of fairy tales, stories that will make you wonder why you haven’t explored these roads sooner.

Every story ends with a short commentary by Funke. If you are a lover of fairy tales like me, Funke’s commentaries will give you much food for thought. What should a happy ending be? What must happen for there to be a happily ever after? It can differ from one culture to another. Here’s an example of the commentaries:

Is there any Western fairy tale that begins with a monk? Our Western tales tend to be quite worldly. At the end the hero has plenty of gold and a crown and the most beautiful girl – a happy ending that makes one wonder whether or civilisation always defined success in material gain and the fulfillment of all desires. In Asian tales, the king often gives away all his wealth and becomes a hermit in a cave int he end. Success is defined as overcoming desire …

Some illustrations would have been the icing on the cake, but alas you will not find any in this book. Happily, the stories are so enchanting that they come alive all of their own and you will find yourselves reading them one after the other until the final page. And then, you will want to go back to the first and start all over again. The less trodden will become the well trodden.

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