Little Lulu Gave Me Fairy Tales

Little Lulu

Many chil­dren were once intro­duced to fairy tales by Andrew Lang’s books or the com­plete sto­ries of Grimm or Ander­son. Mod­ern chil­dren are (over)exposed to the Dis­ney ver­sions. I didn’t have either. My fairy tale read­ing con­sist­ed of a few sto­ries in an old ency­clo­pe­dia and I was six­teen when I saw Disney’s Sleep­ing Beau­ty, my first Dis­ney fairy tale in a move theater.

Yet I was steeped in fairy tales through Lit­tle Lulu com­ic books. How I loved Lit­tle Lulu! Each month I scoured Drug Fair for the lat­est issue (only ten cents!). Dur­ing the year, extra-thick spe­cial issues for Hal­loween and oth­er hol­i­days appeared. I enjoyed the con­tem­po­rary sto­ries about Lulu, who always best­ed Tub­by and his gang. Main­ly, I pored over the fea­ture where Lulu told a sto­ry to her next-door neigh­bor, Alvin. Marge’s Lulu and Alvin Sto­ry­telling Time was my favorite spe­cial issue comic.

Little Lulu

These sto­ries starred Lulu her­self, often as a poor, ragged girl, who wore patch­es on her red dress, picked bee­ble­ber­ries, and lived in the woods. Poor, ragged Lulu was often hun­gry, bare­foot, and ignored by nor­mal peo­ple. She usu­al­ly had to deal with vil­lain Witch Hazel. Each month, and in the Sto­ry­telling spe­cial, I absorbed fairy tale ele­ments in Lulu’s sto­ries: Lulu’s woods were enchant­ed, Lulu had to over­come obsta­cles, Lulu some­times dreamed of a hap­pi­er life (like being warm or hav­ing enough to eat), and she want­ed a true friend. Most­ly, Lulu was con­tent with her lot and glad to return from her adven­ture to her cot­tage or shack, the ele­ment of home-away-home. In those sto­ries, Lulu was an every­man (girl!) hero, tossed into extra­or­di­nary cir­cum­stances that forced her to draw on her own strengths.

Poor Lulu had few pos­ses­sions: a tooth­brush with one bris­tle, a tin can for a jack o’lantern. In one sto­ry she had a scrub board that she loved “bet­ter than a dol­ly.” I had my stuffed ele­phant; Lulu had a hum­ble scrub board. Psy­cho­an­a­lyst W. D. Win­ni­cott called the prized items chil­dren cling to tran­si­tion­al objects, things that help them trav­el from wak­ing to sleeping.

Oth­er sto­ries told to Alvin fea­tured Lulu as a princess “who lived all by her­self in a great, big, gloomy cas­tle. She had no fam­i­ly, no play­mates, no pets, and no toys at all to play with … the moat sur­round­ing the cas­tle was a mon­ster. Peo­ple want­ed that gold. Three tried var­i­ous, dis­as­trous meth­ods (rule of three!). A poor boy who only want­ed to vis­it the princess was allowed across.

In yet anoth­er sto­ry Lulu was “a very hap­py lit­tle mer­maid because she had her own lit­tle rock to sit on and comb her long beau­ti­ful hair.” Mer­maid Lulu is cap­tured and put on dis­play, saved by a boy who felt sor­ry for her and returned her to the sea. In most of the sto­ries, though, Lulu saved her­self and often oth­ers, too.

Enchanted Hunters the Power of Stories in ChildhoodThrough Lit­tle Lulu, I was read­ing fairy tales, in some cas­es, based on Ander­son or Grimm. By soak­ing up sto­ries of mon­sters and witch­es and evil humans set against scenes of truth and good­ness, I became one of Maria Tatar’s enchant­ed hunters. As Tatar says in her book Enchant­ed Hunters: The Pow­er of Sto­ries in Child­hood:

Radi­ant beau­ty, com­bined with jolts of hor­ror, can pro­duce a form of igni­tion pow­er that turns read­ers into roamers — wan­der­ers in intel­lec­tu­al precincts with des­ti­na­tions in mind. They become enchant­ed hunters, ful­ly appro­pri­at­ing a role that will empow­er them … As we read, we engage, inter­pret, and impro­vise, cre­at­ing new nar­ra­tives with the same cat­alyt­ic pow­er and trans­for­ma­tive ener­gy of words on a page.

When Lulu tells sto­ries to Alvin, who is younger and ram­bunc­tious, she calms him down as well as enter­tains him. Her sto­ries also have a hid­den moral.

In ele­men­tary school, I devoured library books and scrib­bled sto­ries. Books — and Lit­tle Lulu com­ic books — empow­ered me into a dif­fer­ent role, that of a sto­ry­teller. When my ram­bunc­tious boy cousins came to vis­it, I often led them down­stairs into our base­ment, a dim, musty, unfin­ished space. We sat on the dusty floor behind the fur­nace. With my face lit by the blue flame of the pilot light inside, I told them impro­vised sto­ries about ghosts and witch­es and mon­sters. My audi­ence was ignited.

Today, as an author of children’s books and a stu­dent of children’s lit­er­a­ture, I study fairy tales to under­stand their impor­tance and how they work, a jour­ney I began more than six­ty years ago, thanks to a cer­tain lit­tle girl in a red dress.

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