Karel Čapek’s Nine Fairy Tales (1932, tr. 1990 by D. Herrmann) is another treasure found while wandering my school library’s stacks. There are actually ten tales here (And One More Thrown in for Good Measure is the subtitle), most short enough for a bedtime read. Two, however, the first and tenth, are “great” tales composed of several short stories featuring a single character. In “The Great Cat’s Tale”, for instance, we read of how a princess first acquires a cat, how that cat is stolen, how several detectives search for the cat, how one pear-loving detective is successful, and finally how the cat manages to bring the future king, with his house, to the princess’s castle.
Herrmann’s translation from Czech (making this my *book originally written in a different language* for the 2015 Reading Challenge) is sprightly, full of puns and slang, rhythm and music — language that delights in sound as well as meaning. We learn the origins of comets, why hens don’t fly, and why dogs dig in the dirt. From a Czech swallow, we learn that buildings in America are so tall,
if a sparrow has a nest on the roof of such a building and an egg falls out, it keeps on falling for such a long time before it hits the ground that a baby sparrow hatches out on the way, grows, marries, has a slew of kids, ages and dies in blessed old age, so instead of an egg, an old dead sparrow drops flat on the pavement.
A traveler to India tells us the river Ganges “is so wide that if you throw a stone across to the other side it will take an hour and a half to land.” A dog, finding an intruder, barks:
Halt! … Get, get, get him! Overpower him! Hey, buddy! Hey, you hoodlum! Hey, you villain! Hey, you clumsy giant! Choke him, tramp him, smear him, thrash him, roll up your sleeves and tear him up! Ha-ha-ha!
These are stories with joyful characters, happy endings, and that extra bit of magic that makes them qualify as “fairy tales”.