Charles Perrault: Biography, Fairy Tales & Books

Instructor: Margaret English

Meg has taught language arts in middle school, high school and college. She has a doctorate in Educational leadership

Charles Perrault, a French writer, is most well known for popularizing several traditional folk tales during the late 1600s. Learn about his most famous book, the Tales of Mother Goose, and take a quiz to test your understanding.

Charles Perrault Biography

So just how many versions of the classic fairy tale 'Cinderella' have you heard? Probably several. It's a very old story, and thanks to Charles Perrault, the master collaborator of folk tales, 'Cinderella' lives on and on.

Charles Perrault was born in France in 1628. As a member of a wealthy family, young Charles enjoyed the privilege of good schools where he was always at the top of his class. He trained to be a lawyer and then worked with his brother collecting taxes in Paris. He may have been a little outspoken and when some noblemen wanted to exclude the public from being able to visit the beautiful Tuileries Gardens in Paris, Perrault objected.

Perrault also defended modern literature of the time and believed that it was as worthy as the literature of antiquity. Despite his tendencies to say what was on his mind, the King liked Perrault and provided him with special appointments, one of which was writing poetry. Literature suited Perrault but it was not until he was nearly 70 that he went to work compiling familiar folk tales. Perrault died in 1703 at the age of 75.

Books by Charles Perrault

Although he wrote many volumes of poetry, Charles Perrault's greatest contribution to literature is the preservation of classic folk tales. These folk tales were often horrifying, graphic and morbid stories not unlike some contemporary urban legends today. Did you hear the one about the albino alligators living in the New York City sewers? Or the baby sitter who baked the baby in the oven? Like some of these modern stories, medieval folk tales were popular, often gruesome, and were easily shared.

Charles Perrault's most well-known book is 'Tales of Mother Goose,' which included eight fairy tales: 'Sleeping Beauty', 'Little Red Riding Hood', 'Bluebeard', 'Puss in Boots', 'The Fairies', 'Cinderella', 'Ricky with the Tuft' and 'Little Tom Thumb'. Most of these stories are still quite well-known.

Charles Perrault, Master Storyteller

Perrault told all the stories from an observational but objective third person narrator's point of view. The result is a collection of fairy tales that seem to be told by the same person. A century later, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm did much the same thing. Perrault also used dialogue to create characterization and provided interesting details about the settings and characters. At the end, he added lengthy morals to each story.

Perrault's moral for Little Red Riding Hood is a warning to girls and young women to beware of dangerous men. In the words of Perrault himself, 'Children, especially attractive, well-bred young ladies, should never talk to strangers, for if they should do so, they may well provide dinner for a wolf. I say 'wolf,' but there are various kinds of wolves. There are also those who are charming, quiet, polite, unassuming, complacent, and sweet, who pursue young women at home and in the streets. And unfortunately, it is these gentle wolves who are the most dangerous ones of all.'

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