Barbara Leonie Picard renders her tales into highly readable language and yet avoids any semblance of writing down to unsophisticated minds; indeed, although she intended the stories for youthful audiences, any reader interested in traditional tales may enjoy her versions. Without altering the plots or characterizations, Picard has abridged some of the old tales considerably; she also manages to make the sometimes inscrutable medieval characters accessible to modern readers. For example, Roland’s decision not to summon help at the battle of Roncevalles puzzles many students, but Picard, developing the quarrel between Oliver and Roland in The Song of Roland, brings to life Roland’s combination of foolhardy resolve in facing his enemies and despair over the unlikelihood of aid arriving in time. Picard’s text portrays Roland as strong and proud, if gravely erring in judgment. Her retelling similarly preserves the ferocity of the battle with the numbers and names of the slain, while sparing the readers the surrealism of boiling blood, oozing brains, and ever-flowing tears that engaged the medieval poet.
Picard generally avoids the exaggerations of the original tales when they would weaken credibility for modern readers. For example, Charlemagne is described as being very old, but not as being well into his second century, as he is in The Song of Roland. When explanation is needed, as in some of the fairy legends of northern France, Picard provides it briefly and gracefully. For example, in order to explain the hostility of korrigans, a type of dangerous fairy, for Christian priests, Picard mentions that the korrigans seem to be omitted from the salvation and redemption offered to mortals in Christian belief and therefore detest Christian clerics. Such a religious idea is part of a French villager’s received culture and so might go unexplained in the original; Picard includes only enough to illustrate and exemplify, without weighing down her tale.
Writing down oral tales, such as those in the latter two sections of the book, also requires other choices, not the least of which involves choosing which versions of the tales to...
(The entire section is 885 words.)
Barbara Leonie Picard is well known and respected for her adaptations of the literature and folktales of many cultures, including works from Celtic, British, German, and Persian sources. Although the writing of such tales necessitates many editorial decisions, Picard does not take the liberties in which recounters of traditional material sometimes indulged; she maintains the plots of the originals so that a reader of her versions knows the story line and understands something of its social context. In addition to the religious, historical, and geographical allusions in her stories, Picard also mentions relevant details of daily life, such as washing laundry in a stream in “The Hobgoblin and the Washergirl.” Even the names remain French, with one exception: “Olivier” has become the more familiar “Oliver.” Generally, Picard’s accuracy with details matches her ability to make the tales interesting, as is the case with other examples of her work. For example, in the preface to Tales of Ancient Persia, Retold from the “Shah-Nama” of Firdausi (1972), Picard discusses the identity of the Turanians (Turani), the traditional enemies of the ancient Persians, the Zoroastrian religion, and the traditions concerning the life and death of the poet who composed the Shah-Nama.
Such careful accuracy is not always found in adaptations of foreign literature and folklore; the attempt to be precise often hinders the effort to present a readable, enjoyable narrative. This is especially true in works for younger readers, for whom adapters wish overwhelmingly to write a good story, rather than to fret over details of background. Picard’s success at doing both is noteworthy.