French Legends, Tales, and Fairy Stories Essay - Critical Context

Critical Context

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.