The Canonical Dozen

I’ve used this phrase so many times in the last year and a half, I’ve decided to sit down and make a real list.

The reason for doing it now is at least partly because I’m kicking around the idea of telling stories occasionally in a 4th-6th grade classroom this fall, and I decided I wanted to start with the basics.

It’s inevitable that fewer and fewer people will be hearing these old stories, even those that are referenced continually in literary allusions.   I figured I might do what I can to spread (what I consider) this basic literacy of folk and fairy tales.

For your perusing and debating pleasure (in no particular order):

The Canonical Dozen

  1. Cinderella
  2. Rumpelstiltskin
  3. Rapunzel
  4. Sleeping beauty
  5. Jack and the Beanstalk
  6. Snow White
  7. The Princess and the Pea
  8. Aladdin and his Lamp
  9. The Ugly Duckling
  10. Beauty and the Beast
  11. Hansel and Gretal
  12. Little Red Riding hood
  13. Puss in Boots

This was trickier than I thought, and I slowed to a stop after #6. (Meaning I had to get up and actually look at my shelves.)

To understand why I picked these it helps to look at this list from a literary standpoint, rather than what we’ve personally read/heard the most.

Every one of these 12 I have seen referenced or alluded to (in a way that was supposed to be metaphorical or enlightening) in an utterly unrelated setting (e.g. “breadcrumbs” in a variety of roles).

Without these stories, modern readers could actually be missing the point of anything from a textbook anecdote to an AP article in their local paper.

Perhaps for the next several weeks I will break from my initial goal of Tuesday Tales and review these basics, mentioning at that point my favorite version of each.

6 thoughts on “The Canonical Dozen

  1. I’m going to think about this one, but another one that comes t mind is Sheherazade (Don’t think I spelled that one right).

  2. To me Scheherazade is as important as Tam Lin, but then, not many seem to have heard of that story, either.

    I just added #13 (hey, it’s still a baker’s dozen, right?) because I think it belongs in this list.

    “Dozen” was just a random designation anyway…

    NB: I do not believe these are the best stories or even all good ones.

    Another way to look at how I formed *this* list: they are all stories I could– or have– expected an adult my age or older to recognize, perhaps even well enough to tell a sketchy version of.

    I left out the youngest stories, or I would have included “The Three Bears,” or “The Three Billy Goats Gruff,” and so on.

  3. Of course, if anyone wants a chance of understanding any of the Shrek movies, they should read every fairy-tale they can get there hands on. Couldn’t stand the movies, but enjoyed all the references.

    And I’m with you on that I love other fairy-tales much more than most of these.

    Have you seen Englebert Humperdink’s (not the weird one) opera Hansel and Gretel?

  4. This is a great list. I’m happy to say my girls are (reasonably) familiar with all of these. I’ve tried to read different versions of these and other fairy tales to them before they watch movie or t.v adaptations but I haven’t been 100% successful.

    It also reminds me of a sermon my dad preached a few months ago. He made a passing reference to “The Little Red Hen” and had far too many people ask him as they left, “Who or what is the little red hen?”

    Sad, just sad. He printed up one version of the story and handed it out the next Sunday. I think we are definitely losing our cultural touchstones.

  5. “Cultural touchstones.” Interesting way to put it, Karen. I like that.

    Perhaps I should make a younger dozen.

    Of course, I’d have to come up with an explanation about what distinguishes the “children’s” stories from the “Older” stories, and I’d have trouble with “borderline” stories like # 12 and 13.

    Do you know I started a somewhat complex essay about Cinderella, its origins and variants after compiling my TT for today.

    But it got a little deep for the amount of research I was willing to do and I decided I wasn’t going to help that high school slacker after all ;)

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