The Japanese fairy tales of Naoko Awa

Cover250 We live in a strange age with regards to fairy tales. In some ways, fairy tales have never been more influential, with film directors and authors continually finding new ways to adapt fairies and fairy tale motifs for 21st century audiences.

But at the same time, fairy tales have never had less influence, as very few people actually read the original tales. While younger generations know by heart fairy tale adaptations like Shrek, I doubt even a handful of these kids have read the actual stories which inspired their favorite green ogre.

Which might be one reason why Japanese fairy tale author Naoko Awa is only now being introduced to English audiences. Awa, who died in 1993 at age 50, was well known to Japanese audiences for her unique takes on Japanese fairy tales. While Awa used familiar motifs from Japanese folklore, she took these motifs in new directions by combining them with her deep love of Western fairy tales created by the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, and others.

Now the University of New Orleans Publishing has released the first English-language collection of Awa's fairy tales. Translated by Toshiya Kamei, The Fox's Window and Other Stories features 30 fairy tales spanning the last three decades of Awa's life. Even though it has been years since I've read a true fairy tale, I've loved this book. These tales spin through beautiful scenes and places, pitting sympathetic characters against dark forces while remaining true to the uplifting core of modern fairy tales. For example, in "The Sky-Colored Chair," the father of a blind girl convinces a young fairy to paint the colors of the sky over a rocking chair. When his daughter sits in the chair, she is able to see colors for the first time. Naturally, complications ensue. But where many post-modern fantasy authors would subvert the story into a tale of dire consequences, Awa reaches for an ending which is sweet and pure.

Toshiya Kamei deserves high praise for bringing Awa's tales to English audiences. While a few of these tales have been published in recent years in English literary journals and magazines--with one, "Blue Shells," making the notable story list for this year's Million Writers Award--an entire collection of Awa's stories is long overdue. I highly recommend this book to all lovers of traditional fairy tales and folklore.