The Serpent Slayer; and Other Stories of Strong Women

retold by Katrin Tchana

illustrations by Trina Schart Hyman

Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2000

109 pp. – each individual story averages about 6 pages

Age:  5 + (some stories suitable for 4)

Interests: folk tales, princesses, pirates, fairy tales, magic, other cultures

Other books by this illustrator: St. George and the Dragon, Rapunzel

This is a collection of 18 fairy and folk tales from around the world, all stories with strong, capable female heroes. In the Preface, the author writes:

The stories in this collection are about women and girls who find themselves in difficult circumstances and respond in brave, clever, and thoughtful ways. Most collections of folk and fairy tales are collections of stories that remind us how to be heroes. But these stories are all about heroines. A heroine’s experience is different from that of a hero’s, for woman’s experience of life through the ages has been different from man’s. We believe we need more books that reflect that experience. These are stories that remind us how to be strong, adventuresome, creative women. They teach us how to survive enormous suffering and come out alive with our eyes shining and our feet kicking.

A great antidote to the more passive princess fairy tales. This is a rousing collection of wiley, assertive, clever, brave, determined, strong and wilful women. Some stories are rather gruesome and violent, featuring women who fight just as fiercely and ruthlessly as their male counterparts. Other stories are more in the trickster line, with peasant girls outwitting their social betters, impressing royalty, etc. Women have a long history of subservience to men – fathers, brothers, or husbands who may be neglectful, domineering, or abusive. As a result these stories share a strong motif of women setting the balance of power right, either avenging themselves upon those who have done wrong, or merely by showing them up with superior intellect, strength, or daring.

You can pick and choose the kind of stories to tell – there is a great variety of tone and mood, from the creepy and frightening to the light and funny. And in these stories even the heroines described as spoiled or lazy get what they want if they are determined or clever enough. Often the goal is a husband, but sometimes these women are out to defeat a monster or rescue and aid family members, or simply to survive hard times.

In the last story the most intelligent woman in the land finds a husband who is smart enough to marry her – the title of the story is “The Marriage of Two Masters”.

Stories not for the faint of heart: “The Serpent Slayer”, “Nesoowa and the Chenoo”, “Grandmother’s Skull”. It might be a good idea to skim through these stories before reading them aloud.

(“The Serpent Slayer” also talks about families reluctantly giving up daughters for an annual ritualistic sacrifice to the serpent, and how poor families could more easily be persuaded to do so because they couldn’t feed all their children, etc. The whole concept may be disturbing for some children.)

A last note: Not just for girls! Boys should enjoy hearing these action-packed stories as well, and it can do everyone a world of good to hear stories with a range and variety of hero-figures.



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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.
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