Charles Perrault, the “Father of Mother Goose,” who brought the world the stories of Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and many others, was born in Paris on January 12, 1628, the son of a wealthy lawyer.
Perrault himself was later to become an influential lawyer and government functionary. He was an aide to Jean-Baptiste Colbert, King Louis XIV’s finance minister, and advised on the construction of public buildings, most especially on the design and construction of the Palace of Versailles.
After Perrault was forced into retirement due to various political intrigues at Court he turned his attention to children’s verses, retelling folk tales that were popular as bedtime stories.
Little is known about Perrault’s private life, but it seems he relied more on memories of stories he heard in his childhood or heard nursemaids tell his own children, than on anything we would now regard as field work.
In 1697 he published (under a pseudonym) the collection Histoires ou Contes du Temps Passé (“Stories and Tales From Olden Times”) which became better known as Les Contes de ma Mère l’Oye, or Mother Goose’s Tales. This was the first recorded usage of the name Mother Goose, which would become famous in English after Perrault’s fairy tales were translated in 1729.
Perrault’s book included his versions of many stories that were already fairly widespread and some less well-known. The book originally contained eight tales: La Belle au Bois Dormant (Sleeping Beauty), Le Petit Chaperon Rouge (Little Red Riding-Hood) La Barbe Bleue (Bluebeard), Le Chat Botté (Puss in Boots), Les Fées (The Fairies), Cendrillon, ou la Petite Pantoufle de Verre (Cinderella), Riquet à la Houppe (Riquet with the Tuft), and Le Petit Poucet (Tom Thumb).
Perrault’s versions were often darker and more violent than we are used to fairy tales being today, a feature he has in common with The Brothers Grimm, who retold equally gory versions a century after Perrault.
He also believed that his tales had a moral message. Here is his explanation of Little Red Riding Hood:
“I say Wolf, for all wolves are not of the same sort; there is one kind with an amenable disposition – neither noisy, nor hateful, nor angry, but tame, obliging and gentle, following the young maids in the streets, even into their homes. Alas! Who does not know that these gentle wolves are of all such creatures the most dangerous!”
Perrault’s fairy tales were immediately popular and spawned a number of imitators. Perrault died in Paris in 1703 at the age of 75, but his tales are still alive today.