Fairy tales on the big screen: The magic sword

I’ve got a nice copy of English Fairy Tales, retold by Flora Annie Steel & illustrated by Arthur Rackham.  I picked it up at a library book sale for the Rackham illos but I’ve also been reading the stories to my daughter.  Some of them are deeply disturbing, naturally, but all of them are pretty good.  I’ve read most of them a several times but somehow kept skipping the very first one, which is about St. George.  The story of St. George is retold here at Project Gutenburg (the rest of the book is here too, with the pictures!).

What jumped out at me (apart from the fact that St. George killed way more pagans than I would have guessed; I only knew about the dragon) is that this story is actually the basis of the 1962 movie The Magic Sword!  Seriously.  Things get sanitized a bit (instead of sacrificing babies, the witch-mom is pretty nice in the movie, etc.) and naturally a lot got dropped (the crusades mainly) but the broad strokes are all there — raised by a witch, the six international knights who join him, the ogre/giant, dragon, and magic sword, horse, and armor; notice too that our hero is Sir George in the film.  Lodac is new, and kind of replaces Almidor, the Moorish villain from the story, but for a movie that is so seriously bizarre, I was surprised to realize just how much of this acid trip movie was folkloric.  (OK, there are many versions of this tale, so F.A. Steel’s specific version may not be the basis of the movie per se; still I never realized how much of it was from ‘real’ legends.)

You can see the whole film here.  I think that, like Night of the living dead, this movie must be one of the casualties of copyright law and somehow got tossed into the public domain, based on the number of cheapo DVD releases it has had.

Also, both the film and the Steel book are veritable gold mines of D&D ideas.  What game would not benefit from chimpanzees in clothes, two-headed and/or pin-headed magicians’ servants, boiling pools of death, two-headed dragons, and that ape-ogre, or the orange tree and the magical falchion Ascalon?

Digging deeper into the Steel collection of fairy tales, the version of “Jack the Giant Killer” here is quite good and a reminder that the upcoming movie is really not an adaptation of that story at all, but of “Jack and the beanstalk” (which is also in this collection).  “The bogey beast,” “The golden ball,” “The three heads of the well,” “Child Rowland,” “Molly Whuppie and the double-faced giant,” and “The red ettin” all have some interesting monsters or encounters.

Rackham illustration for "The true history of Tom Thumb."  Looks like a scene from the Hobbit to me.

Rackham illustration for “The true history of Sir Thomas Thumb.” Looks like a scene from the Hobbit to me.

Published in: on April 2, 2013 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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