July 14, 2009

From the Bastille to Cinderella



      In writing my historic romance novel, circa 1790s, I struggled to determine a starting point. After doing much research, I realized that all the characters appearing in the beginning of the novel had witnessed the Fall of the Bastille in France on July 14, 1789. I decided to have them sharing their experiences several weeks later as they imbibed in chocolate coffee, a popular drink in Paris at that time.

     I researched eyewitness and news accounts of the event in preparation for writing their conversation. One comment intrigued me. It referred to the days of the warring as The Night and Orcus. What did this mean?

     I typed “Orcus” into the computer search engine and learned that Orcus is an alternative name for Satan. Thomas Carlyl described the era as follows: From Sunday afternoon (exclusive of intervals and pauses not final) till Thursday evening, there follow consecutively a Hundred Hours. Which hundred hours are to be reckoned with the hours of the Bartholomew Butchery, of the Armagnac Massacres, Sicilian Vespers, or whatsoever is savagest in the annals of this world. Horrible the hour when man’s soul, in its paroxysm, spurns asunder the barriers and rules; and shows what dens and depths are in it! For Night and Orcus, as we say, as was long prophesied, have burst forth, here in this Paris, from their subterranean imprisonment: hideous, dim-confused; which it is painful to look on; and yet which cannot, and indeed which should not, be forgotten… *

     I read somewhere that Orcus was the root of the French word ogre. More research: was the word ogre introduced to the French vocabulary before or after the time of my novel, the 1790s? Could I use it in my character’s conversation? Wikipedia provided the following information: In Roman mythology, Orcus was a god of the underworld, punisher of broken oaths, more equivalent to Pluto than to the Greek Hades, and later identified with Dis Pater. He was portrayed in paintings in Etruscan tombs as a hairy, bearded giant. A temple to Orcus may have existed on the Palatine Hill in Rome.

The origins of Orcus may have lain in Etruscan religion. Orcus was a name used by Roman writers to identify a Gaulish god of the underworld. The so-called “Tomb of the Orcus”, an Etruscan site at Tarquinia, is a misnomer, resulting from its first discoverers mistaking as Orcus a hairy, bearded giant that was actually a figure of a Cyclops.

‘Orcus’, in Roman mythology, was an alternative name for Pluto, Hades, or Dis Pater, god of the land of the dead. The name “Orcus” seems to have been given to his evil and punishing side, as the god who tormented evildoers in the afterlife. Like the name Hades (or the Norse Hel, for that matter), “Orcus” could also mean the land of the dead.

From Orcus’ association with death and the underworld, his name came to be used for demons and other underworld monsters, particularly in Italian where orco refers to a kind of monster found in fairy-tales that feeds on human flesh. The French word ogre (appearing first in Charles Perrault’s fairy-tales) may have come from variant forms of this word, orgo or ogro; in any case, the French ogre and the Italian orco are exactly the same sort of creature.**

     I still needed to know when the word was introduced to France.

     Charles Perrault (January 12, 1628 – May 16, 1703) was a French author who laid foundations for a new literary genre, the fairy tale, and whose best known tales include Le Petit Chaperon rouge (Little Red Riding Hood), La Belle au bois dormant (Sleeping Beauty), Le Maître chat ou le Chat botté (Puss in Boots), Cendrillon ou la petite pantoufle de verre (Cinderella), La Barbe bleue (Bluebeard), Le Petit Poucet (Hop o’ My Thumb), Les Fées (Diamonds and Toads), La Marquise de Salusses ou la Patience de Griselidis (Patient Griselda), Les Souhaits ridicules (The Ridiculous Wishes), Peau d’Âne (Donkeyskin) and Riquet à la houppe (Ricky of the Tuft). Perrault’s most famous stories are still in print today and have been made into operas, ballets (e.g., Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty), plays, musicals, and films, including the highly-successful animated features Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty by The Walt Disney Company.

     I now had my information—the word ogre was appropriate to use in my novel. Along the way to learning this, I became introduced to the background of the fairy tale.

    In telling my daughter about this, she mentioned that her favorite fairy tale is Cinderella. She mentioned that she would love to read Perrault’s version.

     This was in November, just when I was thinking about Christmas presents. So back to the Internet I went, in search of a few other versions of this tale. I intended to gather a few versions and present them to her for Christmas.

     By the time I was done, I had discovered there are as many versions of this fairy tale as Carter’s has liver pills (or, to modernize this saying, as many versions as the electronics world has telephones!). I decided to begin her journey with the Egyptian Cinderella, and presented her with a book to complement it, If the Shoe Fits.****

     It’s interesting how, when researching just one topic, the journey takes off with a life of its own. It’s like life—if a person flows with it, rather than trying to direct it, wonderful and unexpected surprises can appear around the corners.






 Check out SurLaLune Fairy Tales for further information on fairy tales (type the words into the search engine)

 ADDITIONAL READING, Related to the time of the Fall of the Bastille:


PROCOPE CAFÉ, PARIS: Part 1—Finding photographs: An International Adventure
Compagnie du Scioto Meeting at Café le Procope: Novel #3A
Compagnie du Scioto Meeting at Cafe le Procope (Novel #3B)



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