Apples In Storytelling and Children’s Literature

In Judeo-Christian tradition, we have the story of the Garden of Eden. Eve tempted Adam with it. Was it an actual apple, like you’d buy at the supermarket today? In this case, ‘apple’ probably stands in for fruit, which metaphorically stands for temptation of any kind.

Apple >> fruit >> sweet >> temptation
Temptation >> fruit >> sweet >> temptation

Lilith and Eve, 1963, by Yuri Klapouh apple
Lilith and Eve, 1963, by Yuri Klapouh

APPLES AND FAIRYTALE

In English folklore, Apple Tree Man is the spirit of the oldest apple tree in the orchard, & oversees growth & ripening. In one tale, a man pours mulled cider on the tree’s roots. Moved by this offering, Apple Tree Man tells him where to find buried treasure, @SaCha1689
The Story of the Weathercock by Evelyn Sharpe 1907 illustrated by Charles Robinson Painting the apples red and gold
The Story of the Weathercock by Evelyn Sharpe 1907 illustrated by Charles Robinson Painting the apples red and gold

Fairytales are also full of apples, or temptation.

John Bauer (Swedish painter and illustrator) 1882 - 1918, 'Thank you for the lovely pear', she said. Illustration to Anna Wahlenberg's 'Trollkarlens kappa' (The Magician's Coat) from Among Tomtar and Trolls, 1912
John Bauer (Swedish painter and illustrator) 1882 – 1918, ‘Thank you for the lovely pear’, she said. Illustration to Anna Wahlenberg’s ‘Trollkarlens kappa’ (The Magician’s Coat) from Among Tomtar and Trolls, 1912
Art by James Montgomery Flagg 1912
Art by James Montgomery Flagg 1912

As she walked along, she came to a tree full of apples.

The tree cried, “Shake me! shake me! my apples are all quite ripe!”

“Indeed I will!” cried the maiden.

So she shook the tree again and again, until there was not an apple left on its branches.

Then she picked up the apples, one by one, and piled them in a great heap.

Frau Holle
The pile of apples from “Old Mother Frost” or “Frau Holle”, collected by the Grimm Brothers.

Why do the talking apples call out to the Beautiful Daughter in “Old Mother Frost”? It’s basically a Save The Cat moment. Later, when the Ugly Daughter visits the other realm, she’ll ignore the talking apples. That daughter is punished accordingly.

So if you ever hear apples calling out to be picked, do it.

APPLES IN CHILDREN’S STORIES

I grew up on the Little Critter picturebooks by Mercer Meyer. When I look at them now they seem a little outdated, but only in that nice 1950s sort of way, and hey, aren’t people still making modern films set in that very strange period known as the 1950s?

One thing that bothered me when I was four, however, was the state of discarded apple cores. Mercer Mayer apple cores are no such thing: They are a total waste of apple.

IMG_2081
Just For You

I admit that in this story the apple is meant as a present for the mother and therefore Little Critter may have deliberately left some flesh on the core, but I also remember apple cores strewn around on the ground which had no more than a few bites out of them.

Then again, apple cores are a myth. There’s no reason except for the cultural one why we eat apples to leave the archetypal core.

I don’t remember much about Pinocchio, but I remember someone being so hungry they ate an entire apple, core, seeds and all. A commenter writes on this post:

I remember as a child having the concept of real, actual, starving hunger come home to me for the first time in that book when Pinocchio refuses to eat the apple core, although Gepetto encourages him to, until he is so hungry that later he begs Gepetto for the core and skin of the apple.

I identify with that. I think I even tried eating the core and seeds, but only tried that once. Sometimes it’s the smallest detail that resonates.

Here’s a memorable few paragraphs from one of my favourite adult books, Larry’s Party by Carol Shields:

Larry loves to see a woman with raindrops in her hair.

And he loves to see a woman walking briskly while eating an apple, piercing the skin with her eager teeth. His first wife, Dorrie, was a daring eater of apples, grasping them firmly and gnawing them straight to their economical cores.

APPLES IN ART

Frederick Morgan - An Apple Gathering
Frederick Morgan – An Apple Gathering
An advertising card, French, late nineteenth or early twentieth century
An advertising card, French, late nineteenth or early twentieth century
Myles Birket Foster - Apple Harvest
Myles Birket Foster – Apple Harvest
William Stephen Coleman – Picking Apples 1880
Vintage apple picking illustration, artist unknown
Imitation of the painting above, illustrator unknown
Isaac Levitan (1860 - 1900) Apple Trees in Blossom , 1896
Isaac Levitan (1860 – 1900) Apple Trees in Blossom , 1896
John George Brown (1831-1913) British-American  apple harvest
John George Brown (1831-1913) British-American apple harvest
Howard Chandler Christy The Lover's Moment -- The Beginning of Their First Apple Pie, Cosmopolitan Magazine illustration, c. 1912, American
Howard Chandler Christy The Lover’s Moment — The Beginning of Their First Apple Pie, Cosmopolitan Magazine illustration, c. 1912, American

Header painting: Harrington Mann (Scottish, 1864 – 1937) Cathleen, 1906. A girl holds an apple secretively.

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