First Published in 1999. Routledge is an imprint of Taylor & Francis, an informa company.
About the Author
Jack Zipes is Professor of German at the University of Minnesota and one of the leading folklorists and critics of children's literature in the U.S. He is the author of many books, including Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion, The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood, Don't Bet on the Prince, Breaking the Magic Spell, Creative Storytelling, and Happily Ever After, all published by Routledge.
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Spells of Enchantment
An Overview of the History of Fairy Tales
It has generally been assumed that fairy tales were first created for children and are largely the domain of children. Nothing could be further from the truth.
From the very beginning, thousands of years ago, when tales were told to create communal bonds in the face of inexplicable forces of nature, to the present, when fairy tales are written and told to provide hope in a world seemingly on the brink of catastrophe, mature men and women have been the creators and cultivators of the fairy-tale tradition. When introduced to fairy tales, children welcome them mainly because the stories nurture their great desire for change and independence. On the whole, the literary fairy tale has become an established genre within a process of Western civilization that cuts across all ages. Even though numerous critics and shamans have mystified and misinterpreted the fairy tale because of their spiritual quest for universal archetypes or need to save the world through therapy, both the oral and literary forms of the fairy tale are grounded in history: they emanate from specific struggles to humanize bestial and barbaric forces, which have terrorized our minds and communities in concrete ways, threatening to destroy free will and human compassion. The fairy tale sets out to conquer this concrete terror through metaphors.
Though it is difficult to determine when the first literary fairy tale was conceived and extremely difficult to define exactly what a fairy tale is, we do know that oral folk tales, which contain wondrous and marvelous elements, have existed for thousands of years and were told largely by adults for adults. Motifs from these tales, which were memorized and passed on by word of mouth, made their way into the Bible and the Greek classics such as The Iliad and The Odyssey. The early oral tales which served as the basis for the development of literary fairy tales were closely tied to the rituals, customs, and beliefs of tribes, communities, and trades. They fostered a sense of belonging and hope that miracles involving some kind of magical transformation were possible to bring about a better world. They instructed, amused, warned, initiated, and enlightened. They opened windows to imaginative worlds inside that needed concrete expression outside in reality. They were to be shared and exchanged, used and modified according to the needs of the tellers and the listeners.
Tales are marks that leave traces of the human struggle for immortality. Tales are human marks invested with desire. They are formed like musical notes of compositions except that the letters constitute words and are chosen individually to enunciate the speaker/writer's position in the world, including his or her dreams, needs, wishes, and experiences. The speaker/writer posits the self against language to establish identity and to test the self with and against language. Each word marks a way toward a future different from what may have been decreed, certainly different from what is being experienced in the present: The words that are selected in the process of creating a tale allow the speaker/writer freedom to play with options that no one has ever glimpsed. The marks are magical.
The fairy tale celebrates the marks as magical: marks as letters, words, sentences, signs. More than any other literary genre, the fairy tale has persisted in emphasizing transformation of the marks with spells, enchantments, disenchantments, resurrections, recreations. During its inception, the fairy tale distinguished itself as genre both by appropriating the oral folk tale and expanding it, for it became gradually necessary in the modern world to adapt the oral tale to standards of literacy and to make it acceptable for diffusion in the public sphere. The fairy tale is only one type of appropriation of a particular oral storytelling tradition: the wonder folk tale, often called the Zaubermarchen or the conte merveilleux. As more and more wonder tales were written down in the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries, they constituted the genre of the literary fairy tale that began establishing its own conventions, motifs, topoi, characters, and plots, based to a large extent on those developed in the oral tradition but altered to address a reading public formed by the aristocracy and the middle classes. Though the peasants were excluded in the formation of this literary tradition, it was their material, tone, style, and beliefs that were incorporated into the new genre in the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries.
What exactly is the oral wonder tale?
In Vladimir Propp's now famous study, The Morphology of the Folk Tale (1968), he outlined thirty-one basic functions that constitute the formation of a paradigm, which was and still is common in Europe and North America. By functions, Propp meant the fundamental and constant components of a tale that are the acts of a character and necessary for driving the action forward. To summarize the functions with a different emphasis:
1. The protagonist is confronted with an interdiction or prohibition that he or she violates in some way.
2. Departure or banishment of the protagonist, who is either given a task or assumes a task related to the interdiction of prohibition. The protagonist is assigned a task, and the task is a sign. That is, his or her character will be marked by the task that is his or her sign.
3. Encounter with (a) villain; (b) mysterious individual or creature, who gives the protagonist gifts; (c) three different animals or creatures who are helped by the protagonist and promise to repay him or her; (d) encounter with three different animals or creatures who offer gifts to help the protagonist, who is in trouble. The gifts are often magical agents, which bring about miraculous change.
4. The endowed protagonist is tested and moves on to battle and conquer the villain or inimical forces.
5. The peripety or sudden fall in the protagonist's fortunes that is generally only a temporary setback. A wonder or miracle is needed to reverse the wheel of fortune.
6. The protagonist makes use of endowed gifts (and this includes the magical agents and cunning) to achieve his or her goal. The result is (a) three battles with the villain; (b) three impossible tasks that are nevertheless made possible; (c) the breaking of a magic spell.
7. The villain is punished or the inimical forces are vanquished.
8. The success of the protagonist usually leads to (a) marriage; (b) the acquisition of money; (c) survival and wisdom; (d) any combination of the first three.
Rarely do wonder tales end unhappily. They triumph over death. The tale begins with "once upon a time" or "once there was" and never really ends when it ends. The ending is actually the true beginning. The once upon a time is not a past designation but futuristic: the timelessness of the tale and lack of geographical specificity endow it with utopian connotations -- utopia in its original meaning designated "no place," a place that no one had ever envisaged. We form and keep the utopian kernel of the tale safe in our imaginations with hope.
The significance of the paradigmatic functions of the wonder tale is that they facilitate recall for teller and listeners. They enable us to store, remember, and reproduce the utopian spirit of the tale and to change it to fit our experiences and desires due to the easily identifiable characters who are associated with particular assignments and settings. For instance, we have the simpleton who turns out to be remarkably cunning; the third and youngest son who is oppressed by his brothers and/or father; the beautiful but maltreated youngest daughter; the discharged soldier who has been exploited by his superiors; the shrew who needs taming; the evil witch; the kind elves; the cannibalistic ogre; the clumsy stupid giant; terrifying beasts like dragons, lions, and wild boars; kind animals like ants, birds, deer, bees, ducks, and fish; the clever tailor; the evil and jealous stepmother; the clever peasant; the power-hungry and unjust king; treacherous nixies; the beast-bridegroom. There are haunted castles; enchanted forests; mysterious huts in woods; glass mountains; dark, dangerous caves; underground kingdoms. There are seven-league boots that enable the protagonist to move faster than jet planes; capes that make a person invisible; magic wands that can perform extraordinary feats of transformation; animals that produce gold; tables that provide all the delicious and sumptuous food you can eat; musical instruments with enormous captivating powers; swords and clubs capable of conquering anyone or anything; lakes, ponds, and seas that are difficult to cross and serve as the home for supernatural creatures.
The characters, settings, and motifs are combined and varied according to specific functions to induce wonder. It is this sense of wonder that distinguished the wonder tales from other oral tales such as the legend, the fable, the anecdote, and the myth; it is clearly the sense of wonder that distinguishes the literary fairy tale from the moral story, novella, sentimental tale, and other modern short literary genres. Wonder causes astonishment. As marvelous object or phenomenon, it is often regarded as a supernatural occurrence and can be an omen or portent. It gives rise to admiration, fear, awe, and reverence. The Oxford Universal Dictionary states that wonder is "the emotion excited by the perception of something novel and unexpected, or inexplicable; astonishment mingled with perplexity or bewildered curiosity." In the oral wonder tale, we are to wonder about the workings of the universe where anything can happen at any time, and these happy or fortuitous events are never to be explained. Nor do the characters demand an explanation -- they are opportunistic. They are encouraged to be so, and if they do not take advantage of the opportunity that will benefit them in their relations with others, they are either dumb or mean-spirited. The tales seek to awaken our regard for the miraculous condition of life and to evoke in a religious sense profound feelings of awe and respect for life as a miraculous process, which can be altered and changed to compensate for the lack of power, wealth, and pleasure that most people experience. Lack, deprivation, prohibition, and interdiction motivate people to look for signs of fulfillment and emancipation. In the wonder tales, those who are naive and simple are able to succeed because they are untainted and can recognize the wondrous signs. They have retained their belief in the miraculous condition of nature, revere nature in all its aspects. They have not been spoiled by conventionalism, power, or rationalism. In contrast to the humble characters, the villains are those who use words intentionally to exploit, control, transfix, incarcerate, and destroy for their benefit. They have no respect or consideration for nature and other human beings, and they actually seek to abuse magic by preventing change and causing everything to be transfixed according to their interests. Enchantment = petrification. Breaking the spell = emancipation. The wondrous protagonist wants to keep the process of natural change flowing and indicates possibilities for overcoming the obstacles that prevent other characters or creatures from living in a peaceful and pleasurable way.
The focus on wonder in the oral folk tale does not mean that all wonder tales, and later the literary fairy tales, served and serve an emancipatory purpose. The nature and meaning of folk tales have depended on the stage of development of a tribe, community, or society. Oral tales have served to stabilize, conserve, or challenge the common beliefs, laws, values, and norms of a group. The ideology expressed in wonder tales always stemmed from the position that the narrator assumed with regard to the developments in his or her community, and the narrative plot and changes made in it depended on the sense of wonder or awe that the narrator wanted to evoke. In other words, the sense of wonder in the tale and the intended emotion sought by the narrator is ideological.
Since these wonder tales have been with us for thousands of years and have undergone so many different changes in the oral tradition, it is difficult to determine the ideological intention of the narrator. When we disregard the narrator's intention, it is often difficult to reconstruct (and/or deconstruct) the ideological meaning of a tale. In the last analysis, however, even if we cannot establish whether a wonder tale is ideologically conservative, sexist, progressive, emancipatory, and so forth, it is the celebration of wonder that accounts for its major appeal. No matter what the plot may be, this type of tale calls forth our capacity as readers and potential transmitters of its signs and meanings to wonder. We do not want to know the exact resolution, the "happily ever after," of a tale, that is, what it is actually like. We do not want to name God, gods, goddesses, or fairies, who will forever remain mysterious and omnipotent. We do not want to form craven images. We do not want utopia designated for us. We want to remain curious, startled, provoked, mystified, and uplifted. We want to glare, gaze, gawk, behold, and stare. We want to be given opportunities to change. Ultimately we want to be told that we can become kings and queens, or lords of our own destinies. We remember wonder tales and fairy tales to keep our sense of wonderment alive and to nurture our hope that we can seize possibilities and opportunities to transform ourselves and our worlds.
Ultimately, the definition of both the wonder tale and the fairy tale, which derives from it, depends on the manner in which a narrator/ author arranges known functions of a tale aesthetically and ideologically to induce wonder and then transmits the tale as a whole according to customary usage of a society in a given historical period. The first stage for the literary fairy tale involved a kind of class and perhaps even gender appropriation. The voices of the nonliterate tellers were submerged, and since women in most cases were not allowed to be scribes, the tales were scripted according to male dictates or fantasies, even though they may have been told by women. Put crudely, one could say that the literary appropriation of the oral wonder tales served the hegemonic interests of males within the upper classes of particular communities and societies, and to a great extent, this is true. However, such a crude statement must be qualified, for the writing down of the tales also preserved a great deal of the value system of those deprived of power. The more the literary fairy tale was cultivated and developed, the more it became individualized and varied by intellectuals and artists, who often sympathized with the marginalized in society or were marginalized themselves. The literary fairy tale allowed for new possibilities of subversion in the written word and in print; therefore it was always looked upon with misgivings by the governing authorities in the civilization process.
During early Christianity there were not many signs that the oral folk tales would develop and flourish as a major literary genre in the West, and there were obvious reasons for this lack: Most people were nonliterate and shared strong oral cultural traditions; the tales had not been changed sufficiently to serve the taste and interests of the ruling classes; Latin was the dominant intellectual and literary language until the late Middle Ages when the vernacular languages gradually formed general standards of grammar and orthography for communication; the technology of printing did not make much progress until the fifteenth century so that the distribution of literary works was not very widespread. Consequently, it is not surprising that the first appearance of a major literary fairy tale, Apuleius's "Psyche and Cupid," was in Latin and came in the second century. Moreover, it was included in a book, The Golden Ass, which dealt with metamorphoses, perhaps the key theme of the fairy tale up to the present. However, whereas many oral wonder tales had been concerned with the humanization of natural forces, the literary fairy tale, beginning with "Psyche and Cupid," shifted the emphasis more toward the civilization of the protagonist who must learn to respect particular codes and laws to become accepted in society and/or united to reproduce and continue the progress of the world toward perfect happiness.
At first, this new literary fairy tale could not stand by itself, that is, it did not have a receptive audience and had to be included within a frame story or in a collection of instructive and amusing stories and anecdotes. Therefore, up to the fifteenth century, the only other evidence we have of complete fairy tales are within such manuscripts as the Gesta Romanorum (c. 1300), medieval romances, or in sermons delivered by priests. Fairy tales like "Of Feminine Subtlety" in the Gesta Romanorum were generally used to provide instruction for the education of young Christian boys and had a strong moralistic strain to them. In addition, like "Cupid and Psyche," the early Latin fairy tales were largely addressed to the male sex and focused on their acquisition of the proper moral values and ethics that would serve them in their positions of power in society.
It was not until the publication of Giovan Francesco Straparola's Le piacevoli notti (The Pleasant Nights) in 1550-1553 that fairy tales were first published in the vernacular and for a mixed audience of upper-class men and women (fig. 1). Straparola brings together a group of aristocrats who flee Milan for political reasons and decide to tell tales to one another to amuse themselves during their exile. The frame narrative is set up to include erotic anecdotes, fables, and fairy tales like "The Pig Prince" and "Constantino," forerunners of "Hans My Hedgehog" and "Puss in Boots," and it is modeled after Boccacio's The Decameron. However, Boccaccio did not include fairy tales in his collection so that Straparola can be considered the first writer in Europe to have published fairy tales in the vernacular for an educated audience. Though his tales did not achieve the popularity of Boccaccio's collection, they were reprinted several times in Italian during the next few centuries and, by the nineteenth century, were translated into French, German, and English.
There is no direct evidence, however, one way or the other that Straparola influenced Giambattista Basile, whose Lo Cunto de li Cunti, also known as The Pentameron, was published posthumously in 1634. Written in Neapolitan dialect, Basile was the first writer to use an old folk-tale motif about laughter to frame an entire collection of fifty fairy tales. His book begins with a tale about a princess named Zoza who cannot laugh, no matter what her father, the King of Vallepelosa, does to try to assuage her melancholy. Finally, her father orders that a fountain of oil be erected before the palace gate so that people would skip and jump to avoid being soiled. Thereby, the king hoped that his daughter would laugh at the stumbling people and overcome her melancholy. Indeed, the princess does laugh but at the wrong person, an old witch of a woman, who places a curse on her and declares that if Zoza is ever to marry it must be to Taddeo, a bewitched sleeping prince, whom only she can wake and save with her tears. With the help and advice from three fairies, Zoza succeeds in weeping a sufficient amount of tears, but she then falls asleep before she can achieve the honor of rescuing Taddeo. In the meantime, a malicious slave steals her vessel of tears and claims the honor of liberating Taddeo, who marries her. Yet, this does not deter Zoza, who rents a fine house opposite Taddeo's palace and manages through her beauty to attract his attention. Once the slave, who is pregnant, learns about this, she threatens to kill the child in her stomach if Taddeo does not obey her every whim. Zoza responds by enticing the slave with three gifts that she had received from the fairies. The third one is a doll that makes the slave addicted to fairy tales, and she forces Taddeo to gather storytellers, who will amuse her during the final ten days of her pregnancy. So, Taddeo gathers a group of ten motley women, who tell five fairy tales a day until Zoza concludes the sessions with her own tale that exposes the slave's theft and brings the frame story to its conclusion. As a result, Taddeo has the pregnant slave put to death and takes Zoza for his new wife.
Basile was very familiar with the customs and behavior of the Neapolitans and had also traveled widely in Italy and served at different courts. Therefore, he was able to include a wealth of folklore, anecdotes, and events in his fairy tales that celebrate miraculous changes and communion. A good example is "The Merchant's Two Sons," which has many different folk and literary versions. As in the frame narrative, the humane ties between people based on compassion and love can only be solidified if the protagonists recognize what and where evil is. The fairy tale involves arousing the protagonists and sharpening their perception of what is really occurring so that they can change or bring about changes to master their own destinies. In this respect, the narrative structure of the fairy tale is conceived so that the listener will learn to distinguish between destructive and beneficial forces, for the art of seeing and intuiting is nurtured by the fairy tale.
It is not by chance that the literary fairy tale began flourishing in Italy before other European countries. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Italian cities and duchies had prospered by developing great commercial centers, and the literacy rate had grown immensely. Cultural activity at the courts and in the city-states was high, and there was a great deal of foreign influence on storytelling as well as strong native oral traditions among the people. Although it cannot be fully documented, it is highly likely that the Italian literary fairy tales were gradually spread in print and by word of mouth throughout Europe. Interestingly, England, another powerful maritime country, was the other nation that began cultivating a literary fairytale tradition. There are fairy-tale elements in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales (c. 1386-1400), in Spenser's The Faerie Queen (1590-96), and, of course, in many of Shakepeare's plays such as King Lear, A Midsummer Night's Eve, The Taming of the Shrew, and The Tempest, all written between 1590 and 1611. However, due to the Puritan hostility toward amusement during the seventeenth century, the fairy tale as a genre was not able to flourish in England. Instead, the genre had more propitious conditions in France and virtually bloomed in full force toward the end of the ancien regime from 1690 to 1714.
There were many contributing factors that account for the rise and spread of the fairy tale in France at this time. First of all, France had become the most powerful country in Europe and the French language, considered to be the most cultivated, was used at most courts throughout all of Europe. Secondly, the evolution of printing favored more experimentation of different kinds of literature. Thirdly, there was great cultural creativity and innovation in France. Finally, about the middle of the seventeenth century, the fairy tale gradually became more accepted at literary salons and at the court particularly in theatrical form. Fairy-tale recitations and games were devised, generally by women in their salons, and they eventually led to the publication of the fairy tales during the 1790s. Perhaps the most prodigious (and also most prolific) of the French fairy-tale writers was Mme Marie-Catherine D'Aulnoy, whose first tale, "The Island of Happiness," was embedded in her novel Histoire d'Hippolyte, comte de Duglas (1790). However, it was not until she had established a popular literary salon, in which fairy tales were regularly presented, that she herself published four volumes of fairy tales between 1696 and 1698. Though Charles Perrault is generally considered to be the most significant French writer of fairy tales of this period, Mme D'Aulnoy was undoubtedly more typical and more of a catalyst for other writers. Her narratives are long and rambling and focus on the question of tendresse, that is, true and natural feelings between a man and a woman, whose nobility will depend on their manners and the ways they uphold standards of civility in defending their love. "Green Serpent" is a good example of Mme D'Aulnoy's concerns and shows how she was influenced by Apuleius's "Cupid and Psyche" and was familiar with the Italian tradition of fairy tales, not to mention French folklore. In turn her fairy tales set the stage for the works of Mlle L'Heritier, whose "Ricdin-Ricdon" (1696) is a remarkable courtly interpretation of "Rumpelstiltskin," and Mlle de la Force, whose "Parslinette" (1697) is a fascinating version of "Rapunzel." Of course, the writer, whose name has become practically synonymous with term conte de fee (fairy tale) is Charles Perrault, who wrote two verse tales "The Foolish Wishes" (1693) and "Donkey Skin" (1694) and then published the famous prose renditions of "Cinderella," "Little Red Riding Hood," "Sleeping Beauty," "Blue Beard," "Tom Thumb," "Rickey with the Tuft," and "The Fairies" in Histoires ou contes du temps passe (1697). Perrault, who frequented the literary salons in Paris, purposely sought to establish the literary fairy tale as an innovative genre that exemplified a modern sensibility that was coming into its own and was to be equated with the greatness of French civilite. Not all the French writers of this period intended to celebrate the splendor of the ancien regime, but they all were concerned with questions of manners, norms, and mores in their tales and sought to illustrate proper behavior and what constituted noble feelings in their narratives. Almost all the writers lived in Paris, where their tales were published. Therefore, the "mode" of writing fairy tales was concentrated within a feudal sphere and led to what could be called the institutionalization of the genre, for after the appearance of The Thousand and One Nights (1704-17) in ten volumes translated and adapted into French by Antoine Galland, the literary fairy tale became an acceptable, social-symbolic form through which conventionalized motifs, characters, and plots were selected, composed, arranged, and rearranged to comment on the civilizing process and to keep alive the possibility of miraculous change and a sense of wonderment.
The very name of the genre itself -- fairy tale -- originated during this time, for the French writers coined the term conte de fee during the seventeenth century, and it has stuck to the genre in Europe and North America ever since. This "imprint" is important because it reveals something crucial about the fairy tale that has remained part of its nature to the present. The early writers of fairy tales placed the power of metamorphosis in the hands of women -- the redoubtable fairies. In addition, this miraculous power was not associated with a particular religion or mythology through which the world was to be explained. It was a secular mysterious power of compassion that could not be explained, and it derived from the creative imagination of the writer. Anyone could call upon the fairies for help. It is clear that the gifted French women writers at the seventeenth century preferred to address themselves to a fairy and to have a fairy resolve the conflicts in their fairy tales than the Church with its male-dominated hierarchy. After all, it was the Church, which had eliminated hundreds of thousands of so-called female witches during the previous two centuries in an effort to curb heretical and nonconformist beliefs. However, those "pagan" notions survived in the tradition of the oral wonder tale and surfaced again in published form in France when it became safer to introduce other supernatural powers and creatures in a symbolical code than those officially sanctioned by the Christian code. In short, there was something subversive about the institutionalization of the fairy tale in France during the 1790s, for it enabled writers to create a dialogue about norms, manners, and power that evaded court censorship and freed the fantasy of the writers and readers, while at the same time paying tribute to the French code of civilite and the majesty of the aristocracy. Once certain discursive paradigms and conventions were established, a writer could demonstrate his or her "genius" by rearranging, expanding, deepening, and playing with the known functions of a genre, which, by 1715, had already formed a type of canon that consisted not only of the great classical tales such as "Cinderella," "Sleeping Beauty," "Rapunzel," "Rumpelstiltskin," "Puss in Boots," "Little Red Riding Hood," "Beauty and the Beast," "Bluebeard," "The Golden Dwarf," "The Blue Bird," and "The White Cat," but also the mammoth collection of The Arabian Nights.
Galland's project of translating the Arabic tales from original manuscripts, which stemmed from the fourteenth century and were based on an oral tradition, was important for various reasons: His translation was not literal, and he introduced many changes influenced by French culture into his adaptations; eight of the tales, one of which was "Prince Ahmed and the Fairy Pari-Banou," were obtained from a Maronite Christian scholar named Youhenna Diab, living at that time in Paris, and were in part Galland's literary re-creations. The exotic setting and nature of these Oriental tales attracted not only French but numerous European readers so that Galland's translation stimulated the translation of other Arabic works such as The Adventures of Abdalah, Son of Anif (1712-14) by the abbot Jean-Paul Bignon and hundreds of his own translations into English, Italian, German, Spanish, and so on.
The infusion of the Oriental tales into the French literary tradition enriched and broadened the paradigmatic options for Western writers during the course of the eighteenth century. It became a favorite device (and still is) to deploy the action of a tale to the Orient while discussing sensitive issues of norms and power close to home. Aside from the great impact of the Arabic and Persian tales on Western writers through translations, there was another development that was crucial for the institutionalization of the fairy tale in the eighteenth century. Soon after the publication of the tales by D'Aulnoy, Perrault, L'Heritier, Galland, and others, they were reprinted in a series of chapbooks called the Bibliotheque Bleue, inexpensive volumes distributed by peddlers called colporteurs throughout France and central Europe to the lower classes. The fairy tales were often abridged; the language was changed and made more simple; and there were multiple versions, which were read to children and nonliterates. Many of these tales were then appropriated by oral storytellers so that the literary tradition became a source for the oral tradition. As a result of the increased popularity of the literary fairy tale as chapbook, which had first been prepared by the acceptance of the genre at court, the literary fairy tale for children began to be cultivated. Already during the 1690s, Fenelon, the important theologian and Archbishop of Cambrai who had been in charge of the Dauphin's education, had written several didactic fairy tales as an experiment to make the Dauphin's lessons more enjoyable. However, they were not considered proper and useful enough for the grooming of children from the upper classes to be published. They were first printed after his death in 1730; from that point on it became more acceptable to write and publish fairy tales for children just as long as they indoctrinated children according to gender-specific roles and class codes in the civilizing process. The most notable example here, aside from Fenelon's tales, is the voluminous work of Madame Le Prince de Beaumont, who published Magasin des Enfants (1756), which included "Beauty and the Beast," "Prince Cheri," and other overtly moralistic tales for children. Mme de Beaumont used a frame story to transmit different kinds of didactic tales in which a governess engaged several young girls between six and ten in discussions about morals, manners, ethics, and gender roles that lead her to tell stories to illustrate her points. Her utilization of such a frame was actually based on her work as a governess in England, and the frame was set up to be copied by other adults to institutionalize a type of storytelling in homes of the upper classes. It was only as part of the civilizing process that storytelling developed within the aristocratic and bourgeois homes in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, first through governesses and nannies and later in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries through mothers who told good-night stories.
As the literary fairy tale now spread in France to every age group and to every social class, it began to serve different functions, depending on the writer's interests: (1) representation of the glory and ideology of the French aristocracy; (2) symbolical critique of the aristocratic hierarchy with utopian connotations, largely within the aristocracy from the female viewpoint; (3) introduction of the norms and values of the bourgeois civilizing process as more reasonable and egalitarian than the feudal code; (4) amusement for the aristocracy and bourgeoisie, whereby the fairy tale was a divertissement; it diverted the attention of listeners/readers from the serious sociopolitical problems of the times; it compensated for the deprivation that the upper classes perceived themselves to be suffering; (5) self-parody -- to reveal the ridiculous notions in previous fairy tales and to represent another aspect of court society to itself; such parodies can be seen in Jean-Jacques Cazotte's "A Thousand and One Follies" (1742), Jean-Jacques Rousseau's "The Queen Fantasque" (1758), and Voltaire's "The White Bull" (1774); and (6) careful cultivation of the literary genre for children. Fairy tales with clear didactic and moral lessons were finally approved as reading matter to serve as a subtle, more pleasurable means of initiating children into the class rituals and customs that reinforced the status quo.
The climax of the French institutionalization of the fairy tale was the publication of Charles Mayer's forty-one-volume Le Cabinet des Fees between 1785 and 1789, a collection that included most of the important French tales written during the previous hundred years. From this point on, most writers, whether they wrote for adults or children, consciously held a dialogue with a fairy-tale discourse that had become firmly established in the Western intellectual tradition. For instance, the French fairy tale, which, we must remember, now included The Arabian Nights, had a profound influence on the German classicists and the romantics, and the development in Germany provided the continuity for the institution of the genre in the West as a whole. Like the French authors, the German middle-class writers like Johann Karl Musaus in his collection Volksmarchen der Deutschen (1782-86), which included "Libussa," began employing the fairy tale to celebrate German customs. Musaus combined elements of German folklore and the French fairy tale in his work in a language clearly addressed to educated Germans. At the same time, Christoph Martin Wieland translated and adapted numerous tales from the Cabinet des Fees in Dschinnistan (1786-87). "The Philosopher's Stone" is his own creation but reveals how he, too, consciously used the fairy tale to portray the decadence of German feudal society and introduced Oriental motifs to enhance its exoticism and to conceal his critique of his own society. Aside from these two collections for upper-class readers, numerous French fairy tales became known in Germany by the turn of the century through the popular series of the Blaue Bibliothek and other translations from the French. In fact, some like "Sleeping Beauty," "Cinderella," and "Little Red Riding Hood" even worked their way into the Brothers Grimm collection of the Kinderund Hausmarchen (Children's and Household Tales, 1812-15), which were considered to be genuinely German. Romantic writers such as Wilhelm Heinrich Wackenroder, Ludwig Tieck, Novalis, Joseph von Eichendorff, Clemens Brentano, Adelbert Chamisso, Friedrich de la Motte Fouque, and E. T. A. Hoffmann wrote extraordinary tales that revealed a major shift in the function of the genre: the fairy tale no longer represented the dominant aristocratic ideology. Rather, it was written as a critique of the worst aspects of the enlightenment and absolutism. This viewpoint was clearly expressed in Johann Wolfgang Goethe's classical narrative simply entitled "The Fairy Tale" (1795) as though it were to be the fairy tale to end all fairy tales. Goethe optimistically envisioned a successful rebirth of a rejuvenated monarchy that enjoyed the support of all social classes in his answer to the chaos and destruction of the French Revolution. In contrast, the romantics were generally more skeptical about the prospects for individual autonomy, the reform of decadent institutions, and a democratic public sphere in a Germany, divided by the selfish interests of petty tyrants and the Napoleonic Wars. Very few of the German romantic tales end on a happy note. The protagonists either go insane or die. The evil forces assume a social hue, for the witches and villains are no longer allegorical representations of evil in the Christian tradition but are symbolically associated with the philistine bourgeois society or the decadent aristocracy. Nor was the purpose of the romantic fairy tale to amuse in the traditional sense of divertissement. Instead, it sought to engage the reader in a serious discourse about art, philosophy, education, and love. It is not by chance that the German term for the literary fairy tale is Kunstmarchen (art tale), for the utopian impulse for a better future was often carried on by an artist or a creative protagonist in the romantic narratives, and his fate indicated to what extent the civilizing process in Germany inhibited or nurtured the creative and independent development of the citizens.
While the function of the fairy tale for adults underwent a major shift -- and this was clear in other countries as well -- that made it an appropriate means to maintain a dialogue about social and political issues within the bourgeois public sphere, the fairy tale for children remained suspect until the 1820s. Although there were various collections published for children in the latter part of the eighteenth century and at the turn of the century along with individual chapbooks containing "Cinderella," "Jack the Giant Killer," "Beauty and the Beast," "Little Red Riding Hood," "Sleeping Beauty (fig. 2)," they were not regarded as the prime reading material for children. Nor were they considered to be "healthy" for the development of children's minds and bodies. In Germany, for instance, there was a debate about Lesesucht (obsessional reading) that could lead children to have crazy ideas and to masturbate. The stories considered most detrimental to the well-being of children were fantasy works. For the most part, the church leaders and educators favored other genres of stories -- more realistic, sentimental, didactic -- which were intended to demonstrate what good manners and morals were. Even the Brothers Grimm, in particular Wilhelm, began in 1819 to revise their collected tales, targeting them more for children than they had done in the beginning and cleansing their narratives of erotic, cruel, or bawdy passages. However, the fantastic and wondrous elements were kept so that they were not at first fully accepted by the bourgeois reading public, which only began changing its attitude toward the fairy tale for children during the course of the 1820s and 1830s throughout Europe. It was signaled in Germany by the publication of Wilhelm Hauff's Marchen Almanach (1826), which contained "The Story of Little Muck," and in England by Edward Taylor's translation of the Grimms's Kinder- und Hausmarchen under the title of German Popular Stories (1823) with illustrations by the famous George Cruikshank. The reason for the more tolerant acceptance of the literary fairy tale for children may be attributed to the realization on the part of educators and parents, probably due to their own reading experiences, that fantasy literature and amusement would not necessarily destroy or pervert children's minds. Whether the children were of the middle classes and attended school, or were of the lower classes and worked on the farm or in a factory, they needed a recreation period -- the time and space to re-create themselves without having morals and ethics imposed on them, without having the feeling that their reading or listening had to involve indoctrination.
Significantly it was from 1830 to 1900, during the rise of the middle classes, that the fairy tale came into its own for children. It was exactly during this time, from 1835 onward, to be precise, that Hans Christian Andersen, greatly influenced by the German romantic writers and the Grimms, began publishing his tales that became extremely popular throughout Europe and America. Andersen combined humor, Christian sentiments, and fantastic plots to form tales, which amused and instructed young and old readers at the same time. More than any writer of the nineteenth century, he fully developed what Perrault had begun: to write tales such as "The Red Shoes," which could be readily grasped by children and adults alike but with a different understanding. Some of his narratives like "The Shadow" were clearly intended for adults alone, and it is a good example of his use of the doppelganger motif, developed by E. T. A. Hoffmann, and his exploration of paranoia within the fairy-tale genre to express his individual and very peculiar fears of the diminished possibilities for autonomy in European society and the growing alienation of people from themselves.
In fact, the flowering of the fairy tale in Europe and America during the latter half of the nineteenth century has a great deal to do with alienation. As daily life became more structured, work more rationalized, and institutions more bureaucratic, there was little space left for daydreaming and the imagination. It was the fairy tale that provided room for amusement, nonsense, and recreation. This does not mean that it abandoned its more traditional role in the civilizing process as the agent of socialization. For instance, up until the 1860s the majority of fairy-tale writers for children, including Catherine Sinclair, George Cruikshank, and Alfred Crowquill in England; Carlo Collodi in Italy; Comtesse Sophie de Segur in France; and Heinrich Hoffmann and Ludwig Bechstein in Germany, emphasized the lessons to be learned in keeping with the principles of the Protestant ethic -- industriousness, honesty, cleanliness, diligence, virtuousness -- and male supremacy. However, just as the "conventional" fairy tale for adults had become subverted at the end of the eighteenth century, there was a major movement to write parodies of fairy tales, which were intended both for children and adults. In other words, the classical tales were turned upside down and inside out to question the value system upheld by the dominant socialization process and to keep wonder, curiosity, and creativity alive. By the 1860s, it was clear that numerous writers were using the fairy tale to subvert the formal structure of the canonized tales as well as the governing forces in their societies that restricted free expression of ideas. Such different authors as William Makepeace Thackeray ("Bluebeard's Ghost," 1843), Nathanel Hawthorne ("Mosses from an Old Manse," 1846), Theodor Storm ("Hinzelmeier," 1857), Mor Jokai ("Barak and His Wives," c. 1858), Gottfried Keller ("Spiegel the Cat," 1861), Edouard-Rene Laboulaye ("Zerbin the Wood-Cutter," 1867), Richard Leander ("The Princess with the Three Glass Hearts," 1871), George MacDonald ("The Day Boy and the Night Girl," 1879), Catulle Mendes ("The Sleeping Beauty," 1885), Mary De Morgan ("The Three Clever Kings," 1888), Oscar Wilde ("The Fisherman and His Soul," 1891), Robert Louis Stevenson ("The Bottle Imp," 1892), and Hugo von Hofmannsthal ("The Fairy Tale of the 672nd Night," 1895) were all concerned with exploring the potential of the fairy tale to reform both the prescripted way it had become cultivated and the stereotypes and prejudices in regard to gender and social roles that it propagated. The best example of the type of subversion attempted during the latter part of the nineteenth century is Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865), which has had a major influence on the fairy-tale genre up to the present.
Although many of the fairy tales were ironic or ended on a tragic note, they still subscribed to the utopian notion of the transformation of humans, that is, the redemption of the humane qualities and the overcoming of bestial drives. In America, for instance, Frank Stockton, who could be considered the "pioneer" writer of the fairy tale in America, and Howard Pyle, one of the finest writer-illustrators of fairy tales, touch upon the theme of redemption in their tales "The Griffin and the Minor Canon" (1885) and "Where to Lay the Blame" (1895). But the most notable American fairy tale of the nineteenth century was L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), which depicts Dorothy's great desire and need to break out of Kansas and determine her own destiny, a theme that Baum also explored in "The Queen of Quok" in American Fairy Tales (1901).
By the beginning of the twentieth century, the fairy tale had become fully institutionalized in Europe and America, and its functions had shifted and expanded. The institutionalization of a genre means that a specific process of production, distribution, and reception has become regularized within the public sphere of a society and plays a role in forming and maintaining the cultural heritage of that society. Without such institutionalization in advanced industrialized and technological countries, the genre would perish. Thus the genre itself becomes a kind of self-perpetuating institute involved in the socialization and acculturation of readers. It is the interaction of writer, publisher, and audience within a given society that makes for the definition of the genre in any given epoch. The aesthetics of each fairy tale will depend on how and why an individual writer wants to intervene in the discourse of the genre as institution.
By the beginning of the twentieth century the fairy tale as institution had expanded to include drama, poetry, ballet, music, and opera. In fact, one could perhaps assert that the pageants at the various European courts in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, especially the court of Louis XIV, had actually influenced and helped further the development of the literary fairy tale. Certainly, after Andre-Ernest Modeste Gretry's Zemire et Azore (1771), based on "Beauty and the Beast," and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's The Magic Flute (1790), fairytale themes became abundant in the musical world of Europe in the nineteenth century as can be seen in E. T. A. Hoffmann's own Undine (1814), Gioacchino Rossini's La Cenerentola (1817), Robert Schumann's Kreisleriana (1835-40), Leo Delibes's Coppelia (1870), Peter Ilyich Tschaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty (1889) and Nutcracker Suite (1892), Engelbert Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel (1890), and Jacques Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann (1890). Again, the manner in which the fairy tale incorporated other art forms into its own institution reveals the vital role that adults have played in maintaining the genre. Never has the fairy tale ever lost its appeal to adults, and the fairy tale for adults or mixed audiences underwent highly significant changes in the twentieth century.
During the first half of the century, the major shift in the function of the literary tale involved greater and more explicit politicization. In France, Apollinaire, who wrote "Cinderella Continued" (1918), joined a group of experimental writers, who published their fairy tales in La Baionette to comment on the ravages of World War I. Hermann Hesse, who had written "The Forest Dweller" (1917-18) to criticize the conformity of his times, also published "Strange News From Another Planet" in 1919 to put forward his pacifist views. Thomas Mann also made a major contribution to the fairy-tale novel with The Magic Mountain (1924), which is filled with political debates about nationalism and democracy. Moreover, there was a wave of innovative and expressionist fairy tales in Germany written by Edwin Hoernle, Hermynia zur Muhlen, Mynona, Franz Hessel, Kurt Schwitters, Oskar Maria Graf, Bertolt Brecht, Alfred Doblin, and others who were politically tendentious. In England, the experimentation was not as great. Nevertheless, a volume entitled The Fairies Return, Or, New Tales for Old appeared in 1934 and contained tales with unusual social commentaries by A. E. Coppard, Lord Dunsany, Eric Linklater, Helen Simpson, Edith Anna (Enone Somerville, Christina Stead, and G. B. Stern. Of course, after the Nazi rise to power and during the Spanish Civil War, the fairy tale became more and more the means to convey political sentiments. In Germany, the fairy tale was interpreted and produced according to Nazi ideology, and there are numerous examples of volkisch and fascist fairy-tale products. These, in turn, brought out a response of writers opposed to Nazism such as American H. I. Phillips's "Little Red Riding Hood as a Dictator Would Tell It" (1940).
Germany offers an extreme case of how the fairy tale became politicized or used for political purposes. But this extreme case does illustrate a general trend in the political intonation of fairy tales that continued into the 1940s and 1950s. For example, a work like J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit (1938) was written with World War I in mind and with the intention of warning against a second world war. James Thurber's "The Girl and the Wolf" (1939) focused on power and violation. Georg Kaiser's "The Fairy Tale of the King" (1943) reflected upon dictatorship. Erich Kastner's "The Fairy Tale about Reason" (1948) projected the possibility of world peace. Ingeborg Bachmann's "The Smile of the Sphinx" (1949) recalled the terror of the Holocaust.
Once again, following World War II, the fairy tale set out to combat terror, but this time the terror did not concern the inhibitions of the civilizing process, rationalization, and alienation but rather the demented and perverse forms of civilization that had in part caused atrocities and threatened to bring the world to the brink of catastrophe. Confronted with such an aspect at the onset of the Cold War with other wars to follow, some writers like Henri Pourrat (Le Tresor des Contes, 1948-62) and Italo Calvino (Fiabe Italiene, 1956) sought to preserve spiritual and communal values of the oral wonder tales in revised versions, while numerous other writers drastically altered the fairy tale to question whether the utopian impulse could be kept alive and whether our sense of wonderment could be maintained. If so, then the fairy tale had to deal with perversity and what Hannah Arendt called the banality of evil. Writers like Philip K. Dick ("The King of the Elves," 1953), Naomi Mitchison ("Five Men and a Swan," 1957), Sylvia Townsend Warner ("Bluebeard's Daughter," 1960), Christoph Meckel ("The Crow," 1962), Stanislaw Lem ("Prince Ferix and the Princess Crystal," 1967), and Robert Coover ("The Dead Queen," 1973, and Briar Rose, 1996) provoke readers not by playing with their expectations but by disturbing their expectations. To a certain extent, they know that most of their readers have been "Disneyfied," that is, they have been subjected to the saccharine, sexist, and illusionary stereotypes of the Disney-culture industry. Therefore, these authors have felt free to explode the illusion that happy ends are possible in real worlds that are held together by the deceit of advertising and government. Especially since the 1970s and 1980s, the fairy tale has become more aggressive, aesthetically more complex and sophisticated, and more insistent on not distracting readers but helping them focus on key social problems and issues in their respective societies. This standpoint is especially apparent in the works of Janosch, Gunter Kunert, Gunter Grass, and Michael Ende in Germany; Michel Tournier, Pierre Gripari, and Pierrette Fleutiaux in France; Donald Bartheleme, Wendy Walker, Jane Yolen in the United States; Michael de Larrabeiti, Michael Rosen, and Peter Redgrove in Great Britain; and Gianni Rodari in Italy. Perhaps the major social critique carried by the fairy tale can be seen in the restructuring and reformation of the fairy tale itself as genre on the part of feminists. The result has been a remarkable production of nonsexist fairy tales for children and adults as well as theoretical works that explore the underlying implications of gender roles in fairy tales. Not only have individual writers such as Anne Sexton, Angela Carter, Olga Broumas, A. S. Byatt, Tanith Lee, Rosemarie Kunzler, Jay Williams, and Robin McKinley created highly innovative tales that reverse and question traditional sex roles but also there have been collective enterprises in Italy, England, Ireland, and the United States that have reacted critically to the standard canon representing catatonic females flat on their backs waiting to be brought to life by charming princes. A good example is the work of Attic Press in Ireland, which has published such books as Rapunzel's Revenge (1985), Cinderella on the Ball (1991), and Ride on Rapunzel (1992). In a similar vein but with fairy tales much more diverse, Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling have published a series of important fairy-tale anthologies: Black Thorn, White Rose (1993), Snow White, Blood Red (1994), Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears (1995), and Black Swan, White Raven (1997). These books contain original stories by such notable writers as Joyce Carol Oates, John Crowley, Nancy Kress, Lisa Goldstein, Tanith Lee, and Gene Wolfe that break the parameters of the classical fairy tale and explore the genre's potential to address contemporary social concerns.
Of course, there are numerous fairy-tale works for adults that are blissfully serene and depict intact worlds that need no changing. Or there are placid revisions and patchwork reproductions of classical fairy tales meant to provide amusement or divertissement for readers and viewers. For instance there has been a great commercialization of the fairy tale since the 1950s that has led not only large publishers and corporations like Disney to profit from the classical prescription of seemingly innocuous doses of happy ends, but there have also been opportunistic books like James Garner's Politically Correct Bedtime Stories (1994) that mock politics and the fairy tale itself. Moreover, Jungian self-help books like Robert Bly's Iron John (1990) and Clarissa Pinkola Estes's Women Who Run with the Wolves (1993) soothe the souls of readers who are in need of spiritual nourishment. In all forms and shapes, the classical fairy tales continue to be moneymakers and thrive on basic sexist messages and conservative notions of social behavior. While the production of classical fairy-tale books continues to be a profitable enterprise -- and publishers are often indiscriminate as long as the fairy tales are like money in the bank and produce a healthy interest -- even more money is generated through fairy-tale films, plays, telecasts, and videos. The Faerie Tale Theatre, a television and video product created by Shelley Duvall, is a case in point.
The theatrical and cinematic use of the fairy tale is extremely significant since Western society has become more oriented toward viewing fairy-tale films, plays, and pictures rather than reading them. Here two fairy-tale productions in the United States might serve to illustrate a shift in function that is still in process. The 1987 Broadway musical of Into the Woods, an amusing collage of various fairy-tale motifs and characters, is typical of one aspect of the shift in function. It plays eclectically with all sorts of fairy-tale motifs and characters in a conventional Broadway-musical manner, and though there is a tragic side to the show, it arrives at a customary happy end to demonstrate how we can play with fairy-tale fragments to reshape the world in a tidy fashion. If it is true that the fairy tale in the seventeenth century was bound by the rules and regulations of court society that it largely served to represent court society to itself and to glorify the aristocracy, and if it is true that the social and political development in the nineteenth century set art free so that the fairy tale as genre became autonomous on the free market and in the public sphere, then it appears that there is a return, at least in theater, television, and cinema, to the representative function of the fairy tale. Of course, this time the society that is being represented to itself as glorious is the capitalist-consumer society with its "free" market system. In addition, the fairy tale implicitly and explicitly reflects the state's endeavors to reconcile divergent forces, to pacify discontents, to show how there are basically good elements within the bourgeois elite groups vying for control of American society, and these agents (often understood as heroes) are portrayed as seeking the happiness of all groups, especially the disenfranchised, who create the drama in real life and in the fairy-tale productions.
The 1987-89 television series of Beauty and the Beast is a good example of how the fairy tale as representation (and also legitimation) of elite bourgeois interests functions. No matter which thirty-minute sequel a viewer watches, the basic plot of this television adaptation of the classic tale follows the same lines: The young woman, Catherine, who is from the upper classes, devotes her talents to serving as a legal defender of the oppressed; and the Beast, Vincent, represents the homeless and the outcasts in America, forced to live underground. These two continually unite because of some elective affinity to oppose crime and corruption and clear the way for the moral forces to triumph in America. Though the different sequels do expose the crimes of the upper classes as well as the lower classes, the basic message is that there can be a reconciliation between beauty and beast, and we can live in a welfare state without friction.
Messages of reconciliation and elitism are clear in almost all the Disney cinematic productions of fairy tales from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) to Beauty and the Beast (1993). With the possible exception of the innovative fairy-tale films produced by Jim Henson and Tom Davenport, the dominant tendency of most popular fairy-tale films for the big screen and television tend to follow the conventional patterns of the anachronistic classical fairy tales of Perrault, the Grimms, and Andersen, especially when the productions cater to children as consumers.
Despite the tendency of the film and television industry to use the fairy tale to induce a sense of happy end and ideological consent and to mute its subversive potential for the benefit of those social groups controlling power in the public sphere, the fairy tale as institution cannot be defined one-dimensionally or totally administered by its most visible producers in the mass media and publishing. Writers, directors, and producers are constantly seeking to revise classical fairy tales with extraordinary films that address contemporary social issues. For instance, Neil Jordan in The Company of Wolves (1984), an adaptation of an Angela Carter story, and Matthew Bright in Freeway (1996) focus on the nature of violation and rape in their films that deal with female sexual desire and male sexual predatory drives. Implicit is a critique of Little Red Riding Hood as a tale that suggests little girls want and cause their own rape. Other filmmakers such as Mike Newell (Into the West, 1990) and John Sayles (The Secret of Roan Innish, 1993) have created their own fairy-tale films based on Irish folklore that depict contemporary social predicaments critically while providing a means for viewers to contemplate the stories with hope and a critical view toward the future. All these filmmakers are seeking to redefine the fairy tale for contemporary audiences in compelling ways.
Indeed, if we want to know what the fairy tale means today, then we must take into consideration that the readers, viewers, and writers of fairy tales constitute its broadest meaning, perhaps not in the old communal way but in an individualized way that allows for free expression and subversion of norms that are hypocritically upheld and serve to oppress people. A good case in point here is Salman Rushdie's inventive fairy-tale novel Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1990), which concerns a young boy's quest to save his father's storytelling gifts that are ultimately employed to undermine the oppression in the country of Alifbay so ruinously sad that it had forgotten its name. Rushdie's fairy tale allows him to diagnose the sickness of the country and redeeming utopia by symbolically naming names without being concrete. While he himself is being oppressed, he has written a fairy tale, which he wants passed on through the institution to urge readers to question authoritarianism and to become inventive, daring, and cunning. He wants to leave his mark in society during troubled times by providing hope for solutions without supplying the definitive answers.
This is also the case with Donna Napoli, who has written a series of three fairy-tale novels for adolescents (The Prince of the Pond: Otherwise Known as De Fawg Pin, 1993; The Magic Circle, 1993; and Zel, 1996) that are subtle, poetic portrayals of young protagonists, who must unravel the evil spells of bigotry and sadism to come into themselves. While Napoli's protagonists unravel the mysteries of their lives, she bases each novel on a classical fairy tale that she reweaves in highly unique ways. In similar fashion, but in a more strident feminist fashion, Emma Donoghue has questioned the stranglehold that classical tales have on readers. Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins (1997) contains thirteen stunning first-person retellings of traditional tales that consciously seek to upset reader expectations. For instance, Donoghue's Cinderella narrator falls in love with a tender stranger who assumes the role of her fairy godmother. A newlywed queen, who apparently is doted on by her husband, learns that his love is like a cage that she must flee. In all of Donoghue's tales, the protagonists come miraculously to a new awareness that will stamp their lives, and her fairy tales seek artfully to enter in and change the lives of her readers.
This is the ultimate paradox of the literary fairy tale: it wants to mark reality without leaving a trace of how it creates the wondrous effects. There is no doubt that the fairy tale has become totally institutionalized in Western society, part of the public sphere, with its own specific code and forms through which we communicate about social and psychic phenomena. We initiate children and expect them to learn the fairy-tale code as part of our responsibility in the civilizing process. This code has its key words and key marks, but it is not static. As in the oral tradition, its original impulse of hope for better living conditions has not vanished in the literary tradition, although many of the signs have been manipulated in the name of male authoritarian forces. As long as the fairy tale continues to awaken our wonderment and enable us to project counterworlds to our present society, it will serve a meaningful social and aesthetic function not just for compensation but for revelation: for the worlds portrayed by the best of our fairy tales are like magic spells of enchantment that actually free us. Instead of petrifying our minds, they arouse our imagination and compel us to realize how we can fight terror and cunningly insert ourselves into our daily struggles and turn the course of the world's events in our favor.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Substance: Zipes is a leading scholar of fairy tales; this book collects several of his forewords and essays about the genre, its originating authors, and other analysts. (see COMMENTS for the list of authors).Useful for the history of tales that are popularly understood to be from the 'folk tradition', but which are actually derived from a literary source (e.g. 'Beauty and the Beast'), and for the contemporary state of the discussion among 'experts'; however, the overview format assumes the reader already knows the tales.I take issue with his underlying assumption that the cynical, socially rebellious, and sometimes sadomasochistic French literary novels are somehow superior to their 'conventionalized' descendants (Disney is particularly derided, without evidence, as 'saccharine and sexist'; IMO the first three adaptations, in particular, are anything but).The chapter on Hans Christian Andersen does contain detailed analyses of the underlying works, but is heavily dependent on theoretical psychology to justify making assumptions about Andersen's internal motivations (which doesn't mean the analysis is wrong, but it does require accepting the psych-tropes as meaningful).Style: Generally readable by the layman, with some unavoidable jargon and references.