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Fairy Tales Reimagined: Essays on New…

Fairy Tales Reimagined: Essays on New Retellings

by Susan Redington Bobby

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This work is best suited for those familiar with the works covered, but if you’re strongly interested in the topic a little Googling can help you out. Bobby definitely takes an academic approach, but fairy tales are something familiar to everyone so the concepts can be interesting to a wide audience.

Bobby has collected sixteen essays that explore how classic fairy tales have been retold in the late 20 and early 21 centuries and what they say about the culture of the age. The fairy tale roots of “Lost Girls,” “Wicked,” “Princess Academy,” works by female poets, and countless other modern retellings are touched upon. The book approaches issues of gender and sexuality, narrative forms, trauma and dystopia, and culture and politics. ( )
  lewisbookreviews | Apr 6, 2013 |
This was an interesting read. Obviously, I got the most out of the articles about books/authors I've read. The others made sense, but just didn't make as much of an impact.

A reviewer on Amazon posted the index (which has many of the author/titles listed), so I won't repeat it but here's the general overview and what books they're using for the big-name authors.

The first section was regarding Feminism. Each essay varied, but a common theme was how what things got added in/left out or what things changed entirely affected what was being said about the role of the female.
Jane Yolen - Sister Emily's Lightship (Just "Lost Girls")
Neil Gaiman -Stardust, and Smoke and Mirrors (Just "Troll Bridge" and "Snow, Glass, Apples")

Next section was on narrative forms. In general, this focused on how the method of telling the tale changed the interpretation. For instance, is one person in the story telling it to another, or is it portrayed as a dream, etc.
A.S. Byatt - Possession and/or Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye (3/5 of the stories in Djinn discussed, but these are also incorporated into Possession so you can read either book)
Robin McKinley - Beauty, Outlaws of Sherwood, Deerskin, Rose Daughter, and Spindle's End.

The Third section was on trauma/dystopia. A common theme here was that with traumatic events, framing things as a fairy tale gives a bit of distance from the tale, where either the reader, the characters or both might try to block out the actual events.
Jane Yolen - Briar Rose

The last section was on politics/ culture This is my least favorite section. There isn't any cohesive theme between these essays like there is in the other sections, and the books are really analyzed more on their own merits rather than in relation to and part of the body of fairy tales. Not necessarially a bad thing, but they seem a bit out of place in this collection
Bill Willingham - Fables Graphic novels
Phillip Pullman - I Was a Rat!
Gregory Maguire - Wicked
Shannon Hale - Goose Girl and The Princess Academy

Robin McKinley (because I know a friend is a fan)
The Robin McKinley essay was in the section on narrative forms, but to me it didn't quite seem to fit. The point of this essay is that in her earliest books (Beauty in particular) her females have few if any choices about their role in life. Beauty chooses to go with the beast, but due to her dreams, it's not really much of a choice. In The Blue Sword, the heroine is kidnapped, then caught up in the magic surrounding the sword, so again, no real choices made.
As her career progresses, McKinley gives her heroines more and more choices and control over the story, until with Rose Daughter and Spindle's End, they have so many choices and so much control they're able to break out of the typical fairy tale ending.

Jane Yolen (Briar Rose, My favorite essay from the book)
Here, they're talking about how one of the problems of trying to write about the Holocaust is that it's so horrible that it's hard to give an accurate portrayal as fiction. Either one puts so much in that it becomes a true story, or they leave so much out that it doesn't portray the Holocaust properly. Another problem would be that any complete, accurate version is going to be so horrific that one stands a chance of alienating the readers or the story being beyond their ability to cope with emotionally, especially if they're looking for a fictional account.

But with things being cloaked as a fairy tale, plot elements can act as a sort of shorthand. Sleeping Beauty's sleep becomes a gas chamber, the wall of brambles around the castle are the barbed wire fences around the camps, the oven the witch is pushed into in Hansel & Gretel is the camps' furnaces. Since we're familiar with the original stories, we already emotionally associate the witch who cursed Sleeping Beauty with evil, the years of sleep as bad, the oven as something terrible. Therefore, the author doesn't have to explain the horrors in detail to invoke an emotional reaction. We know the witch is wicked and evil without having to be told point by point why. It gives the author (and the characters) just a little bit of distance from the events, and frames something too terrible to comprehend unless you've lived it as something that you can comprehend, at least a little.

One thing to note is that because it's meant for a scholarly audience, it makes quite a few assumptions about what you know.

First, most (if not all) of the essays assumes that you've read multiple unedited "original" fairy tale collections. (Grimms, Anderson, Perrault, etc.) If all you've read is the kiddified version of fairy tales and aren't familiar with older, less sanitized versions, you'll have a surprise when they start talking about Cinderella's sisters cutting off their toes to fit into a fur slipper or Sleeping Beauty waking up during childbirth. If you've read at least one of the "original" collections, then you'd be ok, I think. And if you haven't but are interested enough in fairy/folk fairy tales to read this book --- go read one!

In a couple of the essays, they start mentioning about repetition with variation which is something that comes up a lot in folkloric studies. You can follow what they're talking about without knowing the details, but you might be wondering why it keeps getting mentioned. (And a major gripe - repeating the begining sounds of words is NOT repetition with variation. That's called alliteration! Two separate things!)

In one of the essays, they start talking about one of the folktales and refer to it as AT 451 without even saying what the AT index was. If I hadn't already known, then may have gotten lost. The Aarne-Thompson (AT) index is a large catalog that assigns common folk and fairy tale motifs with a particular number. For instance, Cinderella's AT number is 410. You can look up those numbers in the index and find a brief summary of the motif, then a listing of all the folk/fairy tales with that particular motif and where/when they were published. So if someone is referring to AT 410, they're not referring to just one version of Cinderella, they're talking about all the different versions of Cinderella as a whole.

Last and least of a problem, it does assume that you have at least a basic knowledge about literary theories - deconstruction, post-modernism, etc.
( )
  Melanti | Mar 30, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0786441151, Paperback)

No mere escapist fantasies, the reimagined fairy tales of the late 20th and early 21st centuries reflect the social, political, and cultural truths of our age with insight, intelligence, and complexity. Sixteen essays consider fairy tales recreated through short stories, novels, poetry, and the graphic novel from both best-selling and lesser-known writers, applying a variety of theoretical perspectives, including postmodernism, psychoanalysis, Marxism, feminism, structuralism, queer theory, and gender studies.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:20:19 -0400)

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