This literary and cultural history of our engagement with, mostly, European fairy tales may be short, but it is far from slight.
Perhaps best known for her seminal From the Beast to the Blonde (1995), a feminist reading of several European fairy tales, Warner (Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights, 2012, etc.) presents a thoughtful, discursive and often personal survey of how “fairy tale” has expressed itself over the centuries. She treats her subject as something of a literary force in itself rather than a collection of discrete stories, continuously emphasizing how deeply embedded it is in Western culture. Her exploration ranges far and wide in discerning its origins and influences, from the obvious—the Grimms, Charles Perrault, Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy, Hans Christian Andersen, Italo Calvino, Angela Carter, Disney—to the less so: the Celtic Mabinogion, Shakespeare, Jane Eyre, Robert Bly and Hayao Miyazaki. Warner touches on commentators as well, discussing the ways such theoreticians as Vladimir Propp, Bruno Bettelheim and Jack Zipes have influenced how we understand fairy tale. This makes for an undeniably dense read, and it is not for beginners, as it presumes some familiarity and requires readers to navigate across centuries, forms and even media. (The maddening design asks readers to physically jump around the book to see illustrations referenced in the text. Readers must decide either to leave Warner’s elegant prose and travel to the front of the book for a page number before finding the illustration itself or to do without.) Although the author’s erudition is on display on every page, this is no starchy academic text; she frequently inserts her own trenchant opinions, as when she declares that Bettelheim “enrages me as he has done many other lovers of fairy tales,” even though she “learned a huge amount from [him].”
Both a beguiling appreciation of and a fascinating tour through faery, this offers riches aplenty for lovers of fantasy fiction, children’s literature and the tales themselves.