Monday, September 27, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: From the Beast to the Blonde

From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their TellersFrom the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers Marina Warner

Ok, this isn't a book for kids or teens, or even one with teen interest, but I think it is of interest to adults who work with children's literature, so I thought I'd share it for nonfiction Monday.

This is an fascinating, academic, and meandering history and case that, although most of the big names in fairly tales (Grimm, Perrault, Anderson) are male, fairy tales are women's stories.

Warner doesn't really get into the stories themselves until the second half the book. The first half mainly discusses women's speech and the role in played in society from the Greeks up though the mid-19th century. The relevance tends to become clear in the second half, although I loved her exploration of the changing meaning of "gossip" (originally it meant a christening feast, when women would gather to celebrate and help the new mother) and how words like "cackle" became associated with women's laughter and with the sounds of birds, how storks and geese came in the springtime which is when most babies were born, and how it all connects up to Mother Goose.

I also very much enjoyed her explorations of Bluebeard and its variants, where she points out that in a time when so many women died in childbirth, marriage could be seen as a death sentence. Also, the evolving nature of the Beast (from Beauty and the) as what scared us in the animal kingdom changed.

There are some points that she belabors to make and I still don't entirely buy, and there are some things where I was like "I GET IT ALREADY! MOVE ON!" It was a hard book for me to read because I don't have a huge background in literary criticism or gender/women's studies.

I also would love an updated version. This came out in 1996 and she only focuses on the work of Angela Carter for examples of modern tellings of fairy tales (although she does draw heavily from current-to-then movies and some TV shows.) While Jane Yolen gets a name-drop, she doesn't look at any of the work like the Fairy Tale series that Ace did in the late 80s/early 90s.  Also, there's been such an explosion of fairy tale reworkings, especially aimed at teens, in the last 10 years that I'd love to see that worked into her analysis.

I'd also love something like this for non-European tales.

Overall though, a really interesting look at fairy tales and their origins and their changes over the years and reasons behind them...

round up is over at Wendie's Wanderings

Book Provided by... my local library

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