- Marvelous Transformations: An Anthology of Fairy Tales and Contemporary Critical Perspectives ed. by Caroline A. Jones and Jennifer Schacker
Marvelous Transformations is the result of an interdisciplinary collaboration between Caroline Jones and Jennifer Schacker, who challenge readers to rethink their knowledge of folk and fairy tales in this rich edited anthology. Jones and Schacker take the innovative approach of arranging this international collection chronologically rather than around national traditions and motifs. They organize their sections around aesthetic movements in Europe to form five discrete parts that begin with Early Written Traditions and end with Contemporary Transcriptions and Translations; they include a number of new translations of classic French and Italian fairy tales, some appearing in English for the first time. The editors acknowledge their Eurocentric frame, [End Page 200] and they adopt it as a useful way to “situate texts in relation to the other arts and letters of their period, foregrounding elements of the tales’ poetics and thematics—traits that are harder to see when stories are grouped transhistorically by type or motif” (37–38). Via this approach, Jones and Schacker make visible a range of interrelated histories and boundaries (national, linguistic, and so on). Their structure also disrupts the practice of reading fairy tales for universal messages or morals, and instead guides the reader to consider ambiguities, contradictions, and intertextual ties. In short, the fairy tale is made a contested and relational discursive and performative text.
The anthology is thoughtfully developed and operates on at least two levels. It is at once an intervention into scholarly debates about and approaches to fairy tales, and a sophisticated pedagogical tool. A critical introduction situates the writer, the work, and where the particular tale or performance fits within a larger history. The editors interrogate how scholars in folk and fairy tale studies have organized the field, and provide a commentary on the ways in which critics themselves have created boundaries and “disciplinary conceits” (23). They argue that as readers we have been influenced “as much by fairy–tale criticism as by fairy tales themselves” (37), and they ask us to reconsider what we think we know about fairy tales.
Jones and Schacker are keenly aware of pedagogical strategies, and “seek to arm teachers and students alike with a variety of weapons they can wield in the challenging and exciting confrontation with fairy-tale complexity” (36). For instance, the introductory chapter “How to Read a Fairy Tale” includes an explicit example of how to perform a “historically situated close reading” (15) by providing an exemplary analysis of “Little Red Riding Hood.” In the Introduction to Part II, “How to read the critical essays,” the editors offer a set of portable questions for readers to consider as they read through the essays that encourage readers to ask critical questions.
The editors attend to the gendered history of folk and fairy tales in Europe and North America, and reinsert a range of women authors from across national boundaries and time periods. With their critical introductions, they fill in historical context and literary contributions, enabling readers to contextualize the earlier texts by women authors with contemporary women’s retellings. One can read Anne Sexton’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” for instance, as a response to the Grimm and Disney variants within a North American context and as part of a larger history in which women like Marie-Catherine D’Aulony or Anne Thackeray Ritchie use the fairy tale form to subversively play with normative (culturally and historically situated) ideas about gender and sexuality. In this way, the editors demonstrate “the polyphony of contemporary influences” (37). The section of Modern/Postmodern tales is equally engaging and includes works by Marina Warner, Neil Gaiman, and Nalo [End Page 201] Hopkinson. Longer texts, usually excluded from anthologies, are included as web links; the editors provide an abbreviated introduction within the book so that readers may access the actual narratives online.
One of the most intriguing elements of this anthology is the inclusion of new material from scholars...