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Reviewed by:
  • The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales
  • Janet L. Langlois (bio)
The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales. Edited with an introduction and notes by Maria Tatar . Translations by Maria Tatar . New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2002. xxi + 445 pp.

The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales is such a gorgeous book that it is hard to be critical. Its dust jacket, featuring magenta lettering and geometric design on a golden background with miniature illustrations from fairy tales on each corner, heralds the "storytelling archive" within its covers through allusions to Arabian Nights arabesque and to manuscript illumination. Editor Maria Tatar has chosen to present 26 classic fairy tales with over 300 accompanying classic illustrations to highlight the golden age of the fairy tale in the Western tradition. "The Tales" section of the book includes familiar texts ranging from those of Charles Perrault, Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Alexander Afanasev, Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, Joseph Jacobs, Philipp Otto Runge to those of Hans Christian Andersen (17-330).

It is in Tatar's annotations for each tale, however, that the "familiar" is cracked open and explored intricately but clearly for an implied general audience of parents, children, students, and others interested in the subject matter through innovative use of different type faces, font sizes and colors. Each tale's number; its title in capital letters, such as tale 1, LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD, or tale 18, KATE CRACKERNUTS; its specific author in italics, such as Charles Perrault or Hans Christian Andersen; and its footnotes on the page margins are [End Page 305] all printed in light but readable purple ink that matches the geometric border of white vines on purple ground which heads each new tale. Small black print at the bottom left-hand side of each tale's first page announces that the source for this version of the tale is from Charles Perrault, "Cendrillon ou la petite pantoufle de verre," in Histoires ou contes du temps passé, avec des moralités (Paris: Barbin, 1697) or from Joseph Jacobs, "Kate Crackernuts," English Fairy Tales (London: David Nutt, 1898), for example. The text of each tale itself is in larger black print while Tatar's headnote introducing each tale is in black italics. Illustrations from different artists, some in color and some in black and white, are placed throughout each tale text with captions indicating the specific lines or scenes in the tales from which the artists drew inspiration with accompanying commentaries by the editor.

Tatar's headnotes, footnotes, and illustration captions are informative, clearly drawn from a wide range of scholarly sources, her own among others, but are not academic per se. For instance, her introduction to tale 11, "Bluebeard," draws from comparative studies that she had already referenced in the 1999 Norton critical edition, The Classic Fairy Tales: "Known as Silver Nose in Italy and as the Lord of the Underworld in Greece, the French Bluebeard has many folkloric cousins" (145). Her headnote also condenses scholarly shifts in academic interpretations of the Bluebeard tale: "The Bluebeard story has traditionally been seen as turning on the curiosity of the wife, who can never 'resist' the temptation to look into the chamber forbidden to her. . . . Rather than celebrating the courage and wisdom of Bluebeard's wife in discovering the dreadful truth about her husband's murderous deeds, Perrault and many other tellers of the tale disparage her unruly act of insubordination" (146). Here, Tatar appears to draw on, but downplays, her chapter, "Taming the Beast: Bluebeard and Other Monsters," in her 1987 The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales, still one of the best feminist rereadings of fairy-tale scholarship.

In another example, Tatar introduces tale 8, "The Frog King, or Iron Heinrich," as the first in the Grimms' Nursery and Household Tales, then refers explicitly to Bruno Bettelheim's psychoanalytical reading of the tale "as a compressed version of the maturation process, with the princess navigating a path between the pleasure principle (represented by her play) and the dictates of the superego (represented by the father's commands)," then shows how Bettelheim's reading "helps to understand why the tale has such a powerful...


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pp. 305-309
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