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Children's Literature Association Quarterly 31.3 (2006) 307-309

Reviewed by
Louise Stewart
Folktales Retold: A Critical Overview of Stories Updated for Children. By Amie A. Doughty. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2006.

When I teach courses in children's literature or folk and fairy tales and include Perrault's "Bluebeard" in the readings, the question inevitably arises as to why Perrault offers his peculiar moral that clearly cautions women from being too curious (or curious at all). Curiosity, Perrault tells us, will surely lead to a woman's downfall—a familiar story that includes Pandora and Eve. Nevertheless, Bluebeard, not his unnamed wife, dies, and she gets all of his riches while he presumably rots away in his well-deserved grave. Or why, students ask, does Molly Whuppie give the treasures she harvests from the ogre in exchange for husbands for her sisters and herself? Why doesn't she simply keep the loot? We arrive at possible solutions and continue on. However, questions similar to the above often drive scholars to explore these areas of literary and cultural interest. And, as Amie A. Doughty, author of Folktales Retold: A Critical Overview of Stories Updated for Children, points out, variations of those same questions serve as the impetus for authors who engage in retelling old stories in new ways as they "alter the folktale to reflect modern sensibilities" or as a method of "filling in perceived plot holes or explaining other historically bound elements inexplicable to the modern reader" (13). For, as Doughty, quoting author Vivian Vande Velde, tells us, a story lifted out of its historical context quite often "stops making sense" (1). Thus, as these authors, often a subversive lot, retell traditional tales, they try to make sense of them. In doing so, according to Doughty, the revised tales "show the way in which the folktale tradition in writing is now starting to resemble the oral tradition from which it came, with the new authors bringing to their own cultures new versions of traditional folktales that may better speak to them than the traditional folktales do" (13). Further, because the revised tales derive from another source, they are by definition intertextual, which makes it "possible to come up with an understanding of how this form connects to the folktale tradition from which it comes and how it acts as a continuation of that same tradition" (14). To come to this understanding, Doughty offers several titles, summaries, and comparisons in her text.

In addition to making the claim in chapter 1, "The Folktale Revision as a Form," that contemporary authors continue the oral tradition in new forms including picture books, novels, and film, Doughty takes on the vexing problem of differentiating between fairy tales and folktales as well as the updated versions, which are sometimes referred to as fractured fairy tales and parodies. She determines that "folktale revision works better than fractured fairy tales because it reflects what those authors are doing—revising the folktale tradition. Revision also encompasses both parodies and non-parodies" (12, emphasis in original).

Doughty examines "the methods of making children's literature funny" in chapter 2, "Humor in Folktale [End Page 307] Revisions," for humor is often an important element of folktale revisions. She includes revisions by Dahl, Scieszka, Vande Velde, Thaler, Napoli, Levine, and others and concludes that humor is "largely limited to word and language play and role reversal in these revisions" (35). In some ways, then, Doughty's examination is somewhat underdeveloped, for there are numerous ideological implications regarding humor and children's literature as John Stephens notes in chapter 4, "Ideology, Carnival and Interrogative Texts," of Language and Ideology in Children's Fiction. Stephens explains, for instance, the transgressive and subversive nature of humor when Babette Cole replaces Cinderella with a male figure in Prince Cinders. Stephens demonstrates that when Prince Cinders assumes characteristics traditionally associated with females—"abjection, humility and passivity"—we have an opportunity to examine "cultural and linguistic constructs" (140). While we can and should examine humor...


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