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  • New Tales for Old: Folktales as Literary Fictions for Young Adults
  • Victoria G. Dworkin (bio)
New Tales for Old: Folktales as Literary Fictions for Young Adults. By Gail de Vos and Anna E. Altmann. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 1999. xxi + 408 pp.

"It is the particular beauty of fairy tales that no one interpretation is the true one, no one version is correct. The ingredients of the tale can be simmered and stirred, flavored and served up in a thousand different ways" (v). This observation by fantasy anthologists Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow serves as the epigraph that opens New Tales for Old: Folktales as Literary Fictions for Young Adults. Well-known folk and fairy tales are being retold in ever increasing numbers. In addition to novel-length reworkings, such tales are creatively revisited in short stories, poetry, film, and other forms throughout popular culture. Ten or so years ago, I started to notice novelized retellings of "Tam Lin," "Beauty and the Beast," "Snow White and Rose Red," and more. However, in my local public library at least, it was almost impossible to find fiction based on folktales other than by chance. Fortunately, my library has now added a subject heading for "Fairy tales—adaptations." Even more fortunately, library consultant and storyteller Gail de Vos and professor of library science and storyteller Anna E. Altmann have prepared an annotated bibliography that makes identifying some of these literary explorations much easier.

New Tales for Old does more than simply list literary retellings of folk tales. Following an introductory chapter on the nature of folktales, individual chapters provide an overview of critical and literary interpretations, arranged by tale. Only eight of the most commonly studied and retold folktales derived from the European oral tradition are included: "Cinderella," "The Frog King," [End Page 109] "Hansel and Gretel," "Little Red Riding Hood," "Rapunzel," "Rumpelstiltskin," "Sleeping Beauty," and "Snow White." The authors are currently working on a companion volume of literary fairy tales that will include tales from Hans Christian Andersen, "Beauty and the Beast," and "Tam Lin," among others. For each specific tale, the authors provide a synopsis; a review of the tale type and motif elements; a brief analysis of the tale's origins orally and in print with an emphasis on sources such as the Grimms, Perrault, and Basile; tables highlighting differences in variants; and a detailed listing of scholarly critical interpretations arranged chronologically. The review of the critical literature covers at least twenty-five years, and in some cases much longer. These sections are followed by annotations of literary and artistic reworkings of the tales in the form of novels, short stories, feature or short films, poetry, picture books, graphic novels, and opera or ballet. Most chapters include a list of Internet resources, and each concludes with a section called "Classroom Extensions"—suggestions for class discussion. The "Snow White" chapter also includes a lengthy essay on critical responses to the Disney film.

The format suggests that the primary purpose of this extensive annotated bibliography is to provide a curriculum guide for high-school and middle-school teachers who wish to incorporate a study of fairy tales into the curriculum. It will also be useful for librarians, storytellers, and students in college-level courses on folklore, fairy tales, or children's literature. By bringing together critical approaches from several fields, it does much to expose readers to research outside of their own disciplines. Although written for nonspecialists, even the professional folktale scholar, for whom much of the material is likely to be familiar, will find this book a handy tool that conveniently gathers multiple references together.

The opening chapter "Folktales and Literary Fictions" provides valuable information for those not trained in folkloristics. This chapter introduces the nonspecialist to important basic concepts, although it relies on the work of literary folklorists and does not introduce theoretical work from the perspective of folklore as performance. Teachers, librarians, storytellers, and students will benefit from the authors' efforts to make complex theoretical concepts accessible. The discussion includes brief explications of Walter Ong, Ivan Illich, and Barry Sanders on folktales as oral narrative and the nature of oral culture; Maria Tatar and Max Lüthi...


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