- Folktales Retold: A Critical Overview of Stories Updated for Children
Folktale retellings are by now a commonplace in the canon of children's literature: those children who grew up on Robert Munsch's The Paper Bag Princess and Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith's The True Story of the Three Little Pigs are now beginning to read those stories to their children and even produce their own retellings. Yet thoughtful examination of contemporary folktale revisions, especially those aimed at a child audience, still lags behind; scholarly studies by Zipes, Tatar, and company notwithstanding, the critical lens, when aimed at folktales, is still focused more on the classic tales than on modern revisions, on the tales produced by the French raconteurs, the Brothers Grimm, and other nineteenth-century collectors rather than on the deliberate revisioning of those tales that took place in the last half of the twentieth century and is still going strong. Amie Doughty's study is, she says, an attempt to address this critical lack, to examine "ways in which contemporary authors of folktale revisions for children and young adults take a genre long associated with the nursery—the folktale—and rework it into its own distinct form" (xiii). She does so by dividing her analysis into eight different approaches: humorous revisions (chapter 2), cultural and regional revisions (chapter 3), picture book formats (chapter 4), feminist versions (chapter 5), postmodern approaches (chapter 6), and prose and film revisions (chapters 7 and 8). She concludes with "The Adult Connection," in which she considers various retellings of Sleeping Beauty, noting how an intended audience of adults rather than children affects the reworking of the tale.
Chapter 1 is a brief overview of the genre in which Doughty attempts to distinguish between the folktale as defined by folklorists and by literary scholars, and then progresses into a synopsis of her main focus, how traditional tales are currently being reworked by authors and illustrators for children. The focus of chapter 2, "Humor in Folktale Revisions," is on identifying the various humorous techniques authors and illustrators of revisions for children have used in their books, such as tone, word and language play, and role reversal or other narrative changes. This chapter is an informative cataloging of these techniques, both textual and visual, and how they are used in quite a few books for children. In chapter 5, "Feminist Folktale Revisions," Doughty provides numerous examples of four ways in which authors address the sexism in traditional tales: by retelling the lesser-known tales that feature strong female characters, by writing original tales that feature strong female roles, and by replacing male roles in traditional tales with female ones or revising weak female characters into strong ones. Chapter 6, "Postmodern Folktale Revisions," [End Page 196] briefly considers the intertextuality and de-emphasis on authoritative voice that is characteristic of some modern revisionings, such as those by Vivian Vande Velde and Jon Scieszka.
The focus of chapter 4, "Breaking the Picture Book Rules," is on how "folktale revisions revise not only folktales but also the conventions of the picture book" (5). Although an excellent overview of how Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith's The Stinky Cheese Man, David Wiesner's The Three Pigs, and a few others defy conventional picture book formatting, this chapter reflects the general weakness of Doughty's work as a whole: there is nothing new here—Doughty's points, while valid, have been noted elsewhere in commentary on these books and are the sort of analysis expected in an undergraduate classroom discussion of these texts. The same is true of chapter 7, "Narrative in Folktale Revision," which looks at how revisions in novel and short story format alter the traditional tales, and of chapter 8, which surveys various fairy-tale films produced in the last few decades. These discussions break no new ground for scholars to consider nor do they provide intriguing new insights into the workings of contemporary revisions of folktales for children. They merely pull together insights already in circulation within the scholarly community, and they...