- The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales: The Western Fairy Tale Tradition from Medieval to Modern, and: Sticks and Stones: The Troublesome Success of Children's Literature from Slovenly Peter to Harry Potter
Since The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales: The Western Fairy Tale Tradition from Medieval to Modern (2000) is essentially a historical record, and Sticks and Stones: The Troublesome Success of Children's Literature from Slovenly Peter to Harry Potter (2001) consists largely of a series of cultural explanations, it is my hope that a compound review might suggest the bifold dimensions of Jack Zipes' work and perhaps imply underlying unities and conjugations.
Jack Zipes' explorations of the fairy tale have already produced a body of provocative works, including Breaking the Magic Spell: Radical Theories of Folk and Fairy Tales (1979), The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood (1983), Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales, Children, and the Culture Industry (1997), and When Dreams Came True: Classical Fairy Tales and Their Tradition (1999), among others. The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales (2000) is the most recent addition to the list. In this area alone, it would be hard to overstate the importance of Zipes' contribution to our understanding of children's literature. By applying a rigorous materialist methodology, and examining the fairy tale beyond the classical texts of Grimm, Andersen, Perrault, d'Aulnoy, Fénelon, and de Beaumont, Zipes has positioned our sense of the genre as an active mediating valence between the gestalt of the folk imagination and the self-consciousness of literary artifice. In view of the sustainability and the wide reach of his views, even the most sober-sided evaluation of a new work by Jack Zipes must savor of the celebratory spirit of a publication party.
The Companion is a robust tome, consisting of more than 800 entries by sixty-seven authors. Principally, it is an encyclopedia of thumbnail sketches (hence, its companionability). Entries are typically made for objects of study: specific fairy tales; authors, compilers and illustrators of fairy tales; and composers, choreographers, impresarios who have shepherded the transmigration of the fairy tale into another medium. The allure of a Companion is its brevity. If one is engrossed in, oh, listening to Coppélia, or discussing a performance of the ballet, one can simultaneously pop open the Companion and get related information about Leo Delibes with which to season one's argument or listening enjoyment; whereas, by contrast, by popping open The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, listening enjoyment must soon depart; regrettably, so must one's companions.
However, while upholding the tradition of the companion, the Companion to Fairy Tales, augments its shorter entries with several meticulous, authoritative essays on broad fields of study. These consist of the fairy-tale traditions of nation-states and regions (e.g., "France," "Scandinavian Countries"); topical sub-genres ("Jack Tales," "Oriental Fairy Tales," "Communist Folk-Tale Films"); and on the interrelationships between fairy tales and other cultural phenomena, such as literary genres (e.g., "science fiction," "poetry"); performing arts (e.g., "drama," "opera," "ballet"); and formal systems of thought (e.g., "feminism," "psychology," "myth").
Zipes' introduction, "Towards a Definition of the Literary Fairy Tale,"constitutes the longest essay in the volume: "Towards a Definition of the Literary Fairy Tale" provides a forceful and elegantly turned account of the genesis, development, and institutionalization of the "literary fairy tale in Europe and North America" (xxviii). Next in length are the nine national surveys—usually stretching to 11-13 pages. With some variation, the surveys assume a chronological structure that begins with the nation's or region's earliest tales and conclude in the present day, with numerous syncretic links to other entries so-marked by asterisks. Each of the nine surveys is set off attractively by gray floral borders in the style of William Morris' woodcut adaptations of early Venetian typography down the...