- When Dreams Came True: Classical Fairy Tales and Their Tradition
This revised and expanded edition of a book first published in 1999 aims to “provide a sociohistorical framework for the study of the classical tradition of the literary fairy tale in western society” (x). It consists of an overview of the development of the literary fairy-tale tradition, followed by twelve essays on fairy-tale writers ranging from the seventeenth-century French salon précieuses to Herman Hesse. These essays also cover Charles Perrault, Antoine Galland (and the European reception of the Arabian Nights), the Brothers Grimm, E. T. A. Hoffmann, Hans Christian Andersen, various Edwardian and Victorian authors with an emphasis on Oscar Wilde, Carlo Collodi and his Pinocchio, Frank Stockton, L. Frank Baum and his utopian realm of Oz, and J. M. Barrie’s cycle of adventures in Neverland. Although all of the essays had been previously published, this book is no mere anthology of scattered texts. Its unifying thread is the examination of the manners in which writers have used fairy tales to articulate their personal desires, political views, and aesthetic preferences. Indeed, Jack Zipes assumes that the fairy tale has been historically “determined and overdetermined” by writers with unusual talents and tantalizing views about their search for happiness, which, he stresses, “is coincidentally ours as well” (x).
This remark points to one important leitmotif of this book: the role that the literary fairy tale assumes in imparting values, norms, and aesthetic standards to children and adults alike. Zipes is quite clear on this subject. Fairy tales serve a meaningful social and aesthetic function as long as they awaken [End Page 335] “our” wonderment so as to enable “us” to project counterworlds to the status quo (31). From this point of view, the craft of fairy-tale writers is intrinsically “ideological” (6). Fairy tales deal with wonderlands and so propitiate imagining alternative worlds (7). And even though some tales (and their writers) may be conservative or sexist, Zipes maintains that they still call forth their readers’ capacity “to wonder.” No matter what the plot may be, then, fairy tales “keep our sense of wonderment alive and nurture our hope” for change (7).
This is an interesting point. Even while Zipes proposes that fairy tales promote wonder and defy conformism, he presents a book that extols the imagination as a means to oppose alienation. In other words, this collection of essays on utopian narratives is itself a utopian manifesto, which is to say that When Dreams Came True presents scholarly research on fairy tales with the uplifting ethos of a meta–fairy tale.
As scholarship goes, this book expresses delightfully sober views. Take Zipes’s description of how seventeenth-century French authors have appropriated folktales into the literary realm (a trend taken over from Straparola and Basile) in the specific context of aristocratic salons. His nuanced and documented examination of this multilayered process shiningly contrasts with the unidimensional, and yet fanciful, quality of another recent reading of the same process as essentially a recasting of Italian fairy tales first invented by Straparola (tellingly, Ruth Bottigheimer’s proposition goes unmentioned in this book). In the same vein, Zipes describes the Grimm brothers’ work in light of its specific sociopolitical context and brings out, with a wealth of details, the significance of their “extraordinary scholarship” (67). While Zipes acknowledges that the Grimms did not collect or preserve their Märchen as a modern folklorist must, he steers clear of a modern trend of ad hominem attacks and summary accusations against the two brothers ( John Ellis’s indictment also goes unmentioned in this book). A consistent willingness to recognize the complexity of cultural phenomena, along with a balanced approach to all the works and lives under scrutiny, gives each and every essay in this book the Midas touch.
So far I have referred to “fairy tales” as if the scope of this notion were self-evident. However, any definition of fairy tales that encompasses stories by Herman Hesse, the trials and tribulations...