- Relentless Progress: The Reconfiguration of Children's Literature, Fairy Tales, and Storytelling
Could our blind faith in globalization and multiculturalism prevent us from recognizing the potentially destructive consequences of unchecked progress? Jack Zipes's Relentless Progress: The Reconfiguration of Children's Literature, Fairy Tales, and Storytelling argues that these utopian concepts may instead foster the collapse of communities and drive lasting wedges between classes and races as capitalist interests, rather than cultural curiosity, dominate the cultural landscape. Zipes's essays, which he nearly called "interventions" (x), [End Page 352] are weighty, comprehensive, and provocative, particularly when he considers how the international spread of mass consumerism affects the most vulnerable segment of our world, our children.
Noting that the contemporary storyteller is a chameleon, Zipes engages both the specialist and the novice through essays that vacillate between scholarly and intimate, pessimistic and optimistic. While his ample research on economics, sociology, and history may be challenging, such sections provide theoretical underpinnings for the more accessible portions of the text in which he eagerly promotes various contemporary works. Zipes's tone is also adaptive; most essays commence with frustrated or confrontational remarks concerning the state of our world and the place of children's literature within it, yet he consistently moves each discussion toward encouragement and hope. An ardent admirer of the most innovative contemporary tales, Zipes trusts their capacity to help us fight the evils of the word through literary enlightenment.
Declaring globalization "a sickness that troubles my soul" (71), Zipes fears our "multimodal" (9) world exploits children by treating them as consumers, a practice embraced by multinational publishing companies that market primarily entertainment. The astonishing increase in published books intended for children and adolescents does not assuage Zipes's qualms regarding literacy, for "[t]here are indeed many pieces of delectable literature that we simply eat and spew from our systems like candy bars that provide instantaneous pleasure but are not nutritional or long lasting" (13). Although Zipes calls for readers to subvert the capitalist order and reconfigure the status of children's literature, he concedes that children are more engaged socioeconomically than ever before, using capital and commodity to define themselves. Additionally, significant disconnects affect the way children and their elders engage with both books and technology as the era of the written word has been overshadowed by the age of image and screen. In fact, Zipes argues that "we have succeeded in transforming children into functional literates, nonliterates, and alliterates, . . . Perhaps we should call this process the 'endumbment of children'" (27). Our consumerist culture trains children to misread, and they are unable to discern the difference between critically valued literature versus "copycat books" (35) created solely for profit. Zipes argues that such shoddy knockoffs demonstrate the guiding principle of present-day book publication: "milk the cow when she is full and continue milking until she is empty. If she can't produce any more milk, kill it, skin it, and wear it" (38). Contending that the genre should be typified by artists who construct something from nothing to address problem-solving with autonomy, Zipes suggests that corporations and movie studios have unfortunately followed the Disney model in commodifying hope, flooding the market with "predictable schlock" and works that are deficient in "critical reflection and self-reflection" (53). [End Page 353]
When the reader begins to think there is no hope on the horizon, Zipes offers a path from "delusion" to "illumination" (53) by turning to those writers and illustrators who are eager for alternative visions. Zipes encourages readers to explore some of his favorite selections in children's literature, including the work of Peter Sís, Vladimir Radunsky, Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, and Shaun Tan, all of whom use color, black-and-white, varying illustration techniques, reader participation, unorthodox imagery, and typography to evoke meaning. He also describes the outsiders and refugees who populate the landscape of current graphic novels penned by Bill Willingham and Linda Medley, both of whom subvert fairy tales, legends, and nursery rhymes. Noting that children raised...