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Reviewed by:
  • Folk and Fairy Tales, 4th ed.
  • Kristiana Willsey (bio)
Folk and Fairy Tales, 4th ed. Edited by Martin Hallett and Barbara Karasek. Buffalo, NY: Broadview Press, 2009. 411 pp.

Hallett and Karasek's fourth edition of Folk and Fairy Tales, an anthology of traditional tales and contemporary adaptations that spans contributions from Giambattista Basile to Tanith Lee, is a well-rounded and critically framed collection that is eminently suitable for classroom use. According to the publishers, this new edition contains an additional four articles in the "Criticism" section, an expanded discussion of illustrations, the "Juxtapositions" section, and more cross-cultural variation in the choice of stories.

The book is divided into eleven sections: "Little Red Riding Hood," "Sleeping Beauty," "Cinderella," "Growing Up (Is Hard to Do)," "The Enchanted Bride(groom)," "Brain over Brawn (The Trickster)," "Villains," "A Less Than Perfect World," "Juxtapositions," "Illustrations," and "Criticism." Clearly the organization of the tale selections is somewhat loose and subjective, and many tales could easily be moved elsewhere, but the editors' intention is to demonstrate how a single story or theme has been approached by different writers to serve different purposes. Each section begins with a few pages of commentary and critical remarks to frame readers' reactions. Since the book is first and foremost a collection of primary texts, these orienting remarks are necessarily short, and the criticism is limited and suggestive in order to draw out students' interpretations rather than close them off. The final three sections take a somewhat different format: "Juxtapositions" contains four comparisons of two tales rather than six or eight different versions of the same story; "Illustrations" takes as its subject eighteen beautiful color plates; and "Criticism" contains eight articles from seminal theorists like Max Lüthi and Bruno Bettelheim to Betsy Hearne's terrific article on Disney and James Poniewozik's piece on Shrek.

The collection's introductory essay is a concise, accessible, historical overview of fairy-tale authorship and criticism that distills the complexity of the genre into a very manageable ten pages. The editors sketch briefly the [End Page 341] influence of nationalism, the complex relationship of orality and literacy, the use of fairy tales as moral arbiters, and the triviality barrier that haunts the scholarship on children's literature, touching on many larger discussions without overwhelming the reader or shortchanging the genre. While the entire anthology is well worth reading, the introductory essay could easily be assigned on its own, in any class on folklore, fairy tales, Western literature, childhood, or children's literature.

The editors acknowledge that their selections are largely (really, almost entirely) from the Western canon, because this reference book is aimed at students and intended to give them new critical perspectives on familiar stories. However, because of this there is an emphasis on the universality of the tales that could have been problematized, even in a collection aimed at students. It is presumably left to the teacher to frame stories like "The Indian Cinderella" (even the title tells the story!) and explain how parallels in cross-cultural narratives might be played up for the translator, author, or editor's own reasons.

If this anthology has a weakness, it is that it is constrained by length. Of course, in any comparison of a tale type it is inevitable that some versions will be left out, but I wished that the Grimms' version had been included in the "Cinderella" section, because it is the pagan undertones of the Grimms' story that Tanith Lee's dark retelling draws out, and without it some of the allusions made in Sexton's poem are lost. The short essays that frame each section are likewise required to do what they can in the space permitted. For instance, the discussion of class and gender preceding "Growing Up (Is Hard to Do)" is brief but good, asking provocatively, Why passive princesses but outspoken peasant girls? This section provides many good starting points for classroom discussion. The section titled "Growing Up" is another place where brevity is a necessary evil—childhood as a natural state is so unconsciously romanticized that the brief paragraph devoted to the creation of "childhood" as a cultural concept may well startle and...


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pp. 341-343
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