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  • Anti-Tales: The Uses of Disenchantment
  • Martine Hennard Dutheil de la Rochère (bio)
Anti-Tales: The Uses of Disenchantment. Edited by Catriona McAra and David Calvin. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011.

Anti-Tales: The Uses of Disenchantment reflects the ubiquity of the fairy tale in contemporary culture and the diversity of approaches to the genre, although the ambition of the editors is questionable: Catriona McAra and David Calvin seek to revive the old-fashioned label of anti-tale coined by André Jolles in Einfache Formen (1929). In the past decades many international fairy-tale scholars have documented the diversity and complexity of the genre, and of fairy-tale history itself, against simplistic universalizing and essentializing definitions and classifications. Although seductively simple, the attempt to establish “a clearer typology” (3) of tale versus anti-tale (displayed over two columns) contradicts the methodological and critical imperative to consider individual tales in context, as leading fairy-tale scholars have consistently argued and demonstrated. For Jack Zipes, “There is no such thing as the fairy tale. However, there are hundreds and thousands of fairy tales” (Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales, 2000). Ironically, the quotation from Cristina Bacchilega used as an epigraph to the volume also stresses that “the anti-tale is implicit in the tale.” In their turn several contributors express doubts about the pertinence of the binary model in light of the history of the genre and because anti-tales “relate to the idea of the tale itself rather than to their content,” as Helen Stoddart puts it (131). An uncritical return to the notion of the anti-tale glosses over differences to produce a static and ahistorical image of the genre and confuses actual tales with their stereotype.

As a result, generalizations about “the essential formal elements of the genre,” which are belied by a knowledge of its complex development from antiquity to the present, abound in the volume. Tellingly, each contributor comes up with a different idea of the anti-tale, sometimes with anti used in quotation marks to signal its inseparability from the genre, but more often than not the term is naturalized and used to schematically contrast the “classic” [End Page 276] tales with their contemporary revisions. The anti-tale is variously associated with subversion, inversion, darkness, amorality, cruelty, and abjection but also with social critique, satire, rebelliousness (progressive, as in postcolonial and feminist revisions, or nostalgic, escapist, and reactionary), intertextuality, self-consciousness, and parody as well as antinarrative drives, intermediality and sensoriality, realism, antirealism, disenchantment, reenchantment, and generic hybridity. I would be prepared to argue that these characteristics apply equally to the so-called classic versions and even to their manifold sources. Although it is essential to examine how, why, and to what effect artists revisit the fairy-tale tradition (or received ideas about the genre), such an inquiry is best conducted with a good knowledge of what exactly they are responding to and reacting against.

Anti-Tales is divided into several sections: “History and Definitions,” “Twisted Film and Animation,” “Surrealist Anti-Tales,” “Sensorial Anti-Tale,” “Black Humour,” “Inverted (Anti-) Fairy Tales,” and “(Post)Modern Anti-Tales,” each including two to four short essays. The book begins with a solid contribution by Laura Martin that calls the validity of the concept of Anti-märchen into question in light of the German Romantic literary tradition, which indeed exhibits many of the traits that other contributors associate with the anti-tale. The so-called dark shadow of German Romanticism is inseparable from the genre, and its influence on British fantasy and the modern fairy-tale tradition has been well documented by Bill Gray. Far from being “provocative” (to quote the editors), Martin’s essay is grounded in fairy-tale scholarship, notably Heinz Rölleke’s important work on the Grimms (see also Ruth B. Bottigheimer, Jack Zipes, Maria Tatar). Martin stresses that “there are no ‘pure’ fairy tales, only particular, singular versions” (24). Following the cue of Jan Ziolkowski’s and Graham Anderson’s studies, Stijn Praet also acknowledges the conceptual and methodological difficulties inherent in the notion of the anti-tale by arguing that the strategies and devices associated with it are interwoven into the...


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pp. 276-278
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