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Reviewed by:
  • Transgressive Tales: Queering the Grimms ed. by Kay Turner, Pauline Greenhill
  • Helen Miriam Bendix (bio) and Regina F. Bendix (bio)
Transgressive Tales: Queering the Grimms. Edited by Kay Turner and Pauline Greenhill. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2012. 358pp.

Leafing through Transgressive Tales, one is first struck by the unpresuming, quite wonderful illustrations by Bettina Hutschek. They guide one aesthetically into yet another, albeit timely, set of analyses of—not only—Grimm [End Page 155] fairy tales. “Queering the Grimms” is such an appealing subtitle that one understands the choice. The tales from Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s paradigmatic collection have had a tremendous influence on readers worldwide, other tale collectors, and—as amply attended to in this volume—literary authors, as is evident, for instance, in Jennifer Orme’s analysis of Jeanette Winterson’s reworking of the “Twelve Dancing Princesses.” Readers will be glad to know that the volume also contains comparative essays, such as the chapter “Queering Gender,” in which Pauline Greenhill, Anita Best, and Emilie Anderson-Grégoire explore versions of “Peg Bearskin” and “La Poiluse” for the lead character’s capacity to control and undermine female and male roles in arranging her sisters’ and her own destinies. We also find here Margaret Mills’s translation of an Afghani tale performance of “Boxwoman,” prefaced with a multilayered and suggestive exploration of women’s transgressions as imagined within an all-male story realm.

The collection has grown and matured over nearly fifteen years, taking its beginnings in teaching and work with interested students, coalescing with colleagues at conferences, and finally resulting in this volume. In their introduction to the thirteen essays, editors Kay Turner and Pauline Greenhill point out that with all the feminist analysis and recasting of tales, “queer readings seem absent from feminist fairy-tale criticism” (3). She who knows how to look will, however, find transgression in abundance in many tale types, and to prove the point, the editors include an appendix titled “Trans and Drag in Traditional Folktales”; this appendix groups a selection of Aarne-Thompson types under headings such as “animal trans,” “animal drag,” “bio trans,” and “gender drag.”

The essays are divided into four sections. In the first section, “Faux Femininities,” the contributors discuss the relations of embodiment and gender in the Grimms’ fairy tales. In the second section, “Revising Rewritings,” the contributors revisit rewritings of classic tales, which proves perhaps an easier ground to find issues of gender and sexuality explicitly examined. In the third part, “Queering the Tales,” the contributors turn “more directly to the ways that Grimms and other tales can redirect presumptions of sexuality and marriage away from the hetero norm” (20). The last section, “Beyond the Grimms,” contains, in addition to the contribution by Mills, Eliot Mercer’s queer adaptation of “The Grave Mound.”

Within such a plethora of contributions, there naturally are also quite diverse approaches to what constitutes queerness, where it is located, and how to analytically cast it. We detect a spectrum here that ranges from uncovering more breadth and nuance in the reading of gender roles and sexuality all the way to asserting difference, including and beyond the homoerotic. Jeana Jorgensen begins her chapter, “Queering Kinship in ‘The Maiden Who Seeks Her [End Page 156] Brothers,’” with Judith Butler’s assessment of fantasy from Undoing Gender as “not the opposite of reality, it is what reality forecloses” (69)—a choice that most of the contributors could have followed: as fictional narrations, fairy tales do revel in the impossible but imaginable. If earlier scholars have found reason for tale worlds to fulfill poor narrators’ fantasies of excess food, wealth, and sociopolitical ascent, it should not surprise us that in the twenty-first century, scholars and retellers alike find explorations and transgressions of gendered, even bodily norms—fantasies, one can be quite certain, that were there all along, just as the desire for excess and power has not gone away.

There is not space to dwell on all the cases presented—which is not meant to detract from their merit. In the opening chapter Cristina Bacchilega equates the only two Grimm heroines with the attribute of cleverness as women challenging heteronormativity. Kevin Goldstein...


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pp. 155-157
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