- Channeling Wonder: Fairy Tales on Television ed. by Pauline Greenhill, Jill Terry Rudy
As a communication scholar who sometimes dabbles in fairy tales, I was thrilled with the opportunity to review Channeling Wonder. The introduction [End Page 119] notes that this book is the first critical collection that specifically examines “how television channels the wonder of fairy tales” and the “increasing role of other mediated forms such as websites in the distribution, textualization, performance, and reception of traditional and literary tales on TV” (5). These essays provide international (though largely Western) perspectives of stories that are highly familiar and ask readers to look beyond the pleasure found in watching the boob tube toward a more nuanced and critical understanding of the functionality of fairy tales. The book could be an ideal pedagogical companion in teaching the long-reaching effects of these stories.
The text is split into four analysis sections and one section devoted to teleography. The introduction is thorough, covering earlier-trod scholarly ground pertaining to the interactivity of fairy tales and TV. The editors wisely include a discussion of the dissension in folklorists’ ranks concerning whether or not the medium is the enemy and/or the death knell of the traditional folktale. The analysis chapters, which are frequently pointed to in the introduction beyond the obligatory chapter recaps, embrace TV as the conduit through which the stories are communicated. I appreciated this as a primer, but the editors and contributors clearly took some things for granted, specifically the inclusion of largely unexplained folklorist lingo, for example, märchen and the ATU index. For my taste, the footnotes do not quite convey their importance, and for the uninitiated reader, this might give the impression that the text as a whole is perhaps too specific for more general media studies purposes.
Part I (“For and About Kids and Adults”) “underline[s] how television’s time segmentation, as well as its ideology, presumes specific age groups as audiences” (18). The chapters in this section appear to mark the progression of who televised fairy tales are marketed for, beginning with young children, transitioning to young adults, and finally moving toward an adult viewership. Each essay addresses how both children and adults pick up on the repetitive cues in retelling fairy tales that solidify the conventions for the stories, and more important, when those conventions are purposefully manipulated to produce different meanings for stories. Rudy’s wonderfully dense essay, “Things Jim Henson Showed Us: Intermediality and the Artistic Making of Jim Henson’s The Story Teller,” deeply examines the interworkings of spoken speech, sounds, and visual effects as components that ultimately broaden the experience the viewer has while watching The Story Teller in ways far beyond the capabilities of the printed or read verbatim tale.
The chapters in Part II (“Masculinities and/or Femininities”) scrutinize interpretations of sex and gender through both textual analysis and real-world examples. The four essays directly use “Cinderella” or “Sleeping Beauty” as the stepping stones to engage sex and gender problematics and politics. Particularly, each essay discusses how these two staple tales can be [End Page 120] reimagined and reinterpreted to produce a potentially more empowered, agency-oriented experience for viewers. This part also significantly includes two essays that focus on non-Western, Japanese texts—Christie Barber’s “Appearance Does Not Make the Man: Masculinities in Japanese Television Retellings of ‘Cinderella’” and Kirstian Lezubski’s “The Power to Revolutionize the World, or Absolute Gender Apocalypse? Queering the New Fairy-Tale Feminine in Revolutionary Girl Utena.” These two essays specifically tackle masculinities and queer identities, subjects that are largely absent from the other chapters that also examine gender, making them valuable additions to the book.
Part III (“Beastly Humans”) focuses around texts “that arguably operate on the edge—if not directly in the middle—of the horror genre” (19). Each essay troubles traditional notions of monstrosity and the ways tales are sometimes adapted to interpret and explore the darker themes more in keeping with “original” texts. Shuli Barzilai’s exceptional essay analyzes...