- Fairy Tales in Popular Culture ed. by Martin Hallett and Barbara Karasek
In Fairy Tales in Popular Culture, editors Martin Hallett and Barbara Karasek face the task of assembling “a new anthology that reflects the evolution [End Page 421] of the fairy tale over the last half-century” by providing examples of—or at least discussing—relatively recent prose, poetry, lyrics, comic books, graphic novels, illustration, art, theater, film, television, advertising, and new media that draw on the fairy-tale form (11).
The volume begins with a preface, an introduction, and a short essay called “The Art of Retelling.” Each of these concise pieces sets up the rest of the book nicely, but several significant mistakes distract the knowledgeable fairy-tale scholar from enjoying them completely. How can one describe fairy tales as “memes,” for example, without at least mentioning Jack Zipes’s work (14)? How, after the abundance of scholarly discussion on the topic, can a text of this kind earnestly use the word original to describe a fairy tale (27) and then note that the word should not be used later in the text (120)? These issues unfortunately continue into the “Prose” section’s introduction, an otherwise well-done, if somewhat brief, overview.
The first two parts of the book, “Prose” and “Poetry and Lyrics,” each feature several examples of attempts to retell particular fairy tales. The editors note in the preface the risk inherent in choosing fairy-tale adaptations that could be described as “radical revisions”—they believe that some readers will feel that such selections destroy “treasured memories of childhood” but hope that they will open their minds to them (11). Unfortunately, this worry seems to have prompted restraint with their choices, resulting in a somewhat confusing selection of prose, poetry, and lyrics for an anthology of this type. The editors favor retellings that do not seem to transform the tales much at all or those that do so only in gimmicky ways—for example, using the voice of Bugs Bunny, as in Tim Seibles’s poem “What Bugs Bunny Said to Red Riding Hood” (1999), or exchanging pigs for penguins, as in Gregory Maguire’s short story “The Three Little Penguins and the Big Bad Walrus” (2004). Part of the issue is that the editors seem to have thought it necessary to include short pieces from certain authors who do not primarily write them, such as Gregory Maguire and Robin McKinley, whose fairy-tale novels are exquisite but whose short stories in this volume do not do their skill with the form justice. There are notable gems among the selections of course—Neil Gaiman’s “Snow, Glass, Apples” (1994) and Kim Addonizio’s “Ever After” (2006) are both excellent twists on “Snow White” (ATU 709)—but for those of us well versed in fairy-tale adaptation, the choices are, if anything, far less subversive than they might be. Why not include some of the contemporary authors who twist their short story retellings of fairy tales in truly new and exciting ways? Catherynne M. Valente and Nalo Hopkinson come to mind.
The sections devoted to theater, film, and television are, understandably, quite short and almost perfunctory. Full-length monographs and essay collections have been devoted to these topics and, though I would have appreciated a [End Page 422] little more depth regarding theatrical productions in particular, the brevity of these essays clears the space for what is perhaps most notable about this particular anthology: the editors’ attention to still visuals—comics, graphic novels, illustrations, artwork, and ads. The book features several full-color pages, and it is wonderful to be able to actually look at examples of the kinds of advertisements, paintings, comics, and so on being discussed. Each of the essays on these topics explores numerous texts that were new to me and that I now hope to read. Although I am not as well versed in the media of these sections, the essays seem quite comprehensive, and I was delighted to find a large variety of texts discussed. That said, in...