- The Irish Fairy Tale: A Narrative Tradition from the Middle Ages to Yeats and Stephens by Vito Carrassi
The Irish Fairy Tale: A Narrative Tradition from the Middle Ages to Yeats and Stephens uses fairy-tale structure to unpack the nature and relationship of both oral and written narrative in Irish literary history. Even within the bounds [End Page 428] presented, from the Middle Ages through the early twentieth century, this is not a small task, to be sure. The introduction provides the necessary vocabulary and background for the coming arguments and assertions on the Irish fairy tale. The illustrations throughout the text help clarify for readers the textual mechanics of the author’s literary theories. Readers will appreciate the definitions and scaffolding placed to support the author’s ideas. For instance, the succinct chronology on the evolution of storytelling helps frame Carrassi’s ideas on how oral and written narratives diverge. He concedes that “one has to deal with a fully fledged corpus of terminology” to understand the volumes of research and material that he incorporates into the text (13). The author compares and contrasts respected narrative works in Irish culture and analyzes Irish narrativity in the fairy tale. As readers will see, the Irish narrative tradition is the most useful for the author to explore his ideas.
The introduction and the opening chapters illustrate the breadth and depth of scholarship that Carrassi has in both folklore and Irish narrativity. Beginning with the Middle Ages, the author discusses how Irish storytelling tradition merged pagan ideals with Christianity and how Irish storytelling continues to influence the culture today. In Irish culture the supernatural is never removed from reality in storytelling: “My argument is that the Irish context, as shall be seen, is the most congenial to the verification of how a fundamental principle operates (identified in a specific conception of the fairy tale), and is capable of lending unity to a complex storytelling tradition” (13). In other words, beginning with oral texts from the Middle Ages and ending with William Butler Yeats, Carrassi uses the fairy-tale genre as a way to discuss literary culture as a bridge of sorts between Ireland’s past and present.
Chapters 4, 5, and 6 discuss the basic dynamic analysis forms that make up Irish storytelling composition and fairy-tale structure. Carrassi states, “Thus, the fairy tale becomes the privileged point of communication between the narrative act and the element of folklore or, more precisely, it is the most important product of the interaction between the two, the most explicit manifestation of the persistence of a tradition, albeit in a framework of continual innovation” (45). Simply put, Carrassi’s deep analysis provides the aforementioned bridge between past forms of storytelling and current literature, which is highlighted in the closing chapters.
Referencing traditional Celtic stories and using Revivalist authors such as William Butler Yeats, James Stephens, and James Joyce to support his assertions, Carrassi concludes the book by using his background to emphasize how folklore is the appropriate lens through which to analyze not only “historical truth” in story but also the more important “human truth” (151). In other words, the end of the text highlights the intersection of Irish narrativity specifically and the study of culture generally. The isolation of Irish culture gives [End Page 429] Carrassi the perfect petri dish to grow his ideas and assertions on narrative structure and to show the importance of both oral and written narrative traditions, which, he asserts, transfers to other cultures.
Some readers may quibble with the formal and stilted language of the text, which at times makes the flow of ideas difficult to follow, thus narrowing the audience for the book. One could argue that the audience for this book is individuals well versed in narrative theory and studies; this is not a lighthearted read. The overformal language could be due to the complications in translation or just the nature of the author’s specific academic discourse. Either way, the...