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  • Preserving the Magic Spell: Basile’s “The Tale of Tales” and Its Afterlife in the Fairy-Tale Tradition by Armando Maggi
  • Bethany Hanks (bio)
Preserving the Magic Spell: Basile’s “The Tale of Tales” and Its Afterlife in the Fairy-Tale Tradition. By Armando Maggi. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015. 401pp.

Armando Maggi takes an in-depth look at the transformation of fairy tales from Basile to modern and postmodern retellings. The book is divided into three main parts, and it focuses first on The Tale of Tales (1634–1636) by Giambattista Basile and its impact on oral narratives in Italy and Spain. The second part discusses interpretations of Basile’s writing made by three figures of German Romanticism (Clemens Brentano, the Brothers Grimm, and Novalis). Finally, the last section examines postmodern fairy-tale interpretations and the connection between fairy tales and memoirs. An appendix of Maggi’s interpretations of the Grimms’ German translation of Basile’s stories is included at the end. In his overall analysis, Maggi questions what society considers “classic” fairy tales, indicating that the term is often attributed to the tales of the Brothers Grimm as well as those adapted by Disney. If indeed these forms of the fairy tale are generally accepted as the dominant versions, then Maggi argues that it is time to reverse the story and revive the magic that has been lost.

At its beginning, Maggi discusses the differences between oral and written fairy tales—oral transmission allows for more variation, whereas written transmission is more permanent. Oral versions of fairy tales during Basile’s time may have seemed disconnected and rushed compared with what audiences expect today. With the onset of written fairy tales (beginning with Basile and continuing with the Brothers Grimm), storytellers gained the luxury of reflection and the possibility of tying up loose ends. Maggi paraphrases Nicole [End Page 435] Belmont by using her definition of Basile’s work as oraliterature—a hybrid that, though written, expresses itself in a manner similar to oral transmission (28). As Maggi follows tales across time and variation, he explores the transformations brought about by different collectors and writers as well as the changes across media.

Maggi focuses largely on “Cupid and Psyche,” or rather, he analyzes two different tales of Basile that both relate a different (but equally important) variation of this tale. Maggi states, “The center of Apuleius’s tale is the human soul” (32), but he notes that Basile was writing “against the conventional view of Psyche as the Christian soul in search of God” (33). Maggi argues that Basile was aware of the nature of orality in regard to fairy tales—that he saw potential for change and adaptation. In addition, Basile imbued the tales with what Maggi terms “the macabre reality of the people” (67). Although fairy tales are filled with marvel and fantasy, Basile also incorporated within them a realistic nature that connected very well with his audience.

After extensively analyzing Basile’s tales, Maggi examines retellings by Laura Gozenbach, the Brothers Grimm, Clemens Brentano, Novalis, and Robert Coover, noticing the variations enacted by each of them. His critique of the Grimms is an interesting one, noting that although they were able to add details, other important aspects of the stories were changed. Maggi points out the changes in the female characters in particular—transforming their roles from active and often powerful to submissive and passive. These stories lacked the irreverent undertone of Basile’s writing, which (though fitting for their time period) made them less lively.

However, the heaviest critique by far lies with Maggi’s discussion of Disney fairy-tale adaptations. He argues that, because fairy tales need to adapt, it is unnatural that “the marvel of the fairy tales reflected in familiar Disney movies . . . is forever stored within the walls of the Magic Kingdom” (248). Disney World begins to sound like a parasite that feeds on the fantasies of those who go there, offering them incomplete satisfaction because those fantasies can never be realized. These tales become hollow and stale, unable to change because fans of Disney adaptations tend to hold rigid views of how the fairy tale should be...


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pp. 435-437
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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