"Thinking with Stories in Times of Conflict: A Conference in Fairy-Tale Studies" was held at Wayne State University, Detroit, MI, August 2–5, 2017.1 The call for papers read:
Conflict can give rise to violence but also to creativity. In the 1690s, French fairy-tale writers imagined through their fairy tales ideal resolutions to political conflict (Louis XIV's absolutism), as well as conflict in conceptions of gender and marriage practices. The German tale tradition was transformed by the migration of French Huguenots to Germanic territories after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, which prohibited the practice of Protestantism in France. The German Grimm Brothers drew from the tale tradition to create a cohesive notion of Germanic traditions and to contest French domination in the nineteenth century. Postcolonial writers such as Salman Rushdie, Patrick Chamoiseau, Nalo Hopkinson, and Sofia Samatar draw from wonder tale traditions in ways that disrupt Western narrative traditions. And multimedia storytelling that dips both into history and the fantastic has advanced decolonial and social justice projects. [End Page 113] These are only a few examples of the ways in which authors think with stories in times of conflict.
With this conference we brought fairy-tale scholars together to reflect on the genre in relation to questions that include but are not limited to migrants and migration in different geographical locations and historical periods, political and social upheaval, and transformations with an eye to alternative futures. One of our goals was to encourage a dialogue between creative and scholarly thinking with wonder tales in times of conflict. The conference gathered more than fifty scholars and artists together from North America, Asia, Australia, and Africa. In its aftermath we were fortunate enough to forge a collaboration among three journals—the one we coedit, Marvels & Tales (M&T), the Journal of American Folklore (JAF), and Narrative Culture—to publish essays that, in concert, promise to have a wide-ranging and international reach with scholars in multiple disciplines, including fairy-tale, folklore, and folk-narrative studies.
Drawing together the pieces included in these special issues are three factors, all of which are interwoven in the seemingly simple and yet provocative statement "The truth about stories is that that's all we are" (King 2). These essays (1) focus on stories that, although from different historical periods, cultures, and media, are all grounded in tradition, that is, extra-individual storytelling practices; (2) work not so much at interpreting these stories, but at thinking through their affordances; and (3) meditate on these stories as specifically situated cultural productions that intervene in material, ideological, political, and emotional conflicts.2
Methodologically, these essays are quite disparate. Some are written by scholars who identify as folklorists, many are not. Some essays by nonfolklorists use the tools of folkloristics, and others bring literary, media, gender, and indigenous studies, as well as creative strategies, to bear on our understanding of folktales, myths, and fairy tales and indigenous genres from the Pacific such as moʻolelo and fāgogo. Each work recognizes the significant social functions that folk narratives hold across time and space, and collectively they speak to how no single methodology suffices to "think with stories" in different contexts. This is especially significant when the focus is not on the tale as a shape-shifting narrative and cultural text per se, but on other wonder genres and creative adaptations that mix genres.
To think with stories rests partly on the understanding that the storyteller or artist is "always one step ahead of the scholar" (Nicolaisen 12), and on learning how—even more than what—stories tell about human interactions in the world [End Page 114] and with each other, how we tell stories in different genres and cultures to overcome powerlessness, maintain privilege, or question hierarchies. We focus on power and hierarchies because thinking with stories, as Jack Zipes comments in his JAF essay, occurs inevitably rather than exceptionally in times of conflict. Why did we emphasize thinking with rather than about stories? Just as current cognitive narrative theorists focus on the kinds of "thinking" afforded by stories, folklorists (see Noyes 2016...