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  • Tales of Wonder: Retelling Fairy Tales through Picture Postcards by Jack Zipes
  • Kirsten Rae Simonsen (bio)
Tales of Wonder: Retelling Fairy Tales through Picture Postcards. By Jack Zipes, University of Minnesota Press, 2017, 248 pp.

Jack Zipes collects fairy-tale postcards—a lot of them. He has been collecting fairy-tale postcards for fifty years. In his book Tales of Wonder, readers are given a rare and unusual glimpse into his personal collection of over 2,500 fairy-tale postcards, culled from antique fairs and flea markets all over the world. He has curated 500 postcards from his collection, creating a large, coffee-table art book that will appeal to scholars and lay people alike.

Fairy-tale postcards at first might seem like a niche topic, perhaps for collectors only. However, this is not the case; each postcard in the book is a work of art. In the introduction, Zipes says that “the significance of these popular cards has largely been ignored by collectors, scholars of cultural studies and folklore, and the general public” (xiii). This is surprising, as these postcards offer unusual and often uncommon visual interpretations of well-known fairy tales. Postcards are relatively inexpensive and readily obtainable by almost anyone. Yet, while fairy-tale postcards are affordable and part of popular culture, they enable the viewer to experience completely new artistic interpretations of favorite tales through new artworks. Zipes refers to postcards as “an extraordinary popular art” (xiii).

The postcards mostly range from the late nineteenth century to the 1950s. The excellent foreword by Marina Warner and the comprehensive introduction are extremely helpful in providing context and history for fairy-tale postcards as a phenomenon. Early postcards from 1895 to 1915 start off the book, along with a section on storytelling. Then, eight of the most well-known fairy tales in the Western world are presented with various postcards from 1900 to 2000. Each of these sections contains an introduction to the history of the tale. Also included are sections on other popular Grimms’ stories, Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, Russian tales, and “fairy-tale novels” like Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland (175). These are followed by a chapter on the reach of [End Page 361] fairy-tale postcards globally. In the final two sections, Zipes presents postcards that were created in a series: the first section is of photographic postcards (with two fantastic and very different French versions of “Bluebeard”), and the second is of art postcards, which includes individual artists commissioned to make a series. These two chapters show how some publishers would completely reimagine a tale or tales. Finally, Zipes ends with a concluding chapter on storytelling, musing on what storytelling means in our overwhelmingly technological contemporary world.

The postcards are in a wide variety of artistic styles, and various art movements are evident: there’s a smattering of Art Nouveau, one or two nods to the Symbolist movement, one influenced by Impressionism, and even a hint of the Pre-Raphaelite movement in one especially stunning Austrian portrayal of “The Frog Prince.” Sometimes a postcard is reconfigured as specific to a place, as in a “Rip Van Winkle” card that reads “Greetings from the Catskills.” There are stylized cards, like the Russian Pinocchio in which the characters are surrounded by abstract and flat folk-art details. Particularly amusing is to see all of the different imaginings of the same story. In a particularly menacing photographic French card from the 1900s illustrating “Little Red Cap,” a wolf bares its fangs at the camera, and the whole scene looks like something out of a horror film. In another French photographic series of the same tale, an emaciated wolf manages to look insane and terrified at the same time, while Little Red Cap placidly looks on. And, in an American cartoon version from the 1920s, the wolf has become a snappy dresser in a convertible, whistling at a woman on a street corner. The caption reads, “Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?” Overall, the disparate styles of the postcards are organized in a way that is not visually jarring. And the artwork in this book is so fascinating and diverse that...


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pp. 361-363
Launched on MUSE
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