Fairy tales are some of the most enduring stories for humankind—we read them in our formative years and retell them over and over again. (Grimm and Once Upon a Time, anyone?) Today, we’re looking at two nonfiction selections on my reading list taking a look at the history and impact of the fairy tale, as well as modern children’s and young adult fiction.
Fairy Godfather by Ruth B. Bottigheimer
In the classic rags-to-riches fairy tale a penniless heroine (or hero), with some magic help, marries a royal prince (or princess) and rises to wealth. Received opinion has long been that stories like these originated among peasants, who passed them along by word of mouth from one place to another over the course of centuries. In a bold departure from conventional fairy tale scholarship, Ruth B. Bottigheimer asserts that city life and a single individual played a central role in the creation and transmission of many of these familiar tales. According to her, a provincial boy, Zoan Francesco Straparola, went to Venice to seek his fortune and found it by inventing the modern fairy tale, including the long beloved Puss in Boots, and by selling its many versions to the hopeful inhabitants of that colorful and commercially bustling city.
With innovative literary sleuthing, Bottigheimer has reconstructed the actual composition of Straparola’s collection of tales. Grounding her work in social history of the Renaissance Venice, Bottigheimer has created a possible biography for Straparola, a man about whom hardly anything is known. This is the first book-length study of Straparola in any language.
I have no idea how I came across this, although I remember stumbling across the webpage for it. I imagine I found this at some point during my young adult and children’s literature course, but, in any case, it sounds interesting, and I like the idea of trying to narrowing down the modern fairy tale to one person.
As an academic text, reviews are spotty, but a review on Goodreads notes that Bottigheimer takes a lot of liberties.
Fairy Godfather was published on September 16, 2002.
Enchanted Hunters by Maria Tatar
Highly illuminating for parents, vital for students and book lovers alike, Enchanted Hunters transforms our understanding of why children should read. Ever wondered why little children love listening to stories, why older ones get lost in certain books? In this enthralling work, Maria Tatar challenges many of our assumptions about childhood reading. Much as our culture pays lip service to the importance of literature, we rarely examine the creative and cognitive benefits of reading from infancy through adolescence. By exploring how beauty and horror operated in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels, and many other narratives, Tatar provides a delightful work for parents, teachers, and general readers, not just examining how and what children read but also showing through vivid examples how literature transports and transforms children with its intoxicating, captivating, and occasionally terrifying energy. In the tradition of Bruno Bettelheim’s landmark The Uses of Enchantment, Tatar’s book is not only a compelling journey into the world of childhood but a trip back for adult readers as well.
This comes to me by way of Eva at A Striped Armchair, who recommended it to anyone who likes popular literary criticism. Why, that’s me!
Enchanted Hunters was published on April 20, 2009.