Thursday, October 11, 2012

Nonfiction: The Irresistible Fairy Tale by Jack Zipes

Subtitle: The Cultural and Social History of a Genre
Publisher: Princeton Univ. Press
Date: April 2012
Format: hardback
Source: WLT giveaway shelf
Read: because I'm fascinated by folklore
Pages: 189 (including appendixes)

From GoodReads: If there is one genre that has captured the imagination of people in all walks of life throughout the world, it is the fairy tale. Yet we still have great difficulty understanding how it originated, evolved, and spread--or why so many people cannot resist its appeal, no matter how it changes or what form it takes. In this book, renowned fairy-tale expert Jack Zipes presents a provocative new theory about why fairy tales were created and retold--and why they became such an indelible and infinitely adaptable part of cultures around the world.

My review: With only seven chapters and 155 pages of content (excluding the two appendixes), The Irresistible Fairy Tale isn't what I would consider a comprehensive history of the genre. It primarily focuses on an explanation of fairy tales' evolution and meaning, then a few more specific subjects such as "Bluebeard," witches, several 19th-century European folklorists, and contemporary art. I was a bit disappointed by this specialization, but the information included was very interesting.

I'm not that familiar with fairy tale and literary criticism, so I didn't quite grasp a lot of the theory discussed by Zipes. Memetics was one such popular topic. However, the chapters on fairy tales' historical development, including a brief evolution of the 'witch' figure in premodern Europe and a discussion of female 19th-century fairy tale collectors, were fascinating. While I don't think the subtitle "The Cultural and Social History of a Genre" is entirely accurate for this book, the work does provide a miscellany of good information on various developments in the genre over a wide time span.

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