Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Scholarly Side of Fairy Tales

copyright Unholyvault
Fairy Mushrooms By the Water photo
Many of us love fairy tales. There are scholarly type books devoted to fairy tales and folk tales and their origins and meanings. One of my favorites is The Witch Must Die: The Hidden Meaning of Fairy Tales by Sheldon Cashdan. I inherited an autographed copy from my grandmother. Makes it sound ancient, but it was published in 2000. It was required reading for a course she was taking at UMass in her golden years. One of the most notable things about the content in the book is that he thinks fairy tales help children deal with their problems. He says that children see the characters struggling with good and evil and identify with the struggle to some extent.

There are other books out there and other web sites. A great web site on fairy tales  is From the web site description: SurLaLune Fairy Tales features 49 annotated fairy tales, including their histories, similar tales across cultures, modern interpretations and over 1,500 illustrations. Also discover over 1,600 folktales & fairy tales from around the world in more than 40 full-text Books.

Speaking of books... There are 2 non-fiction books coming out about fairy tales soon; one in October, the other in December. 

The first non-fiction book that's coming out is being released on October 15, 2014. Children into Swans: Fairy Tales and the Pagan Imagination by Jan Beveridge is being published by McGill-Queens University Press. From Goodreads: 
Fairy tales are alive with the supernatural - elves, dwarfs, fairies, giants, and trolls, as well as witches with magic wands and sorcerers who cast spells and enchantments. Children into Swans examines these motifs in a range of ancient stories. Moving from the rich period of nineteenth-century fairy tales back as far as the earliest folk literature of northern Europe, Jan Beveridge shows how long these supernatural features have been a part of storytelling, with ancient tales, many from Celtic and Norse mythology, that offer glimpses into a remote era and a pre-Christian sensibility.

The second book is Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale by Marina Warner. It's due out December 1, 2014 from Oxford University Press. From the publisher:
Marina Warner has loved fairy tales over her long writing career, and she explores here a multitude of tales through the ages, their different manifestations on the page, the stage, and the screen. From the phenomenal rise of Victorian and Edwardian literature to contemporary children's stories, Warner unfolds a glittering array of examples, from classics such as Red Riding HoodCinderella, and The Sleeping Beauty, the Grimm Brothers' Hansel and Gretel, and Hans Andersen's The Little Mermaid, to modern-day realizations including Walt Disney's Snow White and gothic interpretations such as Pan's Labyrinth

In ten succinct chapters, Marina Warner digs into a rich collection of fairy tales in their brilliant and fantastical variations, in order to define a genre and evaluate a literary form that keeps shifting through time and history. She makes a persuasive case for fairy tale as a crucial repository of human understanding and culture.
I'm looking forward to checking them both out. Let me know what you think. Do they interest you? Have you read anything like these before? Have you been to the SurLaLune web site before? What did you think of it? Drop me a line in the comments.


  1. One more (gotta have something to read in November!): Disability, Deformity, and Disease in the Grimms' Fairy Tales, by Ann Schmiesing, from Wayne State University Press

    1. Thanks! Hadn't heard of that one.Sounds interesting. A different take than the usual sort of thing I've seen.