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The Irresistible Fairy Tale

The Irresistible Fairy Tale: The Cultural and Social History of a Genre

Jack Zipes
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    The Irresistible Fairy Tale
    Book Description:

    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.

    Drawing on cognitive science, evolutionary theory, anthropology, psychology, literary theory, and other fields, Zipes presents a nuanced argument about how fairy tales originated in ancient oral cultures, how they evolved through the rise of literary culture and print, and how, in our own time, they continue to change through their adaptation in an ever-growing variety of media. In making his case, Zipes considers a wide range of fascinating examples, including fairy tales told, collected, and written by women in the nineteenth century; Catherine Breillat's film adaptation of Perrault's "Bluebeard"; and contemporary fairy-tale drawings, paintings, sculptures, and photographs that critique canonical print versions.

    While we may never be able to fully explain fairy tales,The Irresistible Fairy Taleprovides a powerful theory of how and why they evolved--and why we still use them to make meaning of our lives.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4182-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  6. 1 The Cultural Evolution of Storytelling and Fairy Tales: Human Communication and Memetics
    (pp. 1-20)

    Though it is impossible to trace the historical origins and evolution of fairy tales to a particular time and place, we do know that humans began telling tales as soon as they developed the capacity of speech. They may have even used sign language before speech originated to communicate vital information for adapting to their environment.¹ Units of this information gradually formed the basis of narratives that enabled humans to learn about themselves and the worlds that they inhabited. Informative tales were not given titles. They were simply told to mark an occasion, set an example, warn about danger, procure...

  7. 2 The Meaning of Fairy Tale within the Evolution of Culture
    (pp. 21-40)

    Think of a gigantic whale soaring through the ocean, swallowing each and every fish of any size that comes across its path. The marvelous, majestic whale had once lived on land fifty-four million years ago and had been tiny. Part of a group of marine mammals now known as cetaceans, the land whale eventually came to depend on other fish for its subsistence and thrive on the bountiful richness of the ocean. To grow and survive, it constantly adapted to its changing environment. The fairy tale is no different.

    The wondrous fairy tale emanated from a wide variety of tiny...

  8. 3 Remaking “Bluebeard,” or Good-bye to Perrault
    (pp. 41-54)

    Little did Perrault know when he created the fairy tale about the serial killer Bluebeard that his villain would become a memetic icon in most Western societies by the twenty-first century. Moreover, if he were living today, Perrault would be surprised to learn that his ruthless scoundrel has undergone hundreds, if not thousands, of interpretations, operations, and transformations. He in fact might be puzzled, if not dazzled, by what he has wrought.

    Soon after it was printed in 1697, Perrault’s tale was adapted in unusual ways through chapbooks and theatrical performances, translated into different European languages, and recast over the...

  9. 4 Witch as Fairy/Fairy as Witch: Unfathomable Baba Yagas
    (pp. 55-79)

    Witch is memetically loaded. We use the word “naturally” in all Western countries as if we all know what a witch is. We don’t. Nevertheless, we assume we do. Witches are replicated in our minds through all modes of communication, and we employ the concept of witch in various ways, often changing the witch’s meaning, in information or stories, especially fairy tales. We do this without realizing that the memetic staying power of the word and concept “witch” are rooted in pagan cultural traditions that hark back to the Neolithic period, if not before. Witch is a word/concept/image that has...

  10. 5 The Tales of Innocent Persecuted Heroines and Their Neglected Female Storytellers and Collectors
    (pp. 80-108)

    Witches and fairies are not the only significant female characters in fairy tales. In fact, beautiful innocent maidens may be more important, but in the hands of male tellers, writers, and collectors, they tend to be depicted as helpless, if not passive. To be good, they must be obedient and industrious. The overwhelming number of oral and literary fairy tales up through the nineteenth century usually stereotype the young heroine, but this is not due to the demonization of women as deviants, as discussed in the last chapter. It is because of a more general patriarchal view of women as...

  11. 6 Giuseppe Pitrè and the Great Collectors of Folk Tales in the Nineteenth Century
    (pp. 109-134)

    Despite the comprehensive histories of European and American folklore, such as Giuseppe Cocchiara’sThe History of Folklore in Europe(1952), Dorson’sThe British Folklorists(1968), Simon Bronner’sAmerican Folklore Studies: An Intellectual History(1986), and Rosemary Zumwalt’sAmerican Folklore Scholarship(1988), there are still numerous folklorists and their collections of tales that need more discussion, elaboration, translation, and analysis. The great progress that had been made in folklore studies and ethnography in the twentieth century has reached a standstill in the twenty-first century, even as important projects in the study of folk tales such as theEnzyklopädie des Märchensin...

  12. 7 Fairy-Tale Collisions, or the Explosion of a Genre
    (pp. 135-156)

    Though it may seem somewhat strange to skip from the nineteenth century to the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first century to discuss the irresistibility and inexplicability of the fairy tale as a genre, I believe this chapter is appropriate because it will demonstrate just how expansive the fairy tale has become and also how unheard voices speak through the visual arts. Moreover, it also connects some of the subversive and moral aspects of the whalelike fairy tale in unimaginable ways that have paradoxically been imagined. It is difficult for us to resist the imaginable of fairy...

  13. Appendix A Sensationalist Scholarship: A “New” History of Fairy Tales
    (pp. 157-174)
  14. Appendix B Reductionist Scholarship: A “New” Definition of the Fairy Tale
    (pp. 175-190)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 191-208)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 209-226)
  17. Index
    (pp. 227-235)