Best literary/anthro/psych theory take on the fairy tale?
September 6, 2016 8:20 AM   Subscribe

What's the best analysis of the fairy tale format you've read? Looking for new angles on what they are, how they work, who they're for and where they might be going.

So, what gives with fairy tales? I've read a few takes on the form with various approaches, but nothing that's made me blink in the surprise of a new way of thinking about them. My general delving into the mechanics of narrative like this tend to stop around Joseph Campbell level, and yes Jung yes very good, but is there more modern, feisty, off-the-wall thinking on this form?

This is in service of a mild obsession and a niggling idea, so I'm up for a ride to anywhere, as long as the scenery's good.
posted by Devonian to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
Have you read The Annotated Brothers Grimm? It may be a start.
posted by readery at 8:23 AM on September 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


Marina Warner's books are very good on this subject.
posted by Paul Slade at 8:27 AM on September 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


I found The Turnip Princess, with commentary by Maria Tatar, really illuminating just by virtue of treating the fairy tale tradition in a different way. The stories are much more raw and less literary, which puts a lot of people off but I think if you are interested in the workings of these tales, they may tell you a lot.
posted by BibiRose at 8:54 AM on September 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


You say 'Jung, yes,' but making sure you've read von Franz on this as a major player as well. 'Beyond the Hero' by Chinen is another psych take that goes into male role analysis in fairy tales.
posted by cobaltnine at 8:58 AM on September 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


Historically, the first book on this topic, now somewhat mired in controversy and scandal, is The Uses of Enchantment.
posted by Obscure Reference at 11:03 AM on September 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


Seconding Obscure Reference's link to The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettleheim...it's still one of the best. Bettleheim was controversial because he suggested that mothers were sometimes at fault in their childrens' autism. That's a separate thing though. This is an unforgettable book.
posted by cartoonella at 11:48 AM on September 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


Betelheim is seductive but nonsensical, barely better than Joseph Campbell. It would be like reading Galen to learn about medicine. Interesting from a socio cultural perspective but laughable as scholarship. Real folklorists have written much , much better since then.

Nthing Warner, especially From Beast to Blonde. Jack Zipes is another giant of the field. Round it out with some Maria Tartar and you are good to go.

/wrote my honours thesis on fairy tales.
posted by smoke at 2:52 PM on September 6, 2016 [5 favorites]


I enjoyed Women Who Run With The Wolves--it's specifically feminist Jungian analysis, and sometimes it gets a little goddess-religion-woo-woo, but it's an interesting take, and bonus points for cultural diversity. It's totally worth it to get the author-read audio version if you can--she has the most beautiful, soothing voice you can imagine.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 5:02 PM on September 6, 2016


Vladimir Propp's Morphology of the Folktale is not particularly new but is worth looking at if your interest runs to the structural side of things.
posted by juv3nal at 5:32 PM on September 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


I very much enjoyed From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and their Tellers, the Marina Werner book mentioned above. Because this is so intertwined with cultures, you can end up going in from a mythic-religious studies angle, a women's history look, literary analysis, cultural comparisons and anthropology, etc. Folklore can give you better results than fairy tales when you're searching in a library or catalogue.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 5:28 AM on September 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


I knew Metafilter could provide a happy ending. Of course there'd be Mefites who'd written theses on these.

Thanks, everyone. I'll work my way down the list of recommendations - I've started with Marina Warner's Once Upon A Time, and now I've managed to shift mental gears to cope with her style it's proving enlightening. For dull old reasons, I'm limited to e-books for any serious reading, so I may have to skip older stuff that's not been reissued, but let's see how it goes.

I am certainly interested in the structural side of things, because I have stories I want to tell that warn and inform on pervasive but difficult to articulate aspects of our culture, and I want to be entertaining and resonant, simple and memorable. All these things seem to me to be a good fit for the fairy tale format, but having experimented a bit it's clear that I've a lot to learn and a lot to unlearn...
posted by Devonian at 9:16 AM on September 11, 2016


There is probably something in The Eruditorum. Like this Zelda analysis that talks about fairy tales.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 11:50 PM on September 12, 2016


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