marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote,

learning about fairy tales

In this post here, fairyrevel asked
This post has inspired me to learn more about fairy-tales. For some reason, as a child I never had much patience for actual fairy-tales, though I loved stories with magic in them.

Can you suggest any books that will help me understand fairy-tales, but which aren't in love with Freud? I just want to understand the tales as the people who told them originally probably did (or as close as I can get). Or am I coming at this in the wrong way entirely?
And I decided I needed the full scope of a post to do it justice.

'cause while I can (and will) recommend some secondary sources, the meaning of fairy tales is a fraught issue.  Freud actually has competition for the title of silliest interpretations of fairy tales.  My own favorite is the Victorian solar myth theory:  Sleeping Beauty is a solar myth, and Hansel and Gretel, and The Frog King -- and Napoleon Bonaparte.  (The writer who gravely proved the last according to the same logic that the folklorists were using on fairy tales probably did the most to ensure that the theory lost currency.)  Or the folklorist fix on details that were fillips as central.  Little Red Riding Hood -- so many commentators talked up the significant of the redness.  Except that Perrault added it.  In the French folk tales, no mention is made of headgear of any particular color.  And Sleeping Beauty represents the change from a lunar year (13 months) to a solar one (12 months) with the thirteenth fairy being the one angry at exclusion -- but in Perrault, she was the eighth fairy.

So, to educate yourself about fairy tales, what I first recommend is going to the primary source:  the fairy tales. 

Subtle readers may (or may not) have noticed that a number of the links in the last post went to stories in online versions of Andrew Lang's coloured fairy books:  The Blue Fairy Book, The Red Fairy Book, etc.  There are twelve in all, Victorian children's anthologies, and they are still in print, and available on and other online locations, and in many libraries, and furthermore, they collect fairy tales from all over the world.  Some regions are more favored than others -- it has more Japanese and Indian tales than Chinese, for instance -- but it gives a good overview.

The Sur La Lune site (which clever readers may have noticed held the bulk of the links from that post) has first off a series of fairy tales -- in the sidebar of the front page -- that are annotated, which may help you understand them.  Including some ones that are not commonly known.  It also has a number of e-texts of public domain collections.  Like the Grimm Brothers'.  It contains 200 tales; you probably know only a handful.  And Joseph Jacob's English Fairy Tales, More English Fairy Tales, Celtic Fairy Tales, and More Celtic Fairy Tales -- which you probably know only a couple of.  (I hear people saying that English fairy tales are common knowledge.  Jacobs justly observed that what Perrault started, the Grimms finished, and his efforts to bring back English fairy tales had limited success.)  And selections from Asbjørnsen and Moe's Norwegian fairy tales -- those she has a public domain translation for.  Dozens more from other countries.

There are other collections that are good but have to be bought or found in libraries.  Italo Calvino's Italian Folktales.  Many collections have notes, telling you things like Aarne-Thompson type and about where and when it was collected and talk about influence.  Calvino's are particularly good.  Jack Zipes's Beautiful Angiola selected translations from Laura Gonzenbach, the first collector of Sicilian fairy tales.  There's a series that all begins "Folktales of X" where X is China, or Mexico, or Chile; I've read a number of them. Narodnye russkie skazki by Alexander Afanasyev is the definitive Russian collection, although I've only been able to find translations of selected tales.  (Given the size of the collection, hardly surprising.)  They congregate in the library, owing to the Dewey Decimal system; I find adult books are more likely to have commentary than children.  Also, Maria Tatar did an Annotated Brothers Grimm, which may help; I'm afraid I don't know of any more annotated fairy tales.

And if you go back to Sur La Lune, she lists "similar tales across cultures" next to the fairy tales, and where they are collected.  So if you look under Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, you find, say, "Myrsina; or, Myrtle" in Georgios Megas's Folktales of Greece (ooo, one of the "Folktales of X" books I mentioned already) and "Nourie Hadig" in Susie Hoogasian Villa's 100 Armenian Tales.

Jack Zipes's The Great Fairy Tale Tradition is part secondary source, because while it includes a whole bunch of fairy tales, what it is doing is tracing a tale type through its mutations.  Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked by Catherine Orenstein, all secondary source, traces What Has Been Done with Little Red Riding Hood since it was first written down by Perrault.

Vladimir Propp's Morphology of the Folk Tale studies the component parts of which a fairy tale is built up; though based on Russian fairy tales, it is interesting for other countries' tales, too.  Other good secondary sources are Maria Tatar's The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales and Jack Zipes's The Brothers Grimm: From Enchanted Forests to the Modern World and When Dreams Came True.

That ought to keep any student busy for a minute or two.  Perhaps even longer than I took to write this post.  0:)  Then, I hope I gave enough points of attack so anyone can find someplace to start.
Tags: fairy tales, primary source, secondary source

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