Friday, February 12, 2010

On Re-Reading William Steig's Book Shrek! by Jack Zipes

On Re-Reading William Steig's Book Shrek! by Jack Zipes is a recent post appearing today on the blog. Actually, there have been quite a few Shrek posts on the Tor blog this month, so browse through if you are interested in reading more.

I'm always bemused/amused by readers looking for the "original" Shrek fairy tale, assuming that it is an old creation instead of a relatively recent invention of William Steig further reinterpreted by Dreamworks for the films. I know many are disappointed by the book after seeing the movie(s) first, but I have always found the book charming and Zipes explains why I and so many others do so.

This time I'm going to share the final paragraph since it talks about the fairy tale elements of Shrek in more detail. But as always, click through to read the entire piece.

This mock fairy tale plays with all the conventions of the traditional folk and fairy tale to provoke readers to consider the relative nature of evil and beauty. Instead of a handsome prince or a gifted third son, there is an outsider from the swamps, ugly and stinking, who wins a repulsive princess by overcoming fear of himself. The tale is obviously a parody of the Grimms’ “The Young Man Who Went Out in Search of Fear,” but is also more than that, for Steig levels the playing field for people considered to be despicable and evil. Shrek represents the outsider, the marginalized, the Other, who could be any of the oppressed minorities in America. He may even come from the streets of the Bronx, and the humor of the tale is clearly identifiable as New York Jewish humor. What was once a European folk tale has become, through Steig’s soft water color images and brazen irreverent language, a contemporary literary fairy tale that thrives on playfulness, topsy-turvy scenes, and skepticism. This is a fairy tale that radically explodes fairy tale expectations and fulfills them at the same time: the utopian hope for tolerance and difference is affirmed in an unlikely marriage sanctified by a dragon. The ogre and his wife will continue to frighten people, but they will be happy to do so in the name of relative morality that questions the bias of conventionality associated with evil.

Finally, if you are a Steig fan, don't miss A Handful of Beans: Six Fairy Tales Retold by Jeanne Steig with Illustrations by Wiliam Steig. It's a quirky little book. Here are some reviews for it: Review:

What is A Handful of Beans? Six classics in one book: "Rumpelstiltskin," "Beauty and the Beast," "Hansel and Gretel," "Little Red Riding Hood," "The Frog Prince," and "Jack and the Beanstalk." As retold by Jeanne Steig, however, these well-loved tales acquire a certain modern vim. For example, the greedy King in Rumpelstiltskin is "as happy as a hog with a herring" to see all his straw spun into gold. The mother of Beanstalk Jack has "a dab of a garden, and an old cow called Blizzard, because she was as white as the milk she gave, except for a few spots to make her more interesting." Although the vocabulary is generally simple, Steig doesn't shy away from words like "sauntered" and "rapacious." And the Frog-who-would-be-Prince, among other characters, regularly breaks into rhyming couplets. Combined with 34 colorful, cartoony illustrations by William Steig, this gently ironic smattering of folktales will delight the grumpiest of readers. (Ages 3 to 6) --Richard Farr

From Publishers Weekly:

"A long time ago, when magic was more of an everyday matter...." begins Jeanne Steig's version of "The Frog Prince," an opener that typifies her sly irony and lilting language in this hand-sized volume. She and husband William Steig, who previously collaborated on Alpha Beta Chowder, deliver droll retellings and puckish new art for six familiar tales. Though youngsters may wish there were more illustrations to break up the sometimes text-laden pages, they won't soon forget William Steig's interpretation of Rumpelstiltskin, a "bizarre little man with a pickle-shaped nose and a lumpish body," stomping in outrage when the Queen guesses his name, or the snoring giant clutching his gold coins as Jack attempts to lift a few for his trip down the beanstalk. The artist whimsically refashions the well-known cast, exaggerating their fatal flaws or winning attributes, while placing them in everyday settings. Jeanne Steig also keeps the stories immediately recognizable by traveling the traditional plot lines, but she refreshes each of them by wryly rewarding the virtuous and punishing the villainous with equal panache. For example, in "Beauty and the Beast," the friends of Beauty's two superficial sisters wickedly predict the outcome of the duo's move from elegant townhouse to small country cottage: "Let them prance through the fields/ In chiffon and high heels,/ Raising arrogant brows/ At the goggle-eyed cows!" Similarly pithy verse appears throughout these fairy tales (Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel also put in an appearance), each of which concludes with a fitting rhymed couplet. A handful of tales certain to please adults as much as children. All ages.

I will add a post script that while Sylvester and the Magic Pebble is perhaps Steig's most enduring book along with The Amazing Bone, although now are both overshadowed by Shrek, my personal favorite is Pete's a Pizza, a great storytime book, fairy tale or not.

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