Monday, October 10, 2011

Library Essentials Month: Fairytale in the Ancient World by Graham Anderson

Fairytale in the Ancient World by Graham Anderson is a deceptively slim book. This is the first of the books that I have listed as a library essential that was released a few years after I started SurLaLune. I remember reading it and thinking, oh, so much I'd love to add to SurLaLune!
Description from the publisher:

In this, the first modern study of the ancient fairytale, Graham Anderson asks whether the familiar children's fairytale of today existed in the ancient world. He examines texts from the classical period and finds many stories which resemble those we know today, including:

* a Jewish Egyptian Cinderella
* a Snow White whose enemy is the goddess Artemis
* a Pied Piper at Troy.

He puts forward many previously unsuspected candidates as classical variants of the modern fairytale and argues that the degree of violence and cruelty in the ancient tales means they must have been meant for adults.

My own review from 2003 is still up on Amazon, the only one there to date:

Having had this book in my personal collection for a few years now, I cannot praise it highly enough. As any folklorist knows, similar story threads exist across cultures and time. Why does this happen? One influence may have been the classic mythology from the Greeks and Romans. Graham Anderson makes reasonable connections between classical literature and our more modern folklore in previously unexplored ways. His writing is concise with easy-to-follow descriptions and analysis. If you are interested in the history of story, folklore, or the classics, this book is an excellent and relatively quick read. I only wish I had owned this book in the days when I was studying the classics as an undergraduate. It would have made reading the classics even more interesting than it was then.
That pretty much sums it up. I regularly reference this book when considering fairy tale variants or themes. No, many of these old myths are not necessarily directly related to our modern fairy tales, but the commonality of themes and plot devices is impressive. This one makes you think and it makes you want to return to classic mythology--especially when you realize how much you may have missed of mythology. I have an English degree which partially focused on the Greek and Roman classics and I missed much of these stories.

Best yet, many of the most popular fairy tales are found in these pages, from Cinderella to Little Red Riding Hood to Snow White and others, there is some fascinating reading in this short book. When Fairy Tales from Before Fairy Tales: The Medieval Latin Past of Wonderful Lies by Jan M. Ziolkowski hit my own shelves, I was unfair to it because I wanted it to be more like Fairytale in the Ancient World. It is also a fine book with extensive discussion of lesser known tales, but I rarely return to it the same way I return over and over again to Fairytale in the Ancient World.

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