Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Women in Folklore Month: Marina Warner

Today's spotlight is on Marina Warner. From Marina Warner's official website:

Marina Warner is a writer of fiction, criticism and history; her works include novels and short stories as well as studies of myths, symbols, and fairytales.

She was born in London in 1946, of an Italian mother and an English father who was a bookseller. Marina Warner was educated in Cairo, Brussels, Berkshire, England, and Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford.

Marina Warner is Professor in the Department of Literature, Film and Theatre Studies, University of Essex, where she teaches course on fairytale, The Transformations of Fairytale, for third year undergraduates.

She also teaches Creative Writing: a course on The Tale, and on the writing of place, in Memory Maps, a collaboration between the Victoria and Albert Museum and the University of Essex. She is also contributing to the new course, Wild Writing.

I have said it over and over again, but if you are interested in fairy tales, you should read From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers. If you are interested in women and fairy tales, it should be your primary text. It is out of print, but copies are easily acquired. This was one of the first volumes I bought to start my own reference library on fairy tales and folklore and it is still one of the most heavily used. (Should I do a week discussing my most used resources someday?)

Here's a brief description from the publisher:

In this landmark study of the history and meaning of fairy tales, the celebrated cultural critic Marina Warner looks at storytelling in art and legend-from the prophesying enchantress who lures men to a false paradise, to jolly Mother Goose with her masqueraders in the real world. Why are storytellers so often women, and how does that affect the status of fairy tales? Are they a source of wisdom or a misleading temptation to indulge in romancing?

And here are some more of Warner's books of interest, directly related to fairy tales or on the slant:

Wonder Tales: Six French Stories of Enchantment

Once upon a time, in the Paris of Louis XIV, five ladies and one gentleman-- all of them aristocrats-- seized on the new enthusiasm for "Mother Goose Stories" and decided to write some of them down. Telling stories resourcefully and artfully was a key social grace, and when they recorded these elegant narratives they consciously invented the modern fairy tale as we still know it today. For this beautiful anthology of six masterpiece wonder tales, Marina Warner gathered five writers with a special sympathy for the French stories they render here in burnished, cunning and amusing English. The stories, "The White Cat" (translated by John Ashbery), "The Subtle Princess" (Gilbert Adair), "Bearskin" and "Starlight" (Terence Cave), "The Counterfeit Marquise" (Ranjit Bolt), and "The Great Green Worm" (A.S. Byatt), are as unforgettable today as they were when first published centuries ago. Wonder is the key to the stories, and each tale abounds with transformation and magic. Wonders can be benign (garden fruits that come when you whistle) or baneful (the bad fairy Magotine's spells), producing dread and desire at the same time. But, fortunately, they almost always punish those who deserve it: Tyrants, seducers, and other forces of malevolence. Heroes and heroines are put to mischievous tests, and their quest for love is confounded when their objects of desire change into beasts or monsters. Still, true understanding and recognition of the person beneath the spell wins in the end, for after wonder comes consolation, and after strange setbacks comes a happy ending. In Wonder Tales, a magical world awaits all who dare to enter.

Fantastic Metamorphoses, Other Worlds: Ways of Telling the Self (Clarendon Lectures in English Literature)

Metamorphosis is a dynamic principle of creation, vital to natural processes of generation and evolution, growth and decay, yet it also threatens personal identity if human beings are subject to a continual process of bodily transformation. Shape-shifting also belongs in the landscape of magic, witchcraft, and wonder, and enlivens classical mythology, early modern fairy tales and uncanny fictions of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In Fantastic Metamorphoses, Other Worlds, acclaimed novelist and critic Marina Warner explores the metaphorical power of metamorphoses in the evocation of human personality. Beginning with Ovid's great poem, The Metamorphoses, as the founding text of the metamorphic tradition, she takes us on a journey of exploration, into the fantastic art of Hieronymous Bosch, the legends of the Taino people, the life cycle of the butterfly, the myth of Leda and the Swan, the genealogy of the Zombie, the pantomime of Aladdin, the haunting of doppelgangers, the coming of photography, and the late fiction of Lewis Carroll. Beautifully illustrated and elegantly written, Fantastic Metamorphoses, Other Worlds is sure to appeal to all readers interested in mythology, art, and literature.

No Go, the Bogeyman: Scaring, Lulling, and Making Mock

An exciting new work, richly illustrated, on the age-old images and stories about frightening men.

In this provocative new work, Marina Warner goes beyond the terrain she covered in her widely praised From the Beast to the Blonde. She explores the darker, wilder realm where ogres and giants devour children, where bogeymen haunt the night and each of us must face our bugaboos. No Go the Bogeyman considers the enduring presence and popularity of figures of male terror, establishing their origins in mythology and their current relation to ideas about sexuality and power, youth and age.

Songs, stories, images, and films about frightening monsters have always been invented to allay the very terrors that our dreams of reason conjure up. Warner shows how these images and stories, while they may unfold along different lines--scaring, lulling, or making mock-always have the strategic, simultaneous purpose of both arousing and controlling the underlying fear. In a brilliant analysis of material long overlooked by cultural critics, historians, and even psychologists, Warner revises our understanding of storytelling in contemporary culture, of masculine identity, racial stereotyping, and the dangerous, unthinking ways we perpetuate the bogeyman.

Phantasmagoria: Spirit Visions, Metaphors, and Media into the Twenty-first Century

With over thirty illustrations in color and black and white, Phantasmagoria takes readers on an intellectually exhilarating tour of ideas of spirit and soul in the modern world, illuminating key questions of imagination and cognition. Warner tells the unexpected and often disturbing story about shifts in thought about consciousness and the individual person, from the first public waxworks portraits at the end of the eighteenth century to stories of hauntings, possession, and loss of self in modern times. She probes the perceived distinctions between fantasy and deception, and uncovers a host of spirit forms--angels, ghosts, fairies, revenants, and zombies--that are still actively present in contemporary culture.

Monuments and Maidens: The Allegory of the Female Form

Marina Warner explores the tradition of personifying liberty, justice, wisdom, charity, and other ideals and desiderata in the female form, and examines the tension between women's historic and symbolic roles. Drawing on the evidence of public art, especially sculpture, and painting, poetry, and classical mythology, she ranges over the allegorical presence of the woman in the Western tradition with a sharply observant eye and a piquant and engaging style.

Six Myths of Our Time: Little Angels, Little Monsters, Beautiful Beasts, and More

Six provocative essays assess the influence of fairy tales, legends, and myths on contemporary life, interweaving elements of classical mythology, pop culture, and current events into an incisive work of cultural criticism.

And that's not all of her books, of course. You can peruse all of her titles on Amazon at Marina Warner.

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