Thursday, January 20, 2011

Folktales Retold: A Critical Overview of Stories Updated for Children by Amie A. Doughty

Folktales Retold: A Critical Overview of Stories Updated for Children

Folktales Retold: A Critical Overview of Stories Updated for Children by Amie A. Doughty is another book I received from McFarland for review.  I have a lengthier review at the bottom of this post, more than I usual devote to these books for this one spurred some thinking on my part, so page down for food for thought and discussion...

First, the book description from the publisher:

Folktales and fairy tales are living stories; as part of the oral tradition, they change and evolve as they are retold from generation to generation. In the last thirty years, however, revision has become an art form of its own, with tales intentionally revised to achieve humorous effect, send political messages, add different cultural or regional elements, try out new narrative voices, and more. These revisions take all forms, from short stories to novel-length narratives to poems, plays, musicals, films and advertisements. The resulting tales paint the tales from myriad perspectives, using the broad palette of human creativity.

This study examines folktale revisions from many angles, drawing on examples primarily from revisions of Western European traditional tales, such as those of the Grimm Brothers and Charles Perrault. Also discussed are new folktales that combine traditional storylines with commentary on modern life. The conclusion considers how revisionists poke fun at and struggle to understand stories that sometimes made little sense to start with.
And this time the Table of Contents is critical for really understanding what is inside the covers, here is the Table of Contents:

Acknowledgments vii
Preface xi
Introduction: Unraveling the Folktale Tradition 1

1. The Folktale Revision as a Form 7
2. Humor in Folktale Revisions 15
3. Cultural and Regional Folktale Revisions in Picture Books 36
4. Breaking the Picture Book Rules 52
5. Feminist Folktale Revisions 65
6. Postmodern Folktale Revisions 80
7. Narrative in Folktale Revisions 94
8. Folktale Revisions on Film 115
9. Revising the Folktale Tradition 129
10. The Adult Connection 144

Conclusion: Reweaving the Folktale Tradition 163
Notes 167
Bibliography 173
Index 199
Now for my part. Let me start by saying this is an excellent resource, especially for students needing ideas and resources on modern interpretations of fairy tales in all types of media, especially books and film. Many of the chapters take on the different reinterpretations through literary criticism approaches, such as feminist and postmodern, two of the most popular for analysis these days by students exploring the field. No single book or film is given a great deal of space in the analysis but the greater breadth means there are more jumping off points for a student to pick a few from the chapters and/or the bibliography and run with them for a paper or other assignment. Hopefully this volume is in your school or public library as a resource.

The chapters are helpful and I appreciated the interpretations that were easy to read and understand, once again making this an excellent student resource. It was much more approachable than some other resources on these topics that I have read, the kind that make you stop and parse asentence to understand what is trying to be said.  Overall, that doesn't happen here. Kudos to Doughty for being approachable to her readers. I also applaud her for using reinterpretations that aren't as often written about in academia or at least not published in resources like this.  It's easy to find critical examination of the works of Angela Carter, Margaret Atwood, even Robin McKinley to some extent. But she includes a broader range of YA novels and even romance novels as well as more mainstream films. Popular culture, genre works, picture books are not ignored. It makes the book more diverse and interesting than expected considering its relatively slim page count, another boon to students.

Now for the long time reader and analyzer of fairy tale reinterpretations, there isn't a lot of new information here, but it is a mini-compendium provided in one place, again a jumping off point. And the touching on of some more pop culturally visible interpretations is a bonus. Students would rather write about A Cinderella Story than A Company of Wolves which usually flies over many heads upon the first viewing. It did in the classroom where I first viewed it while at university.  I very much remember the bewildered looks on their faces and this was at the end of the semester when pretty much all the class material had been presented. None of them were there to become folklorists, fairy tale enthusiasts, or even professors. I was the exception in the room but those weren't my goals at the time either.

That said, I wasn't as comfortable with the introduction and conclusion, nothing to argue about, rather minor, but I squirmed a little.  Here is part of what I didn't agree with, not that I completely disagreed, but it oversimplified for me:

What are readers to make of all these revisions? Why do authors feel compelled to write these new versions? Why does the modern audience question the conventions of traditional folktales enough to write about them? Clearly there is something missing in the tales that compels the authors to write these versions. Can the questions that Vande Velde finds in "Rumpelstiltskin" and that others have found in other tales be attributed to the change in form from an oral form to a written one? In other words, do questions arise from the written versions because there is no physical narrator to present the context of the story and to answer audience questions?
I'm not disagreeing that these motivations exist in rewriting folktales, but I think the motivations are much more diverse and complex than this. For example, many authors I have seen appreciate the familiarity of the tales to provide the building blocks for their own stories, not to find missing pieces but to imagine their own stories. (That old argument of there only being a finite number of plots in the world could be inserted here.) Others want to move the story forward, see how characters with a set of restrictions and freedoms would fit into different settings and eras. So often, it's as much about creativity as filling in missing questions.

And that's just scraping the surface on my part. I wanted more discussion of the creators' motivations, not narrowed down to a need to filling in missing blanks. I think one of the appeals of fairy tales is that opportunity to fill in the blanks. But they also allow us to fit ourselves into them a little more thanks to those blanks. No one reads a text the same way. The reinterpretations allow us to use a common tale to explore the commonalities and differences of our experiences as human beings.

And this in no way takes away from the value of Doughty's book which offers her concise analysis of many reinterpretations.  I simply wanted more breadth in the intro, but that wasn't the true purpose of the book.

Wow, I really could go on but I have so many other projects calling.  Any thoughts from you readers?

1 comment:

  1. Wow, I completely agree with you about Doughty's rationalization for new versions--I'd like to see if she has more to say about it in the book, but the quote you've posted is almost condescending, to the tales and to the contemporary authors who want to take them on. For me, folk tales aren't riddled with blanks--they run deep, and contain layers to be teased out and made more explicit. It's all there already, waiting to be used differently.

    BTW, looking forward to hearing you speak at the Grim Legacies conference this weekend! I'll be driving in from NY as a non-student, but major, major enthusiast!