Thursday, May 5, 2011

Critical and Creative Perspectives on Fairy Tales: An Intertextual Dialogue Between Fairy-Tale Scholarship and Postmodern Retellings

Critical and Creative Perspectives on Fairy Tales: An Intertextual Dialogue Between Fairy-Tale Scholarship and Postmodern Retellings (Fairy-Tale Studies)

Critical and Creative Perspectives on Fairy Tales: An Intertextual Dialogue Between Fairy-Tale Scholarship and Postmodern Retellings by Vanessa Joosen is the latest release in the Fairy Tales Studies Series from Wayne State University Press. This is a great series and one of the best features--besides the wonderful content--is that the books are price affordably for the more casual/avid scholar and not just for the university library. $30 instead of $150 makes it much easier to acquire one of these books for yourself. (That said, I received a review copy of this one in the interest of full disclosure. I buy plenty of other titles though!)

Here's the official description:

In Critical and Creative Perspectives on Fairy Tales: An Intertextual Dialogue between Fairy-Tale Scholarship and Postmodern Retellings Vanessa Joosen broadens the traditional concept of intertextuality to include academic texts. With three key texts from the 1970s at the center of her discussion—Marcia K. Lieberman’s “Some Day My Prince Will Come,” Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment, and Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s The Madwoman in the Attic—Joosen connects the critical views expressed in these feminist and psychoanalytic interpretations with fictional fairy-tale retellings and illustrations that have been published in Dutch, English, and German since the 1970s.

While readers may not automatically connect fairy-tale retellings and criticism, Joosen argues that they represent a similar conviction to understand, interpret, criticize, and experiment with the original tale. Moving through her three critical focus texts in chronological order, Joosen addresses fairy-tale retellings in prose, poetry, and pictures, including revisions of “Snow White,“ “Cinderella,“ “Sleeping Beauty,“ “Hansel and Gretel,“ “Little Red Riding Hood,“ and “Beauty and the Beast.“ Authors and illustrators whose work is discussed include Paul Biegel, Anthony Browne, Gillian Cross, Emma Donoghue, Iring Fetscher, Adèle Geras, Otto Gmelin, Wim Hofman, Anne Provoost, Anne Sexton, Barbara Walker, and Jane Yolen.

Joosen argues that retellings and criticism participate in a continuous and dynamic dialogue about the traditional fairy tale, but on different terms. Critical and Creative Perspectives on Fairy Tales offers many insights into the workings of fiction and criticism that will appeal to fairy-tale scholars, literature scholars, and general readers interested in intertextuality and fairy tales.
And here are some blurbs:

“As Vanessa Joosen demonstrates, a renaissance of fairy-tale criticism and retellings that began in North America and Europe during the 1970s has flourished to the present. Her book is the first comprehensive study to focus on the major critical works, intertextual references, and scholarly debates that have invigorated the hybrid genre of fairy tale. Joosen succeeds in shedding new light on the overlap between fairy-tale re-creations and critical analyses without privileging one over the other.”

— Jack Zipes, professor emeritus of German and Comparative Literature at University of Minnesota and author of The Enchanted Screen: The Unknown History of the Fairy-Tale Film
“Vanessa Joosen brings an invigorating new approach to the field of fairy tales. Her innovative study of the relationship between the discourses of scholarship and fiction as an intertextual dialogue brings new insights to both. This engagingly written book will be an indispensable addition to library collections and an invaluable reference work for scholars, students, and all those interested in fairy tales and children’s literature.”

— Sandra L. Beckett, professor of French at Brock University, Ontario, Canada, and author of Red Riding Hood for All Ages: A Fairy-Tale Icon in Cross-Cultural Contexts (Wayne State University Press, 2008)

“Critical and Creative Perspectives on Fairy Tales is a perfect marriage of criticism and metacriticism—an approach that challenges conventional thinking. Joosen does not simply follow the best traditions of fairy-tale studies, she brings them to a new level of sophistication that stretches far beyond the domain of fairy tales as such and into the intricacies of literary and cultural theory. Beautifully written, captivating, and truly enjoyable for scholars and fairy-tale lovers equally, this book will be referred to for many years to come.”

— Maria Nikolajeva, professor of education at the University of Cambridge and author of
Power, Voice and Subjectivity in Literature for Young Readers
“Critical and Creative Perspectives on Fairy Tales provides an interesting and new angle on the interpretation of fairy tales, covers important topics and texts, and provides useful and balanced analyses.”

Cristina Bacchilega, professor of English at the University of Hawai’i
I haven't had a chance to carefully read the full book yet, but it is definitely worth the time if the topic interests you. I am the most familiar with The Uses of Enchantment because I took a semester long course centered around it many moons ago. And while it is a problematic book as we all know, (or do you?) it has been important in the study and analysis of fairy tales, as well as in the traumatizing of many innocent students used to their Disney fairy tales. Consequently, this was the chapter I was most drawn to after the introduction. There are only four chapters in the 384 page book along with an introduction and conclusion. This one is the longest and in it Joosen discusses Bettelheim's work and it's influence on the fairy tale scholarship and fictional reinterpretations that have followed. Her writing is fascinating. It is balanced, too, when I expected it to be much more negative about Bettelheim at first. But it is not because it is more about Bettelheim's impact than his credentials or theories. It is so easy to throw Bettelheim out with the bathwater with the valid arguments against him, but he can't be. Joosen shows us why.

My only caveat for the casual reader is that this book is written in a much more academic style. The reading is not as casual or approachable as say that of Jack Zipes and Maria Tatar who appeal to a broader audience in their general book releases. There are many 25 cent words and phrases that are the norm in academia but not in everyday reading and living, unless you are said academic. I know sometimes it feels like one is reading a different language although it is obviously English. I play on the fringes of academia, playing ambassador between the two sides more than anything else, so I say this with an understanding that the text may frustrate some, but stick with it. There is real content there. And it isn't heavy handed, by any means, just not as easy to read if you are not familiar with all the terms since context is elusive if you don't know them.

Overall, very interesting and it doesn't require a close familiarity with the discussed texts. However, I am inspired to become reacquainted with them after this. I began studying fairy tales a few decades after these works made their impact and was educated into what they had wrought. These days I am more focused on earlier academia in the course of collecting early variants of tales, so it is well, fun, to read about the trends that impacted me at my beginning.

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