Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Digging deeper into the roots of fairy tales

There is a fascinating new article in the May 22 Chronicle Review (UPDATE—you can read the entire article at their site for free; thanks for sending us the link, Jennifer). You can also read it in the print edition that's out now.

In the article, Jennifer Howard discusses our new book, Fairy Tales: A New History, at length while exploring how fairy-tale scholars dig deeper into the genre's complex history. Howard explains that Fairy Tales author Ruth B. Bottigheimer has taken issue with the the old story line about the genre:

"It has been said so often that the folk invented and disseminated fairy tales that this assumption has become an unquestioned proposition," Bottigheimer writes in the [book's] introduction ... "It may therefore surprise readers that folk invention and transmission of fairy tales has no basis in verifiable fact. Literary analysis undermines it, literary history rejects it, social history repudiates it, and publishing history ... contradicts it."
Howard notes how this line of thinking has not exactly made Bottigheimer the "belle of the ball at recent folklore gatherings." For example, there was this response to her work at an annual conference from a few years back:

Dan Ben-Amos teaches in the University of Pennsylvania's graduate program in folklore and folklife and its Near Eastern languages and civilizations department, and is the undergraduate chair of the university's comparative-literature program. Ben-Amos was in the audience in 2005 when Bottigheimer gave a presentation at the annual congress of the International Society for Folk Narrative Research, in Tartu, Estonia. "The whole audience went up in arms against her," Ben-Amos says. "I have never seen a scene like that in an international meeting or an American meeting."
If folklorists up in arms has you intrigued, we recommend you read the rest of the article. And also check out Bottigheimer's book, Fairy Tales, to see what all the fuss is about.