Category: Narrative/Verbal Art — Folk/Fairy Tale

[Cover ofMarvelous Transformations: An Anthology of Fairy Tales and Contemporary Critical Perspectives]

Marvelous Transformations: An Anthology of Fairy Tales and Contemporary Critical Perspectives

Edited by Christine A. Jones and Jennifer Schacker. 2012. Guelph, ON: Broadview Press. ISBN: 9781554810437 (soft cover).


Reviewed by Brittany Warman, Ohio State University

[Review length: 1007 words • Review posted on April 8, 2015]


I'm not sure that I remember exactly what I was expecting when I first opened Marvelous Transformations: An Anthology of Fairy Tales and Contemporary Critical Perspectives, edited by Christine A. Jones and Jennifer Schacker, but what I got was certainly better. Far from a standard collection of the same overly anthologized fairy tales, of which there are hundreds, Jones’s and Schacker's collection of stories and criticism transcends the standard anthology to become something quite new and exciting. Describing their text as a “journey through fairy tale history” (15) seems an apt way of approaching an anthology that pieces together the many different countries, time periods, academic disciplines, theoretical approaches, and people who have interacted with the fairy-tale form.

The anthology is divided into two sections. The first part is made up of the fairy tales themselves, including “Early Written Traditions,” “Early Print Traditions,” “Romanticism to the Fin de Siècle,” “Modern/Postmodern Tales,” and “Contemporary Transcriptions and Translations.” There is a range of texts from “The Story of King Shahrayar and Shahrazad, His Vizier’s Daughter” (fourteenth century) to a “Rapunzel” retelling called “The Difference in the Dose” by Marina Warner (2011). Though certain important tales are admittedly and perhaps unavoidably absent, it is clear that a great deal of thought went into each choice, and the variety presented is admirable and suitable for the goals of the anthology. The second part consists of essays by leading scholars on contemporary critical approaches, examining in particular genre, ideology, authorship, reception, and translation. There are also two excellent introductory essays by Jones and Schacker—“How to Read a Fairy Tale” and “How to Read the Critical Essays”—that prepare the reader to absorb the collection in the way it was intended. Texts that the editors wanted to include but could not fit in the actual book can be accessed online with a passcode. These longer stories are often particularly unique choices and include a story that mixes the fairy tale of “Tom Thumb” with King Arthur legends and the script of a pantomime.

In keeping with the goal of presenting a history of fairy tales, the anthology is organized chronologically as opposed to thematically, by tale type, or by country. This is an interesting and useful choice, as it forces the reader to consider the development of the fairy-tale form overall as opposed to, for example, the development of individual tales—it “demonstrates the flexibility of tales within a national culture, allows for examination of border-crossing, and also reveals the polyphony of contemporary influences and divergences within historical periods” (37). It encourages consideration of the ways in which different countries, different stories, and different kinds of storytellers all came together to produce what we now think of as “fairy tales.” This said, the text acknowledges that it is still “strongly Eurocentric” in some ways—particularly its reliance on European terms as a way of “situat[ing] texts in relation to other arts and letters of their period” (37)—but the editors hope that this somewhat inevitable aspect of their book “underscores and allows for critical examination of the fact that the history of this genre has been written and shaped by Europeans and, more recently, by North Americans” (37).

This said, the most striking thing about the anthology is certainly its welcome diversity. While the editors are quick to point out that they “make no claim to representation of global tale traditions” and “gravitated towards traditions that have generated at least a modest body of scholarship and are on the minds of specialists working on the fairy tale today” (38), they still manage to present a far more international collection than is typical. Tales included represent Egypt, Puerto Rico, and Russia, for example, along with the more expected countries of Italy, Germany, and France. The tales chosen are frequently not the common ones either—unfamiliar but still important and fascinating stories are given the spotlight here in an unprecedented way. Many of these less familiar tales are attributed to women, and the editors’ attention to the frequent silencing of their voices is appreciated. The inclusion of both oral transcriptions and modern/postmodern retellings is a refreshing element of diversity as well.

Another gratifying aspect of the anthology is its inclusion of fairy-tale criticism. As the editors note, “someone who has even a casual acquaintance with fairy tales [has been] influenced as much by fairy-tale criticism as by fairy tales themselves” (37). The critical introductions to the tales, along with the second part of the anthology devoted exclusively to criticism, all offer fantastic insights and perspectives. A particular strength of the criticism as a whole is the choice to include fairy-tale scholars from a variety of disciplines—established and influential scholars from folklore studies, literary studies, comparative studies, and various language studies are all given the chance to present their views on the fairy tale. This interdisciplinary approach seems to reflect the editors’ stance regarding the most productive future moves for fairy-tale studies overall.

One useful addition to this text would have been an index and/or appendixes. Despite my appreciation for the chronological approach, I would have liked to have been able to look up tales at least by country, if not by tale type as well. Even simple lists at the end of the book would have been helpful, but this is a minor criticism.

Jones’s and Schacker's Marvelous Transformations is not simply another fairy-tale collection but a true contribution to scholarship and a powerful statement on the future of fairy-tale studies. In weaving together tales from around the world and scholarship from a variety of disciplines, the editors make a strong case for a fresh look at the fairy-tale form. While I highly recommend this book overall, I especially recommend it for use in classrooms: it demonstrates the diversity, beauty, and endurance of fairy tales and should be a delightful surprise to undergraduates who come in thinking fairy tales are all the sugar-coated Disney stories they remember from when they were small. I am certain that I too will refer back to this text again and again.

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© Journal of Folklore Research, 2010. Last revised June 21, 2010.