Friday, October 5, 2012

Fairy Tale Fridays - Names To Know

 Over the past two years, we've talked about some names to know when you're serious about learning more about fairy tales. We've talked about some of the artists, some of the compilers, some of the authors, and once, an academic, Maria

Today I'd like to introduce you to a few more of the who's-who in the academic world of fairy tales and folklore. Like so many of these posts, this one was not at all on my radar when I sat down to write a post. As I was reading some of my go-to blogs for fairy tale news, I chanced to discover that a Fairy Tale prize had been awarded in Europe which got me to wondering, "just how many people are out there still trying to learn more about fairy tales and to spread the word?"

I suppose if any continent were going to have a Fairytale prize it would be Europe.The 2012 winner of the prize is Wolfgang Mieder, professor of German and folklore at the University of Vermont. Mieder says the explosion of fairy tales in movies, books and series may actually be diluting the tales potency. With so many tales available, one of the things that carried fairy tales through the centuries, "the connecting element is lost." It's good to know that Mieder does have hope for the tales, although he seems to lament the fact that the tales are no longer passed orally. "If you ask someone on the street to tell a fairytale, very few people could do it. Even though we know fairy tales, we're no longer used to telling them."

"In fairy tales, age-old problems - normal, day-to-day problems people have - are allegorized in a poetic, symbolic language. We can identify with one another across boundaries," according to Mieder, who has been studying fairy tales for over 40 years.To learn more about how fairy tales address modern problems, check out this article at DW.

Jack Zipes, Professor Emeritus at the University of Minnesota, agrees that fairy tales are still relevant. "They are a means of communicating about serious problems, such as rape (Red Riding Hood) and abandonment of children (Hansel and Gretel)," according to Zipes. He does believe that the symbolism of fairy tales can make it difficult to see how "remarkably they comment on society." It's this challenge that seems to make the study of fairy tales so rewarding.

Here on Fairy Tale Fridays, we've talked before about the sanitization of fairy tales. Zipes is wholeheartedly against it. "The sanitizaton process and political correctness can be very dangerous because they lead to censorship, police states, radical fundamentalism, etc." I think we can safely assume, as we celebrate Banned Books Week, that Zipes is also opposed to the banning of books.

Ruth B. Bottigheimer, a professor at Stony Brook University in New York, is a lady who is raising eyebrows in the field of fairy tale studies. It's her contention that fairy tales were not handed down orally but were, instead, passed down in print. "Literary analysis undermines it [oral tradition], literary history rejects it, social history repudiates it, and publishing history (whether of manuscripts or of books) contradicts it." She specifically points to the Cinderella-type tales as an example, stating the "economic conditions and legal restrictions" of mid-16th century Venice led to this type of tale and collections of tales from this time are the first record of this type of tale. This is bound to be a hot topic of debate among literary scholars. In the world of fairy tales, it's akin to the first scientists who said that no, in fact, the world was not flat.


  1. You can study folklore in Germany? How fantastic! I think we're still able to recite the tales, even if not detailed. It's always been the basics that counted. Fairytales are dark, and for a reason, so whilst Disney is nice to watch, it's important we keep the originals.

  2. I have also read articles by these guys. But your links come with better pictures! :--) The persistence of fairy tale themes is such an interesting subject!

  3. The academe of fairy tales?
    I love it!