“Once upon a time there was . . .”: The very opening formula of fairy tales suggests quaintness, the patina of the long-ago, the flavor of the outmoded. If fairy tales, as a genre, are the opposite of modernity, why is it, then, that they have survived thousands of years? One answer is that they deal with things that are timeless and universal, basic aspects of the human condition – offering the reader, in Tolkien’s words, consolation, the recovery of a clear view, and the chance to escape the bleakness of the quotidian. Another is that, being originally transmitted orally, they have no definite shape and are thus infinitely adaptable to the needs and interests of their specific audiences. We tend to forget this, since the most successful recorders of fairy tales, men like Charles Perrault, Antoine Galland, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen or Joseph Jacobs, have given their tales permanent shapes, turning what once were protean entities into classical texts with a canonical status. Nevertheless, fairy tales have of course continued to be re-told, adapted, transformed, modernized. Seen from this angle, there is little unusual about the collection of modernized fairy tales to be reviewed here. What makes it particularly interesting is the fact that The Fairies Return Or, New Tales for Old, which was recently published with an introductory essay by the renowned folklorist Maria Tatar, is really a reprint of a collection that first appeared in 1934.
more from Dieter Petzold at The Berlin Review of Books here.