A Short History of Fairy Tale

Manguel_02_15Alberto Manguel at Literary Review:

How then can we explain our fascination with fairy tales, everywhere and always? Why do we enjoy the promise of 'Long, long ago, in a far-off land'? Why do we want to hear, again and again, the sagas of beautiful princesses, valiant heroes, crafty animals who can speak, voracious wolves and hairy ogres, kind crones and evil witches? Marina Warner's elegantly concise answer is: 'fairy tales express hopes'.

Warner is a longtime explorer of Fairyland. Her seminal book on the subject, From the Beast to the Blonde, was first published two decades ago, followed four years later byNo Go the Bogeyman, which expanded her research into the realm of ghosts and goblins. Now she has pulled together her thoughts in a 200-page fairy-size hardback titled, obviously, Once Upon a Time. It is a remarkable achievement.

Warner suggests that there are four characteristics that define a veritable fairy tale: first, it should be short; second, it should be (or seem) familiar; third, it should suggest 'the necessary presence of the past' through well-known plots and characters; fourth, since fairy tales are told in what Warner aptly calls 'a symbolic Esperanto', it should allow horrid deeds and truculent events to be read as matter-of-fact. If, as Warner says, 'the scope of a fairy tale is made by language', it is through language that our unconscious world, with its dreams and half-grasped intuitions, comes into being and its phantoms are transformed into comprehensible figures like cannibal giants, wicked parents or friendly beasts.

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