Reviews 2015

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

Marvelous Transformations: An Anthology of Fairy Tales and Contemporary Critical Perspectives. Ed. Christine A. Jones and Jennifer Schacker. Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2013. 580 pages. $39.95 (paperback).

In the abundant corpus of fairy tale anthologies, Marvelous Transformations stands out in more ways than one. Unlike other anthologies that usually organize their contents according to tale type, motif, or country of origin, the richly diverse collection edited by Christine A. Jones and Jennifer Schacker presents fairy tales in chronological order, thus creating an illuminating timeline that stretches from the 2nd century BCE to the end of the first decade of the 21st century. Envisioned as a "journey through fairy tale history" (15), Marvelous Transformations is full of pleasant surprises in the form of obscure and rarely anthologized texts, little known writers/collectors, and a series of brand new essays penned by some of the most prominent fairy tale scholars.

At the very outset, the editors boldly propose to expand our understanding of fairy tales by reaching beyond the established canon and providing readers with fresh material that often challenges traditional boundaries of genre. Furthermore, they point out that, due to the influence of fairy tale scholarship, we tend to read individual stories in singular, predetermined ways, thus ignoring the myriad of other interpretative possibilities. Calling for an interdisciplinary approach to the study of fairy tales, Jones and Schacker challenge such predetermined interpretations and champion in their stead a reading practice that "requires heightened attention to detail, a focus on texts’ potential ambiguities and internal contradictions, an exploration of intertextuality...and, above all, a very inquisitive mind" (26). This approach is exemplified by a nuanced reading of "Little Red Riding Hood" in which the story, often viewed as a cautionary tale about the dangers of straying from the proverbial straight and narrow path, talking to strangers, ignoring parental advice, etc., emerges as a narrative about the power and use of language.

Marvelous Transformations is divided into two parts, each prefaced with a comprehensive introduction by Jones and Schacker. Part one, "The Tales," is divided into five sections: "Early Written Traditions," "Early Print Traditions," "Romanticism to the fin de siècle," "Modern/Postmodern Tales" and "Contemporary Transcriptions and Translations." The focus on the historical development of the genre as a whole rather than, for instance, individual tale types, effectively foregrounds the immense diversity of the fairy tale. Readers who tend to associate the genre with the brevity and linguistic simplicity of Perrault and the Grimms are likely to be surprised by Basile’s verbosity and stylistic ornateness, or the embedded (and equally ornate) tales of the French salonnières, not to mention fairy tales in verse or theatrical form (the inclusion of theatre scripts is a particularly refreshing and welcome addition to the anthology). To the editors’ credit, the diverse selection of tales manages to transcend not only the traditional/(post)modern divide, but also the oral/written one (the final section includes transcripts of oral storytelling from Puerto Rico, Spanish New Mexico, Hungary, India, French Canada, Scotland and the Arab countries).

As previously mentioned, the pages of the volume are filled with relatively unknown and rarely studied stories (some of which appear in the English translation for the first time), intertwined with classics (some of which appear in brand new translations) such as Perrault’s "Cinderella" or the Grimms’ "Snow White." The inclusion of the often silenced women’s voices is particularly commendable. Naturally, there are only so many texts and authors a single volume can encompass, so some omissions are to be expected (having said that, I was surprised by the absence of Angela Carter). Each tale is prefaced with a brief introduction, and many (but not all!) are accompanied by helpful footnotes containing additional information about various historical and cultural items, linguistic nuances of the original texts and translators’ choices.

Decisions on what to include in/exclude from a fairy tale (or any other) anthology are often guided by practical concerns, such as the limitations of space, which is why lengthier texts are typically avoided or presented in the form of excerpts. However, Jones and Schacker’s compelling collection manages to overcome this obstacle by placing some of its content online. The anthology's passcode-protected website includes lengthy texts such as Richard Johnson's The History of Tom Thumbe (1621) or the entire script for Victor Stevens's pantomime Little Red Riding Hood (1900), as well as a variety of teaching and studying resources.

Abandoning the historical principle prevalent in the first part of anthology, part two, dedicated to fairy tale scholarship, focuses solely on the present moment and proposes to familiarize readers with current trends and discussions in the field. The fifteen essays written specifically for the anthology are divided into five sections, each focusing on one key term: genre, ideology, authorship, reception and translation. As the editors point out, the essays are primarily meant to demonstrate differing, often conflicting views, pose questions and ideally encourage reflection and (classroom) discussion, and as such are deliberately short (the maximum being six pages, including a bibliography list).

Despite some minor complaints such as the lack of a bibliography pertaining to the works cited in the footnotes, an extensive general bibliography list (suggestions for further reading) and an index of tales, Jones and Schacker are to be commended for enriching the field of fairy tale scholarship with a highly useful and accessible anthology that successfully demonstrates the many faces of this popular and multifaceted genre. As the editors themselves repeatedly point out, the content and organization of material, coupled with additional resources available online, make Marvelous Transformations particularly suited for use in the classroom, but there is little doubt that it will fascinate and inspire even the seasoned scholar.

Nada Kujundžić
University of Turku, Finland
University of Zagreb, Croatia