I love myths and fairy tales. I love them for embracing the fantastic, for the talking animals and the magical transformations, for the sense that the mundane world is just a thin veil and terrible monsters or good fairy godmothers could upend everything in an instant. A lot of what I am writing right now is in the fairy tale idiom, probably because I love reading them and reading about them. Here's a short and idiosyncratic list of the best of what I've read, with a couple items that I'm currently reading.
|Illustration for The Juniper Tree by Maurice Sendak|
While the Grimm brothers attempted to collect fairy tales, writing them down close to their original oral form, Hans Christian Anderson was more interested in using them as source material to write tales that were more literary and personal. My own story, The Gyre, was inspired by the difference between Disney's version of The Little Mermaid and HCA's tragic original. I have the Fairy Tales (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) and it's a good translation, but you can pick up a copy of his fairy tales at any second hand store.
Everybody knows about the Andersen and Grimm, but there's a world of folk and fairy tales out there. There's so much and they go so deep that it's hard to know where to start! Outfoxing Fear: Folktales from Around the World is a good survey. From there you can jump any number of directions. Try Japanese Tales (Pantheon fairy tale & folklore library) or the Fairy Tales of the Russians and Other Slavs. As for the New World, I've had a copy of American Indian Trickster Tales (Myths and Legends) since college (more about the trickster tale in the next section). I recently read Myths, Legends, and Folktales of America: An Anthology. This is another interesting survey that collects myths and folktales from Native American cultures as well as material imported from around the world by immigrants and African Americans. It progresses through history and includes a chapter near the end called The Rock Hero - "Jesus and Elvis."
I don't just like to read fairy tales, I like to read about them.
I'll read anything my Marina Warner, but a good place to start is, Six Myths of Our Time: Little Angels, Little Monsters, Beautiful Beasts, and More. It's short and more approachable than From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers, which is a glorious brick of scholarship with an emphasis on the place of women in folk and fairy tales, both as characters and as the tellers. I recommend both. Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art by Lewis Hyde. This book is not just about the trickster character in myth and folklore, it also explores the idea that the rule-breaking imp in all of us is an important creative force. His previous book, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, might be even better, but it's off topic. This month I'm reading Breaking the Magic Spell: Radical Theories of Folk and Fairy Tales by Jack Zipes and enjoying it very much. After reading the penultimate essay: On the Use and Abuse of Folk and Fairy Tales with Children: Bruno Bettelheim's Moralistic Magic Wand, you might want to follow up by reading Bettelheim's The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, which even though it is scholarship with an agenda by a Freudian child psychologist, it's considered a classic in the field and still worth the read.
|Reynard the Fox|