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Enchanted Hunters: The Power of Stories in Childhood

3.77  ·  Rating Details ·  238 Ratings  ·  51 Reviews
Ever wondered why little children love listening to stories, why older ones get lost in certain books? In this enthralling work, Maria Tatar challenges many of our assumptions about childhood reading. Much as our culture pays lip service to the importance of literature, we rarely examine the creative and cognitive benefits of reading from infancy through adolescence. By ex ...more
Hardcover, First Edition, 296 pages
Published April 20th 2009 by W. W. Norton & Company
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Community Reviews

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Apr 05, 2010 Neil rated it really liked it
Wonderful work so far...
Hannah Greendale
Sep 02, 2016 Hannah Greendale rated it really liked it
Enchanted Hunters is a thoroughly researched, well organized, and intelligently written examination of the complexity and wonder of childhood reading.

The author eloquently identifies why books have the power to captivate young readers: Held together by rubber bands, duct tape, and rusting paper clips, [books] serve as companions and compass roses, offering shocks, terrors, and wonders, as well as wisdom, comfort, and sustenance.

The history of children's literature is explored, following its ev
May 02, 2010 Caren rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
This author teaches folklore and children's literature at Harvard and some of her other books include annotated versions of classic fairy tales, so this is a rather scholarly look at some aspects of children's literature. She begins by connecting stories for children to storytelling for the whole family around the hearth at night. The kids were not off in a bedroom, but right there at their parents' elbows as the adults passed dark winter evenings listening to stories while doing dull chores. Th ...more
Mar 04, 2010 Chris rated it really liked it

There's not much wrong with this book, and in all fairness, if I were more interested in children's literature than in fairy tales, I think I would've enjoyed the book more.

It is extremely well written and examines why children read what they do. I actually think I have discovered why Goodnight Moonwas not a favorite book. Along the way, you learn some interesting things about Dr. Seussand other authors. If you have read some of Tatar's other works, some of the information she has covered in var
Jan 19, 2010 Jennifer rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction

Alright! I'm so glad I finished this book. I had to renew it at the library twice! But it was worth it.

Enchanted is a trip through the height and depth of Children's Literature. From horrifying tales told to stop children from sucking their thumbs (if you have a strong stomach Google Struwwelpeter.) to Harry Potter, Tatar analyzes them through the academic eye. It's a treatment I'm more accustomed to seeing Shakespeare put through.

The first chapter was quite a slog. It's a lot of looking at
This is an interesting, albeit flawed, work on the power that reading has for children. In particular, Tatar explores the mixed feelings adults have about children reading -- we all want them to do it, but then we worry that they're turning into "bookworms" and not socializing enough, or we worry about what they're reading, or whether they're reading at their age level, or whether they are reading too much of one type of book. Tatar also discusses the history of the concept of the "bedtime story ...more
Shawn Thrasher
Sep 14, 2015 Shawn Thrasher rated it it was ok
This seems to go here, there and everywhere and lacked a coherent theme. I wasn't ever quite sure what the point was, other than the really broad stroke of "children's literature changes children's lives and is powerful." Tatar ticks off all the greats - J.R.R. Tolkien, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass, Charlotte's Web, A Wrinkle in Time, Dr. Seuss, Narnia, Hans Christian Andersen - but it was kind of like mixing different kinds of paint. At first it was really co ...more
Nov 03, 2014 Cari rated it it was ok
The last half contains quite a bit of golden literary analysis, when Tatar hits her stride and focuses on the literature as opposed to the psychology or attempts at cultural study. It's intriguing, thought-provoking, and will doubtless stir up some nostalgia for the reader's own favorite stories from childhood. If the reader can make it that far, of course. Unfortunately, the first half is terribly, unbelievably, choke until you die dry, and her superficial, grossly generalized, and rather misin ...more
May 28, 2009 Jen rated it it was amazing
If you were a child who loved books, you should read this. If you grew up into an adult who loves books and still likes the stories marketed to children, you should read this. If you have children who you want to give the magic of books to, you should read this.

It's a literary analysis of what makes children's literature so appealing to children that the stories stick with them through adulthood. It looks at the stories, the society, and the difference between how kids and adults need to view th
Jan 11, 2010 Richard rated it really liked it
Recommended to Richard by:
I enjoyed this book a lot. I generally like Maria Tatar's writing. Because this is aimed at a general audience, the writing is even more stylish and satisfying. However, because of the intended audience, I also found myself questioning some of the assumptions and assertions she makes. She's a little too willing to generalize about children's essential nature from time to time (though to be fair, she often qualifies particularly sweeping statements). The first chapters about reading scenes and si ...more
Nathan Dehoff
Oct 13, 2016 Nathan Dehoff rated it really liked it
The author, a professor and expert on children's literature, here turns to the subject of how books affect child development. Tatar explores how storytelling and bedtime reading have changed over time, what attracts kids to books, and what lessons children can learn from reading or being read to. Examples range from old classic fairy tales to newer works like the Harry Potter and His Dark Materials series. There are significant sections analyzing Lewis Carroll's Alice books, J.M. Barrie's Peter ...more
May 11, 2011 Kate rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed-by-kate
Maria Tatar was teaching a course on children's literature at Harvard when I was a student there. When I first picked up this book, I wondered why I had not taken her course. After all, what could more perfectly suit my inclinations than a combination of literary studies with texts like Peter Pan, The Secret Garden, Alice in Wonderland, and The Chronicles of Narnia? Once I got a little ways into Tatar's book, I remembered my original rationale for NOT taking the course: I had wanted, back then, ...more
Courtney Johnston
Jul 25, 2010 Courtney Johnston rated it did not like it
So, so, so disappointing.

I got the public library to buy this on Neil Gaiman's recommendation. Neil, this time, you let me down. Don't worry, I won't hold it against you. But I am going to be a bit more cautious next time.

I suffered through the first chapter, about how story-telling went from being a family or social activity to a smaller or solitary one. I got through Tatar's rather clumsy interpretation of a couple of paintings showing small children being read to. I got the point that reading
Nov 20, 2014 Lora rated it liked it
A non-fiction book about fiction! I wonder if there are fiction books about non-fiction...I'll have to check on Jasper Fforde.
This book was an engaging academic analysis of children's literature with emphasis on certain books and authors. So while there was no mention of, say, Robert McClosky and his art, there was plenty of information on Dr. Seuss, Alice in Wonderland, Charlotte's Web, and mentions of Narnia. At the end of the book is page after page of author's comments on their personal expe
Candy Wood
Maria Tatar has published before on fairy tales, but this book explores the power of other kinds of stories as well, from older classics like Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, and The Wizard of Oz (both book and movie) to newer ones like Goodnight Moon, Charlotte's Web, and the Harry Potter series. The introduction and first chapter raise questions about the popular impression of avid readers, cautioning parents and educators to watch for negative bias in the ways we talk about reading (bookworms, ...more
Jan 28, 2016 Erika rated it it was amazing
I found this to be a fascinating book, I didn't learn anything I hadn't known before, but it did make me look at how other people look at reading and readers a bit differently.

Well I did read one thing I hadn't known. Apparently there are people who find negative messages in Goodnight Moon of all things....

It's always a dicey thing when adults try to assume they know how and why children react they way they do to things, especially something as internalized and intimate as reading, but the autho
Jun 12, 2011 Kay rated it it was ok
Shelves: lit-crit
I've read a couple of Maria Tatar's books on fairy tales and enjoyed them very much but this book is just half-baked. In an attempt to break out of her scholarly box she has created a mishmash of observations on children's literature, child psychology, parenting, and the psychology of reading which are superficial at best and occasionally just completely offbase. She relies heavily on quotations and allusions which add little or no substance to her argument and are eclectic to the point of being ...more
Justin Jaeger
Jan 05, 2014 Justin Jaeger rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Children's Literature Archaeologists
Recommended to Justin by: Neil Gaiman
I had a medieval Japanese literature professor named Steven Miller who once said, "Poetry analysis makes poetry mud." When this book dove deep into any of the children's books that I've read, the conclusions seemed a bit forced and muddy like that.

With that being said however, when reading the more objective (for my part) accounts of books I haven't read, it got me excited to read them now as an adult with a more discriminating eye. My feelings probably speak to the book's thematic posture that
May 02, 2012 Marsha rated it really liked it
Childhood tales are the first ones that we read, whether it’s the ones about Bemelmans’s red-headed Madeline in France or Rowling’s Harry Potter coming of age in Scotland. We might not think about them when we become adults but they are there, swimming around in our subconscious, informing the books we read today to our own children.

Ms. Tatar deftly explores these old stories and the significance they played in our distant youth and our adult lives. In doing so, she points out the emotional for
Rebecca Reid
Jan 04, 2012 Rebecca Reid rated it really liked it
Enchanted Hunters, Maria Tatar’s volume on “The Power of Stories in Childhood,” is enjoyable and informative for the reader of children’s literature, for the parent who reads to a child, and for the reader who enjoys fairy tales. She discusses children’s literature from a few different approaches, including literary criticism, history, and personal opinions.

Ms Tatar is obviously well read in not just children’s literature but adult classics and philosophers as well. Because of her wide-reaching
Jan 02, 2010 Kara rated it it was amazing
A certain book from my childhood left me with memories I will never forget. It was a moment in childhood when my imagination must have been at its peak, the tale was more alive and real than any story I’ve come across since. In remembrance of the story and the influence it had on me I set out to explore children’s literature. This book achieves in explaining the culture of children’s literature, the charm and lure of bedtime stories, why from a child’s point of view the world makes more sense up ...more
Jan 09, 2012 Caryn rated it really liked it
Maria Tatar explores the history of storytelling for children and the reasons why the books we read as children have such a profound and lasting impact.

While the book is admittedly more of an exploration than an explanation, it felt a bit loose in many places where I would have preferred more focus. That said, Tatar's close readings of Dr. Seuss, Alice in Wonderland, Goodnight Moon, and many other beloved children's stories are thought-provoking. Defintely a must-read for anyone who loves childr
Jun 15, 2009 Jane rated it really liked it
The earlier chapters present an interesting look at the development of children's literature (particularly bedtime reading) from its roots storytelling, while the later chapters focus primarily on children's fantasy, which Tatar, an expert on folklore and fairytales, seems to see as a direct descendant of that genre. The individual analyses are interesting, while the books as a whole, though it does not have one strong thesis, makes a powerful argument for the importance of fantasy lit for child ...more
Jun 10, 2009 Jean rated it it was amazing
Shelves: folklore-anthro
Wow. More fun to read than many a novel I've encountered. I'd definitely recommend Enchanted Hunters to anyone who has children, writes for children, or was a child who loved--I mean loved--reading. Also, at the end of the book Tatar includes a compilation of blurbs from writers talking about their childhood reading experiences. Fun to look through those pages and find the reminisces of some of my favorite authors.
Adam Shaeffer
Mar 22, 2013 Adam Shaeffer rated it liked it
Tatar offers some great insights into the value of early childhood reading, that, I believe, are equally applicable to reading at any age. Stories we read at our formative ages seem to have a longer lasting impact on us, but that doesn't discount the power of stories read in adulthood as well--particularly if we can cultivate our sense of child-like wonder.

Good book, with good insights.
Dec 16, 2014 Emilyn rated it liked it
This is a book about all sorts of books and stories told to children, and how culture has responded to them over the course of history. It quotes so many people and so many books, not just the classics but some obscure ones too. It's pretty interesting and in the back are a bunch of quotes from various authors and people about their first experiences reading books.
Aug 21, 2011 Mindy rated it it was ok
Thought I might use this in my class. It's really more of an investigation of a handful of classic children's books and the patterns they share, rather than what I expected it to be, which was the influence of fairy tales on a child's development. A good read for parents or teachers who are waxing nostalgic over some of their childhood favorites.
Jul 14, 2009 Marilyn rated it did not like it
Shelves: isurrender
This book was too dry for my kind of reading. I do agree that most of the bedtime stories for children can induce nightmares or can wind the little ones up when they need to be winding down. I don't know if the author comes up with an alternative to the usual stories because I only got through the first 3 chapters.
Jul 05, 2015 Ilana rated it it was amazing
Everyone and anyone who loves children's books, reading to children, writing for children, children in general, reading in general, or writing in general should read this book. And if you don't like any of those things, get out of here.
Aug 07, 2011 Meghan rated it liked it
Not bad as far as it goes, but it reads like an (admittedly bright and promising) undergraduate student's senior thesis. Too narrow in scope yet broad in treatment; hypercitated and padded with an appendix of passages from famous authors on childhood reading.
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The Lolita Reference 4 159 Nov 23, 2014 11:24PM  
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  • Brewer's Rogues, Villains & Eccentrics: An A-Z of Roguish Britons Through the Ages
  • The Interpretation of Fairy Tales
  • Children's Literature: A Reader's History, from Aesop to Harry Potter
  • Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Women Writers Explore Their Favorite Fairy Tales
  • The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia
  • Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked: Sex, Morality, and the Evolution of a Fairy Tale
  • No Go the Bogeyman: Scaring, Lulling, and Making Mock
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Maria Tatar is the John L. Loeb Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures. She chairs the Program in Folklore and Mythology at Harvard University. She is the author of Enchanted Hunters: The Power of Stories in Childhood, Off with Their Heads! Fairy Tales and the Culture of Childhood and many other books on folklore and fairy stories. She is also the editor and translator of The Annotated Ha ...more
More about Maria Tatar...

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“Magic happens when the wand of language strikes a stone and makes it melt, touches a spindle and turns it into gold, or taps a trunk and makes it fly. By drawing on a syntax of enchantment that conjures fluidity, ethereality, flimsiness, and transparency, writers turn solidity into resplendent airy lightness to produce miracles of linguistic transubstantiation.

What is the effect of that beauty? How do readers respond to words that create that beauty? In a world that has discredited that particular attribute and banished it from high art, beauty has nonetheless held on to its enlivening power in children's books. It draws readers in, then draws them to understand the fictional worlds it lights up.”
“Storytelling draws on the magic of language to created Elsewheres. Writers use a linguistic sleight-of-hand to take an attribute, attach them to new objects, and create enchantment.” 1 likes
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