Shawn's Reviews > Spells of Enchantment: the Wondrous Fairy Tales of Western Culture

Spells of Enchantment by Jack Zipes
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First Quarter review.

Having been an Anthropology major, once upon a time, and always having been interested in folklore, a big collection of Western Fairy Tales like this is pretty irresistible. It's also pretty enormous - 800 odd pages, so I've decided the only way to make this work (both with my reading schedule, inter-library loan, and an attempt to avoid burn-out) is to read it in quarters, 200 pages at a time.

The introduction to this collection is fascinating, as Zipes traces what we think of as the "literary fairy tale" (that is to say, the written form) back to its origin, as transcribed oral storytelling tradition of a specific type - the "wonder" folktale (Marveilleux/Zaubermarchen) (as opposed to, say, the legend, fable, anecdote or myth) whose purpose is to instill "awe" and "wonder" in the listener, to alter their view of the world and preserve hope of change through direct action and a belief in the marvelous. In the 15th/16th century Italy, these get transcribed/appropriated from the peasant class oral tradition and included (with many other types of tales) in collections for the aristocracy/wealthy landowners (the only ones who can read) - interestingly, almost from the start, the fairy tale is recursive and self-referential, commenting on previous knowledge of the storyform from oral tradition.

In 17th & 18th Century France, the form blooms and perpetuates (it stagnates in England thanks to the Puritan dislike of amusement!), where the tales are used to illustrate and reinforce civility/correct behavior and the accepted social norms of the upper classes. Thus, the sense of wonder is deliberately linked to "the civilizing process" - "fairies" are chosen as widely known magical beings (coded female) representative of the author's/mankind's imagination (and, very pointedly, *not* God, Gods, Angels, The Church or Saints) as source of this "wonder", projected into a Utopian setting ("Once Upon A Time...") and so has a subversive aspect as well (perpetuating imagery and paganistic ideas The Church tried to stamp out) in a new form.

The absorption of the translated Arabian Nights allows a distant/orientalist setting in which to place discussions and critiques of current court politics and standards. In the 18th Century - cheap publishing allows colporteurs (traveling peddlers) to disseminate these codified forms all over Europe, increasing their didactic function (they are read to the children and non-literate) while also being read by oral storytellers of the time, thus reintegrated into the oral storytelling tradition (so from oral to lit and back to oral).

When the teachers of the Dauphin (and the governesses/nannies of aristocracy), adopt the idea of using the stories as moral instructions, lessons and cautionary tales for their charges, by the 18th Century this gets picked up by mothers of all classes in general (from the cheap books for the literate or the oral tradition for the non-literate) and begins the traditional role of fairy-tales that we associate with the form. As I left off the Introduction, the French fairy-tale was about to influence the German oral tradition...

As might be expected, I didn't dig everything here. A hallmark of fairy tales is their rigid structure, and yet within that structure some of these wander all over the map in their pacing (Giambattista Basile's "The Merchant's Two Sons" and "Ricdin-Ricdon", Marie-Jeanne L'Héritier De Villandon's version of Rumpelstilskin, seem to go on forever) or are too didactic ("Of Feminine Subtlety", from the GESTA ROMANORIM, has its heroic Christian hero inflict leprosy on his thieving wife).

Lucius Apuleius's "Cupid And Psyche" starts the book as a strong, obvious example of the step from Greek myth in which the Gods seem trapped in a fairy tale. There's a marvelous bit where where Psyche uses a lamp to illuminate her invisible and unidentified husband (Cupid) whom she plans to kill, but when the light exposes him, the lamp flares up (because everything in the world loves Cupid, the God of love!) - and her knife turns aside in shame at the intent to harm him!.

Some others are fairly straightforward and familiar ("Parslinette" is Rapunzel) or quirky (Jean-Jacques Rousseau's "The Queen Fantasque" has a very kooky queen and her long-suffering husband dealing with twins gifted by the fairies - it also has some ironic near-snarky meta-comments about fairy-tales that break in on occasion). Antoine Galland's "Prince Ahmed And The Fairy Pari-Banou" is also a bit long-winded but fun for both its Orientalist touches and its surprisingly violent ending (don't push a fairy too far or you and your royal council may end up beaten to death!), a trait it shares with the strange and disturbing "The Pig Prince" by Giovanni Straparola, where the titular beast-man kills his first two wives but is still the hero!

Voltaire's "The White Bull", meanwhile, folds Biblical characters (The Witch of Endor, The Serpent Of Eden, etc.) into a somewhat convoluted illustration of his Enlightenment attacks on the Church. I most enjoyed "Green Serpent" by Marie-Catharine d'Aulnoy, where a Princess blessed with Intelligence but cursed with Ugliness travels to a far island populated by puppet people (Pagods) and ruled by an Invisible King (the Pagods even bring the Princess a copy of "Cupid & Psyche" to study!). The King woos her as their arch enemy, the puppet fairy Magotine, plots against her. This story also features an interesting idea where the good fairies cannot undo the malicious fairy's curse so instead opt to gift her with "eventual happiness" thus ensuring she will suffer travails and tests but will come out better in the end.

And that's it for now. When I pick it up again, I'll finally reach the German tales, which are my favorite!
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Quotes Shawn Liked

“It has generally been assumed that fairy tales were first created for children and are largely the domain of children. But nothing could be further from the truth.

From the very beginning, thousands of years ago, when tales were told to create communal bonds in face of the inexplicable forces of nature, to the present, when fairy tales are written and told to provide hope in a world seemingly on the brink of catastrophe, mature men and women have been the creators and cultivators of the fairy tale tradition. When introduced to fairy tales, children welcome them mainly because they nurture their great desire for change and independence. On the whole, the literary fairy tale has become an established genre within a process of Western civilization that cuts across all ages. Even though numerous critics and shamans have mystified and misinterpreted the fairy tale because of their spiritual quest for universal archetypes or their need to save the world through therapy, both the oral and the literary forms of the fairy tale are grounded in history: they emanate from specific struggles to humanize bestial and barbaric forces, which have terrorized our minds and communities in concrete ways, threatening to destroy free will and human compassion. The fairy tale sets out to conquer this concrete terror through metaphors.”
Jack Zipes, Spells of Enchantment: The Wondrous Fairy Tales of Western Culture

Giambattista Basile
“...the Moon, the enemy of poets...

("Merchant's Two Sons")”
Giambattista Basile, Spells of Enchantment: The Wondrous Fairy Tales of Western Culture

Marie-Catharine d'Aulnoy
“Once upon a time there was a great queen who, having given birth to twin daughters, invited twelve fairies who lived nearby to come and bestow gifts upon them, as was the custom in those days. Indeed, it was a very useful custom, for the power of the fairies generally compensated for the deficiencies of nature. Sometimes, however, they also spoiled what nature had done its best to make perfect, as we shall soon see.

("Green Serpent")”
Marie-Catharine d'Aulnoy, Spells of Enchantment: The Wondrous Fairy Tales of Western Culture

Marie-Catharine d'Aulnoy
“We can't give you any further information," the fairies replied. "Be satisfied, madam, with the assurance that your daughter will be happy." She thanked them very much and did not forget to give them many presents. Although the fairies were quite rich, they always liked people to give them something. Throughout the world this custom has been passed down from that day to our own, and time has not altered it in the least.

("Green Serpent")”
Marie-Catharine d'Aulnoy, Spells of Enchantment: The Wondrous Fairy Tales of Western Culture

Jean-Jacques Rousseau
“As she put it, she knew of nothing so ravishing as having a child whom she could whip whenever she was in a bad mood.

("The Queen Fantasque")”
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Spells of Enchantment: The Wondrous Fairy Tales of Western Culture

Jean-Jacques Rousseau
“Ah,' thought the king sadly, shrugging his shoulders, "I see clearly that if one has a crazy wife, one cannot avoid being a fool.'

("Queen Fantasque")”
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Spells of Enchantment: The Wondrous Fairy Tales of Western Culture

“Rarely do wonder tales end unhappily. They triumph over death. The tale begins with "Once upon a time" or "Once there was" and never really ends when it ends. The ending is actually the beginning. The once upon a time is not a past designation but futuristic: the timelessness of the tale and its lack of geographical specificity endow it with utopian connotations - "utopia" in its original meaning designated "no place," a place that no one had ever envisaged. We form and keep the utopian kernel of the tale safe in our imaginations with hope.

The significance of the paradigmatic functions of the wonder tale is that they facilitate recall for teller and listeners. They enable us to store, remember, and reproduce the utopian spirit of the tale and to change it to fit our experiences and desires, owing to the easily identifiable characters who are associated with particular assignments and settings ...

The characters, settings, and motifs are combined and varied according to specific functions to induce wonder, It is this sense of wonder that distinguished the wonder tales from such other oral tales as the legend, the fable, the anecdote, and the myth; it is clearly the sense of wonder that distinguishes the literary fairy tale from the moral story, novella, sentimental tale, and other modern short literary genres. Wonder causes astonishment, and as manifested in a marvelous object or phenomenon, it is often regarded as a supernatural occurrence and can be an omen or a portent, It gives rise to admiration, fear, awe, and reverence. The Oxford Universal Dictionary states that wonder is "the emotion excited by the perception of something novel and unexpected, or inexplicable; astonishment mingled with perplexity or bewildered curiosity." In the oral wonder tale, we are to wonder about the workings of the universe, where anything can happen at any time, and these happy or fortuitous events are never to be explained. Nor do the characters demand an explanation - they are opportunistic, are encouraged to be so, and if they do not take advantage of the opportunity that will benefit them in their relations with others, they are either dumb or mean-spirited. The tales seek to awaken our regard for the miraculous condition of life and to evoke in a religious sense profound feelings of awe and respect for life as a miraculous process, which can be altered and changed to compensate for the lack of power, wealth, and pleasure that is most people's lot. Lack, deprivation, prohibition, and interdiction motivate people to look for signs of fulfillment and emancipation. In the wonder tales, those who are naive and simple are able to succeed because they are untainted and can recognize the wondrous signs. They have retained their belief in the miraculous condition of nature, revere nature in all its aspects. They have hot been spoiled by conventionalism, power, or rationalism. In contrast to the humble characters, the villains are those who use words intentionally to exploit, control, transfix, incarcerate, and destroy for their benefit. They have no respect or consideration for nature and other human beings, and they actually seek to abuse magic by preventing change and causing everything to be transfixed according to their interests. Enchantment equals petrification. Breaking the spell equals emancipation. The wondrous protagonist wants to keep the process of natural change flowing and indicates possibilities for overcoming the obstacles that prevent other characters or creatures from living in a peaceful and pleasurable way.”
Jack Zipes, Spells of Enchantment: The Wondrous Fairy Tales of Western Culture

“Since these wonder tales have been with us for thousands of years and have undergone so many different changes in the oral tradition, it is difficult to determine the ideological intention of the narrator, and when we disregard the narrator's intention, it is often difficult to reconstruct (and/or deconstruct) the ideological meaning of a tale. In the last analysis, even if we cannot establish whether a wonder tale is ideologically conservative, sexist, progressive, emancipatory, etc., it is the celebration of wonder that constitutes its major appeal. No matter what the plot may be, this type of tale calls forth our capacity as readers and potential transmitters of its signs and meanings to wonder. We do not want to know the exact resolution, the "happily ever after," of a tale - that is, what it is actually like. We do not want to name God, gods, goddesses, or fairies, who will forever remain mysterious and omnipotent. We do not want to form graven images. We do not want utopia designated for us. We want to remain curious, startled, provoked, mystified, and uplifted. We want to glare, gaze, gawk, behold, and stare. We want to be given opportunities to change, and ultimately we want to be told that we can become kings and queens, or lords of our own destinies. We remember wonder tales and fairy tales to keep our sense of wonderment alive and to nurture our hope that we can seize possibilities and opportunities to transform ourselves and our worlds.”
Jack Zipes, Spells of Enchantment: The Wondrous Fairy Tales of Western Culture

“Ultimately, the definition of both the wonder tale and the fairy tale, which derives from it, depends on the manner in which a narrator/author arranges known functions of a tale aesthetically and ideologically to induce wonder and then transmits the tale as a whole according to customary usage of a society in a given historical period. The first stage for the literary fairy tale involved a kind of class and perhaps even gender appropriation. The voices of the nonliterate tellers were submerged, and since women in most cases were not allowed to be scribes, the tales were scripted according to male dictates or fantasies, even though they may have been told by women. Put crudely, it could be said that the literary appropriation of the oral wonder tales served the hegemonic interests of males within the upper classes of particular communities and societies, and to a great extent this is true. However, such a statement must be qualified, for the writing down of the tales also preserved a great deal of the value system of those deprived of power. And the more the literary fairy tale was cultivated and developed, the more it became individualized and varied by intellectuals and artists, who often sympathized with those society marginalized or were marginalized themselves. The literary fairy tale allowed for new possibilities of subversion in the written word and in print, and therefore it was always looked upon with misgivings by the governing authorities in the civilization process.”
Jack Zipes, Spells of Enchantment: The Wondrous Fairy Tales of Western Culture

“The literary fairy tale became an acceptable social symbolic form through which conventionalized motifs, characters, and plots were selected, composed, arranged, and rearranged to comment on the civilizing process and to keep alive the possibility of miraculous change and a sense of wonderment.”
Jack Zipes, Spells of Enchantment: The Wondrous Fairy Tales of Western Culture

“The very name of the genre itself - fairy tale - originated during this time, for the French writers coined the term conte de fee during the seventeenth century, and it has stuck to the genre in Europe and North America ever since. This "imprint" is important, because it reveals something crucial about the fairy tale that has remained part of its nature to the present. The early writers of fairy tales placed the power of metamorphosis in the hands of women - the redoubtable fairies. In addition, this miraculous power was not associated with a particular religion or mythology, through which the world was to be explained. It was a secular mysterious power of compassion that could not be explained, and it derived from the creative imagination of the writer. Anyone could call upon the fairies for help, and it is clear that the gifted French women writers of the seventeenth century preferred to address themselves to a fairy and to have a fairy resolve the conflicts in their tales rather than the Church, with its male-dominated hierarchy. After all, it was the Church that had eliminated hundreds of thousands of so-called female witches during the previous two centuries in an effort to curb heretical and nonconformist beliefs. However, those "pagan" notions survived in the tradition of the oral wonder tale and surfaced in published form in France when it became safer to introduce in a symbolical code supernatural powers and creatures other than those officially sanctioned by the Christian code. In short, there was something subversive about the institutionalization of the fairy tale in France during the 1690S, for it enabled writers to create a dialogue about norms, manners, and power that evaded court censorship and freed the fantasy of the writers and readers, while at the same time paying tribute to the French code of civilite and the majesty of the aristocracy. Once certain discursive paradigms and conventions were established, a writer could demonstrate his or her "genius" by rearranging, expanding, deepening, and playing with the known functions of a genre that, by 1715, had already formed a type of canon, which consisted not only of the great classical tales-"Cinderella," "Sleeping Beauty," "Rapunzel," "Rumpelstiltskin," "Puss in Boots," "Little Red Riding Hood," "Beauty and the Beast," "Blue beard, " "The Golden Dwarf," "The Blue Bird," and "The White Cat"-but also the mammoth collection The Arabian Nights.”
Jack Zipes, Spells of Enchantment: The Wondrous Fairy Tales of Western Culture

“It was only as part of the civilizing process that storytelling developed within the aristocratic and bourgeois homes, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries through governesses and nannies, and later in the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries through mothers, who told bedtime stories.”
Jack Zipes, Spells of Enchantment: The Wondrous Fairy Tales of Western Culture

“As the literary fairy tale spread in France to every age group and every social class, it began to serve different functions, depending on the writer's interests. It represented the glory and ideology of the French aristocracy. It provided a symbolic critique, with utopian connotations, of the aristocratic hierarchy, largely within the aristocracy itself and from the female viewpoint. It introduced the norms and values of the bourgeois civilizing process as more reasonable and egalitarian than the feudal code. As a divertissement for the aristocracy and bourgeoisie, the fairy tale diverted the attention of listeners/readers from the serious sociopolitical problems of the times, compensating for the deprivations that the upper classes perceived themselves to be suffering. There was also an element of self-parody, revealing the ridiculous notions in previous fairy tales and representing another aspect of court society to itself; such parodies can be seen in Jacques Cazotte's "A Thousand and One Follies" (1746), Jean-Jacques Rousseau's "The Queen Fantasque" (1758), and Voltaire's "The White Bull" (1774). Finally, fairy tales with clear didactic and moral lessons were approved as reading matter to serve as a subtle, more pleasurable means of initiating children into the class rituals and customs that reinforced the status quo.”
Jack Zipes, Spells of Enchantment: The Wondrous Fairy Tales of Western Culture


Reading Progress

08/16/2014 marked as: currently-reading
08/30/2014 marked as: to-read

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Shawn Back again!


Shawn And back it goes to the library - the first 200 pages down!


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