Subtitled "Fantasy, Faerie, and Folklore in the Literature of Childhood," this small book of essays was first my position papers for the EdD I never quite got. Originally published in hardcover by Philomel and then brought out a few years later in a trade paperback, this book of essays has become well identified with me. And the phrase, "Touch magic, pass it on" shows up in the oddest places. After five years out of print, the book in an expanded and revised edition has been reissued by the folklore publisher, August House. The new section is called "Touchstones" and has six new essays: "Fabling to the Near Night," "Killing the Other," "Throwing Shadows," "Literature As a Social Disease," the eponymous "Touchstones," "An Experiential Act," and an updated and revised Preface. - Jane Yolen
Jane Yolen is a novelist, poet, fantasist, journalist, songwriter, storyteller, folklorist, and children’s book author who has written more than three hundred books. Her accolades include the Caldecott Medal, two Nebula Awards, the World Fantasy Award, three Mythopoeic Awards, the Kerlan Award, two Christopher Awards, and six honorary doctorate degrees from colleges and universities in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Born and raised in New York City, the mother of three and the grandmother of six, Yolen lives in Massachusetts and St. Andrews, Scotland.
Just what is the point of stories? Why do we let them take up such a large part of our lives? How is it that we never seem to grow out of them?
We are all likely to meet people who will tell us that, in fact, they do not really like stories at all. I’ve found this is often the reason people give for not reading – they are not interested in stories. But, almost invariably, these same people will watch detective shows on television or Doctor Who or Star Trek or any one of thousands of other television shows based on ‘stories’. Stories are harder to eschew than we might like to think.
But what is the attraction? In the first essay in this remarkably short collection of wonderfully insightful essays, the author proposes:
“These four functions of myth and folklore should establish the listening to and learning of the old tales as being among the most basic elements of our education: creating a landscape of allusion, enabling us to understand our own and other cultures from inside out, providing an adaptable tool of therapy, and stating in symbolic and metaphoric terms the abstract truths of our common human existence.”
So, let’s take those one at a time.
Years ago my youngest daughter was reading some poem for high school. We started talking about it and I did that thing that I guess people who spend too much time reading sometimes do – I started telling her about how the poem referred to Dante’s Inferno and to the Bible and whatever else I noticed along the way. She stopped me and said, ‘Do I need to know every poem ever written before I can understand any single poem?’ Now, if you have been wondering why you might bother having kids, that’s as good a reason as I can come up with. Of course the answer is no, well, no-ish. It isn’t that poetry is merely a huge game of ‘spot that reference’ – but that the more allusions we are able to pick, the more a story or a poem might mean. It is like being able to flick on more and more switches and turn on more lights – you are looking at the same thing as before, but now there are less shadows, or, perhaps more accurately, different shadows. (One of the nicest quotes in this book – which of course I can’t find now – is that one can never light a candle without throwing shadows).
Stories allow us to separate ourselves from our world. Bernstein refers to this as giving us a universal perspective, but in that way that everything ends up a crazy contradiction of opposites, such a universal view also helps us to both see ourselves anew while also diminishing ourselves. So far as I can place myself in the shoes of someone else, just so far am I not standing in my own shoes. Stories do put us in another people’s shoes. But sometimes (as she so beautifully explains in duscussing Puss in Boots and Rumplestiltskin) the underlying story is of hatred for the other, it distances us rather than bringing us closer. I had never thought of Rumplestiltskin as being a story of loathed Jewish moneylenders or Puss in Boots as being about ethnic cleansing, but it will be hard not to think of that now.
I would probably run the last two functions of myth together. I would probably go as far as to say that all therapy is a species of understanding of the abstract metaphors we share of our common existence. That’s about as Jungian as I get, but then, I guess that’s about as Jungian as anyone would ever need to get. These stories and myths have lasted as long as they have because they have endlessly fascinating things to tell us about our selves. She makes the wonderful point that we are not social animals so much as societal animals. It isn’t that we like to hang around together all that much that makes us human (god, the blessing of some peace and quiet away from people sometimes) – it is more that without a society (and that means a language community as much as anything else) we just don’t get to be human. Often the stories we tell – stories that seem dark and frightening and poignant beyond our ability to listen anymore – are actually our only protection against the awful truth of existence, our only means of understanding our lives. Her point about Disney’s cutesy versions of much darker tales is that they take away from us more than just the horror of the originals, but also their potential to help us grasp truths about our shared existence – Cinderella, for example, is transformed by Disney into a hapless, dumb and utterly dependent girl (even relying on mice, for god’s sake), but this takes away the underlying message of the original story that ‘god helps those who help themselves’. I was once told that we tell children folk tales so that they understand they are not freaks when they have nightmares. That it is not them, so that fairytales help us to justify our nightmares to ourselves. Both the nightmares we dream and the nightmares we live through. How ironic then that our obsession with ‘protecting’ children from the horrors of these stories might well be doing them more harm.
Now, I have told just about everyone I know this over the last two days. Sometimes there are things I learn that really make me wonder how it is possible I could have gotten to the age I am (I mean, nearly 50) and yet have never known before. If you don’t already know this, this is going to take your breath away. One of the things you are most likely to know about Cinderella is how the Prince recognises her. He has kept her glass slipper and he has been going around town getting everyone to put their feet into it, but they all have feet that are just too big. That it has become a glass slipper is due to a mistranslation – the French words for glass and feathered are quite similar. But the interesting thing here is the country this story originated in which explains Cinderella’s tiny feet – China! Now, isn’t that obvious when it is pointed out – but without having all of the bits put before me I would never have guessed on my own. I love finding out things like that – obvious in hindsight, it is one of my favourite things.
All that remains is to thank Abigail for recommending this one to me – wonderful stuff. It has inspired me to read some of the books in the further reading section at the back of the book.
Every few years I take this book out and reread it. Yolen writes with deceptive simplicity and clarity that one doesn't realize how profoundly true her words are until they keep coming back in memory.
From this book comes a (deservedly) repeated quotation, which I reproduce here, as I use it frequently to give the short answer why I can't read game of Thrones, well-written as it is:
And for adults, the world of fantasy books returns to us the great words of power which, in order to be tamed, we have excised from our adult vocabularies. These words are the pornography of innocence, words which adults no longer use with other adults, and so we laugh at them and consign them to the nursery, fear masking as cynicism. These are the words that were forged in the earth, air, fire, and water of human existence, and the words are:
For some reason, I feel a desire to call for people with pitchforks and torches so we can go attack Parent Groups.
I did not know that Yolen's Briar Rose had been burned. I knew it was on a list of banned and challenged books, but I hadn't known that someone had threw it on the fire.
The problem with people today (okay, one problem with people today, besides the fact that they are people) is that they don't read. They really don't. Everyone on this website is a bloody expection.
What is worse, a good portion of people who read, either read badly, read the wrong thing (which is their right), or read somethng edited for the sake of their "morals". For instance, how many people don't know the bloody version of Cinderella? Or haven't read the Little House books?
This means they lack cultural understanding.
Something Yolen writes about in this book. Yolen makes an elegent and wonderful case not only for reading but for reading books that make people think. Not only does she touch on the effect on the reader in terms of liking the story, but also in terms of emotional development. In many ways, this book could be linked with The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn. Though Yolen's book is far, far more lively.
This book blew me away. It's a collection of essays about fantasy and humanity and storytelling. It's also exquisitely written, and it reinforces prejudices I didn't even realize I had. Any number of times in this book, Yolen explicated something which immediately resonated with me as something I believe at some unexamined level, the deep heart's core, if you will. She also draws some lines which are blindingly obvious once they've been drawn- for instance any of you who know me know that I revere Kipling's The Jungle Books as well as Ursula K. Le Guin's writing. Here's what Yolen says, "This story-as-societal-metaphor would come to fruition later in the worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin where, like Kipling, the language is elevated alternately sonorous and somber, and filled with light." One other thing Yolen pointed out that helps me to understand my ability to not be terribly offended by older stories rife with stereotypes is that the best writers make us them, we see with their eyes and think with their brains while immersed in the story.
Highly recommended for readers, especially readers of kid lit or sci fi.
Abigail, I am seriously in your debt for the recommendation.
Some of these essays were amazing and some were not. Yolen believes in the power of story, metaphor, and especially fairy tales. She is more open to psychological interpretation than I. It was an intriguing read after learning so much about fantasy and fairy tales from The Literary Life Podcast.
A collection of brief essays addressing the importance of folklore and enchantment in juvenile literature, from the pen of prolific children's author and editor Jane Yolen, Touch Magic was initially published in 1981, and rewritten in 2000. Presenting sixteen essays that touch on everything from the centrality of myth in helping children to organize and understand reality, to the importance of language itself in making us human, Yolen's work takes up the cause of defending folk and fairy tales as legitimate and essential cultural products.
The deep connections between folklore and fantasy literature are evident in every selection of the book, from the opening essay, How Basic Is Shazam?, in which Yolen writes of the power of recognition: "A child who has never met Merlin - how can he or she recognize the wizards of Earthsea? The child who has never heard of Arthur - how can he or she totally appreciate Susan Cooper's The Grey King? The child who has never known dryads or fauns will not recognize them in Narnia, or find their faces on museum walls or in the black silhouettes on Greek vases."
The importance of illustrators in helping to create enchantment in children's literature is discussed in The Eye and the Ear, in which Yolen analyzes three very different versions of the tale of Snow White, as envisioned by Nancy Ekholm Burkert, Trina Schart Hyman, and Walt Disney. In the titular Touch Magic she speaks of a truth deeper and stronger than "actuality," a truth to be found in the tales of Elfland, which speak to the human longing for the Other. And in The Gift of Tongues, Yolen explores the human fascination with feral children, and the necessity of language in making us human.
This is a wonderful collection of essays, quickly read, but not so quickly digested. Twenty years before B.R. Myers was even contemplating the pretentiousness of contemporary adult literature, Yolen was sounding the trumpet, and leading the charge against the decline of story. This is a necessary little book, used in the college class I taught on folklore and children's fantasy literature, and I heartily recommend it to any reader interested in those topics.
This book was simply fantastic!!! I have had it sitting on my shelf unread for too, too long. I highlighted so many passages while reading these essays on the importance of holding onto the fairy tales for the sake of our children and society. I will have to reread it and take more notes (I just highlighted this read through). In the beginning Yolen tells the reader, "To do without tales and stories and books is to lose humanity's past, is to have no star map for our future." She explains more through these essays, quoting beloved authors such as Lewis, Tolkien, Chesterton, etc. I also loved how she talked about wonder. It resonated so strongly with things Sally Clarkson wrote about in her book Awaking Wonder.
"Anyone saying of it (the fantasy novel), 'This world as I tell it to you actually exists,' would (and possibly should) be carted off to an institution. And yet there were and are those for whom Hades and the Isles of the Blessed and Qudlivun are vividly real. And Heaven. And Hell. A world in which justice and mercy go hand in hand. Where the streets are paved with gold. Where a poor man or woman could become president - or king. Such fantasy is another word for reality then, another word for the hope and the dream. So the fantasy book, like the fairy tale, may not be Life Actual but it IS Life in Truth."
A fantastic apologia for the utility of fantasy and fairytale in children’s lives and literature. I happen to be convinced of this already, but if you are not, Yolen provides a compelling argument that is almost a fantasy itself.
I feel like my subconscious is guiding me to the perfect reading order for these books on fairy tales. I'm really getting a sense of dialogue and debate between the different authors and academics, but the controversy is increasing my appreciation of the genre, not diminishing it.
One reaction: This is exactly the kind of book Ruth Bottigheimer (author of Fairy Tales: A New History) would hate. It's all about fairy tales as part of our Jungian unconscious, our cultural and spiritual heritage. It takes for granted all the notions which Bottigheimer sought to disprove: That the classic fairy tales derive from an unbroken heritage of oral storytelling tradition, linking modern children (and adults) with their primitive ancestors. Very kumbaya.
And Bottigheimer would probably be right. After all, this was the prevalent understanding for hundreds of years, ever since the Grimms kick-started the romantic nationalist movements and became the poster boys of the worldwide folklore revival. These ideas are probably based on some pretty shoddy scholarship.
On the other hand, Yolen is an author, not an academic. She's neither claiming nor trying to write an academic treatise. She's interested, as she says in her book, in Truth not Actuality. Though not unrelated, the two are not quite the same thing. Idealistic though a lot of it is, there is an appealing quality to these essays which I think speaks to their inner truth. Whenever or wherever the fairy tale came into being, it has the same effect on the listener here and now. And whatever the origin of the fairy tale, certainly storytelling itself is as old as humanity.
I particularly liked the chapter on "Tough Magic," with its emphasis on the rules, logic, taboos, and consequences of the best fantasy and fairy tales. Other scholars have noted this paradoxical fact of the genre (Tolkien and Chesterton especially), but Yolen puts this theme in a very sensible way which I know I'll find helpful in my own writing.
So overall, I'm torn. *shrug* I want to like it, and I really like parts of it, but my coming-away feeling was one of "meh. :(" Probably just me, though!
I'm sure most people probably would not have the objections I had to it, and it may be worth it for the good to be gleaned. I'm not sorry I read it. I recommend this book for adults who are interested in the many interesting facets surrounding fairy-tales, children, and folklore through the ages.
I read this book in about an hour and a half, but what it had to say about the importance of unsanitized, unsentimentalized fairy tales in the lives especially of children but also of the adults those children grow into, was profound. Yolen makes the case that all those old stories with all their magic and violence are necessary to children because through them they learn about good and evil, courage, honor, justice, choice and consequence, responsibility, and what it is to be human in a way that cannot be replaced. A few of her references are dated, but mostly her theories and exhortations seem to apply even more today, when the old stories are even more rarely told.
A series of essays that offer an intriguing look at the role folklore and fairy tales play in children's development. Jane Yolen is an amazing person and an amazing scholar--and although I came away liking this small book, I felt terribly guilty for not providing the rich experiences she did for her kids, for my kids. Kind of like reading about the life of Tasha Tudor and the astonishing things she did for her children.
A very smart, intelligent, collection of essays about the power of fantasy and folk lore. It is written by Jane Yolen, so of course, it is smart and intelligent. Her thoughts on the use of time travel in children's stories was eye opening. And this is the second book I read this year that talked crap about Roald Dahl. I love it. I want more books that talk shit about Roald Dahl, I love his work, but everything I hear about him makes me happy to never have met in person.
"So the fantasy book, like the fairy tale, may not be Life Actual but it is Life In Truth." (55)
Touch Magic is a collection of essays written by the brilliant and prolific children's author, Jane Yolen. Each essay shares her expertise of the fantasy genre. She engulfs her readers in rich knowledge and I found myself devouring this book. It was checked out from the library (woe is me, as my copy would have been marked and highlighted) so I spent countless hours copy quotes verbatum in my lil' moleskine.
Some things that stood out:
1. I loved that Yolen speaks profusely about the use of fairy tales in psychology. When I studied for my therapy degree I immediately grew an affinity for Jung. To this day, I wish I could devote my life studying him and his works (I lack patience as my mind is always wondering in different directions and funds, haha). The focus on the archetypes and myths in our culture rings a bell of Truism that seems impossible to argue with. Yolen points out that "the great archetypal stories provide a framework or model and individual's belief system." One of my goals was the develop a list of reading material where clients could find themselves within the work. A form of externalization if you will.
2. Fairy tales have a living and breathing dichotomy. They allow for black and white in our graying world. Through them we are able to find a conscious form of ideals and morals. Plus, fairy tales allows us to see the cultural implications of the time period. I adore this, because it ties us all together and yet separates us as well. I think of Jung's idea of the Collective. Fairy tales speak of humanity's ideals of right and wrong, but read in the time period they were written in, we see further implications.
3. Argh. Surely I grew a bit more frustrated at Disney and their alterations of some of the best loved fairy tales. Cinderella, the first Disney fairy tale re-write/production is one of the most infuriating seeing as in the tales cross culture put "Cinderella" (she had a different name depending on the country the tale came from of course) as a strong level headed woman, not the weak one that lacks self-reliance. Arguably, this reenforces the above argument that the tales show a glimmer of the times as well considering when Disney wrote and produced Cinderella in the 50's the woman's role was to be quite subservient to men, insomuch as the women stayed home and relied on the men to take care of the worldly issues. Yolen on the subject: "The Disney studios made a fortune, grossing $4.247 million in the first release alone. It set a new pattern for Cinderella: a helpless, hopeless, pitiable, useless heorine who has to be saved time and time again by talking mice and birds because she is 'off in a world of dreams'." (36)
4. She ends the collection of essays encouraging us to read the fairy tales more in depth (this is from the essay entitled "Killing the Other"). Some fairy tales are set up where the Other in the village is often persecuted for no other reason than being different or being the "Other". If Puss in Boots were exchanged with the roles of Jew, Nazi or black, white the story would take on a emotionally volatile response because we are taught that sort of persecution is wrong. What Yolen does though that is admirable - or I should say what she doesn't do that is admirable - is tell the mass public to stop reading these tales. She never encourages censorship, and actually makes an effort to point out how that is not the solution. What's her solution then? Wait for it. I know that it's a tough one. Are you ready? Talk about it! Yup. Read the fairy tales with your kids and talk about the roles in the story, whether it's right or wrong, go deeper than what you would normally do. Learn your own values and what's important. I just wanna know if she's looking for a new bestie.
List of books that I want to read because of this book:
Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber The Last Unicorn by Peter Beale The Lands of Laughs by Johnathan Carroll Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion by Jack Zipes Girl Who Loved the Wind by Jane Yolen The Dyer's Hand by WH Audent Dreamweaver by Jane Yolen The Uses of Enchantment by Dr. Bruno Bttelheim Perelandra by CS Lewis The Ones who Walk away from Omelas by Ursula La Guinn
A lovely exploration of fantastical children's literature. Yolen's arguments feel a bit dated at times, but there is much goodness here.
I'd love to hear her take on Harry Potter. First published in 1981 and re-published in 2000, Touch Magic doesn't cover the biggest phenomenon in children's literature since the Grimm brothers. I think this gap is why Yolen's perspective seemed dated, why her gloomy proclamations about the state of children's minds under Disney seemed to overstate the case. Harry Potter has all the trappings of classical fantasy and fairy tales. Centaurs, giants, mandrakes, Latin galore, Cerberus, shall I go on? Say what you will about Rowling, but Harry Potter gave millions of people an entrée into the world of fantasy in a disenchanted world. I doubt we'd have Percy Jackson as we know him if Harry Potter had not stormed the world first. By marrying the familiar school story to low fantasy, Rowling made strange a familiar world and added a new chapter to the history of children's fantasy.
Also, nearly 40 years after the publication of Touch Magic, with dozens and dozens of Disney movies in between, I'm happy to say that Big Bad Walt (as Yolen would have it) hasn't blown down the house after all. Inspired by their Disney-colored childhoods, many people are venturing into the history of fairy tales, and there are hundreds of fairy tale retellings being published literally all the time. Even the bowdlerized Disney versions of fairy tales despised by Yolen have the spark of the old tales.* These writers often refer to Disney as their inspiration, either positively or negatively, but the influence is undeniable.
In all, there is much that is useful in Touch Magic, and it brought me back to my childhood when I scoured the library shelves for a poorly-produced series of global fairy tales by country. Soon, I discovered that all the countries had the same tales with slightly different seasonings. I'm grateful to have discovered the concept of archetypes and motifs on my own. It makes me feel on the author's level when reading books like Touch Magic. Classical educators will likely enjoy much of Touch Magic, for Yolen promotes learning Greek myths and many other things I recall from my classically-educated childhood. I'm planning to do a deep dive into her recommended reading list, too, including some of her own novels. Fairy tales have never been a longstanding obsession for me (I will always choose small particulars over grand universals), but I think they are valuable and worth studying by the thoughtful reader.
*Yes, okay, fine, I did not grow up with much Disney and thus have a limited palate for it. However, more recent Disney-fied versions of princess tales (Tangled, Moana, et c.) have a lot more integrity as stories than Snow White and Cinderella. In addition, films like Big Hero 6 and Wreck-It Ralph draw enchantment from the well of reality. Perhaps Disney, post-Walt, by way of Steve Jobs and his brainchild Toy Story, has knowingly caught the spark of the old tales, and that Pixar lamp has a twinkle in its eye.
I loved Jane Yolen's work before I found this slim volume of essays. Briar Rose, her masterful retelling of Sleeping Beauy as a Holocaust tale, is one of my favorite books of all time, and one I've recommended to pretty much everyone who will talk about books with me.
In her essays, Yolen lays out the many ways that fantasy literature is developmentally crucial to children, our sense of history, and society as a whole. She goes on to emphasize the importance of the dark versions as well. She calls these "tough magic." If children are only exposed to the sanitized Disney versions, they miss out on many of the ethical lessons that are key to healthy development.
"It is important for children to have books that confront the evils and do not back away from them. Such books can provide a sense of good and evil, a moral reference point."
When I first started teaching middle school language arts, I was appalled by the number of students who were unfamiliar with stories that I was steeped in as a child--Aesop, Grimm's fairytales, Hans Christian Andersen, mythology, and bible stories. Without a background in the stories that permeate our common culture, they didn't recognize archetypes, or as I explained it at the time, they didn't get the jokes. Without this "landscape of allusion," children (and the adults they become, "live in a cultural landscape that is dry as dust."
And, on a more uplifting note:
"The best of the stories we can give our children, whether they are stories that have been kept alive through the centuries by that mouth-to-mouth resuscitation we call oral transmission, or the tales that were made up only yesterday--the best of these stories touch that larger dream, that greater vision, that infinite unknowing. They are the most potent kind of magic, these tales, for they catch a glimpse of the soul beneath the skin.
Touch magic. Pass it on."
This is a must-read for parents and anyone who works with children, especially those involved in creating educational policies.
I'd forgotten I'd already read this. When I went to list it here, I saw the previous review. Oh well. It's hardly a difficulty to reread books I like.
"Stories lean on stories, art on art. This familiarity with the treasure- house of ancient story is necessary for any true appreciation of today's literature. A child who has never met Merlin-- how can he or she really recognize the wizards in Earthsea? The child who has never heard of Arthur -- how can he or she totally appreciate Susan Cooper's The Grey King?" (15)
I bought this for ~$3 from the online Thrift Books.
Review from November 4, 2012
Essays by Yolen on the value of faerie stories, on writing faerie stories, on specific folklore tropes like time travel, feral children, the evolution of fairy tales.
“Touch magic– pass it on.”(9, 50, 80)
“In eighteenth- century Venice, when masked balls were a common pastime, it became a convention that anyone wearing a mask remained unrecognized. From this grew another custom. Someone wishing to go out into the street disguised need only wear a symbolic miniature mask in a buttonhole to be considered incognito. That tiny pin was always respected. The wearer was then immune from censorious eyes. The pin said, in effect, ‘I am not I,’ and the person behind the pin was free to act the stranger, the commoner, the charlatan, the fool. Any evening became carnival, any man or woman a player in his or her own elaborate pantomime.”(53)
Excellent and thoughtful book that is perfect for students of children's literature, parents, authors, and storytellers! I recommend this as a perfect text book or reading title for literature, writing, folklore and parenting courses.
The powerful role of fantasy and the imagination in a child's coming to grips with the reality of life is a message worth repeating. Yolen shares episodes of her own parenting to illustrate many key elements, provides deeply thoughtful comments for reflection and inspires one to go find many of the titles and rediscover the wonder and the power of stories.
My favorite quotes have to be her comments on page 62 of the Philomel Books copy (ISBN 0399-218971): "And for adults, the world of fantasy books returns to us the great words of power, which in order to be tamed, have been excised from our adult vocabularies...words which adults no longer dare to use with other adults, and so we laugh and consign them to the nursery, fear masking cynicism. These are the words that were forge in the earth, air, fire, and water of human existence. And the words are : Good. Evil. Courage. Honor. Truth. Hate. Love."
Another is on page 63: "Literature, of course, is an unnatural act committed by two consenting individuals - writer and reader."
Prolific writer Jane Yolen is a passionate proponent of the role of traditional folk and fairy tales in the lives of children. In Touch Magic, she warns “Our children are growing up without their birthright: the myths, fairy tales, fantasies and folklore that are their proper legacy. It is a serious loss.” If you consider the important work myths and folk literature perform, you get a sense of what many young people today are missing. Traditional tales perform four crucial functions, Yolen argues. They provide … 1. A landscape of allusion. (Example: How can you understand Shakespeare if you’ve never read the Greek myths?) 2. Insight into ancestral cultures 3. A safe path for processing experience 4. A framework for an individual’s beliefs and values
“When we … deprive [children] of the insights and poetic visions expressed in words that humans have produced throughout human history, we deny them – in the end – their own humanity," she writes. We bequeath to them a dry and shallow culture. Children deserve better.
Touch Magic presents a compelling argument for the inclusion of fairy tales and fantasy stories in childhood entertainment and education— and in adult entertainment and education as well. Over the course of sixteen brief essays on subjects ranging from Venetian masquerades to banned books and book burnings, Jane Yolen argues that humans engage with the world and find meaning in experiences through metaphor, myth, symbolism, and archetype: never more so than when we are young.
Yolen's humor in these essays is delightful, eloquent, occasionally just this side of bawdy, and very well-timed. She reminds me of Judy Blume or Jim Henson, with her ability to write such clear and lovely prose intended for children, while occasionally interjecting some small comment or comparison obviously intended for a more adult understanding.
This is a less academic effort than a lot of the books on fairy tales that I've read of late, but no less powerful for it: the tone is conversational, but though her style is casual, Yolen's authority on and passion for this subject come though plainly.
Growing up, Jane Yolen was a perennial favorite author of mine. Owl Moon, Greyling, The Devil's Arithmetic, Briar Rose, the Books of Great Alta, and her myriad short fantasy and sci-fi stories were among the many, many books I've read and loved in my life. Having read Touch Magic, it's easy to see why: she has a consummate understanding of what makes a good, resonant story for children. I already feel like I might have to read this again; in keeping with her emphasis on the importance of metaphor, Touch Magic is written in broad strokes. Only sparingly does Yolen single out specific stories as examples, leaving it mostly to the reader to connect the thematic dots. The whole effect is short and pleasurable to read, but I also sort of feel like I should maybe be taking notes? I'll admit that's of little consequence. This is still a really good book with (for its size) a surprising amount of content to chew on.
A collection of essays on folk/fairy tales and fantasy stories told to children, written by the absolute authority on such matters. I don't necessarily agree with all of her conclusions (imho the chapter on feral children is skippable) but I highly recommend this to anyone considering writing for children. The chapter on time travel narratives was particularly illuminating and brought up points I had not considered but in retrospect seem obvious. There is a section that sticks with me where Yolen mentions not noticing anti-Semitic trends in books she read as a child because the reader was always obviously positioned on the side of the good Christian children; this moment of adult realisation that your childhood favourite writer probably unconsciously hated you is something that, unfortunately, I suspect many people will recognise.
I'm sure this book deserves more stars than three, but I am just not smart enough for this book. So many fantasy and fairy tales were referenced that I have no idea about.
It did give me a fair amount to ponder. I was wondering if it would convince me that I need to read fantasy since (besides Harry Potter and Narnia) I'm not a fan. I just can't do pretend worlds as much as authors would like me to. I didn't leave the book convinced that I need more fantasy in my reading life.
I did appreciate the section she shared that a fairy tale enabled her son to grieve over a pet that had passed away. But I was left wondering whether or not it is story that helps in childhood literature more so than fantasy. Much of what was discussed I felt would apply to narrative in general.
I was a literal child. And teenager and young adult. I didn't "get" why symbolism and metaphor was a big deal. Say it how it is, isn't that the best way? In my 30's, I've begun to appreciate myth and symbol and type and shadow. I used to think it was all bunk.
This book is basically a treatise on how lost civilization would be without the stories that perpetuate metaphor and teach without teaching. I don't know if we'd be as low as the animals. But most all prophets and leaders, Christ most prominently for me, have taught matters of live, death and beyond using metaphor.
A wonderful collection of essays by a fantasy writer who knows her folklore. I've read bits and pieces of this book for years but, a couple of days ago, I decided to read the book in its entirety from beginning to end. Turns out my bits and pieces reading meant that I'd already read all of the essays, but re-reading them this way was terrific. The essays really make one think about all of those parents (and they are the majority) who don't think or are somehow unable to share folk literature with their children. These children grow up bereft of many of the shared stories that make up our collective human tale. Food for thought, especially for a children's librarian...
I got this book longish ago, before I had any association with anyone who had any association with Jane Yolen, so my continual return to it as a source of information and inspiration about how myth and magic inform what we think and how we feel about being in the world, raising children in the world, and the possibility of truths larger than our lives in the world is unlikely to be prejudicial. That said, this is a wonderful book, and if you care anything about magic, myth,monsters,folklore,fantasy,faeries, stories, storytelling, story writing, themes, images, culture, courage, eternal truths, or having fun with a book, you should go out right now and buy this one.
In the world of Faerie and Myth and Folklore, which I've come to love, I enjoyed Yolen's exploration of some of the questions parents/teachers/storytellers might have like, "Why story?" "Which story?" "What about that dark stuff in the stories?" I really learned a lot from the section on variously told Little Red Riding Hood stories, and on the ways in which Cinderella, for example, reflects the cultural values of the versions we have received. As a storyteller, I found the book thought-provoking and helpful.