Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Off with Their Heads! Fairy Tales and the Culture of Childhood” as Want to Read:
Off with Their Heads! Fairy Tales and the Culture of Childhood
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Off with Their Heads! Fairy Tales and the Culture of Childhood

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  230 ratings  ·  24 reviews
When fairy tales moved from workrooms, taverns, and the fireside into the nursery, they not only lost much of their irreverent, earthy humor but were also deprived of their contestatory stance to official culture. Children's literature, Maria Tatar maintains, has always been more intent on producing docile minds than playful bodies.

From its inception, it has openly
Paperback, 328 pages
Published October 24th 1993 by Princeton University Press (first published April 6th 1992)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

Be the first to ask a question about Off with Their Heads! Fairy Tales and the Culture of Childhood

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
really liked it Average rating 4.00  · 
Rating details
 ·  230 ratings  ·  24 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Off with Their Heads! Fairy Tales and the Culture of Childhood
Jan 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
A disturbing, enlightening, and engagingly-written book. Tatar is one of the best academic writers I've read. Her analysis is incisive; even when I disagreed with her or could envision a different interpretation, I recognized that I would not have been able to disagree with her without her elucidation in the first place. Which makes her the best kind of scholar: someone who's in it for the discovery, not to make everyone else agree with her. The disturbing aspects of the book were the chapters ...more
Jan 18, 2020 rated it liked it
Never mind the blurb. This is, especially at the beginning and end, a fascinating book about how children perceive folk tales, adaptations, and original stories, and how that often differs from how adults do. The author takes into account different cultural contexts* and different interpretations both scholarly and popular. It includes extensive notes and bibliography, but is accessible, not just scholarly.

*For example: Those of you interested in this subject remember learning about the moral
Nov 02, 2010 rated it liked it
Sometimes I pick up a non-fiction book, just to have something slightly different.

The author's focus is largely on the literary form of fairy tales and how they were chosen/edited to maximize didactic content bent on making children (particularly girls) docile, obedient and incurious.

She spends considerable time on Bettleheim's "Uses of Enchantment and what she considers a victim-blaming theme where children are made responsible for the bad deeds of the adult villains who attack them.

This was
Feb 20, 2009 rated it it was ok
I met Tatar last year and heard her speak, and found her to be very pleasant and interesting. This book, however, drove me a little nuts. She tends to make claims that she doesn't bother supporting, which is frustrating as a scholar. She also makes many ethical judgments and presents them as absolute truths. The book seems to be an instruction manual on how to protect your kids from scary fairy tales, disguised as a scholarly text.
Katherine Sas
Apr 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
A really interesting look at the messages we send our kids through stories.
Bea Elwood
Mar 10, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: research
Do you remember that movie "Reign of Fire"? There's that scene where they are reenacting Star Wars "Luke I am your father" and the little kids in the audience gasp - so cute. Well that's the thing about the oral tradition verses printed/filmed stories. Once something is written down or filmed that version of the story becomes fixed but the way we get together around the water cooler at work and talk about last night’s episode of "Lost" changes depending on whom we are talking with.

I'm not sure
Jan 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
Tatar is, as always, refreshingly pragmatic and grounded in her analysis. This book in some ways functions as an extended critique of Bruno Bettelheim's psychoanalytic mode of fairy tale criticism, arguing for the historicity of many elements of the tales and their deep immersion in their own cultural contexts. In this way it is not unlike Marina Warner's more expansive From the Beast to Blonde, though Tatar is more pointed in her argument and in her opposition to Bettelheim. She is strongest ...more
Jan 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is one of those books that I have now skimmed several times for school. My eyes have alit on every single page, but I haven't read the book with the intensity of a novel.

However, per popular response, I can claim it as a "book read in 2009." So there ya go. LOL!

Honestly, I love Maria Tatar from an academic perspective. She's interesting, sometimes funny, and highly readable while remaining clearly extremely intelligent. I keep returning to this book because her perspective is complimentary
Sep 23, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: nonfiction
Alas, my library does not own this and its hefty $35 price tag in paperback is an obstacle. The copy I obtained through Inter-library loan had too short a loan period so I was only able to get through the preface which was enough to inform me that this is an analytical work that begs some concentration on the part of the reader.

I will say that I am now persuaded to NEVER read Bettelheim's "The Uses of Enchantment" in which he puts a disturbingly Freudian spin on the fairy tale motifs.

If I ever
Tatar examples how fairy tales were slightly altered to fit into children's literature. She also offers quite a bit on Sednak. The book is written in such a way that you do not need to have a good solid background in fairy tale studies to understand it.
Aug 18, 2009 marked it as wishlist
Off with Their Heads! Fairy Tales and the Culture of Childhood by Maria Tatar (1993)
Jul 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
An intriguing book on a scholarly examination of fairy tale. Extremely thought provoking and interesting.
savannah roskell
Apr 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
It has an interesting perspective on current and original fairy tales. I used this for my A Level coursework and found it exceedingly helpful.
Apr 29, 2012 rated it liked it
I generally disagree with Tatar's major thesis concerning the predominant way in which children are represented in popular culture as "evil," so it was hard to read through the book!
Nov 11, 2011 added it
Shelves: could-not-finish
gave up- too dry & scholarly for me right now.
Virginia Jacobs
As the title of this book suggests, this is an analysis of fairy tales and what they say about childhood. Despite the title, there are surprisingly few references to Alice in Wonderland. Anyway, this is an interesting look at the evolution of fairy tales from tales to keep adults entertained during long days and nights of boring repetitive work because 18th century life in general, to tales designed to teach a moral lesson to children.

What I found most interesting is how boys and girls (and men
Melissa Mikush
Apr 03, 2018 rated it it was ok
Really, really wanted to like this book. Extremely analytical and academic with references to Bruno Bettelheim throughout. Also references fairy tales from other cultures I'm not familiar with. This would be an excellent book to use in college/graduate school for a Fairy Tale/Children's Literature course. Too bad it wasn't around when I was in those classes.
Jun 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Need to counter Bettelheim on Fairy Tales? Read this book. Tatar, a scholar in German literature, provides a historical view on the genre.
A beautifully produced book but a little dry and repetitive at times - Tatar for some reason seems very keen on Maurice Sendak and also mentioning Freud.
Lauren Noel Ottwell
Mar 26, 2010 rated it it was ok declare that adults should stay out of children's literature is utterly unrealistic--adults write the books, publish them, review them, buy them, and read them--and to argue that adults should not interfere in the reading process is as misguided as arguing that they should not intrude on children's lives. Letting children be wholly on their own as the readers of a story can, in some situations, count as a not-so-benign form of neglect that leaves children without any sort of compass to ...more
May 26, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: aarf-yuck-ugh
Seems like this person just writes to be writing, like when people like to hear themselves talk. If this could be broken down, summarized to about a third, maybe we could read it.

Scholarly premise, put forth as an assertion; seems like the author was trying to convince us about something, using high-fallutin' words that, really, far defeat the purpose.
Kirk Ashworth
Feb 26, 2008 marked it as to-read
I recently found this book in a pile of old books, Brandon and thought of you. I have not read it so I can't say anything about it. I have read a book of hers on feminine mythology that was interesting: Six Myths of Our Time or something like that.
Jul 21, 2016 added it
Shelves: folklore, nonfiction
I didn't have a chance to finish this before it had to go back to the library, but that's ok because I have read it before
May 23, 2011 rated it it was ok
Mostly talking back to Bruno Bettelheim. Not bad.
rated it it was amazing
Aug 03, 2008
Emilio Lara
rated it liked it
Feb 08, 2016
rated it it was amazing
Oct 24, 2012
rated it liked it
Jul 18, 2014
rated it it was amazing
Sep 23, 2011
rated it really liked it
Apr 20, 2015
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories
  • The Penelopiad
  • The Empathy Exams
  • Tempt (Selfish Myths, #3)
  • The Call of Cthulhu
  • Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked: Sex, Morality, and the Evolution of a Fairy Tale
  • El horror de Dunwich
  • The Dreams in the Witch House
  • The Dragonbone Chair (Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, #1)
  • Empty Bottles Full of Stories
  • Richard II
  • The Truth About Magic
  • Snow, Glass, Apples
  • Girl Waits with Gun (Kopp Sisters, #1)
  • The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors
  • Jamaica Inn
  • The Publishing Business: A Guide to Starting Out and Getting On
See similar books…
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 ...more