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Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale

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From wicked queens, beautiful princesses, elves, monsters, and goblins to giants, glass slippers, poisoned apples, magic keys, and mirrors, the characters and images of fairy tales have cast a spell over readers and audiences, both adults and children, for centuries. These fantastic stories have travelled across cultural borders, and been passed down from generation to generation, ever-changing, renewed with each re-telling. Few forms of literature have greater power to enchant us and rekindle our imagination than a fairy tale.

But what is a fairy tale? Where do they come from and what do they mean? What do they try and communicate to us about morality, sexuality, and society? The range of fairy tales stretches across great distances and time; their history is entangled with folklore and myth, and their inspiration draws on ideas about nature and the supernatural, imagination and fantasy, psychoanalysis, and feminism.

Marina Warner has loved fairy tales over her long writing career, and she explores here a multitude of tales through the ages, their different manifestations on the page, the stage, and the screen. From the phenomenal rise of Victorian and Edwardian literature to contemporary children's stories, Warner unfolds a glittering array of examples, from classics such as Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and The Sleeping Beauty, the Grimm Brothers' Hansel and Gretel, and Hans Andersen's The Little Mermaid, to modern-day realizations including Walt Disney's Snow White and gothic interpretations such as Pan's Labyrinth.

In ten succinct chapters, Marina Warner digs into a rich collection of fairy tales in their brilliant and fantastical variations, in order to define a genre and evaluate a literary form that keeps shifting through time and history. She makes a persuasive case for fairy tale as a crucial repository of human understanding and culture.

201 pages, Hardcover

First published October 23, 2014

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About the author

Marina Warner

133 books286 followers
Marina Sarah Warner is a British novelist, short story writer, historian and mythographer. She is known for her many non-fiction books relating to feminism and myth.

She is a professor in the Department of Literature, Film and Theatre at the University of Essex, and gave the Reith Lectures on the BBC in 1994 on the theme of 'Managing Monsters: Six Myths of Our Time.'

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 233 reviews
Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,525 reviews1,771 followers
December 1, 2019
Once upon a time, long ago and far, far away, Marina Warner danced through the deep dark forest of fairy tales, a place at once uncanny and familiar. On her way she stops at the gingerbread house of stage and cinema, rests on the pyschoanalysist’s counch but does not sleep for a hundred years or two, peers into the fearsome gorge of real life, taps on the bridge of transmission built of translators, adapters and collectors of fairy-tales and avoids being caught by the racing, roving, wolf fingers and eye of the reader.

If her way over those tangled, overgrown paths, under heavy branches and over abandoned spindles, dwarves and glass supplies is original or not I could not say but she is a vivacious and informative guide.

She tells that ‘thus was it ever so’ Stories slipped across frontiers of culture & language as freely as birds in the air as soon as they first began appearing; fairy tales migrate on soft feet, for borders are invisible to them, no matter how ferociously they are policed by cultural purists (p.xv), that goes not just for the origins of stories but for their continued life, the fairy tale is a flexible and open form, it lives on, and on, and on, because it is continually reinterpretted and reinvented, perhaps the marsh is a better metaphor than the forest for the world of fairy tales for there is no firm footing to be had. Attempts to link Bluebeard to Gilles de Rais or Snow White to Saint Ludmila of Bohemia or Margarete von Waldeck are for her, to be led by the willow the wisp (or Rusalka if you prefer) into deadly deep waters. In fairy tales there may be generic warnings – family dynamics can be destructive - but similarities with actual persons or events swiftly looks co-incidental or forced upon examination .

Attention she says must be given to the teller of the story, ealry collectors she says ,in France, Germany, Scotland, or England where looking for an authentic national culture as a counterweight to the classical heritage. Later studies Warner points out stress the commonalities of all these stories either from the point of view that they spread continutiously and indiscriminately by word of mouth or because of some universal unconsciousness, but one can also look at the changes and shifts that occur in these stories as they cross borders and get retold, one group pf women at the court of Louis XIV used innocous fairy tales to criticise the king’s policies (this however did not escape the king’s notice), while the brothers Grimm stripped out the sexual elements of stories while retaining violence and made the family dynamics a little less stark (equally they made some stories poetic by expanding some which were very laconic and compacted) .

John Locke she claims felt that fairy tales need not be told to children as they encouraged fantasy in which they were naturally rich – I was uncertain about that because I thought Locke argued that all people were at birth a Tabula Rasa, but I don’t have the motivation to unlocke that .

Warner describes the world of fairy tales as an animated landscape, streams might talk and birds become brothers or frogs princes, but it is animated also in the sense that it can be conservative or radical, or indeed conservative and radical, Hans Christian Anderson, Italo Calvino and Angela Carter, Thus was it ever so, fairy tales forever reflect the interests of those who tell them, the recent crop of heroic female characters in film versions of fairy stories particularly is only to be expected in Warner's view.
Profile Image for Christine.
6,529 reviews469 followers
September 11, 2014
Disclaimer: ARC read via Netgalley.

If you are like me, you try to ration out the money you spend for hardcover books. Certain authors eventually reach the “buy in new hardcover” rank for a variety of reasons. I have to admit Marina Warner is one of those for me. I do have to admit that as much as I enjoyed this book, I must conclude that if you have read her other work, you can get this one in paperback if you need to save money.

It’s not that the book is bad. It isn’t. It is a wonderful overview or flyover of the fairy tale genre if a reader has read much of the work produced by Warner and Jack Zipes then really isn’t much that is new here.

This doesn’t mean it isn’t worth reading, for it is. Warner spends time on the Grimms and Perrault as well as showcasing lesser known tales, but she also deftly connects the fairy tale to modern times though the work of modern authors such as Atwood, Pullman, Byatt, Carter, and Maguire. In fact, any A.S. Byatt fan should run this for Byatt is discussed a few times. There is a nice section about fairy tales and film that focuses on more than Disney, though I have to wonder why Mirror, Mirror (a Snow White movie with Julia Roberts) doesn’t get a mention. Perhaps because it follows the story a bit too closely?

There is a clarity and charm to Warner’s prose. This seems to be in part because her love for the fairy tale is coming out, and it is rather infectious. In structure, however, this book closely matches her Six Myths for Our Time lectures/book.

If you are new to fairy tale studies or simply want to know about fairy tales, this book is a good place to start. It not only discusses the well known tales and tellers, but also directs the reader to influential and timely critics as well as popular modern authors. It is a good starting not only for the overview, but also for the further reading list at the end of the book.
Profile Image for Carly.
456 reviews184 followers
October 12, 2014

When I saw the title, Once Upon a Time: A Short History of the Fairy Tale, I knew I had to give the book a try. I had recently finished Jack Zipes’ translation of the 1812/1215 Grimms’ Fairy Tales and had been very intrigued by the forward, in which Zipes detailed the origins and histories of the Grimms’ tales and the reason for the stories’ evolution. Because this book calls itself a history, I rather expected an expansion of this theme, a history detailing the stories’ transcriptions and an attempt to trace the evolution of the fairy tale archetypes. Unfortunately, I think the title is somewhat misleading: this book is less a history than a literary analysis.

Warner’s definition of “fairy tale” is not the same as mine. Her focus is almost entirely on Western fairy tales (the only real exception is the Western retellings of world fairy tales) and spends just as much on present-day “fairy tales” as on the original stories, from Angela Carter to Philip Pullman to movies like Maleficent and Brave. In my opinion, most of the book is made up of literary criticism rather than ethnography or history.

Although I’m not particularly fond of literary analysis, some of the aspects that Warner discusses, such as Bettelheim’s psychoanalytical analyses of the stories, was quite interesting. However, while I know this is more of an indictment of me than the genre, I tend to dislike the way that literary criticism tends to bolster claims with anecdotes rather than fact. For example, Warner claims that
“Bluebeard’s afterlife in literature and other media divides sharply along gender lines: male writers see themselves in the role, with varying degrees of self-scrutiny and complacency, whereas for women, the Bluebeard figure often embodies contradictory feelings about male sexuality, and consequently presents a challenge, a challenge that they meet in a variety of ways.”
Given the provocative nature of this statement, I would have expected that it would be backed up by some sort of census of stories, or at least a collection of examples in which male authors use the tropes that Warner claims for them. Instead, the only “evidence” is an example from one of Angela Carter’s stories and a rather fanciful interpretation of the low-budget, female-directed art house film Barbe-bleue (2009).
Warner also makes other similar statements such as
“Female protagonists are mutilated more often than male heroes.”
“Females dominate fairytale evil.”
“The Latin Americans, broadly speaking, do not undermine the structure of the magic they create, whereas the North Americans and Europeans make a show of their scepticism (superiority).”
I don’t necessarily doubt these rather sensational claims, but given that both are quantitative statements, both could be demonstrated in absolute terms. Warner doesn’t even try. This pattern of grandiose claims backed by at most a few anecdotes is a general trend in the book.

Warner makes her preference for “literary” fairy tales--and Victorian phrasing-- quite clear in her praise of the heavily edited and adulterated 1857 version of the Grimms’ fairy tales:
“Comparison of the 1812 versions with the fuller, patterned 1857 final, now standard, edition shows that Wilhem had a fine sense of narrative dynamics, and that the tales benefited hugely from his multiple interferences.”
Personally, I disagree completely, but given Warner’s own writing style, I’m not precisely surprised by her attitude. The book’s structure is overblown, with the sentences often lasting a half a Kindle page or more. A randomly-chosen example sentence:
“Scholars who refute popular, unlettered participants in the tales’ history are staking too much on the literary record; the latter is interwoven in the dissemination of the story, in manuscript and print, and helps crystallize its features, but the case for the invention of an entire story, ab ovo, by an individual writer, flies in the face of evidence--Plato mentions old women going down to the harbour to comfort the victims bound for the Minotaur’s table by telling them stories, and Apuleius places his marvellous ‘Tale of Cupid and Psyche’ on the lips of an old and disreputable bawd.”
Maybe it's just me, but I thought that Warner injected rather too many personal details into her descriptions. I don’t really care that The Bloody Chamber gave Warner “new, vital carnal knowledge” or about her early fearful memories of Arthur Rackham’s illustrations.

I have a certain amount of difficulty determining the target audience for the book. If you know much of anything about fairy tales, you’ll already know most or all of the history and theories that Warner describes. However, if you aren’t familiar with the tales, the arbitrary examples that Warner pulls to support her arguments will be difficult to comprehend. Maybe it simply shows my lack of scholarly interest, but I found Sondheim's Into the Woods an equally acute exploration of the nature of the fairy tale. At the same time, there were still a few interesting details that I hadn’t encountered before. For example, Warner briefly details the life of Mother Bunch, the first author to describe her stories as “fairy tales.” Some sections of the book did meet my original expectations, such as the interlude in which Warner describes the theory that Gilles de Rais was the inspiration for Bluebeard, or that Snow White’s story can be attributed to the life of either Saint Ludmila or Margarete von Waldeck. Warner also details how the French Bete de Gevaudan became intertwined with the story of Red Riding Hood, and the ways that dictators such as Hitler and Stalin harnessed the fairy tale to inspire a sense of national identity. Overall, while I don’t precisely regret reading the collection, I think it would be better served by a subtitle that described it as a literary analysis rather than a history.

Note: The quotes in this review are taken from an ARC provided to me by the publishers and may not be reflected in the final version. It is also worth noting that in my ARC, the entire text of the book was actually provided twice in a row. I skimmed the second iteration and the versions looked identical to me, but I only read the first instance of the book, so it is possible that some of my complaints don’t apply to the second copy.

~~I received this ebook through NetGalley from the publisher, Oxford University Press, in exchange for my honest review. ~~

Excerpted from my review on BookLikes, which contains additional quotes and comments that I was too lazy to copy over.
Profile Image for Sinem A..
448 reviews246 followers
July 21, 2019
Masallara meraklı okurlar için güzel bir kaynak kitap. Tüm yazım hataları yer yer aksayan çeviri ve özensizliğe rağmen. Az daha özen gösterilse çok daha keyifli bir okuma olacaktı. Umarım sonraki baskılar olur da bu konuya dikkat edilir.
Profile Image for Susan.
2,576 reviews601 followers
June 1, 2015
This is an interesting introduction to fairy tales; from what defines them to how they have been portrayed on the stage and screen. Although I enjoyed this book, I still do not feel that I am really clear about the history of fairy tales, more how they have been reinterpreted and re-imagined in modern times.

However, this book takes the reader through the traditional and oral traditions of fairy tales and explains the familiar plots and characters they incorporate, as well as folklore and magic. Of course, there is much about nature and enchantment and we read about Mother Goose, the Brothers Grimm, the Arabian Nights and even Alice in Wonderland. In modern times, many fairy tales have been effectively, ‘de-fanged’ as the author puts it. She also looks at feminist interpretations of many tales and magic realism.

This was an interesting look at traditional tales, which have been used for many years to explore themes of importance to people and help us understand the world we live in. However, although it touches on many important areas relevant to fairy tales, it does not effectively explore the history of them and I found it a little unsatisfactory in that respect.
905 reviews257 followers
March 13, 2017
This was short and sweet and simple - I liked it enough to end up owning a copy, so it clearly did something right.

Warner definitely leans more towards analysis than pure history, but what is history anyway but multiple opinions woven into one story? I personally enjoyed the subjectiveness of the book, and there is still plenty to be learned here.
Profile Image for Murat Dural.
Author 14 books552 followers
March 21, 2019
Marina Warner'in masalların kısa tarihi üzerine incelemesi "Bir Zamanlar, Bir Ülkede" Yapı Kredi Yayınları'ndan çıkmış. Kitaba geçmeden önce masallar, öyküler, fantazya, büyülü gerçeklik üzerine bunca yabancı yayına ve hatta belki farkında değiller ama başta Mine Söğüt gibi değerli toplumcu Fantastik-Büyülü Gerçeklik yazarına yer vermelerine rağmen hala yerli dosya kabulunde "Fantastik, bilimkurgu, Tiyatro Oyunu göndermeyin, kabul etmiyoruz" maddesine manifetolarında yer vermelerine şaşırıp kalıyorum. çok değerli bir yayınevi için kötü bir görüntü. Üzücü. Kitaba gelirsek; Masallar ve devamında öykücülük, hikaye anlatılıcılık anlamında anlaşılır, derli toplu güzel bir eser olduğuna, bu tip konularla ilgilenen, merak edenlerin kütüphanelerinde olması gereken bir eser olduğunu düşünüyorum. Özellikle bu türde verilen kuramsal eserlerin (Propp ya da Todorov gibi) oldukça karışık, komplike olduğunu düşünürsek elinizdeki bu kitap "herkese hitap edebilecek bir kaynakça" diyebilirim.
Profile Image for ❀Aimee❀ Just one more page....
443 reviews92 followers
January 29, 2015
This review is short and to the point. Though this book is a lot of history and commentary, it felt more like an engaging college class instead of a boring lecture. However, nothing really stuck with me. I did fall in love with the cover.

Thank you Netgalley for a free digital copy to review.
Profile Image for Jim Coughenour.
Author 3 books172 followers
November 25, 2014
The celebrated canon of fairy tales has been done to death in the last generation by Freudians, Jungians, women who run with wolves, Iron Johns and the prodigious Jack Zipes. Much to my relief, Marina Warner delivers on her promise of “a short history,” moving swiftly across two centuries of interpretation. Her short chapters are larded with unexpected illustrations (how could I not have known those by David Hockney?) and scintillating nuggets from Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Borges, Michel Tournier, Italo Calvino and Angela Carter, each of whom recreated fairy tales for the 20th century.* Warner does full justice to the anarchic inventions of Carter, whose revisionist tellings are better than the originals.
unlike most fairy tales, and certainly unlike the majority of the erotic fantasies selling fast today, her writing dazzles: her prose is unabashed in its festivity, lacerating scorn, and salty pungency. She puts on a performance of brilliant kinetic energy, displaying masterly handling of register, irony, allusion, phrase and lexicon. She is playful, richly layered, and exuberantly fearless as she attempts to reconfigure new possible worlds – where heroines will not submit but will understand their own appetites and act to fulfill them…
Carter’s originality has saved her from assimilation by the politically correct: in 1979, the same year that she published The Bloody Chamber, she also “issued a deliberate and outrageous provocation, an essay called The Sadeian Woman [in which] she upheld the pornography of the Marquis de Sade as a feminist tool of illumination.”

Warner includes a quick survey of fairy tales in film; her evocation of the films of Lotte Reiniger led me directly to YouTube. Her compressed account can only skim the surface but prompted associations of my own. (When she mentions the 17th century version of Sleeping Beauty by Giambattista Basile, she notes that the heroine “is raped while she lies unconscious” – an aspect omitted by Perrault but resurrected by Pedro Almodóvar in Talk to Her.) Maybe the best compliment I can give her book is to say that I need never read another history; I’d rather experience the tales themselves in all their inexhaustible metamorphoses.

* I’d hedge a bit in the case of Lewis – I could never stomach Narnia but still remember Till We Have Faces after 40 years.
Profile Image for Margaret.
1,105 reviews56 followers
December 17, 2015
In Once Upon a Time, Marina Warner does exactly what her subtitle says--she gives a short history of the fairy tale. If you haven't read much criticism or history of fairy tales before, I think this is a great place to start. If you're already well-versed in fairytale history, you might not find much new here. I would put myself somewhere in the middle, an intermediate I guess!, so I found a few new things that I plan to do more research on. For instance, I was unaware of Tales from the Kathasaritsagara, and plan on reading it now. But even though I was familiar with a lot of her history, it's always fun to read about fairy tales!

What I especially like is how Warner describes not only the classics--the French literary tradition, the Arabian Nights, Grimm, and the Victorian tradition--but also more contemporary approaches to the fairy tale. She has chapters on picture books, psychoanalytic theory, feminism, and film. Many times, it seems like general fairy tale histories lump everything after 1900 in a single chapter at the end, so I was glad to read a more contemporary history.
Profile Image for Morgan.
1,675 reviews74 followers
July 2, 2015
This was a reasonably quick read, due to the fact that the book is a little square instead of being more...book...sized.

The cover is great, and yeah I did a little cover judging on this one.

The book itself, I feel, didn't quite deliver what I was hoping for. Maybe I've just read too much on the subject already due to papers I wrote in college. It was a nice little overview though, not all that different from a long term-paper. Instead of focusing on one element or going in depth on anything, it jumps around. I should have expected that from the subtitle, I guess. It was like a summarized version of a semester course on the subject. A long-form syllabus.

Lots of quotes from some favorites sprinkled throughout, and a few bits of illustration.

If you've read a good deal of the original fairy tales and related works, you probably already have the gist of most of this in your brain.
Profile Image for R K.
487 reviews65 followers
September 7, 2017

Spent 51 pages reading dumb facts about fairy tales that everyone already knows!
And what's with this lady's obsession with Angela Carter? I swear every other page her name is there!
Also, she claims to talk about fairy tales from around the world but does not mention Japan not India. All examples come from either Europe or the Arabian Nights.

I don't have time for this.
Profile Image for ☼ Sarah ☼.
249 reviews52 followers
September 12, 2022
I was recently accepted onto a PhD programme (!!!) where I'll be looking into fairy tale heroines, and so of the stack of books I'm planning to make my way through, this seemed like a good place to start. The title is pretty apt: this is a short history of fairy tales, as well as a brief exploration of their sociology, psychology, and politics; it takes the reader through their beginnings all the way to modern adaptations (with a glance at some of the challenges these adaptations face as far as female representation goes). I'd recommend this one for a beginner looking for an overview of the subject—and a sizeable reading list at the end to dive into!
Profile Image for Simge.
99 reviews
August 16, 2019
Kitabın yazılma fikri çok güzel, meraklısına yeni veya farklı bir pencere açabilir düşün dünyasında. Ne yazık ki olağanüstü kötü bir çeviriye sahip. Olmayan noktalama işaretleri, kuralsız cümleler (cümledeki iki yüklemin zaman uyuşmazlığı gibi), akıcılıktan uzak dil, okuma deneyimini oldukça zorlaştırıyor ve okuyucuyu yer yer bunalma noktasına getiriyor. Verdiğim puan, kitabın ortaya konmasındaki fikir hatrına tamamen.
Profile Image for Chris.
348 reviews30 followers
September 9, 2014
This was originally published at The Scrying Orb.

This book was alright.

It poses a question of form: when a book is sort of middling, a bit boring at times but never quite bad, certainly not in any funny or remarkable way, how do you review it without affecting the same feelings in the reader of the review?

My solution: Keep it brief.

Once Upon a Time is an overview of the history of fairy tales — the major players, the major theories, the major events. From the early, sinister folktales and the men and women that recorded them, to the shift to Victorian children tales, their places in Freud and other psychoanalyst’s oeuvre, to their deep examination by 20th century feminists, and then their reclamation of darkness and adulthood in the literature and films of the present day*.

It is very general. I would call it shallow. It rarely delves. There’s a handful of interesting facts — for instance, Wilhelm Grimm ardently defended the violent lessons of fairy tales as necessary for children, while at the same time changing them to be as patronizing as possible to women and girls — but not enough to carry the book. The author is clearly passionate about the topic, but the passion does not translate to and infuse the text.

And that is easily all it takes to move a non-fiction book from engrossing and memorable to serviceable.

*I give this book points for mentioning Blancanieves, a seriously fantastic film retelling Snow White. It reimagines without diluting.
Profile Image for Iris ☾ (dreamer.reads).
423 reviews829 followers
February 14, 2020
★★★☆☆ (3,5/5)

En este ensayo de Marina Warner conoceremos la verdadera y desconocida historia real sobre los cuentos de hadas y su origen. Está lleno de detalles y de datos reveladores que os contaré a continuación.

Comienza el relato explicándonos el verdadero significado del término “Cuento de hadas” y como ha sido su evolución. Algunes autores que nos nombra son de vital importancia pues modificaron para bien o para mal el concepto original de estos cuentos. Algunos tienen finales trágicos y que hoy en día no podríamos calificar como cuento de hadas por no brindarnos un final feliz.

A través de una documentación extremadamente completa y rica en contenido, la autora nos brinda información que me ha resultado sumamente interesante. Hace un repaso desde los primeros que se atrevieron con el género y cuestiona como nos hemos visto afectados por ellos en la actualidad.

En rasgos generales Marina, me ha sorprendido gratamente gracias a su excelente narración y la maravillosa búsqueda y estudio que ha hecho para escribir este libro. Es para ser leído con calma, con análisis y sobretodo es para gente ávida de saber sobre el tema pues sino puede resultar algo denso.

En algunos momentos he echado en falta que indagara más en esa faceta feminista y en como nos ha afectado la creación de esos cuentos. La gran mayoría de ellos contienen mensajes puramente machistas e incluso creo que son una mala influencia para futuras generaciones.

Pero en conclusión me llevo unas sensaciones positivas y de mayor conocimiento sobre la historia de estos cuentos que tan protagonistas son durante la infancia.
Profile Image for Andrew.
528 reviews159 followers
February 26, 2015
A neat little primer on fairy tales that will inspire you to go out and start reading the great collections.

From the tales' early collectors to today's, perhaps, misguided reimaginings, the book moves quickly along. There's no great depth to it, which is often the mark of a deeply knowledgeable author who know what to leave out of an introduction. Rather, these are quick looks at structure, transmission, tropes, uses, audiences, and basically anything to do with fairy tales.

So go back to your childhood favourites with adult eyes, and be amazed anew.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
Author 32 books1,132 followers
January 29, 2018
“As Francis Spufford points out in his perceptive and unusual memoir, The Child that Books Built, by the time of Domesday Book in 1086, it would have already been impossible for Hansel and Gretel to walk more than four miles through any English wood without bursting back out into open fields. The landscape of fairy tales is symbolic; ‘The forest is where you are when your surroundings are not mastered’.”
Profile Image for Wilde Sky.
Author 16 books34 followers
January 6, 2018
This book provides an overview of the history of “fairy tales” and some of the ways that they have changed (been toned down) over time.

I found this book quite interesting – contains a lot of detail, if anything too much.
Profile Image for Roman Clodia.
2,359 reviews2,296 followers
October 17, 2016
Warner returns to fairy tale territory and gives us an enticing, if sometimes confused, meditation on what fairy tales are, what they mean and what cultural work they perform. The sub-title calls this book a ‘history of fairy tale’, but this is at least as much a history, if a brief one, on the responses to, and scholarly work on, fairy tales.

Individual chapters ruminate on various themes such as oral versus literary stories, the relationship between fairy tales and visual media, fairy tales and psychoanalysis, and feminist responses to fairy tales.

Warner is, of course, hugely knowledgeable about the field but there are moments where I was unconvinced by her points: that seventeenth-century interest in fairy tales was fuelled by a rejection of Latinate classical myth; that myths are about gods and super-heroes while fairy tales are about ordinary folk (what about all those princes and princesses?); that myths have unhappy endings while fairy tales have happy ones. Even more controversial, possibly, is her slightly odd assertion that fairy tales warn us about child abuse, people trafficking, incest, rape and horror stories such as that of Josef Fritzl – if they do, they certainly don’t do it very effectively given her own catalogue of modern-day crimes that fit all those categories.

Despite some niggles, this is an enjoyable read – though it doesn’t, perhaps, say anything new to anyone who has worked on or studied myth and fables. This will be enjoyable to general readers and to undergraduates fairly new to the field. The chapters are shortish, and there’s an extensive further reading list which is helpful.

(This review is from an ARC courtesy of the publisher)
Profile Image for Marjolein (UrlPhantomhive).
2,360 reviews50 followers
January 21, 2015
Read all my reviews on http://urlphantomhive.booklikes.com

A Short History Of Fairy Tale...

The cover immediately grabbed my attention and as I wanted to know more about fairy tales anyway, and possibly read some more of them, this seemed like a good place to start.

I don't really know what to say about this book. I've been thinking about it for a more than week now, but can't figure out a lot of useful things to say. I learned that my knowledge of fairy tales is at least very limited and that there's a lot out there I can still explore. Many of the authors mentioned (not of course Hans Christian Anderson or the Grimm Brothers) I'd never even heard about. Other things were less surprising; there's often a double meaning behind fairy tales? *Insert You Don't Say-face*.

Even though I don't know a lot about fairy tales I'd liked to see some more variance in the origin of the stories. They are almost all European stories, with a few from the Arabian Nights, but where's the rest of the world? Another 'problem' I had was that I never quite enjoyed myself reading it. This probably says more about me during the period I read this (exams!) than the book but I found the writing quite dry and sometimes hard to concentrate on.

I'm however planning to read some fairy tales soon...

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!
Profile Image for Marie-Therese.
412 reviews164 followers
May 25, 2019
Obviously brief and condensed in discussion but not necessarily in insight.

Warner's range in this book is fairly narrow; while she does occasionally briefly reference Chinese, Middle Eastern, and ancient Greek folk and fairy tales, the predominant focus here is on the early modern European fairy tale, its development, and dissemination into popular contemporary media. Relatively little space is given to theory here (Propp is really just a prop) but Warner does bring most of the big names into play at least briefly and she includes a nice discussion of the influence, for good and ill, of the Brothers Grimm over a number of chapters. There are some lovely paragraphs on that most brilliant of modern fabulists, Angela Carter, and interesting bits about the use of fairy tales as subversive elements in Soviet era films and television in Russia, East Germany and Czechoslovakia. The bibliography is also well chosen, with mostly accessible works that illuminate and expand on the points made in the text.

For someone just getting into the study of the fairy tale this is a nice, concise introductory book with helpful prompts towards further reading. For those readers already familiar with the study of fairy and folk tales, this is a gracefully written reminder of why we like these works so much and why we believe they continue to speak to us, even in wildly altered forms, over time.
Profile Image for Elaine Aldred.
285 reviews4 followers
November 15, 2014
With no pun intended, this is a magical read that you do not want to end. ‘Once Upon a Time’ is the type of book that could be little more than a dry academic checklist. Not so in Marina Warner’s hands. Her fluid writing guides you through the extensive and complex landscape of fairy tales from all cultures, conjuring up the old favourites in new forms as well as tracing their ancestral trees.
It is interesting to see that despite the cultural diversity of fairy tales there are striking similarities in the concepts behind the stories. It is this resonance that is why this book should be a ‘must have’ on any writer’s bookshelf, regardless of their chosen genre. This is because, as the author begins to unpick the social, philosophical and cultural backgrounds of what are certainly not children’s stories, a rich tapestry of life begins to emerge.
Modern authors using the fairy tale medium, including Angela Carter, AS Byatt and JRR Tolkein are referenced and their work commented on in a way that begs exploring if a reader has not already enjoyed their writing.
This is not a book to race through, but one to take time with and enjoy every carefully crafted word.
Profile Image for Katie Greenwood.
303 reviews9 followers
December 11, 2019
What a wonderful little book. I've read one A Very Short Introduction book before which was for Archaeology way back when I nearly did that as my degree. Oh, how life would be different if I had. Therefore I knew what I was expecting for the most part. These books give a brief account of certain topics and with the Fairy Tale one, it looked into the evolution of the Fairy Tale and also the most recurring themes within them. Of course, massively helpful to me.

Marina Warner's writing is so easy to follow despite some passages containing complex theories and vocabulary. I never felt out of my depth reading it, found the vast majority to be incredibly interesting and ended up learning so much. I'd definitely look at reading some of her other works, even after I've finished my dissertation. Considering this was non-fiction I noticed I was always itching to read more. Every time I put it down I just wanted to pick it up again.

Fabulous book.

Profile Image for Candace.
269 reviews36 followers
December 18, 2014
Warner does a thorough job of giving us a history of the fairy tale. She begins in the Prologue with a full definition of the fairy tale including all of its characteristics, then goes into the chapters breaking down these characteristics into even more detail. While doing this she discusses many different fairy tales, their meanings, and their authors. This may be one of the best things about the book as there are so many fairy tales that I discovered through this work.

Warner’s work is detailed, interesting, and easy to understand. Recommended for any reader of fairy tales and be ready to add to your “to read” list!

*I received a copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in return for an honest review.
Profile Image for Sam.
3,123 reviews239 followers
August 2, 2015
This is a good little read that takes the reader through the history of the fairy tale from their humble beginnings to the modern twists that the movies (and Disney) have added and how they have changed from generation to generation and country to country. Warner does write from a largely academic point of view which can be a little dry, particularly given the subject matter (seriously fairies, elves, monsters and goblins are exciting!) but there are moments where her passion and excitement seep through. And it is these moments that makes this book really worth reading, there is just not quite enough of them for my liking. Having said that though this is still a fascinating read.
Profile Image for Melanti.
1,256 reviews116 followers
December 24, 2017
A pretty basic, though comprehensive overview.

Didn't learn a ton, but I have many passages marked for book sugestions, and the bibliography looks like a gold mine for ideas on my next reading project.

After what's been mentioned, I do really want to return to my abandoned comparisons between the original and revised Grimms.
Profile Image for Vonia.
611 reviews97 followers
May 18, 2017
Beautiful art, researched information, interesting topics. Plus it is the perfect size for the coffee table. Then again, I have a soft spot in my heart for fairy tales and most especially paper crafting. You might not want to take my word for it.
Profile Image for Robert A..
143 reviews2 followers
May 20, 2018
It was a good overview of the Fairy Tale and the genre/type up to the current day. It was an easy and short read, a very promising start to the A Very Short Introduction series.
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