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Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  755 ratings  ·  173 reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 201 pages
Published December 1st 2014 by Oxford University Press (first published October 23rd 2014)
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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 ...more
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

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
May 31, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Arielle Walker
Mar 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Arielle by: Pt Chev Library
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.
❀Aimee❀ Just one more page...
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.
Jim Coughenour
Nov 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
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, ...more
Nov 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Mar 08, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, essays
This was a reasonably quick read, due to the fact that the book is a little square instead of being

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
Sep 06, 2017 rated it did not like it

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.
Sep 06, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
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
Feb 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: oral-culture
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
Jan 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
“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’.”
Wilde Sky
Jan 06, 2018 rated it liked it
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.
Roman Clodia
Oct 17, 2016 rated it liked it
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
Dec 04, 2014 rated it liked it
Read all my reviews on

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
Robyn Hunt
Oct 04, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For a short history of the fairy tale in such a slim volume this is actually felt very detailed, thorough and complete . Warner clearly has immense love and respect for the fairy tale genre and she offers very perceptive close readings of the tales she chooses to discuss.

Was personally heartened by her frankness regarding Freud and Bettelheim and was pleased to see her address the topic of male heroes.

Overall this text explores the wider topic of how far we manage to keep reinventing these
Elaine Aldred
Nov 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
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 ...more
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.
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.
May 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: anglo-library
This was a really interesting, and small, book about the history of fairy tales and how they have evolved. I really appreciated the fact chapters were small and easy to follow. She moves her way across fairy tales since they were first being compiled in their purest form (as the Grimm brothers did), all the way to modern retellings like Disney movies or the more YA books of late.
And it was a wonderful discovery seeing them change over time. She talks about what fairy tales eventually tried to
Becky Graham
Feb 20, 2018 rated it liked it
Exactly as described - a short history of fairy tales. This is a quick read with a lot of general information and few very insightful comparisons (especially between the French Bluebeard's Wives and the German The Robber Bridegroom, which do not seem to be the same story at first reading but actually have significant similarities). It wasn't as in-depth as I needed for the paper I am working on, but would be great for general research or anyone who is just interested in how fairy tales have ...more
Easily the most accessible grad school book I was assigned to read--this is an excellent overview of the history of fairy tales, the issues surrounding fairy tales, and all kinds of other interesting tidbits that make you feel incredibly educated and "in the know" when you finish reading it.
Sep 07, 2014 rated it liked it
If you are looking to brush up on your fairytale knowledge, this is a great book to start with. It discusses all the popular classics, as well as ones I hadn't heard of and went to check out for myself later. It gives a nice overview, with details on the authors and the history of the time period. I also appreciated the reading list offered at the end of this book.

Warner spends time on the Grimms and Perrault primarily, but she also connects the fairy tale to modern times though the work of
Alan Lindsay
Apr 12, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I was curious about how OzHouse would do under the microscope of this author. It offers another modern twist on fairy tales. I'd say it would do okay.

Warner lost a little credibility with me by getting the name of Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum wrong (she calls him Frank L. Baum), but as a history of the Fairy tale, the book does a good job. It has to be a selective history, in this case lacking little in breadth but a lot in depth. It skims over everything. It starts slow and obvious, but
Kelly Furniss
Jul 13, 2015 rated it liked it
This was picked by my book club and I thought it made a change to read a non fiction book.
I was intrigued to see how fairy tales would be pulled apart, dissected and explained and how they had with changed with society. Different chapters touch on different themes found within them and underlying messages are pin pointed and analysed. A few times I found myself realising the old tales I know had actual deep meanings and points put across and sometimes it was quite sinister!. An interesting
Sep 06, 2014 rated it did not like it
I received a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This in no way changes my views or opinions of this book.

I love fairy tales, hence why I chose to read this book. The cover is absolutely beautiful and captured my attention immediately. However, the book was unsuccessful in doing so. I was expecting a story, some sort of whimsical fairy tale, even a twisted tale would have been okay. Instead, this book breaks down every angle and reason behind what happens in fairy
Steve Wiggins
Aug 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
Fairy tales are part of who we are. Analyses of these stories sometimes leads to confusion, but Warner's clear and readable account is, like her other work, accessible and challenging. A lot of punch for a small book. Further remarks may be found here: Sects and Violence in the Ancient World.
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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.'

“Storytelling is a dangerous vocation, for the fairies punish those who return to tell their secrets.” 7 likes
“Like ´Bluebeard´, the fairy tale of ´Snow White´does not record a single, appalling crime, but testifies to a structural and endemic conflict in society that was political and social as well as personal, producing many, many instances of similar violence.” 3 likes
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