Once Upon a Time: A short history of fairy tale – Marina Warner

I saw a short review of Once Upon a Time in a weekend copy of The Guardian a couple of months back, and ordered a copy that day. It then took two months to turn up in the post: I may not use the Guardian’s book shop again!

Once Upon a TimeThe basic premise is to explore whether fairy tales are a universal component of the human experience, and how they have shaped and been shaped by our experiences. The need to explore the human condition is essential, and to understand coping strategies, and how to avoid the monsters, and fairy tales have been a historical way to do so, and how they continue in this manner in the modern world.

But fairy tales are not full-blown novels: epic series such as Harry Potter are excluded. The focus is on simple tales as they have travelled and changed through time.

Fairy tales are one-dimensional, depthless, abstract, and sparse; their characteristic manner is matter-of-fact – describing a wolf devouring a young girl, ordering a palace chef to cook a young woman, or chopping up a child to make blood pudding arouses no cry of protest or horror from the teller. This is as it is, as it happened; the tales is as it is, no more no less.

Its a lovely little book, with a definite emphasis on little. I was surprised by quite how slight it is to hold: more akin to the “gift books” found near the till than a full book. However it gives a wonderful overview of historical and current views of fairy tale and covers a surprising variety of themes.

If I reattempt the MOOC I ran out of time for, this will help with the first essay at least.

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