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Christa J. Jones and Claudia Schwabe (eds.). New Approaches to Teaching Folk and Fairy Tales. (Logan, UT: 2016, Utah State University Press. Pp. 252, ISBN 978-1-60732-480-5.)[Notice]

  • Lori Elias

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  • Lori Elias
    Willoughby Middle School

Certainly there are those outside of the genre who might think of fairy tales as a medium solely for children and animated musicals; for those individuals, this book – and the work of its contributors – make it abundantly clear that fairy tales are far more than “kiddie lit.” As mentioned by a number of the book’s contributors, for centuries fairy tales have been utilized by cultures across the globe to teach morality, as well as in more recent years, to hold a mirror to the mores of each story’s time and place, including views on gender equality (or inequality), personal relationships, facing the challenges of life (using often extraordinary situations to illustrate ordinary trials), and class structure. Also, more contemporary “fairy tales” have made their way into contemporary popular culture, with the success of book and film franchises such as the Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings series, and the films of the Disney Renaissance (beginning in 1989 with The Little Mermaid, based on the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen). And as the editors mention in the book’s introduction, in France fairy tales were typically embraced by aristocratic women as a sort of manual to the expectations of life at court. Following a forward by David Haase, Wayne State University professor of German, and the aforementioned introduction – where the editors make a strong case for interdisciplinary teaching in regard to folk tales – the book is divided into four sections. The first, Fantastic Environments: Mapping Fairy Tales, Folklore, and the Other World, looks at syllabi from coursework at Harvard University (Christine Phillips Mattson and Maria Tatar), Utah State University (Lisa Gabbert) and Cardiff University (Juliette Wood). While drawing from different populations and presented in various contexts –a full-length undergraduate course encompassing a variety of majors, a two-week overview as part of an introductory folklore class and a term-long humanities course, respectively – examining the course requirements alongside each other shows a strong similarity of approaches in teaching fairy tales. One of the most notable consistencies is the culminating assignment of a self-scribed fairy tale by each student, which shows that the art of the fairy tale continues to develop across time and societies. The second section is entitled Sociopolitical and Cultural Approaches to Teaching Canonical Fairy Tales and has a farther-reaching scope, both in coursework and in the origins of the covered materials. Doris McGonagil, professor of German Studies at Utah State, examines the relationship between fairy tale characters and their natural environments, particularly the forest, which of course figures so prominently in a number of traditional stories. Inspired by a student’s discovery of fairy tale film depictions released by the former East Germany’s state-owned film studio, Claudia Schwabe re-designed a course in order to view these films and examine how their versions of well-known stories (Snow White, Rumpelstiltzkin, Sleeping Beauty) could be used to promote Communist propaganda. She too has her students create their own fairy tale, but takes it a step further by requiring them to incorporate a current political or societal issue into their original stories. (This course also requires delving into the political events surrounding the creation of East Germany, as today’s college students were born after the reunification of Germany). Schwabe’s colleague Christa C. Jones discusses the study of the French fairy tales of the seventeenth century, in particular those of Charles Perrault, and their relationship to the cultural mores of the seventeenth century, specifically during the reign of Louis XIV, the “Sun King.” Rounding out this section of the book is Anissa Talahite-Moodley’s work …