Critical and Creative Perspectives on Fairy Tales: An Intertextual Dialogue Between Fairy-Tale Scholarship and Postmodern Retellings

Joosen, Vanessa. Critical and Creative Perspectives on Fairy Tales: An Intertextual Dialogue Between Fairy-Tale Scholarship and Postmodern Retellings. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 2011. Pp. 376, notes, works cited, index. $29.95 paper.

 Brittany Warman
The Ohio State University

 Critical and Creative Perspectives on Fairy Tales: An Intertextual Dialogue Between Fairy-Tale Scholarship and Postmodern Retellings by Vanessa Joosen is a unique contribution to fairy-tale scholarship that moves beyond standard ideas about intertextuality, expanding the concept to include academic texts. In well-written, clear prose, Joosen posits contemporary retellings of fairy tales have been extensively influenced by academic studies that have engaged with the fairy tale form, both knowingly and unknowingly (17), and that fairy tale retellings frequently reinterpret and analyze traditional fairy tales in the same way that criticism does (2). She stresses that this interaction is “an intertextual dialogue in the truest sense” (3), that fairy-tale criticism and fairy-tale retellings are involved in a constant back and forth conversation.

This book, “rather than taking the fairy tale or the fairy-tale retelling as a starting point,” instead “put[s] three critical texts at the center of [its] intertextual analysis,” (2) all highly influential and extremely well-known works, even to those outside of academia. The three texts, Marcia K. Lieberman’s “Some Day My Prince Will Come” (1972), Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment (1976), and Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s The Madwoman in the Attic (1979), are each given an entire chapter in which Joosen explores the work itself and retellings that seem to engage with its ideas. A good example of Joosen’s concept of intertextual dialogue between fairy-tale scholarship and fairy-tale retellings can be seen in her analysis of Steven Gould’s short story “The Session,” in which a therapist helps Snow White come to terms with the fact her real mother never died and her “stepmother” was in fact her real mother all along, a “remarkably close” conclusion to the one Bruno Bettelheim makes in his psychoanalytic analysis of the “Snow White” story (164-166). Joosen points out, however, that Gould’s tale also talks back to Bettelheim by having Snow White’s anger and subsequent repression “fully justified by the facts of reality” and not simply a case of childish “self-centeredness” as Bettelheim argues (166). This is just one example of the many intertextual interactions between retellings and fairy-tale scholarship that Joosen is interested in. A few of the other writers working in English whose work is examined include Angela Carter, Jane Yolen, and Roald Dahl, but she also looks at writers working in German and Dutch and illustrations.

Joosen is careful to point out the flaws and limits of each of the critical texts she uses and includes discussion regarding the variety of negative responses they have inspired, noting that though the scholarly works she chooses to engage with can be considered quite outdated at this point in fairy-tale scholarship, “some critical views and assumptions from the 1970s continue to live on in the most recent retellings” (3, 300). She also points out the sheer number of retellings that could potentially engage with these concepts from the 1970s, theoretically any that were written throughout the entirety of the 1980s to now, gives her far more to work with than if she had started with more recent, less controversial criticism (4). This said, more analysis in this direction would be welcome and Joosen’s concluding chapter provides several suggestions regarding ways this might be possible (305-306).

Vanessa Joosen’s Critical and Creative Perspectives on Fairy Tales is an essential addition to any fairy-tale scholar’s library and is, moreover, a fascinating read. This is a text to savor, a text to open up new worlds and new ways of thinking. I look forward to more work in this area and more contributions to fairy-tale studies from this author.


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