Monday, December 3, 2012

Book Review, December 3, 2012: Fairy Tales, Stepmothers, Sex and Violence; and PD James

Madame L would apologize for mentioning the three main themes of fairy tales in the title of this post except that they guessed it...the three main themes of fairy tales.

Madame L is in the middle of reading Maria Tatar's "The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales," with its first chapter guessed it..."Sex and Violence."

(By "in the middle of reading" Madame L does not mean she has not read the whole book; she means she has read parts of it from beginning to end, thinking she could skim through it and glean the important points, but has realized there are too many stories and too much fascinating information for her to give the book this treatment, and she can barely control her urge to underline and highlight passages and to turn down corners and to read passages aloud to whoever is in the same room with she has just ordered the book from amazon, used, for an excellent price, so she will be able to return this copy to the library soon without any further damage, and will note to the librarians that the underlinings and markings in the book were put there by a previous reader, not that Madame L blames that person, but, well, yes, Madame L does blame that person.)

Maria Tatar has written extensively not only about the Grimm Brothers' seven collections of classic German fairy tales, but also about fairy tales from other languages and cultures. She has read extensively the works of others who have studied those tales (most notably for Madame L, Bruno Bettelheim, because years ago Madame L had read some of his studies for a college class) and clarifies her own agreement with and divergence from their views. 

But all this is not why Madame L is recommending this book. Madame L thinks her Dear Readers would enjoy any and all of Maria Tatar's collections and commentaries. Madame L recommends this one in part because of the connections she found in it with her own upbringing as an avid consumer of Mother Goose stories and fairy tales.

Madame L remembers vividly being read the story of Cinderella and imagining herself as that poor wretched girl herself, even though Madame L didn't have an evil stepmother or careless father or mean stepsisters. Madame L supposes that most children respond in this way to the fairy tales of their childhood, and not just because Madame L thinks everyone must be like herself but because this is the finding of folklorists and child psychologists: Children are powerless and often feel abused by the household order they're raised in, and these stories not only teach obedience and patience and hard work but also show the possibility of eventual happiness and release and revenge and even redemption.

Madame L recommends this one also because it is so complete and exhaustive without having the usual flaws of completeness and exhaustiveness, which are boredom and exhaustion. In fact, the book treats all the issues surrounding the folk stories and fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm in a way that fascinates and invites the reader's further study.

And now to P.D. James, the great British author of the Adam Dalgliesh series: Madame L did not write this book review earlier because she was side-tracked by reading "The Lighthouse," which not coincidentally treats the same issues: the children, now adults, who were abandoned, abused, or sold into servitude, and who are now adults. 

How do these children turn out? 

Some, like Kate Miskin, escape and grow up eventually to solve crimes and save lives.

Others, like --- wait, to say his name would reveal the solution to the crime that Kate Miskin and her colleague Francis Benton-Smith will solve by book's end, so, Dear Readers, you'll just have to read the book to find out for yourselves --- grow up, or, really, never grow up, but remain in a childish state of smallness and resentment that may lead them eventually to commit murder.

Are these childhood stories repeated again and again in all good literature by accident? Madame L thinks not. Madame L recommends both "The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales" and "The Lighthouse" (ah, the symbolism!---that's another thing found in abundance in the best literature including the fairy tales).

Madame L doesn't even think the Christmas season is a bad time to read and contemplate these stories. So while she may turn her thoughts and her reading time to more standard Christmas fare in coming weeks, Madame L won't limit herself to it.

Madame L will soon have a lot more to say about Maria Tatar's writing about fairy tales, too.

Happy Reading!

No comments: