Rowan Williams on Fairy Tales

From his New Statesman review of a trio of recent books relevant to the topic:

In 1947, J R R Tolkien published a celebrated essay on fairy tales in which he insisted that their association with childhood was recent and unfortunate; it misled us into thinking that the genre was not worth serious analysis, not something to “think with”. Marina Warner’s wide-ranging and handsomely produced book Once Upon a Time will reinforce Tolkien’s insistence that these stories are very far from being a simple style of narrative to be outgrown. She surveys the literary history of the fairy tale, from the elegant fables of 17th-century French aristocrats to Angela Carter and beyond, discusses the feminist move to reclaim women’s agency from generations of patronising images of languishing princesses, and offers a parti­cularly interesting analysis of recent film treatments of the classic tales. Her conclusion is that “fairy tales are gradually turning into myths”: paradoxically, in our day, it is adults who seem most to need and use them, because they are just about the only stories we have in common with which to think through deep dilemmas and to keep alive registers of emotion and imagination otherwise being eroded. The fairy tale now has to carry an unprecedented burden of significance, and it is not surprising that modern versions – retellings or radical rewritings, like those of Angela Carter – produce a darker, more complex, less resolved narrative environment than hitherto.

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