May 16, 2013

A Long-Overdue Review: The Fairies Return

EC is not normally a place for book reviews. (Although I may reconsider that.)

Yet, some time back, while I was deep in teaching, and then, working on Beyond the Glass Slipper, I received a review copy of The Fairies Return: Or, New Tales for Old. I read it almost immediately, and enjoyed it immensely. I'll explain why, in a moment, but first an explanation of why I am doing this now:

"Once Upon a Time," by Kenneth Whitley
Books need to be reviewed. I am finding that out the hard way. Even getting reviews on Amazon is tough! So, apologies to Maria Tatar. She's as important as scholars get in fairy tale studies, so she doesn't need my review, but here it is.

Tatar, who is the chair of the Program of Folklore and Mythology at Harvard University, edited this new version of The Fairies Return, and wrote the lucid, highly detailed introduction to this volume. Originally published in 1934, Peter Davies compiled the stories in The Fairies Return.

He was THAT Peter Davies. As in Peter Pan. The few pages Tatar devotes to his story in the introduction would be worth the book's price, at least to me. Tatar simply lays out some bare facts about Davies' life and career and death, and how the character is Peter Pan is drawn from more than one source. It's a moving story, and, to me, shocking. I am not a Peter Pan fan, at all, so I have never seen a movie or read a book about J.M. Barrie.

The introduction also neatly explains each story and gives a bit of social and historical information about fairy tales and life in the 1930s. The stories themselves are very much a relic of the times. For me, that is no deterrent. I am an old fan of early 20th century popular literature, especially mystery novels. Yet, readers should be warned that the "new" tales of this volume have the language, pace, attitudes, prejudices, and sometimes, pop culture references that only those of us who get a kick out of the '30s will "get." For example, "Big Claus and Little Claus," by R.J. Yeatman W.C. Sellar is told in a gangster or crime movie style. It's dated, really.

But there are many tales in the book that are breathtakingly current in their ability to engage the reader. Two examples leap to mind:  "Godfather Death," by Clemence Dane is sad, and shivery and unforgettable as a story of trickery and sacrifice. "The Fisherman and His Wife," by E.M. Delafield, is a delightfully mean-spirited piece of work that digs into what I have always suspected was a nasty relationship between the protagonist and his ball and chain.

The other stories are well worth the visit to the land of fairy tales of the 1930s. It's summer reading time. Give it a whirl, because of the amazing stories, and the enlightening introduction.

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