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  • Kelly Jarvis

The Fairy Tellers: A Journey into the Secret History of Fairy Tales by Nicholas Jubber

Nicholas Jubber’s The Fairy Tellers: A Journey into the Secret History of Fairy Tales is a fascinating text that provides readers with historical knowledge that will transform their understanding of the fairy tale genre. Rather than focus on the details of a tale type, Jubber chooses to present research on the tellers of the stories, and this creates a context for understanding the social constructs which inform both well-known and obscure fairy tales.

Although Jubber devotes his culminating section to the famous Hans Christian Anderson, much of his book uncovers information on tellers that are less recognized by casual fairy tale fans. He begins with the life and work of Giambattista Basile whose 17th century Italian collection titled Tales of Tales contains early variants of many well-known fairy tales such as Sleeping Beauty (Sun, Moon, and Talia) and Rapunzel (Petrosinella). From here, Jubber moves on to explore the life of Hanna Dyah, a traveler from Syria who narrated many of the tales that come from 1001 Nights to Antoine Galland, and then he writes about the French fairy tale salons that propelled Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve to write Beauty and the Beast. Jubber examines the influence of Dortchen Wild upon the Brothers Grimm, reports on the life of Ivan Khudiakov who published Great Russian Fairy Tales, and investigates the Kashmir Valley poet Somodeva Bhatta who is credited with bringing “the ocean of the streams of story” from 11th century Sanskrit into 19th century western consciousness.

Each section presents a balance of historical fact and social commentary with summaries of famous tales, and this consistent technique allows readers to continually contemplate the effect of the teller on the tale. According to Jubber, “the strongest stories…the most virulent stories…feed off the nutrients of their new host landscape.” Jubber advises against reading fairy tales for a universal message. Instead, he urges his readers to consider the way the tales absorb the details of the tellers’ lives and social experiences.

Jubber’s text is full of academic research designed to challenge his readers, but his personal love of fairy tales shines through. He lovingly recounts his own interaction with fairy tales and encourages his readers to do the same. This is an excellent book for those who want to know more about fairy tale traditions around the world. The book teaches readers to think about tellers who have preserved fairy tales for the future.

You can find a copy of the book HERE.

Kelly Jarvis teaches classes in literature, writing, and fairy tale at Central Connecticut State University, The University of Connecticut, and Tunxis Community College. She lives, happily ever after, with her husband and three sons in a house filled with fairy tale books. She is also Enchanted Conversation’s special project’s writer.

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