Jack David Zipes, Professor Emeritus at the University of Minnesota, is a highly regarded scholar in fairy tale studies. His work, which my students find challenging and useful, is intellectually rigorous, yet wholly accessible. I could not teach my class on fairy tales without his books -- and that is not an exaggeration. His work has influenced my enjoyment, teaching, and understanding of fairy tales.
Recently, Dr. Zipes graciously agreed to answer five questions for this blog. I hope students and my non-student D&T friends will enjoy the results. It's an honor for Diamonds and Toads to be able to feature an interview with a scholar of Zipes's caliber and reputation.
1) Fairy tales have, for very good and obvious reasons, been analyzed and written about from a feminist perspective for some time. These efforts remain useful for scholars and fairy tale devotees. I'm aware that other approaches are out there as well. Do you see some new perspectives coming on the horizon? Is there any new, big trend in fairy tale studies that you see developing?
In recent years, some critics who have been influenced by social Darwinism and evolutionary psychology have been exploring new approaches to folk and fairy tales. Two books that typify this approach are Joseph Carroll's Literary Darwinism: Evolution, Human Nature, and Literature and Jonathan Gottschall and David Sloan Wilson, eds., The Literary Animal: Evolution and the Nature of Narrative. Though I sympathize with their perspective, I find their works to be somewhat reductive and positivist because they exclude other approaches and try to make literary criticism into a science. The most interesting and fruitful studies in this "new" camp is Brian Boyd's On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction. His work is more sophisticated than the other books I have mentioned. I myself have been drawn to this approach in Why Fairy Tales Stick: The Evolution and Relevance of a Genre, but I am wary of drawing the kind of "scientific" conclusions that the social Darwinists and evolutionary psychologists draw. Otherwise, there have been some splendid sociological, feminist, historical, linguistic, and psychological studies that have appeared in recent years. (I shall mentioned them below.) All of these approaches demonstrate a greater interdisciplinary awareness and knowledge of the intertextual relationship between folk and fairy tales. There have also been several books on fairy-tale films that have explored the interconnections between oral, literary, and visual traditions.
2) So often in popular culture, fairy tales are blamed for putting dangerous ideas into women's heads -- ideas about "happily ever after," finding "Prince Charming," "rescue fantasies." Do you see them as dangerous for women? Or are current interpretations that reflect our own societal pressures really behind the "fairy tales are bad for women" attitudes?
I don't think any fairy tales are necessarily harmful for women or men. What causes harm are the actual behaviors and practices in the relations between men and women. The artworks that we produce will reflect critically and/or reinforce uncritically those comportments and customs that create conditions that allow one gender (males) to dominate the other (females). All fairy tales have an ideological significance, and insofar we have lived in and still live in a patriarchal society, they will tend to support notions and interactions that reproduce the dominant forms of behavior in all social institutions. What I find interesting about fairy tales, even when they may be termed sexist, is that they raise important questions and have contradictions. They even posit roles for me to play that are ridiculous -- most men can't be and don't want to be a prince on a white horse, fighting serpents and beasts, and rescuing princesses. That's a tough job, and there are better jobs in the world. In the last forty years or so, many writers, male and female, have turned the traditional tales upside down and fractured them to question the sexism and racism of the older tales. They have created new and fascinating fairy tales that open up even more questions about male domination. Some more conservative readers might find them harmful because they undermine the so-called moral values of American society. But, like I said, the notions incorporated by the tales can only be harmful if we believe that they must be carried out in practice.
3) If you had to build a library of just five books of or about fairy tales, which books would it include? (You should know that the library for my class has no fewer than five of yours!)
There are, of course, many books I could recommend, collections of fairy tales, or studies of fairy tales. So, this is a difficult question to answer, and I think I'll limit it to some important studies. Here are seven titles: Anderson, Graham. Fairytale in the Ancient World. London: Routledge, 2000. Bacchilega, Cristina. Postmodern Fairy Tales: Gender and Narrative Strategies. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997. Benson, Stephen. Folklore, Literature, and Cultural Theory. New York: Garland, 1995. Schacker, Jennifer. National Dreams: The Remaking of Fairy Tales in Nineteenth-Century England. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003. Tiffin, Jessica. Marvelous Geometry: Narrative and Metafiction in Modern Fairy Tale. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2009. Warner, Marina. From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairytales and their Tellers. London: Chatto and Windus, 1994. Ziolkowski, Jan. Fairy Tales from Before Fairy Tales: The Medieval Latin Past of Wonderful Lies. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 20006. I also recommend subscribing to and/or reading on a regular basis Marvels & Tales: A Journal of Fairy-Tale Studies, edited by Donald Haase.
4) What are you working on now? Do you have a new book coming out and if so, what is its focus?
I have just published a book with Princeton University Press called Lucky Hans and Other Merz Fairy Tales by Kurt Schwitters. This book is part of a new series called "Oddly Modern Fairy Tales," which I am editing for Princeton University Press. Next year I shall publish a second book in the series, Chinese Fairy Tales by Béla Balázs, the famous Hungarian film critic. Some other books will be edited by Marina Warner and Maria Tatar. At present I am finishing a huge book on fairy-tale films tentatively titled The Enchanted Screen, which Routledge will publish in the fall of 2010.
5) I have found that my students and I see a real connection between fairy tales and music and how each helps us appreciate the other. Example: Every time I listen to anything by Fairport Convention, sooner or later, I start thinking about fairy tales. Is there any music, of any kind, that you connect to the enjoyment of fairy tales? Why?
Since I am much older than you are and probably a bit more conservative when it comes to taste in music, I rarely associate pop music with fairy tales or even the music from musicals with the possible exception of the music from Into the Woods. I am a classical music fan, and I do indeed love to hear music from fairy-tale operas such as Mozart's The Magic Flute, Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann, Dvorcak's Russalka, etc. There is a very long tradition of fairy-tale operas and fairy-tale ballets, and a friend of mine, Stephen Benson, may finally write a book about fairy-tale operas.