Kononenko on Jones and Schwabe, 'New Approaches to Teaching Folk and Fairy Tales'

Christa Jones, Claudia Schwabe
Natalie Kononenko

Christa Jones, Claudia Schwabe. New Approaches to Teaching Folk and Fairy Tales. Logan: Utah State University Press, 2016. 248 pp. $26.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-60732-480-5.

Reviewed by Natalie Kononenko (University of Alberta) Published on H-Russia (April, 2017) Commissioned by Hanna Chuchvaha

Interest in folk and fairy tales has grown enormously in the recent past and more and more universities are offering courses on these topics. This makes the book compiled by Christa C. Jones and Claudia Schwabe most timely. Their collection of essays offers practical advice to instructors seeking to use folk and fairy tale narrative to engage and educate their students. In it, successful instructors describe their courses. They detail course goals and strategies. They offer suggested readings and describe course activities. I took a number of ideas from this book for use in the courses I am currently teaching.

The book begins with an introduction by the two editors, followed by a section that deals with fantasy and story. The first chapter in this section, by Christina Phillips Mattson and Maria Tatar, describes a course focused on children’s literature. The authors start with Salmon Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1991), a collection familiar to most of their students. They go on to investigate background material, both folk and non-folkloric tales aimed at children. They give the groups of story types that they use for their course and conclude with a list of primary and secondary readings. Lisa Gabbert also discusses a course in which folktales are taught together with literary works. She offers helpful suggestions for conveying the folkloric aspects of narrative, including a description of an exercise that helps students understand that folklore exists in variants. This exercise teaches students that there is no one original and correct text. Juliette Wood’s chapter on teaching otherworlds ends the first section, and it illustrates an exercise that has students create their own narrative describing an excursion into a realm of fantasy.

The second section is about sociopolitical and cultural approaches to teaching tales. It begins with a chapter by Doris McGonagill, in which she describes adding considerations of ecology to the study of the tales published by Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm. Talking about trees and the forest/tree metaphor gives students the distance that allows them to see the Grimms’ tales from a fresh perspective. Schwabe takes up a more delicate subject: East German fairy-tale films, narratives also based on the Grimms’ collection. As she shows, the films stress such socialist ideals as industriousness and valorize the working class by subtle, but effective, means. Exercises proposed by the author help students recognize how slight modifications can change the meaning of a filmic text. The next chapter, by Jones, talks about using Charles Perrault and the works of the French salon writers, many of them women, to understand the times of Louis XIV, the Sun King. Students read Perrault in the original and compare what they read to later, often filmic, adaptations to gain a sense of the correspondence between tales and the times in which they are told, all the while improving their knowledge of French. The section concludes with a piece by Anissa Talahite-Moodley on the frame story of 1001 Nights; the author uses the figure of Shahrazad to explore issues of gender, agency, Orientalism, and colonial legacies.

The third section reminds us that the tales we deal with are often in translation, not in their original language. Christine Jones uses early English translations of Perrault’s stories to build student awareness of both language and time period and the ways in which these affect text. Next, Armando Maggi examines translations of Giambattista Basile’s Tale of Tales (2007; Italian original: 1634 and 1636) written by the Grimm brothers. Working with his students, Maggi shows that the Grimm brothers sought to make their translations fit their definition of a coherent text. Cyrille Francois’s contribution is about teaching Hans Christian Andersen in the original Danish. Although students may struggle with the language, seeing small features, such as the punctuation of the original, helps them understand the impact of translation on fairy-tale texts. The final essay in this section, by Francisco Vaz de Silva, deals with Little Red Riding Hood in its Perrault, pre-Perrault French, and German versions. The pre-Perrault texts name a bzou, a werewolf-like creature, as the threatening predator; this helps the author lead students to the realization that translation draws equivalencies between motifs rather than words.

The final section is about the use of folk and fairy tales to teach gender studies. Anne Duggan begins by looking at films based on fairy tales to develop student awareness of alternative sexualities. She draws parallels between Francois Ozon’s film Criminal Lovers (1999) and the Grimms’ Hansel and Gretel texts to help students recognize the queer possibilities of the fairy-tale genre. Pauline Greenhill and Jennifer Orme’s chapter, “Gender in Fairytale Film,” is more about the challenges of online delivery of course content than about gender. Faculty offering online courses cannot simply select appropriate narratives; they need to consider such issues as copyright. The authors, like other contributors to this volume, offer a course outline that can help interested faculty with their own online offerings. The final contribution, authored by Jeana Jorgensen, presents creative exercises through which students are encouraged to rework tales. She starts by examining Angela Carter’s rewritings of traditional narratives and then encourages her students to do their own reinterpretations of tales as they work on seeing other gendered possibilities.

Much as I enjoyed this book and profited from its many practical suggestions, I do see problems with the essays. All of them presume a Eurocentric audience, a student cohort familiar with a specific corpus of tales. Tales published by Perrault and the Grimm brothers do indeed dominate the Western understanding of folk and fairy tales. But at my university I am increasingly confronted with students who are predominantly non-European and have never heard of Western narratives except in the adaptations made by Disney Studios. My classes are often half Chinese and I cannot assume knowledge of the tales that are familiar to students who grew up in North America. So far, I have been making the connections between China and Europe/North America on my own. I will look forward to works that help me and other faculty teaching an increasingly international student body bridge the East/West divide. 

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Citation: Natalie Kononenko. Review of Jones, Christa; Schwabe, Claudia, New Approaches to Teaching Folk and Fairy Tales. H-Russia, H-Net Reviews. April, 2017. URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=48725

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