I’ve spent all day working on my teaching materials for this semester. One of the classes I’m teaching is called Fairy Tales and Literature, and I thought you might like to see the reading list.
We’re going to start with J.R.R. Tolkien’s “On Fairy Stoires” and then talk about his ideas in relation to Madame de Beaumont’s “Beauty and the Beast” and Angela Carter’s two Beauty and the Beast stories: “The Courtship of Mr. Lyon” and “The Tyger’s Bride.” That will be our introductory section. Then, we’re going to talk about the meaning and method of fairy tales, so we’re going to get into Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment. That will give us some theories to use when discussing four fairy tales and literary reinterpretations of them. Here’s what the list looks like:
Charles Perrault’s “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Little Red Cap” by the Brothers Grimm, with James Thurber’s “The Little Girl and the Wolf” and Carter’s “In the Company of Wolves.”
“Cinderella” by the Brothers Grimm and “Catskin” by Joseph Jacobs, with Aimee Bender’s “Donkeyskin” and Kelly Link’s “Catskin.”
Perrault’s “Bluebeard” with Joyce Carol Oates’ “Blue-Bearded Lover,” Margaret Atwood’s “Bluebeard’s Egg,” and Carter’s “The Bloody Chamber.”
We’re also going to read what Bettelheim and Maria Tatar have to say about all of these fairy tales. There will be some more theoretical material, including by Marina Warner and Jack Zipes. And then we will get into Jane Eyre, which I’m going to teach as a series of fairy tale structures.
Here are the books we will be using:
My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, edited by Kate Berhneimer
Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber
The Classic Fairy Tales, edited by Maria Tatar
And of course the Bettelheim and Jane Eyre.
I will probably be writing about this material as the semester goes on. I decided to teach the class because there was just so much fairy tale stuff coming out: and you know, I wonder why. Why now? Perhaps it has to do with Tolkien’s idea that fairy tales promise us eucatastrophe, the happy ending. We all hope, perhaps against hope, that there is a happy ever after out there somewhere. Me, I believe in happy endings. I think that sometimes we have to make them, but I think they exist. I like that line from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: if it’s not happy, it’s not the end yet.
Here is the illustration I’m using for the class website:
It’s a picture of Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf by Gustave Doré. Of course, not all versions of fairy tales end happily — there is the Little Red Riding Hood who is eaten up! I suppose that’s eucatastrophe for the wolf. But I agree with Tolkien that the happy ending is intrinsic to the fairy tale, perhaps not as it started, but as it has become.
What I’m wondering right now is, what sorts of story ideas will teaching fairy tales give me this semester? I’m looking forward to finding out.