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From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers Paperback – September 30, 1996

4.5 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Amazon.com Review

One dare not even call it seminal, yet in this ground-breaking work, English novelist and historian Marina Warner casts herself as the female Joseph Campbell in a fascinating and lively book that opens with the observation that "storytelling makes women thrive -- and not exclusively women," and then lifts the veil on both tellers and tales ranging from Sibyl to the late, great Angela Carter, from Lot's daughters to Disney's "Little Mermaid." She finds a not-so-hidden history of women, sex, power, fear -- and even healing -- lurking therein. An eye-opening reworking of our common myth pool. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Notwithstanding the prominence of the Grimm Brothers and Charles Perrault, most narrators of fairy tales, asserts Warner, have been women?nannies, grannies, 18th-century literary ladies, sibyls of antiquity. In this richly illustrated, erudite, digressive feminist study, cultural historian Warner (Alone of All Her Sex) argues that instead of seeking psychoanalytic meanings in fairy tales, we must first understand them in their social and emotional context. In her analysis, "Bluebeard" and "Beauty and the Beast" reflect girls' realistic fears of marrige in an era when women married young, had multiple children and often died in childbirth. Her delightfully subversive inquiry profiles reluctant brides, silent daughters, crones, witches, fates, muses, sirens, Saint Anne (image of the old wise woman), the biblical Queen of Sheba and Saint Uncumber, who grew a beard to avoid marriage but was crucified for her rebellion. Angela Carter's fiction, surrealist Leonora Carrington's comic fairy tales, Walt Disney movies and French aristocratic fairy tales of veiled protofeminist protest by Marie-Jeanne L'Heritier and Marie-Catherine d'Aulnoy provide grist for her mill.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 492 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (September 30, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374524874
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374524876
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1.4 x 10.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #980,954 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Warner's text is huge, but thouroughly enjoyable, filled with cultural analises that range from obstetrics to hagiography and with equal respect for every approach between gynocriticism, materialism and psychoanalysis. The book is crammed with so much information and so many intersting details, that sometimes one wonders if these goodies are directly related to the topic, but the information is fascinating anyway, even when it does nothing to further her arguments. The first part concentrates on the tellers of fairy and wonder tales, who they were and under what conditions they told their tales. It also begins to explain the dual nature of fairy tales that will become the central issue of the second half of the book: how these tales, oral as well as literary, supported both subversive and consevative discourses, often within a single narrative. Potential readers should not presume that the only fairy tale studied is Beauty and the Beast, as the title seems to imply; many popular fairy tales have their own chapters devoted to them such as Donkeyskin, Bluebeard and The Little Mermaid. A few of the chapters, specifically the one on Angela Carter are a bit obscure, but the conclusion is brilliant, and the bibliography alone deserves special mention as an invaluable resource. The book is excellent for historians, folklorists, fairy/wonder tale scholars and feminists alike, but it will also enhance the enjoyment of those who read fairy tales only for pleasure.
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There are many books about fairy tales-- from tomes specializing in psychoanalysis to texts focusing on the changing meaning of the tales we all know and love (or hate), fairy tales provide rich fodder for psychoanalysts, Freudians, folklorists, feminists, and specialists of all sorts.

That said, with From the Beast to the Blonde, Marina Warner really does bring something different to this already crowded table. Her book focuses upon fairy tales and myths (or wonder tales, as they are sometimes called) as cultural projections. Warner argues here that the frequently occurring archetypes in fairy tales tell us a great deal about their tellers, which in turn reveal a great deal about the societies from which these tales and their narrators spring.

Warner specifically focuses here on stories and storytelling, and how these activities reflect the lives of women in their societies. According to Warner, storytelling is a particularly female art. Though many of the fairy tales that have come down to us today-- the famous Brothers Grimm, Perrault, the tales of Andrew Lang, and others-- Warner notes that the original stories themselves often originated from females. These stories often sprung from the lips (and the minds) of females; the Brothers Grim et. al. merely committed them to paper.

From the wealthy courtier ladies who amused themselves in their ample free time by spinning (or merely repeating) fairy tales to the gnarled old rustic ladies (Juliet's nurse, mother goose, and countless others are, if Warner is to be believed, sprung from this archetype) who maintained their usefulness and societal value by spinning tales in a society that had little use for them, fairy tales were often a female prerogative.
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By A Customer on October 20, 2000
Format: Paperback
Why do people pass on fairy tales from generation to generation? The tales are violent and seem sexist to modern eyes. Warner's book sets the truth about fairy tales into an historical perspective.
This contrasts with Bruno Bettelheim's "The Uses of Enchantment" which suggests that there is an opportunity for psychological exploration within each fairy tale if we identify with the various characters. In other words, there is a wicked stepmother, a forlorn orphan and a powerful prince etc within each of us. I found his ideas enjoyable and useful but I think Warner's historical analysis is more realistic.
She tackles such contentious issues as that of the wicked stepmother, pointing out the complex situation that was created for a woman marrying a widow who already had children. The temptation to treat those children badly in favour of her own children was quite real because of her financial dependence on her new husband. Hence the need for tales that warned against women behaving like that. There is a lot of other fascinating material in the book, such as the development of the image of St Anne (reputed to be Jesus' grandmother) into the image of dear Nan, from which we get the name Nana for grandmothers and for nannies as well. I didn't agree with Warner's analysis of the little mermaid and have posted my own one on the Amazon site for Hans Anderson's Fairy Stories.
Those interested in this kind of book might also like to read A.D. Hope's book " A Midsummer Eve's Dream". It is surprising how few fairies and elves there are in regular fairy stories - a case of art imitating life perhaps! But there are some, and Hope's book helps us to understand how the idea of fairies developed in England.
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Format: Paperback
Disconnected facts and images slowly conjeal into a dreamlike portrait of fairy tales, and the roles that women hold within them. An easy read; though seemingly disjointed at first, Warner gradually hands you more pieces of the puzzle. My only request would be for a more panoramic picture.
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