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The Irresistible Fairy Tale:
The Cultural and Social History of a Genre
Jack Zipes

Co-Winner of the 2012 Wayland D. Hand Prize, History and Folklore Section of the American Folklore Society
One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2012

Paperback | 2013 | $21.95 | £17.95 | ISBN: 9780691159553
Hardcover | 2012 | $35.00 | £27.95 | ISBN: 9780691153384
256 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 7 halftones.
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If there is one genre that has captured the imagination of people in all walks of life throughout the world, it is the fairy tale. Yet we still have great difficulty understanding how it originated, evolved, and spread--or why so many people cannot resist its appeal, no matter how it changes or what form it takes. In this book, renowned fairy-tale expert Jack Zipes presents a provocative new theory about why fairy tales were created and retold--and why they became such an indelible and infinitely adaptable part of cultures around the world.

Drawing on cognitive science, evolutionary theory, anthropology, psychology, literary theory, and other fields, Zipes presents a nuanced argument about how fairy tales originated in ancient oral cultures, how they evolved through the rise of literary culture and print, and how, in our own time, they continue to change through their adaptation in an ever-growing variety of media. In making his case, Zipes considers a wide range of fascinating examples, including fairy tales told, collected, and written by women in the nineteenth century; Catherine Breillat's film adaptation of Perrault's "Bluebeard"; and contemporary fairy-tale drawings, paintings, sculptures, and photographs that critique canonical print versions.

While we may never be able to fully explain fairy tales, The Irresistible Fairy Tale provides a powerful theory of how and why they evolved--and why we still use them to make meaning of our lives.


"Zipes is a powerful defender of folklore and succeeds in exploring its role in cultural history as well as its influence today."--Maria Taylor, Times Literary Supplement

"Zipes is the undisputed 'king' of the literary criticism of fairy tales kingdom. . . . A rich, persuasive, magical brew, graced by seven illustrations."--Choice

"Zipes is considered one of the true experts on fairy tales. He brings considerable erudition to the book which covers some broad issues in fairy-tale analysis, such as how they spread . . . and the role of women collectors and narrators."--Nidhi Mathur, Organiser

"In showing how and why fairy tales have become a core part of our central being, Zipes reveals his extensive scholarship in the field, as well as his skill in expounding profoundly about his key interests and concerns relating to the fairy tale genre. This scholarly masterpiece, which has emerged from decades of thought on the subject, deserves a place in all literary collections, as well as consideration by all those concerned with this particular genre."--Lois Henderson, Book Pleasures

"Zipes is one of a handful of today's true experts on the fairy tale. Needless to say, he brings considerable erudition to this book, which covers some broad issues in fairy tale analysis such as how they spread (he takes his lead from Richard Dawkins's theory of cultural memes) and the role of women collectors and narrators. . . . General readers with an interest in fairy tales will definitely enjoy what Zipes has to say."--David Azzolina, Library Journal

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Table of Contents:

List of Illustrations ix
Preface xi
Acknowledgments xvii
Chapter 1: The Cultural Evolution of Storytelling and Fairy Tales: Human Communication and Memetics 1
Chapter 2: The Meaning of Fairy Tale within the Evolution of Culture 21
Chapter 3: Remaking "Bluebeard," or Good-bye to Perrault 41
Chapter 4: Witch as Fairy/Fairy as Witch: Unfathomable Baba Yagas 55
Chapter 5: The Tales of Innocent Persecuted Heroines and Their Neglected Female Storytellers and Collectors 80
Chapter 6: Giuseppe Pitrè and the Great Collectors of Folk Tales in the Nineteenth Century 109
Chapter 7: Fairy-Tale Collisions, or the Explosion of a Genre 135
Appendix A: Sensationalist Scholarship: A "New" History of Fairy Tales 157
Appendix B: Reductionist Scholarship: A "New" Definition of the Fairy Tale 175
Notes 191
Bibliography 209
Index 227

Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Jack Zipes:

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