cover image Buried Treasures: The Power of Political Fairy Tales

Buried Treasures: The Power of Political Fairy Tales

Jack Zipes. Princeton Univ, $35 (264p) ISBN 978-0-691-24473-0

This revealing study by Zipes (The Irresistible Fairy Tale), a professor emeritus of comparative literature at the University of Minnesota, examines the subversive side of fairy tales. He details how 19th- and 20th-century writers and artists used the fairy tale form to critique prevailing norms and suggest better futures. Unpacking French jurist Édouard Laboulaye’s 1868 “fairy-tale novel” The Poodle Prince, Zipes suggests that its narrative—which follows a prince who learns of the treachery of his advisers while under a curse that turns him into a dog—voices Laboulaye’s discontent with the government of Napoleon III. Class critiques are a common through line, as in Hermynia Zur Mühlen’s What Little Peter’s Friends Tell Him (1921), where common household items come to life and speak of working-class hardship. In the most stimulating essay, Zipes describes how Disney’s adaptation of Bambi scrubs clean the political subtext of Jewish journalist Felix Salten’s original 1923 novel, which condemned how “powerless people are hunted and persecuted for sport.” Zipes’s careful attention to how fairy tales reflect the concerns of their time recovers their subversive potential, and biographical sketches of the authors show how they strived through their works to imagine brighter outcomes. This is a potent testament to the power of stories. (Apr.)