Once upon a Time: Myth, Fairy Tales, and Legends in Margaret Atwood's Writing

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Once Upon a Time: Myth, Fairy Tales, and Legends in Margaret Atwood's Writing. Edited by Sarah A. Appleton. Newcastle Upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2008. 186 pp.

But for Shuli Barzilai's lively account of tracking a new intertext (the Tasmanian tiger and written reports thereof) in Atwood's writing, Sarah Appleton's collection might be better subtitled "Or, Essays in Honor of Sharon Rose Wilson." With the exception of Atwood's early novel life before Man (1979) the essays here largely focus on writings published since Wilson's book and, as such, supplement it. Wilson's (then-)definitive text, Margaret Atwood's Fairy Tale Sexual Politics (1993), is therefore a common intertext for these essays, although it is cited in only four of the nine chapters. Wilson herself updates her book and other writings with her essay on The Blind Assassin (2000), "Fairy Tales, Myths, and Magic Photographs in The Blind Assassin," first published in 2002.

In this sense the book is a useful supplement and tribute (to Atwood, to Wilson) but does not redefine the terms of either one of these writers. Theodore E Scheckels's essay, "No Princes Here: Male Characters in Margaret Atwood's Fiction," provides a tidy taxonomy in five groups: Dark, Shadowy, Comic, Sad, and Unfinished Princes. His groupings are sound, his examples faultless, but the essay reads like a fond walk down a memory lane of Atwood's characters, and this is the tone of the book as a whole. Sarah Appleton's essay, "Myths of Distinction; Myths of Extinction in Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake," uses Jungian psychology to analyze the novel and its main protagonist, Jimmy. Carol Osborne's essay, "Mythmaking in Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake," uses mythography as another means of psychoanalyzing Jimmy. Shannon Hengen's brief contribution, "Staging Penelope: Margaret Atwood's Changing Audience," shifts ground "from page to stage," but does not bring a new context to bear in analyzing the results. A context in adaptation studies, such as that by Linda Hutcheon in A Theory of Adaptation (2006), is still wanting. Coral Ann Howells, in '"We Can't Help but Be Modern': The Penelopiad," does a better job of providing contexts for the titular work and grounds it in several contexts: Gothic constructions, female tricksters, and female revisionist "herstory" However, all are familiar to Atwood, readers of Atwood, and readers of Howells's own wonderful work. …