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

By Jack Zipes | Go to book overview

Preface

During the past fifty years, the scholarly study of oral folk and literary fairy tales throughout the world has flourished and appears to have expanded commensurately with the irresistible rise of fairy tales in almost all cultural and commercial fields. Though many different approaches to folk and fairy tales have stood in conflict with one another, and though universities have eliminated many folklore programs, there has generally been a peaceful, if not tolerant, attitude among the disputing sides in the academic world. Nobody has ever claimed to know everything about the oral wonder tale or literary fairy tale. Most folklorists and literary critics have, in fact, largely agreed that the fairy tale emanated from oral traditions, and that the history of tale types related to the fairy tale is complex and cannot be reduced to simple or positivist explanations. The diversity of analytic approaches to folk and fairy tales has generally enriched the fields of anthropology, comparative literature, cultural studies, children’s literature, psychology, philosophy and others. If there is any single genre that has captured the imagination of people in all walks of life throughout the world, it is the fairy tale, and yet we still have great difficulty in explaining its historical origins, how it evolved and spread, and why we cannot resist its appeal, no matter what form it takes.

In my own case, during the past forty years I have tried to forge a greater link with the social and natural sciences to explain the fairy tale’s irresistible and inexplicable appeal. I have sought, in particular, to widen my own sociopolitical approach to folk and fairy tales, and have explored new developments in evolutionary psychology, cultural anthropology, biology, memetics, cognitive philosophy, and linguistics. For the most part, I have endeavored to demonstrate that the historical evolution of storytelling reflects struggles of human beings worldwide to adapt to their changing natural and social environments. The cultural evolution of the fairy tale is closely bound historically to all kinds of storytelling and different civilizing processes that have undergirded the formation of nation-states.

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