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

By Jack Zipes | Go to book overview

Appendix B
Reductionist Scholarship: A “New”
Definition of the Fairy Tale

Poetry is that which comes purely from the soul transformed into word and
thus springs continually from a natural drive and innate ability to grasp the
soul—folk poetry arises out of the soul of the collective whole (Ganze); in
my opinion, artistic poetry stems from the individual. This is why the new
poetry names its poets, while the old does not know any to name. It’s
not at all made by one person or two or three, rather it is the sum of the
collective whole. It remains inexplicable how this collective whole was
put together and got going. As I have already said, however, it is not
any more mysterious than water that gathers (from different sources) in a
river to flow together. I find it unthinkable that there ever was a Homer or
author of the Nibelungen.

—Jacob Grimm, letter to Achim von Arnim, May 20, 1811

In his new book, Tales of Magic, Tales in Print: On the Genealogy of Fairy Tales and the Brothers Grimm, Willem de Blécourt seeks to “jolt” folklorists and fairy-tale specialists throughout the world so that they realize that only he (not Bottigheimer) knows when fairy tales truly began to exist, and only he can determine the empirical “truth” of their history based on his knowledge of print literature.1 To be fair to de Blécourt, his scholarship is admirable, and his evidence and arguments, though flawed, are to be taken seriously. The difficulty with his book concerns his sweeping, often-misleading generalizations, an attitude comprised of what Germans call Besserwisserei (“knowit-all”), and particular ideological theories regarding folk culture. But I am getting ahead of myself. I would like first to summarize the contents of de Blécourt’s book before offering a critique of what I consider to be its shortcomings. I also want to emphasize that despite my disagreements with de Blé

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