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Folk and Fairy Tales: A Handbook.

Folk and Fairy Tales: A Handbook. Ashliman, D. L. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2004 268 pages, ISBN 0-313-32810-2

D. L. Ashliman's Handbook is a well-ordered analysis of the folk and fairy tale genre. Its strengths lie in the effective categorization and definition of the various types of stories, the extensive glossary, and the cogent explanation of the impact of these tales upon literature and the arts. Its shortcomings rest in the decision to limit its examination of these tales to only those from the Indo-European tradition and its superficial analysis of the sociological impacts these tales have had upon society today.

Folk and fairy tales encompass a wide variety of types of stories. The author succinctly explains these different classifications within the genre, using the Aarne-Thompson Index (1) as a framework. By making extensive use of examples, Ashliman shows clearly the contrasts between, and differing themes amongst, the broad range of tales.

The definitions section is particularly valuable to the reader seeking to get a clearer understanding of the various components of the genre and the contrasts between them. A wide-ranging bibliography, organizes content by both region and theme. The glossary is both detailed and extensive. As an introductory resource for further study, the book is exemplary.

Folk and fairy tales continue to have a pervasive impact upon our world today: the literary and cinematic successes of J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy and J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels, are rooted in their fairy tale origins. Ashliman, when placing these tales within a literary context, reveals the dominant impact that folk tales have had, and continue to have, upon literature, music and film.

However, the treatment of issues of gender within these tales is superficial. Nor, in the analysis of sociological effects, is any detailed focus given to their impact upon the development of capitalist culture. The "rags to riches" theme and wealth, either its loss or accumulation, provide the central plots in many tales. Yet, apart from a brief page on Marxism, no real discussion is held on the role these tales have played in either creating or endorsing the capitalist model that predominates today.

The most significant limitation this book has lies in the decision to restrict the coverage of folktales to the Indo-European tradition. Folk tales are an intrinsic part of all societies. By failing to incorporate many cultures of the world with a strong folk tale tradition, such as the Japanese, New Zealander, African, Indigenous American Indian, and South American, the reader is left with only a partial understanding of the impact of folk tales upon our cultural make-up today.

Thus, the role of the trickster in numerous folk tales, a predominant influence in many of the omitted cultures mentioned above, is given only a cursory analysis in this work. Nor is any significant information provided on the way in which these tales have been orally told in various cultures. After all, the overwhelming majority of folk and fairy tales have been heard rather than read by the audience: an analysis and comparison of the "who, how and where" of the folk story telling process is needed.

The reader looking for an introductory understanding of the fairy and folk tale genre within a strictly Indo-European context will find this book useful. For those wishing to understand the impact of these stories within a global, multicultural context, Ashliman provides only a partial answer.

--Reviewed by Chris Pears


(1) Aarne, A., & Thompson, S. (1961). The types of the folktale: A classification and bibliography. Helsinki, Finland: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia.

Chris Pears is a graduate student in education at the University of St. Thomas, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
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Author:Pears, Chris
Publication:Multicultural Education
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2006
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