Sunday, September 13, 2009

Fairy Tale Fights - The Academic Version

The Story of the Three Bears by H.J. Ford from the Green Fairy Book
(Many thanks to Heidi from SurLaLune for finding the artist! I knew that style looked familiar... :D )

Less than a week ago Once Upon A Blog published notice of an anthropological study, said to prove the ancient origin of fairy tales. (You can read that post HERE).

It would seem Dr. Tehrani's announcement and his talk at the British Science Fair last week have stirred up an old, yet apparently still hot, debate in the academic ring of fairy tale studies.

In one corner we have the oral traditionalists; in the other: the literary-origin camp.

Heavy weights from both camps have already weighed in and traded some verbal fisticuffs.

Representing the literary-origin advocates we have the highly respected Ruth Bottigheimer:
(Quotes from The Star)

"Tehrani has bought into the newest wave of biology-based understanding of literature, taking evolutionary genetics as his model. But his views are based on slippery assumptions that can't be verified and that have no legs in the real world.

Of course, all narratives have ancient origins: Aesops's fables date back to the sixth century B.C. But "modern revisionists distinguish between different kinds of traditional tales" – folk stories differ from fairy tales – "and understand that they have histories of different lengths."

Elements of a narrative told here and there over time do not a "fairy tale" make."
! (exclamation punch, er, point added by the Fairy Tale News Hound)
Keeping his cool with a smooth 'bob-and-weave' response, we have Donald Haase (also highly respected):

"Yes, there is debate in the field over dating. Fairy tales are in the thick of the culture wars."

The editor of Marvels & Tales, a twice-yearly journal of fairy tale studies, says Tehrani is right to conclude that a form of Red Riding Hood exists in many varied cultures. What's news, however, is that the story may date back further than 2,600 years: "It's intriguing, it's plausible, but tracing the ancestry of fairy tales can be very difficult. I want to see his evidence."

Arguably the most well known and respected fairy tale authority, Jack Zipes, also firmly (and famously) in the oral-traditionalists corner, doesn't hesitate to respond, or to pull his punch:

"All our storytelling originated thousands of years ago, centuries before the print editions of fairy tales," he says. "Anyone who says they arrive only with print is just stupid. People have similar experiences around the world and always have had."


But this is just the warm up. They're all waiting eagerly for the paper to be published before winding up for the knock-out.

If you're interested in getting up to speed you can read the original news post HERE (which links to the original Telegraph UK article) and the one I'm quoting today HERE.

I'm planning on getting a ringside seat for the next round if I can. In the meantime, this is just begging for an editorial cartoon.


  1. Great post, Gypsy. I'll have to add a link to this and the new article, too.

    And the illustration is by H. J. Ford from The Green Fairy Book. It's on SurLaLune at:

  2. Thanks so much Heidi! And thank you for letting me know who the illustrator was. The post has now been adjusted to reflect the correct credit - along with a link to SurLaLune of course.

    I love H.J. Ford's work!