The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales: Book Review

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The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales edited by Maria Tatar Book Cover
Title: The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales

As much as I love retold fairy tales, I don’t often go back to the original sources. This was a nice refresher and even an introduction to some classic European tales.

Some annotations and introductions were more helpful than others, as is always the case with these kinds of books. I would have been perfectly happy if any contributions from Bruno Bettelheim had been eliminated. In the introduction to “The Story of the Three Bears,” Tatar writes,

“For Bruno Bettelheim, ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’ fails to encourage children ‘to pursue the hard labor of solving, one at a time, the problems which growing up presents.’ Furthermore the story does not end, as fairy tales should, with ‘any promise of future happiness awaiting those who have mastered their oedipal situation as a child.'” Say what? *eyeroll*

I did like annotations that explained archaic words, practices that have disappeared, cultural archetypes, or tidbits about the authors’ lives that were relevant to their stories.

But by far the best part of this volume for me was the inclusion of old full color (when available) artwork for each tale. I was already aware of Arthur Rackham as a fantasy artist (Charles Vess, whose work I love, lists him as an influence) and marginally aware of Maxfield Parrish, but I also discovered Edmund Dulac, Kay Nielsen, Edward Burne-Jones, and more. Their work is absolutely gorgeous! I would love to have fairy tale collections illustrated by almost any of the artists included in this edition. I just wish there had been room to make each print bigger! They’re small enough to fit about six paintings per page. As it is, it’s hard to make out details that the author specifically mentions in her analyses. But bigger art would have made the book longer and driven the cost even higher.

An appendix includes alternate versions of a few of the tales, which is always interesting. One inclusion that puzzled me was an alternate of “The Three Bears.” Dr. Tatar emphasizes in her introduction that some versions of the story make the little girl (Goldilocks) an old woman. As far as I can tell, the alternate version is exactly the same story, word for word, but with “little old Woman” substituted for every mention of “Goldilocks.” I thought it was an incredibly redundant inclusion.

I recommend this for those who love fairy tales across many European traditions. The artwork, while small, is definitely worth a look.

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  1. Oh my- yes that contribution (lol) from Bruno Bettelheim seems… weird? Oh, and I LOVE Charles Vess’ work! The artwork sounds like it’s fabulous.

    1. Right? Every quote from Bettelheim left me scratching my head. Sometimes a story is just a story, y’know?

      Charles Vess lives fairly close to my home base so he does signings and talks at my local bookstore frequently. Or at least he did prior to covid. I always enjoyed attending those.

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