Monday, February 26, 2018

Beauty and the Beast - Edited by Maria Tatar

My sister gave me this (after very heavy hinting) for Christmas, it's a collection of classic tales about animal brides and grooms from around the world which, in what I can only consider an act of optimism, Penguin Classics decided to market as a movie tie in edition with last years live action Disney Beauty and the Beast.

Despite thinking that the core audience for the film probably isn't the core audience for the book, I'm grateful that I saw a copy (and very pleased that my sister bought it for me) because without doubt this is my favourite fairy tale in all its many forms, from Cupid and Psyche through to Angela Carter's iterations and everything in between.

This collection finds versions from Ancient Rome and Greece, India, Iran, France, Germany, Norway,  Italy, England, Russia, Persia, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Alaska, the West Indies, Japan, Ghana, the Philippines, South Africa, Myanmar, Ireland, Sweden, Lithuania, and Native American traditions. They explore model couples from ancient times, charismatic couples in popular imagination, animal grooms, and animal brides, and show both how ubiquitous this particular theme is, and how it changes focus and adapts in different cultures and for different circumstances. As Tatar puts it in her introduction "It may be the tale as old as time, but it is never the same old story".

The introduction covers the broad themes in these tales, and there's also a useful introductory paragraph for each specific story. I've mostly been dipping in and out of this book just for the fun of reading fairytales, but the more I read the more curious I am about the links between them, and so the more usefulbthe essays and introductions are. I'm also curious as to whether there's a reason a selkie myth hasn't been included. Do they fall into a different category? (It might be that the Alaskan tale of the Muskrat husband covers that particular sub genre.)

It's a welcome addition to my slowly growing collection of fairy tale related books, and worth a look if you share my enthusiasm for them. It's also the sort of book that sends me off down different reading avenues. Right now I'm off to make a cup of something hot whilst I decide if I dig out David Thomson's 'The People of the Sea', or Angela Carter's 'The Bloody Chamber'.


  1. Have you ever read the old Virago books of fairy tales that Angela Carter wrote?

  2. Oh yes, they might have been the start of my adult preoccupation with fairy tales, and just thinking about that book, I can picture myself back in the long closed branch of dillons where I bought it.

  3. Tatar teaches at my university and I regret she wasn't there when I was an undergraduate. About 8 years ago, one of her classes was offered online to alumni and I signed up but it turned out you had to listen to multiple podcasts and I didn't have time or interest in doing that. Now I have a smartphone and suppose I could have downloaded all her lectures and listened at leisure...

    1. Maybe another opportunity will present itself. I like the idea of podcasts but in reality rarely find the time to sit and listen to them so I know exactly what you mean about not having the time or interest to commit to that. I've got a growing collection of fairy tales and commentary, so it's becoming something of a retirement dream to find the time to read everything methodically, rather than in bits and pieces. One day...