Anti-Tales: The Uses of Disenchantment
Editor: Catriona McAra and David Calvin
Date Of Publication: May 2011
The anti-(fairy) tale has long existed in the shadow of the traditional fairy tale as its flipside or evil twin. According to André Jolles in Einfache Formen (1930), such Antimärchen are contemporaneous with some of the earliest known oral variants of familiar tales. While fairy tales are generally characterised by a “spirit of optimism” (Tolkien) the anti-tale offers us no such assurances; for every “happily ever after,” there is a dissenting “they all died horribly.” The anti-tale is, however, rarely an outright opposition to the traditional form itself. Inasmuch as the anti-hero is not a villain, but may possess attributes of the hero, the anti-tale appropriates aspects of the fairy tale form, (and its equivalent genres) and re-imagines, subverts, inverts, deconstructs or satirises elements of these to present an alternate narrative interpretation, outcome or morality. In this collection, Little Red Riding Hood retaliates against the wolf, Cinderella’s stepmother provides her own account of events, and “Snow White” evolves into a postmodern vampire tale. The familiar becomes unfamiliar, revealing the underlying structures, dynamics, fractures and contradictions within the borrowed tales.
Over the last half century, this dissident tradition has become increasingly popular, inspiring numerous writers, artists, musicians and filmmakers. Although anti-tales abound in contemporary art and popular culture, the term has been used sporadically in scholarship without being developed or defined. While it is clear that the aesthetics of postmodernism have provided fertile creative grounds for this tradition, the anti-tale is not just a postmodern phenomenon; rather, the “postmodern fairy tale” is only part of the picture. Broadly interdisciplinary in scope, this collection of twenty-two essays and artwork explores various manifestations of the anti-tale, from the ancient to the modern including romanticism, realism and surrealism along the way.
Catriona McAra is an AHRC doctoral candidate in History of Art at the University of Glasgow researching the work of Dorothea Tanning. She is particularly interested in intertextual theory, narratology, and the intersection between Surrealism and the fairy tale. Catriona organised the Anti-Tales symposium and is co-editor of this volume.
David Calvin is a doctoral candidate in the Languages and Literature department at the University of Ulster, Belfast. His PhD thesis is entitled “No More Happily Ever After: The Anti-Fairy Tale in Postmodern Literature and Popular Culture,” and has been instrumental in the reintroduction of the term “anti-tales” to current scholarship. He is co-editor of this volume.
“Books like Anti-Tales are important, taking a cold look at the complex, often dark affect at fairy tales and broadening the contemporary lens onto theories about their appearances in art, literature, film. The idea of anti-tale has been so important to me, and I’m delighted to see this volume enter the conversation and whisper its fragments of spells. The fairy tale is real; long live the anti-fairy-tale.”
—Kate Bernheimer, author of The Complete Tales of Lucy Gold and editor of My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales
“This valuable collection of essays, oriented around the idea of the ‘anti-tale,’ offers a much needed formal as well as analytic focus on the dark side of the fairy-tale genre.”
—Professor Aidan Day, University of Dundee
“The essays in this collection discuss an abundance of anti-tales from literature, film and art. Retellings, reimaginings and new tales from across centuries and around the world are all explored in relation to the critical term ‘anti-tale,’ uncovering new paths through the forest. Where the fairy tale leaves us with answers the anti-tale leaves us with questions and Anti-Tales: The Uses of Disenchantment is a valuable text for scholars, readers and writers who wish to engage with this wonderfully subversive form.”
—Claire Massey, Editor of New Fairy Tales
"...the collection does a good job of outlining the vitality and range of work on anti-tales, in different media, genres, national literatures and historical periods, and testifies to the quality of emerging scholarship in the field." - Robert Duggan, Journal of the Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairy Tales and Fantasy, 1, 64-67, p. 67.
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