Chautauqua course


Sorry about the long time between posts. Life, of course, has a way of getting between me and good intentions. Next post should be about my friend John Hutton, proprietor of Blue Manatee Books here in Cincinnati, and his new box set of picture books. That will be fun.

I’m wading through a stack of books about fairy tales, madly trying to get ready to teach Fairy Tale Magic and Why Kids Love It at the Chautauqua Summer Institute July 25-29. Jan will be co-teaching. Here’s a link to the Special Studies Catalog.

My book list currently is:

Enchanted Hunters: The Power of Stories in Childhood by Maria Tatar

Off With Their Heads!: Fairy Tales and the Culture of Childhood by Maria Tatar

The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales by Bruno Bettelheim

The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales ed. by Jack Zipes

The Great Fairy Tale Tradition ed. by Jack Zipes

The Interpretation of Fairy Tales by Marie-Louise Von Franz (There has to be one Jungian represented, after all).

The Witch Must Die: The Hidden Meaning of Fairy Tales by Sheldon Cashdan

Psychoanalytic Responses to Children’s Literature by Lucy Rollin and Mark West

from Amazon

Off the top of my head, there seem to be at least five ways to look at fairy tales critically. First, you can look at them as literary documents. That applies to tales from an oral tradition like those written down by the Grimms and Basile, those which are authored like those of Hans Christian Andersen, or even those first committed to film, like Edward Scissorhands. Second, you can look at them as an historian or a cultural anthropologist might, looking for clues as to what the culture of the time was like, and what truly was important to individuals at the time and place when the tale was first told. Third, the historian or cultural anthropologist could look for evidence of influences across cultures in the themes and details of stories and how they spread across time and distance.


Fourth, these are political documents. People who tell fairy tales to their children do not live in a bathtub, they live in a society with rules and rulers, with cultural norms and morays, and it should not be surprising that there are political overtones (or undertones) to any fairy tale. Nor should it be surprising that there are communist or feminist or other readings of almost any tale: these are valid approaches.

Fifth and finally, you can look at at fairy tales for their psychological and developmental content. That’s certainly what interests me most. But there is no one correct way to interpret these stories even from the psychological viewpoint. Like dreams, they can be approached by Jungians and Freudians, as well as from the point of view of an ego analyst or from object relations, and there is insight there to be found.

I’m really in it for the joy of understanding the story, and the joy of telling it. We’ll probably look a little at all of those levels in the course, but mostly we’ll tell the fairy tale, discuss what it’s like to tell the story to our children, and try to find out a bit about what the children respond to about the story.


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