JFA 28.1 (2017)

Introduction: Tales of Faëry and Wonder

The fairy tale, with all its varieties and outgrowths, has always been a central part of the larger field of the fantastic. In recounting its history, it’s hard to know where to start: with the Brothers Grimm, who sought to create a national myth out of the oral tales they gathered as part of their linguistic and ethnographic work? With the 17th century French courtly conteuses and conteurs, who translated nurses’ and peasants’ narratives into witty social commentary and elegantly magical entertainment? With writers of the Italian Renaissance, who gave us the first recorded versions of many of the popular tales, such as “Rapunzel” and “Puss in Boots”? Back to classical times, when a number of narratives recognizable as cognate with later European tales made their way into prose adventures such as Apuleius’s The Golden Ass and transcribed oral epics such as the Odyssey?  Or further afield to collections such as the Persian Hasht-Bihisht or the Sanskrit Panchatantra?

Or, going forward from the Grimms, we could look at the ever-broadening search for traditions to hold up against the Homeric epics. Every culture had its own field workers inspired by the Germans: Asbjørnsen and Moe in Norway, Sven Grundtvig in Denmark, Alexander Afanasyev in Russia, Joseph Jacobs in England, Jane and Henry Schoolcraft working with Algonquian narratives in North America, Yei Theodora Ozaki in Japan, K. Langloh Parker collecting from Aboriginal narrators in Australia, and so on. Though the forms and functions of these narratives don’t always match up with the structure (best analyzed by Vladimir Propp) of European Märchen, collectors and retellers often made them seem to conform, if only by the sort of surgery that made Cinderella’s slipper fit on the feet of her stepsisters.

Where there was no accessible oral tradition, writers filled in with original stories that (in the author’s eyes, at least) copied the style and structure of the magical folktale. There would be no Romantic era without the German Kunstmärchen: long, rambling, symbolic narratives by predecessors and contemporaries of the Grimms, including Johann Karl August Musäus, Ludwig Tieck, and E. T. A. Hoffmann. The tradition of the art-tale was continued in Denmark by Hans Christian Andersen, in America by Washington Irving, and in Scotland by George MacDonald, to single out only a few notable examples. Writers imitated fairy tales and related oral forms such as ballads and supernatural legends to create the whole range of the modern fantastic, from Gothic fiction to pseudo-Medieval romance. It is no wonder that when George MacDonald attempted to theorize fantasy in his 1893 essay “The Fantastic Imagination,” the term he used for the form was “fairytale,” nor that J. R. R. Tolkien, when he gave the Andrew Lang Lecture at St. Andrews in 1937, followed the examples of both Lang and MacDonald by referring to the mode of writing he was interested—literature that evoked the state of enchantment or faërie—as “fairy-stories.”

And so it is entirely appropriate that the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts should make its 2016 theme Wonder Tales, and to invite three Guests of Honor who have done much to establish the fairy tale as a major mode of contemporary imaginative discourse. Cristina Bacchilega is a pre-eminent scholar specializing in the dissemination and use of folklore in modern literature and culture. She has written on Hawaiian legends and the politics of tourism as well as on postmodern uses of fairy tale, the latter in two books: Postmodern Fairy Tales: Gender and Narrative Strategies and Fairy Tales Transformed? Twenty-First -Century Adaptations and the Politics of Wonder. Her talk at the Conference, printed here, asks “Where Can Wonder Take Us?” and contrasts a commodified, theme-park version of the fairy tale experience with a more grounded, critically-aware use of wonder traditions to challenge colonialism and complacency.

Fairy tales are not as sunny as Disney would have us think. Scholars such as Jack Zipes (ICFA’s 1992 Guest Scholar) remind us that the happy endings arrive only after the hero is isolated, threatened, maimed, or even rendered monstrous by sorcerous relatives. Literary fairy tales often pick up on this folk version of the gothic, and remind us that wonder and horror are just a vibration apart. Writer Holly Black specializes in the darker spectrum of the fantastic and has attracted a readership that extends from middle school to adulthood with novels and stories of shadows and monsters and enchantments gone wrong. Among her well-known works are Tithe: A Modern Fairy Tale and the series of Spiderwick Chronicles. At the Conference, she participated in discussions of the wonder and terror of faery and read from her own forthcoming work. Here she is represented by an interview conducted electronically with Anelise Farris.

Terri Windling attended the Conference in 2003 and we were eager to have her back as Guest of Honor. At the last minute, health issues prevented her from traveling from her home in England, but she participated electronically and sent her moving and thoughtful speech to be delivered in absentia by writer and friend Ellen Kushner. Moving between memoir and analysis, she shows how stories—and especially fairy tales—can serve as a sort of scaffolding upon which to build a new self and as portals into other, better lives.

Other contributors to this issue include Sandra Lindow, Graham J. Murphy, Amy Lea Clemons, and Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay. Lindow, who has previously written for JFA on Le Guin’s Lavinia, here discusses Nnedi Okorafor’s young adult novels, which transform elements of African wonder tales and legends into stories of the moral development of powerful young women such as the title character of her Akata Witch (2011).

Murphy investigates a comic book—Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen (1986-87)—that helped move comics into a more adult and self-reflective mode, something that had previously happened with retold fairy tales. Contrasting Moore and Gibbons’s text with the 2009 film adaptation by Zack Snyder, Murphy points out how the original creators offer a utopian critique of corporate capitalism as well as a deconstruction of the heroic momonyth that comics share with both capitalist success-stories and fairy tales.

Clemons looks at the 2006 novel Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, two of the most self-aware and original explorers and revisers of fairy tale tradition. Her reading of the novel focuses on its interactions with the Biblical Book of Revelation and another apocalyptic text, the horror film The Omen, by Richard Donner (1976). Using the fundamentally comic (in the broadest, Northrop Frye-ish sense) form of the fairy tale to critique apocalyptic world views, Pratchett and Gaiman transform horror and devastation into a story of redemption and integration.

Chattopadhyay’s article was a runner-up for the Jamie Bishop Memorial Award, which is presented annually at the International Conference on the Fantastic and honors a critical essay on the fantastic written in a language other than English. Chattopadhyay explores kalpavigyan, a genre that in Bengal overlaps with the imported tradition of Western-style science fiction but carves out a slightly different territory within the realm of the scientific tale. In particular, says Chattopadhyay, whereas “in European and other fiction produced by colonizing countries, mythology is more likely to be reactivated in terms of the language of fantasy […] for colonized countries, mythology is more likely to be activated in terms of the vocabulary of science.” Such cultural differences enrich both our understanding of both Bangla literature and our more local versions of the wonder story.


Cristina Bacchilega, An Introduction, by Veronica Schanoes

“Where Can Wonder Take Us?”
Cristina Bacchilega

Holly Black, An Introduction

Guests in Conversation: An Interview with Holly Black
Anelise Farris

Terri Windling, An Introduction

Into the Woods: A Writer’s Journey through Fairy Tales and Fantasy
Terri Windling

Nnedi Okorafor: Exploring the Empire of Girls’ Moral Development
Sandra Lindow

“On a More Meaningful Scale”: Marketing Utopia in Watchmen
Graham J. Murphy

Adapting Revelation: Good Omens as Comic Corrective
Amy Lea Clemons

Kalpavigyan and Imperial Technoscience: Three Nodes of an Argument
Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay

Review Essay

Devil’s Advocates
Simon Bacon


Annette Magid’s Apocalyptic Projections: A Study of Past Predictions, Current Trends and Future Intimations as Related to Film and Literature
Rev. by Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay

Teressa López-Pellisa’s Patologías de la realidad virtual. Cibercultura y ciencia ficción [Pathologies of Virtual Reality: Cyberculture and Science Fiction]
Rev. by Andrés García-Londoño

Anne Hermanson’s The Horror Plays of the English Restoration.
Rev. by James Hamby

Christine A. Jones’s Mother Goose Refigured: A Critical Translation of Charles Perrault’s Fairy Tales
Rev. by James Hamby

Justin D. Edwards’s Technologies of the Gothic in Literature and Culture – Technogothics.
Rev. by Anya Heise-von der Lippe

Mario DeGiglio-Bellemare, Charlie Ellbé, and Kristopher Woofter’s Recovering 1940s Horror Cinema: Traces of a Lost Decade.
Rev. by Dawn Keetley

Anne E. Duggan’s Enchantements désenchantés: Les contes queer de Jacques Demy. AND Queer Enchantments : Gender, Sexuality, and Class in the Fairy-Tale Cinema of Jacques Demy.
Rev. by Amy J. Ransom

Susan M. Bernando’s Environments in Science Fiction: Essays on Alternate Spaces.
Rev. by J. H. Roberts

Kirsten C. Uszkalo’s Bewitched and Bedeviled: A Cognitive Approach to Embodiment in Early English Possession
Rev. by J. H. Roberts

Dawn Keetley and Angela Tenga’s Plant Horror: Approaches to the Monstrous Vegetal in Fiction and Film.
Rev. by Steven Shaviro

Susanna Layh’s Finstere neue Welten: Gattungsparadigmatische Transformationen der literarischen Utopie und Dystopie [Dark New Worlds. Paradigmatic Genre Transformations in Literary Utopias and Dystopias].
Rev. by Simon Spiegel

Marek C. Oziewicz’s Justice in Young Adult Speculative Fiction: A Cognitive Reading. AND Jes Battis’s Supernatural Youth: The Rise and Fall of the Teen Hero in Literature and Popular Culture.
Rev. by Jessica Stanley

Frenchy Lunning’s Mechademia 8: Tezuka’s Manga Life
Rev. by Jessica Stanley

Susan Jeffers’s Arda Inhabited: Environmental Relationships in The Lord of the Rings. AND L. Risden’s Tolkien’s Intellectual Landscape
Rev. by Corey Zwikstra