Essay 1

In an essay of 1500 words consider one of the following questions:

“Can we rely on Fairy Tales as a guide to the past?”

Guidance Note: There are a number of possibilities here. One might consider whether the Fairy Tale is an emanation directly from the heart of peasant and traditional peoples or a more recent literary form? What are its sources? What about it’s seeming embrace of the timelessness and the fantastic? What are the specific claims for antiquity that have been made for the form by scholars like the brothers Grimm and Vladimir Propp? Can materials carried by oral tradition and subject, perhaps, to continuous change, ever really be considered old?

You will obviously want to consult the course books, but a successful discussion should also show signs of “reading around.” The Hayden is an obvious place to start with book sources (for example, it has Jack Zipes’s The Irresistible Fairy Tale, The Cultural and Social History of a Genre, which has something to say on this subject); and there is considerable material online. One possible source, already in your possession, might be Robert Darnton’s essay “Peasant Tales: The Meaning of Mother Goose.” Another possible resource (and one you should always consult when considering a particular book, author, or argument) is the scholarly review. For example, Ellis’s book had a considerable impact at the time, and was widely reviewed. It is always interesting to see what professional scholars and experts in the field thought, although you should try to take an independent view—and always remember to cite your sources in the normal fashion—and you will find a number of reviews of One Fairy Story too Many in Jstor Scholarly Journal Archive; and now also in the main MIT Library catalogue. Material on Propp, too, can also be found in Jstor—and elsewhere—and a number of intelligently-worded searches might yield useful insights. Remember: While Internet research can be fruitful, it takes time…so “a little, often…” should be the watchword.


“The Fairy Tale—a women’s tradition hijacked by men?”

Guidance Note: A good answer would range widely over the evidence from Straparola and Basile onwards to, say, the middle years of the twentieth century, avoiding discussion of texts like Angela Carter’s, which are dealt with later in the course. The question receives explicit treatment in Tatar’s introduction to Classic Fairy Tales, and certain of the critical essays in the same volume, but evidence of exploratory further reading will be rewarded. For example, both Tatar and Marina Warner seem keen on this point; do they enlarge upon it, perhaps, in any of their other writings available either in book form or online? Scholarly reviews may be a useful guide here to who is thinking what. One possible approach might be to see whom Tatar cites in her Introductory remarks. Might some of these sources be worth pursuing? A good deal of information on this topic will be found online, but care will need to discriminate between serious scholarly sites and more ephemeral offerings. Much of the material is controversial, and you must try as far as possible to be objective. You must also take care not to let yourself be overwhelmed; there is a lot of potential evidence, and you will need to be selective. The caveats entered above about time and the need to acknowledge sources consulted apply equally here.

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2015
Learning Resource Types
Lecture Notes
Written Assignments with Examples