anti-tales approach

I just got word today that the manuscript for Anti-Tales: The Uses of Disenchantment (Cambridge Scholars, 2011) has received the publisher’s blessing and is on its way to the printers. So you can look for it on library shelves, in bookstores, and wherever else you go to buy books—it should be ready for a summer release.

This book is edited by David Calvin and Catriona McAra (yes, that catrionamcara). They have graciously included one of my articles: ‘“You Know How Happy Kings Are”: The Anti-Fairy Tales of James Thurber.’ It was a delight to write, and I’ve been delighted to be a part of this project. I had the privilege of seeing the manuscript before the the publishers did, and it’s an impressive piece of research.

As to what it is—well. To put it dully, it’s a collection of essays that explore the new critical concept of anti-tale. To put it intriguingly, it stands fairy tales on their heads and does a merry wee jig across the rooftops of contradictory schools of thought.

Anti-tale is an exciting idea. Part of this is because it’s typically undefined but tantalisingly definable.

There is, of course, the danger that it could dwindle to become dull and uninteresting, like the ‘post’ of post-postmodernism. But post-postmodernism and terms of that sort are attempts to build a philosophy from a Zeitgeist, and define itself as a contradiction of a contradiction. We are no longer Victorian, we are Modern. We are no longer Modern, we are Postmodern. We are no longer Postmodern, we are Post-postmodern. We are no longer—oh dear.

Anti-tale, on the other hand, arises from observation of artefacts distinct from any generational phenomena, although such phenomena may give rise to it or make it easier to observe. So anti-tale, theoretically, has a discoverable source, a demonstrable limit. Part of my current research, in fact, has to do with exploring the borders of that limit and looking to use anti-tale as a critical theory—whether on its own power or as part of a larger outlook, I’m not yet sure.

In the interest of nurturing this understanding and helping to create a platform where you, the patrons of Paradoxes,  can contribute your views to the discourse, I wish to propose a new phenomenon (scare quotes, please!):


Anti-wednesday is like a real Wednesday. But is it?

Far more unlikely, it’s in fact potentially irrational, and is not guaranteed to make immediate sense. In other words, for the next while of Wednesdays, I’ll put up thoughts of my own or the thoughts of others—or some weird combination of both—on the twin subjects of antiness and anti-tale.

Now, when I say I’m considering developing this into a critical theory, what I mean is that it seems to appear in a wide enough range of art to possibly help explain what art is. My examples that appear here will be, thusly, disparate. Or random. Or just plain silly.

To conclude this post and begin this informal series, I can think of no better way than to quote my friend David Calvin. David, you may recall, is editing the Anti-Tales book, and has been influential in bringing the anti-tale into the critical consciousness. What that means is, he’s written a lot of fascinating paragraphs like these (which he also seems to have co-written with Catriona McAra):

The anti-fairy tale has long existed as a shadow of the traditional fairy tale genre. First categorized as the ‘antimärchen’ in Andre Jolles’ seminal Einfache Formen (1930), the anti-tale was found to be contemporaneous with even the oldest known examples of fairy tale collections. Rarely an outward opposition to the traditional form itself, the anti-tale takes aspects of the fairy tale genre and re-imagines, subverts, inverts, deconstructs or satirizes elements of them to present an alternate narrative interpretation, outcome or morality. Red Riding Hood may elope with the wolf. Or Bluebeard’s wife is not interested in his secret chamber. Snow White’s stepmother gives her own account of events and Cinderella does not exactly find the prince charming.

The anti-fairy tale takes many forms. Some revisit and deconstruct familiar narratives (as above) or formulate new stories, characters and ever-afters, relying on and subverting familiar archetypes and plot devices. Following our current use, revival and redefinition of Jolles’ nomenclature we invite others to consider their research material through the critical lens of the anti-tale. We believe the concept to be exciting and under-developed, and that this project will stimulate a rich new investigative field of study.

Your comment, thoughts, corrections, and questions are, as always, welcome.

Join us…


7 thoughts on “anti-tales approach

  1. I am anti-busyness, and Wednesdays are busy, so theoretically I should be in, right? At least on Thursday. By Thursday I might be rational enough to be irrational on purpose.

    Congratulations on getting in print! I’m excited for you. 🙂

  2. This seems to have a very interesting premise John, and thanks for the quote of David’s is sumed up your thoughts wonderfully!

    I think this idea really think this idea has potential. I am going to love seeing you open this up on Wednesdays!

  3. Pingback: Anti-Tales Review | Catriona McAra

  4. Ah, okay! I’ve written an anti-tale, but I didn’t know the genre had a name, other than a “Gregory-MacGuire-style retelling.” But of course, such retellings predate MacGuire.

    I look forward to anti-Wednesdays!

  5. katew–thanks! I’m all the more excited to learn that the book, apparently, is scheduled to be released in May.

    Jenna, that absolutely makes sense! I think. As Douglas Adams taught us to say: ‘Today must be Thursday. I never could get the hang of Thursdays.’

    Matthew, welcome! I’ll look forward to hearing your thoughts and insights in this venue (although over espresso is always good, too!).

    Chris–is it impertinent of me to ask to read that story?

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