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.
To fairy tales?
John McIntyre, patriarch of copy editors and foreman of the paragraph factory, seems to think so. To put it with extreme understatement. Which is to say, he frankly says so in a post tellingly titled ‘Fairy tales can’t come true; it won’t happen to you.’
Is it a sort of heresy for me to say that, given the circumstances, he’s absolutely right?
Read and report.
It’s been two weeks since I spoke at the Anti-Tales Symposium, discussing the hilariously subversive (anti) fairytales of James Thurber.
It’s been two weeks since I had the singularly unique experience of sitting in a conference room and undergoing the exact intellectual strain of reading twelve accomplished academic essays in less than eight hours. For two days in a row.
I didn’t say ‘bad’—I said unique.
I’ve promised a review—and a review is coming. However, I’ve thankfully swung from one deadline (the symposium) into another (details forthcoming, eventually) and that deadline, dear readers, is today.
You’ll forgive me if I save my thoughts on Anti-tales to another day. But, if you’re interested, I highly recommend Claire Massey’s excellent review of the symposium, over at The Fairy Tale Cupboard. She said nearly everything I wanted to say. Thankfully, this deadline gives me a chance to think up something else to add to her already outstanding write-up.
Happy Friday, everyone. Why not try subverting a fairy tale this weekend?
Household Tales: A Grimm Read-Through
Cat and Mouse in Gesellschaft
nti-tales are understudied, as I’ve mentioned before. But what seems evident is that anti-tales do not simply arise in reaction to tales. Anti-tales are, by definition, contained in the tales themselves. A tale holds its own anti-tale, and sometimes subverts itself with the telling.
Tales in the grand tradition—that is, those tales most commonly retold—are more commonly presented in the pure tale. There is a happily ever after. Good conquers Evil. Love conquers All. These tales invite subversion, anti-telling, and deconstruction, because so many of the retellings are so obnoxiously smug.
The older tales and lesser known tellings startle with the prominence of the anti-tale already in the text. The darker, more disturbing Grimm tales fit in this category. Something unsettles us, we wonder uneasily why the neat world presented in the tale seems to frail just in the telling of the story. We haven’t even had a chance to apply postwar trauma or suburban angst to it, and it already frightens us.
So it’s doubly surprising, and more than a little freakish, to discover a retelling of such an anti-tale that emphasizes the anti-tale coloring.
‘Katz und Maus in Gesellschaft’ is such a tale. James Thurber’s ‘The Birds and the Foxes’ (1940) is such a retelling. In Thurber’s tale, the foxes are interested in promoting ‘civilization’ among birds. When a fence goes up to enclose an oriole sanctuary, the foxes protest, calling it ‘an arbitrary and unnatural boundary’, and insist ‘there had once been foxes in the sanctuary but that they had been driven out.’
‘Moral: If you live like humans do, it will be the end of you.’
(Quoting, of course, James Thurber.)
I’ve written before scattered thoughts about the intriguing phenomenon known as the anti-tale. And will, it seems, be writing about it again. Regular and casual readers of Paradoxes may be interested to know that a lot of other people are thinking about it, too. And writing.
In fact, they’re holding a conference.
Anti-Tales: The Uses of Disenchantment will gather at the University of Glasgow to explore the meanings and manifestations of the anti-tale in literature, film, story, and just about anywhere else they can think of.
Among the presenters will be Paradoxes’ own Mr. Pond. Right now I’m starting to slog through research for my essay. Since I’m presenting on James Thurber, it isn’t as bad as it sounds.
Below you’ll find the semi-official press release, with details and contact info and links to more details. More important than simply getting attendees is getting people thinking about anti-tales. Reading, researching, and even writing anti-tales. So read the press release.
And, while it doesn’t officially say this, of course you can comment or contact me with questions.