Fuss about Fairy Tales

Tales of Magic first cover (from prospectus)Jack Zipes, who is considered as something of a fairy tale specialist, does not like my book Tales of Magic, Tales in Print. This book is about the history of fairy tales and especially about the transition from written to oral tales. He classifies it as reductionist and has dedicated a special appendix to it in his book The Irresistible Fairy Tale. He thinks it represents a worrisome tendency in fairy tale research.Why is that?

Let me be absolutely clear about one thing first: it is Zipes’ good right not to like my book. He won’t be the only one, because it is a critical book. He is also perfectly right to publish his opinion. Discussion is part and parcel of the academic endeavour, without it research becomes stale. But Zipes has been hasty and overplayed his hand. He could not wait till my book appeared in print and had to use the uncorrected proofs to launch his attack. He was not supposed to use the proofs for that end, and certainly not before my book is published. He also did not ask me for permission. He was so desperate (I have to conclude) that he ignored good academic protocol.

The normal way to proceed is to find a venue for a review, get the book from the publisher or the journal that wants to run it, write it and wait till that appears. If you are lucky this process will only take a few months, but it can easily take a few years, too. Since Zipes did not follow this route, he will have had another purpose. He hates my book so much, that he does not want it to find a proper audience. In particular, he does not want to expose impressionable students to it. As he writes: `I am concerned that young students might be misled by what I’ll argue are reductionist theses’ (the plural is because he has problems with another book as well, to which I will come back in a moment). He basically says: do not feature this book in your fairy tale course 101! Academic publishers are very sensitive to this, because an important part of their sales goes to university libraries that spent their ever decreasing budgets on books students need in their courses. Why? My book is not pornographic, after all, there is only a tiny bit of sex in it.

In my humble opinion, students should be made familiar with opposing views, also when it concerns fairy tales (or maybe especially when it concerns fairy tales) and be taught how to make informed judgements. Relate arguments to evidence, distinguish theories from historical events, and so on. It seems that Jack Zipes does no