Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Golden Ass - Fairy Tales - Jack Zipes

After class Wednesday I was thinking about our discussion of The Golden Ass - how much of it was the basis of well-known fairy tales that we grew up with, or at least are familiar to us. I remembered a book I read for a Young Adult Literature class, "When Dreams Come True" by Jack Zipes. He writes, "The first appearance of a major literary fairy tale, Apuleuis's "Cupid and Psyche" was written in Latin in the second century. Moreover, it was included in the book "The Golden Ass," which dealt with metamorphoses, perhaps the key theme of the fairy tale up to the present...whereas many oral wonder tales had been concerned with the humanization of natural forces, the literary fairy tale beginning with "Cupid and Psyche" shifted the emphasis more towards the civilization of the protagonist who must learn to respect particular codes and laws to become accepted in society and/or united to reproduce and continue the progress of the world toward perfect happiness...Like "Cupid and Psyche" the early Latin fairy tales were largely focused towards males and on their acquisition of the perfect moral values and ethics that would serve them in their place of power in society." (pg 8-9)

Zipes explains, "the definition of both the wonder tales and the fairy tale which derives from it, depends on the manner in which a narrator/author arranges known functions of a tale, aesthetically and ideologically to induce wonder and then transmits the tale as a whole according to customary usage of a society in a given historical period."

At the time I read this book I had very little knowledge of classical foundations of literature, but I was interested in the place of women in literature, as characters, storytellers, and authors, so the following was of interest to me;

"The first stage for the literary fairy tale involved a kind of class and perhaps even gender appropriation. The voices of the nonliterate tellers were submerged, and since women in most cases were not allowed to be scribes, the tales were scripted according to male dictates or fantasies, even though they may have been told by women. Put crudely, one could say that the literary appropriation of the oral wonder tales served the hegemonic interests of males within the upper classes of particular communities and societies." (pg 7)

Zipes goes further qualifying his statement, saying that writing down the fairy tales also preserved some of the value system of those deprived of power. I suppose this is true to some extent, but we know that history recorded by the male victors leaves out at least half of the story, I'd venture to say that is true of literature as well.

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