Vintage (paperback) London, 1994
Publisher: Vintage; New edition edition (1995)
UK Chatto & Windus (hardback) UK;
Farrar, Straus & Giroux (hardback & paperback) US

In this landmark study of the history and meaning of fairy tales, the celebrated cultural critic Marina Warner looks at storytelling in art and legend - from the prophesying enchantress who lures men to a false paradise, to jolly Mother Goose with her masqueraders in the real world. Why are storytellers so often women, and how does that affect the status of fairy tales. Are they a source of wisdom or a misleading temptation to indulge romancing.

Warner interprets the history of old wives’ tales from sibyls and the Queen of Sheba to Charles Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, and Angela Carter. And with fresh new insights she shows us the real-life themes in the famous stories, which, she suggests, are skillful vehicles by which adults have liked to convey advice, warning, and hope - to each other as well as to children.



‘Open the book at almost any page and you will find something to fascinate you.’
- Noel Malcolm, The Guardian

‘Warner’s book has a tremendous sweep of reference from classical and medieval beliefs about women’s tale-spinning powers to the case of Salman Rushdie. It reproduces scores of historical artworks and images from modern popular culture to illustrate the endless migration of symbols and plots from lore to pictures and back…Everyone is certain to learn something from such an impressive package of history and cultural observation.
Kenneth Baker, San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle

‘As befits its subject, it is something of splendour - marvellous, bizarre, exotic-but at the same time as familiar as porridge. It’s crammed full of goodies…and profusely illustrated…It is also simply essential reading for anyone concerned, not only with fairy tales, myths and legends, but also with how stories of all kinds get told.’
Margaret Atwood, Los Angeles Times Book Review

‘Consistently enlightening…this is a brilliant work: wise, witty and as magisterially omniscient as any Sibylline oracle’
- Nicholas Tucker, New Statesman and Society



In her first anthology of fairy tales, Angela Carter included a story from Kenya: while a poor man’s wife in the village thrives, the Sultana in the palace grows thinner and scrappier by the minute. The Sultan summons the poor man and demands to know the secret of his wife’s happiness. ‘Very simple,’ he replies. ‘I feed her meat of the tongue.’ The Sultan sends out for all the tongues money can buy - ox tongues and lambs’ tongues and larks’ tongues; still his sad Sultana withers away. He orders his litter, makes her change places with the poor man’s wife; she immediately starts to thrive, becoming the picture of health, plumper, rosier, gayer. Meanwhile, in the palace, her replacement languishes, and soon has become as scrawny and miserable as the former queen. For the tongue meats that the poor man feeds the women are not material, of course. They are fairy tales, stories, jokes, songs; he nourishes them on talk, wraps them in language; he banishes melancholy by refusing silence. Storytelling makes women thrive - and not exclusively women, the Kenyan fable implies, but other sorts of people, too, even sultans.

When I was young and highly robust, I still felt great hunger for fairy tales; they seemed to offer the possibility of change, far beyond the boundaries of their improbable plots or fantastically illustrated pages. The metamorphoses promised more of the same, not only in fairy land, but in this world, and this instability of appearances, these sudden swerves of destiny, created the first sustaining excitement of such stories. Like romance, to which fairy tales bear a strong affinity, they could ‘remake the world in the image of desire’. That this is a blissful dream which need not be dismissed as totally foolish is central to the argument of this book.





© Marina Warner 2011 - Contact