Oxford University Press (2014) - Hardback
Oxford University Press (2016) - Paperback
Reclam (2017) - German translation

From wicked queens, beautiful princesses, elves, monsters, and goblins to giants, glass slippers, poisoned apples, magic keys, and mirrors, the characters and images of fairy tales have cast a spell over readers and audiences, both adults and children, for centuries. These fantastic stories have travelled across cultural borders, and been passed on from generation to generation, ever-changing, renewed with each re-telling. Few forms of literature have greater power to enchant us and rekindle our imagination than a fairy tale.

But what is a fairy tale? Where do they come from and what do they mean? What do they try and communicate to us about morality, sexuality, and society? The range of fairy tales stretches across great distances and time; their history is entangled with folklore and myth, and their inspiration draws on ideas about nature and the supernatural, imagination and fantasy, psychoanalysis, and feminism.

Marina Warner has loved fairy tales over a long writing life, and she explores here a multitude of tales through the ages, their different manifestations on the page, the stage, and the screen. From the phenomenal rise of Victorian and Edwardian literature to contemporary children's stories, Warner unfolds a glittering array of examples, from classics such as Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and The Sleeping Beauty, the Grimm Brothers' Hansel and Gretel, and Hans Andersen's The Little Mermaid, to modern-day realizations including Walt Disney's Snow White and gothic interpretations such as Pan's Labyrinth.

In ten succinct chapters, Marina Warner digs into a rich hoard of fairy tales in their brilliant and fantastical variations, in order to define a genre and evaluate a literary form that keeps shifting through time and history. Her book makes a persuasive case for fairy tale as a crucial repository of human understanding and culture.


1: The Worlds of Faery: Far Away and Down Below
2: With a Stroke of Her Wand: Magic and Metamorphosis
3: Voices on the Page: Tales, Tellers, and Translators
4: Potato Soup: True Stories/Real Life
5: Childish Things: Pictures and Conversations
6: On the Couch: House Training the Id
7: In the Dock: Don't Bet on the Prince
8: Double Vision: The Dream of Reason
9: On Stage and Screen: States of Illusion




'Warner's elegant prose is beguiing, lyrical, and rich with metaphor and clever wordplay.'
- Kirsten Mollegaard in Folklore Vol 127, Number 3, December 2016

'A treasure of a book - more dependable than fairy gold and certain to endure as a brilliant and compendiously researched guide"
- Kate Kellaway in LMH The Brown Book

Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale has been short listed for Katharine Briggs Award 2015, more info here.

A review of Marina Warner's Once Upon a Time, Martine Hennard published in Gramarye, Summer 2015 Issue7, can be read here.

An overview comes by way of Once Upon a Time: A short history of fairy tale, Marina Warner's thoroughly enjoyable and scholarly account. Warner traces the genre from its murky beginnings in an oral past to written variants from the East and Europe, via the Russian forests through which Baba Yaga flies in her mortar and pestle, gorged on children's bones. While the oral and literary veins are inextricably entangled, Warner contends that the writing down of tales has often been closely linked to social and national events.

- Francesca Wade, Times Literary Supplement, March 2015

Warner is a longtime explorer of Fairyland. Her seminal book on the subject, From the Beast to the Blonde, was first published two decades ago, followed four years later by No Go the Bogeyman, which expanded her research into the realm of ghosts and goblins. Now she has pulled together her thoughts in a 200-page fairy-size hardback titled, obviously, Once Upon a Time. It is a remarkable achievement.

Warner suggests that there are four characteristics that define a veritable fairy tale: first, it should be short; second, it should be (or seem) familiar; third, it should suggest 'the necessary presence of the past' through well-known plots and characters; fourth, since fairy tales are told in what Warner aptly calls 'a symbolic Esperanto', it should allow horrid deeds and truculent events to be read as matter-of-fact. If, as Warner says, 'the scope of a fairy tale is made by language', it is through language that our unconscious world, with its dreams and half-grasped intuitions, comes into being and its phantoms are transformed into comprehensible figures like cannibal giants, wicked parents or friendly beasts. In a talk given in April 2006 at the Beckett Centenary Conference in Dublin, Warner remarked that 'words summon presence ... and they also possess the power to animate the inanimate, to quicken toys with imaginary life, to throng the playroom with imaginary company'. That is, words bring what we think we don't know into being.

- Alberto Manguel, Literary Review, February 2015

"Once Upon a Time" is clearly an academic book, but it soars beyond its practical purpose and into the realm of pure delight, where it will find a grateful readership in the general public. Warner is as fine a teacher as could be on the subject, one who has written a lavishly learned book so elfin in size it can slip into a pocket."

- Aimee Bender, The New York Times Book Review, January 25th 2015

"While Marina Warner usually writes huge books you can happily live in for weeks — such as "Stranger Magic," her study of the Arabian Nights stories — Once Upon a Time (Oxford, $18.95), is a perfect "short history of the fairy tale." The writing is pungent, the authority unassailable, the pace quick.

Warner, in short, knows fairy tales better than Mother Goose herself. And she can turn a phrase: Folklore is "the cartography and anthropology of the imagination." "Like the splinter from the spindle" - in "The Sleeping Beauty" — these tales "can enter you and remain for a hundred years of dreams." Scribbled-in children's books are examples of "their readers' tough love."

- Michael Dirda, The Washington Post, 24 December 2014

"Marina Warner shows that few things in human experience run deeper than fairy tales. In enchanted forests and other fantastical worlds, flat characters live outrageous lives, cutting to the core of human fears and desires. Fairy-tale plots and characters, in fact, feature the tropes that can be found in just about every story we tell.

In this lively, scholarly work, Warner surveys centuries of fairy tales and academic research about them. She ties these tales to virtually every aspect of culture — mythology, art, music, movies, games, and psychology. We need them, she says, to make sense of the world."

- Charles Euchner, Globe Correspondent 30 December 2014

'...Wide-ranging and wonderful... From forest hut to Brothers Grimm to Frozen, this is a winning exploration of the scope and power of fairy stories. '

- Kathryn Hughes, The Guardian Review 22 November 2014

'Marina Warner is our doyenne of fairy stories, the British equivalent to America's Jack Zipes and Maria Tatar, only, it must be said, with a better prose style than either. Her book, From the Beast to the Blonde, was a memorable bestseller, and here she follows it and a lifetime of investigation into story-telling with Once Upon a Time: A Short History of the Fairy Tale.

Once obscure, the field has become quite a crowded one, with Sara Maitland's Gossip from the Forest and Philip Pullman's Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm published recently, but Warner's book is a little gem. What makes her special is her way of phrasing insights into the nature of the genre and into particular stories; her scholarly knowledge is not just worn lightly but presented with a flourish. "Imagine the history of fairytale as a map, like the Carte du Tendre…drawn by Parisian romantics to chart the peaks and sloughs of the heart's affections," she begins, captivatingly In 10 succinct chapters, she gives us an overview of pretty much all that we need to know about past and current thinking, from Bruno Bettelheim's influential Freudian insights to Philip Pullman's stating that "there is no psychology in a fairytale."'

- Amanda Craig, The Observer, 19 October 2014

In her erudite but engaging study, the awardwinning scholar and critic takes us on a journey through the development of the genre and its enduring power to ignite the imagination. Taking in ballet, feminist criticism and Freudian theory, it is a spellbinding cultural tour de force. ****

- JC, The Lady, 17 October 2014



Once Upon A Time has been translated into German - 'Es war einmal: Die Magie der Märchen', Aus dem Englischen übersetzt und kommentiert von Holger Hanowell, Reclam (2017). More information on the edition can be found here.

MW interviewed for Fivebooks.com about Once Upon a Time, the interview can be read here.

'How fairytales grew up - With Hollywood spending millions on new versions of age-old characters, from Frozen's Snow Queen to Cinderella, fairytales are more popular than ever. But they've had to adapt, with lots of dark twists and no more sweet, biddable girls' - an essay by Marina Warner published in The Guardian, 12 december 2014, can be read here.

'How fairytales grew up - With Hollywood spending millions on new versions of age-old characters, from Frozen's Snow Queen to Cinderella, fairytales are more popular than ever. But they've had to adapt, with lots of dark twists and no more sweet, biddable girls' - an essay by Marina Warner published in The Guardian, 12 December 2014, can be read here.

'The top 10 fairytales from Hans Christian Andersen to Angela Carter's Bloody Chamber, Marina Warner picks her favourite fairytales'.
MW contributes to Books section of The Guardian, 08 October 2014, here.



Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale- Corrections from Marina Warner

Nov 8 2014
p xiv par 2 4  lines up:  take out ‘But ‘ before ‘Baba Yaga’…

pp 70 -1  3 lines up. Change to :
Jeanette Winterson in her novels  The Passion (l987) and Sexing the Cherry (l989), introduces numerous  fairytale motifs, including the shoes that are mysteriously worn out every morning (from ‘The TwelveDancingPrincesses’ found in The Red Fairy Book) ...

p 77 par 2 lines 2- 3. Change to:
To which Jeanette Winterson retorts, repeating again and again, ‘I’m telling you stories. Trust me.’

p 148
8 lines up: … they masquerade in enchanted guises: the heroine Villanelle in Winterson’s The Passion has webbed toes and walks on water; an ugly sister becomes a heroine in A.S. Byatt’s ‘The Eldest Princess’…

I would like to express my genuine regret at the mistakes I’ve made in citations of Jeanette Winterson’s writing.


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