Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Don't Bet on the Prince: Contemporary Feminist Fairy Tales in North American and England - Edited by Jack Zipes

Jack Zipes has put together the first comprehensive anthology of feminist fairy tales and essays to appear since the women's movement gained momentum in the 1960's. He has selected works by such gifted writers as Angela Carter, Margaret Atwood, Tanith Lee, Jay Williams, Jane Yolen, Anne Sexton, Olga Broumas and Joanna Russ - all of whom, whether they consider themselves "feminists" or not, have written innovative stories which seek to break with the classical tradition of fairy tales. The accompanying critical essays, by Marcia Lieberman, Sandra Gilbert, Susan Gubar and Karen Rowe, discuss how fairy tales play an important role in early socialization, influencing the manner in which children perceive the world and their place in it even before they begin to read.

Don't Bet on the Prince was created out of dissatisfaction with the dominant male discourse of traditional fairy tales and with the sexist social values and institutions which it supports. This book demonstrates how recent male and female writers, by looking at the classical literary fairy tale with new eyes, have changed the aesthetic constructs and social content of fairy tales in order to reflect the major changes in the roles of sex, gender, socialization and education since the 1960's. It is an excellent example of how the literature of fantasy and imagination can be harnessed to create a new view of the world.

Don't Bet on the Prince is for all those interested in questioning the traditional values and expectations by which our perceptions of ourselves are formed. It will be of special interest to those concerned with the feminist movement, women's studies and the growing feminist sensibility in fantasy literature. Its tales will also appeal to children, and the child in every adult.

So, this probably won't be a review so much as an opinion piece. I warn you now! When I was little I loved fairy tales. I have some older editions by some of the greats that belonged to my parents and I loved to read them. Some I loved, while others I hated. As an adult I find myself wondering what I thought when I was reading them. When I read fairy tales now I have too many impressions. I have heard too many theories about what the authors were trying to do, and it means that I find myself looking for hidden meaning. Now, that is not necessarily a bad thing, but I highly doubt that when I was a child I was doing the same thing! I just read them for fun.

One thing that always gets me is how adult fairy tales are. Let me be blunt... I didn't know when I was seven that "Little Red Riding Hood" was getting raped. I thought she got eaten by the wolf, or came close to it. The sexual imagery that is actually there, I highly doubt I saw it. I did think that she was stupid for walking into the trap and not knowing that the wolf was the wolf, but I didn't know that she wanted to be raped. It just never crossed my mind. Somewhere in this book it says that the story portrayed the obvious notion that women want to be raped and men cannot control their animal instincts when a beguiling female presents themselves. And, we all know how much truth that sentence holds!

I will be the first to admit, though, that I am not a big fan of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and the rest of the women who have became Disney Princesses. I wasn't a fan when I was a kid, either. I was always looking for the stories where the women had brains. I had one, so it stands to reason that one of these women was going to have one too! I was not a child that dreamed I was Cinderella and I was just waiting for my prince to come and save me. I never believed in that stuff, and maybe, I didn't have as great a childhood as I could have because I wasn't waiting for the knight on the white horse. Who knows! All I know is that this ideal never really struck my fancy. The only Disney Princess, based on classic fairy tales, that I like is Beauty from Beauty and the Beast and that was probably only because she read and was a bookworm like me.

I am trying to decide how I feel after reading this book. Some of the short stories were really good, while others I found rather uninteresting. The essays at the back were interesting, but at the same time they were trying too hard. There were a few moments where I stopped and thought about what they were saying, though, so they were not totally wasted. I find it interesting, though, that instead of writing fairy tales with equality, it seems the men have to become like the women of old in some cases, in order for the women to have a brain. Anyway, that being said, I really liked this book. It was not the best ever, but it was enlightening, and fairy tales and feminist issues are two of my favourite subject matters, so I always like to develop both further.

This was reason enough for me:

"... And Then the Prince Knealt Down and Tried to Put the Glass Slipper on Cinderella's Foot"
- Judith Viorst
I really didn't notice that he had a funny nose.
And he certainly looked better all dressed up in fancy clothes.
He's not nearly as attractive as he seemed the other night.
So I think I'll just pretend that this glass slipper feels too tight.
Yeah, I laughed when I read that story. Terrible, I know!

This collection included [My thoughts are in brackets]:
  • Fairy Tales and Poems:
    • The Princess Who Stood On Her Own Two Feet by Jeanne Desy [I wasn't sure about this story at first, but it grew on me. It is not really all that different than modern dating even if there is no prince involved!]
    • Prince Amilec by Tanith Lee [I enjoyed this story. I don't necessarily like the princesses personality, but I understand where she was coming from.]
    • Petronella by Jay Williams [A fun story that looks at the common theme from fairy tales of everything happening in threes. It breaks conventions in a fun way.]
    • The Donkey Prince by Angela Carter [A very good story from Carter. I just recently read her for the first time, so it was nice to see her included. This breaks fairy tale conventions as well.]
    • ...And Then The Prince Knelt Down and Tried to Put the Glass Slipper on Cinderella’s Foot by Judith Viorst [I laughed... ]
    • Snow White by The Merseyside Fairy Story Collective [Snow White with a brain! Very good story of good verses evil.]
    • The Moon Ribbon by Jane Yolen [A Cinderella-type story that I really enjoyed.]
    • Russalka or The Seacoast of Bohemia by Joanna Russ [Retelling of The Little Mermaid... This just goes to show you don't always know what you want until it is too late!]
    • A Fairy Tale for Our Time by Jack Zipes [I really liked this story. I think it is because it is something that I can relate to. It is why I read fairy tales, in a way.]
    • The Green Woman by Meghan B. Collins [Not my favourite story in the collection, but readable. It is a very believable story, though.]
    • Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty) by Anne Sexton [Look, I am doing better with my strong dislike of short story collections, but I still don't really like poetry... It was just brutalized for me for too many years!]
    • Little Red Riding Hood by Olga Broumas [See above]
    • Rapunzel by Sara Henderson Hay [And again]
    • Wolfland by Tanith Lee [A great story for the paranormal fan in me!]
    • Malagan and the Lady of Rascas by Michael de Larrabeiti [Could not get into this story at all! Probably my least favourite.]
    • Bluebeard’s Egg by Margaret Atwood [I both loved and hated this story. Every time I think about it I change my mind.]
  • Essays:
    • ‘Some Day My Prince Will Come’: Female Acculturation through the Fairy Tale by Marcia K. Lieberman
    • The Queen’s Looking Glass by Sandra M. Gilbert & Susan Gubar
    • Feminism and Fairy Tales by Karen E. Rowe
    • A Second Gaze at Little Red Riding Hood’s Trials and Tribulations by Jack Zipes
So, see, I did like most of the stories in this book! I suggest you take the chance to read it, you will not be disappointed.


  1. I agree, it is a good book. I know what you mean about men becoming like the women of old in some stories. That's an issue I have with certain brands of feminism. I'm all for equality between the sexes, but I think the way to go is not to put men down, nor to overemphasize the differences between men and women. Yes, we're different. But we're also all human, and what we have in common surpasses what we don't.

  2. I've had this on my bookmooch wishlist for awhile and I can't wait until I get a copy. Glad to hear that some of the stories are really good.

  3. I have read bits and pieces of this but never managed to read it all the way through. I will definitely make time though. While I do like the Disney tales, they are nt nearly so interesting and dark as the originals that have woman in much more interesting and restrictive roles.


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