polestick's review

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challenging emotional informative reflective medium-paced


mireanthony's review

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reflective slow-paced


I am just now realizing I never wrote up a review for this book that I finished over Christmas of last year, whoops. 

Overall I enjoyed this book. Some of the essays included definitely felt more relevant and illuminating to the topic of masculinity and fairy tales than others, but such is the nature of an essay collection. I particularly enjoyed the essays that explored queer desire, such as Greg Bills's "Jack and the Giant", and racial identity, such as Alexander Chee's "Kitsune". The essay I am still thinking about the most is Jeff Vandermeer's "The Third Bear", which is not so much an essay about fairy tales and masculinity as it is a commentary on the concept of evil and the wilderness in fairy tales. 

I would recommend this collection to people interested in queer masculinity, to people interested in the storytelling craft who have an affinity for fairy tales, and to people interested in the ways our childhood and our familial relationships interweave with our adult understandings of fairy tales.

Here is a selection of quotes from these essays I found particularly impactful. 

"As I got older, I became not so afraid of Gretel. Rather, I began to imagine Hansel and Grete as twins, or more. One not-girl and one not-boy but rather entwined into one being, they were incapable of surviving alone. Not so much gendered as engendering each other. Brother and sister— a compound noun." —Kate Bernheimer, editor, introduction (pg. 4)

"Children, American children, are not allowed desire. It is not possible to suggest that playful things— rolling down a hill, racing through the sprinklers, lodging a running hose into the waistband of a swimsuit, slowing to sense the rasp of tall grass against exposed shins— are in any way aspects of the sensual life of a child. To suggest the sensual life of a child is to suggest the sensual mind of a child. To suggest a sensual, even sexual, willfulness in a child is to disrupt our culture's understanding of innocence. This vision of childhood innocence is pervasive and monolithic, and it is horribly susceptible to violation." —Greg Bills, "Jack and the Giant" (pg. 39)

 "And here I am in a land where children do not have a sensual life, where gay children do not exist, and where converging the topics of sexuality and childhood (even one's own) can cast a sweaty sheen of pedophilic intent over the discussion. Am I meant to return to that bedroom and that boy and tell him that he can't have wanted what he thought he wanted, that he didn't feel what he felt? Would it be better to assume it never happened? Or, if I must persist in believing my own memories, should I suspect that the moment is a residue of abuse, that my childhood innocence must have been influenced, interfered with? —But fuck this! I feel lucky to be angry enough to overcome the shame ans suffocation. I was that boy, and I did get naked and climb into that pillowcase. And I did wait for the Giant to take me away with him. —Greg Bills, "Jack and the Giant" (pg 40)
"We need to have experience, I think, imagining ourselves pushing through wardrobes and finding ourselves in new lands. We need to be able to imagine the otherworlds that appear when we close our eyes to sleep and to dream. We need to be able to recognize when things change by the practice of imagination.... We need to practice the art of believing in survival so that when we need to survive, we recognize the concept." —Gregory Maguire, "The World Turned Upside Down" (pg. 110)

"Disney world is the place dying children wish for. As a last wish. Stanley Elkin's novel, The Magic Kingdom even features this curiousity in fiction. A tour of seven terminal children... is trucked off to the Florida theme park. The children in the novel try to make it clear that this manufactured happiness of the happiest place on earth is not making them happy. It isn't their last wish after all. They long for the chance to grow up, of course, and seek in the sexless Magic Kingdom a chance for sex. An ultimate ride, their first and last roll in the hay. They desire to desire. They wish their illicit wish. Disney World is a deathless place, simply enough. And I think of all the dying children who will never grow up, sentenced not only to an early death but also to an adult's version of an early death. Better to die than to grow up. There is, in the real life Magic Kingdom, this studied confusion between life and death —the robots and androids, the elaborately costumed characters, the endless parades, the 'cast members' sweeping, sweeping and smiling. The Main Street ageless, frozen in time just in time." —Michael Martone, "Seven Dwarf Essays" (pg. 118)

"I sometimes think nothing is more important to my mother than finding a way of telling her father's story that will cause it to resolve. She tells it over and over again. to herself, to us, to whomever will listen, recreating in helpless, frustrated, Balzacian detail—in order order to find an escape hatch of narrative conclusiveness and thereby free herself." —Vijay Seshadri, "Stories, Real, and Unreal" (pg. 148)

"Here is a story where everything goes wrong, here is a story where everyone has their back against the wall, here is a story where everyone is in pain and acting selfishly because if they don't, they'll die. Here is a story, not of good against evil, but of need against need against need, where everyone is at cross-purposes and everyone is to blame." —Richard Siken, "Hansel" (pg. 152)

"There are always curious eyes peering out from the forest in a certain kind of folktale. Sometimes hidden in the middle distance. Readers often think they are wolf eyes. But they are not the eyes of wolves. they are the eyes of the third bear. Peering from darkness into darkness.... Sometimes I think modern fairy tales should be horror tales, that to encompass all the ferocity and animal intensity at the core of the past century's excesses, we need a little bit of the third bear in everything we write. But at the very least, when we reinvent our folktales, we need to acknowledge the third bear, if only by his absence. Sometimes the author has no recourse. Sometimes there is nothing I can do." —Jeff VanderMeer, "The Third Bear" (pg. 176-177)