Off With Their Heads
Fairytales and the Culture of ChildhoodBook - 1992
Discusses how fairy tales became children's literature, and the occurrence of violence, cannibalism, and conflicts between parents and children in these stories
Princeton University Press
When Hansel and Gretel try to eat the witch's gingerbread house in the woods, are they indulging their "uncontrolled cravings" and "destructive desires" or are they simply responding normally to the hunger pangs they feel after being abandoned by their parents? Challenging Bruno Bettelheim and other critics who read fairy tales as enactments of children's untamed urges, Maria Tatar argues that it is time to stop casting the children as villians. In this provocative book she explores how adults mistreat children, focusing on adults not only as hostile characters in fairy tales themselves but also as real people who use frightening stories to discipline young listeners.
Blackwell North Amer
When fairy tales moved from workrooms, taverns, and the fireside into the nursery, they not only lost much of their irreverent, earthy humor but were also deprived of their contestatory stance to official culture. Children's literature, Maria Tatar maintains, has always been more intent on producing docile minds than playful bodies. From its inception, it has openly endorsed a productive discipline that condemns idleness and disobedience along with most forms of social resistance. In this book she explores how Perrault, the Grimms, and others reshaped fairy tales to produce conciliatory literary texts that dedicate themselves to the project of socializing the child.
Tatar finds that when we read and interpret fairy tales today, we often fall into the trap of positioning children as the real villians of the tales. Authorities such as Bruno Bettelheim, for example, focus on "Hansel and Gretel" as a story about the "destructive desires," "uncontrolled cravings," and "ambivalent feelings" of the protagonists rather than as a story about adult hostility toward children. After examining how fairy tales were converted into children's literature, the author investigates the acculturation of heroines in such stories as "Cinderella" and "Beauty and the Beast" and concludes with meditations on violence, cannibalism, and conflicts between parents and children.
Since the cultural stories we read to children in their "formative years" have a powerful influence on their lives, Tatar emphasizes the importance of interrogating and reinterpreting these bedtime tales.