Category: Narrative/Verbal Art — Folk/Fairy Tale

Mapping Fairy-Tale Space: Pastiche and Metafiction in Borderless Tales

By Christy Williams. 2021. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. 216 pages. ISBN: 9780814343838 (soft cover).


Reviewed by Pauline Greenhill, University of Winnipeg

[Review length: 621 words • Review posted on October 8, 2021]


[Cover ofMapping Fairy-Tale Space: Pastiche and Metafiction in Borderless Tales]

Space and place have always been crucial aspects of fairy-tale narratives. And within fairy-tale geography generally, both itineraries and locations recur, sometimes predictably, sometimes idiosyncratically. Vivian Labrie’s work (e.g., 1997, 1999) in particular demonstrates how traditional storytellers use (mental) maps not only as narrative devices but also as mnemonics to support their knowledge of particular tales. Labrie’s topological analyses prove valuable in comparing tale-types as well as in discovering specific fairy-tale ecologies of protagonists and helpers, and the perennial value of wonder and wonder tales.

Christy Williams’s Mapping Fairy-Tale Space uses similar ideas of space and place to consider not traditional narratives but instead the recent reconfigurations of familiar examples on television (the American Once Upon a Time and the Korean Secret Garden), novels (American Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles and American Seanan McGuire’s Indexing books), and short fiction (three stories from American Kelly Link’s Stranger Things Happen). Her project is twofold: to show how examples of fairy-tale pastiche and mash-up “collapse multiple distinct fairy tales so that they inhabit the same storyworld, transforming the fairy-tale genre into a fictional geography” on the one hand, and how fairy tales become metaphorical “maps, or guides, for lived experience” and how “characters use fairy tales both to navigate and to circumvent their own situations” (3) on the other.

With respect to the first area, and Once Upon a Time, Meyer, and McGuire, Williams explores “the process of reinventing traditional tales for new times and places” (3). As a reader, I was hampered by my abhorrence for Once Upon a Time. I watched the first season for professional reasons but could not persuade myself that continuing self-torture was appropriate, and bailed on the rest. Good for Williams for sticking with it, and the series’ incredible popularity means that her chapter on it will be widely read and will merit the attention it gets. The Indexing series, in contrast, I love, and I hope the section on it will bring it more readers. And Williams makes a compelling case for Meyer’s work, which I do not know.

I don’t know Secret Garden or Link’s stories either, but Williams’s discussions persuade me to seek them out. Her examinations of them explain the creators’ conclusions that “the tales are ineffectual maps until the characters chart different paths and endings for themselves, or reject the tales as maps altogether” (3). A test of a good critical analysis like Mapping Fairy-Tale Space is the extent to which it sends its reader forth thinking of how to apply its insights to other documents and texts. And considering how compelling is Williams’s demonstration that the patterns she finds apply across media, many international examples come to mind of the rethinking of fairy tales as a rejection of the traditional tales’ old maps and a search for new paths.

For example, independent producer Tale of Tales’ (American-born Auriea Harvey and Belgian-born Michaël Samyn, 2009) mysterious, uncanny, ambiguous video game The Path has six sister Red Riding Hoods who must break the rules and stray from the eponymous path to each meet her particular wolf and get into grandmother’s house. And in films, Celestial Clockwork (Mécaniques célestes, directed by Fina Torres, France, Belgium, Spain, Venezuela, and Portugal, 1995) uses “Cinderella” to reflect on immigration, colonial relations, and sexualities. Williams’s critical examinations are thought-provoking not only as considerations of the texts she actually looks at but also as a stimulus for more analysis.

Works Cited

Labrie, Vivian. 1997. “Help! Me, S/he, and the Boss.” In Undisciplined Women: Tradition and Culture in Canada, edited by Pauline Greenhill and Diane Tye, 151-166. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

-----. 1999. “Going through Hard Times: A Topological Exploration of a Folktale Corpus from Quebec and Acadie,” Fabula 40: 50–73.

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