Clever Gretchen and Other Forgotten Folktales Analysis

Alison Lurie

Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Clever Gretchen and Other Forgotten Folktales is a collection of fifteen folktales from various cultural and ethnic traditions rewritten by Alison Lurie. She selected these tales because each narrates an adventure in which a female protagonist shows her bravery and intelligence. Lurie prefaces the collection with a brief introduction in which she explains her foremost aim: to restore the active nature of girls and women to folktales and to combat the stereotype of passivity and helplessness in most stories, in which the female characters are totally dependent on male heroism to rescue them from situations in which the male characters have placed them. The fifteen stories vary in length and complexity, and each is accompanied by a black-and-white illustration by Margot Tomes done in a simple style.

The title story introduces the theme of ingenuity with the tale of Gretchen, a lord’s daughter whose father will not marry her to anyone he does not judge to be the best horseman in the world. A poor widow’s son attempts to win Gretchen in marriage, but she must intervene and help him in his quest when he makes a pact with the Devil, who is disguised as a wandering stranger. Gretchen recognizes the trick and devises a question for her suitor to ask the Devil that he will not be able to answer after he has helped Hans prove his skills; the Devil must accept his defeat and leave Gretchen and Hans to marry happily.

The second story, “Manka and the Judge,” presents a clever young poor woman who wins the favor of a young judge by solving all the riddles that he likes to pose. They marry, and she evens helps him resolve difficult cases by showing him that feelings and emotions are more valuable than material goods, a lesson that he accepts from her.

“The Black Geese,” the third story, combines Russian folklore of the evil witch Baba Yaga with the virtues of being kind...

(The entire section is 782 words.)

Clever Gretchen and Other Forgotten Folktales Bibliography

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Costa, Richard Hauer. Alison Lurie. New York: Twayne, 1992.

Helfland, Michael S. “The Dialectic of Self and Community in Alison Lurie’s The War Between the Tates.” Perspectives on Contemporary Literature 3, no. 2 (1977): 65-70.

Kruse, Horst. “Museums and Manners: The Novels of Alison Lurie.” Anglia: Zeitschrift fur Englische Philologie 111 (1993): 410-438.

Lurie, Alison. “Alison Lurie: An Interview.” Interview by Liz Lear. Key West Review I (Spring, 1988): 42-52.

Lurie, Alison.“An Interview with Alison Lurie.” Interview by David Jackson. Shenandoah 31, no. 4 (1980): 15-27.

Newman, Judie. Alison Lurie: A Critical Study. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2000.

Pearlman, Mickey, and Katherine Usher Henderson, eds. “Alison Lurie.” In Inter/View: Talks with America’s Writing Women. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1990.

Stark, John. “Alison Lurie’s Career.” In Twayne Companion to Contemporary Literature in English. Vol. 1. New York: Twayne-Thomson Gale, 2002.

Watkins, Susan. “’Women and Wives Mustn’t Go Near It’: Academia, Language, and Gender in the Novels of Alison Lurie.” Revista Canaria de Estudios Ingleses 48 (2004): 129-146.