The Oxford Book of Modern Fairy Tales Summary

The Oxford Book of Modern Fairy Tales

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

This handsome collection is probably destined to become a classic, a never-out-of-print addition to the distinguished list of Oxford University Press anthologies, for it contains not only the best-known examples of the so-called “modern fairy tale” (those written in the last two centuries), such as Oscar Wilde’s “The Selfish Giant,” Kenneth Graham’s “The Reluctant Dragon,” and John Ruskin’s “King of the Golden River,” but also a number of contemporary examples of the genre by famous writers, such as “The Jewbird” by Bernard Malamud, “The Glass Mountain” by Donald Barthelme, and “The Wife’s Story” by Ursula Le Guin.

The stories range from the whimsically light “The Apple of Contentment” by Howard Pyle, a late nineteenth-century American writer, to the satirically dark “The Chaser” by twentieth-century British writer John Collier. Many provide lessons on human failures and foibles, such as “The Story of Fairyfoot” by 19th-century Irish writer Francis Browne, which focuses generally on cultural differences, and “The Princess Who Stood on Her Own Two Feet,” by contemporary American writer Jeanne Desy, which focuses more specifically on sexist stereotypes about women. Some stories perform satiric reversals on more traditional fairy tales, such as Tanith Lee’s “Prince Amilec,” which allows the witch to live happily ever after, and Angela Carter’s “The Courtship of Mr. Lyon,” which provides a variant of the Beauty and the Beast fable. And some are drawn from the folktale literature of a particular culture, such as I. B. Singer’s “Menaseh’s Dream,” from Jewish legend, and Louise Erdrich’s “Old Man Porchikoo,” a Native American trickster story.

This is a book not just for children but for everyone who retains the childlike need for that fantastic world of fairy where everything is nonsensical yet manages to make a great deal of sense.