Snow white needs saving

30th January 1998 at 00:00
HAPPILY EVER AFTER: Fairy tales, children and the cultureindustry. Jack Zipes. Routledge. Pounds 12.99.

If this story isn't true, it should be: when Jack Zipes was a student in London 30 years ago, he had trials for Arsenal.

He is also professor of German at the University of Minnesota, but his enthusiasms range far beyond a single discipline. He has written extensively on cultural issues (notably feminism) in relation to fairy tales; he has trans-lated the Brothers Grimm and Rodari's The Grammar of Fantasy.

His recent Creative Storytelling (Routledge, 1995) is based on 20 years of work in schools.

It is because Zipes knows classrooms that teachers who believe in the far-reaching worth of story will find Happily Ever After a heartening call to action.

The book is driven by the intellectual restlessness and crusading practicality which characterise Zipes's writing. The connections he makes as he explores contemporary culture are startling: a single chapter links political leaders, professional basketball coaches and university vice-chancellors as alternative incarnations of the Lion King, promising "to restore order to ravaged kingdoms . . . so that their subjects can continue to consume in peace without the threat of outsiders taking their jobs."

The six essays examine the "culture industry" which insinuates itself into every home. He traces the shaping influence of Disney from Snow White (1937) and Pinocchio (1940) to the present; Disney, he argues, reduced fairy tales to "commodities", designed for profit, stifling the voices of the storytellers who offered individuals and communities stories to live by.

In "Hansel and Gretel", Zipes finds the perpetuation of the power of adults, particularly the control of men over children, even to the point of abuse.

He compares film versions of fairy tales beyond Disney (Jim Henson's Muppets among them) and comes finally, by way of Walter Benjamin's The Storyteller, to an account of a society imbued with consumerism and competitiveness in which the individual craves identification and recognition - a need to feel a part of the glamorous myths we are peddled. (Zipes's analysisof the week after Princess Diana's death would be fascinating.) If children are to have any defence against the beguiling stories fed to them by the culture industry, Zipes urges that they must hear very different tales. That is why, for all its uncompromising intellectual tenacity, this is a practical book for teachers.

The School Curriculum and Assessment Authority's report on the national curriculum in practice found that teachers rarely told traditional tales - and then often at the end of the school day or as a means to comprehension or vocab-ulary work.

It is difficult when you aren't sure which stories to tell, and which version, or even why you are telling them.

Taken alongside Creative Storytelling the book points towards a vital rationale for informed, even passionate, story telling.

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