Wolf in creep's clothing;Reviews;Children's booksSet Play;Books

9th April 1999 at 01:00
THE CLASSIC FAIRY TALES. Edited by Maria Tatar. Norton Critical Editions pound;6.99

If I could have married Little Red Riding Hood," wrote Dickens, "I should have known perfect bliss."

Not if he'd read this Norton edition of The Classic Fairy Tales, with its exploration of Red Riding Hood's more ambiguous qualities. Though the learning is worn lightly, this is an edition for the scholarly rather than the sentimental; for the interested teacher, librarian or storyteller.

Its strengths lie in its structure and selection. There are sections on "Little Red Riding Hood", "Beauty and the Beast", "Snow White", "Cinderella", "Bluebeard", "Hansel and Gretel", and the stories of Hans Christian Andersen and Oscar Wilde.

A brief but expert introduction to each tale prefaces versions from different periods and cultures. Perrault, the Grimms and Joseph Jacobs are set alongside tales from China, Italy and Ireland; and there are more recent subversive retellings byJames Thurber, Roald Dahl, Angela Carter, Anne Sexton and Margaret Atwood.

The substantial concluding section reprints a dozen essays from prominent scholars of contrasting views. Current controversies are raised - gender, national ownership of tales, Disneyfication - and, provocatively, essays often take issue with each other.

Excellent value.

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