The Fairy Tale Project, as we’ve come to know it at LARB, was conceived in collaboration with Young Adult Section Editor Cecil Castellucci. We were both very excited by the idea of studying the lasting resonance of these ancient stories, which snuck like stowaways through the centuries, hiding in the nurseries during the dark ages, when stories about sex and romantic love were shunned. These tales are practically written on our DNA— who doesn’t know the story of Cinderella? Say “Snow White,” and seven dwarves pop into your mind. Analysis of these tales began in earnest in the early 20th century, with critics like Bruno Bettelheim, who used Freud’s techniques of psychoanalysis to shed light on fairy tale motifs. Adaptations are another form of analysis: by extracting and interpreting certain elements of the story, contemporary writers continue to make these tales relevant.
Aimee Bender’s extraordinary fiction is a direct descendant of the folktale. These stories are as various as wildflower species, a point Bender makes in her essay, but there are certain consistencies. In his wonderful introduction to the collection, Italian Folktales, Italo Calvino writes the following: “There must be fidelity to a goal and purity of heart, values fundamental to salvation and triumph. There must also be beauty, a sign of grace that can be masked by the humble, ugly guise of a frog; and above all, there must be present the infinite possibilities of mutation, the unifying element in everything: men, beasts, plants, things.” Like these early tales, Bender’s stories are full of transformation and unlikely occurrences, while her characters pursue their original purpose. In her essay “The Most Romantic Story Ever Told,” Bender considers the lasting significance of one of fairy tales’ greatest hits, “Beauty and the Beast.” Her exploration of this famous story is full of insight and surprise; like the best fairy tales, it is a reflection of ourselves, dressed in extraordinary clothes.—Clarissa Romano
Click here to read “The Most Romantic Story Ever Told,” Aimee Bender’s essay on Beauty and the Beast.
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