Index to Fairy Tales: 1987-1992. – book reviews
It is shutting the stable-door well after the horse has bolted to damn the seventh and latest volume in the Index to Fairy Tales. Libraries possessed of earlier volumes will no doubt buy it to keep the series up to date. Private buyers may well find better ways of investing their [pounds]59.50.
Following in the footsteps of its predecessors, the volume “retains the fundamental purpose of providing access to the contents of collections of fairy tales (and related titles classified as folktales, fables, legends, or myths); the titles indexed aim at being qualitatively comprehensive for the children’s area” (p. vii). The target users are teachers and librarians wanting to find fairy and folk tales for use with children. They will indeed find a number of retellings with some ancillary information including reading levels, and some works of reference.
The compiler is a professional indexer, who has made some thoughtful changes to the format previously used in this series (see pp. vii and ix) and, according to his lights, adopted a workmanlike approach to a tedious undertaking. He admittedly has his slap-happy moments. For example, we find under bog only two references, both to modern retellings of “The Dead Moon,” originally collected by Mrs Balfour in the Lincolnshire Carrs. However, on the same page (116), under bogies/boggles, not only do we find a third retelling of the same story, but – what should have alerted the compiler – a reference to one of the two retellings listed under bog. When we get to marsh, up comes “The Dead Moon” again, one reference only, and that to the bogies/boggles source. Those under bog are ignored. But on the whole, this is a cataloguing job well done. The question is, should it have been done at all?
This volume must strike any folklorist as bibliography gone mad, a triumph of form over content. (Who but Sprug’s fellow “library scientists” would find the distribution by date of the 310 indexed, with such entries as “1960-69 7 titles 0.2%” (p. viii) truly useful?
Avowedly designed to serve “clients” (p. ix), it takes no apparent thought for also serving the subject. Basically it is not much more than a list of books, in print, in America, in the period 1987-92, not covered by previous indexes in this series. The quality of the information being purveyed has not been considered. The compiler has consulted reviews and “best books” lists in his selection process, but (from spot checks) these appear to be work mainly of specialists in child education. He evidently has neither looked at the books themselves, nor taken into account the implications of their publishing history.
This has resulted in books being included that no folklorist would have put in an index of “Fairy Tales, Folktales, Myths, and Legends” (the implication of these words being that this is traditional material). Several of the sources are purely literary: under werewolf, for example, appears Shape Shifters: Fantasy and Science Fiction Tales about Humans Who Can Change their Shapes, compiled by Jane Yolen.
It has also resulted in the inclusion of much that folklorists would rather not see perpetuated. The reprinting of out-of-copyright collections of myths, legends and fairytales now fashionable among new or small or otherwise under-funded publishers on both sides of the Atlantic ignores the fact that, as in other disciplines, out-of-print may mean out-of-date. Contrary to what some adults appear to believe, folk and fairytale collections do not inhabit Never-Never Land, but, like most things, have a shelf life. Not a few of the retellings listed here are well past their sell-by date, and have been revived for the saleability of their illustrations (Dulac, D’Aulaire) or because of sentimentality on the part of editors brought up on them, no thought being given to their ability to communicate effectively with today’s children, to whom the language of books written in the 1960s, let alone earlier, often seems laughable.
Not a few of the more general books listed have long since been displaced by those incorporating new information, new interpretations, and sometimes more accurate translations. If you look up Anu here, you will be sent only to Spence’s Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, first published in 1916 (textual scholars, archaeologists and art historians weep!). It isn’t as if books incorporating later scholarship in this field were not published between 1987 and 1992 – some of them are even mentioned elsewhere in this Index.
Finally, among the adult reference works included are several that seem more peripheral to the declared purpose of the Index (e.g. G.F. Kunz, The Curious Lore of Precious Stones, first published in 1913) than several which have been left out (e.g. Betsy Hearne, Beauty and the Beast: Visions and Revisions of an Old Tale, 1989; Lutz Rohrich, Folktales and Reality, 1991; or Nancy Mellon, Storytelling and the Art of the Imagination, 1992).
Blame for all this should be laid at the doorstep, not of individual indexers, but whoever laid down the guidelines for this series. It is time the publisher reconsidered it, in particular the selection process, and questioned whether sole authorship by an indexer, without specialist knowledge of the subject, is enough.
Jennifer Chandler Folklore Society
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