Relentless Progress: The Reconfiguration of Children's Literature, Fairy Tales, and Storytelling by Jack Zipes
"In olden times, when wishing still helped, there lived a king..." so begins the final version of "The Frog Prince," by the Brothers Grimm. In the original story the frog prince was chucked against a wall by the princess. The kissing came many years, and many revisions, later. Jack Zipes, sage of children's literature, shows the persistent appeal of fairy tales as a cultural artifact and how it keeps evolving in history. The topic of the frog prince is just one chapter in a thought-provoking book that looks at the history of the fairy tale and how capitalism and globalization are reconfiguring children as consumers of children's literature, fairy tales, and storytelling as commercialism focuses on spectacular productions and hyping that comes from movies, toys, music, and more, in an ever-changing publishing industry.
At our library, I've seen Zipes name as the editor on the "Norton Anthology of Children's Literature" and "The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children Literature." When I saw this individual book of his I thought I'd give it a go. I'm kind of exhausted now that I'm done reading it. I performed a marathon read because someone put it on hold. This would have been better read in bits and pieces. Zipes is brilliant and I'm not qualified to analyze this topic in a fair way. It is very scholarly and requires someone who has immersed herself in the field or is at least familiar with the argument. I haven't. I would like to reread it and chew on it, though. There's some good stuff here, folks. I'll just provide a brief summary. At least it will give you an idea of what it is about. Then you can decide if you want to kiss the frog prince or throw him against the wall. I wanted to do both. Especially when I didn't understand Zipes. The resources are exhaustive and I will pursue some of them to get a better handle on the topic. I think I got the gist of what he's saying. Here's goes...
The first chapter opens a dialogue with readers regarding how global marketing and publishing conglomerates have affected children's reading by stressing profit over quality and consuming products over creating meaning. He covers the history of the fairy tale and its origins as an oral tradition and growth during the 1800s in Europe. Next he argues that fairy tales help people adapt to society by providing an understanding of complex topics, such as mating in "The Frog Prince." Another section dissects globalization and 21st century digital society that has ironically caused Americans to become estranged and isolated from one another because of losses of local communities and identities. This causes people to reach for what is safe and secure in the past and comes in forms of religious fundamentalism and excessive forms of consumption.
I'm not sure I've got that right, so I'll let Zipes explain: "Yet until we relate to one another differently by overcoming the socio-economic forces that foster nonsynchronicity, relentless violence, and estrangement, and until our relations are not mediated by spectacles that prevent cognition and self-reflection, storytelling will not nourish us but merely entertain us, help us pass time on the globe with less suffering, and minimize our struggles to determine our fates. At its very best, it will counter the lies that invade our lives and puncture the delusions and illusions that interfere with communication." (148)
Zipes embraces the changes in modern day fairy tales but what is bothersome is when the fairy tales do not help listeners or readers understand and navigate through the world. "There are indeed many pieces of delectable literature that we simply eat and spew from our systems like candy bars that provide instantaneous pleasure but are not nutritional or long lasting." He is worried about children being raised as mindless consumers in a society where capitalism has gone amuck.
In the beginning books were created for enlightenment, recreational reading, and morality. As commodities they were sacred and authoritative, associated with the upper class or cultivated people. The elite defined what was cultured for all classes; hence, books were considered civilizing agents that "Rousseau and Locke saw as beneficial and dangerous." Today conglomerates make distinctions on moral and ethical stands in society but the move is from morality to amusement and the spectacular. It is a chilling thought and one to ponder.
I really like how Zipes analyzes other writers and different books as someone who enjoys reviewing. It is humbling to read someone that is so good at analyzing books from a scholarly viewpoint, as well as enlightening and aspiring. Too bad Zipes does not have a writing review blog. I know I'd be a fan.