Daily Archives: 25 May 09

The story of the origin of fairy tales is a fairy tale

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‘ “It has been said so often that the folk invented and disseminated fairy tales that this assumption has become an unquestioned proposition,” [Ruth] Bottigheimer writes in the introduction to her most recent book, Fairy Tales: A New History (State University of New York Press, 2009). “It may therefore surprise readers that folk invention and transmission of fairy tales has no basis in verifiable fact. Literary analysis undermines it, literary history rejects it, social history repudiates it, and publishing history … contradicts it.”

Her claim is the latest chapter in — some say it should be the epilogue to — a clash almost as old as fairy tales themselves. For many scholars, the debate over where fairy tales came from is a battle that belongs to the late 19th century, when national folklore societies sprang up in the United States and Britain and established the importance of oral traditions. That principle long ago became a pillar of the work done by folklorists — influenced by anthropologists and ethnographers — even as they have used book history and manuscript evidence to put together a much more complicated picture of how the Grimms and other key collectors, editors, and writers produced their influential versions of stories.

Many of these scholars have simply moved beyond the debate. They say the really interesting work on fairy tales now occupies a shifting middle ground where the spoken and written versions play off each other: on the pantomime stage, for instance, and on the movie screen.’ (The Chronicle of Higher Educatiton)

Quack remedies spread by virtue of being useless

Photograph of three antique patent medicine bo...

“Eating a vulture won’t clear a bad case of syphilis nor will a drink made of rotting snakes treat leprosy, but these and other bogus medical treatments spread precisely because they don’t work. That’s the counterintuitive finding of a mathematical model of medical quackery.

Ineffective treatments don’t cure an illness, so sufferers demonstrate them to more people than those who recovery quickly after taking real medicines.” (New Scientist)