Friday Review: American Fairy Tales: From Rip Van Winkle to The Rootabaga Stories (Compiled) by Neil Philip

American Fairy Tales: From Rip Van Winkle to the Rootabaga StoriesAmerican Fairy Tales: From Rip Van Winkle to the Rootabaga Stories by Neil Philip
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Twelve stories penned by American authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott, Washington Irving, Carl Sandburg, and others. The stories are all uniquely American in some way, and many depart from the familiar European style fairy tale of the likes of the Brothers Grimm. There is a preface that gives a summation of the growth of American fairy tales (written by Alison Lurie), and each tale is prefaced by a short biographical piece on the author. Illustrations by Michael McCurdy are black-and-white ink drawings. An afterword by Philip puts the stories into a historical framework.

It might surprise some people to learn that there are American fairy tales. Most people equate fairy tales with the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson, and other European storytellers. But there is a tradition of American tales that, while not necessarily involving fairies or monsters in the usual sense, do fall into the general category of fairy tales, or, perhaps more precisely, folk tales. This book gathers twelve of those stories into one volume, and is a nice collection for anyone interested in folk tales and lore of any background. Some of these stories and authors are familiar: Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle”, for example. Some are less familiar: Frank Stockton’s “The Bee-man of Orn” or Howard Pyle’s “The Apple of Contentment”. And some may be surprised that the likes of Louisa May Alcott and Carl Sandburg wrote fairy tales.

As for the stories themselves, they run the gamut from those that hold close to the European traditional fairy tale format with American settings and characters, to those that are more unique to their country of origin. Some of the truly American tales utilize the language and colloquial American dialect, or draw on very American superstitions and beliefs, or silly and nonsensical words and phrases. Some may be a bit difficult to read, especially the older ones where the language is more old-fashioned and Colonial. They are all valuable to anyone interested in folk tales and especially to we Americans. The more scholarly parts, in the introductions to each story and the afterword, help to put the whole collection in its historical place.

This book is both a study of American storytelling which will be valued by anyone interested in the development of American literature, and an entertaining set of tales that can easily fit in the fairy tale class.

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