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THE OXFORD COMPANION TO FAIRY TALES - The Western fairy tale tradition from medieval to modern

Edited by Jack Zipes
Published by Oxford University Press at £35.00 600pp. HBk. ISBN: 0-19-860115-8

Encyclopaedias like this one are always so difficult to review, not least because of the sheer volume and density of information they usually contain. And this one really is a monster.

Alphabetically arranged, the extensively cross-referenced entries range from extended surveys of national genres of folk and fairy tale (Germany, Spain, Britain and Ireland, Russia, the USA and Canada) to entries of varying detail and complexity about individual fairy tales (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Melusine etc), individual creators, collectors and illustrators of traditional tales (Grimm, Andersen, Perraut), modern writers working with fairy tale themes and motifs (Dahl, Tolkein, Diana Wynne Jones, Tanith Lee, Algernon Blackwood) and the use made of fairy tale themes in music and elsewhere, including extended essay-style entries on themes such as opera and fairy tales, mermaid fairy tale films and Irish fairy tale films etc.

One of the characteristics of the pagan society or community which has been developing in recent decades is the attraction for so many pagans of folklore and the fairy tale, and of fiction and other literature with strong inspiration drawn from folkloric themes, from myth, folk and fairy tale and fantasy. One only has to think of the appeal of Tolkein's novels and those with “Celtic” mythic themes, as well as the fiction of Zimmer Bradley and Alan Garner, or indeed to look at the starting point and theme of Longbarrow reviewed in this issue to understand how pervasive and attractive fairy tale-based fiction in particular is to modern readers, pagan or otherwise. For those who do have such interests this book is a real treasure-house and will provide not only hours of fascinating browsing but also invaluable leads to further reading and may lead to the discovery of other authors with whose work the reader is so far unfamiliar. Readers with children will also find endless pointers to inspiring and exciting books for children of all ages, from those aimed at the very young up to “teen” type mythic fiction.

Expensive? Well, yes, perhaps. Whether it will ever come out in paperback is uncertain but it is an invaluable resource which is well worth the money for the sheer amount of information in it.