30 October 2007

Grimms and Gilded at Harvard

In a borrowed copy of the latest issue of Harvard Magazine I found a profile of Prof. Maria Tatar, known for her work on the Grimms' fairy tales.

Craig Lambert's article "The Horror and the Beauty" states:

Tatar is trying to escape the adult perspective on children’s literature. (“The psychosexual readings have become predictable,” she says.) “I’m trying to capture what happens in the child,” she explains. That’s an ambitious goal, because children themselves are not particularly articulate on such matters, and adult recollections brim with distortions and idealizations. So Tatar also goes directly to the literary texts, mining her insights from words on the page, an admittedly speculative enterprise.

This approach has led her to consider magical thinking and how stories teach children that you don’t need wands--just words--to do things. The so-called classics are classics for a reason: they have powerful language, and use not just sparkle and shine but also gothic gloom to get children hooked on a story and on reading. The marvels that tumble thick and fast through these narratives lead readers to wonder not just about the world of fiction but also about the world they inhabit.

“The radical view is that it doesn’t matter what story a kid reads,” she continues. “In some ways, children’s literature is pulp fiction: it’s melodramatic. John Updike called fairy tales ‘the television and pornography of their day, the life-lightening trash of preliterate peoples.’ Children who read escape not just from reality but into opportunity: they learn how to navigate in the larger world; they become more connected and curious, energized by the propulsive wonders of Narnia, Oz, or Never Land.”
Also in this issue is a very intriguing article illustrated with photos about an exhibit now at Harvard showing how Greek statuary probably looked when it was all painted and gilded. In a word, different. (For Oz fans, the technical term for that style of sculpture was "polychrome.")

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