Fairy tales are supposed to be magical, surprising, and exhilarating, an enchanting counterpoint to everyday life that nonetheless helps us understand and deal with the anxieties of that life. Today, however, fairy tales are far from marvelous—in the hands of Hollywood, they have been stripped of their power, offering little but formulaic narratives and tame surprises.
If we want to rediscover the power of fairy tales—as Armando Maggi thinks we should—we need to discover a new mythic lens, a new way of approaching and understanding, and thus re-creating, the transformative potential of these stories. In Preserving the Spell, Maggi argues that the first step is to understand the history of the various traditions of oral and written narrative that together created the fairy tales we know today. He begins his exploration with the ur-text of European fairy tales, Giambattista Basile’s The Tale of Tales, then traces its path through later Italian, French, English, and German traditions, with particular emphasis on the Grimm Brothers’ adaptations of the tales, which are included in the first-ever English translation in an appendix. Carrying his story into the twentieth century, Maggi mounts a powerful argument for freeing fairy tales from their bland contemporary forms, and reinvigorating our belief that we still can find new, powerfully transformative ways of telling these stories.