Fairy-Tale Trajectories, Part III: Cristina Bacchilega
Where is the Magic of Contemporary Fairy-Tale Adaptations? The Production of Wonder as Activist Response
Co-sponsored by the Folklore Student Association
Looking back at Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber, was there any magic? Not any announced as such. The choice of tales is relevant here: in most versions of “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Puss in Boots” respectively, the talking wolf and cat are the only “supernatural” motifs; in “Bluebeard” the blood on the key is also an isolated magic detail along with the victims" fresh blood in the secret room; “Snow White” is all about metaphoric alchemy; and the trope of transformation in “Beauty and the Beast” becomes an “as if” in Carter‟s perceptual and ideological unmasking. What were Angela Carter's fairy-tale adaptations signaling with their absence not only of fairies, princes, and princesses, but of magic? I started thinking about this in response to students asking about the lack of magic in literary retellings after Angela Carter.
Today's fairy-tale transformations activate multiple—and not so predictable—intertextual and generic links that both expand and decenter the narrow conception of the genre fixed in Disneyfied pre-1970s popular cultural memory. Responding to this multivocality, I contend that, actively contesting an impoverished poetics of magic, a renewed, though hardly cohesive, poetics and politics of wonder are at work in the contemporary cultural production and reception of fairy tales. In my new book I focus on situated responses to the hegemony of a colonizing, Orientalizing, and commercialized poetics of magic, and this paper suggests how attending to the poetics of wonder in contemporary fairy-tale adaptations in English can contribute to our re-examining of the genre within today's cultural field of production.