From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers by Marina Warner is an exhaustive and comprehensive study of the history and development of fairy tales and their tellers. The book is divided into two parts: Part 1 addresses the tellers; Part 2 addresses the tales. Warner’s basic thesis is that fairy tales consist in narrative form of the lived experiences of women as told primarily by women. In order to understand the content and various permutations of fairy tales, one has to contextualize them within the social, economic, cultural, and legal conditions of women at the time. Fairy tales which pit woman against woman in vying for the affections of and benefits bestowed by the all-powerful male figure were no more than a woman’s strategy for survival in a world hostile to women and all things female.
The book is dense; the research impressive; the breadth and scope wide; the insights, interpretations, and commentary inspired. But this is not a light or quick read, especially Part 1. Her examination of specific fairy tales and their motifs in Part 2 was more accessible. The book is highly recommended but only for those with a serious commitment to understanding the social and cultural context from which these tales emerged.