Sunday, September 13, 2009

Once Upon A Time

A social anthropologist who has been studying the development of fairy tales by using of techniques used in evolutionary biology to classify species has set of an interesting controversy that, in the end, probably doesn’t matter much at all. From The Toronto Star:
Once upon a time, there was a social anthropologist who decided to study the origins of Little Red Riding Hood.

How sweet. But naive.

Jamie Tehrani’s claim last week that the famous story is far older than anyone realized is likely to set off another ruckus in the deadly serious world of fairy tale studies. And it's already split on how and when the stories came about.

Tehrani says the Red Riding Hood story has mutated as it traveled around the world and over time, but that it originated in a single source dating back more than 2,600 years.
Nonsense, says Ruth Bottigheimer who is a professor of comparative literature at Stony Brook University. Still from The Star:
Bottigheimer, a well-known revisionist in the field, says the theory that fairy tales are always passed down over the eons by “the folk” is a questionable assumption. She doesn’t buy it.

Scathingly, she says that “Tehrani has bought into the newest wave of biology-based understanding of literature, taking evolutionary genetics as his model. But his views are based on slippery assumptions that can’t be verified and that have no legs in the real world.”
Again: it’s an interesting discussion, even though it sounds as if it might get to be a heated one. But here’s the part I love: even if they started as folklore, most of us got to know these stories as literature and that’s a conversation I love to hear.

Are books still important? That’s a question we hear people asking more and more often. I find myself always answering the same thing: of course they are. Now here’s proof: international university hot shots shouting at each from across the globe. Again. To me, the outcome in this one does not matter. But the conversation? That’s a beautiful thing.

More from The Star here.


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