Friday, January 6, 2012

Do people still read fairy tales?

As far as I can tell with the blunt instruments of’s sales rankings and Barnes&’s sales rankings, Grimm’s fairy tales are still outselling most modern fairy tales. Hans Christian Andersen’s tales also do respectably well. Other fairy tale collections (by lesser-known figures), not so much. Modern retellings and original tales in the fairy tale tradition, anthologized by Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow (several volumes now), also do respectably well, especially Snow White, Blood Red. But they still don’t match Grimm.

I have no idea (a) why Grimm is the juggernaut; and (b) whether people read these stories once they’ve bought them. But the sales suggest that a lot of people do. They want to own them, often in nice-looking volumes. I for one have (somehow) three editions of Grimm on the self, and one of Andersen. Plus some other things, still not nearly enough. (Tolkien writes about Lang’s 12-volume collection and I salivate.)

That proves, I guess, that people do like to read fairy stories, even when they’re new ones being written today. But, unless my research was fundamentally flawed (which is likely, given how late at night I did it, among other things), they prefer them older than newer, all things being equal.

That somehow doesn’t seem at all wrong, does it? Andersen’s tales, by the way, were his own invention. But now that they’ve been around so long—and are so good—they pass into the status of tradition. And Grimm seems to capture that sense of tradition more than others. That collection, too, is the least sanitized for children. But that’s for another post.

Meanwhile, novels with a basis (or at least a hook) in fairy tales or mythic traditions were in Amazon’s top 100 book-list for week one of January 2012. Three of them, in fact (and this is not a recommendation, since I haven’t read any of these):
#34: Switched, by Amanda Hocking (a changeling story)
#41: The Tiger’s Wife, by Tea Obreht (folktale and fairy tale motifs) 41
#72: The Son of Neptune, by Rick Riordan (middle grade, drawing on myth and fable)

Whether they still read the old tales or not, lots of readers seem to be craving novels grounded in folktales and fairy tales.

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