Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Review: 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice - An Anthology of Magical Tales' aka Harry Potter Tales for Fairy Tale Folk & Fairy Tales for Harry Potter Folk

Fairy tale lovers will delight in these spellbinding tales, where young heroes comply with or rebel against teachers with magical powers. 
One of the lights of our Fairy Tale News Hound's childhood was her father's record collection, particularly the classical LPs* and the tales the music told her. Dukas' score for The Sorcerer's Apprentice, in particular, didn't need narration. It created images of magic and peril in her head long before it became associated with Disney. By the time she got to see Mickey overrun by legions of brooms she already knew the story, as well as that learning magic is a hard thing; that magic doesn't really create shortcuts but comes with complications of its own, and learning - and teaching - magic guarantees a life filled with hard work and frustration, where things (and people) often won't behave as they ought, but also that the possibilities for wonder and adventure are endless. That tale, and it's lesson, have been a touchstone ever since.
Harry Potter & Dumbledore by Jim Kay
Is it any wonder Rowling's Harry Potter books appeared on the scene and stole so many hearts with her relatable series? Now we have a fairy tale collection that not only pays homage to the popularity of Rowling's creations but collects Potter's many 'ancestors' from around the world.

Yes - you read it correctly: we finally have a book of Harry Potter stories for fairy tale folk and a book of fairy tales for Harry Potter folk! 

Edited and introduced by esteemed fairy tale expert Jack Zipes this collection isn't just a handy volume of tales of this type, but also presents some good and chewy food for thought on why this type of tale - the magical learner, the wizard assistant, the sorcerer's apprentice - is more popular than ever.
"The Sorcerer's Apprentice"
poem by Goethe, artist unknown

Here's an excerpt from a paper Zipes' wrote on the Sorcerer's Apprentice tale a couple of years ago (note: the weird sentence formatting is ours, to help pace the reader as if we were saying it aloud, so you can 'hear' the emphasis and relevance for today): 
To know who we are, where we are, and where we are going, we need... storytellers who are consciousness raisers and stories that are consciousness raising.

Otherwise, living in the world is but an illusion and delusion.
Otherwise, we are controlled by self-serving masters who are not aware of how blind they are and try to lead us blindly along paths of destruction and self-destruction.
Otherwise, we will be controlled by authoritarian magicians who cast spells with words of deception and self-aggrandizement that celebrate nothing but their powers to dominate, if not mutilate and annihilate, other human beings. 
Bearing this in mind, I continue to ponder why J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels (and all the similar and imitative narratives)... have achieved such astounding popularity.
(from The Master Slave Dialectic in The Sorcerer's Apprentice by Jack Zipes. Academic Journal Article in Storytelling, Self, Society Vol 11, No. 1, April 2015)
by Robin Muller
It's not difficult to imagine such tales have intriguing people centuries ago. Life was hard - really hard - and magic would have been a great shortcut to happiness, or at least getting a little needed shut-eye. Interestingly, while this is undoubtedly the initial appeal, the tale content is often the opposite, as in "magic isn't for idiots" and "you think life is hard work? Add some magic and make it worse!". Now, however, in an age of invisible technology, when science daily achieves the unimaginable, and there appears to be no corner left for Wonder to be discovered, the yearning to have 'a touch of magic' in our lives is, if anything, stronger again, as testified to by the popularity of Harry Potter and his magical education.

Rowling, fortunately for generations of readers, found the 'sweet spot' of telling fantasy to show truth - something the author is passionate about in all her storytelling and in her personal projects and causes. Her stories of magical apprenticeship, of balancing the non-magical (muggle) life with the magical, don't shy away from ll the complications contained in the two types of tales we find in Zipes' collection: both 'The Humiliated Apprentice' who is a bumbler and encourages deference to teachers with more experience, as well as 'The Rebellious Apprentice' who follows their own path to self-empowerment and new discovery. Both types of stories continue to resonate with people around the world but it could be the combination of the two into one 'era of learning' at Hogwarts, that has infused the genre with new life. Even so, they are not new, but the tales of our generation/s, created in a long tradition of these types of stories, and this new volume both tracks and pays homage to that history of disobedient enchanted objects, magical inexperience and mishap and in taking back power that is rightfully ours to wield... when we've learned how.

Here's the press release:
Disney's Mickey as The Sorcerer's Apprentice from Fantasia
"The Sorcerer's Apprentice" might conjure up images of Mickey Mouse from the Disney film Fantasia, or of Harry Potter. As this anthology reveals, however, "sorcerer's apprentice" tales—in which a young person rebels against, or complies with, an authority who holds the keys to magical powers—have been told through the centuries, in many languages and cultures, from classical times to today. This unique and beautifully illustrated book brings together more than fifty sorcerer's apprentice stories by a plethora of writers, including Ovid, Sir Walter Scott, and the Brothers Grimm. From Goethe's "The Pupil in Magic" to A. K. Ramanujan's "The Guru and His Disciple," this expansive collection presents variations of a classic passed down through countries and eras.
A female apprentice retelling by Nancy Willard

Readers enter worlds where household objects are brought to life and shape-shifting occurs from human to animal and back again. We meet two types of apprentice: "The Humiliated Apprentice," a foolish bumbler who wields magic ineffectively and promotes obedience to authority; and "The Rebellious Apprentice" who, through ambition and transformative skills, promotes empowerment and self-awareness. In an extensive introduction, esteemed fairy-tale scholar Jack Zipes discusses the significance and meaning of the apprentice stories, the contradictions in popular retellings, and the importance of magic as a tool of resistance against figures who abuse their authority. Twenty specially commissioned black-and-white illustrations by noted artist Natalie Frank bring the stories to visual life.
The Sorcerer's Apprentice enlightens and entertains readers with enduring, spellbinding tales of sorcery that have been with us through the ages.
As mentioned in the blurb above, a bonus in the volume is the introductory chapter - which is more of an extended work and 'mini-thesis' in its own right - titled The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Harry Potter and Why Magic Matters. We're listing the sub-headings to show you why this is a volume you should really consider adding to your collection as, it turns out that The Sorcerer's Apprentice tale truly is "a story whose ‘story' needs to be told." (whether or not the apprentice's name is Harry - or Hermione):
One of the twenty paintings for
The Sorcerer's Apprentice Anthology of Magical Tales
illustrated by Natalie Frank
  • The Harry Potter Novels As Fairy Tale (with lots of useful ATU discussion and references in the mix)
  • The Humiliated Apprentice (curiosity killed the cat kids!)
  • The Rebellious Apprentice (take back the night!)
  • Hegel's Master-Slave Dialectic (don't be put off by the title - it discusses the push and pull of both the above tale forms and how systems of thought in different cultures have been attracted to both, making them popular)
  • Memes, "Magicity", and Cultural Memory (basically how kids, and their love of Grumpy Cat fit into the mix, along with stuff that used to be categorized as magic and patterns of magic in tales and more - you'll have to look up 'magicity' for yourself! [No, Grumpy Cat is not specifically named but she is represented. Yes, Grumpy Cat is female.])
  • Krabat, the Rebellious Apprentice in Lusatia and Central Europe (basically commenting on the last, largest Harry Potter craze before our current one and the theories of 'why' behind it)
  • The Curious Cinematic Struggle Over the "True " Sorcerer's Apprentice (discussing how fairy tales, films, fantasy and politics have all held hands in films telling stories of these tale types, as well as how this struggle was magically and visually represented [think iconic and 'unforgettable sequences'] - and also - why have we not heard of, let alone seen, Sidney Levee's stop motion, 10 minute, black and white film 'The Wizard's Apprentice' of 1930, that predates 'Fantasia'?!)
  • Overcoming Abuse in the Novels and Stories About Apprentices (what it says - but also discussing the wide divide between children's picture books that take the didactic route of 'curiosity killed the cat', versus the next level - teen and YA novels that feature 'humiliation and rebellion', and developing beyond that to novels like 'Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell' who must come to terms with magic and eventually restore it to the world.)
As a book of tales for 'now' in this political and social climate, there is much wry smiling to be had as we find parallels in the tales to the commentaries of today's media. Indeed, contemporary American artist, Natalie Frank's specially commissioned black and white paintings for the book, printed throughout, certainly echo the types of illustrations one sees in political satire and commentaries of such publications as The New Yorker, and that's not a coincidence.

As a result, you should not be surprised that this book qualifies for our Recommended Resistance Reads. #RRR
Cover spread - click to view full size
"Jack Zipes has always been a kind of sorcerer himself, skilled in discovering, transforming, translating, and understanding the old tales of magic that appear in different but similar forms all over the world. This is a wonderful collection."—Alison Lurie, author of Don't Tell the Grown-Ups: The Subversive Power of Children's Literature 
"In this rich and wonderful anthology, Zipes makes a powerful case for the salience and enduring timelessness of the sorcerer tales, not only historically in light of the vastness of the variants that have come down to us but also because of the social, psychological, liberationist, and subversive relevance of the tales even today. This is a story whose ‘story' needs to be told."—Donald Beecher, Carleton University 
"Zipes's outstanding and important book presents a compelling look at the traditional tale ‘The Magician and His Pupil,' and the copious international, intercultural variations of this story. Readers will find trenchant insights and may be surprised to learn that a tale they thought they knew has much greater complexity than they imagined."—Pauline Greenhill, coeditor of Fairy-Tale Films Beyond Disney
Note: We'd love to further entice you with a list of tales but it's a decent collection and makes for a big list, so you can look those up for yourself right HERE. And true to Zipes-form, it includes a fantastic bibliography of both works referenced and cited, but also of where each of the tales can be found. (Seriously - doing some 'fairy tales that came before Harry Potter and similar novels' research? This is your go-to list, right here.)
* Truth be told it was also the source of her getting her hide quite severely tanned, when at age three she imagined the music of each disc playing in her head as she practiced skating smoothly across the floor on their shiny black surfaces... but that's another tale.

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