Books From the Field: Christy Williams’ Mapping Fairy Tale Space

AFS News, Featured Folklorist, Prizes
cover of mapping fairy-tale space,, which has a fantastical map

Mapping Fairy-Tale Space: Pastiche and Metafiction in Borderless Tales (2021, Wayne State University Press. Second place (shared with Juwen Zhang) for the 2022 AFS Chicago Folklore Prize.

Building on methods from folkloristics and fairy-tale studies, Christy Williams fruitfully brings discussions of genre, geography, stories about stories, and the artificiality of borders to bear on the 21st-century “crisis about the relevance and sustainability of fairy tales” and their mutable connections with our lives and “new times and places.” 

In her examination of popular texts and media from the United States and Korea, Williams convincingly argues that people in contemporary society continue to use fairy tales as scripts and foils for love and life lessons. Drawing on geographic mapping as an organizing concept, Williams shows how one fairy tale can be related to another, and how “metafictions” can be created through collapsing borders. Readers thus gain an intertextual understanding of how fairy tales influence each other across geographic and cultural divisions. Starting with fairy-tale and popular culture texts, Mapping Fairy-Tale Space goes beyond the static texts created by particular agents to explore discourse communities that include writers and audiences across the globe.

While Williams provides a critically aware view of corporations’ influence on the creative process, she also shows that the process is not simply a capitalistic interchange between sources of production and consumption. Rather, producers who are themselves consumers, depend on the knowledge and interests of audience members, such that the discourse community draws from a wealth of fairy-tale material to recombine characters, plots, and settings, rounding flat characters and adding complexity through pastiche. Avoiding a disciplinary precedent that has discouraged folklorists from working with popular media, Williams refuses to label texts as “fakelore” or disregard them, thereby drawing readers into a complex discussion of why folklore and folklorists matter.

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