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Wonder Tales
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Marina Warner is a writer of fiction, criticism, and history. Her works include Six Myths of Our Time and From the Beast to the Blonde. She lives in London.

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Originally published centuries ago, the six French fairy tales collected in this charmingly refined little volume appear here, some for the first time in English, in graceful contemporary translations by five internationally recognized writers, including Gilbert Adair, John Ashbery and A.S. Byatt. In her erudite 15-page introduction, novelist and critic Warner (From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers) details how the literary form was invented by French aristocrats during the reign of Louis XIV. Fairy tales were written mostly by women, who gave them universal significance with a feminist subtext, emphasizing, writes Warner, "trueness of heart and toughness of mind." Magic and metamorphosis are distinguishing characteristics of the genre. Centaurs, fairies and talking cats populate the six romantic yet moral tales. In "The White Cat," a prince stumbles upon a fabulous bejeweled palace owned by a beautiful white feline, with whom he falls in love‘just as Prince Zelindor, in "Bearskin," falls in love with a beautiful bear. In "The Counterfeit Marquise," an aristocratic boy raised as a girl suffers great frustrations when a beautiful, feminine young man awakens his passion. Though honor and true love are tested, prudence, faithfulness and devotion always triumph. The translations are elaborate but elegant, offering pleasurable diversions and tales within tales. Amusingly illustrated by Sophie Herxheimer, this stylish little book offers fanciful delights granted depth by background and context. (Oct.)

These six 17th-century French wonder or fairy tales, as editor Warner (From the Beast to the Blonde, LJ 10/1/95) explains in her introduction, fulfilled a need for relief from the social constraints and religious revivalism that prevailed during the reign of Louis XIV, the Sun King. The 17th-century salon‘regularly held social gatherings presided over by prominent Frenchwomen‘perfected the art of public conversation and storytelling. Marie-Jeanne L'Héritier, whose tale "The Subtle Princess" is included here, inherited the salon begun by Madeleine de Scudéry. Charles Perrault, who travestied himself as ma mère l'oye (Mother Goose), frequented these salons, while the Abbey of Choisy, a well-known transvestite, collaborated on "The Counterfeit Marquise." These tales are enjoyable because of the adroit skills of translators such as novelists A.S. Byatt and Gilbert Adair and poet John Ashbery. Highly entertaining reading for everyone and especially useful to scholars of French literature and French civilization.‘Robert T. Ivey, Univ. of Memphis

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