Interpretation of Fairy Tales, The

The Interpretation of Fairy Tales by Marie-Louise Von Franz. Rev. Ed. Boston: Shambhala, 1995. 208 pp. ISBN 0-87773-526-3 US $14.00, CAN $19.50

Perhaps some of you will recognize this under its original title An Introduction To The Interpretation of Fairy Tales. It was originally published in 1970 and was, at that time, the first book published on the interpretation of fairy tales by a Jungian author. Since that time, of course, it has been joined by many others. In the preface to this edition, Von Franz plainly expresses a concern regarding the use of fairy tales by some of her Jungian colleagues. Some use a very personalistic approach to the stories, erroneously judging the hero / heroine to be a normal ego and his misfortunes an image of his neurosis. That, she says, ignores what Max Luthi points out: that the heroes / heroines are abstractions. They are archetypes. "In a personalistic interpretation," says Von Franz, "the very healing element of an archetype is nullified."

The author attempts in this book to clarify the Jungian method of interpretation by examining a number of fairy tales, and in particular, the Grimms' story, "The Three Feathers." She begins first, though, with a chapter on the theories of fairy tales, and another on fairy tales, myths, and archetypal stories. In these, she goes into the history of the science of fairy tales, and into the theories of the different schools and their literature. This could have made for dry reading, but in Von Franz's hands it is accessible and intriguing. Tales go back in written tradition for three thousand years and amazingly, the basic motifs have not changed much. Scientific interest in the tales and their motifs began in the 18th century, by which time most stories had moved from adult and family gatherings into the nursery.

Before undertaking the interpretation of "The Three Feathers," Von Franz devotes a chapter to the method of psychological interpretation. This includes examining the structure of the story to bring order to it, and watching for number symbolism and patterns. Then one begins with the symbols, amplifying them one at a time by looking up all the parallel motifs that can be found. Next, the context must be considered, and finally the amplified story is translated into psychological language. She makes it clear that the interpretation only says what the myth seems to represent, that it is only relative and not absolutely true.

I particularly enjoyed the chapters devoted to the examination of "The Three Feathers," and by the time I reached the final chapter, a discussion of motifs related to Jung's concept of the shadow, the anima and the animus I felt quite well versed.

A fascinating and readable introduction to the Jungian interpretation of fairy tales.

The Second Story Review, Vol 2, No 3 December 1997
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