Enchanted Hunters by Maria Tatar (thoughts)
After being a bit disappointed by From the Beast to the Blonde (it wasn’t bad, it’s more that I expected an academic literary analysis and instead found an intelligent stream-of-consciousness style meditation on various fairy tale themes; I’d still recommend it), I was still in the mood for a book about books, preferably fairy tales. The universe must have been smiling upon me, because about two hours before my weekly library run I saw Enchanted Hunters by Maria Tatar over at Claire’s blog. I immediately popped over to my library catalogue and saw that there was a copy on my branch’s shelves, so I brought it home that same afternoon and opened it, only to find myself completely absorbed.
Tatar has a wonderful writing style; she’s able to really capture the magic of reading, particularly childhood reading (the focus of the book and Tatar’s own scholarship). Here’s a taste:
You can imagine how many passages I marked for future ‘bookish quote’ posts! ;) Anyway, the first few chapters present a general discussion of reading: how children ‘bookworms’ are perceived by others, what kind of magic goes on in the interaction between young readers and the page, the interaction between adults and children while reading, etc. I loved all of this, although I didn’t agree with absolutely everything Tatar says (I find myself as an adult still able to get completely caught up in a book to the exclusion of all else, just as I remember doing as a child; I suppose I’m lucky to have held on to that magic!). I especially loved her impassioned ‘defense’ of reading as an active, important, challenging activity. The second half of the book moves on to analyses of specific, well-known children’s books (most of which I’d read). Tatar is good at this, and the writing continued to flow well, but I have to admit I preferred the earlier, more general sections. Fortunately, woven into these chapters are more general musings on children’s lit themes, so if my attention wandered for a page or two, it was quickly regained. Finally, Tatar has included an extensive (fifty pages) appendix full of quotations from various sources about their childhood reading experiences. It was a treat to dip into, and provided a few more ‘bookish quote’ inspirations!
All in all, this is an excellent, scholarly book-about-books, and I loved reading it! I only wish I had a personal copy for my own shelves. Fortunately, I do have the lovely Annotated Brothers Grimm edition for which she provided the annotations (I highly recommend this collection: the introduction is by A.S. Byatt and the physical book is simply stunning)! I also plan to read more of Tatar’s back list: my library has copies of Off With Their Heads! Fairy Tales and the Culture of Childhood and The Hard Facts of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales. I highly recommend Enchanted Hunters to everyone who enjoys popular literary criticism, which I imagine includes many book bloggers. :)
Suggested Companion Reads
- The Magician’s Book by Laura Miller (One of my very, very favourite books about books, this looks at C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series and is thus a natural complement to Tatar’s children’s fantasy focus.)
- The Golden Compass, et. al by Philip Pullman (I read this in 2006, and thus pre-blogging, but I loved it! Tatar references it several times, so knowing the trilogy might enchance your enjoyment of The Enchanted Hunter.)
- The Child that Books Built by Francis Spufford (A mix of memoir and literary criticism, this includes quite a bit about fairy tales.)
- The Children’s Book by A. S. Byatt (If you’re in the mood for some ornate, sprawling historical fiction, this novel set in the Edwardian era and centered around a successful children’s book author would be perfect. I adored it, although I didn’t blog about it, and I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.)