Touch Magic

Title: Touch Magic - Fantasy, Faerie, Foklore in Literature of Childhood
Author: Jane Yolen
Pub Date: 2007
Pages: 128
Genre: Literary Analysis, Fairy Tale, Non Fiction

"So the fantasy book, like the fairy tale, may not be Life Actual but it is Life In Truth." (55)

Touch Magic is a collection of essays written by the brilliant and prolific children's author, Jane Yolen. Each essay shares her expertise of the fantasy genre. She engulfs her readers in rich knowledge and I found myself devouring this book. It was checked out from the library (woe is me, as my copy would have been marked and highlighted) so I spent countless hours copy quotes verbatum in my lil' moleskine.

Some things that stood out:

1. I loved that Yolen speaks profusely about the use of fairy tales in psychology. When I studied for my therapy degree I immediately grew an affinity for Jung. To this day, I wish I could devote my life studying him and his works (I lack patience as my mind is always wondering in different directions and funds, haha). The focus on the archetypes and myths in our culture rings a bell of Truism that seems impossible to argue with. Yolen points out that "the great archetypal stories provide a framework or model and individual's belief system." One of my goals was the develop a list of reading material where clients could find themselves within the work. A form of externalization if you will.

2. Fairy tales have a living and breathing dichotomy. They allow for black and white in our graying world. Through them we are able to find a conscious form of ideals and morals. Plus, fairy tales allows us to see the cultural implications of the time period. I adore this, because it ties us all together and yet separates us as well. I think of Jung's idea of the Collective. Fairy tales speak of humanity's ideals of right and wrong, but read in the time period they were written in, we see further implications.

3. Argh. Surely I grew a bit more frustrated at Disney and their alterations of some of the best loved fairy tales. Cinderella, the first Disney fairy tale re-write/production is one of the most infuriating seeing as in the tales cross culture put "Cinderella" (she had a different name depending on the country the tale came from of course) as a strong level headed woman, not the weak one that lacks self-reliance. Arguably, this reenforces the above argument that the tales show a glimmer of the times as well considering when Disney wrote and produced Cinderella in the 50's the woman's role was to be quite subservient to men, insomuch as the women stayed home and relied on the men to take care of the worldly issues. Yolen on the subject: "The Disney studios made a fortune, grossing $4.247 million in the first release alone. It set a new pattern for Cinderella: a helpless, hopeless, pitiable, useless heorine who has to be saved time and time again by talking mice and birds because she is 'off in a world of dreams'." (36)

4. She ends the collection of essays encouraging us to read the fairy tales more in depth (this is from the essay entitled "Killing the Other"). Some fairy tales are set up where the Other in the village is often persecuted for no other reason than being different or being the "Other". If Puss in Boots were exchanged with the roles of Jew, Nazi or black, white the story would take on a emotionally volatile response because we are taught that sort of persecution is wrong. What Yolen does though that is admirable - or I should say what she doesn't do that is admirable - is tell the mass public to stop reading these tales. She never encourages censorship, and actually makes an effort to point out how that is not the solution. What's her solution then? Wait for it. I know that it's a tough one. Are you ready? Talk about it! Yup. Read the fairy tales with your kids and talk about the roles in the story, whether it's right or wrong, go deeper than what you would normally do. Learn your own values and what's important. I just wanna know if she's looking for a new bestie.

List of books that I want to read because of this book:
  • Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber
  • The Last Unicorn by Peter Beale
  • The Lands of Laughs by Johnathan Carroll
  • Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion by Jack Zipes
  • Girl Who Loved the Wind by Jane Yolen
  • The Dyer's Hand by WH Audent
  • Dreamweaver by Jane Yolen
  • The Uses of Enchantment by Dr. Bruno Bttelheim
  • Perelandra by CS Lewis
  • The Ones who Walk away from Omelas by Ursula La Guinn


  1. Isn't this an excellent book? I actually abhor Jung and Bettelheim, but I thought that the way Jane Yolen wrote about the psychological relevance of myths, fairy tales and stories was wonderful. I think the difference was mostly that she avoided attaching any fixed meanings to them. I need to read this again.

  2. I adore this one, too - great review!


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