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Nov 17, 2010 9:36 am

Why do the National Book Awards bar fairy tales?

[Laura Miller is a senior writer for Salon. She is the author of "The Magician's Book: A Skeptic's Adventures in Narnia" and has a Web site,]

Juries for the National Book Awards (which will be presented later this week) are famous for coming up with nominees that defy expectation and prediction, but there are nevertheless a few things you can be sure you won't see on the NBA short lists. Books that aren't published in the U.S. or translations from other languages, for example, are disqualified, as are "anthologies containing work written by multiple authors." Those restrictions make sense, but what about this stipulation, from the official rules posted on the NBA website: "Collections and/or retellings of folk-tales, myths, and fairy-tales are not eligible"?...

Bernheimer and Tatar point out that the NBA rules don't exclude "retellings of the Bible and Shakespeare's plays," or, for that matter, retellings of any other literary form. The singling out of fairy and folk tales belies a long-standing uneasiness with the form, its vaguely disreputable air. The fairy tale plays havoc with the premium we moderns place on originality. Where do these stories come from? Tatar, who has translated, edited and annotated editions of the folk tales collected in the 19th century by the Brothers Grimm, informs us in her introduction to "The Grimm Reader" that many of the Grimms' sources, at first said to be simple peasant folk, instead turned out to be members of the brothers' middle-class social circles. We can't even be certain that the most iconic fairy tales are as ancient as they're made out to be....

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