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Distributed for Reaktion Books


Art and Literature through the Mouth of the Fairy Tale

Distributed for Reaktion Books


Art and Literature through the Mouth of the Fairy Tale

In eighteenth-century London butterfly collectors weren’t known as lepidopterists—they were the Society of Aurelians, employing an old term that refers to that mysterious cask where beauty is divined: the chrysalis. As a twenty-first-century Aurelian, Carol Mavor, in this book, moves through the enchanted woods and flowered fields of our fairy-tale-telling history in pursuit of our most intricately laced and resplendently clad stories, in turn showing us how deeply fantasy, myth, nursery rhyme, and dream have influenced our wider art and culture. 
Mavor reawakens us with new insights through the stories that we have known since childhood. For example, when Alice stumbles upon a Wonderland cake marked “EAT ME” or when the witch dangerously lures in Hansel and Gretel with her delicious gingerbread house, Mavor uncovers eating as curious and obsessional. Yet, she also unearths magical enchantment in more surprising places. She discovers a tragic candyland in the poetry of 1950s genius child-poet Minou Drouet. She showcases a subterranean fairytale from the Ice Age in the cave paintings of Lascaux. She shows how the brown fairies that flit among the poems of Langston Hughes become a lesson in civil rights. And, perhaps most dramatically, she holds aloft Miwa Yanagi’s photograph of Little Red Riding Hood and her Grandmother embracing within the cut-open belly of the wolf as a grisly allegorical work commemorating the victims of Hiroshima.
With the haunting, melancholic rhythm of nursery rhymes, Mavor reads us the world of the fairy tale as our own world, full of trouble and dangers, but yet also full of heroes and magic, showing us where fantasy, literature, and our own social and political histories meet in the depths of our shared imagination.

256 pages | 140 color plates | 6 x 9 | © 2017


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"Mavor spins a meta fairy tale that transports us through a fevered, dreamlike constellation of words and images. Along the way, she demonstrates how fairy tales—which may or may not involve actual fairies—have deeply affected (mostly Western) art and literature. In turn, Mavor offers us a looking glass that reveals how our own, real stories invoke fairy-tale desires. . . . As Mavor unspools the wildly tangled threads that weave through these tales, it becomes clear that they have much to teach us—if we're willing to go down into the rabbit hole."

photo-eye BLOG, Book of the Week

"Forget whatever you previously associated with ‘fairy tales,’ and enter Carol Mavor's kaleidoscopic universe of art and literature. Everyone from Ralph Eugene Meatyard to Kiki Smith to Frank Baum to Emmett Till to Francesca Woodman to Langston Hughes is here, and so many more, held together by Mavor's casually erudite, finely spun web. Aurelia is as strange, enigmatic, and full of magic as its subjects."

Maggie Nelson, California Institute of the Arts

“This deliriously lovely book newly illuminates the thrill, the seduction, and the horror of the fairy-tale imagination. Its labile connections, its puns, its plays on words, take the reader forever unawares and deliver up choice, gilded, unexpected treats. In her gorgeous prose and with her unequaled visual imagination, Mavor takes us into a wonderland where a lamb suckles at a young girl's breast, parents crave to eat their children, and passions are as sugar-coated as they are strange. Hedonistic, rapacious, enchanted by fragility, by passing butterfly pleasures, Mavor is unflinching and acute in her analysis of family romance and of the darkness of these childhood tales.”

Emma Wilson, Professor of French Literature and the Visual Arts, University of Cambridge

Aurelia invites us to share Mavor's journeys through the rabbit-hole of poetic consciousness into the realm of primordial—fantasmatic—desire. It is all at once alluring, seductive, illuminating, and frightening.”

Hayden White, University Professor, Emeritus, of the History of Consciousness, University of California, Santa Cruz

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