The Sorcerer’s Ap­pren­tice

Fortean Times - - Reviews / Books - Steve Toase

Ed: Jack Zipes; il­lus Natalie Frank) Prince­ton Univer­sity Press 2017

Hb, 480pp, il­lus, bios, bib, ind, list of tales, ISBN 9780691172651 Jack Zipes is no new­comer to fairy­tales, and brings in­sight, ex­pe­ri­ence and nu­ance to the sub­ject. Hav­ing cov­ered sub­jects such as Lit­tle Red Rid­ing Hood, the Broth­ers Grimm and Mary Pop­pins, he now turns his at­ten­tion to the Sorcerer’s Ap­pren­tice.

The book is di­vided up into four sec­tions, start­ing with Zipes’s in­tro­duc­tion ‘Why Magic Matters’, fol­lowed by col­lec­tions of hu­mil­i­ated ap­pren­tice tales, re­bel­lious ap­pren­tice tales, and Kra­bat tales. As well as ex­plor­ing the dif­fer­ences be­tween them, he thor­oughly ex­plores their na­ture. This is par­tic­u­larly rel­e­vant to forteans when he out­lines the idea of the meme­plex; how “one ba­sic text or tale type be­comes sta­ble and more fit to sur­vive un­der all so­cial and cul­tural con­di­tions than other memetic tales as it is adapted or adapts it­self through di­verse modal­i­ties. In the process it spawns vari­ant memes that sur­round the sta­ble type to form a meme­plex.”

This idea of a meme­plex in the way sto­ries are trans­mit­ted and are car­ried for­ward is well ar­gued and sup­ported through ex­am­ples.

Zipes also puts for­ward a good ar­gu­ment for Child­ism in th­ese story types, which Young-Bruehl de­scribes as “a be­lief sys­tem that con­structs its tar­get group, ‘the child’, as an im­ma­ture be­ing pro­duced and owned by adults who use it to serve their own needs and fan­tasies.”

Zipes iden­ti­fies this theme run­ning through the dif­fer­ent types of sorcerer’s ap­pren­tice story, in the way the ap­pren­tice is traded into ser­vice, and then is sold to raise money for the fam­ily. This is an in­for­ma­tive take on the story type, par­tic­u­larly look­ing at how the Dis­ney ver­sion has an un­ques­tion­ing ac­cep­tance and the im­pli­ca­tions that has for the abu­sive treat­ment of chil­dren around the globe.

So what of the sto­ries them­selves? Zipes di­vides them into three types, trac­ing each back as far as pos­si­ble. As the

sto­ries come chrono­log­i­cally closer to our time, there seems to be a flat­ten­ing out in the vari­a­tion, but it never feels like Zipes’s edi­to­rial voice is over­whelm­ing the in­di­vid­ual char­ac­ter of the story.

The fi­nal sec­tion ex­plores the Kra­bat sto­ries, a par­tic­u­lar cy­cle of tales in the Sor­bian and Ger­man tra­di­tion of folk tales com­ing out of Lusa­tia. They are heav­ily tied to ideas of re­sis­tance and lo­cal iden­tity, and form a very dis­crete group with shared char­ac­ter­is­tics such as the Sa­tanic mill, use of oats to con­jure sol­diers, and the dam­age to a church steeple (nor­mally in Ka­menz). The Sorcerer’s Ap­pren­tice is a nu­anced and fas­ci­nat­ing ex­plo­ration of a group of sto­ries that might at first glance seem fa­mil­iar.

Zipes suc­ceeds in bring­ing out a lot more de­tail. The im­pli­ca­tions of the lessons in the sto­ries, par­tic­u­larly on how we treat chil­dren, and his ideas about how sto­ries are trans­mit­ted via the meme­plex mean that The Sorcerer’s Ap­pren­tice de­serves a wide au­di­ence.

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