Mirror, Mirror

[openbook booknumber=”0670889075″]


The genre of fairy tales has been tamed over the years to the point where they are just considered innocent stories for children and nothing more. Jane Yolen and her daughter Heidi Stemple bring back those fairy tales and look at the originals and variants from all over the world that show that these stories are many things, but they are not for small children. In Mirror, Mirror mother and daughter take a look at the fairy tales that shaped the past of motherhood and the relationships between mothers and daughters and discuss them in light of modern day motherhood and mother/daughter relationships. They discuss everything from abuse to abandonment, coming of age to marriage, rage and love, sex and death. A great book for mothers and daughters to read together to look at their relationships through the “mirror” of the past and to get women talking about each other, their relationship and themselves.

JANE: What to do when it is that time in your girl child’s life:
       1. Sit down calmly and explain sex to her?
       2. Buy her a book, video, or CD that gies her the details?
       3. Buy her condoms and put her on the pill?
       Or do as many mothers before you did – just stick your head in the sand and hope she joins a convent.
       Of course these days your child may know more about sex than you did at her age, what with in-school health lessons, and out-of-school R-rated movies easily accessed on the TV, not to mention the Starr Report!
       In the days of fairy tales, sex was dangerous because so many women died in childbirth. Today sex is again dangerous because of diseases like AIDS. So what do we say?

I was unsure about choosing this book for Women Unbound, I wasn’t even sure if this was going to be a fiction or a non-fiction book. In the end I was glad I picked it up, the book is made up of a selection of fairy tales under a certain theme (fiction), followed by a discussion between mother and daughter about the implications of the stories both in the past and today (non-fiction). The later ended up being the real meat of the book, even if the fiction made up the greater amount of pages.

The stories spanned everything from discussions of sex in fairy tales whether on the part of the mother, the daughter, or even once the grandmother, to the different types of girls (and daughters) whether good or bad, caring or abandoning. It also covered the different roles of the mother, whether caring or despising, envious or prideful of their daughters, whether they were biological, step, in-law or foster mother. They discussed all of the main heroines of women’s fairy tales and the ways we view ourselves through them whether mother or daughter: Cinderella, Snow White, Persephone, Rapunzel. And, of course, they discussed all of the mixed messages fairy tales can bring.

It was very interesting reading about the tales through the viewpoint of this particular mother and daughter: Jane Yolen gave the view point of the Baby Boomer generation, while Heidi Stemple brought in Generation X. They both talked of their mothers – whether biological, in-law or foster – and discussed their experiences raising daughters, Heidi is currently raising a teenage foster daughter, plus a toddler biological one. They talked about the fairy tales in relation to their own lives and each others, holding up these mirrors to compare and to discuss all the different aspects of womanhood and motherhood. They used the tales as a vehicle to open a dialogue on some typically tough topics of discussion – whether those be premarital sex, old age and death, partner abuse (whether physical or emotional), drugs and growing up in an ever changing America for women.

I found this book to be very engaging and interesting to read and wish that I could discuss it with my own mother (though perhaps not my grandmother, some of the tales might be a bit of a shock, they are not the kiddie versions). We are our mothers, or a distorted mirror image of them, and our daughters will one day grow up to be like ourselves in their own way. Finding some way to break the ice and talk about it, discuss our lives and our femininity (our strength!) with each other, is something important that shouldn’t be missed out on. This book is a great way to get women talking and doing just that.

One Response to Mirror, Mirror

  1. Helen Murdoch
    4:46 am on December 18th, 2009

    Sounds like an interesting read! I remember reading a non-fiction book in graduate school that discussed Little Red Riding Hood and its relationship to women’s menstrual cycles. I’ll have to check this book out…thanks!

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