Pure imagination

Minnesota prof lectures about keeping fairy tales alive at U of W

A renowned fairy-tale scholar gave a public lecture at the University of Winnipeg (U of W) on Oct. 28 revealing the different ideas behind The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. 

Jack Zipes is professor emeritus of German at the University of Minnesota and is an active storyteller in public schools. For the past five years, Zipes has been contributing to the U of W. One of the latest donations he provided is a collection of 1,500 films, which recently arrived at the U of W library and are available for rentals.

With funding from the U of W’s women’s and gender studies department, Zipes spoke in Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall about warping of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

He showed two different versions of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. One was the animated film Fantasia released by Walt Disney Studios in 1940. The other was created by Peter Sander in 1980 and is based on the older version of the story.

“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a fascinating example of how a particular fairy tale has been changed over time to humiliate children instead of encouraging them to be curious and develop their imagination and critical thinking,” Zipes says.

In one of the versions, the boy learns a trade to survive, whereas in the other he learns to submit to the magic power of his master. 

Zipes says the ideological message was changed so that young people will obey authority rather than rebel. The story asserts that if they would try to use power, they will create chaos. 

“I saw in America and the other places, but mainly in America, what was happening to the public education system. In a way, young people have been treated and neglected and really not given a freedom to be experimental and curious,” Zipes says.

So which of the versions of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice story is true? According to Zipes, it is impossible to locate the original tale of anything, since these stories existed long before writing and reading were invented. Fairy tales were only transmitted orally back then. 

“There is no such thing as a primeval tale that generates replicas. This is because most families, tribes and societies in the world could not keep records before the invention of literacy,” Zipes says.

The reason Zipes turned to studying fairy tales is because of his concern for the growing generation.

“(I started this research) because of my concern with the way (young people) are not encouraged to develop their imaginations, to become curious, to have access to knowledge,” Zipes says.

He’s received many awards for his work, such as the Distinguished Scholar Award of the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts and the International Brothers Grimm Award.

Zipes has produced a number of publications on these topics, including books like The Enchanted Screen: The Unknown History of Fairy-tale Films and The Irresistible Fairy Tale: The Cultural and Social History of a Genre. 

He is also one of the major American translators of fairy tales and among his other notable works is The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm.

Published in Volume 70, Number 9 of The Uniter (November 5, 2015)

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