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Fairy Tales Fascinate Professor of German by Professor Donald Haase

CLAS Notes, Winter 2006

Keywords: college education, language arts


Professor Donald Haase, Chair of the German and Slavic Studies Department for the past sixteen years, dates his academic interest in fairy tales back to 1983. “We were sitting around at a faculty meeting,” he said, “trying to come up with ideas for courses that might be popular, that would draw in large numbers of students.” Because of Haase’s specialization in Romantic literature—his dissertation was on the German writer Novalis, who wrote on fairy tales—Haase floated the idea of his teaching a course on fairy tales. As ideas batted about at faculty meetings go, this turned out to have been a good one.

Haase had come to Wayne State in 1981, and though his decision to teach a course on fairy tales a couple of years later was, he said, “a very practical, curricular move,” it quite quickly became “a career emphasis.” The course—“Understanding the Fairy Tale,” started back in the mid-80s—has closely linked Haase’s teaching with his research. “The one has fed the other,” he said. He acknowledges that not everyone understands the academic allure of what are sometimes perceived as nothing more than chil- dren’s stories. “You feel you have to justify teaching and researching fairy tales,” he said, “because it seems unusual. But in fact, it couldn’t be more pertinent. You get to deal with social, cultural and political issues because fairy tales always turn up in the struggle over values. What else would you expect of stories that poet W. H. Auden claimed ranked next to the Bible in importance in Western culture? Are they worth studying? You bet.” He has dealt with such issues in graduate-level courses on similar subjects, including “Fairy Tale Reception,” “Children’s Literature and Culture,” “Grimms’ Fairy Tales,” and “The Reception of Grimms’ Fairy Tales.”

Because of their popularity, fairy tales have taken Haase out of strictly academic surroundings. “I’ve spoken to community groups,” he said, “and fairy tales have led me into storytelling in schools.” He has served as a consultant to the British Broadcasting Company on issues relating to fairy tales and society, and as a consultant to Oregon Public Broadcasting for a project concerning Grimms’ fairy tales. He has also done three summer seminars, supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, with high school teachers. “In 1985 and 1986” he said, “there were bicentennial celebrations of the Brothers Grimm taking place all over the world. That, coupled with an NEH grant, brought it all together for me. I knew I was on to something.” He continued: “There was, at the time, an important reevaluation of fairy tales and their role in society. It was part of the larger coming of age of the fairy tale.” ...

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