Transformations of E. T. A. Hoffmann’s tales from Hawthorne to Oz

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Like oral fairy tales, which are circulated, altered, and embellished by different tellers, literary fairy tales draw upon various written and oral traditions. In his 1852 tale about a scarecrow named Feathertop, created and brought to life by a witch, Nathaniel Hawthorne offers commentary on the way in which his craft of writing tales combines discrete artistic legacies to create something fresh for an American landscape. The witch Mother Rigby makes her scarecrow from a ragbag of fine materials that represent various European nations, combined with common farm items found in the witch’s home. Feathertop’s body is made from a broomstick, flail, pudding stick, broken rung of a chair, hoe handle, meal bag stuffed with straw, and pumpkin; the clothes comprise a plum coat from London, velvet waistcoat, scarlet breeches from France, silk stockings, wig, and three-cornered hat, all of which are significantly dilapidated and therefore a vision of America as nobility in decline. The coat of "London make" has "relics of embroidery" but is "lamentably worn and faded," while the scarlet breeches had been "once worn by the French governor of Louisbourg" and given to "an Indian powwow" before being traded to the witch. Noting his fine clothes, the townsfolk ponder whether Feathertop might be a Dutchman, German, Frenchman, or Spaniard. The composition of the scarecrow suggests the enterprise of mixing pieces of European heritages with the American embrace of the common man, creating a hybrid "native" identity that, at the witch’s command to "take his chance among the other men of straw," goes forth in the world to make his fortune.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to Fairy Tales
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781139381062
ISBN (Print)9781107031012
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities(all)

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  • Cite this

    Blackford, H. (2014). Transformations of E. T. A. Hoffmann’s tales from Hawthorne to Oz. In The Cambridge Companion to Fairy Tales (pp. 220-235). Cambridge University Press.