A Starker, Darker Brothers Grimm

November 14, 2014 § 2 Comments

dezso_grimmsI’m excited to finally have in my possession a copy of Jack Zipes’ The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, a new translation of the original 1812 & 1815 Grimms’ Children’s and Household Tales (I say finally because my local post office made we wait one extra, excruciating day). You may have seen some buzz around the interwebs about it, praising Zipes for restoring the “darkness and gore” to the tales. While I think that particular line is a little misleading, there’s no doubt that this is an important book, and worth celebrating. And, with its cut-out illustrations by Andrea Dezso and gorgeous book design by Princeton University Press, it’s lovely to boot!

First, some context. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published their first volumes of collected fairy tales in 1812 did not publish the tales we’re most familiar today, in the form we’ve seen them, until 1857. By that time, they had made many editorial tweaks and changes to the tales, as well as deleted a few more gruesome stories that had appeared in their original two volumes, published in 1812 and 1815. The Grimms not only wanted to preserve German folk tales through print, they also wanted to make them palatable—two goals that, on occasion, might seem to be at odds. For instance, many of the wicked stepmothers in the tales that we know today originally appeared, in 1812 and 1815, as biological mothers, something that the Grimms likely changed to make the stories less harsh for young readers. This new book, The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, is the first in which all the stories from the Grimms’ 1812 and 1815 editions are together, translated into American English, and paired with the Grimms’ original prefaces as well, all together in one edition.

Now, here’s where I feel the need to clarify: Zipes’ beautiful new book is important because it’s the first such book of all of these translations together, not to mention the first time that most of these original tales have been translated into English for general readership. It’s not news, however, that the Grimms made such changes as the one I’ve used as an example above. Scholars for many years have parsed these tales, analyzing the changes. This book isn’t necessarily a discovery—but it is a huge achievement. I only feel the need to make that clarification because the articles I’ve seen about this publication, on io9 and the Guardian, have served as a reminder of the nature of general “news” versus academic news. I’m very, very glad that this book is getting attention. I do think, though, that the sensationalizing of “restoring darkness” can distract from the larger context. This is one piece of the Grimms’ legacy—and we shouldn’t allow its existence to paint the Grimms solely as puritanical prudes. When we do that, we risk dismissing the tales that came after the originals as inauthentic, which would be a tragedy. To do so would be to ignore not only what the Grimms attempted to obscure in the tales, but also what they added: the Grimm brothers were writers at heart, and their attempt to “smooth out” the tales and poeticize them shouldn’t be discounted, even if that does seem to fly in the face of their mission to preserve the tales as oral folk artifacts. Some of the most beautiful moments and bits of language in the tales are inventions of the Grimms. They often extended a scene to add detail, or to make sense of a non-logical jump in storytelling, the same way that adapters like Philip Pullman or re-imaginers like Angela Carter have done in the hundreds of years since.

Many of my favorite passages, as a reader, came from the Grimms’ later embellishments. For example, take a look at the original opening for “The Frog King, or Iron Henry,” from 1812:

Once upon a time there was a princess who went out into the forest and sat down at the edge of a cool well.

And the opening from 1857:

In olden times, when wishing still helped, there lived a king whose daughters were all beautiful, but the youngest was so beautiful that the sun itself, who had seen many things, was always filled with amazement each time it cast its rays upon her face.

You may find this a little flowery, sure, but for me, there’s something about that line—“when wishing still helped”—that betrays these brothers as the poets they are. I cheer for this new book, and the chance to see how many of our most familiar fairy tales looked when first written down, pre-embellishment. I’m thrilled to see the bits of gore that were cut out, all gathered together between two lovely covers. I also hope, though, that readers choose to see this book in context, as part of a multi-faceted legacy as well a history of scholarship. This book, the way I see it, is a companion, and not a replacement, for the later Grimms versions that we’re so familiar with. And, I should probably add, it’s probably not the greatest choice to give your 5-year-old relatives this Christmas.

For more context, of an even more academic bent, be sure to check out Zipes’ new book on the Grimms themselves, Grimm Legacies: The Magic Spell of the Grimms’ Folk and Fairy Tales, due out on November 23rd.

Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to go curl up to “The Devil in the Green Coat.”


The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm as well as the forthcoming Grimm Legacies: The Magic Spell of the Grimms’ Folk and Fairy Tales are both published by Princeton University Press.

Geoff Ryman’s WAS on The Slate Book Review

July 11, 2014 § 1 Comment

I have another review up this afternoon on Slate, of Geoff Ryman’s beautiful and raw 1992 novel WAS. WAS is inspired by The Wizard of Oz, but delves into dark territory such as abuse, AIDS, and misplaced nostalgia. I actually wrote the review over a year ago, and am happy to see it finally up. WAS is being reissued by Small Beer Press, a truly excellent fantasy press that also publishes the review Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, and is helmed by Kelly Link and Gavin Grant. Check out the review, check out Small Beer, check out the book – it’s all good stuff. And thanks for reading!

Illustration by Eleanor Davis

Illustration by Eleanor Davis

Through the Woods: Macabre Beauty by Emily Carroll

July 11, 2014 § 1 Comment

carroll_woodscoverEmily Carroll’s Through the Woods comes out next week from Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster), and I am certain about one thing: you, yes you, will love it.

Author/illustrator Carroll is best known for her grim, campfire-story webcomics, which, like the web hit “His Face All Red,” have been virally disseminated online in a manner not unlike urban legends. Now her first print collection of graphic stories,Through the Woods, delivers more original tales about the things that go bump in the night.

“His Face All Red” is joined with four new stories, all richly macabre homages to scary fairy tales, Lovecraftian horror, and the gristly darkness in between. In one, a trio of sisters are led away, one by one, from their dreary home by an unseen smiling man. In another, a lonely woman tells of her best friend’s possession by a strangely veiny spirit. Perhaps most chilling is “The Nesting Place,” in which a teenaged girl who has recently lost her mother moves in with her brother and sister-in-law, but finds that the couple’s perfect demeanor disguises, quite literally, an indescribable horror.

The collection is framed by two mirrored scenes: in the first, the author as a young girl is reading in bed, too afraid of the dark beyond the headboard to reach out and click off her reading lamp. In the last, Little Red Riding Hood (or a nameless but recognizable stand-in) hurries through the woods and arrives safe at home, only to be haunted by the spectre of the wolf as she falls asleep.


By calling back to childhood fears at either end of the collection, Carroll lends a timelessness to her original stories, contextualizing them in the canon of well-known fairy tales. However, Carroll’s stories rarely close with “happily ever after.” She prefers lingering dread over resolution, ending her most powerful tales at the unsettling precipice of more terror. With perfectly-timed restraint, she can accomplish incredibly satisfying twists with one phrase or image, leaving the reader curious, unnerved, and eager for the next tale.

In the past, Carroll’s used the tools of the web—scrolling and hyperlinks, for example—to maximum effect. But anyone who may have feared that print would distill what power Carroll’s been able to harness online will be pleased by the lush design of the book. Unbound by borders or margins, Carroll’s dark, color-saturated images occupy the entirety of each page, drawing the reader fully in to her world. “A Lady’s Hands Are Cold,” especially, is made up of light, almost luminescent figures on a dark, inky background, reminiscent of stained glass or lacquer folk art. The richness of Carroll’s illustrations serves to make the unsettling nature of each of her stories all the more tangible, imbuing horror with beauty, and vice-versa.


Gorgeously illustrated and printed, and deftly written, Through the Woods is a chilling and beautiful read from a storyteller who, we can hope, is only just getting started. This book would make a beautiful gift, though you’ll definitely want a copy for yourself, to pore through on dark, gloomy nights.

You Know You’re a Fairy Tale Blogger When…

May 30, 2014 § 3 Comments


Once Upon a Time bloggers Kristin of Tales of Faerie and Gypsy of Once Upon a Blog noticed that their blogging habits seemed to invade other areas of their lives. They started this round-robin of fairy tale bloggers to add to their lists of quirks and observations about being obsessed with fairy tales, and asked me to join in. I’ve been tagged by Megan at The Dark Forest, so here goes! I’ll do my best to not repeat things that have already been listed, but I can’t promise…

1. Puppeteers (like Layla Holzer, for instance) begin following you on Twitter. Inexplicable, but welcome.

2. You’re suspicious of apples and straight combs.

3. You know that when you have kids, the last thing you’ll tell them is to stay out of a certain room. Because you know that guarantees that they’ll go in. Every story, every time.

4. You’ll always be disappointed that your hair never turned out like a Trina Schart Hyman heroine’s:

Not even a chance.

Not even a chance.

5. Your spine tingles when you read news stories about children rescued from abusive environments. That’s what so many fairy tales were about, at their core.

6. For that reason, you sometimes feel sorry for witches—humans can be just as cruel.

7. In fact, you love the witches. They’re the most interesting characters.

8. You know in your bones you’ll never be able to blog about everything fairy tale-related. Never. There’s too much.

8b. And when you try to explain to friends and family how much, their eyes begin to glaze over.

9. You used to bug them by starting too many conversations with “Well, in the original…” after watching a fairy tale film.

9b. Now they’re so used to it that they ask — “Is that how it went in the original?” before you even start.

9c. And you say, “define original.”

10. This was a true fangirl moment, on the level of meeting, say, Cher:

He has the merriest eyes!

He has the merriest eyes!

11. You doodle Baba Yaga huts in work meetings.

12. And finally, weary of ranting about other fairy tale adaptations, you set out to create your own.

I’m tagging Amy at The Fairy Tale Factory to post next. Here are all the other fairy tale lists for your reading pleasure:

Kristin from Tales of Faerie
Gypsy from Once Upon a Blog
Heidi of SurLaLune
Adam of Fairy Tale Fandom
Tahlia from Diamonds and Toads and Timeless Tales
Kate at Enchanted Conversation
Kristina at Twice Upon a Time
Reilly, co-founder of the Australian Fairy Tales Society
Christie at Spinning Straw into Gold
Megan at The Dark Forest

Thanks for bringing me along, fellow bloggers!

“The Mermaid and the Shoe”: An Uncomplicated Fairy Tale

April 4, 2014 § Leave a comment

Mermaid-CoverK.G. Campbell’s delicately illustrated and completely charming picture book The Mermaid and the Shoe received several good reviews this week, and rightly so. The illustrations are beautiful while still engaging, and the story is simple and sweet.  Minnow, the youngest daughter of a mer-king has yet to find her calling in life—her sisters tend to gardens, or train fish, but she is not good at any of these pursuits. But when she finds a strange object, she’s determined to discover its origins. Her journey takes her to the surface of the water, where she discovers a world in which mer-people don’t swim at all, but walk about on funny-looking appendages that they hide under shoes. If we were swimming in the seas of Hans Christian Andersen or Walt Disney, here would be the moment our mermaid spies her prince. But in K.G. Campbell’s refreshing book, Minnow swims quickly home, eager to tell her family all that she’s seen, and to find that her curiosity and storytelling are her calling.


The tale ends there—an uncomplicated story about a girl finding her confidence and her niche, eschewing any romance, sea-witches, or annoying foot pains. Yet the similarities between The Mermaid and the Shoe and Andersen’s The Little Mermaid (and Disney’s too, if we’re being honest here) are also what will have the adults choosing it scratching their heads. Isn’t there more? We know there is. Will this mermaid princess come to know what exists over the highest sand dune? She wouldn’t be the first — and we know from prior stories that what lies above the surface isn’t all pleasant. Parents might find this short tale easier to explain to children, but they’ll likely have trouble shaking the more complicated story that is its ancestor. And this comparison may paint The Mermaid and the Shoe in a somewhat boring light. Ah, well. It’s beautifully illustrated, and I can certainly appreciate an homage to storytelling, in any form. An endearing fable, The Mermaid and the Shoe is an escape for parents who aren’t up to explaining why any sane young mer-girl would give up her voice for a man. My hope would be that the child who has this story read to them will be inspired, as they grow, to discover more complex fairy tales.



“Tin Girl” in Fairy Tale Review’s Emerald Issue

February 19, 2014 § Leave a comment


Fairy Tale Review‘s 10th Anniversary Issue, The Emerald Issue, is now available! The issue is comprised of nearly 200 pages of short fiction, poetry, and essays inspired by The Wizard of Oz, and a short story of mine, “Tin Girl” is included. I took this picture this afternoon when my copies of the journal came in the mail, because the story was inspired not only by The Wizard of Oz, but by the lives and demeanors of my two grandmothers, and the strange piece of machinery that is the human heart. If you’re a lover of fairy tales, or just great literary writing with a touch of the speculative, you should definitely check out Fairy Tale Review. And check out my interview with founder and editor and fairy tale author Kate Bernheimer here on the Train as well!

An Introduction to Fairy Tales by the National Theatre

February 5, 2014 § Leave a comment

Happy to have come across this video on Twitter — I had missed it when it was posted by the National Theatre last August, but the authors and scholars interviewed have some really great things to say about what a fairy tale is, and how folk tales and fairy tales differ, but both have the same draw for readers. Also, I just love Philip Pullman.

The film was made by the National Theatre in London for its “Theatrical Context” YouTube channel, where there are some other great gems illuminating the figures and concepts behind the theater’s current shows. “An Introduction to Fairy Tales” provides some context for the National Theatre’s current production of The Light Princess, a new musical based on the 1864 book by George MacDonald, adapted by Tori Amos and Samuel Adamson. MacDonald is also well known for his novel At The Back of the North Wind, published in 1871. He was a major influence on the genre of literary fairy tales in the Victorian era, and writers such as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien cited his books as an inspiration to them. For Maurice Sendak fans, a beautiful edition of The Light Princess was illustrated by Sendak in 1969, and still remains in some sort of available print today (though you stand a good chance of happening across a copy in a used book store–I seem to spot it and The Golden Key, another MacDonald-Sendak edition, in almost every one I go to).

Let me here just fangirl out for a moment: Tori Amos and fairy tales! My nineties heart sings. Here’s Amos interviewed by the Evening Standard about the musical: www.standard.co.uk/goingout/theatre/tori-amos-on-her-new-musical-the-light-princess.



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