July 8, 2016 § 1 Comment
This week a new anthology of fairy tales for grown-ups hit the shelves. Beyond the Woods, compiled by Stoker- and World Fantasy Award-winning editor Paula Guran, is 500+ pages of fairy tale retellings from the past three decades, from writers such as Jeff VanderMeer, Kelly Link, Neil Gaiman, Holly Black, Theodora Goss, and Tanith Lee.
In her introduction to the hefty volume, Guran takes pains to inform the reader that fairy tale retellings for adult readers are thriving. I’m not sure that her insistence is really necessary, since it seems we’re living in an undeniable second age for fairy tales of all types. Nonetheless, it’s always nice to have such a substantial reminder. What Beyond the Woods brings to the conversation is a primer in the contemporary fairy tale fiction that’s happening just left of the high literary sphere. « Read the rest of this entry »
July 7, 2015 § 1 Comment
Despite their responsibility for some of the most fantastic and, in some cases, romantic fairy tales in the western world, one doesn’t usually think of the Brothers Grimm themselves as dashing figures. Sickly and studious, both brothers have more of a reputation for their industriousness than their ability to make hearts melt.
But in Kate Forsyth’s new novel, The Wild Girl, younger brother Wilhelm is given the full romantic hero treatment, and a viscerally imagined love story between him and his eventual wife Dortchen Wild emerges.
Inspired by Valerie Paradiz’s 2005 book Clever Maids: The Secret History of the Grimm Fairy Tales, Forsyth paints a portrait of young Dortchen Wild, one of five sisters who lived next door to the Grimms when they began collecting stories for their soon-to-be famous collection. As a girl, Dortchen becomes smitten with Wilhelm and contributes many tales to their growing collection. The novel follows their relationship over the span of twenty years; the two did not marry until Wilhelm was 39 and Dortchen 31, an old maid by 1825 standards, and in The Wild Girl, Forsyth offers a possible explanation as to why. « Read the rest of this entry »
May 26, 2015 § 3 Comments
Fairy tale writer and editor Angela Carter would have turned 75 this year; the sad fact that she died of cancer in 1992 is pinpointed beautifully by Kelly Link, who asks in her introduction to a new edition of Carter’s most beloved story collection, “What would she make of the stories we tell now? What new thing would she make?”
We can’t know, but at least we can always return to the work that she left behind, work that took fairy tales and blew them wide open. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, or of fairy tales in general, then the likelihood that you’re familiar with Angela Carter is very high; if you’re not familiar with her, then get ready for a treat of the highest order. Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, which has just been re-released today in an anniversary edition by Penguin Classics, is seminal reading for fairy tale lovers, because of Carter’s daring and—to this day—endlessly surprising female-empowered fairy tale retellings. Now, of course, fairy tale retellings are all the rage, but when Carter wrote The Bloody Chamber, she was not only a pioneer: she was setting the standard. « Read the rest of this entry »
March 17, 2015 § 1 Comment
“Die Hutte,” said my father as though he were starting a prayer.
I could say nothing. …In my imagination it had been a gingerbread house with roses around the door, a veranda with a rocking chair, and smoke puffing from the chimney. Exactly who was there to tend the roses or light the stove hadn’t been clear, but even seeing Oliver Hannington would have been better than the tumbledown witch’s house that stood before us.
When eight-year-old Peggy is taken by her father deep into the Bavarian woods, she believes they’re only going for a holiday. But her father then tells her a fairy tale about a little girl who wishes for silence, and is granted that wish when everyone else on the earth disappears. She is that little girl, he says, and everyone they’ve left behind is dead. Thus begins Peggy’s own dark fairy tale, learning to survive the harsh winters and brutal summers alone with her father, until tragedy and madness force her to rediscover the world she’d believed had died. « Read the rest of this entry »
March 8, 2015 § Leave a comment
Remember those 500 “new” fairy tales everyone was talking about in 2012? Now a selection of them have been published under the title The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Tales, and I’m excited to have a long-form review of the collection published this month in the Brooklyn Rail. Here’s a taste:
“What the Schönwerth tales are, at their core, are artifacts, reminders of the humble origins of some of the most enduring stories in our shared imagination. The public interest in the tales, no matter how deserving they are of artistic acclaim, does denote something of a turning point for popular understanding of fairy tales. Fewer and fewer people may be surprised to hear that Walt Disney didn’t invent Cinderella and Snow White (yes, this happens) if more readers are turning an eye to the fairy tale of how a story is made, and how it endures. … Well, here is material as close to an original oral source as many folk tale collectors could hope to get. The irony, of course, is that such a thing as an authentic fairy tale scarcely exists. A fairy tale on the page is either a recording or a retelling of the ineffable original, the source and meaning of which lives only in an unreachable time, and in our imaginations.”
You can read the full review here: http://www.brooklynrail.org/2015/03/books/a-hundred-and-fifty-years-sleep
Since we turned the page on 2014, I’ve also published a review with Bookslut of Kelly Link’s new short story collection, Get in Trouble, and was thrilled to have a short piece of fiction inspired by three Grimm tales posted at Tin House’s blog, The Open Bar. Check them out through the links below, and as always, thanks for reading!
“I love a good ghost story…”
Get in Trouble by Kelly Link, Reviewed on Bookslut
“My wedding ring glinted on my finger: it seemed to belong to a different hand.”
A Grandmother in Three Tales on the Open Bar
December 6, 2014 § Leave a comment
Looking for just the right fairy tale book for all the readers on your holiday list? Here are some of the highlights of 2014, including books for both adults and younger readers. Enjoy!
Short Story Collections
For the Realist You’re Trying to Convert:
The Witch and Other Tales Retold, by Jean Thompson
Thompson is a master of exposing the wierdnesses of everyday life, in a manner that brings to mind Joyce Carol Oates at her vintage best. In this collection, she uses the framework and a few familiar tropes of beloved fairy tales and drops them into realistic tales of children surviving in a frightening foster home, teenagers acting out through sex, and young women tempted into strange, sudden marriages.
For the Die-Hard Fabulist:
How a Mother Weaned Her Girl From Fairy Tales, by Kate Bernheimer
Unlike Thompson, who uses familiar frameworks in updated settings in The Witch, Bernheimer is adept at crafting her own tales that are so odd and uncanny that they seem to be from another time. Frightening and fearless, Bernheimer’s imagination is at full force here — read these stories under a dim lamp at night, for optimal chills. « Read the rest of this entry »
November 14, 2014 § 3 Comments
I’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. « Read the rest of this entry »
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!
July 11, 2014 § 1 Comment
Emily 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. « Read the rest of this entry »
April 4, 2014 § Leave a comment
K.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.