Form and Fairy Tale: the visual appeal of La Belle et la Bête

July 31, 2016 § Leave a comment

Christophe Gans’ extravagant French film adaptation of “Beauty and the Beast” will be shown in select cities this September, and from the looks of the trailer, it’s right in line with the CGI live-action extravaganzas we’ve been treated to by Hollywood in the last handful of years.

Praised and awarded in Europe for its luscious production design, La Belle et la Bête is hardly the kind of film you could describe as “restrained.” But restraint isn’t really what the film industry has in mind for fairy tales lately; I’m immediately thinking of the bombastic giant-human battles in 2013’s Jack the Giant Slayer and Maleficent’s sparkly, fairy-populated Moors in 2014. It’s worth noting that La Belle et la Bête was also originally released in 2014, followed in 2015 by the much more understated (and more disturbing) Tale of Tales, directed by Matteo Garrone. (Warning: trailer below is NSFW) « Read the rest of this entry »

Beyond the Woods: a new anthology

July 8, 2016 § 1 Comment


BeyondTheWoodsThis 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 »

Fairy Tale Books of 2014: A Gift Guide

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

thompsonFor 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.

bernheimerFor 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 »

“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!

xo Orpheus: A Farewell to Myth

September 23, 2013 § 1 Comment

xo orpheus coverTuesday the 24th marks the release of xo Orpheus: Fifty New Myths, editor Kate Bernheimer’s follow-up to 2010’s My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: 40 New Fairy Tales. Bernheimer’s raison d’etre is the fairy tale and its form, and her previous anthology celebrated the malleable and enduring nature of fairy tales through fairy tale-inspired short stories by contemporary authors. But with xo Orpheus, tales of gods instead of princes, Heavens instead of hearths, were the challenge.

Myths are innately different from fairy tales, because myths, in Bernheimer’s own words, are about “the celestial, the magical, [the] other, [myth is] from on high down, and intersects with the humans. And in fairy tales, [the ineffable is] among us.” Myths are our explanations not of everyday life, but of the world at large, how it came to be, and who made it so. Retelling a myth means rewriting our explanations of the world. « Read the rest of this entry »

The Grammar of Happiness: An Interview with Kate Bernheimer

March 29, 2013 § 3 Comments

Kate Bernheimer, editor of Fairy Tale Review and author of a trilogy of novels, The Complete Tales of Merry Gold, The Complete Tales of Lucy Gold, and The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold, loves to talk fairy tales, even with a grueling schedule of panels and readings at the 2013 AWP Conference. Which is how I found myself lucky enough to be sitting next to her at a flyer-littered table in the AWP Bookfair as she graciously answered my questions about fairy tales, her past work, and her upcoming projects. Just that morning she was among the speakers at a unbelievably packed panel on fairy tale retellings (the other panelists were Jane Yolen, Kelly Link, Anjali Sachdeva and John Crowley), and so fairy tales and their prolific influence on all kinds of literature were on both our minds. In our conversation, we talked about the undefinable nature of fairy tales, writerly childhood nostalgia, the brutality of myths, and the power of the perfect final word.

bernheimerphoto2012-ks1Kate is the author of the children’s books The Girl in the Castle Inside the Museum, The Lonely Book, and the forthcoming The Girl Who Wouldn’t Brush Her Hair (Random House Children’s Books/Schwartz & Wade Books, illustrated by Jake Parker) as well as the short story collection Horse, Flower, Bird (Coffee House Press, illustrated by Rikki Ducornet). Her second story collection, How a Mother Weaned Her Girl from Fairy Tales, is forthcoming in 2014 (also from Coffee House Press). She is the editor of the award-winning anthology My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me (Penguin Non-Classics), as well as of Fairy Tale Review, which is now accepting submissions for The Emerald Issue, which will be inspired by The Wizard of Oz. She teaches at the University of Arizona in Tucson, where she lives with her husband, the writer Brent Hendricks (A Long Day at The End of the World) and their daughter.

CF: So when I was coming up with questions for you, I came upon a theme, and that is how fairy tales overlap and blur the lines of genre. Mostly because my 1st question is about the Oz issue, and it occurred to me that, like Alice in Wonderland or Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio, it’s not technically, by traditional definition, a fairy tale. It’s a novel with an author that we can point to and say, that’s where it comes from. And yet there are all of these examples in children’s lit that become, in the popular consciousness, fairy tales, and so it still seems to fit.

KB: To speak first to the “traditional definition” of fairy tales, it’s important to point out that many do have authors; authored works are not excluded from the  body of work known as “fairy tales.”  Pinocchio is a fairy tale. Even the Grimms are author/editors. The stories collected in their editions were painstakingly gathered, and edited by them in literary versions, that is “written.” Of course the stories don’t belong to the Grimms; fairy tales don’t belong to anyone.  So that question of authorship and the question of the purity of the author and the individuality of the author comes into play in diverse ways in the fairy-tale tradition.  My operating sensibility is to read through fairy-tale techniques and a fairy-tale affect.  Reading this way, the entire Oz series is inarguably a fairy tale. Some scholars consider The Wizard of Oz series to be “the first American fairy tale”—I don’t think along those lines – looking for originating definitive versions; that’s a gesture that weirdly obliterates a more expansive sense of history. « Read the rest of this entry »

“We Are the Folk”: Fairy Tales in the News

June 8, 2012 § 1 Comment

Consider these three stories.

Once upon a time, a man and a woman are married, and they live near a dark wood. The woman cooks a stew for dinner, but the man complains that it is too cold. They quarrel, and the man storms from the house, and becomes lost in the woods. He is gone for over 30 days. Upon return, he pledges devotion to his wife’s cooking—a happy ending, despite the impending loss of the man’s legs from frostbite: Row Over Cold Soup Leaves Husband Stranded in Frozen Forest for Over a Month

Once upon a time, a man and a woman are married, and they have no children. How the woman wishes for something to care for! She finds a cat. Then another. Then another. Then another and another and another until there are 550 cats for her to love. Her husband fears that they will not be able to feed all of their furry children—or himself, for that matter, as the cats continuously steal his food, the clever beasties. He also fears that his wife’s love for him is no longer as strong, when it must be spread amongst all 551 of them: Man Divorces Wife After She Refuses to Get Rid of Her 550 Cats

Once upon a time, a man and a woman are to be married, to ensure the man’s status in the kingdom. The bride’s mother makes all necessary arrangements, then departs. But when the wedding is to take place, the bride is hidden away from the light, while a false bride takes her place. The man and the false bride treat the girl like a servant and a lowly beast. She is made to sleep, eat, and behave like an animal. She is beaten and ridiculed for years, until a kindly neighbor comes to the bride’s rescue with a camera phone. She is found by authorities in a depleted state near the forest: Bosnian Police Arrest Couple Over Girl’s 8-Year ‘Slavery’

In March of this year, the New York Times ran an article about the recent “trend” of fairy tale films and shows, titled “The Better to Entertain You With, My Dear.” The author, Terrence Rafferty, argues that most fairy tale films are unsuccessful, not because they’re ill-made (though in most cases, he admits, the direction lacks the vision of what he considers to be the standard, Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast), but more so because the “world” of fairy tales is irrelevant, a thing of the past. « Read the rest of this entry »

Dear “Can Fairy Tales Belong to Anyone?”

May 31, 2012 § 5 Comments

God I love WordPress. There is nothing more entertaining, sometimes bewildering, and ofttimes enraging as being able to see what Google search terms someone used that led them down the rabbit hole to your humble blog.

I try to let the frequently searched high school essay questions slide off my back while resisting the urge to answer them for the poor student (“narrative voice barrie peter pan” and “what is the atmosphere of the book hnger games” (sic)), and I’ve stopped rolling my eyes every damn time someone searches “lana parilla hot” and it gets them here. Hi guys, I bet you found me again, just since I typed that. Enjoying yourselves? Here you go:

But this morning I saw listed not once, but twice, a question that got my brain buzzing and my heart hurting–someone, over the course of the night had searched multiple times the question “can fairy tales belong to anyone?” « Read the rest of this entry »

Espido Freire’s Irlanda

March 8, 2012 § 1 Comment

Before I tell you about this beautiful book, let me pose a question to you, you intelligent readers.

Espido Freire

Though Espido Freire, now 38, is a literary celebrity in her native Spain, we—perhaps unsurprisingly—aren’t too familiar with her work here in the US. She published her first novel, Irlanda, at age 24, and went on to win the Premio Planeta and Premio Ateneo de Sevilla awards for her subsequent novels; the French version of Irlanda, translated by Eva Calveyra, won the Millepage Prize. Now, twelve years after its first publication in Spain and several translations later, we can finally read a Spanish literary celebrity’s debut novel in English.

Why did it take so long?

You know as well as I that the question has several possible answers—the US publishing market, the seemingly absent word-of-mouth that exists between us and everything beyond the Atlantic Ocean (with the exception of a few musicians), the list goes on.

But let me toss another possibility into the mix—could it have to do with the subject matter? Namely, fairy tales? This past weekend at AWP, in between dodging sleeping writers in the hallways and imbibing a good bit of the flavored vodka Chicago has on offer, I had the fantastic good luck to sit down with Kate Bernheimer, editor of The Fairy Tale Review (whose press has just published Irlanda) and she shared her frustrations with what she perceives to be a prejudice against fairy tales as a form, and as subject matter in the world of publishing and academia. Earlier in her writing career, she told me, she was often highly praised for her writing, but advised by various mentors or editors to whom she submitted her work to “cut out the fairy tale stuff” in order to “go to the next level” with it.  But without what editors were calling “the fairy tale stuff,” she said, her work withered, and ceased to hold potential for her. Just as, without “the fairy tale stuff,” most forms of literature that we enjoy today have no backbone, no history, no context. She couldn’t cut them out of her own work for this reason. “Fairy tales are like air,” she said. « Read the rest of this entry »

The Fairy Tale Review’s Brown Issue: Dust to Dust, Tale to Tale

February 10, 2012 § 7 Comments

A father changed into a giant of earth, a dank basement haunted by a joyful, simple-minded porter, a dust-bowl burial that leads to the discovery of Devil’s gold. The color of mud, the color of death and life together, the color of change and transformation of the seasons. The Fairy Tale Review’s Brown Issue, guest edited by Timothy Schaffert, author of The Coffins of Little Hope, is packed dense with stories and poems whose minds are on the transcendent, but whose eyes are on the ground.

The Fairy Tale Review names each issue for a color, inspired by Andrew Lang’s iconic Fairy Books (my favorite, growing up, was The Lilac Fairy Book, which included “The Brown Bear of Norway” and “The One-Handed Girl”), and though not every issue has a stated theme, the color of each issue does provide the reader with a pre-packaged lens through which to read its contents.

“If ever there was a color more suited to earthly existence, it’s the color of earth itself,” Schaffert offers us in his guest editor’s note. “And certainly earthly existence is at the very heart of fairy tales, despite all the unearthly circumstances depicted.” In the Brown Issue, it is from dust we come and to dust we will return. That, and from fairy tales we come, and to fairy tales we return. « Read the rest of this entry »

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