Books in 5 Bites – Fairy tales
I first encountered Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber when I was about nineteen or twenty years old. I was interrogating my own relationship with romance, sex and sexuality. Already half in love with the powerful but wounded man (thanks/no thanks Jane Eyre which I read when much younger), Carter’s take on this with the Beauty and Beast retellings was electrical and compelling. Here were women who, although gambled away by careless fathers, were permitted to find their own pathway to desire and love.
Since Carter, a lot of women writers have turned their attention to this rich source of characters, symbolism and mystery, bringing to their reimaginings their own preoccupations, style and interpretations. So, why read these inventive fairy tales?
1. They challenge the old stories and in so doing, offer up new insights within a framework that is both familiar and mysterious.
2. The narratives offer the writer – and the reader – a chance to play – add a dollop of magic realism, explore the dark doppelganger of a well-known character or see what happens when you rehabilitate a traditionally nasty stereotype – step-mothers of the world unit! They can also provide both reader and writer fantastically imagined worlds and settings without requiring the slog of worldbuilding an entire fantasy trilogy.
3. They may introduce fairy stories or folk stories less familiar to the reader. Kelly Link in White Cat, Black Dog, Head of Zeus, 2023, rewrites the Child Ballad ‘Tam Lin’, with the resourceful and practical Miranda pursuing – and winning – her love.4. They can be used as constructions with which to explore edgy subjects – or with which to challenge the assumptions of the old stories – female passivity, heteronormativity or the idea of the gender binary.
5. But most of all they let reader and writer enter shadow worlds of magic and marvels. They let us reconnect with the child-self, the dreaming reader who went on imagining the story and living with the characters, long after the book was closed.
You can read Kelly Link’s ‘The Faery Handbag’ here.
If you aren’t familiar with ‘Tam Lin’, Anaïs Mitchell sings a beautiful version on her album, Child Ballads