Monday, June 18, 2012

Modern Fairy Tales: Angela Carter, AS Byatt

Fairy tales are one of the oldest and most basic forms or storytelling. How can a writer resist? I began experimenting with writing fairy tales and have now compiled quite a little collection of my own. What to do with them? I'm not sure. There's the possibility of sending some out individually to journals like Fairy Tale Review. There's also the possibility of publishing a collection somewhere down the line.
The idea of fairy tale collections for adult readers is not a new one. Angela Carter published The Bloody Chamber in the 70s. I recently finished reading it this slim volume. It's a fascinating exploration of fairy tale archetypes and the timelessness of imagination and even sometimes superstition. She sometimes explores the same type of tale several different ways. Carter offers two different versions of the Beauty and the Beast story in the collection, and two variations on Little Red Riding Hood. The collection also includes a bawdy and wicked version of Puss in Boots, an unsettling adaptation of the German lore surrounding the Erlking, a story of a young vampiress who is dissatisfied with her role as queen of the night, as well as several other tales. It's a wonderful read.
Over the winter I read AS Byatt's Little Black Book of Stories, it's perhaps more distant from the classic tales of Perrault and the Brothers Grimm than Carter's collection. The stories of Black Book... are more grounded in the contemporary world, but explore how magic happens in them: how love can cast a spell, loss can make us change our shape, and how monsters can invade our life.
Fairy tales never were intended for children, that's why many of them are far more gruesome than the sanitized Disney films we watched as youngsters. They often explore danger and the deep instinctual fears of humans. That's why themes of lost children, cannibalism, and darkness pervade theses stories. Modern writers take up the cause of exploring these fears and exploring the moral complexities such stories can contain. What it means to be a hero or a heroine is an ever shifting framework.
What are your favorite fairy tales new or old?


  1. I have to root for the home team: The Bremen Town Musicians. An animal tale, so not really long on darkness (except that they are fleeing from death into cold, starvation, etc). It's the one I always come back to, having spent some time there.

  2. Ah, unconventional choice Josh-- I like it! I've never been to Germany, but hope to at some point. Hope you're well.

  3. I read another collection of Angela Carter short stories ("Fireworks") that were more fantasy than fairy-tales. Very well-written, weird, and captivating. Should definitely check out "The Bloody Chamber."

    As for my own fairy-tales favorites, I'd single out Hans Christian Andersen, the Arabian Nights, and a collection of VERY scary Japanese fairy tales I had as a child. (Well, not a very young child -- these definitely weren't kid stuff.)

  4. Oh, also meant to ask, did you see the first season of "Once Upon a Time"?

  5. Nice, the Arabian Nights. I haven't read any other of Carter's collections, but I'd like to.
    I did see a few episodes of OUAT, but not the whole season, unfortunately.

  6. I'm pretty impressed by the show and especially the way it reinvents fairy tales.

    By the way, also wanted to tell you it's the third anniversary of the RH finale!