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Showing posts tagged: fairytales click to see more stuff tagged with fairytales
Jan 21 2015 11:30am

The Illogic of Fairy Tales

Cinderella Fairy Tale Disney

The trouble with fairy tales is that they’re not fair.

They seem fair enough at first: do the right thing, and you will be rewarded. Be nice to the old woman, help the trapped animals, work hard, get your mother’s blessing, and you can be the lucky child who wins a kingdom, marries the prince/princess, and lives happily ever after. But that all depends on the protagonist having drawn the right combination of cards in the first place: he or she is the lucky third or seventh child, and has a fairy godmother or patron witch, and is a nice person in the first place.

[You only get through a fairy tale by following the rules]

Jan 21 2015 11:00am

Creatureville: The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen

The Rabbit Back Literature Society review

Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen proposes that places, like people, have particular interests. Some specialise in film; some in food. Others areas boast about an abundance of athletes, or artists, or authors. The small town of Rabbit Back “was known to have no less than six writers’ associations, and that was without counting the most noteworthy writers’ association, the Rabbit Back Literature Society, which accepted members only at Laura White’s invitation.”

Laura White is an almost mythical figure in the Finland of this baffling but beautiful English-language debut, which is fitting considering the contents of her Creatureville series:

The local ceramicists for the most part produced water sprites, pixies, elves, and gnomes. Laura White had made these creatures popular all over the world through her children’s books, but in Rabbit Back in particular you ran into them everywhere you looked. They were presented as prizes in raffles, given as presents, brought to dinner as hostess gifts. There was only one florist in Rabbit Back, but there were seven shops that sold mostly mythological figurines.

[Read More]

Dec 2 2014 6:00pm

Short Fiction Spotlight: The Sleeper and the Spindle

the sleeper and the spindle

Welcome back to the Short Fiction Spotlight, a weekly column dedicated to doing exactly what it says in the header: shining a light on the some of the best and most relevant fiction of the aforementioned form.

Having joined forces before on Fortunately, the Milk... as well as illustrated editions of The Graveyard Book and Coraline, Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell have a history. The Sleeper and the Spindle is their latest collaboration, and undoubtedly their greatest to date.

As a work of fiction, most folks will find it familiar, I figure; in the first because it’s a refashioned fairy tale based in part on a couple of classics—specifically Sleeping Beauty and Snow White—but consider this in addition: The Sleeper and the Spindle has been published previously, albeit absent the art, in Rags & Bones: New Twists on Timeless Tales, in which anthology the story was very much at home.

The real hero of Bloomsbury’s exquisitely illustrated edition is Riddell, then. His pen and ink portraits and landscapes add a delightful new dimension to the text, and though they were added after the fact, they don’t seem in the slightest superfluous; on the contrary, they belong in this book. That said, this is the Short Fiction Spotlight, so our focus must be on the story, which—whilst neither shiny nor new—well... it’s still swell.

[Read More]

Oct 6 2014 9:00am

Are All Princesses Really Waiting for Princes to Come?

“Some day my prince will come / Some day we’ll meet again
And away to his castle we’ll go / To be happy forever I know.”

“Some Day My Prince Will Come” from
Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

In 1974, radical feminist Andrea Dworkin wrote a book called Woman Hating, in which she discusses some of the ways in which, in her view, culture and history work to promote a hatred of women. She dedicates an entire chapter to a discussion of fairytales. In the conclusion to that chapter she writes:

The moral of the story should, one would think, preclude a happy ending. It does not. The moral of the story is the happy ending. It tells us that happiness for a woman is to be passive, victimized, destroyed, or asleep. It tells us that happiness is for the woman who is good—inert, passive, victimized—and that a good woman is a happy woman. It tells us that the happy ending is when we are ended, when we live without our lives or not at all.

Dworkin’s view is not unique, nor even the first time that the treatment of women in fairytales was explored and criticized. In her influential 1949 book The Second Sex, existentialist Simone de Beauvoir wrote, “Woman is Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White, she who receives and submits. In song and story the young man is seen departing adventurously in search of a woman; he slays the dragon, he battles giants; she is locked in a tower, a palace, a garden, a cave, she is chained to a rock, a captive, sound asleep: she waits.”

[Read More]

Sep 29 2014 9:00am

Slarom, the Backward Morals of Fairytales

Beauty and the Beast

“I think the poets have made a mistake: because the world of the fairy-tales is a brighter and more varied world than ours, they have fancied it less moral; really it is brighter and more varied because it is more moral.”

-G.K. Chesterton

I am going to do something very dangerous, I am going to debate a point—posthumously—with arguably one of the most influential and well-respected commentators and moralists of the Western world, G.K. Chesterton, who wrote extensively and eloquently on many subjects, among them fairytales. (And also had a great head of hair.) You may not have heard of Chesterton, but if you are a fan of fairytales, which, if you’re reading this you probably are, then you have almost certainly stumbled across a quote of his that has been often repeated without attribution:

Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.

[Read on]

Sep 2 2014 1:00pm

Power Corrupts? Absolutely!

In the late 19th century, Lord Acton penned the now oft quoted line, ‘power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ At the time, he was writing about how history should judge the actions of kings and popes, but it has been lifted for so many purposes that I think he won’t mind if I use it for an observation about fairytales—namely that these stories are extremely suspicious of power, and even more so of women wielding power.

[Read More]

Aug 22 2014 9:00am

Fairytale’s Most Wanted: The Five Most Well-Known Character Types

John Atkinson Grimshaw

One of the remarkable things about fairytales is that you can know almost everything you need to know about the characters from the first few lines of the story. So, when The Frog King begins, “Once upon a time, when wishes still came true, there lived a king who had beautiful daughters,” you know that the story will revolve around one or more archetypal “fairytale princesses,” and will end with at least one of them marrying an equally archetypal fairytale prince. Or, when we are introduced to a character in Hansel and Gretel with, “suddenly the door opened, and a woman as old as the hills, leaning on a crutch, hobbled out,” then you know you have just met the wicked crone and also know that she will get up to no good.

[Top Five Fairytale Archetypes]

Jul 18 2014 5:00pm

We’re Off To Sue The Wizard: The Outsorcerer’s Apprentice by Tom Holt

Tom Holt The Outsorcerer's Apprentice review

An affectionate send-up of the fairytale from the author of such sarcastic tracts as Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Sausages and May Contain Traces of Magic, The Outsorcerer’s Apprentice features overlords and underlings, self-aware wolves and woodcutters, plus a prince from another world: ours.

Benny isn’t a prince of anything hereabouts, however. Point of fact, he’s in a bit of a pickle when the book begins. He has his final exams at Uni in a few weeks, and with his whole future before him, all of a sudden he doesn’t have a clue what he’s been doing. Studying to be a mathematician, maybe? In a moment of inspiration that some might mistake for laziness, he realises what he really needs is a good, long break to take stock of his situation. To that end, he borrows his Uncle’s “omniphasic Multiverse portal” and travels to a parallel reality where he can pretend to be a powerful person... because of course.

[Wouldn’t you if you could?]

May 28 2014 11:00am

Prohibition Princess: The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club review Genevieve Valentine

Genevieve Valentine turns her intoxicating talents towards The Twelve Dancing Princesses in The Girls at the Kingfisher Club: a resonant reworking of the fairytale made famous by the Brothers Grimm which brings to mind the marvels of Moulin Rouge and the melancholy of Mechanique.

The dancers of Valentine’s narrative are not literally princesses, as told in the old story. Rather, they are “the twelve failed heirs of Joseph Hamilton,” a morally bankrupt businessman who has basically locked his wife away, the better to bear baby after baby until she finally has some sons. But none come. Instead, Hamilton has ended up with twelve daughters, and he’s ashamed of every one. To wit, he hides them from the world, and himself from them, in the labyrinthine passages of his mansion in Manhattan.

[Read More]

Oct 10 2013 12:30pm

A Home Away From Home: The Mouse Deer Kingdom by Chiew-Siah Tei

The Mouse Deer Kingdom Chiew-Siah Tei

Home is where the heart is, so if you have no home, what happens to your heart?

This is a question Chai Mingzhi will ask himself again and again over the course of the nearly forty years The Mouse Deer Kingdom chronicles. “A run-away official from the Qing Court, which had supported the anti-foreigner rebels” during the turn-of-the-century Boxer Rebellion, Chai uses the last tatters of his imperial influence to help his family and closest friends escape to the Malay Peninsula.

At the outset of Chiew-Siah Tei’s long-awaited second novel, the travellers trade everything that is theirs to pay for passage on Captain Cochrane’s cargo ship, but nothing in Chai’s life comes easily, and the journey to Malacca is no exception. As gathering storms lay waste to a vessel never intended to carry passengers, we have, however, an opportunity to meet the Mingzhis.

[Read More]

Sep 16 2013 2:30pm
Original Comic

Fairy Tale Comics: “Baba Yaga”

Fairy Tale ComicsFrom favorites like “Puss in Boots” and “Goldilocks” to obscure gems like “The Boy Who Drew Cats,” Fairy Tale Comics has something to offer every reader. Seventeen fairy tales are wonderfully adapted and illustrated in comics format by seventeen different cartoonists, including Raina Telgemeier, Brett Helquist, Cherise Harper, and more. is delighted to give you a sneak peek at the entirety of “Baba Yaga,” as interpreted by illustrator and author Jillian Tamaki. Check out the entire collection on September 24th, from First Second Books.

[“Baba Yaga” by Jillian Tamaki]

Aug 28 2013 7:30am

Kearney’s Kingdoms and the Fairytale Unchained

Philip Pullman Grimm Tales

Welcome back to the British Genre Fiction Focus,’s regular round-up of book news from the United Kingdom’s thriving speculative fiction industry.

We begin this week’s edition of the British Genre Fiction Focus with an interrogation of the fairytale inspired by an interview with Philip Pullman, the mind behind His Dark Materials and the recent retelling of 50 stories attributed to the Brothers Grimm.

After that, Angry Robot roundly rejects the repugnant notion that selling science fiction written by women simply isn’t good business by buying the rights to publish not one but two new novels by Transformation Space author Marianne de Pierres.

In Cover Art Corner, A Different Kingdom by Paul Kearney gets a bloody lovely new look, but there’s some bad news about The Sea Beggars, sadly. And finally, Whippleshield Books announces an anthology revolving around Venus, whilst we look ahead to the next volume of the excellent Apollo Quartet.

[Read More]

Mar 13 2013 5:00pm

A Wealth of Warmth and Wit: The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness

The Crane Wife Patrick Ness Novel Review UK

Like George Duncan’s daughter Amanda, who once managed, amusingly, to do the entire Louvre in less than an hour, I am not typically the type to be “Moved By Art,” yet The Crane Wife truly touched me. Which is to say—sure—I laughed, and I cried... but before it was over, I also felt like I’d lived another life, and died a little inside.

That’s how powerful Patrick Ness’ new novel is. And it begins as brilliantly as it finishes, with a minor yet monumental moment: a pristine prologue wherein we glimpse something of ourselves alongside something utterly other.

Keenly feeling his advancing years, George awakens in the wee hours one night, naked and needing to pee. Whilst attending to his business in the bathroom, however, he is startled by an unearthly sound: “a mournful shatter of frozen midnight falling to earth to pierce his heart and lodge there forever, never to move, never to melt.” Curious, he follows this call to its point of origin, only to find that a crane has landed in his garden; a wounded one, with an arrow, of all things, shot through one of its wings.

[Read more]

Feb 7 2013 12:00pm

Cheesecloth and Blood, Marissa Meyer’s Scarlet

A book review of Scarlet by Marissa MeyerFairytale updates—like fanfiction—start with a built-in comfort level; you already know the characters and storyline. Is it easier for the author to build from archetypes or do they have to work harder to bring anything new to the table? In Cinder, and now Scarlet, Marissa Meyer tackles some of our most prevalent folklore with grace and invention. She brought freshness, warmth, moon colonies and androids to the Cinderella story, without losing any of the essential charm, timelessness or integrity. So I jumped into Scarlet, the sequel, with both eagerness and trepidation; it didn’t start with the same characters or setting—in fact it was half way across the world from New Beijing—and I cared a little less about Red Riding Hood. The sequel hopped between Scarlet and Cinder’s stories almost every chapter and while the new point of view was a little slower to ramp up, the chapters that continued the Cinderella story more than made up for it.

[Read more]

Dec 10 2012 5:30pm

Sleeping Beauty: Robin McKinley’s Spindle’s End

Sleeping Beauty: a review of Robin McKinley’s Spindle’s EndThe first chapter of Spindle’s End (2000) is one of the most beautiful pieces of prose ever written. The first time I read it I wanted to hug it close and wrap it around me and live in it forever. I wanted to read it aloud to people. I didn’t much want to go on and read the second chapter. The problem with wonderful lush poetic prose is that it doesn’t always march well with telling a story. The requirements of writing like that and the requirements of having a plot don’t always mesh. Spindle’s End is almost too beautiful to read. It’s like an embroidered cushion that you want to hang on the wall rather than put on a chair. Look, it goes like this:

The magic in that land was so thick and tenacious that it settled over the land like chalk dust and over floors and shelves like slightly sticky plaster dust. (Housecleaners in that country earned unusually good wages.) If you lived in that country you had to descale your kettle of its encrustation of magic at least once a week, because if you didn’t you might find yourself pouring hissing snakes or pond slime into your teapot instead of water. (It didn’t have to be anything scary or unpleasant like snakes or slime—magic tended to reflect the atmosphere of the place in which it found itself—but if you want a cup of tea a cup of lavender and gold pansies or ivory thimbles is unsatisfactory.)

I read it when it came out, and I kept thinking about re-reading it, completing my read of it, to talk about here. Sometimes I got as far as picking it off the shelf, but I never actually read it again until now, because when I thought about actually reading those gorgeous sentences I felt tired and as if I wasn’t ready to make that much effort again yet.

[Read more: no spoilers]

Sep 13 2012 5:00pm

Wishing with Arithmetic: Edward Eager’s Half Magic

Half Magic by Edward EagerEdward Eager’s first success, a play called Pudding Full of Plums, came while he was still attending Harvard University. Inspired, he quit school and headed to New York and Broadway, enjoying a mildly successful career as a playwright, lyricist and screenwriter. As a decided sideline, he turned to children’s books after the birth of his son Fritz in 1942, and his realization that other than the Oz books (yay!) and the Nesbit books (yay yay!) he simply did not have enough worlds of wonder to share with his son, and this was something he could decidedly change. This turned out to be an even more inspired choice: although Eager’s plays and screenwriting are largely forgotten today (and, as I found, incorrectly listed in Wikipedia), most of his children’s books remain in print, and have inspired in their turn certain comments on this blog eagerly begging for an Eager reread.

Look. After awhile, the puns in these children’s books are going to get to you. Anyway, here we go, with the first of the Eager books still in print: Half Magic.

[When wishing gets decidedly complicated by mathematics and unimpressed recipients]

Sep 11 2012 5:00pm

Sea Hearts: The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan

Unspeakable as it is irresistible: A review of The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan

On our first sight of the sea-witch Misskaella, who haunts the shore of Rollrock Island, she’s “sat exactly halfway between tideline and water, as if she meant to catch the lot of us.”

So fantasise the fearful children, at least, to whom the haggard old crone at the broken heart of this bitterly beautiful book represents “the face of our night-horrors, white and creased and greedy.” That would be the exact reaction Misskaella, in her more maudlin moments, means to elicit, but her position, perched on a boulder on this borderline—with a foot on the land and a fin in the froth—signifies something else. It speaks of a love lost, and a life divided: two of the core concerns of Margo Lanagan’s hypnotic new novel, The Brides of Rollrock Island.

[Read more]

Sep 11 2012 10:00am


Karen Hesse

Read Nell, a short story by young adult author Karen Hesse

“I am always dying. I am never dying. I have died and died and died again, but I do not stay dead.”

When the lines between fairy tale and reality blur, identity becomes fluid, and compassion can have unexpected costs. In “Nell,” a short story inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Match Girl,” award-winning author Karen Hesse adds a haunting, supernatural twist to a classic tale.

[Read “Nell”]

Nov 7 2011 2:00pm

Once Upon a Time vs. Grimm, Week 2: Apples, and Curses, and Bears, Oh My!

Once Upon a Time vs. Grimm, Week 2It’s Week 2 of the Battle of the Network Fairy Tale Shows, where the real winner is genre television! Once Upon a Time hones in on the motivations of its most sinister character, while Grimm introduces us to a new breed of creature as it teaches us a valuable lesson about not eating other people’s food or sleeping in their beds.

So, how did Once Upon a Time and Grimm’s sophomore efforts fare this week? Clicken-zee! And beware the spoilers.

[Mirror, mirror, on the wall...]

Mar 24 2010 12:02pm

No Beast So Fierce

So much more below the fold!In writing on fairy tales, there’s often a functionalist bent to the analysis. This means that tend we view fairy tales as fulfilling societal need: they contribute to the stability of a group or culture. In this way, characters and predicaments become allegories: practice for situations we may face ourselves in real life, or a form of ‘safe’ role play. Red Riding Hood is not about hiking in the forest; it’s a warning about wolves, about prostitution, a tale of sexual awakening, and so on, and so on.

I like this kind of analysis. It’s important because it dives under the smooth-looking surface of fairy tales, and stirs up a surprising turbidity. It makes us question unspoken assumptions (why is the youngest child always the special one?), and highlights the significance of story-telling in learning.  However, I don’t think it’s always perfect. By our very framing of fairy tales in this way–somewhat didactic way, orientated around adherence and cohesion—I think we sometimes lend them a static quality that they don’t always deserve.

[Read more...]