Review: Terribly Twisted Tales

In Terribly Twisted Tales, editors Jean Rabe and Martin H. Greenberg put their skills to work collecting widely varied permutations of famous fairy tales by The Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson, Ang Lee, and ancient Aesop.

The anthology opens with a piece by Dennis L. McKiernan, a writer who has oft turned his pen to altering fairy tales, as his Faery series of five novels makes clear. “Waifs” is a retelling of “Hansel and Gretel” from the perspective of the witch who owns the gingerbread house. This alone would be twisted enough, but the children are also twisted in their own way. This was a great opener of a story, and probably the most twisted of the lot.

Annie Jones follows up McKiernan with a new look at “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” with “My Great-Great-Great Grandma Golda Lockes.” Setting the story in a real time and place, as written by a diarist, Jones posits a much more criminal origin for the story  of the sleepy golden-haired girl. This tale makes the protagonist less than the hero we are familiar with, and envisions a much more real, practical, and earthy story. Not to worry though, there are still talking, porridge-eating bears.

“Once They Were Seven” by Chris Pierson takes the German tale of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” and gives it a much more Scandinavian flair. As a fan of dwarves, this is my personal favorite of the anthology, and too, the subtle changing of the origins of Snow White and the subsequent fallout from her gaining of the throne throws the concept of “happily ever after” quite out the window.

Mickey Zucker Reichert‘s “Capricious Animistic Tempter” revives an oft-retold story of Puss in Boots, one that some children only know through the character in the Shrek sequels, voiced by Antonio Banderas. Reichert writes superbly, and the story could just as easily have fit into DAW’s other recent anthology Catopolis. Any lover of cats or anthropomorphic characters will find this story a delight.

Cinderella is not quite the sweet-faced girl one thought in “A Charming Murder.” The story, as told by a gumshoe detective, gives a rather surprising look at the character of Cinderella. Mary Louise Eklund really managed to turn the original story completely on its head, twisting it into the tale of a selfish brat and her less fortunate relations. Readers who did not fit societal standards of beauty or grace may especially appreciate this narrative.

“Jack and the Genetic Beanstalk” by Robert E. Vardeman was creative in concept. Vardeman updates the original story to a more modern time of genetic engineering, but is forced to wrestle hard with his plot to make it go in the direction he wants. The end result is a story with a neat concept and clever ending, but an opening that is contrived and feels forced.

Rumpelstiltskin becomes a much more sympathetic character in “What’s in a Name” by Kathleen Watness. Making a baby-stealer seem the victim in the story is a clever twist, and while the fairy never becomes wholly sympathetic, his reasons for acting the way he did become much more understandable. Additionally, Watness writes some flaws into her fairy characters that I wouldn’t mind seeing in a longer form work or sequel story.

Jody Lynn Nye takes the reader into the far future with “No Good Deed.” This is far in time from the original story by Aesop, “Androcles and the Lion.” The poor protagonist can never seem to save himself from his life of slavery. His altruistic desire to heal has made that impossible, and even when he saves the life of one who might get him out of his predicament, he only finds himself in another cage. Nye’s story is a morality tale  about the effect of total altruism in a morally bankrupt world.

Jim C. Hines uses the opportunity presented by this anthology to introduce us to his primary character for the third book in his Princess series. “The Red Path” has that most famous red-cloaked individual standing up against a religion that protects those in power while keeping humanity in a dark age. Hines is a little heavy-handed with the Christian imagery, and will no doubt offend some readers unintentionally, but a careful reading shows that it is organized religion, not belief, which young Red-Riding Hood must overthrow in her attempt to be free.

“Lost Child” creates a haunting tale of family strife set in the one place it should not be, that of the world of Peter Pan. Of all the stories, this one is the saddest. Stephen D. Sullivan makes you want to cry for poor Amber, and gives a whole new meaning to “finding Neverland.”

Brendan Dubois turns the tale of Rapunzel into a something out of Dangerous Minds or Freedom Writer’s Diary  in “Rapunzel Strikes Back” (a poor title, in my opinion, as it makes a very deep story seem rather trite). Forced into the drug culture, the young female protagonist only wants out, yet she sees no way. The narrative is very real, gritty, and sad in its realistic setting. The way Rapunzel’s window and hair play into the story are a tad contrived as it requires the reader to believe that drug addicts would turn over cash and then wait a considerable period of time before getting their product. However, the story itself is excellent but for that. The heroine is at once pitiable and courageous and the emotional mix is so very human.

“Revenge of the Little Match Girl” is exactly what it says. Paul Genesse straightforwardly tells the story of how the young lady becomes quite the pyromaniac. Like something straight out of CSI, the tale gives power to the powerless, but at the same time makes the change a horror to behold.

Sometimes getting what we want isn’t always the best thing. “Clockwork Heart” by Ramsey “Tome Wyrm” Lundock turns Pinocchio into a cautionary tale not about wishing upon a star, but instead being content. The story does meander a bit, having Pinocchia spend time with gypsies for no apparent reason. The quick alteration from Pinocchia’s fear of the gypsies to her wholehearted acceptance of them from one paragraph to the next is rather abrupt as well. Lundock includes mention of the nose-lengthening, at the end of the story, but with no prior mention before. Ultimately, this particular narrative had a nice idea, but the middling execution made it one that it would be all right to skip.

Skip and Penny Williams add a great dose of humor to the story of “Sleeping Beauty” in “The Hundred Year Nap.” From the reason for the curse, the how of the castle’s long sleep, to the unusual “happily ever after,” this writing duo subverts every detail of the original story in wondrously strange and hilarious ways.

Honestly, I didn’t really get “Five Goats and a Troll,” by Elizabeth A. Vaughan. The original story it twists is obvious enough, but there were inexplicable elements. I think, ultimately, this was just a story of animals triumphing by doing what they do best, which in the case of goats is eat. Seen in that light, the story becomes funny, but something tells me I may have missed something crucial to the subversion of this story.

Janet Deaver-Pack is another author, like Nye, who brings her story into science fiction territory. The concept of “Something About Mattresses” is clever enough, telling the story of a bed salesman who can’t sleep. But she makes the mistake of directly stating the story she is trying to subvert in the dialogue (that of “The Princess and the Pea”) which assumes that readers aren’t smart enough to figure it out for themselves. The protagonists’ ability to stay awake for long periods is what makes him desirable to his tormentors, but how that can be considered a good thing when it drives him essentially mad was something I couldn’t get my mind around. I got Deaver-Pack’s intent, but I think that the character’s previous behavior violates the ending, or vice versa.

I thought Kelly Swails‘ “Three Wishes” to be ingenious. Based on the logical conclusions of what would happen if every human being got three wishes in succession, the narrative deduces nothing good. After all, we can’t all be rich, beautiful and famous, now can we? My second favorite story of the anthology, it is thoroughly inventive.

Michael A. Stackpole returns to the reader to the Red Riding Hood legend with “The Adventure of the Red Riding Hoods.” Part Sherlock Holmes-style mystery, part anthropomorphic fairytale, this mystery/fantasy was an extremely smart twisting of the original story. It was a great way to end the anthology, encapsulating all the intent of the editors by forging completely new territory with a tired tale.


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