Tor.com content by

Rachel Ayers

Five Empowering Retellings of “East of the Sun, West of the Moon”

I have always loved the fairy tale “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” (and I admit I feel even more connected to it since moving to high latitude a couple of years ago). A perfect tale for the cold and snowy season, this Norse fairy tale answers the question of what comes after the happy ending, after true love has been declared.

If you aren’t familiar, the premise is quite similar to that of “Beauty and the Beast”—though usually the poor father in this tale is not (always) at fault for handing off his youngest daughter over an unfortunate horticultural theft. The “beast” in this tale (usually a white bear or other white wild creature) comes to the family home and asks respectfully to join in the evening meal. Afterwards, he promises riches and comfort to the family if one of the daughters will return to his own home with him. The youngest (or eldest) agrees, and away they go to an enchanted palace where the heroine has everything she needs, and eventually falls in love with the sweet nature of her beastly suitor, who spends every night in her room with all the lights extinguished, and extracts the heroine’s promise that she will never seek to see him at night.

[Of course, she does…]

Five Retellings of “Rumpelstiltskin” — A Very Odd Story, Indeed

“Rumpelstiltskin” is a bizarre story. Really—have you ever thought about how truly strange it is? Like many fairy tales, it’s full of unanswered questions: why would the miller claim that his daughter could spin straw in to gold? Why would the miller’s daughter want to marry someone who’d been threatening to kill her? And Rumpelstiltskin is the only named character in the story, so why is it so hard to guess his name?!

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Five Retellings of “The Wild Swans” — A Fairy Tale for Our Current Moment

“The Wild Swans” is a lesser-known (read: non-Disneyfied) fairy tale about a young woman who sacrifices years of her life toiling in silence to rescue her brothers from a sorcerous transformation.

The heroine’s six (or seven or twelve depending on the version—Hans Christian Andersen went with eleven in his well-known rendition) brothers are cursed by their stepmother and transformed into swans. The princess (or sometimes lord’s daughter, or some other personage of noble rank) is determined to rescue her siblings from their fate, and sets out to find them. Through a series of fairy-tale-esque coincidences she encounters them again, and they tell her that to break the curse; she must weave each of them a shirt out of star-flowers (or nettles, or a certain plant that grows only in the graveyard). She cannot speak or laugh until she breaks the curse, although in the meantime she marries, has two (or three) children, deals with a wicked mother-in-law, and is nearly burned to death as a witch (ahhh fairy tales—gotta love ‘em).

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The Magic of Libraries: Where Fantasy Meets Reality

Libraries are magical. We know this, as readers: Rare is the book lover who can’t recall the moment of sheer wonder and exhilaration the first time they understood what it meant to use a library. All of these books! For free! (As a librarian, I still feel the same way—just remember to bring them back, please and thank you!)

Depictions of libraries within the fantasy genre have certainly embraced this magical feeling…and run with it.  Fantasy libraries can be (almost) neatly categorized into three essential magical types: the library containing all books regardless of written-status; the library where the books speak to each other; and the library as portal to other worlds/places. But what’s truly magical about these fantasy categories is the way these magics correspond with the way libraries work in the real world.

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