Friday, May 1, 2009

A Sorta Fairy Tale

And I’m so sad, Like a good book, I can’t put this day back, A sorta fairy tale with you
– Tori Amos

A girl sits on the window seat of her room at the topmost level of her remote tower, looking wistfully across the dead city below for some sign of life. Hopelessness fills her throat like thick honey as she waits for what seems like an eternity. Finally, she decides to take matters into her own hands and texts, R u coming 2nite? U no I <3 U, but I Gtg, R.

We are currently experiencing a renaissance of reconstructed fairy tales that allow girls to be the masters of their own destinies. In every generation, authors have taken upon themselves to modernize centuries-old tales to make them relevant for modern audiences, and we are lucky to be experiencing a flood of excellent literature. The malleability of fairy tale archetypes is p
roof that the characters are timeless and are as significant today as when they were part of oral storytelling. Whether Rapunzel has a cell phone or dangerously long hair, the truths generated by her story remain the same and connect to readers in a powerful way. Several fabulous writers have been able to master this feat.
You cannot have a discussion about post-modern faerie without Francesca Lia Block. Using luscious poetry and sensual imagery, each of her original novels transport the reader into surreal worlds that show the magic of possibility. She retells classic fairy tales in her book, T
he Rose and the Beast. Stories like Cinderella, Snow White, and Beauty and the Beast are given an LA makeover to deal with darker issues of drug-use, abuse, and sexual awakening. FLB is not for the faint of heart, but if you appreciate honest, lush writing and butt-kicking heroines, you will love The Rose and the Beast.

Juliet Marillier also stands out as writer able to create entire worlds with her pen (or laptop). She retells Grimm’s Six Swans in her SevenWaters Trilogy (which includes Daughter of the Forest, Son of the Shadows, and Child of the Prophecy. Heir of Sevenwaters is a stand-alone novel but includes characters from the trilogy.) She evokes the mood of 13th century Ireland by taking painstaking care to include accurate details about history, geography, and mythology. However, it is her wonderful characters that transform a fairy tale into a personal tale of loss, love, and hope. I constantly come back to this trilogy and every time I gain a new insight about human behavior when I read it. Marillier accomplishes the same extraordinary feat in her retelling of the twelve dancing princesses in Wildwood Dancing and its companion, Cybele’s Secret. (When you read it, pay attention to spot another fairy tale within the story.) In Wildwood Dancing, four sisters are transported every full moon from their remote castle in Transylvania to the Other Kingdom. Faced with impossible choices, each sister must confront her own dreams and desires as they quickly grow up. While Marillier describes intricate fantastic worlds, she puts great effort in being consistent within the worlds she creates, a major point of contention for those who dislike fantasy writing. Still, there is sufficient “meat” in all of her stories to satisfy even the staunchest realist; while the magical creatures may not be real, the human emotions are, and will touch you in a powerful way. (As an aside, Juliet Marillier is currently undergoing treatment for breast cancer and if you have positive comments to share, you can contact her at

Upon a Time, a series of novels from Simon Pulse, have been capitalizing on this trend. By publishing fairly short, but high quality retellings of fairy tales, Simon Pulse has created a series of books that engage readers of all ages. Writers like Cameron Dokey, Suzanne Weyn, and Debbie Viguie have retold the best classic stories. My favorites so far have been Midnight Pearls by Debbie Viguie (a retelling of the Little Mermaid) and Beauty Sleep by Cameron Dokey (a retelling of Sleeping Beauty). The stories themselves are as familiar as Cinderella’s glass slipper, but it is the unfamiliar layers that breathe new life into the old tales. You will not be disappointed when you sink your teeth into these books, which can be devoured in one sitting.
If you read any of these books, I would love to hear your reactions and insights. Feel free to post your comments to this post or email me at

Which fairy tale would you like to see retold and who would you like to write it?
I will include my answer in the next blog.

I have included a longer list of excellent retellings below for further reading. I personally recommend each one of these books. Let me know if you have more books to add to the list.

A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce (Rumpelstiltskin)
Beastly by Alex Flinn (Beauty and the Beast)
Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannn Hale (Graphic novel of Rapunzel)
Enchantment by Orson Scott Card (Sleeping Beauty)
The Swan Kingdom by Zoe Marriot (The Seven Swans)
The Wild Swans by Peg Kerr (The Seven Swans)
Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister and Mirror Mirror by Gregory Maguire
Mira, Mirror by Mette Harrison (Snow White)
Black Pearls: A Faerie Strand by Louise Hawes (Assorted Stories)
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (Cinderella)
Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix (Cinderella)
The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale (The Goose Girl)
A Wolf at the Door and Other Retold Fairy Tales by Terri Windling

Once Upon a Tale Books
The Storyteller's Daughter by Cameron Dokey (The Arabian Nights)
Snow by Tracy Lynn (Snow White)
Sunlight and Shadow by Cameron Dokey (The Magic Flute)
The Night Dance by Suzanne Weyn (The Twelve Dancing Princesses)
Golden by Cameron Dokey (Rapunzel)
Belle by Cameron Dokey (Beauty and the Beast)

Just for fun . . .
The Stinky Cheese Man And Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka and illustrated by Lane Smith.


  1. Love the stinky cheese man! Love John Scieszka! I would love to hear ANY fairy tale re-told by Francesa Lia block...her prose is lyrical magic. She is so inspiring. I also wonder how Stephanie Meyer or Audrey Niffenegger would turn a tale...

  2. I love the whole idea of fractured fairy tales! and, of course, Stinky Cheese Man is great. I would love to see a rewrite of "The Little Mermaid"... The Brothers' Grimm one is too depressing, and the Disney one, is too, well, Disneyfied (and slightly demeaning). As for who should write it, I'm not so familiar with the authors you mentioned, so I'm going to say that the great author Eti Berland should do the write! :)