My Fairy-Tale Week
There are a couple of important things to know about fairy tales:
Fairy tales are not for children.
Fairy tales are dark and dangerous.
Fairy tales are very old. They may be the remnant of the first language of storytelling that evolved at the very beginning of our existence as a species. This is why they are often strange. Why does everything happen three times? Why do parents try to kill their children (and yes, all those evil step-mothers in the Disney versions are actual mothers in the original)? Why so colors black, white and red signify beauty (as in "Snow White")?
Fairy tales will never go away. They were with us at the dawn of history; they will be around when we all become posthuman and abandon this planet for life in space. Posthuman fairy tales; wouldn't you like to read them in advance?
But meanwhile, the five fairy-tale-based books I chose as some of the best in the genre will do to show why fairy tales will always be with us. Fairy tales are like magic bottles: they will absorb whatever content you want to pour in and transform it into a heady brew of horror, mystery and enchantment.
Alison Littlewood's Path of Needles is a serial-killer mystery and a meditation on the nature of fairy tales. If you think it is a strange combination, think again. It works beautifully. Didn't I say that fairy tales are violent and dark?
Jane Yolen's Briar Rose is a profound and excruciating story of the Holocaust. And no happy ending - unless you consider survival, memory and courage a happy ending - as I do.
Neil Gaiman's Coraline is lovely. It also has a homicidal maternal monster with buttons for eyes. As I said - lovely.
Naomi Novik's Uprooted got on my list because a) it is based on Slavic folklore and b)it has a an enchanted forest. Since I sort of live in an enchanted forest, I liked it. However, it would benefit from losing its last twenty pages.
T. Kingfisher's Summer in Orcus is suitable for children. As any good fairy tale, it will give them nightmares. But it won't introduce them to Nazism, sexual deviance or ecology - at least, not too much. Also it has a whimsical element that many good fairy tales have.