I have never read a Robin McKinley book before. I gather, from looking around, that this might be a slightly scandalous announcement? At any rate, that’s the case. I have a feeling that I got this, and The Hero and the Crown, from a Humble Bundle or similar. It’s not something I would have bought off my own bat.
This is fairly straightforward retelling of Beauty and the Beast. It goes into a substantial amount of background for Beauty’s family, which I really enjoyed – the discussion of the family, and their changing circumstances, was a perfectly delightful story all by itself. Because here’s the thing: even though it’s a standard retelling of the fairytale, insofar as that bit goes (and I recently read Angela Carter’s version, which WHOA), what makes this stand out is McKinley’s fabulous prose. Reading her work is utterly effortless, and a joy. I love her descriptions and I enjoy her dialogue and the characters are delightful. Beauty has two older sisters – and they’re distinct from one another, and although they’re not the centre of the story I still know them and care about them. Her father is a bit more distant, which makes sense as it’s Beauty’s perspective we get. And Beauty herself is wonderful: not entirely content with herself and her life, for various reasons, but also devoted to her family and doing what is necessary, generally happily. Her conflict in staying with the Beast is presented clearly, with duty meeting fear and so on…
This is not a fractured fairy tale nor a complete reimagining. It’s a story that takes a well known story and makes it more rounded, and presents it wrapped in lovely words.
I’ve been meaning to read this book for ages. And I do mean years. Finally got it this year because I was reminded of it by someone when I read a very poor version of the Snow Queen.
Many of the stories are excellent, although it’s not quite the anthology I was expecting. I wasn’t expecting there to be discrepancy in whether the stories were pretty faithful or quite different versions; I found it a bit disconcerting to bounce from one to the other, and then have completely made up (that is, not based on commonly told fairy tales) stories in there as well. I’m not saying any of those three options is bad but it felt jarring to have them all mixed together. But I think that’s mostly my expectations.
Lisa Goldstein’s use of Hansen and Gretel motifs to tell a story about a woman’s relationship with her daughters was a delight and a really intriguing way to end the anthology. I loved Patricia A McKillip’s take on the snow queen and Esther M Freisner’s “Puss” was deeply troubling. Actually a lot of them were deeply troubling, but that was kind of the point both because original fairy tales just were troubling and because this anthology was always intended to be about both the fantasy and the horror aspects of the stories. Hence the title. There were a lot of really great stories in this anthology and I can see why it keeps getting talked about. I guess I finally need to read Angela Carter now
Our post-Halloween episode, featuring vampire college students, spider-infested children’s birthday parties, and tiny adorable skeletons. This isn’t even the culture consumed part, it’s our real life! You can get us from iTunes or at Galactic Suburbia.
(sorry for the sound quality of this one, we’re blaming the weather or possibly DEMONS)
The Halloween Update
From birthday parties to Trick or Treating, yes, Halloween is a thing in Australia now.
What’s new on the internet?
World Fantasy Awards winners announced.
Alisa: Frequency Season 1 ep 1-4, Jessica Jones
Tansy: Hocus Pocus; Octavia Cade: The Convergence of Fairy Tales, Tremontaine 1 & 2, Kelly Robson’s Tremontaine story, If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho translated by Anne Carson; Hold Me, Courtney Milan
Alex: Carmilla season 2 and season 0; Jericho rewatch; Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children; The Congress
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I received this book from the publisher, Bloomsbury, at no cost as an uncorrected proof. It comes out in October; RRP $16.99.
I abandoned this book, after reading just over half. It’s a hard thing to do, but it really wasn’t working for me and there are SO many books I want to read that I just don’t have time for books that don’t work.
Firstly, the press release says it’s for children 12+. I’m not sure I’d be happy with a 12 year old reading this: the protagonist has spent eleven years in a mental institute – since she was six – and there are some bits that I think may be a little scary for less mature readers. Anyway, that’s not a reason for me abandoning it.
The protagonist is part of the reason. I did not at any point feel any empathy towards Snow. There’s a bit too much repetition about her immediate woes (not being able to see the boy she really likes, who’s also in the institution), and a serious lack of development about either her history (she walked into a mirror and that was enough to get her committed?) or her personality more generally.
This is symptomatic of the book as a whole, actually: there is so little development of anything. Characters and places and events all occur in a vague world, sometimes with connections spelled out and sometimes not. Things happen far too fast – strange dreams! strange boy appearing! lover boy disappears!! a Tree!!! – and I was left completely bewildered, and not in a shivery-anticipation kinda way; in a ‘what the heck just happened?’ kinda way. It’s a portal fantasy, eventually, but whereas Foz Meadows deals nicely with the sort of confusion this would produce, Danielle Paige has Snow being confused for about ten seconds and then basically comfortable, with no explanation for how this is possible (i.e. treating it as a fantasy or whatever).
Also, the writing does not help the reading process. It’s not actively bad, but I was aware of reading – rather than being sucked into a world and ignoring the process, which really awesome writing enables.
I’m sad that this didn’t work out. I think the Snow Queen story has a lot of potential for reworking. In fact the day I received this my mother was visiting, and she had just started Michael Cunningham’s retelling of the story (very different from this), and I’d seen Frozen only about a week before. So there definitely is potential. And this version had potential… it just wasn’t achieved.
Continuing my Angela Slatter kick…
“Baba Yaga is a woman who cannot be bound. She will bear no more children, she bow to the wishes of no man; she is independent, adrift from the world and its demands. The world, in ceasing to recognise her value, has granted her a freedom unknown to maids and mothers. Only the crone may stand alone.” (p135)
Angela Slatter’s exploration of the different ways women can be is one of the things I love most about her work, and it’s evident in this reprint collection. Most of the stories build on European fairytales or characters – Bluebeard, the Snow Queen, Melusine, the Little Match Girl. But the focus is different from the familiar story, because Slatter changes or explains the motivation, or centres on a different protagonist, or moves the setting and therefore the entire context… and she forces the reader to reconsider the telling of those stories, and what we can or should get out of them.
The quote above is one of my favourite parts of the whole collection, putting me immediately in mind of Ursula Le Guin’s reflections on being a ‘crone’, especially the essay “The Space Crone.” How often is old age meant to be something women should fear? And while Slatter’s Baba Yaga is by no means always happy with her status, she lives it.
This book is also a beautiful object. I have a hardback copy; the cover is black with a white cut-out illustration by Kathleen Jennings. Jennings’ artwork appears throughout the book, with each story having a dedicated picture – some quite simple, some incredibly complex. I love Jennings’ work and she beautifully complements Slatter’s ideas.
Reading this has been a long time coming. I think I’ve owned it for a couple of years, but I’ve never quite got there before now… mostly because I knew that once I had read it, I would have read it, and then it wouldn’t be sitting there waiting to be read.
Yes, sometimes my brain is weird.
TL;DR: totally, totally worth it; wonderful and strange and making me moon-eyed. It is indeed like reading those fairy tales that were deemed Not Really Fit for young children and discovering that THAT is where the good stuff is.
Almost all of the narratives in this collection are connected in some way to other stories. Sometimes this is explicit: there are a couple of families for whom generations get stories. Others are more round-about, as a passing character in one gets developed in another. This goes too, of course, for The Bitterwood Bible in which Slatter has written prequel stories, of sorts. The fact that I read Bitterwood first meant I got to see some of the places where she went back and filled in gaps, fleshed out history, made connections clearer. The upshot is that reading the stories is a bit like moving to a small town. You meet one person and then another and only a few months later do you discover that those two have History; and then over time all the rest of the connections come tumbling out – except some of them still stay hidden, teased at the edge of perception. Sourdough and the world that Slatter has created here is exactly like that.
One of the things I fiercely love about the stories here and in Bitterwood is the focus on women – and that they are so very varied. Women are daughters, mothers, lovers, wives, friends, neighbours, enemies; they are skilled, bored, frustrated, vengeful, magical, lost, bewildered, smart, sacrificial, victims and heroes. They are human.
Seriously, just read this. Come back and thank me later.
This book was given to me by the publisher at no cost.
I adored Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens a few years ago – a reimagining of the Rapunzel story, along with the story of one of its first tellers, Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de La Force (1650-1724). It’s a book of excruciating loveliness, whose three interleaved stories are told in heartbreaking detail and with great compassion.
But I’m not here to talk about that. If you haven’t read it – and even if you don’t think you like fairytale reimaginings – you really ought to go read it.
What The Rebirth of Rapunzel does is present Forsyth’s research into the story of Rapunzel – about the differences in versions, and the people who told them, along with what the story has meant, can mean, and what it shows us about fairytales in general. I think it’s just awesome that research like this can find a home; it’s so depressing when something you’ve spent many years on simply… disappears into a black hole. Forsyth has made her research very readable. I’m coming from a background of literary and historical criticism (I’ve read a couple of the books Forsyth refers to), but I’m pretty sure that such a background isn’t necessary to understand and appreciate Forsyth’s points. This isn’t academic-lite; it’s academic-approachable. Continue reading →
This book was provided to me by the publisher at no cost.
I did not love this book.
It’s perfectly adequate as a re-hashing of the ideas about Faerie stealing children and possible consequences and so on, but I don’t think it’s as clever as it thinks it is.
I think the idea of only the old and somewhat pathetic faeries still being around is meant to be – amusing? challenging? – but instead it just comes off as a bit confusing, because the reason for that isn’t really explored; sometimes an info dump can be useful. Additionally I think what happens with the mortal woman is meant to, I dunno, challenge expectations or something. Didn’t really work.
Domnall comes across as a bit boring, rather than the somewhat sly, hard-working and long-suffering fae that I think was the intention. And if he wasn’t meant to be that, and was instead meant to be the lazy good-for-nothing whose butt is kicked to get more done – well, that didn’t really work either. The sidekick that he accidentally ended up with didn’t have enough character to be a funny, ambitious, or appropriately sidekick-y sidekick, and there were a couple of uncomfortable moments between them too (of a sexual nature – nothing too squick, don’t worry).
The plot itself is serviceable, and if that sounds like damning with faint praise… that’s probably about right.
Neil Gaiman said this book was a “glorious balancing act between modernism and the Victorian fairy tale, done with heart and wisdom.”
I love a sneaky, omniscient narrator who takes liberties with speaking directly to the reader. Especially when they’re not condescending to the reader but takes us into their confidence, presumes we are as intelligent as they are, and goes out of their way to be warm and inclusive.
I love a story where the girl who goes to Fairyland is chosen because she is irascible and short-tempered sometimes. Not because she is good or pretty.
I adore the concept of all children being Heartless in some degree or other. I adore Wyveraries (wyverns and libraries having babies, why not?), although a land of Autumn doesn’t really translate to the Australian experience – especially not for a girl who grew up in the tropics, where leaves don’t really turn red, let alone fall off branches – unless there’s a mighty storm.
I do actually really like whimsy, when the wide-eyed joy is balanced with just enough cynicism that is self-aware enough not to get in the way.
I like it when heroines are sensible and determined, when they know they’re in a story and try to decide how to be in that story, and when they get to be brave and afraid at the same time.
I liked this story more than I expected. I liked the pictures, too.
Sheri Tepper looked at a map showing the boundaries of different genres and, taking a fine black marker, drew her own shape instead.
Fantasy: there’s magic and faeries and they’re a real part of the world.
Science fiction: time travel and a dystopian future are integral to the plot.
Fairy tale retelling: the titular character is meant to be Sleeping Beauty (… and that phrase should be understood in a couple of different ways).
Horror: a couple of sections, for my tastes anyway.
Christian allegory: tied in with the Faery aspects, they work quite nicely.
Bildungsroman: the novel covers pretty much the entirety of Beauty’s life.
Environmental cry for help: the future is a horrible place unless we get on with changing things NOW.
Family drama: oh yes. Oh my yes.
I know there are other authors who do similar things, but it’s rare to find such a magnificent combination of elements that are traditionally ‘fantasy’ (faery, fairy tales, etc) with those that are science fiction (time travel in particular). I can absolutely see why Tepper is being honoured with the World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award, and this is the first of her books I’ve read (… I’m pretty sure…). There is just no question for her that of course a dystopia can coexist with the concept of magic, that fairy tales can be reworked together with time travel.
14th-century Beauty lives with maiden aunts and her father, when he’s not off crusading. Her mother died in childbirth, or so she’s been told, but when her father intends to marry again, she discovers that maybe things are weirder than expected. And then things get really weird when she encounters people from the future and she is whisked away with them, to a decidedly brutal and unpleasant future of billions of people, little room to move and less food. She doesn’t stay there, but ends up travelling… elsewhere…
Look, I can’t say too much else about this book because finding all the amazing twists and turns is an absolute joy. Tepper writes beautifully, at times grimly; she constructs a complex character in Beauty and surrounds her with genuinely varied friends and foes and family. SO MUCH happens in fewer than 500 pages. It’s magnificent.