Saturday, January 21, 2017

Keeping the pixies up to date

kw: book reviews, fiction, fairy tales, anthologies

I have mentioned before (elsewhere) the time that I realized, in a fairy tale, the subjective meaning that unfolds when we understand that most of the characters are within us: the knight in shining armor is me (I hope!), the damsel in distress is me, but so also I am the dragon! And sometimes, I am also a troll or ogre…or, more properly, these represent something in me that I need to overcome, and then I am also the billy goat Gruff or whatever. Other times, the troll or ogre or giant represent, not actually parents or other "big people" in a child's life, but external barriers and other retarding forces.

So what does it mean for a modern author to write a new fairy tale? How much of the author is revealed in the tale? How much of the reader? As with other fiction, the best tales allow the reader to explore self-discovery. If a story doesn't fit? Table it; maybe it will fit a later situation. Or maybe never. Or maybe you're being self-blind, and it is worth another look.

What I didn't know is that at least a few authors' organizations exist that are devoted to promoting authors of new fairy tales. I wonder how many we have room for? At least a few, it seems: Paula Guran had edited a new anthology containing eighteen new stories, titled once upon a time. The title (and the typeface) consciously reflect the ABC series by that name, in which familiar fairy tales (and made-up Disneyifications) are twisted, darkened, and reinvented.

Some of the stories are familiar settings told from the viewpoint of a different character, such as "The Spinning Wheel's Tale" by Jane Yolen and "Tales That Fairies Tell" by Richard Bowes. One tale is painfully touching, "Egg" by Priya Sharma, a tale of nurturing and letting go; it is hard to exaggerate what is already a strong, overwhelming, even rending experience for us all, but Ms Sharma manages it. At least a couple of the stories I got no more than a page into, thought, "What could the editor possibly be thinking?!?", and skipped to the next story.

The last is the best, "Blanchefleur" by Theodora Goss, based on a less familiar story, and told with just enough hint of magic to transform it from an allegory of metamorphosis into a fairy tale of personal transformation. The stories we find ourselves loving inform us who we are.

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