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Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Women Writers Explore their Favorite Fairy Tales
edited by Kate Bernheimer
Anchor Books, 320 pages

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Women Writers Explore their Favorite Fairy Tales
Kate Bernheimer
Kate Bernheimer is the author of The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold. She is at work on a new novel, The Complete Tales of Merry Gold, and a collection of short fiction, A Cageling Tale & Other Stories.

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A review by Alma A. Hromic

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What a gem of a book this is!

It is a delicate cordial, to be sipped and savoured, sampling and tasting and coming back again and again to a selection of essays by such luminaries as Ursula K. Le Guin, Margaret Atwood, A.S. Byatt, Terry Windling, Midori Snyder, Fay Weldon, Julia Alvarez and Joyce Carol Oates amongst others. It is a rich celebration of the most ancient kind of story ever told -- the fairy tale -- seen with the feminine eye.

From Cinderella to Scheherezade to Baba Yaga, it is all here -- and many of these women belong to the generations who grew up on the real fairy tale, the tales with true triumph and tragedy, where nothing was sugar-coated and the level of reality was often heart-stoppingly brutal. They speak of the version of Cinderella where the ugly sisters chop off toes to fit into the glass slipper, not the sweetly pretty Disney version; the version where Little Red Riding Hood doesn't get cut out of the wolf's belly, whole and hale and not even partly digested. This is the reality where the Little Match Girl dies, and you experience a true mourning. This is the reality where the Little Mermaid pays for her gifts of grace with knife-pains at every step and, finally, with her life because of her refusal to seal her return to her ocean home and her family with innocent blood. This is the reality where Scheherezade knows that she is always only one day away from death, like her predecessors.

These are stories that truly affected the readers, and in many instances, like in the examples from this book, they were in some ways instrumental in shaping the writers who were to come. From the point of view of both a reader and a writer, this book is a heady brew. You'd think something like this would be full of polemic and deconstructionism -- but it isn't. Although it is billed as "literary criticism", which is a somewhat fatal phrase which inevitably makes the casual reader shy away, this is essentially an insightful collection of essays by strong women and extraordinary writers.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall is one to treasure.

Copyright © 2002 Alma A. Hromic

Alma A. Hromic, addicted (in random order) to coffee, chocolate and books, has a constant and chronic problem of "too many books, not enough bookshelves". When not collecting more books and avidly reading them (with a cup of coffee at hand), she keeps busy writing her own. Her latest fantasy work, a two-volume series entitled Changer of Days, was published by HarperCollins.


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