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Fairy Tales Reimagined: Essays on New Retellings
edited by Susan Redington Bobby
McFarland, 260 pages

Fairy Tales Reimagined: Essays on New Retellings
Susan Redington Bobby
Susan Redington Bobby, assistant professor of English at Wesley College in Dover, Delaware, teaches classic and contemporary fairy tales and adolescent literature. She has chaired panels and presented papers on topics related to adolescent literature, fairy tales, heroism, and gender at various conferences.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Sandra Scholes

Fairy tales are the in thing at the moment in movies like Snow White and the Huntsman and Mirror, Mirror being successful takes on the popular "Snow White" story. Most girls had a favourite when they were young, whether it was "Cinderella," "Sleeping Beauty" or "Little Red Riding Hood." It still held their interest and compelled them to read others to see what they were like. When we think of fairy tales it is interesting that many of them were not actually English, they were a mix of French, Italian and German. "Cinderella" was thought to have been based on a Chinese fairy tale where others were popularised by the brothers Grimm, Perrault and Hans Christian Andersen. We may know some of them, but not all. There is a rich history behind them, and Fairy Tales Reimagined explains the history of some of the most famous fairy tales known to us.

Rather than only writing about the fairy tales Susan Redington Bobby separates the book into several chapters she thinks will draw the readers in, as these chapters interpret the fairy tales for a modern readership, drawing on the mystery of each one.

"Redefining Gender & Sexuality" by Martine Hennard Dutheil de la Rochère

This essay sees certain fairy tales that have been retold from a gender perspective as being either gay or lesbian, turning the fairy tales' normal ideas, characters, sexual desire and actions on their side. Some newer writers have done this, including Emma Donoghue with her "The Tale of the Shoe."

"Queering the Fairy Tale Canon: Emma Donoghue's Kissing the Witch" by Martine Hennard Duthiel de la Rochère

These tales along with twelve others are arranged as first person narratives focusing on how Emma Donoghue can change the general feel and workings of the standard tale. She uses her knowledge of such authors as Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, and Anne Sexton to bring about these changes to create new stories. Contemporary Women Poets and the Fairy Tales of Christa Mastrangelo Joyce unravel the mystery of fairy tale characters who are women who can only be noticed if they are motivated by men. A case in point being "Snow White," Christa Mastrangelo Joyce uses Anne Sexton's fairy tale poetry as a basis for understanding the recurring themes in these stories.

"Struggling Sisters and Failing Spells: Re-engendering Fairy Tale Heroines in Pegg Kerr's The Wild Swans" by Bethany Joy Bear

This tells the story of Eliza's swan brothers, and later changes the name of Eliza to Elias, a young man whose gay identity is seen by others as sexually deviant, at least to his father, and has to hope he can find happiness with another. Katherine Kerr uses the opposites of Hans Andersen's characters from "The Wild Swans" to prove her point and somehow create a duality for Elias as a character.

"Invention and Transformations: Imagining New Worlds in the Stories of Neil Gaiman" by Mathilda Slabbert

Mathilda Slabbert analyzes the works of Neil Gaiman, acclaimed author of Stardust and Anansi Boys. His characters in stories from his Smoke and Mirrors collection have some of the traits of modern fairy tales, yet he tells them in a way that preserves the older style for story telling in Grimm and Anderson. Slabbert dissects the meaning of three of his notable stories; "Stardust," "Troll Bridge," and "Snow, Glass, Apples."

"And the Princess, Telling the Story: A.S. Byatt's Self-Reflexive Fairy Stories" by Jeffrey K. Gibson

Jeffrey K. Gibson strives to discover the tradition of storytelling, and the ways they are told which keeps them alive in the minds of others. Fairy tales have continued to be re-written and reinvented and in many ways create a new sense of history. Gibson uses A.S. Byatt's contemporary tales as an example of those revisions with her 1999 collection The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye. These show the way they have been structured and modernised.

"Between Wake and Sleep: Robert Cooper's Briar Rose, A Playful Reawakening of The Sleeping Beauty" by Marie C. Bouchet

This repeats certain fairy tales which is an occupation of some writers like Robert Cooper with his variation of "Briar Rose," which is in reality "Sleeping Beauty." His working of the story relies on the readers' knowledge of the original "Sleeping Beauty" story, and starts at a later part where Beauty is already sleeping, and the prince has come to revive her from her thorny prison. Perrault has a version as does Giambattista Basile which is considered by Marie C. Bouchet to be one of the most violent of them all. It is titled "Sun, Moon and Talia." Talia assumes the role of Beauty, who miraculously while she is asleep is raped and bears the princes children.

"Winterson's Wonderland: The PowerBook as a Postmodern Re-Vision of Lewis Carroll's Alice Books" by Maureen Torpes

The act of looking back at previous stories, and then creating another one from a new direction is the stuff of many a writer according to Jeanette Winterson. She believes that no one can ever read too much of past literature, and she puts her words to the test with her own novel, The PowerBook. The novel contains several stories that range from fairy tales to popular folk tales such as Lancelot and Guinevere; re-visioning a lot of great work. Maureen Torpes mentions that fairy tales were constructed in order to instruct children to live their way according to social morals, and is of interest as she backs it up with information from Charles Dodgson Burnett to emphasize the cultural and moral outlook of Victorian times.

"I Think You Are Not Telling Me All of This Story: Storytelling, Fate, and Self-Determination in Robin McKinley's Folktale Revisions" by Anne A. Doughty

Beauty in Robin McKinley's story of "Beauty and the Beast" follow the traditional story closely but there are differences from the original tale; she has made Beauty more assertive, and stronger even though she does not have many life choices. There are several aspects of the fairy tale, McKinley keeps faithful to and one of them is the happy ending. In this re-written tale, Beauty is prepared to help her father in any way possible and take whatever the Beast puts her through. Anne A. Doughty selects all the points from her book and uses them in the stories.

"The Complete Tales of Kate Bernheimer: Postmodern Fairytales in a Dystopian World" by Helen Pilinovsky

Eastern European fairy tales have been revitalized by Kate Bernheimer with her Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold. Her stories have all the ingredients from these tales where Ketzia has an awful life with her sister, husband, tutor and other characters who only serve to make her life more difficult. Bernhiemer's tales are the opposite of the usual happy ever after tale; instead of this type of story, hers have the unhappy, or sad ending that leaves it completely dystopian.

"The Fairy Tale as Allegory for the Holocaust: Representing the Unrepresentable in Yolen's Briar Rose and Murphy's Hansel and Gretel" by Margarete J. Landwehr

"The Briar Rose" and "The True Story of Hansel and Gretel" are the focus of this essay which tells of the two updated tales that mention Gemma's survival of the Polish prison camp. Gemma's grandchild thinks "Briar Rose" is similar to her wartime experiences in Poland. The characters are similar to the originals in the fairy tales. These newer stories help us see them in a different way, from a new perspective that gets us to understand the Holocaust better, for children as well as adults.

"'This Gospel of My Hell' The Narration of Violence in Gaetan Soucy's The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches" by Lauren Choplin

When mothers introduce children to fairy tales they think they are so innocent and twee, yet with most of these tales, there is a lot of violence, bloodshed, and sexuality hidden within them that most do not realise. In many of Grimm's stories as well as others there are underlying types of violence, and cruelty towards the heroine. In "The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches," all the badness associated with fairy tales is in there with the girl, Alice coping with the horrors of being in an abusive family which is realistic, terrible, and does not end so well for her. "Negotiating Wartime Masculinity in Bill Willingham's Fables" by Mark C. Hill

Vertigo Press, a part of DC Comics is a well-known publisher of adult themed comics, such as Fables, which was based on popular fairy tales such as "Cinderella," "Beauty and the Beast" and "Pinoccio." A winner of seven Eisner Awards, including Best New Series in 2003, and Best Serialized Story in 2003, 2005 and 2006, the comic is based in Fabletown in New York, where the characters go through their daily lives in secret, the humans unaware who they are. None of the characters in this comic are their original selves, but that is what gives them their originality.

"Philip Pullman's I Was a Rat! and the Fairy - Tale Retelling as Instrument of Social Criticism" by Vanessa Joosen

Fairy tales are, in many ways a criticism of social problems depending on the era they are written in. Back in Victorian times there were many less fortunate children born into poorer families who had nothing but troubles from lack of care, food, and basic medicine. Tales such as these here even have been re-written for a more modern readership, and some, like Philip Pullman's I Was a Rat! is a retelling of "Cinderella" and acts as a sequel to it after Charles Perrault's version. I Was a Rat! follows the story of one of the rats that pulled the coach when Cinderella went out to her ball. This particular rat was changed into a page boy and never changed back and is reminiscent of other fairy tales, though it still keeps its original feel.

"The Wicked Witch of the West: Terrorist? Rewriting Evil in Gregory Maguire's Wicked" by Christopher Roman

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West is a satirical look at the fairy tale aspects of The Wizard of Oz. Though it might seem like a fairy tale novel at the start, it is not aimed at children as it contains violence, sexual situations and harsh language. You would think that fairy tale style stories would be only of interest to children, yet many are made for adult readers, and this one is no different. It has political and social commentary on the good versus evil scenario in the Land of Oz, and shows the strife with which the characters are involved.

"Embracing Equality: Class Reversals and Social Reform in Shannon Hale's The Goose Girl and Princess Academy" by Susan Redington Bobby

The previous essays were written by others, while this one is penned by its editor. There are always two sides to any fairy tale, and this is what Susan Reddington Bobby talks about. Most fairy tales have a touch of wish fulfilment in them, usually where a downtrodden or relatively poor character is faced with the possibility of riches beyond their imagination.

As editor, Redington Bobby has brought the correct writers together to discuss the ideas of gender, sexuality, and structure, and the essays look at different fairy tales and where the newer stories explore feminism, queer theory, and gender studies fit into the standard tales from earlier writers. They have depth, about them and are interesting and insightful visions of a different kind of literature.

Copyright © 2012 Sandra Scholes

Sandra Scholes has had her reviews published by The British Fantasy Society, Fantasy Book Review and Love Romance Passion.

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