Let’s just take a minute to appreciate one of the most amazing genres (in my opinion) ever. The fairy tale. First there were the originals: the Grimm Brothers’ dark masterpieces, terrifying German folk tales, princesses, fairies, talking animals, doomed villagers, jealous queens, brave woodcutters, massacred wives hidden in locked rooms. Then there are the child-safe Disney versions. You know what I mean: woodland animals doing your housework, dressmaking mice, happily-ever-afters and pretty dresses. But all in all my favourite part about the fairytale world is what came next: the re-writes, the stories they inspired, the twisted tales. Once I started looking, I realised fairytales are everywhere in popular culture. Classic German fairytales inspired two of the scariest Buffy the Vampire Slayer villains ever: the Kindestod (Killed by Death, season 2) and the Gentlemen (Hush, season 4) (thank you to my mum for the Buffy introduction).
Allyse Near’s masterpiece Fairytales for Wilde Girls creeped me out, enchanted me, confused me. Wilde Girls is a beautiful nightmare like nothing I’ve ever read before. Filled with fairies, mermaids, dead girls in the forest, and plot lines as warped and mystifying as the thorns surrounding Sleeping Beauty’s tower; exploring themes of death, imagination, innocence, inner demons, and loneliness Wilde Girls is one of my top ten reads of the year. The scene in which birds tear at the veins in the birdcage girl’s wrists to put her out of her misery made me recoil at the same time as pulling the book closer. Truly amazing, this novel fueled my interest in the twisted fairytale.
Many years ago I bought my first graphic novel, Shannon Hale’s Rapunzel’s Revenge (see 10 Fiery-Haired Heroines), and I read it in a day. Fairytales and the Wild West? Rapunzel as a sassy outlaw? Jack the Giant Slayer as her sidekick? What more could you possibly want? Oh yes, I remember, a steampunk reboot: the hilarious sequel Calamity Jack. (I now have an urge to read it again. Why does this always happen?)
More recently, I discovered the extreme nerdy (see The Melissa Keil blog) graphic novel culture in Paris. At the time I had nothing to read and became set on finding a good graphic novel. I was struggling, then Mum pulled volume one of Bill Willingham’s Fables series (in English) off the shelf. Fairytale characters exiled from their own world to modern day New York City: how on earth was I supposed to say no? I quickly became obsessed with this series until a point when my sister groans if she even hears mention of it. Like Rapunzel’s Revenge the characters have been rehashed with wit and attitude, especially Snow White, who we are used to seeing as docile and polite, but is instead a powerful, ambitious deputy mayor with an attitude, and the Big Bad Wolf: a chain-smoking hard-boiled sheriff for whom smiling is seriously rare. Prince Charming is a sleaze, Rose Red a party girl, Cinderella a super-spy, Goldilocks a psychopathic murdering revolutionary, Pinocchio a sullen pre-teen. With a character-base and world spanning various spin-off and flashback stories and one hundred and fifty core comic books, Fables has infested my mind to a point where all I can think about is fairytales, prompting me to write this blog in the first place. The storylines are intriguing, the illustrations gorgeous, the dialogue funny and believable. I am really, really annoyed that my local library doesn’t have the fourth deluxe edition.
There is only one book left to mention now and it is another graphic novel (noticing a trend here…) Emily Carroll’s graphic-novel-short-story-collection Through the Woods stopped me sleeping. It is some really terrifying stuff, drawing on the gothic-ness of many early fairytales. The catchphrase of the book is “it came from the woods. Most strange things do.” And like Wilde Girls the atmosphere is nightmarishly dreamy. This is aided by a colour palette comprising mainly of reds, blacks and blues, a sharp font, and eerie cliff-hanger endings. It sent tingles down my spine! (I thought that was a myth!) The illustrations stayed tattooed on my eyelids long after I closed the book and a quick warning to anyone who feels inclined to pick it up: Read only in daylight! Bright daylight! Not rain, not night-time, preferably without cloud cover and, whatever you do, do not read it in the house alone, do not read it before watching one of the scariest Buffy episodes (in my opinion) ever (see above). If you prize sleep, if you don’t feel like lying awake with bated breath, straining to hear the sound of your parents breathing in the next room so you know the monsters haven’t gotten to them, be very careful about when and how you read this book. I certainly wasn’t.
Fairytales can be fun, quirky, confusing, poetic, interesting, creepy, and amazing and Wilde Girls, Rapunzel’s Revenge, Fables and Through the Woods all demonstrate this, giving me a greater appreciation of classic fairytales and proving, once and for all, that they are not for children.