Category: Fairy Tales & Long Tails


I’m a big fan of re-tellings of fairy tales, the more detailed and historically accurate the better, particularly if they’re set in a specific period of history or place (or even in a sci-fi type of setting which doesn’t exist in normal history!)

I’ve grown up with Grimms fairy tales and Hans Christian Anderson short stories and fairy tales, and while I devoured them as a young child (the grislier the story, the better!), it always left me wanting a bit more. What happened to the servant-girl-turned-princess after she married the prince? Did she get on with her in-laws? Did she have to learn to cook and manage the household, or did she get bored? Why was it that the heroine was always beautiful, charming, slim and easy to befriend? What happened to the plain girls, or the ones that didn’t have fairy godmothers? What if the wandering princess who ran away didn’t meet a friendly passer-by, and ran into someone with darker intentions, or she didn’t end up making friends with generous, understanding animals and get food from them?

These days, of course, such stories aren’t enough. I’m always looking for stories, which look beyond the original fairy tales, which have more to them than relying on the beauty of the heroine to save her, or the princely-ness of the hero to get him along and defeat the dragon. My biggest gripe, I think, is the fact that the hero and heroine always get married the next day after their troubles are over, and live ‘happily ever after’ – what exactly constitutes a happy ending? Having lots of gold and wearing pretty dresses to balls? Having children who were royal and then retiring to old age where they would reminisce over their adventures of youth? Or even just surviving to a certain age with all your limbs intact. A lot of the fairy tales we read as youngster glossed over these parts, making sure that the story ended when the hero got his gal.

For me, it isn’t always the case – which is why I turn to fairy tale re-tellings to see these characters fleshed out and their lives developed to something more credible.

That’s not to discredit fairy tales at all, I certainly do see the appeal of an easy story, where prince-meets-girl, has a dilemma of some sorts and then eventually it all ends in marriage (this is starting to sound more and more like an Asian Star Plus drama), and there’s a magic to them which is unique; but in this day and age I think we question a lot of these stories, and it’s easy then, to see why re-tellings of fairy tales are popular – to acquaint us with the heroes and their flaws more fully, and to immerse ourselves in a fairy tale in all it’s details.

So here are my Top Ten fairy-tales retold, by various authors, although it’s by no mean conclusive (I’m reading one at the moment!) – and there’s certainly more I wanted to add to the list but couldn’t!

10. Castle in the Air – Diana Wynne Jones
I’m not sure how much this fits into the category of ‘fairy tales’ or typical fantasy stories, but Diana Wynne Jones has always been one of my favourite authors, because of her wacky, wonderful storylines and her mix of sci-fi, fantasy, quirky humour and odd brand of romance which has always utterly appealed to me. This is re-telling of sorts, of the tale of Aladdin and his quest to marry the princess he is in love with – but of course, all sorts go wrong, and there are plenty of other wizards, djinns, witches and magicked cats thrown into the mix to make the plot all the more complex. I loved this book, and although it was a written as a sort-of sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle (which I also loved!), Castle in the Air has its own unique style which is something I really think would appeal to readers who aren’t interested in traditional fairy tales – particularly because of the way the story has a quirky way of being able to relate to us in an ordinary way too.

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9. Beauty – Robin McKlinley
I’ve read a couple of versions of Beauty and the Beast, but this one appealed to me less because of the storyline, and more because of the atmosphere it creates. Although it’s quite a solemn story, the characters created are endearing, and McKinley is one of my favourite fairy tale-retellers because of her ability to make ordinary doings interesting. In this story, Beauty is not so beautiful (although her two sisters are), and their fortunes are not so fortunate, as their father’s business is ruined and they are forced to move to the countryside to survive. From there the story begins, where Beauty’s father strikes a deal with the Beast to save his life, and where there’s always a suggestion of magic which is never quite revealed til the end.

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8. Wildwood Dancing – Juliet Marillier
I loved this story as a child – twelve princess sisters go dancing every night, all night, so that every morning their slippers would be worn out, much to the consternation of their father who never figures out why – until he sets a task that any man who manages to find out will be rewarded with marriage to one of the daughters (plus the kingdom). Juliet Marillier is another of my absolute favourite authors, one who captures a period beautifully and puts in a lot of research into her books so that the detail is just amazing. Wildwood Dancing is set in 16th Century Transylvania, and is based on just five sisters who go dancing every night – but it is here that it gets more eerie. The ‘Other Kingdom’ they visit every night has more than just fairy folk, there’s a hint of ‘Night’ people, vampires, and the risk of losing one’s self. Add that to the threat of forced marriages to overbearing cousins, and the idea of ‘wildwood dancing’ becomes less innocent and merry, and instead more about the sisters’ survival and independence. A great read, and one of Marillier’s best.

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7. Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister – Gregory Maguire
I love Gregory Maguire’s imagination and the way he twists a traditional story to make you look at it from a completely different angle – and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister is no different. Maguire sets this story during the ‘tulip mania’ era in the 1600s, where the two ‘ugly’ sisters and their toughened mother Margareuthe have fled the witch claims of England to Netherland to find their fortune among the buying and selling of valuable tulip bulbs. Meeting the spoiled Clara and her rich parents, Margareuthe quickly sets to finding a place in the household, and moving upwards from there amidst a backdrop of art, religion and the idea of beauty – which is ambiguous, complex, and certainly doesn’t tell us who the heroine is in this whole tale.

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6. Deerskin – Robin McKinley
This is one of the darker stories I’ve read, and certainly it is a brave one. I remember reading this story as a young child (and an African version of it as well!), of a widowed King who cannot find anyone to match his late wife’s beauty – and instead decides to marry his daughter. While in the original fairy tale the horrified princess escapes, meets a prince and lives happily ever after, in McKinley’s tale, there are a lot darker events which take place which change the heroine’s life forever. McKinley’s writing style is almost ethereal here, and it’s certainly a brave topic she covers – rather than writing about balls, riches and beauty, she writes about surviving rape, losing family, and looking for acceptance in adversity. And I think she succeeds well in this novel, creating a character who is truly admirable and shows the real meaning of being a princess, and of the strength it takes to rebuild yourself have faith in yourself. A very moving book, although heart-breaking in places too.

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5. Ella Enchanted – Gail Carson Levine
This is probably the most recent fairy tale re-telling that I read, and I really liked the quirky, funny tone of it, which tells the story of a girl whose fairy-tale gift at birth forces her to be obedient, amongst a land of ogres, fairies and gnomes. Which is not the best gift, seeing as Ella finds herself being forced to obey commands from others who don’t always have her best interests at heart. Although this is just a loosely based on the story of Cinderella and has its own side tangent, it’s still a good story in itself (I preferred this much more over the film too!), and has plenty of ways of showing the good side of fairy tale creatures and magic.

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4. Revolting Rhymes – Roald Dahl
I have no idea if this counts, but I’ll add it in because Roald Dahl is another favourite author, and I LOVE wacky, satirical takes on any story, which Dahl spins perfectly. These are a collection of short poems which tell classic fairy tales in a completely opposite way (Cinderella runs away with a nice man who makes jam, for example), in true Roald Dahl style, with brilliant Quentin Blake illustrations. If you like Dahl’s work, you will probably already have read this.

My favourite line is probably from the Red Riding Hood story:

The small girl smiles. One eyelid flickers.
She whips a pistol from her knickers.
She aims it at the creature’s head
And bang, bang, bang, she shoots him dead.

Classic stuff. Read the poems online here, or otherwise at your local bookstore/library/nephew’s house, you cheapskates.

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3. Spindle’s End – Robin McKinley
This story is one which I’ve read and re-read quite a few times, because I loved the beautifully captured characters in the story. Sleeping Beauty has always been a story which intrigued me as a child, partly because of the scary evil fairy and also partly because of the whole intrigue of a fairy hidden away to save her life. In this story, she is hidden away in a small town, “as safe as ordinariness can make her”, and turns into everything but a typical princess – she hates singing, dancing or needle-work and loves following the blacksmith around, befriending animals and has short hair – exactly what makes a loveable, clever and even brave character. There’s a great twist to the tale at the end, which also adds a whole new depth to the story and makes it even more brilliant for me. This was the first book I read by McKinley, and it’s also my favourite of  hers, since it’s one she really makes her own in an original way.

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2. Tender Morsels – Margo Lanagan
I absolutely love this story, and it was a very close contender for the number one spot, simply because of how much I liked this story about the two sisters, Snow White and Rose Red. It’s not an easy read, and one which does not shy away from difficult topics like rape, incest and violence, yet does so in a very classy way which focuses the story on its magic, and the amazing characters. This was a really strong feminist story, in my view, which teaches about women being independent and strong despite difficult circumstances, and also the idea of love and family prevailing over all. I’ve recommended this book to (and practically forced it onto) several friends and sisters, to get them to be as enthralled as I was with this book, partly because reading it made  me realise why I loved reading and fairy tales so much.

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1. Daughter of the Forest – Juliet Marillier
This is probably the book which I read as a young teen and which captured my heart with fairy re-telling, and I’ve never looked back since. This story is based on a classic one about a sister and her six brothers (although various stories have more brothers or don’t involve swans) who are targeted by their evil stepmother, the brothers turned into swans and the sister chased away. Marillier completely develops this story so that it is set in old-time Ireland, where the protagonist is Sorcha, only daughter of a Gaelic chieftain who has to fight for her brother’s lives when they are endangered. There is plenty of subtle magic, romance and eeriness in this novel, and also plenty of flaws in each character – which is made all the more readable by the amazing research and detail put in by Marillier about this period. While this follows the lines of a traditional fairy tale, it is so much more than this – there is a lot of emphasis on the cruelty of humans and well as their love, and the fact that Sorcha is a young girl who is at a turning point of her life which changes her life. I think I related to this as a teen because her character is a ruly, grubby tomboy at first, something which girls can imagine rather than being royal princesses – and it is this which made her more realistic. This is another story I’ve been trying to force on others for years, and which I won’t stop recommending because of how amazing it is.

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There’s lots more books to check out which re-tell fairy tales (I haven’t even read a lot of these, but they’re all on my reading list!) – they all have different takes on the fairy tales and a lot of these have had good reviews.
  • White as Snow – Tanith Lee
  • Rose Daughter – Robin McKinley
  • Mirror Mirror – Gregory Maguire
  • Jane Yolen – Briar Rose
  • Strands of Bronze and Gold – Jane Nickerson
  • Zel – Donna Jo Napoli
  • Sleeping Beauty by Anne Rice (be warned, this is more 18-rated!)
  • Rose Daughter – Robin McKinley
  • Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow – Jessica Day George
  • Beauty Sleep: A Retelling of “Sleeping Beauty”- by Cameron Dokey
  • Wicked – Gregory Maguire
  • East – by Edith Pattou
  • A Curse Dark As Gold – Elizabeth C. Bunce
  • Enchantment – Orson Scott Card
  • Goose Girl – Shannon Hale
  • A Kiss in Tim – Alex Flinn
  • Golden – Cameron Doke

Please feel free to tell me about any you’ve read that you would recommend!

Iðunn (Idunn) was a Norse Goddess, wife of Bragi and guardian of the golden apples of youth (which was also the Food of the Gods).

These apple boxes aren’t quite the same as Idunn’s golden apples, but they were very pretty ornaments, and reflected light beautifully in a way that made me think of the old Norse myth. I wouldn’t mind buying a few of these, if only to keep my secrets of youth in there (think jelly bears and No. 7 Beauty serum, that sums it up).

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Disney films – the origins of every Star Plus drama. Or perhaps, it’s really vice versa, maybe Hans Christian Anderson travelled to India one day (or had access to some Indian cable) and saw a young beautiful girl being victimised by her family. Add a few pretty dresses, fairy godmothers and a ball – and she’s getting married to a man she met the night before. No hanky panky there!

Okay, okay, I know that the fairy tales came first, but here’s a look at how Disney films are similar to the clichéd Bollywood films and serial dramas (or should it be sari-al dramas?), and how the Disney-fied versions may have been peppered with desi culture.

1. Sleeping Beauty
Starting off with an arranged marriage which is fixed at birth (okay, Asian parents don’t do that anymore, but think of older generations pairing up their kids with cousins etc). As for the ‘evil witch’ who makes trouble – just think of the jealous ‘aunt’ who causes a drama and a kicks up a massive fuss when not invited to family occasion – is this not almost every Asian wedding you’ve ever been to? Not to mention the three god-fairies who are meant to be looking after the Princess but end up telling her to dress, eat and clean the house – replace this with interfering aunts or mother-in-laws, and you have a Bollywood family drama. Not to mention, only in a serial drama would the happy ending be a wedding with a blinged out ballgown (i.e. dress that goes blue-pink-blue-pink).

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2. Beauty and the Beast
Let me start off, first, with the fact that in Beauty and the Beast, reading is seen as bad. Forget the fact that my parents used to hate my sisters and I reading books (a separate post in itself!) – EVERYONE who has seen a Bollywood film in the 90s will know that a heroine can never be beautiful while she wears glasses because it makes her ugly and geeky, which comes from reading too many books and not being a good marriage prospect. That is, until she takes the glasses off and transforms into a immaculately made-up supermodel with perfect hair.
(Props to Beauty and the Beast, though, for giving Belle a whole library to accept her inner nerd.)
Add to this the fact that Belle’s only purpose (and worth) in life is to be a potential wife to the village bachelor, since he’s such a catch, and you’ve got your average Bollywood movie in which any girl, no matter how much of a rebel, career woman or lost-cause she is, becomes a cosy home-maker once she’s snagged herself a man who’s willing to wife her up.

Another Bollywoodification in this film – when Belle goes to live with the Beast, she’s seen as endangered, or even a subject of scandal…until everyone finds out he’s a prince with a castle, in which case all is forgiven and she can marry him because of his giant 42-inch plasma tv and his Beemer in the drive…er, I mean gold-gilded chariot wheels.

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3. Jungle Book
Mowgli. ‘Nuff said.
(Not to mention the fact that most of us had the same bowl-haircut as Mowgli when we were kids.)

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4. Cinderella
If Indian serial dramas could be epitomised in one Disney film it would be this one – the pretty, luxurious dresses (in the dramas everyone is dressed up to the nines as if they are about to attend their own wedding, but instead just sit around at home lurking around in corridors and stuff); the rivalry between sisters/in-laws/aunts/mothers/grannies; the race to get married, and of course, the comic ‘ugly’ sisters (i.e. fat aunties) trying to squeeze themselves into flouncy dresses.

Not only does Cinderella end up marrying a man she met once before her marriage (arranged marriages have less dancing involved, but still), but she manages to do so in a beautiful dress which conveniently cost nothing because of a ‘fairy godmother’ (if only, eh?) – and us Asian girls will all know about having to be home from the ball in time for curfew.

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5. Snow White
Replace Snow White’s evil stepmother with a mother in law, and you have almost every Asian woman’s dynamic relationship with her MIL (particularly the ones on tv). Not to mention trying to kill her with food – jealous much?

Oh, and those heigh-ho-singing dwarves? Just promoting the ethics of hard work, just like a good A-grade Asian (Not to mention how those dwarves are just symbolism for hairy, Asian men, i.e. potential haasbands. ) Just like Cindy-poo and Sleeping Beauty, Snow White marries a man she saw once, then falls in love with him AFTER shaadi like a good girl.

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6. Dumbo
It may be about an elephant, but the ear jokes are all Asian.

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7. Mulan
Okay, a different type of Asian, but still emphasises boys are more important than girls. What do they know, hey?

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8. Aladdin
They didn’t even try to hide anything in this one – big-nosed Asians, arranged marriages (to rich princes – isn’t every Desi mother’s son a Prince after all?) and brown people wishing for things they can’t afford – and expecting them for free (i.e. cutting corners).
And Jasmine herself has got the classic long black hair in a (albeit poof-y) good-girl plait, brown eyes with extravagant eyeliner (just look outside on the streets of East London to see proof of a dodgy combination of young girls and too much eyeliner) and as if it’s not racist enough, she has a pet tiger.

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*All memes have been made by myself, but feel free to re-use them, just as I ‘borrowed’ the Disney images from the internetz.*

They left out The Emperor’s New Groove (vain, materialistic and wants to look prettier than you), but I think this is pretty good idea of the consequences of Disney films! (I should really do one like this about Bollywood films too!)

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One aspect of supernatural and fairy tales which take many forms is witchcraft, and of course, the witches who practise it. And witches have always appealed to me (more than the twee vampire stuff that’s floating around these days anyway), because of idea of magic they are able to have access to, and the idea of abilities beyond human ones. Here’s a list of the top ten witches which are most recognisable in both literature and film.

1. The Grand WitchThe Witches, Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl made us shiver with his imagination when we were kids, and with a kid-murdering, bald, toe-less, evil group of witches like these, it’s no wonder why. And of them all, the Grand Witch (is majestically and wonderfully captured by that good old magician Quentin Blake) is the scariest witch, being a creepy, mad-eyed woman whose beautiful mask hides an ugly heart and a plot to turn all the smelly children into miceys. If you didn’t read this in your childhood then you won’t know what a witch is.

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2. The Three Hubble Bubble witchesMacbeth, Shakespeare
One from the classic, the ‘original’ three witches who warn Macbeth of his future as a king. Sort of like a medieval, Scottish version of the three Greek Fates, but without the single eyeball between them. Much of the witchy lines we recognise today is taken from this play (“Something wicked this way comes” for example) and while their appearance in the famous play isn’t very long, they are pivotal to the plot and give a dark tone to the idea of being King . We never find out what’s boiling and toiling in the cauldron though.

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3. Jadis, or The White WitchNarnia Chronicles, C. S. Lewis
Literally a cool one, she a white witch by colour only, but her intent is all black. Keeping the land of Narnia in permanent Winter, turning her rivals and opposers into stone, sacrificing Aslan the lion and feeding Turkish Delight to Edward, the crime list goes on (I never forgave her for the Turkish Delight, I absolutely hate that stuff. Yeuch.) While her arrogance is her undoing, her reign in Narnia is one which becomes legend in both the book itself and in Narnia.

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Vogue baby, vogue.

4. Hocus Pocus sister witchesHocus Pocus
We loved watching Hocus Pocus (still do), if only because the witches are amazingly dopey, each sillier than the last. And they’re a personal favourite in my house because all of my sisters like to describe each other as being one of the witches (apparently I’m the Sarah Jessica Parker one, probably cos she jumps around a lot with her hair flying out. I dunno.) Bette Midler is never better as the goofy, evil witch in this film, and while it’s cheeky, it’s also a hilarious combination. The classic line in my house is ‘booooookk‘. Now there’s a real book lover.

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5. SabrinaSabrina the teenaged witch
Who said all witches had to be bad? Sabrina was the witch who was just like us…and also a secret witch. And who wouldn’t want to change her clothes in the morning with just a click of fingers? Sure, there were nosey Aunts, philandering black cat familiars and the annoying love rival at school, but Sabrina managed it all in time to come home for tea and do her homework in time.

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6. Mildred, The Worst WitchJill Murphy
I remember reading this series when I was younger, about a scatty, unorganised witch with the worst luck ever, making her a terrible witch. But it was always great fun, there was something slightly Enid Blyton-ish about reading about her school adventures, her little cat Tabby and of course her teachers, such as Miss Cackle (obvious name, no?) – although she also appealed to me because of her slightly geeky, and very messy plaits.

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7. HermoineHarry Potter series, J. K. Rowling
Who can forget this witch? She’s a genius with her academics, she’s  a crazily talented witch, and she seems to prefer redheads. ‘Nuff said.

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8. Samantha, BewitchedBewitched tv series
Witches have marriages, in-law issues and parent problems too. And no one does a nose-squiggle like Samantha. I always liked the older series over the new version, if only because I kinda want my marriage to be one like Samantha’s and Darrin’s (including the random penguins you’ll find walking around in their house!)

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9. Serafina PekkalaThe Golden Compass/Northern Lights trilogy, Philip Pullman
This is one of the more interesting witches, she’s young, beautiful and fights on the side of evil. I like the protrayal of witches in the Golden Compass trilogy because of how non-conventional the witches are, they are seen as full of fire and vivacity, with Serafina Pekkala at the forefront as the witch queen. I thought Eva Green played this role quite well in the movie, especially because her style lends itself a lot to the fanstasy aspects of the novel.

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10. The Wicked Witch of the West, or ElphabaWizard of Oz, Wicked by Gregory Murphy, Orange mobile adverts
Out of all of them, this has got to be one of my favourites. And not just because of her stripy tights (I used to have a similar pair in high school. Those were not my best fashion moments). The Wicked Witch seems to encapsulate all the clichéd things about witches we grew up with – a green, pointy face, a black hat and cap, a wicked cackly laugh and evil creatures to do her bidding. One of my friends once said that I look a bit like green witch in the Orange adverts. All I can say is that if I had a team of flying monkeys at my disposal, I wouldn’t be chasing after a girl for her sparkly shoes, I’d send them to Louboutin instead. I also LOVE the re-interpretation of the Wicked Witch (and her sister, the Witch of the East) in Gregory Maguire’s Wicked, showing the political struggles of animals and their hierarchy, as well as the discrimination suffered by Elphaba  the green ‘witch’ due to the colour of her skin.

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I did try to think of more witches but didn’t have a lot of luck (apart from the ‘Disney witches like Snow White’s Evil Queen, or the cannibal witch in Hansel and Greta, similar to the Baba Yaga type character in African stories), especially because I didn’t want to churn out a list of the standardised idea of what a witch should be. For example, I was going to include the evil witch Maleficent from the classic Sleeping Beauty, but she’s more of an evil fairy, and there are many versions of this story which means there will always be another type of fairy or witch.

What other witches can you think of? And would you put fairies and witches in the same category?

“Do you love me because I am beautiful, or am I beautiful because you love me?” – Cinderella

From the author of the rich world of witches, animal rights and politics in Wicked comes another re-working of a famous fairy tale – ‘Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister’. Though initially the novel sounds like a comic version of a famous fairy tale and something more gossipy like ‘chick-lit’, the story is surprisingly sober; one of the complexities of art, the burdens of beauty, ugliness, and wealth among many things, and the heartbreak of betrayal and disillusion.

Set in the backdrop of Holland during the tulip mania in the 1600s, where Dutch businessmen speculated on tulip bulbs and invested in their profits in buying more tulips, we are introduced to the Fisher family: mother Margarethe and her two daughters, “lumpy ox” Ruth and unfortunate, ugly Iris. Struggling to put food in their mouths, they arrive at the cautious, reserved Dutch town and are given shelter by an artist they call Master, who introduces them, particularly the sharp-eyed Iris, to the world of Art, beauty and seeing colour. It is not long though, before they come into connection with the beautiful, ethereal, and rich Clara, a lonely and sheltered girl. It’s easy to guess the rest of the story, but the story is told with realistic attention to the characters, no one is blameless and each character has their own part to play, though the journey to the ‘happily ever after’ scene is not as straightforward as it appears, and nor is it so ‘happy’.

There are twin themes which are always spiralling through the novel, when there is attention on one facet; it is inevitable that the opposite is highlighted too. There is a continuous emphasis on Clara’s beauty and Iris’ ugliness, mirroring each other throughout the novel. But with each comes the character’s own insecurities and burdens, with Clara feeling trapped by her beauty and how she is viewed by men, and Iris feeling trapped by her ordinariness because of the lack of opportunities it gives. Clara is constantly dogged by her belief that she is a ‘changeling’, an Other being who does not belong to the real world, and this serves to prevent her from really engaging with he outside world and with other people in society – much like effects of her beauty.

And yet, beauty and ugliness manifests itself in various forms – while traditionally the ugly characters are the ‘bad’ ones in fairy tales, it is much more ambiguous in this tale. Beauty is not given its place of pride, constantly undermined by others jealousy, scorn and disapproval – which is no accident seeing as beauty itself has been repealed by the Calvinistic society. Beauty and goodness is turned on its head – as Margarethe declares, “charity is real beauty”, while physical manifestations cannot always be trusted.

Similarly, the weaving of the role of Art and reality throughout the novel show, much like religion and its various interpretations, showing its role in how people are perceived and how the girls are manipulated. Art is revered and yet similarly restricted, it captures and immortalises both beauty and ugliness, but it also traps the subject on the canvas, manipulating them to be viewed and admired by others. It is not accident that alongside this is the depiction of religious figures, and the rejection of Catholic values as Calvinism and austerity is practiced in the town.

As well as these themes, the idea of commodity is also carried through – of art, of beauty, of women, of Clara herself, of status, of value of tulips and even of identity. They are reflected in everything, the painters capture them, the men desire them, and even the women struggle to have their own share – yet with tragic consequences. The story of Cinderella becomes, then, a voice for more than one character, the desperation, sacrifices and greed of the Stepmother, the marginalisation of the two sisters, and the objectification of Clara, on the edge of womanhood and yet unable to step outside her own home because of how she is viewed by various groups. And there is, of course the men who affect their lives, the painters and the rich businessmen, obsessively lusting after tulips while the women struggle to keep their places in the household.

At its heart, it could be said that this is a feminist novel, albeit a discouraging one – the focal characters are all women, and it is they who are continually struggling to make their identity amongst the male-dominated society. And yet, there is also a positive message too, women are objectified, painted, compared and employed, yet they still managed to take control and use this to their advantage. Margarethe makes ‘deals’ to save her daughters, Clara uses her beauty to change her life, and even plain Iris uses her brain and her artistic mind to lift herself out from obscurity. While we all know how this fairy tale goes, the path to the pretty ball gown and pumpkin coach is a difficult one, and by the end of it, we can’t help questioning who it is that ultimately lives happily ever after. I’ll let you read the book and decide that one.

Gregory Maguire, Confessions of an ugly stepsister (Headline Review, St Ives: 2008) pp.398 £7.99

A wondrous future lies before you – you, the destined hero of a charming fairy tale come true. And in yonder topmost tower, dreaming of her true love, the Princess Aurora! – Sleeping Beauty, Disney

Robin McKinley’s Spindle End is one of those books which makes you want to read everything written by the author, simply because of how much she makes you fall in love with the characters, the heart-warming storyline, and the curious magical-ness of it all. Spindle’s End brings to life the story of Sleeping Beauty, in a kingdom set where magic is so thick it “settles like chalk-dust everywhere”, and it’s an ordinary occurrence to ‘de-magick’ your kettles of magic, to stop your bread turning into larks, your clothes from running away, where it is illegal to have dealings with fish, and where fairies make an honest living in local villages. And yet the story has a traditional, just King and Queen who strive for a child, and after many years, manage to have a beautiful baby girl, celebrating the occasion with a grand ‘Name-Day’, inviting twenty-one (not three, Disney!) fairies to bestow gifts.

And gifts are bestowed, must to the disgust of one of the main characters, young fairy Katriona, who listens to “pearly teeth”, ‘golden hair” and “a sweet singing voice” being given, until the inevitable, a jealous evil fairy, here named Pernicia, gate-crashes with her own gift, a dangerous sleep for the newborn when she turns twenty-one. It is here that the life of the novel really begins, in the race to protect the Princess, she is smuggled away and raised by Kat in a secret life, “as safe as ordinariness can make her.”

Rosie, as she is lovingly named, becomes a creature to test her adoptive family as well as capture their hearts: she may have a voice like a bell, but it depends on how loud and robust the bell is; she may have a talent for dancing, but you’d have to convince her to dance first, and she may have golden ringlets like corn, but it’s difficult to see the curls after she chops all her hair off. Rosie, then, becomes a feminist in her own right, insisting she is not ‘pretty’ but intelligent, she doesn’t need to wear dresses when she can run after animals in breeches, and insisting that she will have her own career rather than settle down. Deeply entrenched in a lifestyle of her magic-using ‘Aunts’ and her family of animals and male friends, Rosie goes against every archetype of being a Princess, perhaps so because she remains blissfully ignorant of her true identity.

Weaving together the practicalities of magic, the complications of growing older, and the ever-questionable concept of ‘happily-ever-after’, McKinley shows how appearances are not always what they seem. Always through the novel is the underlying threat of the malevolent Pernicia, always searching and always threatening to change their fragile lifestyle, with McKinley creating some tense atmospheric scenes which really show the strengths of characters, putting to test their love for each other.

Rosie, remains, at the heart of all this, an ordinary, confused young woman, constantly re-shaping her identity, her perceptions of family, and the idea of destiny and grand love. While at the forefront, she remains an unusual character who refuses to conform to societal values of what it is to be a young woman, the vestiges of  fairy-tale era still remain – we see how family can mean different things to different people, how duty is perceived, and above all, the idea of Good being expected to triumph over Evil.

This is a novel which makes you fall in love with Rosie, as a Princess, as an unruly child, and as a brave, old-style heroine – and it is not the idea of being a singing, pearly-teethed young woman who remains, but an ordinary (and ironically magical) sister, daughter and fierce friend, who fights for her family and friends as much as she tries to determine her own fate. A recommended book for all, especially if you like fairy-tales with a bit of a kick in them.

I’ve always liked vampires in literature (and films), until Tweelight and the Sparkly RPatz gang kinda ruined it for me. I share the sentiments of this genius lady’s ranting on that point.

Anyhoo, I thought I’d compile a list of Top Ten vampires which are either the most notorious or just super-cool vampyres. They’ve been there through the years, from the stories of Hungarian duchesses drinking blood of young virgins for eternal youth, to films of today, including Johnny Depp’s recent ‘Dark Shadows’ (which I have yet to see!)

10. RPatz aka. Edward CullenTwilight
I didn’t really want to include this vampy, but thought he needed a mention because of how famous he’s become. Set in Ess Meyer’s Twilight trilogy, this vampire is the ultimate romantic gentleman, he’s watches you while you sleep, controls himself from sipping on your sweet, sweet blood and generally promoting all things education, abstinence and not chomping on weak humans. And oh, his tortured soul which sparkles his very innocence and his pure love. Or something.

9. Dr Acula – J.D., Scrubs
Okay, not really a renowned vampire. Or a very successful one. But it still makes me giggle. This undercover vampire who screens as a doctor by day is the brainchild of J.D. from Scrubs – although for some reason, never got made into that biopic he envisioned. I have no idea why. He’s a doctor AND a vampire!

8. LestatThe Vampire Chronicles: Interview with a Vampire, Queen of the Dead
Lestat is the vampire most recognisable as Tom Cruise, the long-haired sissy turned blood-sucker who philosophies, dallies around and turns Brad Pitt into a vampire who disappoints him by bleeding chickens dry. Perhaps not really a hero, Lestat is nevertheless an interesting character who is hard to kill, charismatic and diverse – at one point he even becomes a rock star!

7. Vlad the Drac Vlad the Drac series, Ann Jungman
Just because I remember reading these books this as a teeny tot. Vlad is the ultimate (and tiny) vegetarian vampire who blesses the reluctant Stone family with his presence by choosing to stay with them, and getting up to all sorts of naughtiness. With a diet of household liquids (washing up liquid, shoe polish, soap) and hiding his vegetarianism from his traditional family, Vlad covers his identity with a bottle of ketchup and tall tales of eating the milk-man. Great fun : )

6. Count von Count Sesame Street
The Count who taught us how to count, in a very slow, breathy way and with Romany music. No signs of blood-sucking, hiding from the sun or sleeping in coffins for this vamp, so that us kids were protected from the traumas of vampirism and instead exposed to him counting EVERYTHING. “When I’m alone, I count myself. One count!” Ah ha ha ha…

5. VampiraMaila Nurmi, Plan 9 from Outer Space
This is the only female vampire in the list (probably because vampires are usually seen in the male role who attack the weak helpless women) – yet she is quite an iconic figure. With one seriously thin waistline to rival Dita von Teese, and pale skin to fit the list, Vampira is sexy, disturbing and weird all in one. Although I’m sure that Maila Nurmi probably never even played a vampire, her career was based on the image of one, and it was pretty much spent mocking the gothic roles, and was made famous by director Ed Wood’s flop film ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space‘.

4. BladeWesley Snipes, Marvel Comics
Quite possible the most kick-ass vampire of them all, Blade is the mixed-race vamp who can walk in daylight and still drink blood of us puny humans. He’s like the Chuck Norris of vampires – the hero who becomes a vampire hunter just by beating the living daylights out of them. And he’ll give you a smart-ass comment before he kills you too.

3. AngelDavid Boreanaz, created by Joss Wheden
Our favourite vampire romance, featuring Buffy and her boy Angel, this is a man of few words and fewer facial expressions. While he battles for good and has a human soul, he’ll break the habit every now and then to go evil and get his vamp on. But fear not, he’ll become commercialised and gets his very own corporate business to run happily ever after, with his own team of evil-slayers.

2. DraculaBram Stoker
The original vampire in fiction, this is a timeless character which has been depicted time and time again by many actors, cartoons, puppets and even text-based role-playing games (yes I had one. It was awful). With a name that’s become synonymous with the word ‘vampire’, the original story behind Dracula is a lot less gory and a little more spooky, involving a hero called Jonathan Harker in a chase to defeat the mysterious Dracula who has employed him. Perhaps most famously played by Bela Lugosi, this character really is a bit scary, with a death scare that could only be matched by my mother

1. NosferatuCount Orlock/Count Dracula
Although Dracula was more notorious, ever since Nosferatu scared the living crap out of me as a child, it’s stuck in my mind as the creepiest (and most geriatric) vampire of them all. Technically, Nosferatu is just a rip-off of Dracula, where the directors of the original were unable to get permission to use the names in ‘Dracula’ but as a result, this vampire has become just as famous as the original, and just as creepy. Although I did like the Willem Dafoe version.

There’s always going to be something to add to this list of vampires, whether it the newer interpretations, real-life history cases or just a random squidgy vampire from Spongebob Squarepants. Vampires can be creepy or alternative just good entertainment (think Buffy the movie), they may not be to everyone’s taste but I can guarantee you this – everytime you now type in ‘vampire’ on the internetz, you’ll be sure to find a Twilight sparkle reference 😀

With stories of frightened young women giving birth to a pot (yes you read that right!), the Little Red Riding Hood who DOES get eaten by the Hungry Wolf, and old women who live in odd places like vinegar bottles, Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales is hardly the usual type we think of when thinking of ‘fairies’ and ‘happily ever afters’.

I loved reading stories, folk stories and myths from around the world in my childhood (think Spider Anansie and Baba Yaga from Africa, Sinbad the Sailor and Ali Baba from Arabia, Greek gods and goddesses and Egyptians tales of the afterlife), all of which had rich characters, quirky tales and interesting morals to them. Who’d have thought that the stories about the beginning of the world would involve such interesting events – How the Tortoise Got a Hard Back, for example, or How the Snake Lost It’s Legs. Maybe not scientifically accurate by today’s standards, but still interesting stories to read.

And these stories are brilliant at challenging the norm – with beautiful girls leading miserable lives, crafty witches being the winners, wives getting the better of their husbands and the heroes don’t need to be rich to complete their tales.

Angela Carter’s book of tales brings together stories from all across the globe, ranging from Europe, Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, America, Australia and even the Artics to fully bring a flavour of several countries and cultures. I love the sinister sides of these stories, the gory sides of fairy tales and human nature, with good nature and humour mixed into this pot of short stories which are a far cry from Disney stories we’ve seen.

Definitely a book I’d recommend if you’re a lover of fairy tales and folk stories, if you’ve read Grimm’s book of tales, Hans Christian’s collection of stories or even Roald Dahl’s genius stories as a child, then these will be right up your street. With stories entitled ‘Reasons to beat your wife’ and ‘The woman who married her son’s wife’ (don’t worry, it doesn’t encourage incest or domestic violence!) there’s certainly a quirky style to these stories which are memorable and magical : )

…I swear this is what I remember thinking when watching this film on repeat as a child :/

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