An Epic Chart of 162 Young Adult Retellings

I’ve mentioned before how much I love fairy-tales/myths re-tellings, there’s something fascinating about seeing a new angle on a classic story we already know, and I love to discover new books with a different view.

This is a chart created by the cleverbots at EpidReads, who compiled a list of books and grouped them by similarities.

You can find the full chart list here by epicreads – it’s not a complete list of what’s out there of course, but it’s a decent place to start!

Have you read any of these? I’ve added a few of these to my book list already!

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And The Mountains Echoed

Our brothers and sisters are there with us from the dawn of our personal stories to the inevitable dusk. ~Susan Scarf Merrell

And The Mountains Echoed, much like Khalid Hosseini’s earlier novels The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Sun begins, and draws its roots from Afghanistan and its tumultuous history, following on from the upheaval of the country in the 70s to emigration to America. Unlike his other two novels, however,  there is also a layering of characters from other cultures – Markos, a Greek surgeon, photographer and philanthropist, Nila, a part-French, part-Afghan artist who embodies the glamorous, detached Parisienne lifestyle, and Iqbal and his family, who have come home from emigration to Pakistan to find his family are unable to claim their home, or even Amra, a Bosnian nurse caring for the wounded in war-torn Kabul.

Although there is plenty of diversity in this story, at the heart of it all is the focus on the two primary characters, Abdullah and Pari, siblings whose close bond is ripped apart when they are separated at childhood, sold by a desperate father. So begins a ripple which resounds over the next 60 years, in which each sibling feeling incomplete without the other, affecting their families and friends around them.

There are several themes throughout the novel, which reverberate through each generation of siblings, lovers and friends – each of them having their own forms of abandonment and reconciliation, and each of them finding the true meaning of love and relationships over the years.

Normally a large number characters in a novel may overwhelm the story, but in this case, each character contributes, reinforcing a theme which subtly leads back to Abdullah and Pari. Each sibling carrying their own sense of incompleteness and abandonment; Abdullah growing up in Afghanistan and having his own family, emigrating to America in an attempt to find stability, and Pari, taken to France by her adoptive Mother, learning French culture and never understanding her identity and what is missing.

While this story is a little depressing in it’s telling, it’s beautifully written – there are parts of it which read like an old story being told, and indeed each character does tell his tale in order to contribute to this strange myth-like story.

If you’re looking for something full of culture, history and beauty, this has plenty of all three, and gives more besides. While it does show the characters and their yearning – to be elsewhere, to be with family or to be simply accepted – the characters are beautifully rendered, invoking a feeling of amity and the idea that you can step forward, and be a part of their lives.

A Polar Bear Journey

“You have travelled far, but the hardest part of a journey is always the next step.”
― Jackie Morris, East of the Sun, West of the Moon

There are some who argue that the fairy tale re-tellings genre are spoiled by already knowing the story and it’s ending. I say that the stories aren’t – it is not the ending of the story but the journey, and East by Edith Pattou certainly has a big journey, involving compasses, polar bears, ancient Seal tribes and a troll queen.eastL

East (also called North Child) begins with the marriage of Arne and superstitious Eugenia, which whom he eventually has seven children with. It is Eugenia’s belief that a person’s personality, and ultimately their destiny, is reliant on the direction that she was facing when the child was born – that is, a South-West facing birth is a South-West personality, and accordingly is named with the same SW initials. Eugenia neatly has a child for each point of the compass – until her favourite, East-born child, Elise dies, and she has another to replace her.

EBBA ROSE WAS THE NAME of our last-born child. Except it was a lie. Her name should have been Nyamh Rose. But everyone called her Rose rather than Ebba, so the lie didn’t matter. At least, that is what I told myself.

The Rose part of her name came from the symbol that lies at the center of the wind rose – which is fitting because she was lodged at the very center of my heart.

Having been told years earlier that a North child would be crushed by ice and snow, Eugenia is determined never to have a North child, and so when Rose is born, with ambiguity about her birth-direction hidden from her, and she is brought up being told that she is supposed to be an obedient, passive East child.

And so we follow Rose, that is, until one day a giant white bear comes to claim her; one who has watched her through her early life, and who is under an enchantment – and from there, Rose agrees to accompany him in return for health and prosperity for her poor family and sick sister. Pattou follows the original Norweigan story quite faithfully, although it is much more richly embroidered, in which we see the mysteries that Rose faces, and it is here that the real story beings and Rose’s real journey is revealed.

I loved the culture behind this story, that of the ancient tribe that Rose encountered, the Troll Kingdom, the history of compasses and mapmaking, and the stories behind the ship captains who carry Rose across the sea – each lend a story to the main one, showing Rose life beyond her parent’s icy gardens and the idea of love in different forms.

There are many versions of this story (including one being Beauty and the Beast), and I’m sure many of you will have read the story in one version or another. What makes this story more beautiful is the realism of it, the attention to detail in places, characters and culture that Rose is brought up in. While the Trolls and White Bear in the story have a sense of surrealism to them, which is both horrifying and magical, there is also a fiery character in Rose which shines through. And if that doesn’t appeal to you, then there’s several nonsensical troll words like Slank and Turik to twist your tongue on!

Edith Patou, East (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: London 2005) pp. 528, £7.99

The Murder of Snow White

“Skin as white as snow, hair as black as ebony and lips as red as blood.”

At first glance, Nele Neuhaus’ bestselling novel now Snow White Must Die seems to be a typical thriller, one full of tense narrative, dramatic conspiracies and elaborate wrongdoings – and I suppose, in a way, it is. But there is nothing of the American, stylized, sensational thriller in this novel – it’s dark , mysterious and depressing, but it’s also very human, and has nothing of the cold, easy solutions wrapped up in the usual whodunnits.

Translated from Neuhaus’ native German, the story issnowwhitemustdie one that creeps up on you as you get deeper into it, and the narrative trickles into several voices and characters, with a few sub-plots, different timelines, flash-backs which are seen in different perspectives, as well as a twisting storyline which is actually quite believable.

I’ll admit, I love my murder mysteries and thrillers, although a lot of the ones I seem to read these days are either junk-book-style or good ole’ Agatha Christy, who, as much as I love her , becomes a little predictable once you’ve read all of her books (it’s never the butler who did it, it’s usually the secretary).

Set in a small village in present-day Germany, the plot begins with a tragedy that has already taken place a decade earlier. Newly-released from prison, Tobias Sartorius returns to his home town after serving eleven years in prison for the conviction of murdering two girls, the beautiful Stefanie, dubbed Snow White, and ex-girlfriend Laura, both missing in mysterious circumstances which no one, including Tobias himself, have ever figured out. The bodies of both girls have never been found, and the village has never quite recovered from the shadows of the murder, shaping the inhabitants in ways which have changed them.

Meanwhile, Detective Inspector Pia Kirchhoff and DS Oliver von Bodenstein are in charge of a new case, that of a discovery of some bones dug up in a nearby quarry, thus re-opening suspicions about what really happened on the night of the double homicide. As the village inhabitants close ranks and remain tight-lipped about what they know, and the atmosphere in the tight-knit community becomes more and more strained, it becomes apparent that there is a something much more complicated going on, and suspicions that perhaps Tobias isn’t really the guilty party. Through random acts of violent, heartbreaking revenge, the false veneers of the deceiving behaviour of the villagers, and the arrival of a young girl called Amelie (who resembles the missing Snow White), it is clear that although Tobias has served his time, there are still plenty of secrets leftover, and plenty of people willing to go far to keep them.

Nele Nauhaus’ book has taken the book world by storm, and after reading it, I wasn’t surprised it had. I initially thought this was going to be a typical, dumbed-down mystery, but was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn’t – if anything, it twists several strands of genres to be more than just a typical murder mystery. It reminded me also of popular Danish series The Killing, a gritty, depressing and well-written drama which also follows several characters in the aftermath of murder. Snow White Must Die is similar in style, and in successfully creating an atmosphere which stays long after the book has ended. As one reviewer put very well, “Neuhaus is terrific at creating the complex claustrophobia of a village where the same families have lived for generations” – there’s a real sense of right and wrong being muddied, and loyalties being blurred and confused.

What I loved most about this book is that it evokes an era unique to the village and to German culture – I’m used to very English settings, American pop culture and even the usual fast-pace of thrillers and murder mysteries – but this is different, showing the livelihoods of the villagers, the close-knit community and the law and justice in this village. The end of this novel leaves the reader thinking about not only the butterfly effect of one night which ripples out into the present; but also the fact that there’s no clichéd concept of the ‘hero’ and the ‘villain’, all have been touched and damaged by the tragedy, and all have to confront the truth when it is revealed. It is certainly a good read, and one which draws you into the lives of more than one character, but it may not appeal to everyone – it is gritty and it is depressing, and there is no easy solution at its end. It draws home the fact that there is a petty, ugly side to everyone, that in the ordinary and mundane there can also be jealousy, deceit and misplaced loyalty which can  lead to something more sinister. I would definitely recommend this as something to try even if you don’t usually read murder mysteries – the characters will draw you in and there’s even a slight touch of The Count of Monte Cristo about it which resonates.

Superman: True Brit

Superman: True Brit is a silly, tongue-in-cheek satire about what life would have been like for Superman if he landed in Britain instead of the USA to live the American Dream. This book is a part of a series of ‘Elseworld comics which take DC Comics superheroes and takes characters out of their normal settings to theorise their alternative lives (for example, there’s another Superman novel called ‘Red Son’ about Superman landing in Ukraine to become U.S.S.R’s hero!)

Superman: True Brit is more of  a silly, light-hearted version of the story, with puns and plenty of poking of fun at the old British boys – although that’s to be expected with a graphic novel co-authored by the writers from Monty Python! So here’s a quick review-slash-recap of the graphic novel (*be warned, there’s spoilers ahead!*), I enjoyed reading this graphic novel simply because the idea was pretty funny, and it has crossed my mind a few times that Superman may have been a different person in a different country, rather than the all-American boy.

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So we start off with an alien baby landing – in all places – in the heart of the British Empire (or not quite), Weston-super-Mare, where he is found and brought up as Colin Clark; taught to mind his manners, suppress his powers and not scare the farm animals.

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His adoptive parents play their part, satirising middle-class British values (perhaps in the 1900’s, can’t say society is like this today!) with a social-niceties, paranoia about the neighbours and reminders to always wear clean underwear.

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In the meantime, Colin meets his girl-crush, Louisa Layne-Ferret, a Page 3 girl and ambitious journalist (with a convenient resemblance to her American cousin Lois Lane, who we also meet later on!), and has a fe20131117_125344w mishaps at school (such as playing cricket a little too fiercely and impaling a school-fellow with a cricket bat. Oh dear).

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Soon after (and inevitably), Colin is unable to suppress his powers and finds an outlet for them instead – in his alter-ego, Super Man, dressed in disguise to appease his parents while saving the country from disasters.

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Soon however, he is set three challenges by the skeptic public and his less-adoring fans – which of course turn out to be typical British complaints (and also satirical comments about British society!) The first task turns out to be to make trains run on time – Superman solves this by speeding up the trains and introducing the train staff to schedules (“Radical thinking!”)

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The second task turns out to be to reduce waiting times for hip operations, which Superman ‘solves’ by advising surgeons to play less gold and work more. Of course.

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The third and last task is challenging Superman to raise the quality of BBC programmes – which he resolves by scaring BBC executives into less ‘dumbing-down’ of television and more shows for  under-30s age gap.

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Despite all of this, poor Superman falls into more trouble, with the Bat Man out to get him (the previous victim of the cricket bat incident), the editor of the Daily Star out to defame him, and worst of all, his parents trying to run away from the embarrassment of their son being Superman.

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On top of this is the news that the ‘Three Impossible Tasks’ that he apparently succeeded in have had some negative results, meaning that Superman has to pay fines, gets further bad publicity, and his love life is not working out with Louisa quite how he wanted it.

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Eventually though (although slightly predictably, and in a very Monty-Python-ish way!), there’s a happy ending to be had, and Colin Clark reveals himself as Superman to avoid being black-mailed, and urges the public to stop supporting both the Bat-Man and the slimy editor of the Superman-hating newspaper. I loved this comment at the end, where Colin resolves to change his name – to Kent Clark.

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And Superman goes back full circle to say he is emigrating to the US for new opportunities (not before some references to The Rutles and a few digs at British society), changing his British-flag costume for a more recognisable one, complete with a Christopher Reeves-ish hair-curl.

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Overall, this graphic novel was certainly a lot less serious than the other DC comics I have read – and certainly, it’s not meant to be taken seriously. I liked the humour of it, but found it a little clichéd at times when it came to British traditions (I can’t help but wonder whether Americans still view us British at tea-and-crumpets-with-the-Queen types, although I did like the depiction of Queen Elizabeth in wellies and a crown!)

This is certainly something for Superman fans to read, especially if they want to get away from the dark tales that Superman sometimes comes across (and even Batman fans, which has plenty of dark humour and depressing stories!) Although this may not be to everyone’s liking, and some may find this a little patronising, it’s good for a few chuckles, and it certainly gives a good send-up of British media and culture.

Revenge on the Spammers – Bob Servant gets even on Junk Mail

To: Bob Servant

Subject: Delete This At Your Peril

FROM HIS ROYAL HIGHNEST, JACK THOMPSON

Dear sir,

Permit me to inform you of my desire of going into business. I am JACK THOMPSON, only son of late King Arawi of tribal land. My father was a very wealthy traditional ruler, poisoned by his rivals. Before his death here in Togo he told me of a trunk containing $75m kept in a security company. I now seek a foreign partner where I will transfer the proceeds for investment as you advise. I am willing to offer 20% of the sum as a compensation for your effort/input and 5% for any expenses. Thanks and God bless,

JACK THOMPSON

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From: Bob Servant

To: Jack Thompson

Good morning your Majesty,

I want 30%, and not a penny less,

Your Servant,

Bob Servant

Spam emails are a familiar pain to all of us who have ever used email – be it an impoverished and exiled King in Africa, the fake banks warning us about hackers, young pretties from Russia wanting to have fun,  false job offers or The Lottery Company giving us a million dollars – we’ve all had our junk folder fill up with nonsense and con-merchants.deleteperil

Enter Bob Servant, former “window cleaner and burger van entrepreneur”, who has the answer to every junk email that can be thrown at him. Bob’s ‘revenge’ on spam email has replies which are admirable and deliciously absurd, bizarre and simply genius, and in short, some of the funniest things I’ve read. From Kings who offer lion as compensation, kidnapped postmen and Russian companions, Bob manages to cleverly dodge requests for bank details, demands for money and sneaky questions – yet keeps them hanging with his own crazy and impossible demands.

The book is split into chapters which deal with various ‘scenarios’, with each chapter compiled of a conversation of emails showing the exchange between Bob Servant and the spammers, which get wackier and more far-fetched, the further you read. The mad yet very enchanting character of Bob Servant spins stories of talking leopards, setting up circuses, kidnapping a postman and getting restraining orders, all while teasing the spammer on to more promises (have a look here for a taster of the emails, which show Bob’s brand of fake gullibility and absurd humour).

Added to this are the deadpan footnotes by Neil Forsyth who acts as the ‘voice of reason’ to explain Bob’s thinking, although this only serves to add to the humour, not to mention the hobbies Bob talks about such as his “jazz mags” and deliberately obscure references to random friends which crop up in emails.

I won’t add too much to this apart from saying that this is the ultimate book which gets its revenge on spammers, as well as also having a lot of fun alongside it (and really makes me want to try the same thing with the junk mail I get, although I have a feeling it wouldn’t have the same hilarity of conversation) – Bob Servant makes you laugh, cringe and splutter in disbelief at some of the preposterous scenarios which play out. I’ve already recommended this to at least two friends (and then had to wrestle the book back from them, as they wouldn’t give it back) and would recommend it to all, particularly those who don’t see themselves as big book-readers (don’t worry, this book is bite-size!) Bob Servant is exactly the kind of absurd character we’ve always wanted to meet, but without the hassle of running away when he’s becomes too crazy, since he’s safely ensconced in these pages and takes out his silliness on the spammers.

As for now, I’ll leave you with this picture of a talking lion, as requested by Bob Servant.

Love, Graphics and Slavery in ‘Habibi’

Habibi, by Craig Thompson, is a novel with a difference. Not just because it is a beautifully drawn graphic novel, full of layers of subtle meanings, stories-within-stories and a depiction of society, but also because of the ingenious way the artist weaves together the life of a young slave woman’s, Dodola, with that of a chance meeting with another, slave child named Zam, whose own life is shaped just as he shapes hers.

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Thompson, then, begins20121111_134856 a story which, although not conventionally happy, becomes one which is beautifully moving and extremely easy to engage with. We follow Dodola from her poor and unfortunate beginnings of being sold by her parents to be a wife at the age of six, and from there, her life does not get any better – kidnapped, sold into slavery and rounded up until she meets Zam, a toddler with whom she runs away with to look after.

From there, we see plenty of layers, of love, of slavery, of being gender roles and of being a possession. Thompson does not shy away from the brutality of sex, as well as the hardships of being a slave, of being poor and of course, of being a woman.

Dodola, then, becomes almost an archetype for almost every role a woman can assume – mother, sister, daughter, wife, slave, prostitute, and even food-bringer, as she shrugs off her hardships and her past to try her best to survive, and of course, bring up Zam.

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Throughout the novel, we see both character’s roles, personality and even relationship change, which has a tragic effect on both Zam and Dodola. This is particularly emphasised as Thompson combines modern realities such as coming to terms with your own identity and sexuality, with older-fashioned values such as trading for food, the life of a slave and the realities of  being a woman, being black or being poor.

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Just as we see Dodola’s concerns in bringing up her adopted child, however, we see Zam’s (whose name is no accident, originating from Zamzam water, a holy well situated in Mecca), anxieties in his own role as a man.

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And that is not to say that the story focuses purely on these characters, as Thompson weaves in beautiful architecture in the Middle East combined with the grimy, poor dwellings of the rest of the country. Stories of King Soloman, the Queen of Sheba and Islamic number based puzzles are weaved in as parables to mirror Dodola’s dilemmas and concerns, as well the history of the country, different plans in the city, and the environmental concerns of current society.

And it is no accident that there is a motif of story-telling, calligraphy, writing and drawing throughout the story, artist points not only to the graphic form of the novel, but also the centuries old form of telling stories, writing and recording history, and in a way, recording our identities. Thompson does not leave20121112_125713 a topic untouched, yet this does not feel messy, everything is weaved in beautifully and depicted in seriously beautiful, detailed drawings.

I particularly also liked the architectural drawings in the story, which ranges from ships and small towns to beautifully regal palaces and gardens, and back again to shanty towns and rubbish filled waste-grounds. Again, Thompson points out the range of cities and it’s environments through these encounters – the danger of pollution, the apathy of its citizens and the excess carelessness of the rich are all movingly captured – one sub-plot which struck me was a fisherman who catches rubbish from the sea every day, never getting a fish and yet remaining happy until he has a breakdown – which is surely symbolic of the Earth slowly killing itself with pollution in a truly depressing scene.

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As each scene and circumstance changes, it is no accident that the characters change and adapt with them – Dodola changes from young innocent girl to a teenage thrifter to a harem woman and still goes beyond this, just as Zam’s identity anxieties take him on his own adventures.

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While I though this novel was brilliant, some readers may be put off by the amount of sexual content in this novel, which is never crude but does seep into a lot of its chapters and scenes, and can feel unrealistic. When reading this, while I felt sympathy for Dodola’s character, I also felt it was depressing to see that she is constantly measured by her worth as a woman, and how she can satisfy men sexually. While I’m sure that this is Thompson’s intent, to show that she is objectified to the extent that this defines her above all else, it is sad to see that she is constantly seen as a sexual object by all the characters in this book, which is only stressed by the fact that she is the only female character in this novel and essentially is alone in any type of sisterhood, motherhood or any other positive, female relationships.

Without revealing too much, there are certainly some twists in the novel which changes the initial outlook on not only Middle Eastern society, but the rest of the world and its history in general by the time you reach the end. While the ending itself is ambiguous, it is not a sad one and there is certainly a note of hope by the end of it, although it one which has taken a hard journey to get to. Thompson has done a great job with this novel, and one which is full of beautiful illustrations, poignant meaning and amazing symbolism which is weaved together cleverly – it’s certainly made me want to look out for his other work.20121112_231253

Fairy Tales & Long Tails: The Top 10 Fairy Tale Re-Tellings

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.

spindle

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.

tender-morsels

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!

“Physician steal thyself” – A Doctor Disappears

Richard T. Kelly’s ‘The Possessions of Doctor Forrest‘ implies, at first, a straightforwardly ordinary, although puzzling tale. The novel’s central character is a Scottish cosmetic surgeon, who, from its very opening, has gone missing – much to the concern of two of his closest friends. And the clues he has left behind are sparse, leaving not much insight into his lifestyle, the people he loved, or the possible reasons for his disappearance. But this is a horror story, and one which creeps up on you slowly, and Kelly creates a eerie atmosphere which leaves both the readers and the doctor’s friends unsure about what has happened, but very aware that something is very wrong. drforrest

Always throughout this nove, is some form of reference to an Other, a supernatural influence in the story, which the grounded best friends are unable to accept with their sceptical minds, yet they are unable to ignore that fact there are surreal acts at play which cannot simply be explained away. As they begin to delve into their old friend Doctor Forrest’s life, they begin to realise how his personality is but a mere mask for his real feelings and intentions, and hides a persona they never knew.

And of course, as with these revelations come the Faustian motif – as life, youth and eternity which are constantly being examined are valued, so is emphasised the price that needs to be paid – a theme of life and death which are always inevitably coupled. Doctor Forrest’s secrets and his thirst for more in life are slowly unravelled, layers of which lie with the various encounters he has with people and with relationships he has with not only them, but with the journeys he takes to reach his ambitions.

And of course, as with these revelations come the Faustian motif – as life, youth and eternity which are constantly being examined are valued, so is emphasised the price that needs to be paid – a theme of life and death which are always inevitably coupled. Doctor Forrest’s secrets and his thirst for more in life are slowly unravelled, layers of which lie with the various encounters he has with people and with relationships he has with not only them, but with the journeys he takes to reach his ambitions.

Without giving too much away, suffice to say that Doctor Forrest and his companions are slowly drawn into the world of mystique, darkness and the supernatural. And just as the disappearance of the doctor is not explained away simply, nor is his descent into his final destination any less complex. There are familiar gothic literary devices peppered throughout, the use of landscape to create an eerie atmosphere, the symbolism of blood, the theme of isolation throughout the novel, and so on.

The Possessions of Doctor Forrest is not a novel which rushes, it builds up tension gradually, reflected through the prisms of each narrator’s concerns, as family-men, career-men and as spiritualists. While the settings are of a modern landscape, that of present-day Scotland and London, the behaviours of the characters and the feelings which are emanated feel classic and timeless – that of the idea of sin, of wanting to live forever, of love and of what it means to be man. This novel harks back to the styles of classic novels, that of Dorian Gray, Dracula and Frankenstein, where the quest to be something greater is bound up with not only the spooky supernatural, but the premise of man’s fallacy and the inevitability of choices which must be made.

Or, as one blogger summed up:

 “The Possessions of Doctor Forrest” wears its learning lightly, and creates something dark, modern and terrifying from it. Brilliant.”