Whether you have memories of fairy tales from childhood or you discovered them at a later stage in life, classic fairy tales can be enjoyed at any age. This begs the question: what is it that makes fairy tales such a unique, universal and enduring reading experience? The endless list of reasons could become a book in itself. Philip Pullman said this about fairy tales: “There are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction; they can only be dealt with adequately in a children’s book.” … but what about children’s books for adults?
A couple of weeks ago, I had the great pleasure to chat about fairy tales with an author who is not only passionate about them, but who also is an expert on the subject. Kate Forsyth is the internationally acclaimed author of more than 20 books for both adults and children, and she is currently undertaking a doctorate in fairy tale retellings. Therefore, it may not come as a surprise to you that her two latest adult novels both have fairy tale themes. The earlier novel, Bitter Greens is a riveting story that weaves three stories into one great narrative. The first is the story of Charlotte Rose de la Force a real-life, a feisty and “an independently–minded woman from a noble family who caused several scandals in her quest to live a life that was self–determined.” She is also the author of the second written version of one of the most enduring fairy tales of all time: Rapunzel. Charlotte’s life is juxtaposed with the lives of the two main heroines in the actual tale of Rapunzel: Selena the muse and her beautiful redheaded captive Margherita. Though this novel may appear thick at first, by the time you arrive at the end, you are sure to be hoping for another 100 pages.
Kate’s second novel, The Wild Girl, is just about to be released in Australia. This new novel centers on Dortchen Wild, the original voice behind the stories that were transcribed by Brothers Grimm. This enchanting novel is a great tribute to a woman who lived in the shadow of history for a very long time, and it is a “swan song” to the power and the importance of storytelling. I have asked Kate what storytelling means to her and a passage from The Wild Girl sums it up the best: “Stories help make sense of things. They make you believe you can do things. They help you to imagine that things might be different that if you just have enough courage… or enough faith… or goodness … you can change things for the better.” Click here to watch my complete interview with Kate. We asked Kate if she would be willing to discuss her favourite modern retellings of classic fairy tales and here is what she shared with us: “I have loved fairy tale retellings for as long as I can remember. I love the way they illuminate the old tales and breath fresh new life into them. I thought I would share with you my favourite fairy tale retellers – the novelists who are brave enough (or foolish enough) to follow that trail of white stones into the shadowy forest … Robin McKinley has written many novels inspired by fairy tale and myth. My favourites are Deerskin, a retelling of the incest tale ‘Donkeyskin’, and Beauty, a retelling of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ Juliet Marillier is one of my all-time favourite authors. Her first published novel was Daughter of the Forest, which set ‘Six Swans’ in Ireland during the Dark Ages. I also love Wildwood Dancing, which draws upon the key story line of ‘Twelve Dancing Princesses’ and Heart’s Blood, which draws on ‘Beauty and the Beast’ for its framework. Jane Yolen has written an utterly astonishing book called Briar Rose which sets the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale against a backdrop of the Holocaust The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale is the first in a series of YA fantasy novels that set fairy-tale inspired stories in an imaginary land called Bayern A Curse As Dark As Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce is a brilliant retelling of Rumpelstiltskin during the Industrial Revolution (and I really love its cover!) Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine is a really clever take on Cinderella (and was made into an entertaining movie starring Anne Hathaway. As always, though, the book is far better than the movie) East by Edith Pattou is a beautiful retelling of ‘West of the Sun, East of the Moon, an old Norwegian folk tale. It was also published as North Child. Sun & Moon & Ice & Snow by Jessica Day George is a retelling of the same fairy tale. She has also tackled ‘The Seven Dancing Princesses’ in Princess of the Midnight Ball which I also really enjoyed. Sophie Masson is an Australian author who has rewritten many fairy tales. I absolutely loved her most recent book, Moonlight & Ashes, a Cinderella tale set in an alternative Prague, and have just finished her soon-to-be-released book, Scarlet in the Snow, which is another ‘Beauty and the Beast’ variant – it was wonderful. Margo Lanagan is another Australian whose utterly brilliant novel Tender Morsels was inspired by ‘Snow White & Rose Red’. She has recently released another beautiful and haunting novel called Sea Hearts which draws upon selkie tales. I hope that you read and enjoy the work of these wonderful writers!” Be sure to enchant your reading by adding these books to your bookshelf, just click here. Kate and I would both love for you to share your favourite retellings of fairy tales with us.