This week, I’d like to introduce you to some of the best authors I’ve found who analyze or write fairy tales, folk tales, and legends. I’ve mentioned before how much I love this genre; my college classes on fairy tales, legends, and mythology had a great impact upon the way I read and think about stories. Think of this as primer to the genre, albeit a subjective one; I’m certain I’m forgetting some great writers, and I’m sure there are many I haven’t yet discovered.
Fairy tales, folk tales, and legends tell extraordinary stories that tap into the very real fears, anxieties, and emotions of everyday life. One of the best parts about reading the classic tales is comparing all of the variants. I felt like I knew so much more about the stories than people who have only heard the Grimms’ versions or (worse!) only seen Disney movies.
While contemporary tales are often more interesting because of their relevancy in my life, I’m glad to have that firm classical base, because now I can read contemporary fantasy/retellings and point to the different variations of classic stories, from popular new releases like The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas (my review here) and The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (my review here) to older classics and lesser-known works like The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (my review here), The Crucible by Arthur Miller, and The Little Girl Who was Too Fond of Matches by Gaetan Soucy.
There are several authors you must read to get a good grounding in fairy tales, folk tales, and legends.
10. Peter Sís
In The Conference of the Birds (my review here), his illustrated version of the twelfth-century epic Sufi poem, Peter Sís introduces readers to an ancient, mystical story in a lyrical but beautifully simple way. It adds gorgeous detail in an imaginative way without distracting from the original story. This is a perfect example of a modern retelling of a legend.
9. Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman is one of the undisputed masters of modern fairy tales, from children’s books like Coraline (my review) and The Graveyard Book (my review) that are enjoyable at any age to books like American Gods (Jack’s review) and the Sandman trilogy that are more grown up but no less magical.
8. Susan Redington Bobby
I can’t write about fairy tales without mentioning Susan Bobby, author of Fairy Tales Reimagined and professor of my Fairy Tales class, who introduced me to many of the authors on this list. Bobby is passionate about the subject with a particular emphasis on modern retellings of classic tales. I couldn’t have asked for a better teacher, and I’m thrilled that she’s edited this collection of essays. (Prof. Bobby also reviewed Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay here!)
7. Jack Zipes
Zipes’s Don’t Bet on the Prince, a collection of contemporary feminist fairy tales and essays in North America and England, is an excellent introduction both to fairy tales in general and to feminist literary criticism in particular. It manages to be serious and informative without being boring.
6. A.S. Byatt
A.S. Byatt–author of Possession, The Virgin in the Garden, and Angels & Insects, among others–is a master at retelling (or, more often, inventing) modern fairy tales. Her books The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye and the Little Black Book of Stories need to be added to your reading list right now.
5. Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood has authored more than forty books, including The Handmaid’s Tale, Cat’s Eye, The Robber Bride, Alias Grace, The Blind Assassin, and Oryx and Crake. Your life isn’t complete until you’ve read something by Margaret Atwood. (I would know–there are so many titles I haven’t read yet that I want desperately to get to!)
4. Kate Bernheimer
Kate Bernheimer is an expert on writing and analyzing fairy tales, with the collections of essays Mirror, Mirror on the Wall and My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me as well as the fiction series The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold, Merry Gold, and Lucy Gold under her belt.
3. Maria Tatar
Maria Tatar is editor of The Classic Fairy Tales, the book that built my knowledge of classic fairy tales. It made me look at variants across tales–stories across languages and cultures that are surprisingly similar–so that I could then see the underpinnings of these tales in countless works of fiction produced today. If you’re interested in fairy tale criticism, this book is a must.
2. Anne Sexton
Anne Sexton’s poetry deals heavily in fairy tale retellings, drawing upon raw subjects like child abuse and neglect. One poem, “The Abortion,” has always stood out in my memory, especially this line: “I met a little man, / not Rumpelstiltskin, at all, at all… / he took the fullness that love began.” Sexton published an entire volume of fairy tale retellings, Transformations, that contains sometimes difficult but always powerful themes.
1. Emma Donoghue
One of the best authors I discovered in school was Emma Donoghue. I wrote a paper on “The Tale of the Voice,” a feminist retelling contained in Donoghue’s marvelous book Kissing the Witch. And it won’t surprise my longtime readers to hear that Donoghue’s Room (my review here) is one of the best books I’ve ever read!
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each Tuesday, bloggers create top ten lists about reading, writing, blogging, and more!
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