I am a complete sucker for fairy tales. There, I said it. I seek out novels that are modern retellings of fairy tales, or make use of legends or fables; I kind of collect them. I have a long list of books I’ve read and loved that use elements of fairy tales (A.S. Byatt’s Possession, with its clever references to the fairy Melusine story, for instance; Peter Rushforth’s Kindergarten, re-weaving Hansel and Gretel.) And, in the same way, I cut not-so-great books a lot of slack if they have these themes, just because I enjoy them so much. So when I tell you that I really liked Snow White, Blood Red, a collection of modern, adult retellings of fairy tales, I’ve warned you about that opinion. Take it with a grain of salt.
I’ll admit straight away that about half the stories in this collection were mediocre at best — unimaginative and straightforward retellings, leaning a bit too heavily on sexuality for the “adult” interpretation. (To my mind, being an adult is much more about planning ahead, thinking about other people, and trying to achieve balance than it is about thinking about sex all the time.) But the other half — wow!
There’s the short, sharp, brutal “A Sound Like Angels Singing” that takes us inside the one rat left behind at Hamelin. Two stories about mothers and daughters, very different in tone and yet psychologically similar, one called “Snow-Drop” and the other based on Icelandic legends and called “The Changelings.” An unexpectedly lighthearted offering in which Rapunzel is imprisoned because she is born to an isolated Italian community and she refuses to gain enough weight. An early Neil Gaiman piece about a troll under a bridge, ready to eat a life. And the best of them all, to my mind, similar in some ways to Peter Rushforth’s Kindergarten, was the last story, “Breadcrumbs and Stones,” in which a daughter finds out some of the secrets her mother has been hiding, and that from now on she must find her own path home. Jane Yolen, Tanith Lee, and Charles de Lint are all contributors, so if you’re a regular fantasy reader, you may really enjoy this one.
You can see why I love these sorts of tales. They speak truth to all of us: be kind, be clever, be quick. Don’t trust strangers. What you sow, you shall reap. If you seek your fortune, you’ll find it. Be beautiful if you can; if you can’t, don’t forget to be kind. Do favors for royalty. And on and on. Good advice comes from fairy tales. So I recommend this book, even though quite a few of the stories are skim-only propositions. Some of them are dark and strange, and well met in the woods.