Sunday, May 17, 2015

8 Books for People Who Love Fairy Tales

Fairy tales are at their core the most primal expression of human stories, our fears, desires, and beliefs, and how they manifest in metaphor. They continue to fascinate us across time because they connect so deeply to the inexpressible emotional and psychological forces at work within us. The mirthfully grotesque violence and fatalism of the Brothers Grimm, the ethereal and sexually disturbing aestheticism of Perrault, the picturesque tragedies of the already-doomed of Andersen, the Baroque earthiness of Basile - these qualities infuse these eight great books, certain to please any lover of fairy tales.

Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
Emily Bronte's strange story of star-crossed and hell-bound lovers Cathy and Heathcliff defies easy categorization. In Wuthering Heights, love is a demonic force, a desire to possess and exploit, to manipulate and vanquish. Its destructive power twists the souls it conquers, driving rebellious, headstrong Cathy and impetuous, embittered Heathcliff into a vortex of maniacal suffering that claims everyone who dares to try to care for them. Few novels plunge so deeply into the murky waters of the subconscious, the Faerie of the human psyche.

Collected Stories - Roald Dahl
Best known for his brilliant and gleefully grotesque children's fiction, Dahl is also the author of some of the most wickedly lurid and perverse adult stories I've ever read. Shocking twists, pornographic sex, queasily uncanny acts that could be supernatural or just sadistically criminal - these are just some of the smutty delights to be found in these stories. Imagine Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Witches in a steroid-fueled, libidinous rage and that will give you an idea of what to expect. Everyman's Library has published a single volume edition with the complete published stories, which I highly recommend.

Hell - Kathryn Davis
Kathryn Davis's fiction dwells in the liminal spaces of biological existence; space, time, and psyche have porous boundaries and her novels are, in a large sense, a mapping of these overlapping realities and worlds. Because of this, her books are particularly resistant to description. Hell is, at the simplest level, a multi-layered narrative in which a nineteenth century housewife goes mad and is haunted by the spirit of the Napoleonic culinary wunderkind Antonin Careme, a troubled household in the 1950s falls to pieces as one of the daughters succumbs to tuberculosis and loses a friend in a possible homicide, and the crumbling denizens of a dollhouse suffer an existential crisis, but this is a book that has to be read to be believed.

The Third Eye - Mollie Hunter
Though well-known in her native Scotland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom, Mollie Hunter has become undeservedly obscure in the United States. The Third Eye is a coming-of-age tale that is richly imagined and shot through with a sense of possibilities, supernatural and otherwise. Jinty is a young girl possessed of a strange power, which she calls her third eye, that propels her to the center of the drama at the Earl of Ballinford's death, victim of the legendary Ballinford doom. Other wonderful novels by Hunter include The Kelpie's Pearls, The Mermaid Summer, and A Stranger Came Ashore.

The Fifth Child - Doris Lessing
Whether you love children or can't stand to be in the same room with them, The Fifth Child will give you nightmares. This slim novella by the brilliant feminist author of The Golden Notebook is about Harriet and David Lovett, a young couple whose desire for the perfect domestic haven spurs them on to have more and more children. Their fifth child, Ben, voraciously and constantly hungry, violent and physically rugged, is the embodiment of everything we fear our children could be, seemingly both sub- and super-human. Lessing never simplifies the horror of the dilemma: Ben is what he is - evil by nature, but no goblin.

Among the Shadows - L. M. Montgomery
Montgomery, a favorite on this blog, is best known for Anne of Green Gables and most of her work is similarly optimistic in tone, focusing on the domestic lives of girls and young women, usually in the beautiful setting of Prince Edward Island. She was, however, fascinated by ghost stories (as are many of her characters, particularly Anne and Emily Byrd Starr). This collection of short stories contains a wide selection of work in a darker, more somber tone, including several stories about encounters with the supernatural, as well as alcoholism, guilt and absolution, murder, and pre-marital sex. 

The Garden Behind the Moon - Howard Pyle
This lovely fantastic novel weaves numerous familiar fairy stories into its delicate and surprisingly complex tale, at its simplest level the story of David, a young boy who follows the Moon-Angel's voice along the path to the garden behind the moon. Intensely preoccupied with death, the book, first published in 1895, owes much to the Victorian cult around children, itself a product of high child mortality rates and a morbid fascination with the clashing of Christian doctrine and Darwin's theory of evolution.

The Enchantress of Florence - Salman Rushdie
An intricate labyrinth of stories within stories within stories, this exquisitely written novel has the scope and breadth of The Arabian Nights and the post-modern complexities of a novel by Umberto Eco. Set in the Mughal and Ottoman Empires and in Renaissance Florence, The Enchantress of Florence follows a young Italian who claims to be descended from the emperor Akbar, the son of an exiled Indian princess. Rushdie's sensual prose evokes a richly erotic phantasmagoria of exotic beauty, the stuff of decadent dreams.

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