I love fairy tales; so much, in fact, that I’ve decided to dedicate my 2016 reading and viewing year to them. Each month I plan on immersing myself in a different fairy tale: reading various fictional retellings, viewing film adaptations and perhaps even delving into some scholarly literary criticism. I’ve included the full list of fairy tales I plan to read throughout the year at the bottom of this post.
January I devoted to “Rumpelstiltskin”. It seemed a good place to start – a simple tale devoted to the power of truth and names. I quickly consumed Jonathan Carroll’s 1988 novel Sleeping in Flame, a modern sequel to the story. I loved it right up until the end when things seemed tied up much too neatly and then Carroll threw a wrench in the works and turned everything unsatisfactorily upside down. I still gave it three stars for the fantastic buildup and would’ve added more had the payoff been better.
The Surlalune Fairy Tale Web Site (which I absolutely love, by the way, and frequently visit) recommended the book Possession by A.S. Byatt as a “Rumpelstiltskin” retelling. It’s not an easy read and took up what was left of the reading month for me. I enjoyed it, but I was left scratching my head trying to figure out what exactly was the connection to “Rumpelstiltskin”.
Curiously, there have been no exemplary film adaptations of “Rumpel”. The musical Cannon Movie Tale comes the closest, so I watched it, but it’s rather dull and the songs aren’t as memorable as other installments in that series. Similarly, Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre dedicated an episode to retelling the tale but it, too, is one of that series’ lesser efforts.
I didn’t get around to viewing some other movies on my list, one being the 1995 horror film Rumpelstiltskin, though I’ve heard it’s dreadful. Intriguingly, Terminator 2 shares some story similarities with the fairy tale, but I didn’t get the opportunity to re-watch that either.
February soon commenced and I promptly put aside the rough German earthiness of “Rumpelstiltskin” and ensconced myself in the heady, perfume-scented French fairy tale world of “Beauty and the Beast”. It’s perhaps my favorite fairy tale, so it was difficult to choose between the many various retellings in existence.
I started out reading Jerry Griswold’s The Meanings of Beauty and the Beast. I thought this would be a piece of literary criticism similar in scope and style to Betsy Hearne’s excellent Beauty and the Beast: Visions and Revisions of an Old Tale, but it’s actually very different. It includes many texts of various early versions of the story, along with modern short story interpretations. Griswold dabbles a bit with explication in the last two sections of the book, the first analyzing the various illustrations the tale has inspired through the years and the second providing an interesting queer perspective on the Cocteau and Disney films. I wish there had been more of this type of folkloric study in the book, but all things considered it is an excellent resource for new researchers of the tale.
I next went on to read Tanith Lee’s mesmerizing collection of short stories Red As Blood, or Tales from the Sisters Grimmer. I plan on writing a separate entry on that volume, so I’ll step away from it for now.
I’m finishing out the month reading my favorite “Beauty and the Beast” retelling of them all – Robin McKinley’s Beauty. It’s been the ultimate comfort read for me ever since I read it during a flu spell in middle school. Picking it up again always feels like going home. If you haven’t read it yet, I urge you to do so. You’ll never forget it.
I’m also in the process of watching many film versions of “Beauty and the Beast”, but this entry is getting rather long, so I think I’ll save my thoughts on those for another time, too.
Fairy tales are so amazingly malleable – it’s truly a delight to revel in all these various new interpretations of them. I’m liking this year already.
KYLE’S FAIRY TALE YEAR
- JANUARY – Rumpelstiltskin
- FEBRUARY – Beauty and the Beast
- MARCH – The Snow Queen
- APRIL – Sleeping Beauty
- MAY – The Twelve Dancing Princesses
- JUNE – The Little Mermaid
- JULY – Rapunzel
- AUGUST – Red Riding Hood
- SEPTEMBER – Snow White
- OCTOBER – Bluebeard
- NOVEMBER – Hansel and Gretel
- DECEMBER – Cinderella