Sunday, March 25, 2007

Fairy Tales

When I was a kid (and even now as an adult) I always loved fairy tales -- The Red Fairy Tale Book, the blue one, the green one, Grimm's fairy tales, Hans Christian Andersen -- I read them all. Just not the Disneyfied versions; I wanted the tales where the ugly stepsisters cut off their heels and toes to fit into the glass slipper. I recently read two books that reminded me of those early fairy tale experiences.

Briar Rose by Jane Yolen: This Holocaust-themed novel was recommended by Sarah Louise to Nutmeg; since I have a similar interest, I read it. It is the story of Becca who grows up with her grandmother, Gemma, always hearing the tale of Briar Rose, or Sleeping Beauty. She senses that there is a truth in the tale; something about her grandmother's past. When the grandmother dies, Becca travels to Poland to search for the truth about Gemma's life. There she learns how her grandmother escaped death in a Nazi extermination camp -- how she was brought back to life by a kiss. Yolen skillfully intertwines the Briar Rose fairy tale with the mystery of Gemma's past; she also stays true to the structure of the fairy story, making Briar Rose a unique take on the tale of a Holocaust survivor as well as a commentary on the nature of storytelling and of truth.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield: The nature of truth and of storytelling is also an intricate part of this novel about a reclusive author, Vida Winter, who, near her death, finally decides to tell the truth of her life to the narrator, Margaret. The language of the novel seems to set the story outside of modern life even though some details, such as trains and cars, clearly place it within at least the 20th century. It's that setting that reminds me a fairy story as well as some of the plot devices -- there's a babe found in the woods, a mysterious house, a giant, and a reclusive family. As Yolen did in Briar Rose, Setterfield uses the structure of the story to suggest that the greatest truths about life often lie in stories. I enjoyed The Thirteenth Tale, especially the author's use of language and of time shifts, but there were some facets of the tale that were predictable; which in fact may be because of the book's similarity to the fairy story -- we all know the endings.

7 comments:

Rogue Librarian said...

Actually in the original version of Cinderella the Ugly Stepsisters did cut off their heels and toes to fit into a leather slipper. The fact that it was glass was a mistranslation.

Katya said...

That's right -- it was leather -- I forgot that.

Dixie said...

I got a little freaked out reading Snow White - the part where the wicked step mother is put into hot iron shoes and has to dance until she falls down dead.

Yikes!

These books sound like something I'd like. I'll put them on my list.

nutmeg said...

Oh you read Briar Rose - excellent. I am going to start it (along with the other two I mentioned on my blog) as SOON as I finish Northern Lights. I cannot wait. I'll come back and compare notes with you here when I'm done!

Katya said...

Dixie: That was a little freaky and scary. Especially when you read those as a kid. I do think you'd like both books.

Nutmeg: I also just bought The Devil's Arithmetic, also by Jane Yolen. I'd seen the movie with Kirsten Dunst -- I'm sure the book will be better.

MyUtopia said...

Cool recommendations! I am going to have to add them to my list.

Elizabeth J. said...

Have you read Princess Bubble? This is a fairy tale Oprah would be all about!