Just this week my novel Elijah’s Mermaid was published in paperback – and because that dark Victorian story is very much influenced by the fairytales that obsessed me in my youth – most specifically The Water Babies and also The Little Mermaid – I thought it would be fun to choose some other novels I love that have also been based on fairy tales.
Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan
Over the past year I’ve immersed myself in books that reinterpret, or else are inspired by, traditional fairy tales. I was gripped by Tender Morsels, which has been very loosely based on the well-known story, Snow White and Rose Red. Like the best of the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales this is a sinister metaphor of the realities of the human soul; where love and kindness are at war with the more animal brutalities of desire.
The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter
Having first bought this collection a great many years ago, I was a little wary when coming to read again as to whether or not the stories would continue to weave their magic spell. I wasn’t disappointed. The Bloody Chamber in particular is the most sensual but gruesome revision of the Blue Beard fairy tale. Other deliciously dark encounters introduce us to werewolves and girls lost in the woods. Two of them inspired The Company of Wolves - a gothic fantasy horror film with a distinctly Freudian subtext. Directed by Neil Jordan and co-scripted by Angela Carter, the film – much like the original tales – is broodingly claustrophobic and teeming with symbolic imagery.
The Underground Man by Mick Jackson
Somehow I missed this exquisitely crafted novel when it was shortlisted for the 1997 Booker Prize. Not strictly based on a fairytale – actually on a real life story, but nevertheless with an otherworldly quality. Through the voices of various narrators the story is told of an eccentric Victorian aristocrat obsessed with his own physical disintegration – and also with building a labyrinth of tunnels beneath his stately home. As the novel develops we realise the reasons a man might dig so deep, to discover the secrets and tragedies concealed within his past. I loved this book and I loved the duke, whose lonely descent into madness is countered so very poignantly by the warmth and generosity apparent in his character.
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
I listened to this as an audio book rather than actually reading, but I found it quite enchanting with beautifully crafted prose.
Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth
I’ve had Kate’s book on my Kindle for some time and now have the opportunity to stop work for a few days and read it. I’ve heard so many good things.
Thank you, Essie! So kind of you to include me in your list.
Here is Essie's website
And here my own Favourite Fairy tale Retellings