The Best Faerie Tales (That Aren’t For Children)

I was honored to be asked to write an author list for Shepherd.com. Since Beautiful is a faerie tale (I explain why I used that spelling in my intro!) I went with a list of other books that portray faeries as ambiguous and “other” in some way. Basically these aren’t your butterfly-like creatures hopping around gardens! Check out my list here, and let me know what you think. Do you agree with my picks? Disagree? Is there anything I should have included?

Which Adaptations Does the Austen Get Lost In?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen fans both love and hate adaptations of her work. We’re eager to see a new interpretation of a beloved work, but when it’s not done right, we get angry. Sometimes, very angry.

Image Credit: Chicago Public Library

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re probably aware that Netflix recently released an…um… controversial, adaptation of Persuasion. When the trailer first came out, there was an outcry: people were not happy about direct to camera addresses, modern dialogue and language, and what looked like slapstick humor, in an adaptation of Austen’s most delicate, subtle work.

Image Credit: Netflix.com

So I knew going in, that whatever I’d be watching, it wouldn’t be Persuasion as written by Austen. I tried to let those expectations go and watch it with an open mind. As a standard Hollywood romantic comedy, it was fine. No more, no less. I certainly didn’t find it as offensive as some did! The historically anachronistic elements didn’t bother me because they seemed intentional. But there’s no Jane Austen there, and when I wanted her, I felt her absence. For example, when Anne reads the note that Captain Wentworth has written her, that beautiful love letter comes off like a note jotted on a post-it with a number two pencil. Actually, I won’t say there’s no Jane Austen there. Rather it’s the wrong Jane Austen. While Austen is known for satire, Persuasion isn’t where those elements primarily come out.

Not long after, I happened to catch Modern Persuasion. This 2020 film is, as it sounds, Persuasion set in the modern day. Wren Cosgrove fell in love with Owen Jasper in college. After graduation he wanted to move to California, and asked her to come with him. Wren’s godmother didn’t think it was such a good idea, and told her so, in no uncertain terms. Years later, wealthy and successful, Owen hires Wren’s company to promote his new app… This movie is very…OK. Again, it’s fine as a romcom but it’s not the best of Hollywood’s romantic comedy offerings by a longshot. It’s not a Hallmark movie but it feels very “Hallmark-esque” (yes, I did make up that word.) Even though this movie is set in contemporary New York City, it feels similar to Netflix’s version. Both try to force Persuasion into a romantic comedy “box.” While much of Austen’s work fits in that box, Persuasion (despite a beautiful romance and a happy ending) doesn’t.

So I thought about some of the other adaptations of Austen’s work that I’ve seen. I think my first Austen exposure was rather obliquely through the film Clueless. If you’re not in the know, Clueless is an adaptation of Austen’s Emma set in a high school in Beverley Hills in the 1990’s. I saw it for the first time when I was about ten, and I was sure that’s what high school would look like for me (reader, it was not.) It wasn’t until I was in college, years later, that I actually read Emma and it became my favorite Austen novel. I still maintain a great fondness to Clueless for being a sort of instruction to Austen’s themes albeit in a very different milieu. I’m still surprised that Clueless managed to pull off what it did, as well as it did.

A multitude of Emmas. Image credit: eonline

But it’s far from the only time that Emma has been done well onscreen. I’m probably the only Austen fan who is partial to the 1996 film with Gwyneth Paltrow, but she always always struck me as very Emma-y. Plus I really like Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightly and Toni Collette as Harriet Smith. But the 2020 film has a lot to recommend it. So does the 1996 ITV film with Kate Beckinsale and the 2009 miniseries with Romola Garai.

Bridget and Lizzie Image Credit: era.org.uk

In 1996 Helen Fielding introduced the world to Bridget Jones. Bridget was the single, thirty-something, Londoner who launched a genre. She also inspired a hit motion picture in 2001. But before there was Bridget, there was Lizzie. Lizzie Bennet to be precise, heroine of Pride and Prejudice. Lizzie and Bridget were different. Aside from the nearly two centuries between them, Lizzie was country girl, a nonsmoker, didn’t work in publishing, and didn’t get drunk five nights a week. But they both loved a Mr. Darcy. Lizzie’s was Fitzwilliam Darcy and Bridget’s was Mark Darcy. Both Darcys were played by Colin Firth in notable adaptations. Both got sidetracked and prejudiced by Mr. Wrong (Wickham and Cleaver respectively) before realizing that Darcy was right there all along.

Pride and Prejudice on Film Image Credit: Silver Petticoat Review

Pride and Prejudice also has a history of being adapted well. Any Jane-ite can tell you which she prefers: the 1995 BBC miniseries or the 2005 film. Just for the record, I’m all about the miniseries! But if you’re not looking for a literal adaptation perhaps you’d like zombies with your Austen? Or would you prefer it Bollywood style? Maybe a sequel done as a murder mystery?

Is Bridget Lizzie? No, not by longshot. Just like Clueless’s Cher isn’t Emma. But regardless of how faithful adaptations are, the unfaithful ones don’t usually feel as gratingly “off” as the recent adaptations of Persuasion. That’s because Pride and Prejudice and Emma are both very different books from Persuasion. On the surface, that’s not so clear. All three are set in the same geographic location, at the same time period. All three deal with issues of love, marriage, money and family, among the same social class.

But Emma and Pride and Prejudice are both what I’d call coming of age comedies. Emma and Lizzie are both naïve at the beginning, despite both thinking they’re very wise. Wisdom is developed in both their stories, through life, and mistakes, and being humbled, and falling down, and getting up again. In Persuasion much of that has already happened before we meet Anne. She’s loved and lost before we open the first page. She’s changed as a result of suffering, taken responsibility for her mistakes and been humbled. She’s more an adult that Austen’s other two heroines, she’s more introspective and brooding. Actually, characters in Persuasion repeatedly comment that Anne has lost the “bloom” of her youth. Therefore it feels more wrong and jarring to see her act like a perky heroine in a romantic comedy. It’s not that they’re no humor or wit in her tale. There is. But there is also a hard-won wisdom. That’s what feels missing in the most recent films.

I, personally, would recommend the 1995 film for those seeking Persuasion out onscreen. But if you prefer there’s also a 2008 TV movie. While neither is perfect, both feel far more like they’re based on the novel Jane Austen wrote than either of the more recent versions do.

In thinking about my favorite Austen adaptations, and the less successful ones, it seems like the ones that do well, understand that there’s more to Austen’s work than just a funny love story. You could read Jane Austen for political commentary. You could read her for life lessons. And some of the more successful adaptations recognize that. Clueless has a lot of social satire. By it’s very title, it’s telling us that Cher is, at the beginning, “Clueless” about the real world. Bridget Jones highlighted a period of life that didn’t really exist for women in Austen’s day: after college and before marriage. It highlighted trying to establish oneself in a career just as much as in romance. Those are things Lizzie Bennet might do if she lived 200 years later (even though Bridget does a lot of things she probably wouldn’t do!). Neither are the stuff of great literature mind you, but they realize that their source material is.

A lot goes into whether or not an adaptation works. It’s not just about sticking closely to the events on the page, and making sure each character looks exactly as described. It’s about knowing your medium; understanding that what works on the page might not work on the big screen. What works on film, might not work as a four part miniseries. But I think a big part of it is also about respecting the complexity of your source material, rather than trying to push it into a pre-cut genre shape. It’s about recognizing what makes it unique from others in it’s genre rather than trying to hop onto a successful bandwagon.

And yes, I know I haven’t even gotten to Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey and Sense and Sensibility! Not to mention how wide this topic can be if we start including things like Love and Friendship (Lady Susan), Sanditon (TV series and novel fragment), bio pics, etc.

What do you think? Have you seen any of these movies? Did you like them, hate them, something in between?

The Death of the Author

One of the nice things about being an author is the knowledge that even after you’re gone, your books will still be out there. But some authors continue to put out new books even after they’ve died. In most cases, this is because the family of the author (or whomever owns the copyright, I suppose) hires a ghostwriter to continue to write under that author’s name. ‘

A famous example of this is author VC Andrews. In 1979, Andrew’s debut novel, Flowers in the Attic became a best seller. She wrote a few other successful novels before her death in 1986, and more than 70 bestsellers since! The vast majority of her work has been written under her name by Andrew Neiderman. Initially Neiderman was hired by Andrews estate to finish Garden of Shadows, the prequel to Flowers in the Attic that she’d been working on at the time of her death. He later finished her unfinished Casteel series and continued from there.

A biography of VC Andrews by her ghostwriter, Andrew Neiderman

Andrews wrote mostly 4-5 book series (with a single stand alone title) that were mostly non-supernatural gothic horror. But literary markets change. So Neiderman has written trilogies, standalone and duologies in her name. And sometimes a lot changes: for example the duology Daughter of Darkness and Daughter of Light introduces vampires to Andrews’ world. Obviously no one can know what Andrews would have thought of this: she may have been all for it, or she may have hated it! But the Andrews estate is pretty open about Neiderman’s work. In an open letter included in the book Dawn in 1990 they announced that a ghostwriter had been hired to “organize and complete Virginia’s stories and to expand upon them by creating additional novels inspired by her wonderful storytelling genius.” It was another several years before it was revealed that Neiderman was the ghostwriter. Since then, he has been interviewed a number of times about the gig, and written a biography of Andrews under his own name.

Tilly Bagshawe is credited alonside Sidney Sheldon as the author of the “Sidney Sheldon” series (image credit: goodreads)

Tilly Bagshawe is another writer whose work frequently appears under a different name. Sidney Sheldon had sold hundreds of millions of books when he died in 2007. Bagshawe, who has written books under her own name as well, has a Sidney Sheldon page on her website where she reveals that she’s taken “up the mantle of this late, great author, writing in his inimitable Sheldon style.” All of Bagshawe’s work in Sheldon’s name has titles like “Sidney Sheldon’s Mistress of the Game” and “Sidney Sheldon’s The Silent Widow” whereas Sheldon’s own work is just called by the novel’s title. Additionally, Bagshawe is listed as an author on all the “Sidney Sheldon” books she wrote.

An interesting case is romance writer Janet Dailey. Dailey died in 2013 having written a number of romance series. However, over on the Topaz Literary Blog, Lyndsay E Hobbs wrote that as a February 2021 Dailey’s website made no mention of her death, and even seemed to make an effort to make it sound like she was still alive and writing. You could subscribe to the “author’s” newsletter, follow “her” on Facebook, and read a bio written in the present tense with no mention of Dailey’s death. When Hobbs sent a contact email to the website about this she received this in reply: That’s a good question and one I get asked frequently. Before she died, Janet mentored a young author and taught the woman how to write in her style. Janet also left outlines of future books and outlines for the characters to work from. I guess Janet knew how beloved her characters were and how heartbroken readers would be if no one ever knew what happened to the Calders, or her other characters. We like to think the writer is doing a good job of keeping to the spirit of Janet’s writing, and she is acknowledged in every book.” However the website admin she’d been corresponding with didn’t even know the name of the ghostwriter. After she’d contacted the publisher and been told they don’t give out any info about ghostwriters, she said that it did seem as if the publisher was trying to be deceptive about Dailey’s death. She received no response.

In 2017, Sue Grafton, author of the Kinsey Millhone mystery novels died. She’d started the Kinsey Millhone series in 1982 with A is for Alibi. At the time of her death, her most recent novel, Y is for Yesterday had just been published. In a Facebook post, her daughter wrote: “Many of you also know that she was adamant that her books would never be turned into movies or TV shows, and in that same vein, she would never allow a ghost writer to write in her name. Because of all of those things, and out of the deep abiding love and respect for our dear sweet Sue, as far as we in the family are concerned, the alphabet now ends at Y.” In an interview, her husband Steven Humphrey added that she’d been struggling to think of an ending for the series when she became ill, so there’s no manuscript to work from. “Nothing’s been written. There is no Z.”

Obviously there are a number of ways to handle someone else writing in the name of a dead author. Personally I’m OK with the idea, as long as the author would have been OK with this (I think in Grafton’s case her family did the right thing), and as long as they are open and forthcoming about the fact that the books are being written by a ghostwriter. Would I want someone writing in my name someday when I’m gone? I don’t know…

What do you think of this practice? Are you comfortable with ghostwriters taking over from popular authors?

Reading Gender

image credit: the guardian

We all know that the literary canon is represented by white, male writers to a disproportionate extent. But there are many exceptions, and diverse writers are gaining more exposure all the time. Women read about 50% female authors and 50% male authors. But for men that ratio is about 80:20 in favor of male authors. Why? I think there are a lot of reasons having to do with how our society at large sees and defines masculinity. But The Guardian recently put out a list of Books By Women That Every Man Should Read. The list included contributions from the likes of Ian McEwan, Richard Curtis, Salman Rushdie and more.

On one hand I don’t want to criticize The Guardian for seeing the discrepancy between male and female reading habits and trying to rectify some of the imbalance. But something about this article doesn’t sit right with me. Maybe it’s the authors who are left off. The omissions include (but are no means limited to) Jane Austen, Edith Wharton, any of the Bronte sisters, Agatha Christie, Zora Neale Hurston, Patricia Highsmith, Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, Shirley Jackson and that’s just off the top of my head! But there’s no way a list like this could possible be comprehensive. They asked a handful of men to name a favorite and these are the ones that came up. That’s fair. If they’d been asked to list favorite books by male writers there would be many gaps and omissions as well. That’s the nature of such a list.

10 Powerful Female Authors (list and collage by Bookstr)

Maybe what doesn’t sit right with me is the idea of a bunch of men telling other men that these are the books by women that are “acceptable” for them to read. I’m aware that’s not the intention. The intention is the highlight great work by female authors. But it’s how it comes off.

This article also spurred me to think about my own reading habits. Looking at the books I’ve read so far this year, I’ve read thirty eight books so far. Nine were by men. Clearly I gravitate toward women authors in my own reading. My TBR looks more or less consistent with that proportion. So am I in any position to criticize men for reading things are they feel are in line with their own experiences of the world? Maybe not.

I think the take away is that we should all try to step outside our comfort zones. That goes for gender, but also for race, ethnicity, nationality, class, and any other category you can think of.

Do you gravitate toward books that reflect your experience/identity? If so do you think it’s worthwhile to try to read outside that comfort zone?

Top Ten Tuesday: Authors I Haven’t Read, But Want To

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

There are so many! And that’s not even counting all the authors I’ve read one book from, meant to read more, but haven’t gotten around to it yet!

T. Kingfisher- I’ve been really intrigued by some of her books but haven’t actually gotten to them yet. On my TBR: Paladin’s Grace, Nettle and Bone, The Seventh Bride, and A Wizard’s Guide To Defensive Baking (which is the best title ever!)

Ilona Andrews- Someone in my book club recommended her Innkeeper Chronicles as good comfort reads. It looks like she’s got a lot of other books, but I figure that’s a good place to start, since comfort is always needed!

Natalie Haynes- I’ve never been a fan of the Greek myths and classics but Madeline Miller has recently opened my mind to their potential. I know Natalie Haynes has written a lot based on them too, so I plan to check them out at some point. On my TBR: A Thousand Ships, and The Furies.

Stacey Halls-I’ve seen some of her books that look good the last few times I went to the library. I keep meaning to read them, but I’ve gone for other things (I can only carry so much!) On my TBR: Mrs. England, The Familiars

Grady Hendrix – For the past year, year and a half people in my book club have recommended Grady Hendrix as an author who is sometimes funny, sometimes scary, sometimes at the same time. On my TBR: The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires and The Final Girl’s Support Group.

Wendy Webb- Supposedly Webb is “Queen of the Northern Gothic” (according to her publicity anyway) and I love Gothic from any direction. On my TBR: The Fate of Mercy Alban, The Haunting of Brynn Wilder, and The Vanishing.

Constance Sayers- This author’s work looks like a fusion of historical fiction and fantasy, which is right up my ally! On my TBR: A Witch in Time and The Ladies of the Secret Circus.

Sarah Blake- I didn’t even realize that this was an author on the list, until I look at my TBR and saw several of her books on there! On my TBR: The Guest Book and Grange House.

Jess Kidd- This is another one I didn’t realize I wanted to read several books from. I remember adding Things in Jars to my TBR because it was compared with several books I really enjoyed (The Essex Serpent, The Book of Speculation). I must have looked the author up, because Mr. Flood’s Last Resort and Himself were added shortly thereafter.

Joan Didion and Eve Babitz – My Remembrances

This week the literary world lost two great writers, who introduced me to the strange and mythical land called California.

Eve Babitz died on December 17th at the age of 78. A week later, today, Joan Didion (who I wrote about more here) died at 87. They were very different writers (and I’m sure they were very different as people as well) but both wrote novels, essays, journalism and creative nonfiction.

I’m an east coast girl, through and through. I’ve never been to California (unless you count the airport, I’ve had flights that stop over there) but in Babitz I encountered the Los Angeles cultural scene in the 60s, 70s,and 80’s. The references to iconic artists, musicians, actors and writers made it seem like these were people you might encounter and chat with any time you stop for coffee. Didion’s California is coolly observed; a place that even in the 60s and 70s, was home to the vast cultural divides that many people only became aware of more recently.

I feel a bit weird about doing a single post for both of these ladies. Their work was often compared during their lifetimes because they were both female writers of the same generation working with similar genre and subject matter fairly often. I could contrast their lives and work too, there were many differences. It’s interesting that they both died this week. Didion was very aware that we frequently impose narrative and meaning on disparate events. I’m very aware that’s what I’m doing here, and I’m curious what she’d say about it.

This week the literary world lost two great writers, who introduced me to the strange and mythical land called California.

Eva Babitz died on December 17th at the age of 78. A week later, today, Joan Didion died at 87. They were very different writers (and I’m sure they were very different as people as well) but both wrote novels, essays, journalism and creative nonfiction.

I’m an east coast girl, through and through. I’ve never been to California (unless you count the airport, I’ve had flights that stop over there) but in Babitz I encountered the Los Angeles cultural scene in the 60s, 70s,and 80’s. The references to iconic artists, musicians, actors and writers made it seem like these were people you might encounter and chat with any time you stop for coffee. Didion’s California is cooly observed; a place that even in the 60s and 70s was home to the vast cultural divides that many people only became aware of more recently.

I feel a bit weird about doing a single post for both of these ladies. Their work was often compared during their lifetimes because they were both female writers of the same generation working with similar genre and subject matter fairly often. I could contrast their lives and work too, there were many differences. It’s interesting that they both died this week. Didion was very aware that we frequently impose narrative and meaning on disperate events. I’m very aware that’s what I’m doing here, and I’m curious what she’d say about it

Top Ten Tuesday: Authors to Follow on Social Media

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

This week’s topic was:

November 23: Characters I’d Love An Update On (Where are they now that the book is over?)

But I feel like I’ve done several lists like that before (here, here), so I decided to go in my own direction. These are authors who I think are great “follows” on social media.

Carol Beth Anderson– Anderson is a fantasy author who posts microfiction quite a bit on her twitter. She’s great for sharing author resources and writing advice.

[blog][twitter][instagram]

Katherine Langrish– Langrish is a fantasy and nonfiction author who tweets lots of interesting articles and links to her blogs about fairy tales and folklore. [twitter][blog]

Thomas Kane- Kane is another fantasy author who has been incredibly supportive of the #WritingCommunity on twitter. I first encountered him on a writing forum and he’s been an amazing resource in terms of writing and publishing. [twitter][blog]

Anne Lamott– Anne Lamott is a novelist and writing guru who shares writing and life advice on twitter. She’s not shy about sharing her opinions, but I feel like she’s usually coming from a good place. [twitter][facebook]

Terri Windling- Windling is a fantasy author, as well as an editor, artist folklorist and fairy tale historian. I love her blog, which is an amazing source of information. On twitter she shares interesting tidbits from her life in an English village, where she lives with her husband and dog. [twitter][blog]

Kate Forsyth– Forsyth is an author of fantasy and historical fiction. Her blog, What Katie Read, shares the books she’s been reading, and her Writing Journal features tips, announcements and musings on writing and life.

[twitter][reading blog] [writing journal] [instagram]

Alexandra Silber– Silber is an actor/singer/blogger/author of historical fiction and memoir. She shares her thoughts and opinions on her blog and social media accounts. She tends to be very candid and vulnerable in a way that I admire but could never emulate! [twitter][blog][instagram]

Catherynne M. Valente– Valente’s work is mostly fantasy though the subgenres vary pretty widely. She tweets about just about everything, from random, thoughts to interesting anecdotes, to what she’s watching, reading, and thinking. [twitter][instagram]

Stephen King- Love his work or hate it (I tend to be sort of 50/50) I do like to see his opinions, and jokes and thoughts on twitter. I think he seems to love stories so passionately – his own and other people’s – he genuinely seems to enjoy discussing them and sharing them with others. [twitter]

Katherine Harbour– Harbour is a YA fantasy author, who actually isn’t on social media very much, but I’m including her on this list, because it’s a highlight for me when she is! She shares her favorite reads and thoughts about writing and stories on her blog, which I have permanently bookmarked! [twitter][blog]

Neil Gaiman– Gaiman is a fantasy author whose work ranges from short fiction to epic novels for audiences ranging from children to adults and everyone in between. Truthfully, I don’t always love his literary work, but I do sometimes. And I do enjoy following him on social media where he shares what he’s up to, and info about various adaptations of his work for film/tv/theatre/whatever. [blog] [twitter]

Top Ten Tuesday: Book Lover Resources

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday

October 19: Online Resources for Book Lovers (what websites, podcasts, apps, etc. do you use that make your reading life better?)

I did a list sort of like this a while ago. I’m including some different ones here though. And I’m assuming that everyone here hasn’t been living under a rock for decades and knows about Amazon, GoodReads etc.

What Should I Read Next– Pretty much what it sounds like. Enter a book in the search and find readalikes!

BookBub– An amazing resource for free and discounted books according to your personal preferences.

Cover Spy– One of my favorite things about public transportation is seeing what other people are reading. This tumblr is a collection of book covers and the description of who is reading it on what mode of transport.

Trall.org/booklovers– This is part of the Middleton Thrall Public Library (in Middleton, NY) and it’s a gold mine of lists, reviews, reading group guides, blogs, reader resources and more.

LitLovers– This features a guide for starting book clubs and also has some established book clubs. It includes reading guides, recipes to accompany books, courses you can take to get more out of your reading, and yes, a blog.

You’re Booked Podcast– This podcast appeals to the nosiness in me that wants to look through other people’s bookshelves. Each episode talks to a different personality (usually a author) about the contents of their bookshelves, as well as other topics.

Overdue Podcast– This is about the books that you’ve been meaning to read, but haven’t gotten around to yet. That might mean classics, but it also encompasses pop culture phenoms and best sellers.

Parcast– A network focused on podcasts and audio dramas. They’ve got something for just about any genre or mood you can imagine!

Tag Tuesday: Books I Want To Read (But Don’t Want To Read)

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday was

September 14: Books With Numbers In the Title

But I feel like I did a list like this pretty recently (OK so it was 2 years ago, but how creative can you get with the topic really?). So I decided to do a Tag Tuesday instead. This tag was created by @jamishelves and I first discovered it on @zeezeewithbooks. I decided on this one because my home is slowly being taken over by books I want to read but haven’t gotten around to yet. Everything here has been living on my shelves for a long, long time…

A BOOK YOU FEEL THE NEED TO READ BECAUSE EVERYBODY TALKS ABOUT IT

Actually I don’t think I have anything on mu TBR shelf that I feel like I have to read for that reason. I cheated and used my kindle for this one. I’m going with Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. I keep meaning to read it, but putting it aside and reading something else instead, for one reason or another. I really, really want to read this one though, because I’ve heard great things about it.

A BOOK THAT’S REALLY LONG

I have a few really long ones on the shelf (they tend to be put off for the longest because I know they’re a big investment in terms of time) I think the longest book on my unread shelf is Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss (1007 pages). I enjoyed its predecessor, The Name of the Wind, but it’s hard to dive into a book this long. Plus who knows if/when book three will come out. I’d hate to get invested more in the series and then just be waiting, and waiting, and waiting…

A BOOK YOU OWN/HAD ON YOUR TBR FOR TOO LONG

I picked up Kristin Lavransdatter Part I: The Bridal Wreath about ten years ago at a library sale, because I’d heard that this three part novel was a great read. But before I started reading, I learned that the translation that I had wasn’t the preferred one (the consensus seems to be that the Penguin Classics edition is the best), and I wasn’t sure if I should give the one I had a shot or go straight for the preferred translation. So I put it off until I decided. And now it’s been a decade.

A BOOK THAT WAS “REQUIRED” READING
(E.G., SCHOOL TEXT, REALLY POPULAR CLASSIC — SOMETHING YOU FEEL OBLIGATED TO READ)

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard is a book I got for two reasons. One is that it was on some list I saw, somewhere, of books every writer should read (or something along those lines). Two is that I want to appreciate nature more. I feel like I’m very caught up in the human world, and I like the idea of slowing down, meditating and philosophizing on the natural world. But while that idea appeals to me, it seems like it might be a slog to read through.

A BOOK THAT INTIMIDATES YOU

The Disorderly Knights by Dorothy Dunnett is the third book in the Lymond Chronicles. I enjoyed the first two but with an enigmatic hero who speaks in multilingual riddles and obscure references, it can be tough going. I actually want to buy this guide before I do read it.

A BOOK THAT YOU THINK MIGHT BE SLOW

The Overstory by Richard Powers won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It got rave reviews. But it’s about trees. How exciting can that be?

A BOOK YOU NEED TO BE IN THE RIGHT MOOD FOR

I read Paullina Simons’ The Tiger Catcher in the right mood and ended up enjoying it a lot more than I expected to. Now I’m waiting for the right mood to read the second in the trilogy, A Beggar’s Kingdom.

A BOOK YOU’RE UNSURE YOU WILL LIKE

I suppose I’m a little bit nervous about The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. I love academic settings in books, and I love books dealing with the marriage plot in general (think Austen, Eliot) but I’ve had mixed reactions to some of the author’s past work.

Why Are Fairy Tale Retellings Popular With A YA Audience?

Photo by Mark Neal on Pexels.com

I had a conversation about this recently, and it got me thinking: why are fairy tale retellings so popular with YA readers?

First of all, I know that fairy tale retellings have an audience within all age groups. Some of the retellings for very young children tend to be the sanitized Disney type stuff we all grew up with. But there are many, many exceptions to that with fairy tales from around the world, retellings with unique illustrations, and even some scary stuff that might give some little ones nightmares. By the time they enter the middle grade reading group, kids have access to a wide variety of retellings from authors like Gail Carson Levine, Shannon Hale, Anne Ursu, Vivian Vande Velde and many others.

But fairy tales have really exploded in popularity with a teen audience. Let’s just look at the variety of genres that have fairy tale retellings:

Sci-Fi

Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer

A Long, Long Sleep by Anne Sheehan

Stitching Snow and Spinning Starlight by RC Lewis

Contemporary

Ashley Poston’s Once Upon A Con series

Cindy Ella, Geek Charming, Wickedly Jealous, and Little Miss Red by Robin Palmer

Alex Flinn’s Kendra Chronicles

LGBT

Ash by Malinda Lo

Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

Historical Fantasy

Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier

East by Edith Pattou

Stepsister and Poisoned by Jennifer Donnelly

These are just a few of many examples. And, of course, there’s plenty of crossover: books that encompass more than one of those genres. So it certainly seems like fairy tales are being aimed at teens regardless of the genres to which they gravitate. Why is that?

Well first of all, I think that fairy tales are universal. They’re made for people. That’s why we can find interesting fairy tale inspired work for all age groups. But since we’re looking specifically at teens, let’s think about it this way:

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Teens are in a liminal space. They’re between childhood and adulthood. In some ways they’re expected to handle very adult burdens and responsibilities, but they still have a lot of the needs that they had when they were younger: security, consistency, a sense of safety. Obviously the extent to which these statements are true differs from one person to another, but I’m making a broad generalization here.

Fairy tales are about liminal spaces. Think about the action of fairy tales. The main character leaves home (a safe space) and goes on some kind of a quest. They journey will take them to dangerous places (the enchanted castle, the monster’s lair) but it will also take them through transitional spaces. The real growth takes place on the journey, of course.

The way we view fairy tales is also in transition. In their older versions many tales are dark and disturbing. Marguerite Johnson, Professor of Classics, University of Newcastle says: “Originally for adults (sometimes for children), fairy tales can be brutal, violent, sexual and laden with taboo.” They deal with fears and insecurities, as well as hopes and dreams. As different people have collected and compiled these stories for different reasons, they’ve made changes to suit their intended audience. In the 20th century, Disney’s animated films shaped how a lot of people saw these stories: as brightly colored, tuneful children’s tales. And they can be that. But they can also be very dark. People are starting to recognize that fairy tales are not always the friendly childhood tales that we think about. Retellings, in all forms, are starting to recognize and resurrect some of the complexity that fairy tales once had.

Yet in spite of this dark content, there is a lot of simplicity in fairy tales. Characters tend to be good or evil. They teach moral lessons. Those lessons are absolutely good for children to learn, yes. But as they venture into the world, teens are confronted (many for the first time) with ambiguity, with doubt, with ethical dilemmas. Psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim says:

The child needs ideas on how to put his inner house in order and, on this basis, to be able to establish an order to life in general. The child needs – and this hardly requires emphasis at this moment in our present history – a moral education that subtly conveys the advantages of moral conduct, not through abstract ethical concepts, but through what seems tangibly correct and, therefore, meaningful for the child.

This is just as true for teens as it is for young children, if not more so.

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But despite the clear lines between good and evil that’s typical of the form, fairy tales also have a sense of moral ambiguity to them. That’s something that starts to emerge as our thinking matures. Sometimes we do sympathize with the wicked queen who is so afraid of aging and losing the beauty that defines her, that she lashes out at her innocent step-daughter. We can also find fault with the heroes. When the prince kisses the sleeping princess (usually a stranger to him) we might not think about it much as children. But as we grow and learn and mature, that can becoming very troubling.

Therefore fairy tales have an “in betweenness” to them that makes them great for people in a transitional point of life. Goddard Blythe, a child psychologist, says: “Fairy tales are important not because they show children how life is, but because they give form to deep fears and dreams about life through fantasy. Life is looming for teens even more than younger children. The transition from child to adult is more immediate, and it’s natural to have some anxiety about that. Fairy tales can act as a canvas on which that anxiety can play out. Naturally teens have a wide range of interests. Different kinds of settings and genres appeal to different people. Therefore YA fairy tale retellings are giving teens the stories they need in the styles (whatever those may be) that they enjoy.

What’s your opinion? Agree? Disagree? Have the fairy tales that appeal to you changed from childhood to adolescence to adulthood?