Speaking Volumes: Fairy and folk tales are not just for kids

Special to the HeraldApril 27, 2014 

"Once upon a time ..." Four words that strike a chord with virtually everyone. Fairy tales (and modernized re-imaginings of them) continue to exert a hold on the public imagination as evidenced by TV series like "Grimm" and "Once Upon a Time," and numerous Disney films, including the soon-to-be released "Maleficent," a retelling of "Sleeping Beauty" from the villain's point of view.

Fairy tales are not just for children, although there are numerous versions of classic fairy tales for children by Hans Christian Anderson, the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault available in many formats including picture books and DVDs. Novels for both adults and young adults with a fairy tale-twist can be found in your local Manatee County Public Library.

"Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: a New English Version" edited by Philip Pullman is not a novel but a collection of 50 well-loved tales and lesser-known gems. Each is followed by a short commentary relating the tale's significance, the various forms they've taken over the centuries, and why their appeal continues.

"Boy, Snow, Bird" by Helen Oyeyemi is a new novel that is a re-imagining of "Snow White." Set in the United States during the 1950s and '60s, it is the story of "Boy Novak," who after escaping from an abusive father, moves to a small town in Massachusetts where she eventually marries a widower with a beautiful daughter named Snow. Their own daughter, Bird, is born dark-skinned and a closely held secret is revealed -- they are light-skinned blacks desperately trying to pass as white. The "wicked stepmother" as a literary scapegoat and racial and gender identity are important themes in a book that boasts an inventive plot, memorable characters and expressive prose.

Inspired by a Russian fairy tale, "The Snow Child" is Eowyn Ivey's debut novel. Set in the Alaskan wilderness in 1920, Jack and Mabel hope to begin a new life homesteading a small farm after their son is stillborn. One magical night they build a "snow girl" together. They awaken to find it gone, but an otherworldly little girl, with a red fox as her companion, begins to mysteriously appear. Lyrical prose as delicate as a snowflake and as deceptively simple as a fairy tale, graces a novel that has been described as "full of wonder, longing, hope, pain and beauty."

Another debut novel is Elizabeth Blackwell's "While Beauty Slept" (on order soon) -- a dark, sensual retelling of "Sleeping Beauty." More than 50 years ago Elise Dalriss lived in a castle and was companion to both a queen and a beautiful princess who slumbered for many years. Now she is the only one left who remembers what happened and it's time to tell the story.

Can't get enough fairy-tale inspired novels? Try "Briar Rose" by Robert Coover (another recreation of the "Sleeping Beauty" story), "White as Snow" by Tanith Lee (a retelling of "Snow White"), and "Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister" by Gregory Maguire (a retelling of the "Cinderella" story set in 17th-century Holland). Robin McKinley and Donna Jo Napoli have also penned several fairy tale-inspired novels for young adults.

Speaking Volumes, written by Manatee County Public Library System staff members, is published each Sunday. Access the library online at www.mymanatee.org/library.html.

Fran Barba is a reference librarian in the Manatee County Public Library System.

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