As a type of story designed to pass from hand to hand, reader to reader, writer to writer, these classic tales have been re-told to us in hundreds of different ways, by hundreds of different artists. From hollywood movies to comic books, fairytales have a way of capturing our imaginations like no other form of storytelling.
Today, I want to share with you my favourite collection of re-imagined fairytales. Perhaps, some could argue, one of the most well-known short story collections throughout 20th century speculative literature.
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter.
This is a really exciting post for me. The Bloody Chamber is, hands down, my favourite short story collection of all time. Carter’s use of language is second to none – every page drips with sensual sensory imagery, with poetic language, with stories that ensnare you and leave you reeling for hours. I can already say, if you love speculative fiction, fantasy, fairytales or gothic fiction, this is a short story collection you need.
As with my review of The Paper Menagerie, I will divide this review into two parts: my favourite stories and my not-so-favourite stories. Hopefully, this will give you some idea as to whether this collection is your thing. Or if you have already read the book, it gives you a chance to tell me which story is your favourite. I’d really love to know your opinions on this collection!
Now, with all that said, let’s get started!
Now, I love weird stories. Surrealism is probably one of the hardest things to write, but also one of the most fascinating to read. And The Erl King is definitely the weirdest story of the bunch.
The story follows an unnamed girl, wandering into the forest and discovering the Erl-King. He wraps her in his hypnotic embrace, sharing with her the beauty of the forest, but also slowly ensnaring her inside of it.
As a short story, it’s really hard to follow – even I’m not entirely sure what happens in the end. And you could say that this is a good thing; it leaves the story up for interpretation. But personally, I like stories that feel conclusive, even if they’re open ended. With this one, the plot was just too hard to grasp.
That being said, the language in this story is incredible. Rather than a short story, I prefer to see this as an experimental prose poem – a piece of writing that pushes the boundaries between what can be considered conventional storytelling.
The Bloody Chamber
Uncommon, I know. But the titular story to this collection – The Bloody Chamber – is my least favourite out of them all.
There are two main reasons for this.
The first, the story is way too long for its own good. I don’t mind long short stories – if the world they create is engaging, and the characters compelling, then I love spending as much time in the story as possible. Yet, although beautiful, the world of The Bloody Chamber was…lacklustre. And the characters were rather one-note: the damsel, the evil baron, the angelic piano boy. Which, I am aware, is part of the point of the story – to re-frame these stereotypes in a new light. Even so, the lyrical language and the length of the story made it feel like it was going on forever.
The second is because the story is far too similar to the source material. Other than the ending, the story is a point-by-point retelling of the original BlueBeard fairytale. There is more detail, obviously, and more exposition in areas. Yet compared to the other, imaginative, more subversive stories in the collection, having a straight re-telling just doesn’t appeal to be.
With that said, time to move onto my favourite stories of the collection.
I adore this story. A young girl is abandoned in the forest as a baby and raised by wolves. Years later, she is discovered and, when no one else will keep her, she is handed over to the duke: a mysterious lycanthrope, hiding within his castle walls. What always impresses me about this story is its clarity – Carter capture the perspective of a feral child so strikingly, unafraid to delve into both the barbaric and the sweet. The duke, also, is a very intriguing character, one whom we never get a full understanding of, but one who sticks in the mind long after reading. Although it is the last story of the collection, it is definitely my favourite. The mind of Wolf Alice as it grows from girl to woman, and the creepiness of the immortal Duke, make this an unforgettable story.
The Tiger’s Bride
Out of all the stories in this collection, this is the one I see printed outside of it. Whenever a short story collection includes a short story from Carter, this is probably the one they’ll choose. And I’m honestly not surprised, it’s a good one!
After being lost in a bet by her father, the female protagonist is transported to a mysterious castle where its owner, huge and hidden behind a mask, tell her he will set her free. But only if she strip for him.
The Magic Realism in this story is intense. And the subtle comparisons between the woman and furniture, between the beast and his theatrical persona; there are so many layers to this story that it may as well be a cake. With an impactful beginning and a satisfying end, The Tiger’s Bride will most likely be your first taste of The Bloody Chamber. And will no doubt leave you hungering for more.
Have you read The Bloody Chamber? What is your favourite story? Let me know in the comments below, or Tweet me @ERHollands. This is my favourite story collection, so let me know what you think!