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What retellings tell

carter_bloody chamberOn Monday night I went to Harvard Book Store to hear author/editor/anthologist/publisher Kelly Link speak about Angela Carter’s 1979 short story collection The Bloody Chamber: And Other Stories. In May, Penguin Classics rereleased the collection in a 75th anniversary edition (the 75th anniversary of Carter’s birth, that is, not of the book’s original publication) with a new introduction by Link. Most of the stories in The Bloody Chamber are feminist-leaning reimaginings of familiar — and perhaps some not-so-familiar — fairy tales. “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Bluebeard” are here, as are “The Boy Who Set Out to Learn Fear” and “The Erl-King.” One story, “The Company of Wolves,” itself was later retold when it was made into a movie by director Neil Jordan in 1984.

Like Carter’s, Link’s work is heavily influenced by folktales and fairy tales. As she read from her introduction, I found her perspective as a reader and a writer of fairy tale–influenced stories quite in keeping with our special “Transformations” issue. While Link was working on her MFA in writing, she was also

working in a children’s bookstore. Every week we got new boxes of picture books, new picture book versions of “Cinderella” and “Little Red Riding Hood” and “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” Such multiplicity! Such mutableness! The stories remained themselves, and yet they could be reworked over and over and over again. You just had to pick the patterns, the archetypes, the bits of fairy tale business to which you felt most drawn. Or, perhaps, the ones where you saw something that you wanted to quarrel about. What a relief to see how much stretch there was to stories…

If I tell you what I see in The Bloody Chamber, the things in it that I love and admire and think about, of course I’m telling you as about myself as much as I am telling you about Angela Carter.

Echoes of Poisoned Apples poet Christine Heppermann, who writes in “What Fairy Tales Tell” (her “Transformers” piece in our May/June issue), “I don’t retell fairy tales. They retell me. Over and over again they tell me who I am, how I feel, what I believe.” What is it about fairy tales and folktales that is so compelling? Why do we revisit them again and again, rereading and rewriting them? What do fairy-tale retellings tell readers about ourselves — or about the retellers — that the originals do not? Heppermann and the other “Transformers” authors offer their perspectives on why these stories matter and why they are drawn to reinterpreting them…but what do you think?

P.S. Not only did I pick up (and get signed) the new edition of The Bloody Chamber, I also grabbed Emily Carroll’s graphic novel Through the Woods (McElderry, July 2014). If you are a fairy tale–retelling fan, definitely check that out if you haven’t already. Just don’t read it alone at night! *shudder*

Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

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