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Our Favorites: Re-Told Fairy Tales

Into the WoodsI was in about fourth grade when I saw Into the Woods on stage for the first time. This musical, written by Stephen Sondheim, intertwines multiple fairy tales--Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, and several others--telling each story in its familiar version in the first act. At intermission, I bumped into one of my teachers, who had seen the show before. I told him how much I was enjoying myself, and he suggested that I go home and not see the second act, so that I continue to feel happy about what I had seen.

I stayed and saw the second act. And while I was a little shaken up at the time, I am so glad that I stayed. Sure, the second act of Into the Woods challenges the idea of "happily ever after," but in doing so, it provides a means for fairy tales to become more than familiar bedtime stories that fit in a comfortable box created by "once upon a time" and "they lived happily ever after." It provides a way for them to speak to the issues that we all deal with in everyday life.

Fast-forward to my high-school years. I was part of a contemporary issues peer-education group, and one of our main roles was to provide sexual harassment and assault education for middle school and high school students around the state. To do this, we performed a play called "Alice in Sexual Assault Land," where we took familiar fairy tales and used them to talk about issues like date rape, teasing someone because of her appearance or sexual orientation, and the consequences of harassment and assault. The familiar fairy tales provided us with a way to grab the students' attention and make them feel comfortable, even at home, while our contemporary retellings challenged them to think about their own lives and actions in a new way.

It is this juxtaposition of the familiar and the uncomfortable, the simple and the challenging, that I think is the real power of the fairy tale retelling. Kat Howard and I are both big fans of this genre, and to continue our celebration of the release of Jim Hine's The Snow Queen's Shadow, we thought we'd list a few more of our favorites.Tam Lin

What are some of your favorites?  List them in the comments!



...ranked by pure /enjoyment/ value would have to include the musical version of Wicked. If the Once Upon a Time series is the series I'm thinking of, that definitely makes the list too. A couple amusing ones for very young readers; Jon Scieszka's "Stinky Cheese Man" and "True Story of the Three Little Pigs," and Maguire's "Leaping Beauty."

Oh, my goodness, YES to Jon Scieszka. I love his work so much.

This is my all-time favorite story. . . can't wait to read the write-up on this website. As an at-risk counselor for high school students, I deal with these issues all too often. I find myself falling back on what was written to help me find common ground with others.

At this point, the list is just meant to be a sort of recommended reading list - no immediate plans to do write ups of each of the books on it. But yes, Deerskin is amazing. It honestly saved my life. And it's out of print now, but you might look for a used copy of Terri Windling's anthology The Armless Maiden: And Other Tales for Childhood's Survivors. Full of stories and essays that deal with the kinds of things you probably do see too often in your work.

Neil Gaiman does this stuff all the time and it's pretty much always excellent. The Sandman comics and his short story collections both have a lot of reworked fairy tales, some updated and some brought back to the source. Troll Bridge, The White Road and  Snow Glass Apples are all from Smoke and Mirrors. In Sandman, he retells stories from old Baghdad, Shakespeare and Gypsy folktales, among a dozen others. Read them all (though I'm betting many of you already have)!

Good call!  If I had been on top of things, these would have made the list in the first place.  Another great retelling of Gaiman's is "The Problem with Susan"--not a retelling of a fairy tale (a new look at Susan from The Chronicles of Narnia), but a provocative example of what retellings can do when they're done well.

And also, many of Neil's pieces of fairy tale-inspired short fiction appear in the Windling-Datlow anthologies. I know those were where I first encountered his writing.