Imprisonment and the Fairy Tales of Henriette Julie de Murat

Most of the French salon fairy tale writers lived lives mired in scandal and intrigue. Few, however, were quite as scandalous as Henriette Julie de Murat (1670?—1716), who, contemporaries whispered, was a lover of women, and who, authorities insisted, needed to spend some quality in prison, and who, she herself insisted, needed to dress up as a man in order to escape said prison—and this is before I mention all of the rumors of her teenage affairs in Brittany, or the tales of how she more than once wore peasant clothing in the very halls of Versailles itself.

Oh, and she also wrote fairy tales.

Partly because her life was mired in scandals that she, her friends, and family members wanted to suppress, and partly because many documents that could have clarified information about her life were destroyed in the French Revolution and in World War II, not all ...

Fairy Tale Retellings for Adults: Snow White, Blood Red

In 1993, editors Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling offered up an anthology of fairy tales written expressly for an adult audience, Snow White, Blood Red. Featuring writers as distinct as Neil Gaiman, Jane Yolen, Tanith Lee, Charles de Lint and Patricia McKillip, the anthology contains nineteen fairy tales and one poem, as well as two introductory essays from the editors.

It’s a book that I mostly remembered for one of its retellings of Little Red Riding Hood, and also for introducing me to Charles de Lint’s Newford stories and novels.Rereading it now, I realized that I’d forgotten its other strength: it showcases just how much can be done with and inspired by fairy tales.

Arguably, the introductory essays form the most important part of the anthology, particularly Terri Windling’s lengthy essay outlining the differences between the literary fairy tale—that is, fairy tales carefully crafted for the enjoyment of adults—and ...

Pixar and a Disney Princess: Brave

By 2008, Pixar seemed to be well settled into the Disney family. So well settled, indeed, that Disney executives thought it would be a good idea for Pixar to strengthen those ties still further—by, say, doing something with one of Disney’s established franchises. Oh, not Winnie the Pooh or Disney Fairies. Those profitable franchises didn’t really need a new touch. But something that could use Pixar’s magical touch and creativity.

Say the Disney Princess franchise.

As it turned out, animator and director Brenda Chapman had already been, conveniently enough, musing about a story of a princess, her mother, and a bear. With just a few tweaks, it could easily be turned into a Disney Princess film.

And so, Pixar moved Brave into production.

Brenda Chapman had previously worked for Disney on The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King, contributing to several books and ...

Creating a Tale of Sisterhood: Snow-White and Rose-Red

Fairy tales rarely depict sisters and sisterhood in a positive light. Fairy tale sisters generally end up at best envious or useless or both, when not turning into active and deadly rivals. This negative depiction stretches far back into ancient times: Psyche, for instance, ends up suffering almost as much from her sisters as from her unwelcoming mother-in-law, Aphrodite. A few shining counter-examples can be found here and there in some early French and Italian fairy tale collections, or in English folktales featuring sisters that save their siblings. But for the most part, these stories feature sisters saving brothers. Anyone reading fairy tales could easily come away with the impression that having sisters, especially older sisters, can be really dangerous for you.

Indeed, the trend was so ingrained in western culture that by the time Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published their collection of fairy tales, the 1812 Children’s and Household ...

A Tale of Tiny Artistry: Thumbelina

During a recent cold spate here in Florida, various creatures—largely but not just iguanas—fell out of trees and onto people’s heads. (No. Really. Sometimes Florida can be a really strange place.) Or missed people’s heads entirely and just slammed down on the ground, stunned. Looking very very dead—until, that is, the weather warmed up, allowing the (surviving) iguanas to start to move again. That all mostly happened south of me—here, the main Strange Animal Reactions to the Cold consisted of two squirrels conspiring to empty the bird feeder again—but the stories ended up reminding me of Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of “Thumbelina.”

What, exactly, do weird animal moments in Florida have to do with a famous Danish fairy tale? Well, simply enough: the same thing happens in “Thumbelina”—only with a bird instead of an iguana.

And now, I can’t help thinking that really, the story could have ...

Precociousness and Telekinesis: Rereading Roald Dahl’s Matilda

Matilda, published in 1988, is one of Roald Dahl’s longest and most intricate novels for children. The story of a highly precocious little girl who slowly develops powers of telekinesis, it focuses more on issues of destiny, education and employment than his usual subjects of wordplay, terror and disgusting things, though the book still has more than one incident that will delight kids who love disgusting things more than it will adults.

Richer and more questioning than most of his other novels, it may not be entirely successful, but it offers kids, and possibly grown-ups, a lot to think about.

Like many of Dahl’s protagonists, Matilda comes from a less-than-ideal home life. Although her parents are decently off, they mostly ignore Matilda, and to a lesser extent her brother. Even when they do notice their kids, they don’t understand them. Matilda’s father, a used car dealer, regularly cheats his customers ...

Bookending Realism with Fairy Tale: The Vanishing Princess by Jenny Diski

Before her death from lung cancer in 2016, Jenny Diski was perhaps best known as an essayist and travel writer, with a gift for combining travel writing with memoir, as in her 1997 work, Skating to Antarctica. She was also known, in certain circles, as “that writer Doris Lessing rescued.” That had the benefit of being true: after a painful childhood, including alleged sexual abuse and multiple stays in mental health institutions, Deski found herself in the home of Doris Lessing, probably best known to readers as one of the few (I think perhaps the only) writer honored with both a Guest of Honor spot at Worldcon and the Nobel Prize for Literature.

A few years later, Leski started working in journalism. Eventually, she churned out acclaimed non-fiction, ten novels and one short story collection, The Vanishing Princess. Originally published in the United Kingdom in 1995, and ...