Most people who know my reading habits and my writing tendencies could probably tell you that I have a certain preferred…aesthetic. You can probably sum up my personality by listening to Florence and Machine’s entire discography. I’m drawn to magic, myths, fairytales, and glitter. Always have been. It really shouldn’t have surprised me that somehow, I ended up unintentionally choosing to read three different books in the last two months that all transported me into worlds infused with magic, faeries, and darkness.
Man, it was fun.
Originally, I was going to write about all three of these books in one post; as I started gushing about the first one, however, I quickly realized that this post was going to be way too long. My compromise is to that February will be the month that all my book reviews cover the topic “Forays into Fairyland.” So, without further ado, here’s my review of Beyond the Woods: Fairy Tales Retold.
Beyond the Woods is a book that I discovered by accident while I was shelving books at work in December. The cover caught my eye, and a quick glance at the list of authors immediately caught my attention. I then felt that tell-tale, pained tug in my chest that basically translates to “I swear to God if you do not buy this book, you will be filled forevermore with perpetual, ceaseless regret.”
Hey, I never said I’m not dramatic when it comes to books.
I bought the book that day. It’s taken me a few months to read through, partially because the book is over 500 pages, partially because I enjoy taking my time with anthologies to allow each story to simmer in my mind. And wow, there are so many stories in this book that left me blinking, startled, and in awe. This anthology is filled with fairytales that are familiar and told from new perspectives, or with crazy new twists, lesser-known tales from other cultures, also told anew, and completely original fairytales that feel hauntingly familiar.
I can’t fully articulate how happy I am that I bought this book: the imagery and language of some of these authors is everything I could aspire to in my own writing. The way some of these authors effortlessly add marginalized voices to the canon, the way these stories fearlessly tackle issues of race, prejudice, violence against the innocent, revenge, love lost, grief, family, what constitutes humanity… This book reignited my love for fairytales and all that they can do and be, all that they can question or dismantle, and all the ways they can still surprise and delight.
Yeah, I’m gushing. I liked or loved at least 70% of these stories. Not every single one of them, mind you. I did find a few stories that did not hit the right note for me. There’s a point at which a certain level of violence, darkness, and cynicism becomes way too much for me to stomach, and there are one or two stories in this collection that cross that line. There was also a story where a disabled character who is cursed to lose the ability of her legs magically gets the use of her legs back—not exactly positive representation of disability.
Complaints and criticism aside, I literally tweeted one of the authors after finishing her story because I was so happy about the casual way she included LGBT representation, which is an issue that’s so close to my heart.
This book also does an amazing job of teaching the reader the conventions of fairytales, and then shattering these conventions. Some of these stories question their own origins, and cast a grittier, darker light upon their original tellings. They problematize or complicate the morals that once may have appeared to be black and white. Some are modernized, some are timeless, some play with the very fabric of time. One of my favorites is set in space.
We see iterations of Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, the iconic genie in the bottle; we meet Merlin and Queen Victoria (another of my favorites), we watch the Three Bears from Goldilocks attempt to integrate into upper class suburbia. We watch men be eaten alive (not gonna lie, I was grinning), and encounter monsters in all their many forms—and question who the monsters really are.
If you like magic and fairytales, this book is a must-read. I could ramble on in detail about many of my favorite stories in this anthology, but I’ll leave the magic of discovering them to any of you who decide to check it out.
Beyond the Woods: Fairy Tales Retold is edited by Paula Guran. It was published by Night Shade Books in 2016, and is available in paperback for $15.99.
What's your favorite anthology? What are some of your favorite retellings of fairytales? Why do you think fairytales are still so popular in the media and literature?
Writer, reviewer, bookseller, book nerd extraordinaire. Fiction reader at Waxwing Magazine.