We hope that Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women will encourage people to rethink the fairy tales they have always known. Many people think of princess tales as the standard, but looking back through the history of fairy tales, you’ll find many stories of women who slayed dragons, rescued princes and saved their own lives. If you want to delve deeper into the history and cultural theory of the genre, here are some books that will help you change the way you think about fairy tales.
This is one of the most loved anthologies in my collection. It is where I first read The Stolen Child (as The Stolen Bairn) and one I often go back to. As the blurb states, it is: a definitive sourcebook of folktales and fairytales and the first of its kind to feature a variety of multicultural heroines.
If you have an interest in fairy tale theory, then Marina Warner won’t be a new name to you. With a razor sharp wit and delightful writing style, she’s a hero(ine) to many. Here she discusses the history and meaning of fairy tales, and how their different narrators and writers affected the status of the stories they told. For more, try her latest Once Upon a Time.
This is a brilliant book on women writers of fairy tales. From the Conteuses of 17th century France to contemporary authors, Wanning Harris discusses how their important contribution the field has often fallen by the wayside. Buy it. Read it. You won’t regret it.
Is now a good time to admit that Jungian psychoanalysis of fairy tales often makes me want to throw things? No? Well, it might not always be my cup of tea, but the focus on self-understanding and accessing inner strengths might just change your preconceptions of the fairy tales you know so well. Bruno Bettleheim’s The Uses of Enchantment is a classic, and one that I’m pleased to admit I’ve never thrown out of a nearby window. For an alternate view, try Maria Tatar’s excellent Off with their Heads.
Also in my collection is The Feminine in Fairytales, a deep dive into the psychology of many classic tales, and the archetypes and symbolic themes within them.
The Victorian rise of newspapers heralded somewhat of a golden age for fairy tales. Often released in periodical form it was the first time they were accessible to a mass audience in literary form. This is a fascinating look at how fairy tales were used at the time to debate issues of the day: socialism, women’s rights, racism and more.
I can’t write a list of books without including Jack Zipes. Arguably the god father of fairy tale critical theory, he has written widely on most aspects of the fairy tale. Here is a good place to start.
Angela Carter is the doyen of contemporary revisionist fairy tales, and her feminist approach is unflinching and fearless. If you have ever dismissed fairy tales as being light hearted fluff for children, The Bloody Chamber is a collection of tales that will change your mind. Seriously, this is not the bedtime collection for your six year old. Or you, if you’re prone to vivid dreams.
If these have whetted your appetite, here are a few more books that are teetering on my TBR pile. Do you have any favourites that I’ve missed? Leave a comment below, or share this post on social media with a book that changed your perspective on fairy tales.
And don’t forget to pre-order your copy of Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women.