Tales from the Tower: Dark Fairytales

This was an unexpected find in the library a few weeks ago. I was aware of these two books, since the short stories within were collated by Isobelle Carmody, as well as Nan McNab. I didn’t really know what to expect from the books, I was expecting fantasy since that’s what these writers do, so I wasn’t surprised by that, but I wasn’t expecting fairytales. Now before you close the tab, these aren’t the ordinary fairytales you’d fine written by Hans Christian Andersen, these are dark, adult, fairytales written in a short story format. And they are a divergence from the Grimm’s Fairytales as well. These are fairytales written by authors who mainly write fantasy, but not all are fantastical. I have to say I was quite surprised by this, it was quite good. Some of the stories took a while to get into, but overall they were pretty good.

I found both introductions quite interesting, hearing the stories from Isobelle and Nan’s own lives about their connection with fairytales and the purpose they have. I do like that they’ve decided that fairytales are not just for children, they don’t need to be sugar coated, and they can be gritty, whilst still having the same message. And that’s what they’ve created. There’s a whole variety of fairytales that they have used, some known, others not, and in each of them they have various levels of keeping with the source material. But they were all interesting. I’ll go through the stories one by one and give a few thoughts.

There are two volumes of these Tales from the Tower, so there are two books to read.

Volume 1 – The Wilful Eye:

Catastrophic disruption of the Head – by Margo Lanagan – based on The Tinderbox – Since this was the first one of the anthology, I really had no clue what to expect, and I didn’t really get it. That wasn’t helped by the different style where things switched between times. But in the end, I did find it alright, for me it was certainly not a favourite, but it was an interesting story.

Moth’s Tale – by Isobelle Carmody  – based on Rumpelstiltskin – Now since this was Isobelle Carmody’s I was quite eager to read it. I wasn’t really disappointed, since I quite liked the story, but I don’t think it was my favourite one of the bunch.

Eternity – by Rosie Borella – based on The Snow Queen – This was pretty good, and I liked the idea of glass turning everything of beauty into ugliness. The fact that it was a little predictable in that the “Snow Leopard” was evil and that the two “friends” loved each other, but I could get past that. It’s anti-drugs message was clear, but, isn’t that the point of fairytales?

Heart of the Beast – by Richard Harland – based on Beauty and the Beast – The first story to really have some magic, and to have the main character able to do magic, not until the end of course, and only to save the ‘beast’ and turn him into a man. It was sort of touching seeing their relationship develop, but I read a review which criticised this of being Stockholm syndrome, but it wasn’t for me a gripe.

Wolf Night – by Margaret Mahy – based on Babes in the Wood – I did quite like this one, again the two friends who seem to not realise that they both like each other more than friends. But I found it quite interesting the idea that beneath the surface things aren’t always as they appear, and even though there was no ‘evil’ magic or whatever, there was other evil to be afraid of. This one seemed quite departed from the original as far I as could tell from the Author’s Note.

One Window – by Martine Murray – based on The Steadfast Tin Soldier – This was also interesting, and plays with the trope of the weakest of the group really turning out to be the strongest, and he saves everyone.

Volume 2 – The Wicked Wood:

Seventry-Two Derwents – by Cate Kennedy – based on The Wolf and the Seven Kids – Now I really liked this one, it was haunting and terrifying as we were left wondering what exactly the new boyfriend was going to do to the innocent little girl. I found it an interesting way to tell the story through the girl’s journal. A good story about family.

Glutted – by Nan McNab – based on Otesanek or ‘little shaveling’ – This one was quite strange, I couldn’t really figure out what was so ‘fairytale’ like for quite some time. I mean it starts with a tourist meeting a farmer, and they eat a lot of food, eventually fall in ‘love’ and continue to eat a lot. He has plans for the farm to make a smokehouse, and he is an artist. She has to work hard and he spends all her money, sucking her dry so to speak. Eventually she gets pregnant and he doesn’t want anything to do with the child, and when it’s borne there’s a fear that he’d actually eat the baby, and for a moment I thought he did! I guess it serves as a warning not to be so greedy and to limit consumption!

Learning the Tango – by Catherine Bateson – based on The Little Mermaid – This was different to all the others since it was in the form of a poem, so it was a nice change. A simple story about unrequited love, and the lengths the mermaid will go.

the Ugly Sisters – by Maureen McCarthy – based on Cinderella or Ashputtel – I really liked this one, since it’s a story so well known, and it was a fresh perspective, since it was the story told from one of the stepsisters. This made things interesting, their tale was one of loss, but ultimately you couldn’t feel too sorry for them, given how evil they were, just because ‘Cinders’ as they eventually call her, was beautiful, smart and hard working. A quite interesting and gruesome end.

Birthing – by Victor Kelleher – based on The Fairy’s Midwife – Quite unexpected, but really it shouldn’t have been, since this one actually involved faeries (I always wonder about the differences in spelling, like fairy and faerie, magic and magik – I guess it’s just a way to almost be fancy, and a return to the more traditional spelling). It was quite gruesome, but interesting.

Glamour – by Kate Thompson – based on the Irish Tir na n’Og – This one was considerably longer than the others, a point acknowledged in the author’s note. The project started out as being novellas, which is what this is, but changed into short stories. Alas this one was already written, and too hard to change. This was quite different, and I was at the start annoyed that a man could be so thrown just by the fact his wife returned with grey hair! He saw it as such a betrayal and a lie, like dying hair was personal! But the story was so deep and fascinating, that I grew to understand the characters. So I’m glad it wasn’t cut down any further. And it was a timely reminder to make time for loved ones, but also to do something you love and to help others.

Overall I was pretty happy with the anthology, they weren’t all the best, but brought together they were interesting and enjoyable, which is a good sign. Definitely worth a read, but not fairytales you’d want to read with your children!


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