Title: Fearie Tales: Stories of the Grimm and Gruesome
Editor: Stephen Jones
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Publication date: 23rd September 2014
Buy at: BookDepository
In the grand tradition of the Brothers Jacob and Wilhelm, some of the today’s finest fantasy and horror writers have created their own brand-new fairy tales–but with a decidedly darker twist.
Fearie Tales is a fantastical mix of spellbinding retelling of classic stories such as Cinderella, Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, and Rumpelstiltskin, along with unsettling tales inspired by other children’s classics, all interspersed with the original tales of their inspiration.
These modern masterpieces of the macabre by Neil Gaiman, Garth Nix, Ramsey Campbell, Joanne Harris, Markus Heitz, John Ajvide Lindquist, Angela Slatter, Michael Marshall Smith, and many others, and are illustrated by Oscar-winning artist Alan Lee.
With some fantastic illustrations in between, Fearie Tales is composed by a collection of short stories that can be quite simply defined as haunting. The original Grimm fairy tales were not exactly the happy ending retellings Disney has got us used to, and this collection serves as a very solid reminder of that.
Stephen Jones asked some of today’s best horror authors to write a short story based on one of the Grimm tales, and most of them delivered splendidly. There are stories of only a handful of pages, and other much longer ones. There are stories based on well known tales like Cinderella, and others from more obscure ones such as The Nixie of the Mill-Pond. There are some set in our time, and others in a bygone one. Some chilling ones that will make you turn on the lights, and other average ones. In short, a miscellanea of all kinds.
I must admit that I didn’t know all featureed writers, but it allowed me to get a taste for a few that I will definitely read in the future. One of them being Angela Slatter. I had heard highly of her writing, and I can see why. Her story By the Weeping Gate, a retelling of The Robber Bridegroom, is as gruesome as it is eerie, and one I am likely not to forget any time soon. Now don’t get me wrong, neither this story nor any other was extremely gory. Quite on the contrary.
The horror in it was embedded in the atmosphere of the stories. They were akin to lying down on your bed at the darkest hour of night, reading by the lamplight. The wind screams outside and a deluge patters down from the skies. Despite the grim weather, you’re comfortable on your little corner. Until, out of the blue, things start to change. The lights crackle and die. The shadows of your old toys become monsters on the walls. Your front door opens. The scent of rot permeates your bedroom. Footsteps echo right by your door. And behind you, someone whispers “hello”.
The atmosphere is definitely one of the best things in Fearie Tales, and one none of the authors mistreated. Being a Gaiman fan, it’s probably no wonder that his was one of my favourites in this aspect. Although its shortness disappointed me, Down to a Sunless Sea, based on The Singing Bone, is deeply unsettling – and it’s only a woman telling a stranger the story of how she lost her son to the sea. There are no monsters, no shadows, no spells, and yet… there you are.
However, others did use the monsters. One that comes to mind is Come Unto Me by John Ajvide Lindqvist who blended the Swedish folklore tomte, a fairy-like creature that cares for a house’s farm animals, with Rumpelstiltskin to create a rather terrifying being. The story, that begins with a funeral and a wedding, unfolds into a tale that still makes me shudder. Its ambiguous and open ending made me fear more for the protagonist than I did during the rest of the horrifying story.
Fearie Tales is composed by thirty-one stories, sixteen Grimm tales, and fifteen others based on the former. If not all of them won me over, the majority did. In this modernisation, the authors have brought a fresh chill to these eternal tales, all the while keeping them true to themselves. I highly recommend it to all fairy tale and horror lovers.
The book in a quote
“And now he knew, really knew, why they’d called her Jenny-With-Her-Head-In-The-Clouds, and why they’d feared her. She could see stars where everybody else saw old wallpaper. How were you going to cure that?” – Anything to Me is Sweeter Than to Cross Shock-Headed Peter, Brian Hodge