Chances are you heard your share of fairy tales growing up, but it might surprise you to know just how watered down they were. According to fairy tale scholar Maria Tatar, the original stories were meant to entertain adults, and included lots of sex and violence before people like the Brothers Grimm cleaned them up. You’re not a kid anymore, so it’s time for the good stuff. Here are five decidedly adult takes on classic fairy tales.
And Other Stories: 75th-Anniversary Edition (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)
Feminist fantasy author Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber contains 10 retellings of well-known fairy tales, among them “Bluebeard” and “Little Red Riding Hood”. Steeped in magical realism, and spattered in blood, this compendium is frightening and darkly erotic. If you’re a horror movie buff, you might be interested to learn that two stories from The Bloody Chamber were the basis for Neil Jordan’s 1984 werewolf film The Company of Wolves. (Great movie, by the way — definitely worth seeking out.)
Based on Charles Perrault’s fairy tale “Donkeyskin”, Deerskin is a powerful story about sexual abuse and recovery that pulls no punches. Shortly after the death of her beloved mother, the beautiful Princess Lissar flees her rapist father to seek shelter in the mountains. With only her dog as company, Lissar finds the solitude and peace that she needs to begin to heal, as well as a magical deer skin that may help her hide from her father and find a safer, better life.
Elizabeth Blackwell’s While Beauty Slept has earned comparisons to the work of Gregory Maguire. In this retelling of “Sleeping Beauty”, a great grandmother who in her youth was a close companion of Beauty tells the real story behind the familiar fairy tale. Through her eyes, readers witness the true course of events that led the princess into an ageless slumber.
Gregory Maguire’s Mirror Mirror recasts the fairy tale “Snow White” in treacherous Renaissance Italy, with legendary spinner of plots Lucrezia Borgia as the Evil Queen. If you’re familiar with Maguire’s Wicked Years series — a take on L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz that pictured the Wicked Witch as an aspiring do-gooder done wrong — then you know how dark his revisionist fiction can get. Like The Bloody Chamber, this is definitely not one for the kids.
Meagan Spooner’s retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” finds Beauty tracking the mysterious creature her woodsman father was supposed to have been hunting when he disappeared. Known only as “The Beast”, it lives in a ruined castle in a cursed valley. If she can find the Beast, she might just find her father, too.