Tag Archives: Angela Carter

Book Review: In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed I

This will be a very long and involved review of Mitzi Szereto’s In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed, a collection of erotic fairy tales published by Cleis Press. In fact it will be at least three, maybe four parts, so hang on to your hats.

When I received The Sweetest Kiss and In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed for review I decided to do the vampire erotica first (Sweetest Kiss) since it was nearer to Hallowe’en. Plus, I love fairy tales. They’re a good memory of my childhood and I still have (managed to find again actually) some of the volumes I had as a kid. (Those influences can be read in previous blog entries on worlds of what-if.) I took one course in university on children’s lit but specifically fairy tales, which gave me a deeper interest in the form. I’ve read numerous tales from Charles Perrault, Hans Christian Andersen and the brothers Grimm to updated interpretations by Angela Carter, Sarah Moon and the collections edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. I’ve written a few of my own, including poems, and continue to search out and enjoy the varied tales that are there, from the ancient to the new.

Fairy and folktales began a very long time ago. Along with the myths and superstitions that set up the religious structures of culture throughout the world, people were attempting to explain other things or events. And they were entertaining each other. However, not all entertainment had a single purpose. Much was in the way of passing on information: histories, cautionary tales, moral tales, tales of hope and trickery in the little guy/or common person who is rewarded for great deeds/virtue/quick wit, etc. The list is quite extensive.

These tales were told over and over again, passed down through generations and cultures, adapting and evolving with the times. Once Charles Perrault and before him Giambattista Basile, and after, the brothers Grimm, started to set the tales down in writing, gathering them from various sources, the tales began to evolve less and become frozen in time and sentiment of an age. There is evidence that these tales were written down centuries before in various lands, and in different versions but overall I follow the belief that most tales were passed from person to person, tales told by bards and travellers. This is not the view that Mitzi Szereto takes, stating that most tales were gathered from the more noble or richer classes, and there is obvious truth there as written tales would have been for the more educated and therefore wealthy classes. But all these tales started somewhere, being listened to by groups of people. Whichever it may be, there are variations all over.

Just as religions adopted gods from one country to another and similar sun gods, resurrection gods, grain gods and weather gods can be seen in most early religions, so it is that many of these fairy tales are part of the cosmic consciousness that Jung believed in and is quite evident in the evolution and progress of human intellect and thought. Books have been written just on the subject of fairy tales alone, besides the volumes of fairy tales themselves.

The earlier versions are often violent and bloody, and have characters not so redeeming as how they appear in some of Perrault’s and the Grimm brothers’ versions. Indeed, by the time Disney got hold of the fairy tales they were sanitized of any true lessons and every good little princess got her man, as long as she was virtuous, pretty and good, a role model for every submissive female for the 20th century and more.

This brings us to a reclaiming of fairy tales that happened the more adults began to take them seriously again and examine their content. Even though the Grimms edited the tales to suit their views, they were purveyors of folk literature and took their work seriously. Many others have come along to look at the tales and their hidden meanings and mysteries. Some of these scholars of today are A.S. Bayatt, Emma Donohue, and Angela Carter, who did her own rewriting of many a tale. In the Company of Wolves is a great rendition of the Little Red Riding Hood tale and can also be found in a “now” old film of the same name, starring a younger Angela Lansbury. Bruno Bettelheim and Jack Zipes are well-known scholars of fairy tales. Author Sarah Moon did a chilling rendition of the same Little Red Riding Hood as Carter’s but more as a cautionary tale than a coming of age story, with her stark black and white photos of a  young girl in the glare of a car’s headlights and with connotations of a pedophilic stalker, making the tale very modern and terrifying.

Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling edited collections of modern tales that take these fairy tales with leaps in new directions. Jane Yolen, and other authors have also written different rendtions that are darker and deeper than the original tales. Although it is less storytelling, authors are still taking these archetypal tales and bringing them along through the centuries to match our times, with warnings and morals and fears that hit closer to home.

There are many authors, editors and scholars in the realm of fairy tales who are researching, reading and telling new tales. Having written an erotic fairy tale for a Harlequin anthology that I based off of one of the many (and lesser known) Grimm tales, I was excited to see this collection by Mitzi Szereto.

And here I am, at the end of a blog entry and I have yet to actually talk about the book. I’ll start very briefly and say that it had a preface by Tobsha Learner. Though I didn’t know who this was, Tobsha is an Australian author with several books to her credit in which a blend of magic and eroticism are the theme (and some gorgeous covers on top of that). I thought, great, there will be a scholarly bent to the fairy tale aspect and I’ll learn even more about them. This was coupled by Mitzi Szereto’s introduction and an introduction to each story.

I’ll go into the intro and some of the tales tomorrow, but up to this point, I had not yet read any of Szereto’s writing. From what I could tell of reading about her, she’s vivacious, energetic, intelligent and a good writer. I read a couple of excerpts I found of her other pieces which supported that she knows how to write, so I was looking forward to the tales.

Tomorrow, what I found out as I read.

Cleis Press: http://www.cleispress.com/gosearch.php?textfield=in+sleeping+beauty&search_type=TITLE

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Writing: Revisionist Poems & Stories

A discussion of revisionist writing came about on another list when I mentioned that I had sold my poem “The First Taste” to Dreams & Nightmares. It is a revisionist poem about Persephone. I was asked what I meant by revisioning. A good question because the term is probably most often used in terms of history and politics. But on the other side are the revisionist myths or fairy tales. Some will come tagged with feminist revisionism but it goes beyond that.

I ran into revisioning somewhere way back, maybe first to do with the retold fairy tales, especially the ones that were in the Datlow/Windling anthologies. But I was also doing a course on children’s literature where we examined fairy tales right back to Perrault and the Grimm brothers. Angela Carter’s tales came up as some early revisionist fairy tales. I’ve also run into it in poetry but don’t remember when anymore. It could have been in the creative writing courses at UBC or in the world of speculative poetry.

I guess the basis for any revisioning poem is that instead of a third person or narrative tale of a hero’s or god’s deeds, the tale is now told in first person, though third person is also used. It might also be in the voice of the lesser being/mortal/bad guy who traditionally was fairly two-dimensional. This is not always the case with stories, which may also be in third person, but all tend to delve into the psyche of the person and how they feel.

This is sort of what happened to SF when it evolved past the embryonic stage of BEMs (bug-eyed monsters) and started to become more realistic; or magic realism, set in today’s world with just a small twist of otherness. (Is this the bastard child of canlit and spec fic?)

Like all genre labels, revisioning is just another fancy word for categorizing what we write. 🙂 In my revisioning poems (which really is just a classic tale, whether fairy tale or heroic myth, from another point of view) I’ve written on Dionysus, Kore/Persephone, Athena, Leda, Psyche, Demeter, Aphrodite (though the last really doesn’t fit the same way as the others). I’ve also written one story on the oracle on Pythos before it/she became the Delphic oracle.

In stories, I’ve taken various fairy tales and rewrote them as well, from the Princess and the Pea, to Snow White, to Dorothy after Oz.I’m sure there are other takes on revisioning but this is pretty much how I see and understand it. One well-known child’s story done in a revisionist mode is the about the three little pigs but from the wolf’s point of view, pointing out how he was framed.

Classical fairy tales are fairly thin and two-dimensional, offering very little depth into the whys and wherefores. Many fairy tales were cautionary tales, and others were, what academics now presume, tales to show/train young women for their eventual separation from their parents, and subsequent marriages. It is the purview of fantasy and speculative fiction to take the regular world and twist the what-if. If we’re looking at old, tried and true  tales, then it’s turning the story on its edge and presenting a new view.

Whether called revisionist, speculative or just plain fantasy, taking the classics and showing a new perspective is part of the evolutionary process. Fairy tales, myths, fables were once passed down, word of mouth from person to person. The oral tradition actually kept the story current to the times as the teller would adapt or change aspects to suit the understanding of the listeners. The constant evolution means many stories have passed over the lips of humanity to be lost in the trails of time. With the newer tradition of taking those now codified tales, whether Sleeping Beauty or the tale of Eros and Psyche and telling a new story, the process continues to bring evolution to the myths and fairy tales of our ancestors.

Here is a lesson plan on revisionist fairy tales for anyone who teaches about writing and reading: http://www.readwritethink.org/lessons/lesson_view.asp?id=992

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