Poisoned apples, twisted tales, and mer-lore


Yep, it’s time for more re-worked fairy tale collections, including another Windling/Datlow book!  Hey, I’ll keep reviewing them as long as I keep finding ’em 🙂

Poisoned ApplesChristine Heppermann. Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty. New York: Greenwillow Books, 2014.

This is a collection of poems about fairy tales and modern beauty standards, and the sinister messages within. For instance:

From “The Wicked Queen’s Legacy”

It used to be just the one,
but now all mirrors chatter.

In fact, every reflective surface has opinions
on the shape of my nose, the size

of my chest, the hair I wash and brush
until it’s so shiny I can see myself

scribbling notes as each strand
recommends improvements. (pg. 5)

Other poems focus on dressing rooms and mannequins and push-up bras; spring formals and health classes and spa treatments; a woman who transforms from brick house to stick house to straw,

as light as the needle swimming in her bathroom scale.
The smaller the number, the closer to gold,
the tighter the face, afire with the zeal of a wolf
who has one house left to destroy. (from “Blow Your House In,” pg. 28)

Complementing the poems are eerie black and white photomanipulations – a blindfolded girl eating apples hanging from a tree, a girl being pulled apart by hands coming out of branches, a man who opens his shirt to reveal the wall behind him… all matching the themes of food anxiety, inner emptiness, and society’s manipulation of our self-image.


Maura McHugh. Twisted Fairy Tales. London: Quantum, 2012.Twisted-Fairy-Tales

McHugh gives twenty fairy tales a more macabre bent, sometimes twisting the stories in her own way, sometimes staying true to the original sources (like the Brothers Grimm), and Jane Laurie adds creepy, often blood-spattered illustrations. My favorite story is “Vasilisa’s Fire,” in which a girl is sent to the witch Baba Yaga to ask for candlelight. To stay alive, she follows advice from a magic doll her mother left her. What I like best about the story are the multiple ways McHugh describes the doll’s eyes each time she comes to life:

“…in the darkness its eyes were tiny moons”

“Its eyes gleamed like stars.”

“…its eyes became like twin candle flames.”

“The doll’s eyes shone like the sun.”

Along with “Snow White” and “The Bone Whistle,” “Vasilisa’s Fire” is one of the more gruesome stories in the collection. Other stories, like “The Master and His Apprentice,” aren’t all that creepy; their “twisted” nature seems to just mean “not Disney.” Which is fine, but I would have liked a more consistent tone throughout the collection.


Cloaked in RedVivian Vande Velde. Cloaked in Red. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish, 2010.

Vivian Vande Velde has always wondered about the story of a girl too daft to recognize the wolf wearing her grandmother’s clothes (a wolf who apparently likes to toy with his food instead of just eating her right away).

I don’t like to criticize anyone’s family, but I’m guessing these people are not what you’d call close. Little Red doesn’t realize a wolf has substituted himself for her grandmother. I only met my grandmother three times in my entire life, but I like to think I would have noticed if someone claiming to be my grandmother had fur, fangs, and a tail. (pg. 11)

So Vande Velde has written her own versions of Little Red Riding Hood – one in which a girl named Meg outsmarts a dishonest woodcutter, one in which an old woman takes an injured wolf into her home, one in which the wolf is only following Red to give her back the basket she dropped in fright, one in which the red cloak is a conscious being and keeps trying to protect the careless girl from danger… Yeah, these stories do make more sense than the original 🙂


Vivian Vande Velde. The Rumpelstiltskin Problem. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.Rumplestiltskin Problem

About “Rumpelstiltskin,” Vande Velde has a number of questions. Why would the miller randomly tell the king that his daughter can spin straw into gold? Why would the miller’s daughter agree to marry a man who three times threatens her with death (well, ok, he’s the king, so maybe saying no isn’t an option)? Why would Rumpelstiltskin sing such a conveniently obvious song about his name? So, as she did for Cloaked in Red, Vande Velde tells her own versions of the story.

My favorites were “Straw Into Gold” and “The Domovoi,” in both of which Rumpelstiltskin really just wants to help the young woman (though he does take offerings in return). The latter was especially interesting, as the domovoi is a figure from Slavic folklore, a protective household being. Unfortunately, even though it’s a really lovely story, there was a big plot hole in “Straw Into Gold” – wouldn’t someone notice all the straw dumped outside the tower? Vande Velde must have realized this problem, because she finds ways to hide the straw in two other stories, but why not in the former?

I also really liked “As Good as Gold,” the only story to feature a nice king who isn’t in the habit of threatening to chop people’s heads off or burn them at the stake, and would really rather the miller and his daughter stop throwing themselves at him with their wild claims. The king is, annoyingly, a real pushover about accommodating the miller’s daughter until the end of the story, when he finally grows a backbone.


Troll's Eye ViewEllen Datlow and Terri Windling, eds. Troll’s Eye View: A Book Of Villainous Tales. New York: Viking, 2009.

What do we know about the villains of fairy tales? What if the stories were told from their point of view? This was the prompt Datlow and Windling gave to the authors in this collection. So Garth Nix focuses on the witch who grudgingly accepts the bratty housebreaker Rapunzel into her castle, Midori Snyder focuses on the giant plagued by the thieving Molly Whuppie, Peter S. Beagle focuses on the giant’s wife who welcomes Jack into her home in the clouds, and so on. My favorites were Catherynne M. Valente’s “A Delicate Architecture,” about an Austrian confectioner’s daughter who can create anything – even a house – out of sweets, and Nina Kiriki Hoffman’s “Rags and Riches,” about the servant who switches places with the princess and forces her to work as a goose girl.

About her story, Valente says,

I wanted to know what kind of person would end up in such a house. Why would she build it that way? Where did she come from? Why is she so obsessed with food and eating? The academic answers never satisfied me. I know intellectually that women are associated with food in folklore, and bad women with cannibalism, and that children are drawn to candy, so that the house is a perfect lure, but that didn’t satisfy me at a gut level.

Hoffman’s story fleshes out the motivations of the princess/goose girl’s servant, Willa, and attempts to answer the question of why she would choose such a barbaric punishment for herself, as though she couldn’t tell that the king was discussing her own crimes. The story does explain where Willa got the idea for the punishment, but doesn’t really explain why she chose it for herself, especially since she did recognize the king’s story. It would have made more sense for her to name a lighter, more merciful punishment, unless she thought the king wouldn’t accept that.

Still, overall, it was an interesting new angle on one of my favorite fairy tales, and the ending was a surprise.


Jane Yolen. Neptune Rising: Songs and Tales of the Undersea Folk. New York: Philomel Neptune RisingBooks, 1982.

Yolen gathers together her previously published stories and poems about merfolk, including four about selkies. There’s “Greyling,” which I first read years ago as a picture book, in which a fisherman finds a seal pup and takes him home to his wife, only to find a human baby in its place. For fifteen years, the couple tries to keep the child from returning to the sea, but of course we know that won’t work forever. There’s “The Fisherman’s Wife,” who swims to the sea floor to save her husband from a mermaid who keeps the skeletons of all the other men she’s seduced. There’s “The Corridors of the Sea,” about a man with an implanted gill system whose body starts adapting better to the sea than to air.

I definitely recommend this collection to fans of mer-lore. Did you know that in many old stories, merpeople, like fish, have no tongues? Yolen tells of Neptune and Old King Lir, Proteus and Davy Jones.   A woman threatened by the famous Malaysian Mer calls upon Poseidon, Neptune, Njord, Ran, and Dagon to save her. An undine, like in the fairy tale by Friedrich de La Motte Fouque, is seduced by a human who then drops her for another woman.  No wonder Jane Yolen is one of my favorite tellers of fairy tales!


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