I suppose most readers are collectors, tracking down their favorite ‘types’ of stories. As a teen, fairy tales fascinated me, especially the more gruesome ones. (What does that say about me, hmmm?) I didn’t want the Disney-fied version, although those are certainly enjoyable enough. “The Goose Girl,” a favorite, included the speaking head of a dead horse. Each time the disguised princess would walk beneath, the horse would speak to her,reminding her of her true identity. I was always tickled that the blood drops on her mother’s handkerchief ALSO spoke.
I especially enjoy when authors attempt a retelling, like in the collection Black Thorn, White Rose, edited by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling. This great read made up of short stories by the best writers in fantasy and speculative fiction is awesome for readers looking for new authors. I found that if I liked a particular story, I just went looking for more works by that writer.
I myself have attempted retellings, including the following excerpt from my short story “Hair.”
My father had a voice like pavement, grating and deep, with a delicate hum of granite. My ear bone would throb with an echoing resonance. I would close my eyes, the firelight dancing flickering shadows across my eyelids. I had heard the story many times, and although he spoke of things I had never seen, still I was comforted by the conjuration, the texture of his voice…
…The man whom I call Father was not truly my father. He had no hand in my paternity save to tempt the man who did. Who knows how long the Cobbler would have slunk into my father’s garden without discovery. But the Cobbler’s Wife was a greedy woman, and eight months pregnant, she pulled her bulky frame over the garden wall to see that the Cobbler did the job correctly. She was quite vicious and loud, I’m told, and it stirred my father from his rest.
And I was the payment for so many rampion salads.
I asked for rampion once as a child. I had an insatiable curiosity about many things, an inheritance from my natural mother, who would lift herself over garden walls. In this day, they would be alarmed and electrified. Rarely, though, did I voice questions that would rain my father’s disapproval on my head. I was afraid. In this instance, however, my question wrung a reluctant smile from his mouth, and he produced a rather wilted head of the green leaves.
At first, the leaves seemed to have no taste at all, or rather, a dull flavorless one at best. But in my throat, and centering on the back of my tongue, there grew a salty bitterness that soon engulfed my entire mouth. I begged for water, but the more I drank, the worse it became, until I was horribly sick. I never asked again.
I was always struck by the idea that the witch/jailor of the original Tower/Rapunzel cycle was always female, the archetype of feminine evil. That seemed so limiting to me, so I attempted a tale that played with our assumptions of that story.
Frankly, I can’t hold a candle to what Shannon Hale does in her Young Adult novel Goose Girl. Even as I finished that story, I wished I had written it. Hale creates a lovely fluid narrative voice and played with the original elements of the story. The liberties she took with the story translate it for a more modern audience, but she also skillfully created a main character that I could admire. Ani must disguise herself as a goose girl, hiding from her malicious maid—but she has abilities, including speaking to animals, that mature even as she grows. For more on Shannon Hale, visit: http://www.squeetus.com/stage/books_goose.html . Goose Girl is the first of several and sets the premise and landscape for the novels that follow.