Reading fairy tales can be more thrilling than visiting haunted houses and dungeon attractions. So how scary are fairy tales?
Fairy tales and legends had a very long oral history before they began appearing in print. Although all countries have their own tales and legends, reflecting their beliefs and character, many of them have a similar plot and an almost identical goal. The goal is to teach, warn and scare into obedience. Many fairy tales have plots surrounding children who disobeyed their parents and what consequences they met. Anyone who was told or read any of them knows what elements of horror they contain. The Brothers Grimm compiled many stories and published them together. In this way, as Stephen Jones says in his introduction to Fearie Tales: Stories of the Grimm and Gruesome, they became the first horror stories anthologists.
Fearie Tales: Stories of the Grimm and Gruesome is an anthology inspired by fairy tales and folklore legends. They are not only re-imagined tales but are all brilliant horror stories, bringing a faster heart beat, fear of shadows and good old-fashioned nightmares. All the stories are intertwined by the original Brothers Grimm tales – some are re-written tales and some are just their subtle echoes.
The anthology includes traditional themes of changelings and child kidnapping. They are re-imagined stories of “Rumpelstiltskin” and elfin changelings. Two stories based on “Rumpelstiltskin”, book-end the anthology. “Find My Name” by Ramsey Campbell is the first story in the book – just after the lesser known Brothers Grimm’s “The Wilful Child”. Ramsey Campbell’s writing is delightfully creepy. So is “Come Unto Me” by John Ajvide Lindqvist (translated by Marlaine Delargy). Both of the stories show how unconditional love for a child can make you fearless. In a similar theme, “Crossing the Line” by Garth Nix took me to the scorching Wild West. The main character of the story, Rose Jackson, crosses many boundaries on the way to save her daughter and let her be who she is. I found this story bittersweet and touching. Neil Gaiman’s “Down to a Sunless Sea”, which was based on “The Singing Bone” also tackles the loss of a child. It’s very short and sorrowful, but beautifully written.
I love stories about changelings and how they merge the supernatural with reality. “The Changeling” by Brian Lumley is a nostalgic tale of old sea gods and nautical shape shifters. The descriptions are great – the reader can find themselves pretty much alongside the main character listening to the melancholic story told by a stranger on a remote beach. Whereas “The Artemis Line” by Peter Crowther brought me nightmares full of trolls and evil faeries. Reading it also made me fall in love with scarecrows. This is one of my favourite stories in this anthology. It’s a brilliant horror written in the style of Edgar Allan Poe which is perfectly set in the modern world. It contains the supernatural elements which despite their intangible fear factors, blend dreams and shadows in such a way that you will want to keep your lights on after reading it.
The counter balance to the traditional horror stories is “Fräulein Fearnot” by Markus Heitz (translated by Sheelagh Alabaster). This one is based on “The Story of a Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was”. Even though it’s loaded with spooky stuff from beginning to end, it has a kind of a dark humour approach to the original story of a boy unable to understand fear. The main character Asa, who is totally fearless, unintentionally ends up in trouble and from there it’s like a ‘domino effect: horror edition’ game of outsmarting ghosts, murderers, monsters and the devil himself. One thing leads to another and there’s no way of stopping. Though, what is it like not to be able to be scared?
“The Silken People” by Joanne Harris is another gem in this anthology. The story is about the elusive Lacewing King (People who follow Joanne Harris on Twitter are familiar with her #storytime which very often features the Lacewing King) and a girl who is determined to find him despite the danger it entails. This story is truly awesome – it is a horror story, fairy tale and a love story in one. It is written with this unique storytelling gift which all her books contain – although it broke my heart into lots of little pieces, it made me want to read it again and again. This is not the only compelling love story in this anthology, “The Silken Drum” by Reggie Oliver is also full of obsession and longing. It has elements of Japanese folklore which put this story in between enchanted fairy tale and the mundane reality of a small town.
Another poignant story is “The Ash-Boy” by Christopher Fowler. It is a wonderfully re-imagined story of “Cinderella” with a twist. It uses a lot of original fairy tale elements and I love the writing style. “Open Your Window, Golden Hair” by Tanith Lee is a very interesting re-written tale of “Rapunzel”. This works perfectly as a chilling story. Open Your Window, Golden Hair is not what you think it might be. The writing is engaging and it brings goose bumps when you least expect it. “Look Inside” by Michael Marshall Smith gave me an uneasy feeling caused by what one can’t see, such as strange things happening without any reasonable explanation. I have to check if my door is locked twice before I can go to bed now. The story also gives a quirky little idea about ‘welcoming’ thieves and intruders.
The anthology also has three stories which I love because they are eerie and very dark. “By the Weeping Gate” by Angela Slatter is a murky ghost story set in a small harbour town. Her writing is very atmospheric – darkness at the core of the story is skilfully touched-up by vibrant characters and magic. It’s very different to other stories of this type and this makes it so interesting. The most harrowing story in this anthology is “Anything to Me is Sweeter, Than to Cross Shock-Headed Peter” by Brian Hodge. The bleak surrounding and forlorn characters create an unforgettable story. It seems to have an element of dark satire in it, but its set is terrifying – a house occupied by misbehaving children which is a visitors’ attraction and a house of horrors in one. The story, despite being gruesome, is a whimsical tale of friendship and finding one’s place in the world. It was moving and horrifying – just as much as “Peckish” by Robert Shearman. “Hansel and Gretel” is somewhat a fairy tale horror, but this re-imagined tale is much darker. Gingerbread Men will never taste the same to me.
Fearie Tales: Stories of the Grimm and Gruesome, edited by Stephen Jones, is a marvellous horror anthology of fairy tales. Each story is great in its own way and together they just work remarkably well to bring thrills and nightmares. All of them are terrifying and mesmerizing at the same time. The illustrations by Alan Lee are incredible and perfectly compliment the stories. Read it if you dare and see if you can keep your lights off during the night.
Author: Edited by Stephen Jones
Title: Fearie Tales: Stories of the Grimm and Gruesome
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books (UK)
Published: October 24, 2013 (UK)
Review originally published on Fantasy-Faction website.