Fairy tales, in previous centuries, weren't considered stories for children only. The name "fairy tale" comes from the French conte de fée, a term coined in 17th century Paris for a literary fashion popular with adult readers. At the heart of the 17th century's profusion of literary fairy tales are the remnants of much older tales from the oral tradition—mixed with literary influences from medieval romance, and from 16th century Italian publications. French writers from the salons of Paris, such as Charles Perrault and Madame D'Aulnoy, created complex, enchanting tales still known and enjoyed by readers today (though often in simplified forms) : Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Bluebeard, The White Cat, The Discrete Princess, and numerous others.
The German Romantics took up the literary fairy tale form in the 18th and 19th centuries, creating adult works inspired by previous French and Italian stories mixed with tales from the German folk tradition (as popularized by the Brothers Grimm). Also in the 19th century, Denmark's celebrated Hans Christian Anderson created such beloved fairy tales as The Little Mermaid and The Snow Queen; and England's Oscar Wilde penned poignant stories such as The Selfish Giant and The Nightingale and the Rose. By this time, however, fairy tales had become increasingly associated with children. The older, darker stories were cleaned up by Victorian editors and published in the prosperous new market for children's books.
This bowdlerization of fairy tales continued in the 20th century, epitomized by the simple cartoon versions created by Walt Disney. Alas, these simple versions of the tales are the only ones most readers know today—versions in which the complexity, sensuality, and horror have been carefully toned down, or stripped out altogether. Where once we had stories of active heroines making their own way through the dark of the woods, now we have girls who sit crying in the ashes, awaiting rescue by a rich Prince Charming. Where once Sleeping Beauty was impregnated by her prince, waking all alone at the birth of twins, now she's awakened by a chaste kiss and the tale ends promptly with a wedding.
Despite the pervasive Disney influence, at the end of the 20th century a revival of adult literary fairy tales began among three overlapping groups of authors: feminist "mainstream" writers, feminist poets, and writers in the fantasy genre. Foremost among them are Anne Sexton (Transformations) and Angela Carter (The Bloody Chamber), whose brilliant work with fairy tale themes is often credited with kicking off this revival. A number of other fine authors soon followed their lead, creating a diverse body of contemporary fairy tale fiction and poetry for adults—authors such as A.S.Byatt, Margaret Atwood, Tanith Lee, Robert Coover, Robin McKinley, Olga Broumas, Carol Ann Duffy, Berlie Doherty, Delia Sherman, Jane Yolen, Patricia A. McKillip, Charles de Lint, Neil Gaiman and a host of others.
In order to encourage this revivial of the adult fairy tale, the following books and series were created:
The Snow White, Blood Red Series
edited by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling; cover art & design by Thomas Canty
This six-volume anthology series features short stories and poetry by contemporary writers inspired by classic fairy tales. Susanna Clarke, John Crowley, Charles de Lint, Karen Joy Fowler, Neil Gaiman, Lisa Goldstein, Tanith Lee, Patricia A. McKillip, Robin McKinley, Joyce Carol Oates, Delia Sherman, Midori Snyder, Peter Straub, Jane Yolen, Roger Zelazny and many others provide new takes on such familiar tales as Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast, Briar Rose, and The Snow Queen. The books in the series are:
- Snow White, Blood Red (Word Fantasy Award nominee)
- Black Thorn, White Rose (World Fantasy Award nominee)
- Ruby Slippers, Golden Tear
- Black Swan, White Raven
- Silver Birch, Blood Moon (World Fantasy Award winner)
- Black Heart, Ivory Bones
Originally published by William Morrow (hardcover) and Avon Books (paperback), the series is now being reprinted by Prime Books. Click on the following links for the new Prime editions of Black Thorn, White Rose and Black Swan, White Raven.
For a taste of this anthology series, the following story and several poems are available online:
* Godmother Death (story) by Jane Yolen
* The White Road (poem) by Neil Gaiman
* Carabosse (poem) by Delia Sherman
* Journeybread Recipe (poem) by Lawrence Schimel
* Silver and Gold by Ellen Steiber
* Knives (poem) by Jane Yolen
"Datlow and Windling’s series gives the reader a look at what some of our best storytellers are doing today." — The Washington Post Book World
The Fairy Tale Series
edited by Terri Windling, with cover art & design by Thomas Canty
This series features novel-length retellings of fairy tales for adult readers, featuring a mix of classic tales and those that may be less familiar. The authors here take a wide variety of approaches to their material, such as a retelling of Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty) set in Poland during the Holocaust, a version of Bluebeard (Fitcher’s Bird) set in New York in the 19th century, the Scottish tale Tam Lin transplanted to a midwestern American college campus, and Snow White, Rose Red turned into a gentle Elizabethan-era romance. The volumes in this series to date are:
- The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars by Steven Brust
- The Nightingale by Kara Dalkey
- Jack the Giant-Killer (a.k.a. Jack of Kinrowan) by Charles de Lint
- Snow White, Rose Red by Patricia C. Wrede
- Tam Lin by Pamela Dean
- Briar Rose by Jane Yolen (Nebula Award nominee, and selected for the American Library Association’s 100 Best Books for Young Adults list)
- White As Snow by Tanith Lee
- Fitcher’s Brides by Gregory Frost (World Fantasy Award nominee)
Originally published by Ace Books and Tor Books in hardcover and paperback, new reprint editions of the Wrede, Dean, and Yolen have recently been published by Viking/Firebird.
"The Fairy Tales series shows over and over again that sometimes difficult truths can only be told through the medium of fantasy."—Lisa Goldstein
The Armless Maiden, and Other Tales for Childhood's Survivors
edited by Terri Windling
This unusual anthology contains fiction for adult readers addressing the dark side of childhood, child abuse, and the road to healing. The book includes fiction, poetry and nonfiction by writers including Lynda Barry, Emma Bull, Charles de Lint, Patricia A. McKillip, Lisel Mueller, Joanna Russ, Anne Sexton, Delia Sherman, Will Shetterly, Midori Snyder, Ellen Steiber, Peter Straub, Jane Yolen and many others. Published by Tor Books in hardcover and paperback, The Armless Maiden was short-listed for the Tiptree Award. For a taste of the anthology, the following selections from it have been reprint online:
* The Armless Maiden and the Hero's Journey (essay) by Midori Snyder
* Wolf's Heart (story) by Tappan King
* Brother and Sister: A Matter of Seeing (essay) by Ellen Steiber
* The Step-Sister's Story (poem) by Emma Bull
"As the editor’s own memoir-cum-afterword makes clear, she has herself survived a perilous journey, ultimately establishing herself as an artist, editor, and anthologist in an environment so far removed from her childhood experience that she might as well have emigrated from another planet The Armless Maiden is an exploration, an extremely ambitious use of the fantastic for the most serious of literary purposes, to illuminate the human heart." — ThePhiladelphia Inquirer
"These fairy tales, ‘new tales spun from the threads of the old,’ plumb the dangers, the pain, the way back to life." — Feminist Bookstore News
Tor Books, hardcover & trade paperback.