There’s a dark, twisted underbelly to fairytales that modern parents generally do not acknowledge.
Early fairytales were often moralizing, cautionary tales with very real messages: do not walk into the woods alone, do not always trust the honeyed words of strangers, not every fair face is your friend.
In the original tale, the Little Mermaid feels like she is walking on swords when she uses her legs and dies in the end of a broken heart, returning to the sea as foam.
Our contemporary, sanitized and Disneyfied stories are pastel-colored and always have a happy ending. While there are dark moments (notably Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty terrorized me), we are comforted and secure in the knowledge that our protagonist will succeed in their quest, often accompanied by crooning crabs.
Failure, ruin and despair don’t have much play in modern fairytales, except in books like Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses by Ron Koertge (illustrations by Andrea Deszo).
Koertge makes no bones about his dark retellings; he writes on the first page:
“Do you want to sleep? Find another storyteller. Do you want to think about the world in a new way?
Come closer. Closer, please. I want to whisper in your ear.”
Even the cover promises dark dreams: a lascivious red tongued wolf threatening to gobble a girl in a red dress.
These are true retellings. Do not look here for many happy endings. At best, his characters end up with their expected version of happiness, which isn’t so permanent after all. At worst, maiming, suffering and beautiful death.
If you enjoy the original Grimm Brothers stories, if you like your tales with a razor’s edge, Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses will be your cup of tea. The finely designed laser-cut illustrations from Andrea Deszo give the look of old-world woodcuts, adding a perfect punctuation to the dark-rimmed stories.
Here are twenty reimagined tales, written in free verse ranging from poetic prose to rhymed couplets. It reads like stories rather than poetry, though, and is quite easy to slide into.
My favorite is a series of five stories on Rapunzel, from the point of view of the mother, the father, the witch, the prince and Rapunzel. It will make you rethink Happily-Ever-After.
Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses is available for pre-order on Amazon. It releases July 10, 2012.
Thanks to Candlewick Press and Raquel Matos for the advance copy to review.