“I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say, but I shall still be your affectionate Godfather, C. S. Lewis.”
So reads C.S. Lewis’s dedication of The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe.
Do you know what he means about growing into fairy tales again?
I do (lucky me!), and I hope you do, too. Adulthood is better with fairy tales.
The originals are great. Probably more gruesome than a lot of us remember, but still great. Also wonderful are the myriad of adaptations that have come out over the years, both literary and visual. The following list (which is still growing, mind you) was born of my love for certain of these adaptations.
Before we dive in head first, an advisory notice: these are my opinions. I do not present them as fact. There are many popular retellings that just aren’t my cup of tea. ABC’s “Once Upon A Time” series, for instance. Or Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles.
So what is my cup of tea? Well, expect to find some traditional and well-known titles, along with a handful of random, creative and nostalgic picks. Also note that I’ve limited myself to one adaptation per fairy tale.
Also-also note: certain of the most famous fairy tales are ones I don’t care for to begin with. I mean, Little Red Riding Hood… yuck. So it shouldn’t come as much surprise to find many well-known tales excluded here. On the flip side, maybe there will be a few that are totally new to my readers. Yay!
Now, if you’re ready, then allons-y.
Beauty And The Beast: We might as well get my least original selection out of the way first. Disney’s spin on the classic fairy tales are usually the best known versions. Occasionally, there’s good reason for that. 1992’s Beauty And The Beast is the best of the best. You’ve got striking animation, a catchy soundtrack, and a timeless story that’ll sucker-punch you right in the feels. Not to mention the library of every book-nerd’s wildest dreams…
The Brave Little Tailor: Disney tried their luck with this tale, too, all the way back in 1938. The Mickey Mouse version didn’t exactly catapult this lesser-known story to fame. I wasn’t too familiar with it until last year, when I happened upon the book Valiant, by Sarah McGuire.
The heroine is endearing and intrepid, the supporting cast is fantastic, and the traditionally villainous giants are given a different kind of treatment altogether. Seriously. These are hands down the best giants I have ever read. I only wish that was more of a compliment.
Rumor has it, the author has an adaptation of The Wild Swans in the works. I, for one, await its release with bated breath.
Cinderella: I would have preferred to compile a list entirely of books. Or at least avoided betraying my affinity for a shameless chick flick. Alas! I am powerless to deny my fondness for the 1998 Drew Barrymore/Angelica Huston vehicle Ever After. Does it bother me that American actors are playing French characters with fake British accents? Yes. Yes it does. But the freshness and wit are nonetheless winning.
East of the Sun & West of the Moon: Are you familiar with this Scandinavian tale of ice, polar bears and trolls? I wasn’t. Then I read the stunning retelling East, by Edith Pattou.
This is one of those books where you tumble into the pages, and the story feels like it’s happening to you. Good luck climbing out again.
‘East of the sun and west of the moon.’ As unfathomable as the words were, I realized I must figure them out, reason it through. For I would go to this impossible land that lay east of the sun and west of the moon. From the moment the sleigh had vanished from sight and I could no longer hear the silver bells I knew that I would go after the stranger that had been the white bear to make right the terrible wrong I had done him…. All that mattered was to make things right. And I would do whatever it took, journey to wherever I must, to reach that goal.
The Frog Prince: Not much is more fun than taking a well-known tale and adding a bit of a twist. That’s what happens in The Frog Princess, by E.D. Baker. Instead of the princess’s kiss turning the frog back into a prince, it curses her into froginess, too. Disney borrowed the same idea and took it in a different direction, but the cuteness of Baker’s original is hard to beat.
The Goose Girl: The Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale is easily my favorite literary fairy tale adaptation. It follows the classic story, about a princess deposed by her treacherous handmaiden and forced to tend geese for a foreign king, pretty much to a t. But Hale adds so much color and depth that you feel like you’re reading something brand new. As a writer, I don’t always enjoy reading gorgeous prose. It’s intimidating. But The Goose Girl is a worthy exception.
She closed the book and put her cheek against it. There was still an odor of a library on it, of dust, leather, binding glue, and old paper, one book carrying the smell of hundreds.
The Little Mermaid: Those familiar only with the Disney-fied version might not realize that this story is actually pretty depressing. All the more reason to appreciate Ponyo, Studio Ghibli’s loose adaptation. Besides putting a fresh spin on the time-told classic, this film has Hayao Miyazaki’s signature animation style, abounding with beauty and wonder. And a heroine who makes you wish you loved anything as much as she loves ham.
Rumplestiltskin: I actually read this adaptation, A Curse As Dark As Gold, by Elizabeth C. Bunce, just a week or so ago. I’m not sure how memorable it will prove as time passes, but I loved the attention to detail. It might also be the first version of this tale I didn’t just flat out hate, which is saying something.
♫♪ Rosebud, Rosebud, always will be mine. Rosebud, Rosebud, ’til the end of tiiiime! ♪♫
The Twelve Dancing Princesses: This final selection is also heavy with nostalgia. The difference is, Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre still holds up surprisingly well today. Sure, the special effects are cheesy and outdated. But good humor and sprightliness don’t go out of style.
Many of these hour-long episodes are television gold (Aladdin, for instance, features James Earl Jones as the genies, Leonard Nimoy as the villain, and was directed by Tim Burton). But The Dancing Princesses has always been my personal favorite. Peter Weller is tongue-in-cheek charming in the role of the hero, and the gags still make me laugh. Anyway, it beats the heck out of the Barbie version.
Honorable Mentions: I want to give a shout out to these books, because their fairy-tale goodness more than warrants it. But since they take on multiple tales and tropes simultaneously, I had nowhere else to put them on my list.
First, Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine. Most people know this one, as it won a lot of fancy awards and was eventually adapted into a movie with Anne Hathaway. It’s one of those books I didn’t read so much as inhale.
“Do you like to slide?” His voice was eager.
Stair rails! Did he suspect me? I forced a sigh. “No, Majesty. I’m terrified of heights.”
“Oh.” His polite tone had returned.
“I wish I could enjoy it. This fear of heights is an affliction.”
He nodded, a show of sympathy but not much interest. I was losing him.
“Especially,” I added, “as I’ve grown taller.”
Fairy tales are at their best when they’re being just a little cheeky. Speaking of which…
My second honorable mention goes to The League Of Princes series by Christopher Healy, featuring a cast of Princes Charming from the well-known tales of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and Rapunzel (along with their princess counterparts). I think the books are probably marketed at 10-year-old boys, but that didn’t stop me from snickering all the way through. Fairy tales need a little cheek, like I said, and this series has a lot more than a little. If that weren’t enough, Mr. Healy’s obvious infatuation with grammar and vocabulary certainly seal the deal.
“I wasn’t gonna defenestrate him,” the wing-haired man said. “I was gonna throw him out the window.”
“That’s what ‘defenestrate’ means,” said Frederic.
“Then why didn’t you just say ‘throw him our the window’?”
“Because I love words,” Frederic said with a smoldering intensity.
Okay, guys. I’ve had my say. I hope some of you will take a turn now. Does my list have any shocking omissions? What are your favorites?