My favorite genre for the past year or two has been the distorted, demented, or simply re-imagined fairytale. This extends to myths and folklore too, of course, and I have devoured everything from Frank Beddor’s Looking Glass Wars and Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series to the sometimes playful, sometimes frightfully dark adaptations in the various collections edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, such as Troll’s Eye View and The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest. It was through my voracious reading of the collections from these two editors—dozens of books you absolutely must check out!—that I discovered Francesca Lia Black’s The Rose and the Beast.
This little book is not like the others in terms of its style or movement, but it remains a well-loved collection nonetheless. It does not contain saucy dialogue, building plots with twists and turns, or lengthy descriptive passages that might make you swoon. Instead, it consists of tiny, bite-sized fairytales—a collection of nine in just under 230 pages in a book that is also almost pocket-sized—that turn traditional tales around, often in a feminist perspective, with poetic, lyrical crafting.
I use feminist here to simply mean that the heroines often make better decisions than their traditional counterparts; do not pick up this book expecting it to be full of castrating princesses—or abandon it because you think that is what it will hold! No, instead, think of a gorgeous Snow White who, rather than abandon her seven foster fathers for a lover, chooses to stay, or a muse-like Thumbelina whose magic transforms a human boy rather than who is impacted by a fairy prince. In some ways, these tales are much richer, even more layered despite their brevity than their original inspirations.
Of course, the stories we are familiar with are not originals, either, but hand-me-down tales that were suddenly recorded when the opportunity presented itself—so who knows? These telling of braver, stronger heroines may be closer to the originals that were once uttered than we think. We will, of course, never know—which makes it fun to continue experimenting with these old tales.
This is a perfect romantic book to curl up with during a winter’s idyll in the coming season, as well as something to gift your favorite teen with for the holidays. Check it out and read each tiny story in between moments of waiting, or cozy up with the full book in your favorite chair for a deliciously romantic, fantasy-rich afternoon.