I love fairy tales. I have always loved fairy tales. I read the usual ones as a child, and then I got books from the library so I could read more.
I went to graduate school in art history, but I wrote my masters thesis, in part, on fairy tales (and their illustrations). I read more fairy tales than I had ever done before. I read about fairy tale philosophies.
As an adult, I love reading the new crop of fairy tale re-tellings–you know the books that take the short tales of history and flesh them out, enrich the stories, create back stories, or update them in some way. Some of these stories are rooted in the past; some try to reinvent the classic characters in a modern time. Here are some especially good ones:
But what I’ve noticed in the last few months is several books that have kept the classic tales as they are in the past, but show how they have been affected by a modern digital world. Take, for example, Julie Kagawa’s “The Iron King.” This book centers on the land of the fey from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”: Oberon, Titania, the fairie courts, even Puck (reimagined here as a sexy teenager), plus a Cheshire-like cat named Grimalkin (who I make special mention of because he is my favorite character in the book). The spoiler of the book (and yes, I’m giving it away here, so be warned) is that there is a new presence in fairy land–a new kingdom, in fact–one not susceptible to the curse of iron, but rather born of metal, emerging from a modern age of technology and industry. It’s not the greatest book, but I am fascinated by this premise.
The next book that struck me was “Cinder,” by Marissa Meyer. Here the Cinderella tale is recreated fairy literally, stepmother, prince and all. However, it is not set in some medieval past, but in a future of science fiction. Our erstwhile heroine is a techno-wizard as well as being cyborg (part robot). Soon she is drawn into a plot to help the prince against a possible lunar invasion, not to mention find a cure for a plague currently ravaging the population. Sure there are plot holes, but the innovation of this updated fairy tale made it extra memorable for me.
Finally, I wanted to talk about a book that surpasses the others in originality and the philosophical queries it ponders. This book is “Alif the Unseen,” by G. Willow Wilson. This is what Wilson says of writing the book–she has tried to:
imagine a world composed not only of recognizable twenty-first century dangers, but of the supernatural threats that inhabit our myths and dreamlives. Alif the Unseen is a story about the flow of information, about the power and danger of coded knowledge in a time when much of life is conducted from behind the anonymizing veil of a computer screen. And it’s about stepping from behind the screen into the real world, more fantastic than any fiction, where the choices we make shape the lives of those we love and those we’ve never met, in ways both seen—and unseen.
I found this story that dares to combine a computer hacker, the Arab Spring, a vampire jinn, and ideas from the Qu’ran into one book to be daring, compelling and thought-provoking. There is a quote from the book that talks about how “…something fundamental has changed about the world in which we live. We have reached a state of constant reinvention. Revolutions have moved off the battlefield and on to home computers. Nothing shocks one anymore. We are living in a post-fictional era.” And yet the book explores how it might be precisely living in this “post-fictional era” that may allow people to again believe in the tales of the past. If the Qu’ran can acknowledge the existence of the jinn, why can’t our modern minds? The ancinet alchemists wanted to produce a living book that could produce knowledge that transcended time–have we now reached a time when technology will allow us to combine the mythologies and religious beliefs of the past with the philosophies of a optimally digitized future to create an acceptable blend of the riches of all these things?
I don’t have an answer for that, but I’m glad that the fairy tales of the modern age are allowing us to ask such new and intriguing questions.