Reading is one of our greatest forms of escapism, and what better way to escape than to fall into a fairy tale? We all know our Disney and Brothers Grimm, but if you want a departure from your childhood tales, look no further! Whether you want a short story or a full length novel, here are some books that are a little break from the norm.
–Uprooted by Naomi Novik
If you haven’t heard of/read Uprooted by now, you should stop reading this now and pick up a copy. It made a whole bunch of ‘top books’ lists, including my own, and with good reason.
Agnieszka lives at the edge of an enchanted wood — and not the charming kind filled with fluffy woodland creatures that help with household chores. As the border of the wood creeps ever further, it swallows and blights everything is its path. The Dragon is a wizard who keeps the Wood at bay, but at a price. He picks a beautiful young woman to join him in his tower. Agnieska knows he will take her beautiful, brave, intelligent best friend Kasia at the next choosing, but she is wrong.
The world of Uprooted will get its hooks into you and not let go — I stayed up way past my bedtime for several nights while powering through this book. It is the perfect grown up fairy tale filled with strong women, magic, darkness, and a hint of romance. It’s also a standalone novel, which means you wont be left hanging for a sequel.
–The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
I only just finished this debut novel last night (review forthcoming) and it is truly incredible.
Vasya has been different from the moment she was born. With the ability to see supernatural beings, what her stepmother would call devils, she is viewed with careful suspicion by the people of her village. At least, until Father Konstantin arrives from Moscow and teaches the people to fear God and abandon the old ways that have kept them safe for so long. With the growing fear of damnation, a horror awakens within the woods and begins to break free. Only Vasya can save her people, but at a terrible price.
Equal parts Russian fairy tale, horror story, and coming of age novel, you fall so easily into the Vasya’s world where the old gods and the new fight for survival and control. It manages to be both quiet and incredibly gripping; you’ll lose yourself in the beautiful prose that truly does feel like a childhood fairy tale. The Bear and the Nightingale is the perfect book to curl up with on a cold winter night.
–The Classic Fairy Tales: W. W. Norton
Okay, so this one is a textbook, but don’t dismiss it so quick! This is seriously one of the best collections of fairy tales I’ve ever read. It is unique in that it groups all the different versions of the same story together so you can see how a tale has evolved over time and through different cultures. It features versions of Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Bluebeard, Beauty and the Beast, Little Red Riding Hood, and Hansel and Gretel. It also includes stories by Oscar Wilde and Hans Christian Andersen. You’ll read versions from the Grimm Brothers, Charles Perrault, and others you’ve not heard of before.
For the more curious readers, there are critical essays in the back that discuss gender, cultural traditions, and sociology, to name a few. If you have any interest in fairy tales, seriously consider getting this book.
–Magical Tales from Many Lands by Margaret Mayo
This one is cheating a little bit because I think it’s actually out of print (but still available online, where I just ordered my copy). This was my go-to book when I was little — I’m shocked that my copy didn’t fall apart. I had every tale practically memorised and could be instantly transported anywhere in the world through the beautiful stories and illustrations. A diverse collection of stories from Scottish, Russian, Native American, and Incan traditions, to name a few, this book opened my eyes to people and traditions from around the world.
-Andrew Lang’s Rainbow Fairy Books
With 12 books in total, each assigned a color, Andrew Lang’s collections of fairy tales are among the best. These collections were originally published as push back against educators who believed traditional tales were harmful to children’s education and should be beneath the notice of mature children. Some of these stories will be familiar, some will be completely new — some of them were printed in English for the first time thanks to the efforts of Lang, his wife, and their translators. With a wealth of content to choose from, one could get lost in Lang’s stories for a long, long time. This would be interesting to pair with the W. W. Norton collection, as Lang censored his stories to suit the young audience while Norton prints them as they were originally told, brutality included.
There are so many collections of fairy tales I had as a kid and cannot remember now. What are your favorite fairy tales or fairy tale collections?