Book Review: Black Apples – 18 New Fairytales, edited by Camilla Bruce & Liv Lingborn

Black Apples

Fans and practitioners of the fairy-tale form: you cannot afford to miss this collection of new stories written by accomplished writers from both sides of the Atlantic and beyond. From straightforward retellings of classic fairy tales to delightfully meta-fictive examinations of the genre itself, this anthology will find a wide audience–and maybe even pull in those who thought they left fairy tales behind them.

Several of the featured stories prove that there can still be powerful retellings of the oldest and best known tales. “Godmother Death” is a wholly original and engrossing retelling of “Cinderella”, one that is both sad and frightening. While investigating the fleeting nature of beauty, “Snow Child” reexamines the women of “Snow White”. “Sickly Sweet” gives us “Hansel and Gretel” from the viewpoint of a very complicated witch. “Cloaks and Hoods” shows that Red Riding Hood can never completely leave the woods behind her, not even in Paris. A famous trickster plays an important new role in “Coyote and the Girl in the Red Dress”. And the princess we encounter in “Scar” is someone who has been missing from this genre for too long.

Especially pleasing are the stories that play with the very tropes they celebrate. The masterful “Deus Ex Machina” dramatizes a standoff between the Fair Maiden and the Wicked Witch and cautions us against trusting our knowledge of fairy-tale conventions. The heroine of “Bunny’s Lucky Slipper” must survive the warped world of her favorite childhood storybook. “Citizen” presents a Rapunzel who has to defend the genre in which she exists in order to save herself and her children. “Enkesonnen” examines the complications, and the uncertain legacy, of enchantment itself. An entertaining and insightful “history” of an ill-fated kingdom is found in “Every Heart Is Cold, Dark Matter”.

No collection of this sort would be complete without reconsidering marriage and family, the tranquil endpoint of the classic tales. “Harsh Beauty” shows that when Beauty tames the Beast, the loss of passion paradoxically necessitates further violence. “And Gold in Her Eyes” looks at the offspring of a similarly complicated union. “Bluebeard’s Child” considers the sad fate of the famous murderer’s daughter, who risks everything as she searches for a new mother. “A Winter Evening” offers a new twist on bargaining with witches and female self-sacrifice, and ultimately finds a way to keep a couple together. When a union yields plenty of children but no male heir, “Twelve Sisters, Twelve Sisters, Ten” arrives at the best possible solution. “The Shadow and the Snake” completely reimagines family relations within the context of a fairy-tale court. In “Everyone Else Has Two Eyes” the courageous heroine takes a drastic step to restore her prince’s sight and birthright.

The fairy tale will never die, if only because of the opportunities it offers to readers and writers. What the People’s Inquisitor laments in “Citizen” is actually cause for celebration: “This is precisely the problem with these tales . . . Dangerous, subversive nonsense. Peasant girls become Princesses. Idiot boys turn out to be Princes and suchlike. Everyone has the chance to live happily ever after”. To that I would add: be careful what you wish for.

You can find “Black Apples” through