Grim: A Twisted Fairy Tale Collection

In the beginning of the month, I said I would review three fairy tale collections, but I feel like only two made the cut. (It was a simple criteria- I picked the books on the basis of whether the stories I liked outnumbered the stories I didn’t.) Today, I’m going to talk about Grim, a collection edited by Christine Johnson.

It has stories from a lot of great writers, and out of the 17 stories, I either enjoyed or downright loved 11 of them. I guess that’s the gamble with anthologies. You can’t love all of them. Oh well. Moving on, here are some thoughts on the ones that I loved and no, no spoilers here:

“The Key” by Rachel Hawkins:

Still grumbling, I laid my palms flat on hers, and taking a deep breath, Momma closed her eyes. Almost immediately, she frowned. “Girl, you weren’t kidding.”

“About what?”

“The running. You are gonna run and run today. Fast.”

This one reminds me of “Bluebeard“- which is fantastic, because Bluebeard is my favourite. Er, not the guy. The story. *ahem* This one is about a girl who lives with her fortune teller mother in a trailer. She realizes that her mother’s latest client happens to be her boyfriend. Or rather, it happens to be the concerned best friend of her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend who mysteriously went missing. Got that? Good. ‘Cause you’re not getting anymore. A thrilling beginning to the collection, in my opinion. I would have happily read a 500 page novel on the protagonist and her mother.

“The Twelfth Girl” by Malinda Lo:

“I thought you were supposed to tell my fortune, not give me a warning.”

“I’m doing both.” Madam Sofia said, and she dropped Liz’s hand as if it had burned her.

Live cradled her hand to her chest- it trembled now, free from the woman’s grasp- and stood. “You’re crazy,” she said, and turned to leave.

“Ten dollars,” Madam Sofia said, her voice ringing in the small room. “You don’t want to owe me a debt.”

Oh, those wacky fortunetellers. Always so ominous. (I love it.) So, this one, as you can tell from the title is an adaptation of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses“. The last time I read it, it was a cheery adaptation by Emily Carroll. This time, it’s back to being a creepy but incredible modern adaptation. Fun things about this one- no prince, all the agency, and even the fortune teller is more than just a human stop sign. My only issue is that I wish it were a novel instead of a short story. It felt a bit rushed.

“The Raven Princess” by Jon Skovron:

“I can host a banquet for a hundred lords and ladies. But what do I know about babies?” The nanny had asked for the day off and now the queen regretted letting her have it … “What do you want?!” The queen gripped the edge of the crib hard.

An adaptation of, you guessed it, “The Raven“. The queen is, shall we say, not a natural at parenthood? She impulsively curses her daughter. Years later, we find her and the daughter reunited, finding interesting ways to lift the curse. Rather traditionally, it does involve a prince. But it also involves character growth and adventure and some “non-traditional” side characters. Very enjoyable, and one of the first of the funny ones in the collection.

“Thinner Than Water” by Saundra Mitchell:

Tonight he looks at me. There’s a frightening shade in his gaze. It ties a knot round my throat and makes leather of my tongue. His hand rasps. It catches on the thin silk of my nightdress. Unpleasant heat sinks through the fabric.

Oh gosh, if you were wondering what the audience for Grim was, it’s definitely a crossover text- older teens to adults. As a retelling of “Donkeyskin“, this one almost reads like Game of Thrones. A bit tamer, mind.  But still, ew, so gross and creepy and yes, trigger warning here for rape. But! The ending makes everything so much more interesting. No prince. No rescue. Which leaves one of two options- and I will leave you to guess them. (Or better yet, read the story.)

“The Brothers Piggett” by Julie Kagawa:

Percival didn’t care about the forest, though. He was too busy being in love.

The object of his affection, a girl named Maya Thornton, was a newcomer to the village and loved with her grandmother in a small hut at the edge of the woods …

Percival didn’t care about Maya’s grandmother, either.

Though he really should have.

This is my favourite of the collection, I think. It reads like a short story and a fairy tale, whereas most others read like novels that were condensed into short stories and given a fairy tale atmosphere. Anyway, this is a very unexpected and very grotesque retelling of “The Three Little Pigs“. You think I’m joking now, but if you read it I promise you’d never read the old kids’ story quite the same way.

“Light It Up” by Kimberly Derting:

My fingers trembled as I light my cigarette, grateful for the first time for the shitty gold-plated lighter the step-bitch gave me for my last birthday, the one with my name- Greta- engraved on the side of it. Maybe she thought se was giving me the gift of early-onset emphysema.

A modern adaptation of “Hansel and Gretel“. Do. Not. Mix. With. Hannibal. (Bad for sleep.) “Hansel and Gretel” is already a fun subversion. In the adapted text (the original, if you like) the fact that the kids who were fated to die not only survive but become rich at the end, is a giant middle-finger to the adults. This story is a giant middle-finger to horror movies wherein the heroine is “consumed”. I enjoyed it immensely.

“Sharper Than A Serpent’s Tongue” by Christine Johnson:

“You, though.” Mrs. Swanson’s eyes narrowed. “You have a nasty attitude, and from now on, you’ll have a gift to match. Snakes and toads from your serpent-tongues mouth, that’s what you’ll have. Now get off my porch.”

So! Good! A modern adaptation of “Diamonds and Toads” that blurs the lines between good and evil and blessings and curses. Now this is a cleverly done story and I won’t be forgetting it anytime soon. Another modern, real world, adaptation- which only makes the way the magic works even more interesting.

“Beauty and the Chad” by Sarah Rees Brennan:

“Dude,” said the Beast. “Who steals roses? That is so not cool.”

Think “Beauty and the Beast“, but better because it doesn’t take itself way too seriously. The Beast or, sorry, Chad was transported from the real world (our world) to the fairy world to serve out his curse and runs into a very *ahem* comely *violent throat clearing* stableboy. It’s fun. It’s funny. And it cleverly fixes all the annoying things about this fairy tale (for me, at least), while retaining the romance and the charm of the story.

I feel like I should round off this post with some of my issues with the stories I didn’t enjoy:

  • If you are doing a collection of fairy-tales, and you are going to re-tell them instead of adapt them, you should probably at least annotate it, or add illustrations, or something. And no, changing the medium is often not a powerful enough change.
  • I’ve seen a lot of adaptations of “Beauty and the Beast”, and a lot of adaptations try to give Beauty some agency. Maybe I’m just tired of the whole thing. Or maybe it would be nice if, for a change, Beauty chose to come to the castle instead of “choosing” to fall in love with a fellow prisoner (or worse, jailer)?
  • There were two stories that had androids in them. One story had an android who was seen as a disposable creature, a slave, and is a victim to sexual assault. Another was seen, primarily, as a love interest, though also as an object to be possessed. Guess the genders? It’s not a trick question. I think I could have liked each of these stories if I had read them in different collections, but reading them together made me wish the genders had been swapped. I know all speculative fiction is meant to reflect real life, but there was just nothing subversive about these stories and so it did not really entertain me.
  • Which leads me to the last point. Not all fairy tales are/have to be subversive, but most of the mass favourites are. Don’t just adapt stuff by changing the year or the setting, be better than the world you see around you.

Looking at my notes, it seems all of my critiques are personal preferences. I guess everyone likes fairy tales for different reasons, and expect adaptations to fulfill certain requirements. While I think the collection will have something for everyone, not every story will live up to what you expected. Anthologies are just tricky like that. If none of the stories I talked about today interest you, there’s always tomorrow …