You guys, I got this *sigh* last November … and I finally got around to reading it.
Apparently, it is just the case that with every short story collection I am doomed to like about 64-65% of the book, and just not anymore. (Though I do try.) Now, while Grim is primarily a collection of fairy tale adaptations, Rags & Bones is a collection of adaptations of fairy tales as well as literary classics (popular ones and lesser know ones too). I am going to be upfront here, and say that I haven’t read all of the adapted texts (or originals), though I have studied and read some. As far as I can tell, not knowing the background story did not decrease my enjoyment of the adaptations, though I am sure knowledge of the originals will have you appreciating some of the finer details that I may have missed.
In any case, I am here to talk about some of my favourites, so here we go:
“That the Machine May Progress Eternally” by Carrie Ryan:
When Tavil stands, the hairs on the very top of his head skim the ceiling, making him feel as though he should constantly duck. It takes only a few strands to reach the other side of the room, which has begun to feel like a cage. Why else would its dimensions be so perfectly confining?
So, this is an adaptation of E. M. Forester’s “The Machine Stops”. It is about Tavil, a boy from aboveground who gets trapped in the mechanized city below ground. At first, all he dreams of is going back home, but as the story continues, he struggles less and less. It is a chilling dystopian story that raises interesting questions about the way we live, the way we believe, and the way we tell histories and stories alike. I loved this one. It’s a great one to start the collection with.
“The Sleeper and the Spindle” by Neil Gaiman:
She wondered how she would feel to be a married woman …It would be the end of her life, she decided, if life was a time of choices.I n a week from now she would have no choices. She would reign over her people. She would have children. Perhaps she would die in childbirth, perhaps she would die an old woman, or in battle. But the path to her death, heartbeat by heartbeat, would be inevitable.
I have read a great many of Neil Gaiman’s short stories (maybe 90% of them), and I think I can honestly say that I loved this one the most. In this incredible adaptation of “Sleeping Beauty”, Gaiman begins with another girl who was once doomed to sleep forever. When she hears of a city plagued by a magical sleep, she (naturally) decides to skip out on her wedding to investigate and … the rest is mad brilliance, so just go ahead and read it.
“Millcara” by Holly Black:
She says that once people are singled out of a crowd, they almost always do what they’re asked. Isn’t that odd? It’s like magic, like if people thought that if a witch knew your name, she could make you do whatever she wanted.
This is an adaptation of Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, and is competing with Neil Gaiman’s story for the position of my favourite of the anthology. The novel Carmilla is told for the most part by Laura, Carmilla’s, erm, shall we say friend? And this clever short story is told by Carmilla (or Millcara) herself. It is actually a touching story of hunger, love, and well, humanity. I really, really enjoyed this one. Holly Black has a great knack of making funny and scary collide and I will always appreciate that talent in a writer.
“When First We Were Gods” by Rick Yancey:
“You’re a mortal, and only a mortal can afford to be romantic. When we conquered death, we murdered love.”
Gah! Vying for the position of the story that best represents “SCIENCE IS OUT OF CONTROL!” is this deeply sad, deeply disturbing adaptation of “The Birth-Mark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Humanity has found a way to save and download their memories into lifeless bodies, so technically, while their old bodies die, they remain alive in a new body. Only the rich can afford this, of course, leaving the mortals to serve the immortals. So, what does it mean to love in an age like this one? Read, find out, and probably make sure you have chocolate nearby.
“Awakened” by Melissa Marr:
“You’ll brush it every morning and night, so you don’t have nasty dreadlocks. Nice girls have long, shiny hair”
Do you like the line I picked? I nearly barfed in my mouth when I read this story. I’ve never read the adapted text, Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. A cruel boy captures a selkie, and never may she escape unless one of three things occur: 1. He chooses to sets her free 2. She manages to get her selkie skin back or 3. He strikes her three times. It is the most terrifying scenario in my opinion, because, despite the mermaids, it could so easily be true. (And I’m not just talking about people who think that women are objects to be owned, I am also referring to slavery and all its modern mutations.)
“New Chicago” by Kelley Armstrong:
“Three wishes. They say the paw grants three wishes.”
This is “The Monkey’s Paw” by W. W. Jacobs meets a zombie story. Okay, fine, they aren’t really zombies but people infected by a disease that makes them feral. (Same difference.) If you’ve ever read or heard of the story of “The Monkey’s Paw”, you’ll know that it’s like an evil djinn. You ask for something and, sure, you can get it all- except it comes with a steaming side of irony. But! If you think you know how this one will end … you’re mistaken. This was a very well constructed story.
“Without Faith, Without Law, Without Joy” by Saladin Ahmed:
Who am I? I do not know how he changed our names.
Okay, I haven’t read the adapted text- Sir Edmund Spenser’s The Fairie Queene– but I’ve read up on it. I find it interesting that Ahmed decided to write a part of the story from the perspective of the only three muslim characters whose names were taken from them and were instead named Sansfoy, Sansjoy, and Sansloy. I love, love when stories are given missing perspectives or missing moments, and this one goes the one step further and deals with the idea of “a muslim guy trapped in an allegorical text“.
Once more, my reasons for disliking some of the other stories are rather subjective. (If anything, I might want to reiterate my last critique for Grim here.) A lot of the stories that were being adapted in this book were from a very white-centric, often imperialistic canon of literature, and not all of the adaptations addressed this very well. I have to say, it was also the case with Charles Vess’ illustrations that were inserted between stories.
I did, however, love Vess’ illustrations for the “the Wood Beyond the World” and for the “Goblin Market”.
Despite my reservations, I must admit that the illustrations were a real treat to have between stories, along with his statement for each one. Which brings me to another thing I enjoyed about this collection- the writers left a note after their respective story mentioning which tale they chose to adapt, explaining why they chose it, and how/why they wanted to change it. While I do also think that a good story ought to stand on its own without the writers’ notes, some of these adapted stories are lesser known despite being written by rather well-known authors. I think it was useful and kind of fun to peek into the brains of the writers. (And, anyway, if you feel very strongly about not having afterwords from the writers, you could just go ahead and skip those pages.)