Fairy tale remakes with a twist are running amok in Hollywood. We’re all (or at least I am) waiting with intrigue and apprehension for the extravaganza that will be Into The Woods. Sondheim songs, Chicago director, fairy tale characters, and Meryl Streep. What’s not to love? But amidst all this love for shakin’ up the old tales, I have to pay homage to one of my first literary loves, Angela Carter, and her book of twisted tales, The Bloody Chamber.
If you haven’t heard of Carter, let me give you a brief overview of this wonderful woman. She was a writer, journalist, and feminist. In ’69, after nine years of marriage, Carter ran off to Tokyo on an adventure, a trip that inspired some brilliant literary works. She went on to complete many novels and short story collections that, more often than not, detailed very interesting female characters and pioneered what many thought to be British ‘Magic Realism,’ though Carter herself denied being part of the genre as she believed it was something that belonged wholly to South America. That being said, the magic infused into Carter’s bawdy characters certainly pang of the magic realist discipline and give her prose a life of its own.
Carter was diagnosed with cancer and died in 1991. Whilst living with cancer, she wrote Wise Children, a beautiful book that is so bursting with life in all its gritty and gross forms that I can’t help but be astounded at the optimism and energy she put into the novel considering her illness.
Carter was a pioneer and kick-ass feminist writer. Her novels are great, I could go on for pages about them, but I’m here to talk about The Bloody Chamber. If you’re into fairy tale plot bending, you have to go find this book if you haven’t already. It contains stories inspired by Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, Puss in Boots, and Bluebeard. The difference, however, is that they don’t follow the generic constructs of ancient fairy tales in which more often than not a poor and beautiful damsel must be rescued from the perils of earth. Carter’s protagonists often bite back. The collection also explores feminine sexuality in a way that I think most of these Hollywood remakes entirely overlook. Little Red Riding Hood is infamous for the sexual morality connotations that it contains. Carter was not afraid to challenge these. Her Little Red runs off into the woods with the wolves and sticks a middle finger up at granny tut-tutting from her cottage. Well, not literally of course, but Carter’s twists on old tales often give that kind of effect. Her fairy tale females have their own sexuality and they explore it. She plays with these old stories with a masterful stroke and gives us a collection that still holds so much relevance with the modern woman, even if it was written 30 years ago.
So go to your nearest library or bookstore and have a thumb through—you won’t regret it. There’s also a film based on one of the stories, The Company of Wolves, that you can look out for. All hail Angela Carter!
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