Top Ten Tuesday: fairy tales, fables, magic realism, and retellings

Top Ten Tuesday - Bayrock, Bookrock - Sidebar crop copyThe Broke and the Bookish has a weekly top ten challenge – and this week I’m joining in!

The challenge is to post a list of ten fairy tales or retellings, and I find the majority of popular fairy tale interpretations appear as young adult fiction – I’m thinking of authors like Holly Black, Gail Carson Levine, and Vivian Vande Velde.

Since YA isn’t really my wheelhouse any more, I’ve taken a few liberties with my list – including authors who channel the weird old spirit of Aesop or the Brothers Grimm, rather than sticking to strict retellings. Fairy tales sneak their bony fingers of inspiration into literary fiction every year; magic realism and fairy tales aren’t exactly analogous, but sometimes the two genres overlap in a neat little Venn diagram.

Long story short: if you’re looking for fairy tales without diving into the often-angsty YA, I’ve got a list for you – a good mix of fairy tales, fables, and folk stories.

Boy, Snow, Bird by OyeyemiBoy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

This is the only strict retelling on the list – and one of the best fairy tale interpretations I’ve ever read. The novel is loosely, loosely based on the story of Snow White; subtle references create a deeper level to the novel without choking it to death. Oyeyemi plays with the characters, poking at the idea of what it means to be a villain or a heroine.

The Strange Library by Haruki MurakamiThe Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

A boy goes to the library, but finds himself trapped in the basement by a Bluebeard-esque librarian who intends to eat his brain. Will he escape, aided by animals and his own luck? As one of his shortest and weirdest works, this is one of my go-to suggestions for Murakami beginners.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by GaimanThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman 

This is an old-school fairy story – a terrifying brush with another world, full of sharp teeth and things in the dark. It brings to mind his short story “How To Talk To Girls At Parties,” with the same brilliant Gothic fiction feel that something is horribly off – and hiding it well.

Green Grass Running Water by Thomas KingGreen Grass, Running Water by Thomas King

When people say they hate Canadian fiction, I’ve learned to recommend this book – because it’s so completely different from most “canon” CanLit, and yet so completely, wholly Canadian at heart. King weaves in a fair share of First Nations fables, but also a good dose of pop-culture-as-mythology, which is simply a brilliant combination.

Egg and Spoon by MaguireEgg and Spoon by Gregory Maguire

The author of Wicked draws on the best of Russian folk tales to create this beauty; get set for a mouthful of Baba Yaga, the Firebird, a massive set of nesting dolls and dragon’s tooth soldiers, and a lot of wonderfully sentimental talk about “the spirit of Russia.” (I also wrote a full review of this novel earlier this summer, and you can read it here.)

Vampires in the Lemon GroveVampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell

This is Russell’s second collection of short stories, and probably my favourite of the two. She perfectly weds real life to fantasy in an amazing broad range of subject matter. Japanese girls turn into caterpillars; a masseuse deals with a living tattoo; a pair of vampires swear off human blood in favour of fresh lemons.

All My Friends Are Superheroes by KaufmanAll My Friends Are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman

When an ungrateful wedding guest makes the hero’s wife forget he exists, he finds himself on a quest to make her remember him – a plot that would find a welcome home in any fable. After all, you know what they say: one man’s superpowers are another man’s fairy tale curses.

The Illumination by Kevin BrockmeierThe Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier

One day, without explanation, pain begins giving off light. Suddenly it is possible to see the hurts and aches of the strangers around you – from headaches to broken limbs, the pain of grief to cancer. It seems to be a toss-up: will the world become more compassionate after the Illumination, or will things remain exactly the same?

The Wild Things by Dave EggersThe Wild Things by Dave Eggers

Eggers takes Maurice Sendak’s classic picture book and reimagines it as a novel: suddenly the teeth of the wild things are pointier, the wide seas choppier, the absence of a mother and father sharper. At first, the life of wild things seems idyllic – but it soon becomes apparent that even wild things have problems.

Mr. Fox by OyeyemiMr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

We’ll end with another Oyeyemi; author St. John Fox invents a muse for himself in the form of Ms. Mary Foxe – who soon starts giving as good as she gets. They write each other into a host of short tales to try and gain the upper hand, resulting in a compilation of styles, subjects, and characters neatly tied together by a central thread.


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