The best dark fairytale books

Victoria Pearson Author Of Once Upon A Twisted Fairytale
By Victoria Pearson

Who am I?

GK Chesterton reportedly said that "fairytales are more than true: not because they teach us that dragons are real, but because they teach us dragons can be beaten." This rings true to me; I've been fascinated by the darker side of fairytales since childhood, when I used them to escape and make sense of my own dark experiences. Stories that began as oral traditions are my favourite, a blend of entertainment for long nights around a fire, and cautionary tales that teach us to fear the wolf, and beware of that which seems too good to be true. Old stories teach us what it means to be human. I hope you enjoy these.

I wrote...

Once Upon A Twisted Fairytale

By Victoria Pearson,

Book cover of Once Upon A Twisted Fairytale

What is my book about?

What if Red Riding Hood's grandmother didn't want to be saved? What if Cinderella's prince was actually a bit of a creep? What exactly was Prince Charming doing kissing a girl he found in a coffin anyway? Find out why you should always be careful what you wish for, why you shouldn't trust Hansel and Gretel just because they look sweet, and why you really don't want to displease Mr. Elffe.

Grab some iron to protect you from the Shining Ones, some salt to throw in the face of the fairies, and see what happened once upon a twisted fairytale...

The books I picked & why

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The Whitby Witches

By Robin Jarvis,

Book cover of The Whitby Witches

Why this book?

As a child, one of my favourite stories, that went on to help shape my personal writing style, was The Whitby Witches by Robin Jarvis. As a care leaver I found the main characters, siblings who had been shunted between several foster homes because of the brother's psychic gift, relatable. The sister doesn't believe him - a brilliant source of conflict because all they have is each other, yet there's this huge wedge between them. But the best part is how well the author blends the magical with the mundane. There's a group of almost Lovecraftian creatures that can only be seen by those with The Sight, living alongside the villagers. I loved the idea of unseen people, just a shadow's width away, unknown things living side by side with a blissfully ignorant human populace. That contrast between the ordinary and fantastical had crept into a lot of my stories.

Wyrd Sisters

By Terry Pratchett,

Book cover of Wyrd Sisters

Why this book?

I was torn between recommending a few different Pratchett books, but Wyrd Sisters has a special place in my heart because although it isn't the first in the series, it was my first Discworld book. My grandma gifted it to me for Christmas when I was about ten, and I was transfixed by it, drank it down in just a few days, and was catapulted into the Discworld as an instant fan. Wyrd Sisters is a beautifully drawn satirisation of our world, wrapped in surrealist magic. I didn't appreciate it as deeply when I first read it, but I've returned to it many times - it's one of those books I've read to tattered shreds more than once - and noticed first the references to Shakespeare's Macbeth, then the classical fairytale elements, the cleverly worded puns and jokes. Each time I return to a Pratchett book I discover something new, a different perspective I haven't seen in it before. The characters went on to feel like lifelong friends, and Wyrd Sisters is one of my absolute favourite comfort books.


By Friedrich de la Motte Fouquée, Arthur Rackham (illustrator),

Book cover of Undine

Why this book?

As a teen, I'd visit my aunt, in her flat above a laundrette. The flat had a small attic room with a little window and a few old boxes of junk. My cousins and sister and I would play up there, or sit up there telling ghost stories, because it was one of those unclaimed spaces, overlooked by adults, that children colonise. A liminal space almost, where adult rules and laws don't quite apply and therefore magic can happen. One day I was snooping up there and found a beautiful copy of  Friedrich De La Motte's Undine, illustrated by Arthur Rackham. It was so stunningly beautiful, it felt like a book that had been plucked out of some fairytale land. I lost myself in the illustrations or weeks before I even read the words. And when I did my heart broke for Undine, who loved so hard, but left her fragile heart in the hands of a boy who carelessly dropped it. It was the first story that taught me a fairytale doesn't have to have a happily ever after, and I've been in love with dark fairytales with bleak endings ever since.

The Fourth Bear

By Jasper Fforde,

Book cover of The Fourth Bear

Why this book?

The Fourth Bear is possibly too light to be included in a list of dark fairytales, but the main character is a classic, almost noir type detective, so maybe it's ok. Nursery Crime Division, to be exact. I think Jasper Fforde may be to blame for my desire to write Jack and the Beanstalk as a dark gritty courtroom drama (maybe one day!), he blends genres together so seamlessly, and I long to be able to do it as well as he does. There's a terrifying serial killer on the loose, and I was as on the edge of my seat as I am with any thriller, even though I knew that killer was The Gingerbread Man. It follows the plot of a standard police procedural/thriller, while including Punch and Judy, Goldilocks, an illegal porridge ring, and a murderous biscuit....or is The Gingerbread Man a cake? I absolutely adore the mix of genres and tones in this book, and it very much influences how I write my own stories.

Neil Gaiman's Snow, Glass, Apples

By Neil Gaiman, Colleen Doran (illustrator),

Book cover of Neil Gaiman's Snow, Glass, Apples

Why this book?

Snow, Glass, Apples is my all-time favourite Gaiman story, which is quite staggering given how much of his work I adore, but I'd only seen it in short story form before, in Smoke and Mirrors. Then I was given a copy of just Snow Glass, Apples, illustrated by Colleen Doran. The artwork is stunning, beautifully dark with a tight palette and rich, intricate detailing. Every page is a work of art, allowing you to linger and slowly digest the tale as it unfolds. This story is a huge influence for me, in particular for my collection Once Upon A Twisted Fairytale, because it flips the story of Snow White on its head. All of the elements of the traditional tale - the huntsman, the stepmother queen, the dwarves, the glass coffin - are there, but put together from the perspective of the queen, totally changing the story. I love to play with who is narrating a story, seeing how that changes the motivations, the moral theme, the feel of it, and the shape of it. Thanks to Gaiman I've written a great many new twists on old fairytales, but I've never done it so masterfully as this.

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