The best dream-like fairy tales books

Mindi Meltz Author Of After Ever After: The Ritual of Forgetting (Book One of the After Ever After Trilogy)
By Mindi Meltz

The Books I Picked & Why

The Buried Giant

By Kazuo Ishiguro

Book cover of The Buried Giant

Why this book?

Dreams are for revealing what’s buried so that we can reclaim it and be healed. Half romantic dream, half subtle nightmare, this haunting tale chases buried love and identity, buried memories of children that may or may not be real, and the buried secrets and collective trauma of a civilization itself, which never come to any harsh-lit, practical conclusion but end with as much aching ambiguity as a dream itself. Thinking of this book years later, I still remember a journey of endless mist and yearning through mythic Britain, called forth by the unbroken thread of ancient, marital tenderness in the strange elder couple who are its heroes.

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The Fox Woman

By Kij Johnson

Book cover of The Fox Woman

Why this book?

I wish we had more dream novels out there about animal brides and bridegrooms! Instinctual and unbound by law, with access to wild places we could never reach, animals are such a perfect way to express the id-consciousness, the dream versions of ourselves. Based on a Japanese folktale, here’s a sweet, whimsical story of a fox who turns herself human to love a human man. Which form is real, and which is the dream, and how will she free herself to live both realities as a fully formed woman of her own?

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Little, Big

By John Crowley

Book cover of Little, Big

Why this book?

Genius and multi-layered, impossible to pin down, this warm yet haunting, witty yet aching, honest yet fantastical novel begins with a surreal and strangely relatable marriage in an Escher-like house that moves and lives and then extends in every direction back and forth across the veil between worlds. You will actually step foot into Fairy-land, and be drawn into that fabled dance that is neither exactly maleficent nor in any way kind, but always seductive, always precariously beautiful. Somehow Crowley’s breathtakingly unique, lyrical, and yet unpretentious story-telling wraps romance, fairy tale, mytho-philosophical questioning about space and time, and allegorical critique of modernization all into one very deep and unpredictable story—but without ever losing touch with characters whose simple human longings are just heartbreaking and real.

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By Susanna Clarke

Book cover of Piranesi

Why this book?

In both Clarke’s exhilarating novels, you actually feel that you’ve crossed over a line into the amoral wilderness of another world, both beautiful and ominously eerie, and might not come back again. Piranesi’s story begins inside what feels like someone’s dream, a literally endless house filled with an ocean that he refers to as the World. There is only one other person in it besides himself—or is there? Why doesn’t he believe trees exist, yet somehow he knows what they are? As you begin to discover, with goosebumps, what’s really going on, you realize it’s not only his dream but everybody’s dream, filled with all the beauty the real world has lost. And you have to ask yourself, might it be better never to wake up?

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Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

By Clarissa Pinkola Estés

Book cover of Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

Why this book?

This nonfiction classic reminds us that every fairy tale is a collective dream, and by exploring, retelling, and sharing its wisdom, we develop our calling as individuals and societies. Other great Jungian authors have done similar interpretations of fairy tales like dreams of how to live. But I love this one for its deep dive into feminine archetypes—because the wisdom of the feminine is what leads us to that watery, creative, inner world where dreams are made, a world sorely neglected in our achievement-focused world. Written with the haunting cadence of a fairy tale itself, this book is so much more than analysis—it is a wolf’s howl directly to the soul.

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