The best fairy tale adaptations with verve and edge

Kimberly J. Lau Author Of Erotic Infidelities: Love and Enchantment in Angela Carter's the Bloody Chamber
By Kimberly J. Lau

Who am I?

Long before I became a “fairy tale scholar,” I was keenly aware of the ways that fairy tales saturate our cultural landscape. Given their ubiquity, who isn’t? But my awareness was always a discomfiting one, an unnerving at the fairy tale’s insistent cheeriness; it was this unnerving that made me fall deeply in love with The Bloody Chamber, the collection that so beautifully flays the fairy tale to reveal its dark and sordid heart. In researching The Bloody Chamber, I saw ever more clearly that the fairy tale’s grim underbelly involves not only twisted ideas about gender and desire and love but also about race, and this discovery has motivated my research over the past decade.


I wrote...

Erotic Infidelities: Love and Enchantment in Angela Carter's the Bloody Chamber

By Kimberly J. Lau,

Book cover of Erotic Infidelities: Love and Enchantment in Angela Carter's the Bloody Chamber

What is my book about?

Since the publication of The Bloody Chamber in 1979, Angela Carter’s reimagined fairy tales have inspired an impressive body of criticism. Yet none has addressed the ways her fairy tales grapple with and seek to overcome the near impossibility of heterosexual love and desire under patriarchy. In Erotic Infidelities, author Kimberly J. Lau argues that the strangeness of Carter’s fairy-tale enchantments—the moments when love or erotic desire escape the deeply familiar, habitual structures and ideologies that contain them—show the momentary, fleeting possibilities for heterosexual love and desire. Foregrounding Carter’s relationship to psychoanalytic theory and issues of language and desire, Lau argues that Carter’s "erotic infidelities" work against our culturally determined expectations and longings and usher us into welcoming new enchantments.

The books I picked & why

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The Bloody Chamber: And Other Stories

By Angela Carter,

Book cover of The Bloody Chamber: And Other Stories

Why this book?

Groundbreaking and now canonical, Angela Carter’s Bloody Chamber stories are provocative and daring, tender and enchanting, as often unsettling as unexpected. The ten tales in Carter’s collection reconsider traditional fairy-tale themes—love, romance, transformation, taboo—with feminist wit and bite, taking readers on a complicated, dizzying, at times thorny, journey through her particular labyrinth of European fairy tales, British folklore, and western literary canons.


Mr. Fox

By Helen Oyeyemi,

Book cover of Mr. Fox

Why this book?

Helen Oyeyemi’s Mr. Fox is a complex, enthralling pastiche of a novel. Interweaving adaptations of Bluebeard, Fitcher’s Bird, Mr. Fox, and the ballad of Reynardine, Mr. Fox invites readers into a vertiginous wonderland where Oyeyemi’s adaptations interrogate the workings of gender and race, romance and desire, imperialism and geopolitics. Moving slipstream-style across the twentieth century, Mr. Fox offers a transnational circuit of stories and characters that connect gendered and raced cultural conventions with the misogyny and violence of the Bluebeard tradition, ultimately challenging readers to consider (and reconsider) European literary and artistic traditions as well as their underlying ideological structures.


White Is for Witching

By Helen Oyeyemi,

Book cover of White Is for Witching

Why this book?

White Is for Witching is, on the surface, a story about a gothic haunted house, but it opens with a reference to “Snow White”—“Her throat is blocked with a slice of apple / (to stop her speaking words that may betray her)”—and conjures that tale throughout the novel. Collapsing witching, whiteness, and outright racism, White is for Witching suggests that the same racial superiority undergirds “Snow White,” where the eponymous character is celebrated for her whiteness, implicitly naturalized as beauty when she is identified as “fairest in the land.” White is for Witching, like Oyeyemi’s other fairy-tale novels, rewrites European fairy tale conventions to make strange the familiar and to normalize the unexpected, thereby disrupting genre expectations to expose the European fairy tale's underlying racial logics.


Six-Gun Snow White

By Catherynne M. Valente, Charlie Bowater (illustrator),

Book cover of Six-Gun Snow White

Why this book?

Valente’s novella stages “Snow White” in the Wild West against an evocative backdrop of settler colonialism, the sexual commodification of women, the specter of Indian orphanages, and feminist/feminine enclaves. Here, where the European fairy-tale tradition meets Indigenous folklore and mythology, Six-Gun Snow White challenges the dominant, implicitly racialized understandings of beauty and femininity at the heart of “Snow White.”


Love in Color: Mythical Tales from Around the World, Retold

By Bolu Babalola,

Book cover of Love in Color: Mythical Tales from Around the World, Retold

Why this book?

Bolu Babalola’s Love in Color is, technically, more a collection of reimagined myths than a collection of retold fairy tales, but the stories are so richly and wonderfully rendered, so smart and edgy and beguiling, that it seems silly to privilege a strict genre definition over a powerful collection. Babalola is shameless in her embrace of love—indeed, she confesses that she loves love—and yet her contemporary takes on global myths trouble any easy ideas about love the reader might bring to the collection. Love, here, is messy, tangled, frightening, and—according to Babalola—worth the tribulations it inspires.


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