The best fairy tales for adults

Elisabeth Sharp McKetta Author Of She Never Told Me about the Ocean
By Elisabeth Sharp McKetta

Who am I?

I’m an American author and writing teacher both at Harvard and Oxford’s online programs. I've mostly written poetry and nonfiction, then in 2021 I published my first novel, She Never Told Me about the Ocean. I started writing the book when my daughter was born as a way to explore the complicated feelings and fears that suddenly washed over me. The book—like a daughter—outgrew my plans and expectations for it. It became, unexpectedly, a mythology of mothers and daughters. For two decades I've studied fairy tales and myths. Fairy tales deal in fears and the stories we tell ourselves to feel safe—which is why I read them and use them in my writing.


I wrote...

She Never Told Me about the Ocean

By Elisabeth Sharp McKetta,

Book cover of She Never Told Me about the Ocean

What is my book about?

Magic. Mothers. Daughters. Birth, love, and death. Enchanted islands. Underworlds. Plant medicine. Generations learning to understand each other through the stories we tell and hear. In the words of one of my favorite authors, Arthur Golden, “She Never Told Me about the Ocean is a heroine's journey through forgiveness, birth and rebirth, all the while treading the line between honoring the dead and feeling paralyzed by them. She has offered us a complicated portrait of mothers and daughters, cupped inside one another like nesting dolls.” 

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is readers supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Folk

By Zoe Gilbert,

Book cover of Folk

Why this book?

I just discovered this book and want to teach it in every one of my classes! Folk is a series of stories about the villagers in a tiny, closed-off island filled with strange rituals and a cacophony of alliances and grudges. Her language is simply thrilling, and the fairy tales are shocking in all different ways. We hear a different perspective in each story, so the book results in a fairy tale about how small communities work and what the ‘folk’ in them must do—and believe—in order to get along.  


Boy, Snow, Bird

By Helen Oyeyemi,

Book cover of Boy, Snow, Bird

Why this book?

This book is almost too beautiful for words, and reading it you feel like you are falling into a haunted magic mirror where identity and race are explored alongside a host of deep simmering emotions: anger and forgiveness, fear and vanity. A sort of dizzying intergenerational retake on Snow White.


St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

By Karen Russell,

Book cover of St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

Why this book?

Russell has written many books that traffic in underworlds, weirdness, and magic, but for me this book—her first—takes the cake. Written when the author was just twenty-five, St. Lucy’s Home is a collection of magical coming-of-age stories—my favorite one features the children of werewolves who are sent to a rigid school with impossible rules. Russell is a poet at the sentence level—her verbs constantly do acrobatics! In these stories, she portrays adolescence as a sort of sieve in which we must leave all our wonderful weirdness behind in order to become adults.


The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure

By William Goldman,

Book cover of The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure

Why this book?

Seriously, no list of adult fairy tales can be complete without this one. One of the only instances where the movie and the book are equally delightful, in endearing and different ways. The movie—which I can quote in its entirety (true fact)—is more romantic than the book. The book is snarky and hilarious, a fairy tale that makes fun of fairy tales, while also hinting at why we as humans perennially need them.


Circe

By Madeline Miller,

Book cover of Circe

Why this book?

A gorgeous underdog story about an immortal who is never properly valued by her extensive, dysfunctional family. All the classic elements of memoir exist in this novel—accepting what she must, changing what she can about the life she is born into—but with the fascinating backdrop of living a life as an exiled goddess with a knack for magic.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in fairy tales, Pirates, and heroes?

5,309 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about fairy tales, Pirates, and heroes.

Fairy Tales Explore 174 books about fairy tales
Pirates Explore 53 books about Pirates
Heroes Explore 41 books about heroes

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The High Deeds of Finn MacCool, In Darkling Wood, and Things We Say in the Dark if you like this list.