The best forgotten fairy tales every adult should read

Hester Velmans Author Of Slipper
By Hester Velmans

Who am I?

At the age of seven, already a devoted bookworm, I came upon a large stack of early-20th century children's magazines filled with stories, poems, and especially fairy tales, some the classic kind, and some weird, scary or unfamiliar. I don't know where those dog-eared, well-thumbed annuals came from, or what happened to them afterward – they were lost or given away when our family moved, I suppose. But I have never forgotten them, or the effect they had on my imagination and longings. I've been searching for those long-lost tales ever since... and it finally led me to decide I would just have to write a few of my own.

I wrote...


By Hester Velmans,

Book cover of Slipper

What is my book about?

Slipper is the history of a poor orphaned stepchild, a would-be princess, whose search for one true love or another takes her all over 17th-Century England, France, and the Low Countries. Born under mysterious circumstances, she grows up to be a dreamer, a cinder sweep, a runaway, a camp follower, a kisser of frogs, a beggar, a mother, and an artist. Along the way, she finds a mentor, Charles Perrault, the original author of the world's most beloved fairy tales, and tells him her story. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that hers is a fairy tale come true.

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?

Angela Carter is my hero; in dreaming up her own provocative, macabre-erotic takes on classic fairy tales, she drills down into some of our most primordial fears and desires. The Bloody Chamber is the book that inspired me to reconsider the stories I loved as a child, to explore what it is about those tales that are so universally appealing, and how they relate to our own lives. I need hardly mention, of course, the lush, evocative writing, horrifying and seductive all at the same time.


By Mervyn Peake,

Book cover of Gormenghast

Why this book?

Of all the fantastical worlds I have been drawn into, Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast Trilogy has stayed with me the longest, in all its gothic, gloomy glory. It's the story of young Titus Groan (the name says it all!), the next Lord of Gormenghast, a claustrophobic, decaying, sprawling castle cut off from the outside world and steeped in bizarre rituals and dark intrigue. I suspect that J.K. Rowling was influenced by Gormenghast when she began the Harry Potter series. Don't expect heart-stopping adventures, though; read it for the atmosphere and the stunningly imaginative writing.

Mistress Masham's Repose

By T. H. White,

Book cover of Mistress Masham's Repose

Why this book?

My inner child is still captivated by the Lilliputian world of T.H. White's Mistress Masham's Repose every time I read it. I don't know why the idea of discovering a secret miniature kingdom is so alluring: I think it may have something to do with my love for dollhouses when I was a child. T.H. White was best known for The Once and Future King and The Sword in the Stone, based on the Arthurian legends; he was a master at taking an old story (Gulliver's Travels in the case of Mistress Masham's Repose) and making it truly his own.

The Light Princess

By George MacDonald,

Book cover of The Light Princess

Why this book?

The 19th-century Scottish writer George MacDonald is said to be the father of the modern fairy tale, inspiring C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, and many others. I chose The Light Princess because I find it his most charming tale: it's about a princess under a wicked spell who has been made weightless, unable to obey the laws of gravity. As in all good fairy tales, a prince eventually comes along to drag her back down to earth. He must sacrifice himself for her, but in the end, it is she who rescues him – from a feminist perspective, a most gratifying conclusion.

Bulfinch's Mythology

By Thomas Bulfinch,

Book cover of Bulfinch's Mythology

Why this book?

When I was young I devoured Bullfinch's Mythology from cover to cover. Looking back, I am amazed that I had the time and the devotion to read the whole 900-odd pages, which give short, matter-of-fact recaps of the Greek and Roman myths, as well as the legends of King Arthur and Charlemagne. You'll find these tales far more beautifully told in the original Ovid or Virgil versions, I suppose, but if you just want the facts, Ma'am, the who's who of it all, then this is a fine place to start.

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