The best books on the psychological power of fairy stories and fables

Berlie W. Doherty Author Of Rose Doran Dreams
By Berlie W. Doherty

Who am I?

Much of my writing is influenced by Fairy Stories. Sometimes I retell the stories in my own words, sometimes I create my own, and sometimes, as in Rose Doran Dreams, I weave them into the narrative so that they shape the central character in a way that affects or explains her development. There is a darkness about Fairy Stories that fascinates me, that gives psychological depth to a character or a narrative as I write. I am dizzy with the notion that Fairy Stories don’t belong to the teller or the writer, the listener or the reader; they transcend time and place. 

I wrote...

Rose Doran Dreams

By Berlie W. Doherty,

Book cover of Rose Doran Dreams

What is my book about?

As a child, Rose was fed fairy stories by her brother, and then her teacher. Her favourite was The Fisherman and His Wife, about the magic fish and the woman who rejects all that her wishes bring. But it is Rose who faces rejection, from her parents, her teacher, her lover the dancer, her stolen child, her husband. Her strange, exotic neighbour Paedic is a fantasist, and in their shared stories and dreams Rose finds a kind of fulfillment. As their stories become darker and more disturbing she begins to lose touch with reality.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Bloody Chamber: And Other Stories

Why did I love this book?

Several reviewers of my book referred to Angela Carter, so I decided to revisit my collection after many years.

A rich and chilling retelling of my childhood nightmare story Bluebeard heads Angela Carter’s collection. Carter delights in the gruesome and gory detail, the blood-soaked keys, the dripping corpses. When I was a child I was terrified of the illustration in my fairy tale book of a hanging row of girls in beautiful blood-stained gowns, I couldn’t read the actual story, I was too frightened, but time and again I returned to that vivid illustration, horribly fascinated. Now, many years later, I read The Bloody Chamber and understood the compulsive near-madness of the heroine. All of these retellings of fairy tales are well worth visiting.

By Angela Carter,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked The Bloody Chamber as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With an introduction by Helen Simpson. From familiar fairy tales and legends - Red Riding Hood, Bluebeard, Puss in Boots, Beauty and the Beast, vampires and werewolves - Angela Carter has created an absorbing collection of dark, sensual, fantastic stories.

The Thousand Faces of Night

By Githa Hariharan,

Book cover of The Thousand Faces of Night

Why did I love this book?

I was given this book thirty years ago by an Indian poet, who promised me I would love it. It is a feast of stories, told to the central character Devi throughout her life. Through her grandmother’s ancient stories, she learns about love, beauty, riches, and womanhood. Her father-in-law tells her stories that teach her about life, how to survive her lonely marriage, how to belong. Stories and dreams give her wealth and power, but they evaporate and still she is there, empty, alone, and desperate for the love that the old stories are about. 

Two other women’s stories weave through the narrative. Her mother Seta, and her husband’s old retainer, Mayamma share exotic tales of ancient India, Gods, mysteries, magic, and rituals. 

The Thousand Faces of Night is trancelike and beautiful.

By Githa Hariharan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Thousand Faces of Night as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A debut novel which interweaves the fabled myths and legends of India with a young woman's search for self, exploring such universal themes as freedom, independence and desire.

The Mermaid of Black Conch

By Monique Roffey,

Book cover of The Mermaid of Black Conch

Why did I love this book?

"I am a story," Aycayia tells her young friend Reggie. She is a mermaid who loses her tail; a sea creature who is dragged to land after thousands of years in the ocean, and who falls in love with a fisherman. But she’s trapped in her own story, and the curse that swept her away from her own ancient people has to be unravelled and broken. Aycacia yearns for the sea, and yearns equally for the love of David, her fisherman. He saves her from near-suicide, but the curse of her story remains.

This story was recommended to me because it resembles one of my own novels. Around the world, in folk tales and songs, there are many such tales of sea-creatures, sirens, selkies, mermen, mermaids,

This Caribbean version is moving, mysterious, and very well crafted.

By Monique Roffey,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Mermaid of Black Conch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Escape to the ocean with the entrancing, unforgettable winner of the Costa Book of the Year - as read on BBC Radio 4.

'Mesmerising' MAGGIE O'FARRELL

Near the island of Black Conch, a fisherman sings to himself while waiting for a catch. But David attracts a sea-dweller that he never expected - Aycayia, an innocent young woman cursed by jealous wives to live as a mermaid.

When American tourists capture Aycayia, David rescues her and vows to win her trust. Slowly, painfully, she transforms into a woman again. Yet…

The Snow Child

By Eowyn Ivey,

Book cover of The Snow Child

Why did I love this book?

I first came across the Russian folk story that this novel is based on when I was a child. "The Little Daughter of the Snow" was my absolute favourite story in Arthur Ransome’s Old Peter’s Russian Stories. 

In Eowin Ivey’s book, Mabel and Jack have lost their only child. They try to make a new life among the forests and snows of Alaska. They build a little girl of snow, which melts, but a real child, Faina, emerges from the woods and they take her in as their own. They love her desperately, but their nights are haunted by darkness and fears, dreams of dead babies, and their knowledge of the Russian fairy tale. Faina yearns to live in the snow, where she belongs. It’s a beautifully atmospheric book about enchantment, darkness, and love.

By Eowyn Ivey,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Snow Child as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A bewitching tale of heartbreak and hope set in 1920s Alaska, Eowyn Ivey's THE SNOW CHILD was a top ten bestseller in hardback and paperback, and went on to be a Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Alaska, the 1920s. Jack and Mabel have staked everything on a fresh start in a remote homestead, but the wilderness is a stark place, and Mabel is haunted by the baby she lost many years before. When a little girl appears mysteriously on their land, each is filled with wonder, but also foreboding: is she what she seems, and can they find room in…

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

Why did I love this book?

This is not a novel, but an extraordinary exploration of fairy stories, their meaning and their psychological significance. Women who run with the Wolves is an amazing work of scholarship, though it’s sometimes simplistic, and takes some digesting. Clarissa Pinkora Estes is herself a fine storyteller. Each section begins with her retelling of a well-known fairy story, sparse, unadorned, and very powerful. She then writes about its meaning, referring to psychological conditions that are related to the story. She maintains that understanding the story helps us to understand ourselves, our motives and fears, our inhibitions, and how we might move forwards. Fascinating and thought-provoking book. 

By Clarissa Pinkola Estés,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Women Who Run with the Wolves as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First published three years before the print edition of Women Who Run With the Wolves made publishing history, this original audio edition quickly became an underground bestseller. For its insights into the inner life of women, it established Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes as one of the most important voices of our time in the fields of Jungian psychology, myth, and women's mysteries.

Drawing from her work as a psychoanalyst and cantadora ("keeper of the old stories"), Dr. Estes uses myths and folktales to illustrate how societies systematically strip away the feminine spirit. Through an exploration into the nature of the…

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