Bookshelf: The Fairytales

Photo via Harper's Bazaar

Photo via Harper's Bazaar

If I’m honest I have to tell you I still read fairy-tales and I like them best of all.
— Audrey Hepburn

As with most Audrey quotes, I couldn't agree more with her sentiments on fairytales. Much like the legendary work of Dante Alighieri, fairytales continue to provide constant inspiration for are most contemporary plots and stories we see in our culture today. For the purposes of this list, my definition of fairytale is a bit loose. Some of the books included are the purest form of fairytales while others are contemporary re-tellings or simply evoke the feeling of a fairytale. 

1. The Tale of Tales by Giambattista Basile
Basile's forty nine tales were originally published in the year 1634 and include some of the earliest versions of well-known stories such as Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, Cinderella, and more. What makes this collection so interesting is the tone and syntax which are described as idiosyncratic and experimental, proving yet again that old does not necessarily mean boring. This is a must read and very aptly titled.

2. A Wild Swan by Michael Cunningham
I have mentioned this book before but it deserves another mention for its ability to weave magic, myth, and legend with modern characters, settings, and references. The book features modern retellings of characters from Beauty and The Beast, Snow White, Jack and the Beanstalk, and more along with beautiful illustrations. 

3. The Children's Hospital by Chris Adrian
I picked up this book on a whim outside The Strand one day for a dollar and have since decided that is perhaps one of the best examples of a modern fairytale. The story is set in hospital, floating atop the flooded Earth and filled with individuals who find themselves developing supernatural powers.

4. The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki
While this book does not necessarily adhere to the traditional tenants of a fairytale, it features many of the story elements that draw us to fairytales in the first place. The story follows real-life Austro-Hungarian Empress Elisabeth from her home in Bavaria to the palace in Austria where she marries the Habsburg emperor Franz Joseph. With plenty of beautiful descriptions, snowy palaces, and treachery, I like to think that this has the heart of a fairytale. 

5. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
This story follows the eccentric Merricat Blackwood who lives with her sister Constance and Uncle Julian in an estate on the edge of a resentful town where villagers are hostile and taunting. As the story goes on, Merricat and her family become trapped in their home when villagers close in on them. There are undercurrents of magic and the supernatural that make this book a subtle and unique modern fairytale. 

6. The Complete Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen
Considered the father of fairytales as we know them, Andersen is responsible for just about every Disney princess from Frozen to The Little Mermaid as well as other iconic tales such as The Ugly Duckling, The Princess and the Pea, and The Emperor's New Clothes. To me, this book is ideally to be enjoyed at Tivoli Gardens.

7. Russian Fairy Tales by Alexander Afanasyev
Often overlooked, Russia has a rich tapestry of folkloric stories with all the trimmings---witches, damsels, kings, and animals. Some of the better known figures in these stories are around Vasilisa the Beautiful or the Baba Yaga. I used to play an old computer game from the 90s called Storybook Weaver in which you could create your own fairytales and vividly remember using the character of Baba Yaga fairly often. But I digress....

8. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Although I'm probably quite biased, I think that Tolkien crafted the ultimate fairytale in his works from The Silmarillion to The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings. The most lighthearted of his works and, thus, the best starting place for new readers is definitely The Hobbit, which was originally intended for children. Tolkien's stories have all of the key ingredients for a great fairytale from the folkloric characters such as elves, goblins, fairies, and witches to the overarching theme of good versus evil.

What are your favorite fairytales?