Fairies on the brain

November can’t come soon enough.

For a brief period in my youth, which at the time felt like an eternity, I took piano lessons. These lessons were not successful; the lack of success most likely attributable to my lack of talent or my avoidance of practice time, take your pick.

Each week, I’d show up for my lesson at my teacher’s house and sit on the piano bench, waiting for her to stop chatting with my mother. Those five minutes or so of waiting were always my favorite part of the lesson, because… the wall next to the piano was filled with floor to ceiling bookshelves. Right at eye level was the fairy shelf — my piano teacher had what seemed to me a HUGE collection of the color-coded fairy books. The Blue Fairy Book, the Red Fairy Book… as an adult, I’ve learned that there are twelve volumes in all (including lilac! who knew?), collected and published by Scottish scholar and anthropologist Andrew Lang.

These books fascinated me. The covers were lovely, and I enjoyed just looking at them, perhaps touching the spines with a finger or two. I wasn’t ever actually allowed to take them home with me, but my mother, a full-fledged booklover herself, would take me to the library and help me find whichever pink or blue or rose book of fairies that had caught my eye.

I loved how involved, mysterious, and dark the stories could be. I was fascinated by the contrast to the “prettified” versions of fairy tales that were so much more familiar, thanks to Disney and about a thousand or so picture book versions of pretty princesses, handsome princes, and magical kingdoms. I got a secret thrill from discovering just how gross some of the fairy tales truly could be — I seem to recall people baked into pies and thrown into fires, body parts hacked off, iron spikes (boy, does that sound like a horror movie description or what?).

Perfect for horror fans

To be fair, I must admit that I did love the enchantments and romance of the fairy tales as well, and never stopped rooting for a good Happily Ever After.

While I eventually grew out of my obsession with fairy tales, they’ve always retained a special little corner of my heart. I still enjoy picking up a nicely illustrated collection or reading a new translation.

For now, I won’t even go into all the myriad fairy tale retellings that I’ve read and enjoyed over the years… another topic for another day. I will, however, give a quick shout-out to a collection that I found weird and very entertaining, My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, edited by Kate Bernheimer and featuring forty new takes on classic fairy tales, written by an amazing array of authors including Neil Gaiman, Francine Prose, Kelly Link, Joyce Carol Oates, and more.

Perhaps my childhood experiences with fairy tales and my ongoing fascination with them explain why I found the discovery of an upcoming volume quite so exciting. I just happened to stumble across a listing on Amazon for Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version, due out in November… and written by Philip Pullman! New Brothers Grimm! Written by the author of The Golden Compass! Brilliant!

(Excuse all the exclamation points. My, but I am being a tad exuberant about this.)

Can. Not. Wait. My preorder has been placed. I know what I’ll be reading in November. Who else is in?

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