GNBC: The Starlit Wood

Saga Press

I’ll be honest, readers – I have not finished reading this month’s GeekyNerdy Book Club selection just yet. I was a bit distracted by James Luceno’s Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel, which I read in anticipation of seeing Rogue One: A Star Wars Story this weekend, and I got a later start on Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe’s anthology than I wanted. BUT, I did not want to delay the book club again, so here are my initial thoughts!

When I selected The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales for our final book club meeting of the year, I was extremely excited to read it. I was thrilled by the fact that the book contained stories from so many different authors and I loved the idea of having a modern collection of fairy tales for my very own library. But while I am indeed enjoying the book, the retellings are much darker than I was expecting and though they often contain good life lessons, there have been some that have left me completely depressed at the end.

As I thought about it though, I realized that I shouldn’t have been all that surprised. One of the running themes in the pop culture commentary that I grew up with was how the source materials that Disney often used for its adaptations were more brutal than the cartoons. For instance, Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid dies at the end (though there does seem to be a bit of a debate about this) and the evil stepsisters in the Grimm brothers’ “Cinderella” cut off parts of their feet in their attempts to fit into that famous glass slipper! The stories are, for the most part, gruesome cautionary tales. They also are, for the most part, aimed at girls.

Growing up, this distinction didn’t really bother me because, hey, who doesn’t want to be a princess?! And I totally loved the idea of finding some handsome prince to sweep me off my feet. But now, a good 25 years later, as I’ve read the Starlit Wood’s various adaptations, I have been much more aware of this discrepancy and how “classic” fairy tales seem to have been ways to keep girls in check. As such, I really identified with Karin Tidbeck, the author of “Underground,” who was absolutely horrified by the double standards in the original tale when she reread it.

I’ve also realized as I’ve gone through the book that while it is one I will likely return to from time to time, it is definitely not one that I will be reading to my kids at night, if and when the Mysterious Mr. C and I decide to expand our family. Daughters are abused by their fathers, women are held captive in sewer tunnels, queens are forced to bear sons (and then killed by them), and children are kidnapped by strange shadow figures – it is some really heady stuff!

Like I said, there are good lessons in there too, such as rising above said abuse, saving yourself from those who would harm you, and ignoring the opinions of others, but I can’t say the tales have been all that uplifting.

The first part of the book hasn’t been all doom and gloom though. I thought Daryl Gregory’s “Even the Crumbs Were Delicious” was particularly funny, especially as the funeral became a resurrection party, and I loved Amal El-Mohtar’s mash-up in “Seasons of Glass and Iron.” And, as Ardi Alspach noted in his review of The Starlit Wood (which is what sold me on the book in the first place), the author’s note at the end of each story has been fascinating to read. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning more about their individual processes and how some returned to stories they loved as children or decided to rework the tales they always found to be a bit problematic.

The Starlit Wood really has been a different kind of read from what I initially expected, but I have a feeling the stories will stay with me long after I finally get through all 392 pages. But what do you think? Has this anthology been closer to what you were anticipating? Are there any particular stories that have resonated most with you? Do you feel more ambivalent about the fairy tales you grew up with too? Please let me know in the comments below!

Editor’s Note: While I certainly have some thoughts about what our next read should be, the holidays are coming up and that should be a time spent focused on family and whatever else you want to do to close out 2016 and ring in 2017. So I will keep those thoughts to myself for now, but will back here in January to kick off the first full year of the GeekyNerdy Book Club! See you guys then!!

7 thoughts on “GNBC: The Starlit Wood

  1. I have been entranced by these stories. They are dark but the feminist theme in many has been intriguing when comparing them to the original tale and having just been reading Wonder Woman. I will be reading these stories again. I also have enjoyed the author notes and appreciate these being at the end of each story instead of at the beginning. That let me form my own opinions. Thanks for this selection.

    1. Truck, I’m so glad you’ve been enjoying the stories! I was a little worried when I realized how dark they were that people were going to be bummed out reading them and after the surreal year that we’ve had, that’s the last thing I think any of us needed!

  2. The author notes were really key to my enjoyment of this anthology, too. I appreciated the widely varying stories in terms of content, tone, themes, etc., but it also make the book a little hard to get into. I’ve read all but the last story at this point, and I’ll finish that this weekend before I write my post.

    I’ve always loved fairy tale re-tellings, I think because I love the idea that you can take the same tropes and characters, strip them of context, and spin completely different stories, even with different themes, out of them. I think it speaks to the universality of storytelling across cultures.

    1. You know Mei-Mei, I hadn’t really thought about the general set-up of the book and it being hard to get into, but in retrospect, you are totally right! I don’t know if grouping things by origin country or theme would have helped, but it might have smoothed out some of the transitions.

      I, like you, have always enjoyed fairy tale re-tellings and I think it’s for the same reasons you and the editors point out: that once you strip away their various trappings, there is something universal underneath. A fairy tale will always feel like a fairy tale no matter when or where it is set.

    1. Thanks for the update Mei-Mei!! I’ve seen a lot of Twitter references to “Seasons of Glass and Iron” lately, but didn’t realize it had been nominated for the Nebula Award! I’ll definitely have to check out the results of the conference, which, coincidentally, is being held in my hometown and ends on my birthday!

      Also, thanks for nominating me for the Blogger Recognition Award! I’ll definitely have to start working on my post for that too 🙂

      1. I actually read several Nebula nominees this year, which was cool. My taste in books/movies is such that I’m not always reading the stuff that gets awards.

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