Paula Guran has brought out a new anthology for Prime Books, it’s called (as the header might hint) Once Upon A Time: New Fairy Tales. It contains stories by Theodora Goss, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Tanith Lee, Genevieve Valentine, Jane Yolen, Kaaron Warren, my lowly self, and a host of (un-lowly) others. Our editor extraordinaire was kind enough to answer some questions about fairy tales and choosing to put together this anthology.
1. What inspired this collection?
My own love for fairy tales and knowledge of the wonderful work so many excellent writers have been doing with modern variations.
2. Did you have particular writers in mind when you decided to put this anthology together?
Yes. One always does! That doesn’t always mean you get everyone you want nor that every story submitted works out. Unfortunately there was a bit of a hiccup in issuing invitations for this anthology: I’d contacted some folks and then I experienced a personal tragedy and it took me a but to refocus. Still, in the end, I think it worked out.
3. What drew you to their work?
There are some authors who seem to love working with the idea of fairy tales, others who you feel would do something interesting if given the chance. I knew the work of everyone originally invited although (thank you!) a few authors “reminded” me of others.
4. What was your favourite fairy tale as a child? And as an adult?
That’s probably impossible to answer. I mention “Rapunzel” in the introduction of ONCE UPON A TIME and it was one of my childhood favorites, but hardly the only one. (There was a much longer version of the introduction in which I over-analyzed WHY I thought it appealed to me.) I do have my first fairy tale book and there are pencil annotations in it—from before I could form letters—attesting that my *earliest* favorites appear to have been, other than “Rapunzel,” “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” “Cinderella,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “Hansel and Gretel.” As soon as I could read myself, I found modern versions of Baba Yaga stories that had been serialized in Jack and Jill magazine—Katherine Kurtz wrote some of them—and they fascinated me. (Baba Yaga is not at all evil in these retellings and she has a very clever cat)
I hate to single out any modern authors—there are so many who are doing such wonderful things with fairy tales. The anthology is dedicated to Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. Their body of work has done a great deal to inspire modern fairy tales. Nor can any mention of modern fairy tales can be made, really, without acknowledging Angela Carter and Jane Yolen.
Not too long ago, I got fascinated with how many modern authors were writing fiction using mermaids, selkies, undines, sirens, rusalkas, etc. I wanted to do an anthology with that as a theme, but, so far, I haven’t been able to make a deal. But I’m still currently hung up on watery tales of various types.
5. What do you think fairy tales can still offer in this modern age?
There have been books written on that! Old or new, I think fairy tales speak to us. Personally, when I sat down to consider why—in retrospect—any of the traditional stories held so much for me, I wound up looking at my own life and evolution. Fairy tales entertain, but I think they also examine life and often make observations about society and humankind.
[COMBINING] 6. How do you think fairy tales have changed from the old fireside tales? 7. And, conversely, how do you think they’ve stayed the same?
If you go back to the earlier versions—before they were sanitized and made “safe” for children—they have a lot in common with the tales of today. Similarly, if you look at the original French literary tradition of the 17th century salon: the stories often commented on the socio-political situation of the day. They also dealt with at least an intellectual compatibility between the sexes, if not equality. Now writers can be more obvious with their messages, more pointed with their observations, address psychological or other issues more directly.
We now have access to a broader range of multicultural tales and stories from more diverse traditions—but those were there all along. Eurocentric ignorance merely obscured them.
So, everything has changed—and yet nothing at all has changed.
8. What was the first book of modern fairy tales you came across that really made an impact? For example, The Bloody Chamber or Don’t Bet on the Prince?
Actually, I suppose those Baba Yaga stories were the very first. I probably found Robin McKinley and Jane Yolen next, maybe Tanith Lee—definitely Jon Scieszka. I was “just a reader”—not an academic, not even aware of sf/f/h on anything other than as a non-fannish reader. And I had four children—you might even count Shelly Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre! For that matter, pre-motherhood, I saw Jean Cocteau’s 1946 Beauty and the Beast for the first time in the early seventies. I didn’t read Angela Carter until 1994 after reading Snow White, Blood Red by Datlow and Windling probably in 1993 or early 1994. I read Marina Warner’s From the Beast to the Blonde not long after, and then I backtracked through Zipes, etc.
9. Your favourite fairy tale heroine/hero?
I couldn’t say just one, I admire different heroines for different traits: Beauty in “Beauty and the Beast” for her ability to see beyond the apparent; The Miller’s Daughter/Queen in “Rumplestiltskin” for using her resources well; Eliza in Andersen’s “The Wild Swans” for her loyalty, devotion, and hard work. There’s the “youngest daughter” in “East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon” who is fearless and Janet/Margaret in “Tam Lin”/“Tamlane” is a remarkable character …
Cinderella’s stepmother was very scary to me as a child (as were her stepsisters), but the queen/stepmother in “Snow White” was more truly evil and even more frightening. And you have to give props to Disney for embodying the latter as the magnificently sinister Maleficent.
10. You find a bottle on a beach/lamp in a cave, you give it a rub and a genie comes out: what are your three wishes?
Health and happiness for those I love, which isn’t quite as selfish as it may first sound since the whole world would have to be a much better place to grant them happiness. The third wish I’d probably keep for a bit and ponder. I’ve read the stories; I know to be careful with wishes!