Angela Carter,
The Bloody Chamber
(Penguin, 1979, 1993)

Long before Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow began their excellent fairy-tale anthologies, Angela Carter had redefined the idea of fairy tales as stories solely for children. In her collection The Bloody Chamber, cited as a resource by Datlow and Windling, she proved that fairy tales can be for adults.

The Bloody Chamber is a short, yet influential collection of stories. Told in Carter's sumptuous, often convoluted prose, these are magnificent tales.

Carter turns some fairy-tale conventions on their ears, but keeps others. She rarely gives her characters names, instead calling them by descriptions or pronouns. Though the stories are quite vivid, they're also somewhat impersonal, but this is in keeping with traditional fairy tales.

The stories include "The Courtship of Mr. Lyon," a fairly straightforward interpretation of "Beauty and the Beast," which is an exception among these tales; most of the stories aren't quite what you expect. "Puss in Boots" is a risque little tale in which the clever tomcat helps his master win a sequestered beauty away from her cold husband -- and they're anything but chaste about it. "The Company of Wolves" tells of a Little Red Riding Hood willingly seduced by the Big, Bad Wolf, a story that was later made into a movie from Carter's own screenplay. "The Bloody Chamber" tells of a young piano virtuoso who discovers that all of her husband's previous wives have met with rather bad ends.

Moving away from fairy tales, Carter also looks at werewolves and vampires. In "The Lady of the House of Love," we meet a vampire unhappy with her lot who finds love -- and release -- with her last victim. "The Werewolf" is a short tale with elements of Little Red Riding Hood.

Anyone who likes new interpretations of old tales must read The Bloody Chamber. It is dark, sensuous and wholly entertaining.

[ by Laurie Thayer ]
Rambles: 8 September 2001

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