Once Upon a Time: Leife Shallcross Picks 7 Novels for Lovers of Fairy Tale Retellings

Once Upon a Time: Leife Shallcross Picks 7 Novels for Lovers of Fairy Tale Retellings

Leife Shallcross

Here at Bookish, we love fairy tales and fairy tale retellings. The classics are great—they’re classics for a reason after all. But we also get excited when our favorite authors reimagine the stories we grew up with. Leife Shallcross, author of The Beast’s Heart, is definitely on the same wavelength. Shallcross’ novel is a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” from the perspective of the Beast. To celebrate the book’s release, Shallcross is sharing seven of her favorite fairy tale retellings.

A question for all you fairy tale lovers out there: Do you remember what made you fall head over heels for your favorite fairy tale? Was it something about the text of the fairy tale? Maybe an illustration? Or was it a moment when you found a retelling that made your heart soar, and realized that you were already well and truly smitten with the story in all its many iterations?

I think that’s what it was like for me. Ever After is one of my all time favorite movies, for example. But it’s really just another notch on Cinderella’s lipstick case, as far as I’m concerned. It goes into my Cinderella file along with the illustrations of Arthur Rackham and Jan Pienkowski, Gregory Maguire’s Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, and the “Sapsorrow” episode from Jim Henson’s The Storyteller. (I could go on.)

And that’s the most beautiful thing about these tales: the way they lend themselves to being retold and re-imagined. I like to think of a fairy tale as being a bit like a patchwork quilt—it’s true power of enchantment lies in the myriad different pieces of fabric it is made from. It doesn’t matter which patches you saw first and which are most familiar; they all work together to make the whole quilt beautiful. New patches are welcome and every time you look at the quilt, you might see something you haven’t seen before. This is fantastic for those of us who are a little bit addicted to these stories, because there’s always a new retelling or re-imagining or even a mash-up of two or more tales to be found.

Here are some of my favorites, old and new, long and short.

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

If you’re into fairy tales with teeth and claws, this one is a staple. Dark and sensual and terrifying and utterly spellbinding, this is definitely one for the grown-ups.

Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier

This is a reimagining of The Twelve Dancing Princesses with another secret fairy tale lurking underneath. Immersive, absorbing, and achingly romantic, this one’s for you if you like your books to act as doorways to the faerie world.

Vasilisa the Wise and Tales of Other Brave Young Women by Kate Forsyth

This exquisite picture book is a collection of traditional tales of young women experiencing adventure and transformation told in Forsyth’s inimitable style, accompanied by the most breathtaking illustrations by artist Lorena Carrington. It is such a treat and they have a new one, The Buried Moon and Other Tales of Bright Young Women coming out in March! I can’t wait.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Snow, slow-burning romance, and bone-deep magic—what more could you ask for? This was one my favorite reads of 2018. The last book in the trilogy just came out, and the only reason I haven’t read it yet is because I’m not ready for this journey to end.

Snow White, Blood Red edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

This is the first volume in a series of anthologies by these two stellar editors, containing fairy tale-inspired short stories by some of the best names in science fiction and fantasy. These books taught me that fairy tales are living things, not stories locked in amber and immutable for all time. Start here, but read the whole set.

Fairytales for Wilde Girls by Allyse Near

This is a contemporary YA story about growing up, finding love, and coming to terms with sadness. These themes are woven together with threads of fairy tales and tendrils of ghost stories and told in the most glittering, lyrical language. This book is full of strange beauty and a satisfying dose of gothic mystery.

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

Not for the faint-hearted, this is possibly the most devastating book I’ve ever read. It’s Margo Lanagan, though, and she is a consummate mistress of the art of storytelling. The worlds she creates are viscerally real, the magic is old, and the violence is raw. Definitely one for mature readers, this retelling of Snow White and Rose Red deals with the darkest of themes.

Leife Shallcross lives at the foot of a mountain in Canberra, Australia, with her family and a small, scruffy creature that snores. She is the author of several short stories, including “Pretty Jennie Greenteeth,” which won the 2016 Aurealis Award for Best Young Adult Short Story. The Beast’s Heart is her first novel.


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