Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde

Reasons to Read Oscar Wilde Fairy Tales

  1. You've been feeling oddly happy lately, and you would like to feel sad instead, in a wistful way.
  2. You love lush, lyrical prose and meditations on the nature of love, beauty, ugliness, sin, and loss.
  3. Your recent reading has been devoid Orientalism and odd body-image issues, and you would really like to change that quickly.
  4. You would like to see young men's bodies described in fiction in a way that doesn't seem exactly sexual but isn't exactly not-sexual either.
  5. You would like a story where someone sacrifices everything and then dies a lonely death, their only consolation the fact that they're a better person than they were before, in that long ago time when they were selfish, self-centered, happy, and not-dead.
Reason number 2 brings me back to Oscar Wilde's stories again and again (that, and the fact that the record I had that played Oscar Wilde's The Selfish Giant was on the turntable a lot when I was a kid), but there's no denying that there's ugly, messy stuff happening under the surface of that beautiful language. Sort of a combo of "it was a strange time" and "the author was a strange person" with nice side helpings of "ok no I can't even don't kill that poor helpless... I can't look... yup, I'm just going to peek... ah, yup, they died. ok then."

The full collection doesn't seem to be on Gutenberg, but you can sample the style and subject matter: The Happy Prince and Other Tales by Oscar Wilde. Or get the whole package from a library: The Poems and Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is gorgeous and lush and precise and suprisingly dark. At least, I've read it a dozen or more times and the darkness always surprises me.  Beneath the lyrical language and the carelessly perfect creation of myth and the details and the friendships there are really astonishingly horrific things happening in this story. It's much like myth, or folklore, or any unexpurgated collection of fairy tales in that way. 

Not that the experience of reading it is horrific, because it's not: it's been one of my comfort reads for decades now.  But this is a book where the darkness is as deep as your own knowledge or inclination to fill in the gaps.  It does that trick the very best fantasy intended for young people accomplishes of saying things in a way that makes them clear to people with the emotional or real-world knowledge to fill in the details, while eliding the specifics to something comfortable enough for those without that experience.

There are dragons and talking cats and enchanted woods and tall white towers and the wars of princes, ancient riddles and broken hearts and friendship and betrayal. Parts of the language feel like Welsh mythology to me and parts feel like Carl Sandburg's poetry, all full of white birds and flowers and love and questions.

Patricia McKillip is still writing things that are luminous and dark and deep. This isn't a bad place to start.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Changeover's Fairy Tale Journey

Margaret Mahy's The Changeover is a beautiful, lyrical book for young adults.  The narrative contains fantastic elements but doesn't, to me, feel like a fairy tale. The titular changeover itself, though, is structured very much around the shape of a fairy tale journey. The language is lovely and haunting, dense with allusion.

"With the coming of the tiger the forest shifted, becoming older and darker.  Moss hung from the trees, and the only sound was the faint trickle and gush of distant water.  Laura now began to feel an ache in her neck and shoulders, as if she were pushing against an intangible resistance, and vaguely thought it might be something like the past, or reality, for a stream of shadowy figures began to flow past her, all going in the opposite direction form the one she and the tiger, slipping distantly through the trees, were following.... She saw dwarfs, lost princes, beautiful girls who had committed themselves to silence in order to save brothers turned into swans or ravens, young men who thrived on sunshine and dwindled with darkness, mutilated maidens who wept over their own silver arms, and then simpler people, three bears, the girl in the red hood, the lost children who found their way home, the lost children who didn't and were covered with leaves by the robins."

If you like young adult novels and are amenable to fairy tale logic, this is a beautifully constructed book.  What I particularly admire is the way Mahy balances the shifting logic of adolescence and of making ones way into the world of adulthood with the logic of the magical events.  The threads of the story refer to each other and interweave with each other, the magical and the mundane, in a way that is precise and organic.