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Retelling Fairytales: Feminist, Alternative, and Encouraging

We have all read fairy tales and seen Disney versions where the main character, the princess, the girl, the mermaid, or someone else, has an adventure or a problem and is usually saved by a man. Thankfully, some recent Disney films show the main female characters saving herself. Fairytales have been rightly criticized for showing binaries, stereotypes, and abuse. However, some anthologies are rewriting and retelling fairytales, myths, and legends from different perspectives, like Fierce Fairytales by Nikita Gill and A Thousand Beginnings and Endings edited by We Need Diverse Books’ Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman.

A Thousand Beginnings and Endings, edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman

In A Thousand Beginnings and Endings, fifteen authors retell different Asian myths, often reimagined from different perspectives. Each retold story is followed by the author’s note on the actual story and what inspired them to choose that particular story. Despite being aimed at young adults, the anthology is great for anyone who loves fairy tales. The tales feature themes of love, family, and identity, and power, and are from countries like China, Korea, India, Vietnam, Philippines, and Japan. “Olivia’s Table” by Alyssa Wong retells the Hungry Ghost Festival that originated in China. For instance, Aliette de Bodard’s “The Counting of Vermillion Beads” shows what happens when the sisters, Tam and Cam stick together, instead of turning against each other as in the original Vietnamese folktale. Aisha Saeed’s retelling of India’s legendary Anarkali reimagines a happy ending in “The Smile.” Melissa de la Cruz’s “Code of Honor” transports the legend of Filipino vampires to modern-day New York and a high school coven.

Fierce Fairytales by Nikita Gill

Nikita Gill started writing her poems and stories on Instagram and Tumblr and Fierce Fairytales also features her illustrations. Her poems and stories are retold from a feminist perspective, such as how the princess loves to turn into a dragon, why Tinkerbell quit anger management, how Wendy Darling had a happy alternative ending, the backstories of Cinderella’s stepmother and stepsisters, another version of Sleeping Beauty, how Gretel became independent, and lessons from the little mermaid. The stories and poems provide advice and encouragement, to lead a strong, independent, and fulfilling life.

Both the anthologies provide a nice balance to Disney. Sometimes it is refreshing to escape, and what better way than in an unconventional fairytale?

Here are some other anthologies to read:

Horse, Flower, Bird by Kate Bernheimer
My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me edited by Kate Bernheimer
The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye by A. S. Byatt
The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter
Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins by Emma Donoghue
Wolves and Witches by Amanda C. Davis and Megan Engelhardt
Red as Blood or Tales from the Sisters Grimmer by Tanith Lee
This Strange Way of Dying: Stories of Magic, Desire & the Fantastic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Mallory Ortberg
There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby: Scary Fairy Tales by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
Transformations by Anne Sexton

Rashmila likes to read books by/about women/people of color. She prefers fiction to reality. A dog parent and word ninja, she volunteers for non-profits and is multilingual. Favorite genre- contemporary literary fiction.

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