Today sees the release of Catherynne M. Valente’s Six-Gun Snow White, a novella that sets the classic tale of Snow White in the Old West — a trick we’ve never quite seen before. To celebrate the book, and to suggest a little extra reading to those who are excited about it, we’ve chosen ten bizarre, out-there literary adaptations of fairy tales (which, let’s be honest, started out pretty strange in the first place) to add to your library. Maybe not your kids’ libraries, though. After the jump, ten of the strangest, best fairy tale reinterpretations we’ve ever read — and as always, if we missed your favorite, add it to our list in the comments.
Six-Gun Snow White, Catherynne M. Valente
In this novella, Snow White is the daughter of a Crow woman, Gun That Sings, who had been forced into marrying a cruel white silver baron, before dying in childbirth. Snow’s name is the racially sneering equivalent of a fat man being called “Tiny.” Enter the stepmother, and her mirror, which prompt Snow to dress as a boy and escape into Indian Territory, meeting six badass outlaw women, a pony named Charming, and tons of adventure along the way.
“A Case Study of Emergency Room Procedure and Risk Management by Hospital Staff Members in the Urban Facility,” Stacey Richter
In this short story, very loosely based on Charles Perrault’s Cinderella, the Princess is a meth head who has wandered into an emergency room. Her fairy godmother, as it were, is a gilled angel named “Gilbert” (possibly “Gillbert”), and the Prince tricked her into helping him run his meth lab by feeding her a giant pony made of candy. Cinderella as a drug addict having a psychotic episode? You know, it kind of makes sense.
I Was A Rat!, Philip Pullman
This one’s more of a sequel — but a darkly witty one, at that. In this children’s novel, one of the rats that were turned into coachmen in Perrault’s Cinderella story somehow didn’t get turned back at the end, but can’t quite remember where he came from. Unlike many of the other books on this list, the ending is warm and fuzzy. Yes, like a rat.
Fables, Bill Willingham
In Bill Willingham’s ongoing comics series Fables, every fairy tale character you’ve ever known has been forced from their world into New York City (and, for the more freakish ones, a farm upstate) and live in an enclave they call Fabletown. Prince Charming cheated on Snow White and she divorced him, the Big Bad Wolf goes by Bigby and is the community sheriff, and Goldilocks is homicidal. The story arcs range from what you’d expect to what you really wouldn’t (the Fable characters turning themselves into a superhero team, pro-Israel metaphors), and the worst (presumably) is yet to come.
Transformations, Anne Sexton
In this slim volume, Sexton retells seventeen Grimm fairy tales in poetic form, stripping them of everything you thought was inherent and unchangeable: Sexton is amoral, caustic, shrugging; she refuses to assign good and evil, questions our attention to the young protagonist as default, suggests Rapunzel as lesbian and calls attention to the fact that one day Snow White will dance in molten roller skates as the Evil Queen did:
And so she danced until she was dead,
a subterranean figure,
her tongue flicking in and out
like a gas jet.
Meanwhile Snow White held court,
rolling her china-blue doll eyes open and shut
and sometimes referring to her mirror
as women do.
Hansel and Gretel are Polish Jews on the run in Nazi-occupied Poland, taken in by an aged woman named Magda, who the neighbors call a witch. Murphy expertly inverts the story, and plays the horrors of war against the assumed magic of fairy tale; inside versus outside. We suppose this one makes sense, in a brutal sort of way (that looming oven!), but we still find it unsettling.
Cinder, Marissa Meyer
Well, it had to be done (we guess). In this YA novel, Cinderella is a cyborg mechanic living in New Beijing, who falls in love with Prince Kai, the heir to the throne of the Commonwealth. Talk about forbidden love — that foot is prosthetic, because the girl’s not quite human.
Wildwood Dancing, Juliet Marillier
This YA novel drops the traditional Grimm tale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” into early 1500s Transylvania, adding some vampire lore for good measure. Because what else are we to assume when twelve beautiful virgins dance all night?
The Bloody Chamber, Angela Carter
Not only is the title story one of the most twisted love stories we’ve ever read, but the entire collection is probably the most famous group of dark, feminist retellings of fairy tales out there, so we’re putting it on the list in its entirety. Carter has said, “My intention was not to do ‘versions’ or, as the American edition of the book said, horribly, ‘adult’ fairy tales, but to extract the latent content from the traditional stories.” Luckily, there is a lot of bloody, terrifying, necrophiliac latent content to be had. Not to mention Wolf-Alice.
The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, Vivian Vande Velde
This book manages to not only be a meta-retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin story (the author treats us to six different versions, in fact), but a critique on the same, given that the premise of this book is to break down all of the tale’s inherent problems and inconsistencies. As far as we know, those are the kinds of things that storytellers tend to sweep under the rug, at least when it comes to fairy tales, but not Vande Velde — she wants to know. And some of the endings she finds may surprise you.