First christened contes de fee by French writer Madame d'Aulnoy in 1697, fairy tales, handed down from generation to generation for hundreds of years, were initially intended for both adults and children. In the early 19th century, brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm toned down the violence and sexual overtones in their collected German folk tales to make them more suitable for younger readers. Although scholars continue to argue over the origins and meanings of these magical stories, few dispute their entertainment value, as evidenced by their continued popularity in print and on screen. Fairy tales combine adventure and romance with the timeless themes of love, honor, family, sacrifice, and the triumph of good over evil. Is it any wonder, then, that so many contemporary authors turn to fairy tales for inspiration?
Below we present a few of our favorites. If you haven't gotten lost in a good fairy tale since you were a child, this is a good place to start.
VARIATIONS ON BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
About love and unfair judgement, Beauty and the Beast was originally written by French novelist Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont in 1756.
ADULT LITERARY FICTION
By Andrew Davidson (2008)
Horribly burned and disfigured after a car crash, a misanthropic former porn star plans to commit suicide after he is released from the hospital. But one day, mesmerizing sculptress Marianne Engel wanders in from the psychiatric ward and chides him: "You've been burned. Again." At first, he humors her wild claims that they were once lovers in medieval Germany, but he soon falls under the spell of her breathtaking stories. This captivating debut novel by Canadian author Andrew Davidson, a former English teacher in Japan, grounds the magical underpinnings of Marianne's tales in graphic medical and historical details. Together, they weave stories of the distant past and present into a page-turning psychological thriller about love, suffering, sacrifice, and redemption.
The Phantom of the Opera
By Gaston Leroux (1911)
When a mysterious accident befalls the Paris Opera's lead soprano, Christine Daae, a mere member of the chorus, takes her place and performs brilliantly. Her lovely voice takes Paris by storm, but the secret of her success ominously relates to the whispered legend of a ghost lurking in the opera company's backstage rooms, hidden chambers, and subterranean tunnels. Deeply obsessed with the lovely Christine, the ghoul will stop at nothing to possess her. Partly inspired by actual events in 19th-century Paris, this classic gothic masterpiece, a riveting and atmospheric page-turner, inspired Andrew Lloyd Webber's dazzling Broadway musical.
By Alex Flinn (2007)
Spoiled, handsome New York City high school student Kyle Kingsbury plays a cruel joke on an unpopular girl, Kendra, at a dance. Later that night, Kendra, a witch in disguise, turns Kyle into an ugly, deformed beast as punishment, but he can break the spell within the next two years by falling in love--and persuading his beloved to love him in return. If he fails, he will remain a beast forever. Alex Flinn's entertaining, best-selling novel, also a major motion picture starring Vanessa Hudgens and Alex Pettyfer, modernizes the ages-old tale and recounts it from the perspective of the beast, whose journey of self-discovery and transformation is touchingly believable.
A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast
By Robin McKinley (1978)
* ALA BEST BOOK FOR YOUNG ADULTS
* PHOENIX AWARD HONOR BOOK
Award-winning fantasy and children's author Robin McKinley hews closely to the original plot of the cherished French fairy tale while fleshing out the personalities and plot; her beautifully written debut novel adds depth, richness, and freshness. The youngest of three sisters, Beauty, fiercely intelligent, finds happiness in her books and in the natural world despite her father's recent business losses, which have left the family penniless. When he returns home from a business trip with an incredible tale of an enchanted castle, a cruel beast, and a terrible promise he made to hand over one of his daughters in exchange for his life, Beauty volunteers to go to save her sisters and father.
SUN AND MOON, ICE AND SNOW | JESSICA DAY GEORGE (2008)
EAST | EDITH PATTOU (2003)
STUNG | BETHANY WIGGINS (2013)
VARIATIONS ON CINDERELLA
Cinderella, about unjust oppression and love, was first recorded by Neapolitan poet, courtier, and fairy tale collector Giambattista Basile in 1634.
ADULT LITERARY FICTION
Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister
By Gregory Maguire (1999)
Having fled England for the Netherlands after the death of her father, plain but intelligent Iris Fisher adjusts to life in Haarlem with her mother and older sister, in the home of her mother's new husband, wealthy widower Cornelius van den Meer. Cornelius's own daughter, Clara, is an ethereally beautiful but capricious and argumentative girl, and Iris finds solace from her tumultuous home life in art. When she begins to study painting with a local artist, she ignites a chain of events that changes all of their lives. Readers who think they know this story will be shocked as Maguire upends their expectations and fuses fantasy, mystery, and historical fiction against a meticulously crafted backdrop of 17th-century Netherlands.
By Terry Pratchett (1991)