We craft and tell stories because we’ve stood on the uncertain edge between the waking world and our imagination, between enchantment and fear. And we remember other stories that help us build our own stories, scraps of lumber and fragments of narrative we gather together to make stories for ourselves.

Giveaway: Bitter Greens

As a suitable pairing with our review of The Wild Girl, this week we’re pleased to be giving away one signed copy of Bitter Greens, Kate Forsyth’s retelling of ‘Rapunzel’. Kim Wilkins called Bitter Greens ‘the best fairy tale retelling since Angela Carter’, and according to C. W. Gortner, ‘Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens is not only a magnificent achievement that would make any novelist jealous, it’s one of the most beautiful paeans to the magic of storytelling that I’ve ever read.’ Here’s what Kate herself told us about the book:

I think the main problem with retelling such a well-known tale is that everyone knows the story (or at least they think they do.) And so the challenge for me as a writer was to find some way to make the story compelling and surprising, full of unexpected turns, while still being true to the narrative. One way for me to do that was to write it as a historical novel; that way, I could not rely on convenient magic to explain the mysteries of the story, such as Rapunzel’s fathoms-long hair, or the tower with neither door not stair. I had to find logical, realistic explanations instead.

Using the life story of the woman who first wrote the tale was another way to make the story feel real, as if it might have really happened, and of course had the added benefit of giving a voice to a woman who has been rendered mute by the patriarchal society in which she lived.

The giveaway is open now, has closed and is was eligible to anyone in the world except for Unsettling Wonder staff, and runs till Saturday, 25 January 2014, 11.59 pm (whatever time zone you’re in); the winner will be announced the following Monday. To put your name in a virtual hat, leave a comment below telling us what your favourite tale is from The Brother’s Grimm, and why. The comments will be numbered in order of time stamp, earliest to latest, and a lucky comment will be chosen by the random number generator.

Tell all your friends, tell the social media world, and tell us what your favourite Grimm tale is, to win this one special copy of Bitter Greens. Starting—now!

Update 27-Jan-14: And the random number generator has decreed that the winner is Jodi, who commented that her favorite Grimms tale is “Hansel and Gretel” (KHM 15). While she didn’t win the keys to the Gingerbread House, she will be getting a signed copy of Bitter Greens in the post.

But don’t let the end of the giveaway stop you from leaving a comment and telling us what your favorite Grimm’s tale is. Fascinating range so far, mostly tending towards the more troubling, metamorphic tales. And, curiously, no tales adapted by Disney. Make of that what you will. And then tell us your own favourite.

Reader Comments

  1. I think, for me, it has to be The Six Swans – such a beautiful and magical tale, but as always with the right degree of darkness and heartache. I just love the imagery, and the devotion of the sister to her brothers.

    1. Yes, I love that tale as well. Padraic Colum has the best retelling of it, I think, in The King of Ireland’s Son.

      (NB: If the random number generator picks one of my comments on this thread, I’ll keep making it randomly generate numbers till it doesn’t.)

      1. Brilliant, I will have to look that one up. I must admit I did enjoy the fantasy novel loosely based upon the Six Swans tellings ‘Daughter of the Forest’ by Juliet Marillier. I’m finding more tales I want to explore now from this thread, thanks everyone!

  2. There are so many beautiful tales to chooose from, and I also adore ‘The Six Swans’ — such a moving sibling narrative. But I must go for ‘Hans-My-Hedgehog’ as my favourite. Every time I read it, I’m captivated by the tale’s unsettling darkness of gender violence and political machination, and by the connotations of traumatic disability lurking beneath. http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/grimm108.html
    Ps. Though I must confess to a long-time bias in favour of hedgehogs!

  3. My favourite tale is “The Singing Bone” (Type 780). It is a tale that has resonated with me for a long time, be it in prose or in ballad form as Binnorie or The Twa Sisters. The imagery of the music relating the murder and the instrument revealing the murderer always struck me as otherworldly and fair.

    1. Gail–I’ve always found The Singing Bone to be deeply uncanny. When there’s a session at my local pub, occasionally one of the musicians will sing a version of it. Gives me the shivers every time.

  4. I’ve always loved Little Red Riding Hood because I am fascinated about history and the thought of living in times where wolves roamed freely is truly daunting. The older the version the scarier the pictures often were in the books too!

  5. My favorite is The Juniper Tree. That one has always resonated with me, I think because of its darkness, its twisted familial relationships, and also because of its magic, and the song is wonderful. The first time I read it I could hear the song to a tune I made up, and I find myself often singing to myself, or even aloud, “My mother she killed me / my father he ate me / my sister she buried me under the tree/ tweet tweet / tweet tweet.” Who knows what any listeners think!

      1. That was awesome! I love how fairy tales can inspire so many different kinds of creation.

  6. Today’s favourite is Jorinde and Joringel. I always imagined the singing of the captive maidens would be achingly beautiful. I suspect, too, that every girl hopes her boyfriend would be as dedicated to rescuing her as Joringel is. Most, alas, will be disappointed.

  7. I’m always drawn by the Celtic images of the stag and the stag god. I love “The Glass Coffin” (ATU 552,410) in which the brother has been transformed by evil magic into a stag and kills the magician who is in the form of a bull. Something to do with Mithras?

    1. That’s real interesting, Rhonda. I’d never connected The Glass Coffin with Mithras before, and of course the Grimms would likely have known the classical myths. It would be curious to look into that more, and see whether there’s a direct connect, or whether both legends are recalling even old traditions about stags and bulls and so on.

  8. “The Girl Without Hands” has always been a favourite of mine. I always found it to be one of the darker tales, which is perhaps why it managed to escape the “dumbing down” that occured to some of the more well known stories.

    1. Yes, that’s certainly one of the tales that’s harder to gloss over. But, as you say, that’s part of its appeal. Walter Crane did an excellent illustration for that in the Rainbow Fairy Books, IIRC.

  9. The Seven Swans (aka The Six Swans or The Wild Swans) is an all-time favorite for me. The question that has always haunted me with this particular tale is that the witch gave her a year to sew each shirt of nettles, yet she was unable to finish the last one. I’ve always thought perhaps she used that time to make a swan shirt out of her brother’s lost feathers. I can see her wanting to sing away from it all.

      1. Excellent story, I retold it to my class 2 each day over 7 weeks, then staged a play from the openig scenes 🙂

  10. For some reason, “Mother Holle” made a strong impression on me when I was a child. I think it was because the theme of just desserts resonated strongly with my ten-year-old mind.

    1. Absolutely–same here, Anna. It’s the explosion of Mother Holle onto the stage, no explanation given for her or her actions except that she is Mother Holle. Wonderful example of these tales at their best, I think.

  11. Hansel and Gretl has to be a favourite because of the spooky forest that the children are abandoned in, and the oasis of food at the gingerbread house that turns out to be a deadly lure…

    1. I admit, I’d probably nibble that house on the sly. Wouldn’t do to live in it!

      Though, of course, Morgan le Fay’s house of food in The Sword and the Stone is distinctly unappetizing.

  12. My favourite fairytale from Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm is Hansel and Gretel. It is my favourite because Gretel doesn’t sit idly by while the witch fattens up her brother to eat him, she does something about it to save him, the way he has taken care of her up until that point. And both children are crafty, and clever and I love the sense of justice at the end when they return home unharmed to their father and their stepmother is dead – for a long time I have wondered f the death of the witch coincided with the death of the stepmother.

      1. I usually look to Geraldine McCaughrean when seeking a retelling of just about everything, so I’ll check my collection. Oxford book of fairy tales rings a bell.

  13. So many good choices. The first fairy tale that made a really strong impression on me was “The Twelve Brothers.” I think it was the love that grows between the brothers and their sister, despite everything, that did it for me.

    1. That tale type has really stuck with me, too. Not sure why except, as you say, that inexorable bond between the brothers and their sister, and the courage of them all, too. That, and the metamorphosis is a really haunting scene.

  14. What a wonderful list of fairy tales! I too love Seven Swans, and Juliet Marillier’s novel Daughter of the Forest is one of my all-time favourite books. Has anyone read Nicholas Stuart Grey’s ‘The Seventh Swan’ about the life of the youngest brother with one swan wing instead of an arm? Its beautiful! Margo Lanagan has written a very creepy story inspired by it too. I am now hunting down Padraic Colum’s retelling as I had not heard of that … also love Cinderella, and Eleanor Farjeon’s ‘The Glass Slipper’, and Beauty and the Beast … has anyone read C.S. Lewis’s retelling of the Cupid & Psyche myth ‘Till We Have Faces’? Its his best book …

  15. I’ve always been rather fond of Hans-my-Hedgehog and I think it’s because of the Jim Henson Storyteller show that did a retelling of it. I remember in that version the princess isn’t supposed to know that his Hedgehog skin can come off until after the curse is lifted, but she finds out and ends up having to pursue him through several different kingdoms before she finally finds him. Along the way, she has a few pairs of iron shoes made because they last longer than normal leather shoes, and before she finds him she has worn two pairs down to nothing. When she does find him, she has to hold fast to him like Janet in the ballad Tam Lin as he changes into several nasty things before finally becoming her prince.

  16. I have to admit that I’m pretty partial to Rapunzel…all coincidence aside. I have always loved the idea of that beautiful long hair and the concept of it being strong enough for an actual person to climb up using it like a rope. So intriguing. I loved the Disney spin on the tale, Tangled. Another favorite is Snow-White and Rose-Red. It’s an interesting twist on Snow White where the dwarf is the villain rather than a good guy like the dwarfs in Snow White.

  17. My Favorite was the Twelve Dancing Princesses. Jeweled Trees and handsome Princes how could you not love it? I have heard great things about the Book in the giveaway and I would love to read it.

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