Unfairy Tales – Book Review

A belated review of a book I had read last month. I came across this one while casually browsing – our book group had set the theme for January as “Children’s Stories”, and how one would feel reading the same as adults. The blurb made this seem like an apt choice – the author’s own retelling of popular fairy tales.

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Title – Unfairy Tales

Author – Carthick

Genre – Fiction, Short stories

“Unfairy Tales” as the title indicates, is a retelling of age old fairy tales. What if there was more to fairy tales than we were led on to as children? Fairy tales are anything but fair – just as our world is – and so they must be told as unfair(l)y as they truly are. The stories are either rehashed with the author’s own take on them, or the same story is narrated from adifferent perspective than the one we have been familiar with since childhood. This delightful mélange chronicles seven tales narrated by non-human creatures – misunderstood magicians, mistreated faeries, distressed bears, disillusioned mice, and many more. The author brings forth the points of view of various creatures ever-so-present in our beloved fairy tales, that we might not have paid much attention to, having focused on the human characters all those years ago.

“Cinderella”  is described by a family of mice residing in her cottage. Remember the mice who were transformed into horses by fairy godmother? Yes, this story is narrated from their point of view. “What pitiful lives we lead and yet what illusions of grandeur we harbor! This is one of the ironies in the lives of mice and men. The more pitiable our present situation, the grander our delusions of past glory.” When a mouse gets to live as a horse, no wonder he turns delusional and believes he still is one, long after the ball has ended. Cinderella’s transformation into a princess has always fascinated us, but would anyone believe the same story about a mouse transforming to a horse, with people mentioned as side characters?

“The Princess and the Frog” spins a different take on the original. What if the princess does not want to be with the prince in the first place? What if he comes across as arrogant and uncouth, and she would much rather have spent her life with the frog? Princesses can also be intelligent and make their own choices, and not just lie in wait for good looking, rich princes. Every woman does not need Prince Charming to make life perfect.

“Goldilocks” is narrated by Baby Bear. Why do human characters get well thought out names – creative ones like Goldilocks – and animals are relegated to Papa, Mama and Baby? What makes humans enter animal territories, make themselves comfortable, use the creatures’ properties and destroy their homes, and ultimately expect sympathy that the animals were at fault for scaring them away?

“Jack and the Beanstalk” is presented as the mysterious dealer’s take – the one who hands Jack the magic beans. But Jack is not grateful for the new world that opens to him. Frequently climbing up the magical beanstalk, stealing things from the giant’s house, and not even considering sharing them with the dealer who lent him the beans. How ungrateful can people be?

“The Pied Piper of Hamelin” was my favorite piece from the lot, narrated from the point of view of the town of Hamelin itself. I thought this was very creative – a city being witness to everything that happens within it, but who would ask, and how would it tell, and would anyone listen?

“Humans lack magic. But they have emotions. That is their magic”. Rumpelstiltskin got swayed by the crying miller’s daughter, and the plight of her father, and decided to help. Did he really want to hurt the humans? All he asked for was his reward for the magic he performed and the work he had done. The miller’s daughter sought his help when she was desperate, “she” asked “him”, he didn’t forcibly convert the straw into gold, and when the task was done she wanted to get rid of him.

“Hansel and Gretel” was written ingeniously as well, narrated by “hunger” – yes, the actual feeling of hunger and what it drives one to. The children’s parents wanted to be rid of them since they didn’t have enough food and money for the family. The witch could lure them with her candy house and then let them eat to their heart’s content. Just to fatten them up for her own meal. To what extent does hunger drive someone? “I have caused kingdoms to rise and fall. I have incited the meekest of people to rise in the greatest of revolutions. Before me, the king and the knave stand equal. No, I am not death, the leveler. I am hunger, the ravager”.

Each of the chapters has a newly constructed title – not the popularly known ones we are accustomed to. The author, who goes by the pen name Carthick, brings a refreshing take on these century old stories. His spin on the narrative makes us look at these well known tales from a different angle, offering a change in perceptions that have been held for years. The author has philosophized on life in general and what drives human behavior. Topics touched upon like greed, hunger, ungratefulness, misogyny, show us that “happily ever after” does not really exist after all. The book is thoroughly enjoyable – it pleasantly refreshes ones childhood memories of these beloved fairy tales, and at the same time makes one ponder over the fact that the originals were not as simple as were made out at the time. The cover is quite interesting – the brightly colored fairy tale characters stand out against the neutral shades and morbid colors of the background. There are a few grammatical errors, which mademe cut one point from the rating – could be either lapses from the editing team or the author’s own failure to notice while writing. On the whole, the stories are structured well, and this is a recommended read for all age groups.

Rating – 4/5

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2 thoughts on “Unfairy Tales – Book Review”

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