The stories in this book are based on classic fairy tales -- but probably not the way you’ve ever heard fairy tales before. Most people think that fairy tales are stories meant for very young children, but hundreds of years ago tales of magic were loved by folks of all ages. The fairy tales we know today -- like “Cinderella,” “Hansel and Gretel,” “Snow White,” and all the rest -- used to be darker, stranger, and more complex, up until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Then they were turned into children’s tales, banished to the nursery (as J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of The Lord of the Rings, once pointed out) like furniture the adults have grown tired of and no longer want. Fairy tales were changed and simplified when they were rewritten for very young readers. And it’s these sweet and simple versions that most of us know today.
But if you go back to the older versions, you’ll see why people both young and old liked to gather before the hearth fire and listen to these marvelous stories on long, cold winter evenings. Fairy tales were scarier then, and the heroes and heroines were more interesting. Cinderella, for instance, was a smart, feisty, angry girl in the oldest versions of the story (dating back all the way to ninth century China), not the helpless dreamer who has to be rescued by a prince, as we know her today. Little Red Riding Hood didn’t wait for a passing woodsman, she outwitted the wolf herself—who was, in fact, a werewolf in older versions of the story. Happy endings were never guaranteed -- particularly in the well-loved fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen (where the Little Match Girl dies in the snow, the loyal Tin Soldier is consumed by fire, and the Little Mermaid loses her life when her fickle prince weds another). The old fairy tales, like all the best stories, were filled with all the dark and bright, all the failures and triumphs, that life has to offer. No wonder our ancestors have loved them for hundreds and hundreds of years.
All of the writers in this book loved fairy tales when they were young, and they didn’t stop loving and reading them even when they grew to adulthood. Each writer has taken a favorite tale and made a brand-new story from it -- stories full of strangeness, humor, dark magic, and wonder.
These are tales to lead you into the Dark Woods, where witches live and animals talk and magic appears when you least expect it. And here are a few standard words of advice when you enter that enchanted forest: Be kind to old women on the path (they may be fairies in disguise). Use magic wishes carefully (you’ll get exactly what you wish for). Don’t eat the food the fairies offer (it will trap you in their realm forever). And be sure to leave a trail of stones to find your way home again….
Art by G.P. Jacomb Hood (1857-1929)