If you are one of the people who insists that ‘real’ fairy tales are brutal then The Virago Book of Fairy Tales edited by Angela Carter is for you. Not all of the stories are bloody (although many are), but none of them pull their punches. These stories are the original folklore stripped to the bone, and told they way they have been for centuries. It also provides an excellent glimpse at a wider variety of cultural myths. Many of the most well known fairy tales are very Euro-centric. Instead of only hearing about French princesses and English farmers, you can read the stories of little Russian girls and old Eskimo women, of Chinese witches the Armenian ‘Snow White’.
As a lover of longer form fiction some of the stories felt very short and light on details. I had to keep reminding myself that majority of these stories were original part of an oral tradition of passing folklore down through the generations. Not all of the stories have an obvious moral or cautionary aspect, but all of them express the kind of stories that seem to be fundamental to humanities understanding of itself. It’s fascinating to examine the differences and similarities between the stories in this book, and the ones we all hold in our memories. This Red Riding Hood doesn’t get a happily ever after and some Cinderellas have their own magic, but the stories resonate in a way that transcends the country of origin and speaks to something in all of us.
If you’re looking for something novel-length with a similar tone I definitely recommend John Connolly’s Book of Lost Things. It is absolutely the descendant of fairy tales like the ones found in The Virago Book of Fairy Tales.