Fiction Reviews

Fearie Tales: Stories of the Grimm and Gruesome

(2013) Stephen Jones (ed) and illustrations by Allan Lee, Jo Fletcher Books, 20, hrdbk, 504pp, ISBN 978-1-848-66346-6

Jones has edited and co-authored several great horror, science fiction and fantasy collections, and much work here qualifies too, though some sadly fall short of genius.

Jones has his usual cohorts here, Neil Gaiman, Ramsey Campbell, Tanith Lee, etc - names that recur in most of his anthologies. What makes this different is the addition of work by the Brothers Grimm.

Brian Hodge's 'Anything To Me Would Be Sweeter Than To Cross Shock Headed Peter', as well as having one of the longest titles ever, is an excellent macabre fable about children imprisoned as freaks in a macabre museum to the horrors of running with scissors, playing with matches or daydreaming.

As the story unfolds, the children unite to use their super-powers to escape their fate, but this seems closer to Roald Dahl than the Grimm original, 'Frau Trude'.

Robert Shearman's 'Peckish' might have taken me by surprise if not for being set right on top of the Grimm classic, Hansel & Gretel, which more than gives the game away.

Each story included is directly preceded by the Grimm Fairie Tale that inspired it, which is both blessing and curse. some stories, such as Markus Heitz's 'Fraulein Fearnot' are very literal updates of the original a fact that might not be so obvious if the new version didn't directly start as the Grimm version concluded.

Other stories take a very fresh angle on the Grimm Material, as with Tanith Lee's uber-Gothic 'Open Your Windows', 'Golden Hair', a very dark twisted take on 'Rapunzel'. This is my favourite story in the collection by far.

Some stories take the visceral nastiness to a new level, as in Christopher Fowler's The Ash-Boy, where the Ugly Sister burn Cinderella to death and it's her previously cremated brother who turns up to claim a very gory revenge.

Brian Lumley's 'The Changeling' cheats by taking the traditional infant swapped for an elf tale to replace it with one of his own Cthulhu mythos tales, which is very well written by fits this anthology like a glass slipper on the wrong foot.

What really stands out is how vividly gory even the Grimm tales often were in their own right. I wondered in re-reading some of them, how I ever slept after my parents read those to me.

Alan Lee's pencil drawn illustrations are excellent, and it makes for an interesting experiment in anthology presentation where the classy stores far outweigh the few disappointments offered.

With many films and TV shows knowingly re-inventing traditional Fairy, (or Fairie) and folk tales for modern audiences, as with Cop show, Grimm or the Snow White & The Huntsman films, it is great to see the best horror and fantasy authors of our generation present their own takes on the sub-genre, while holding up the original experts as the unconquered, undefeated champions of true horror.

Arthur Chappell

See Ian's review of Fearie Tales: Stories of the Grimm and Gruesome.

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