The stories of magic and transformation that we call fairy tales are among the oldest known forms of literature, and many the most popular. "Jack and the Beanstalk," "Sleeping Beauty," "Little Red Ridinghood"--these ageless tales seem to have been written an almost magically long time ago. Yet fairy tales are still being created to this very day. And while they are principally directed to children and have child protagonists, these modern fairy tales, like the classics, have messages to those of all ages.
In The Oxford Book of Modern Fairy Tales, Alison Lurie has collected forty tales that date from the late nineteenth century up to the present. Here are trolls and princesses, magic and mayhem, morals to be told and lessons to be learned--all the elements of the classic fairy tale, in new and fantastical trappings. In Charles Dickens's "The Magic Fishbone," we find an unusually pragmatic princess who uses her one wish only after she has tried to solve her family's problems through hard work. Angela Carter's "The Courtship of Mr. Lyon" is a "Beauty and the Beast" tale with a contemporary twist, in which Beauty leaves Beast to live the high life, becoming a society brat who "smiled at herself in mirrors too much." And in T.H. White's "The Troll," we find out how his father killed the troll that tried to eat him.
In these enchanting pages we also see how modern writers have taken the classic fairy tale and adapted it to their times in a variety of ways. Francis Browne, for example, takes a poke at Victorian standards of beauty in "The Story of Fairyfoot," about a young prince who is cast out of the kingdom of Stumpinghame because, unlike the fashion of the town, his feet are too small. Some writers, such as Ursula Le Guin, have taken familiar myths and turned them upside down. In Le Guin's "The Wife's Story," a mother sees the horrible transformation of her husband into "the hateful one", and then watches her sister and neighbors mob and kill this "creature whose hair had begun to come away all over his body...the eyes gone blue...staring at me out of that flat, soft, white face." And L.F. Baum's "The Queen of Quok," contains a castle and royal characters in a kingdom run by common sense and small-town American values. At one point the boy king of Quok has to borrow a dime from his counsellor to buy a ham sandwich, and greed transforms his young queen-to-be into a haggard old woman.
With tales from the likes of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Oscar Wilde, Carl Sandburg, James Thurber, Donald Barthelme, Louise Erdrich, and many more, The Oxford Book of Modern Fairy Tales brings us through the modern-day world of the supernatural, the mystical, the moral, and reminds us that fairy tales are still very much alive.