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For [community profile] fannish5 7/2/2010: Name your five most-loved fairy tales.

1. Deerskin by Robin McKinley

Deerskin is a re-telling of the fairy tale "Donkeyskin" and other fairy tales of the same sort. It is not a happy tale - there is a mad king who wants to marry his own daughter, Lissar, who escapes his clutches and goes to live alone on a mountain and later in the palace of a king in another kingdom. It's hard to explain why I like this book, even though it's so difficult to read, but the writing is beautiful and I fall in love with Lissar and her dog, Ash, every time I read it.

2. Beauty by Robin McKinley

McKinley is sort of my fairy tale goddess. Beauty is the first book I ever read by her, and it remains one of my "comfort" books that I can read in an hour on a day that I'm feeling not-so-great. The invisible servants in the castle, the beautiful dresses, Beauty's sisters (who are not at all wicked but lovely, in fact), the Beast, the library that holds all the books that have been and all the books that will be, and the roses - it's all just perfect and has not diminished with time.

3. Stardust by Neil Gaiman

I didn't become familiar with the name Neil Gaiman until my friends on LiveJournal started writing reviews of some of his novels. I hadn't read the Sandman graphic novels, either. But back in 1997, an advertisement slip appeared in my box at my local comic book store announcing a 4-book series illustrated by Charles Vess. I ordered a copy of the series because of Vess - I was, like many people in the late 90s, deeply in love with Vess' art. And I loved this little series - the art and the story - and still have the four volumes. It wasn't until much, much later that I realized it was written by Neil Gaiman, and that was after I'd read Neverwhere.

The story of Stardust is so... glimmery and dark and gorgeous. Yvaine is so snarky and Tristran so patient, and then there are the brothers of Stormhold and the witches and it is all a delightful, violent, pretty tale indeed. I have seen the novel published without Vess' illustrations, but I don't know how anyone can read this story without them...

4. "Stone Soup"

This is one old fairy tale that has a happy ending and while teaching a positive lesson - qualities that are a bit rare in fairyland... In many variations of "Stone Soup" (or "Nail Soup" or "Axe Soup"), a traveler comes to a town where the people are poor and no one wants to share what they have for fear that they will end up with nothing. So the traveler borrows a large pot, puts in some water from a stream, and a large river stone and starts it boiling. Then he tells the villagers all about "stone soup" and how delicious it is. Then, he turns their curiosity about "stone soup" into a means of getting them to share what they have and add it to the soup - a little seasoning here, a few potatoes there - and finally, after everyone has put something into the pot, the whole village feasts on soup that they made together.

5. "Scheherazade"

I'm not fond of all of the Arabian nights tales, but my favorite is the over-arching story of Scheherazade and how she saved herself, her sister, the women of her country, and even, in some ways, the king himself. Scheherazade is the young woman who, seeing that no one was willing to do anything about a terrible situation, stepped in and handled it herself, with wisdom and wit.

One of my favorite feminist authors, Fatima Mernissi, talks a lot about Scheherazade in her autobiography, Dreams of Trespass (also titled The Harem Within) and analyzes Scheherazade's relationship with her husband in feminist terms and in terms of psychology and psychoanalysis. Her conclusions are fascinating and changed the way I read Scheherazade and her tales when I dig out my old Arabian Nights collection.


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