Author: Ellen Datlow (Editor), Terri Windling (Editor)
Published: July 1, 2000
Publisher: Simon & Schusters Books for Young Readers
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy, Retelling
Pages: 166 pages
Rating: 3 stars
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These are not your mother's fairy tales...Did you ever wonder how the dwarves felt after Snow White ditched them for the prince? Do you sometimes wish Cinderella hadn't been so helpless and petite? Are you ready to hear the Giant's point of view on Jack and his beanstalk? Then this is the book for you.
Thirteen award-winning fantasy and science fiction writers offer up their versions of these classic fairy tales as well as other favorites, including The Ugly Duckling, Ali Baba, Hansel and Gretel, and more. Some of the stories are funny, some are strange, and others are dark and disturbing -- but each offers something as unexpected as a wolf at the door. (Goodreads)
A Wolf at the Door and Other Retold Fairy Tales is a collection of fairy-tales retold by such famous fantasy and science fiction writers as Neil Gaiman, Garth Nix, Gregory Maguire, and more. This book contains Gaiman's "Instructions" and 12 retellings of old favorites like Cinderella and The Twelve Dancing Princesses. I found these short retellings to either be a hit or miss. There were some I enjoyed, while others were just strange and poorly executed. There were many dark twisted tales, and I'm surprised this book is primarily for children. But why should I be surprised considering some of the animated movies I used to watch as a kid? I guess the best way to go about this is to review these individually. I'll try to make it short and sweet.
1. "The Months of Manhattan" by Delia Sherman - A retelling of an obscure Russian fairy tale "Twelve Months," "The Months of Manhattan" was one of my favorites of the collection. Taking place in New York, the tale is about one sister who is kind and well-behaved and her stepsister who is rude and temperamental. Both girls meet the personified twelve months in a painting in the MET, and they are both given the luck they deserve. The tale teaches a wonderful lesson about being polite to others. I thought the story was well-done and imaginative.
2. "Cinder Elephant" by Jane Yolen - "Cinder Elephant" is a Cinderella retelling, and it was my favorite in the collection. In this version, Cinderella is not small or petite. In fact, she's quite big and has huge feet (well, 9 1/2 wide, which is actually my size, minus the wide part). Her stepmother and stepsisters are all extremely thin and have thin names. I found this retelling to be one of my favorite Cinderella retellings of all time. I loved how inventive it was, with the grass (not glass) slippers and the birdwatching prince. I think this retelling alone is worth reading this book, even if you don't like any of the others.
3. "Instructions" by Neil Gaiman - I've actually read "Instructions" before in The Poets' Grimm. My English professor lent me the book, and her poem was in the collection along with Gaiman's. "Instructions" is a list of advice for anyone that finds themselves in the midst of a fairy tale. Don't eat or drink anything. Help any old woman. And so on. I thought it was brilliantly done, and I enjoyed it immensely.
4. "Mrs Big: Jack and the Beanstalk Retold" by Michael Cadnum - This story is obviously a retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk, but it is told from the POV of the giant's wife, Mrs. Big. For once, the reader sympathizes with the giants who did nothing wrong. They were minding their own business when Jack climbed up the beanstalk to their home and stole some of their treasure. It was a sweet, touching tale, showing how much Mrs. Big and Mr. Big loved each other and also showing that they were harmless giants. It was interesting to have the tale told from an entirely different POV.
5. "Falada: The Goose Girl's Horse" by Nancy Farmer - I was disappointed in this retelling of the Grimm fairy tale The Goose Girl. Told from the POV of Falada, the goose girl's magical talking horse, we see a whole different side of the story. Unfortunately, I wasn't impressed. It brought nothing new to the tale, and I was happy it was blissfully short.
6. "A Wolf at the Door" by Tanith Lee - "A Wolf at the Door," the retelling that gave this book its name, is set in the next Ice Age. In this Ice Age, animals have evolved and are able to talk, increasing their chances of survival. Glasina and her father are content with talking only to the lions, who never say too much, but one day an overly talkative wolf comes along. They allow the wolf to stay as a guest in their house, but he is a very untidy guest, constantly breaking things. Both of them worry that the wolf is actually a human, and that Glasina will have to kiss him to change him back and then marry him. But all she wants to do is go to college! The tale had potential for amusement, but instead, I just found it very strange and it wasn't one of my favorites.
7. "Ali Baba and the Forty Aliens" by Janeen Webb - From the title, you can tell this one is a retelling of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. This story introduces science fiction into the mix. This was another tale that had potential but fell flat. Ali Baba loves to explore the abandoned gold mines near his house. Then one day, he finds a mine he's never seen before with a door that will not open, except to a certain pair of words. He discovers the mine is the hideout of forty aliens, and they are collecting specimens and minerals. This tale ended abruptly, and left me feeling unsatisfied. Not to mention, the aliens only appeared once and the family never seemed to care that the brother disappears.
8. "Swans" by Kelly Link - Link's "Swans" is a Six Swans retelling. Emma hasn't uttered a single word since her mother's death. Her father remarries a very unusual woman that was found wandering the zoo unclothed. Emma's stepmother despises any noise, and Emma's six brothers are very noisy. Without intending to, the stepmother turns each of them into swans, leaving silent Emma to witness it all. Before she knows it, her stepmother's enchantments spiral out of control. While it didn't particularly stand out, I found "Swans" slightly amusing, and I liked how the tale was told from a child's POV.
9. "The Kingdom of Melting Glances" by Katherine Vaz - Simply put, this tale was a mind-fuck. "The Kingdom of Melting Glances" borrows elements from two Portuguese fairy tales. There's a bath of razor blades, a prince as a bird, and a dance floor covered in bacon grease. I wish I could say I found this wild tale entertaining, but I really thought it was just confusing and random.
10. "Hansel's Eyes" by Garth Nix - Probably the most gruesome of all the retellings, "Hansel's Eyes" takes place in the city and is a twisted version of Hansel and Gretel, taking after the Grimm original. After their stepmother drugs them and their father dumps them in an alley in another attempt to get rid of them for good, siblings Hansel and Gretel come across a Sony Playstation store with candy and soda machines. While Hansel falls under the spell of video games, Gretel is not fooled, and the witch that runs the shop offers Gretel a deal. If Gretel becomes her apprentice in witchcraft, the witch will only take Hansel's eyes. If she refuses, she will kill them both for their organs. I found this dark retelling creepy and enchanting. It is definitely one that will send shivers down your spine.
11. "Becoming Charise" by Kathe Koja - This is probably the worst retelling of "The Ugly Duckling" that I have ever read or will ever read. This is mainly because of the abrupt ending and the fact that it didn't seem like a retelling at all. Charise doesn't fit in with any social group. Though she is obsessed with Einstein, she doesn't feel like she belongs with the geeks. She doesn't gain confidence until she realizes she has it in her to be a swan. I felt like the ugly duckling becomes a swan part didn't come in until the end, and then, it was only a few words of advice from a teacher who wanted Charise to reach her full academic potential. Then suddenly, Charise felt all better and the story was over. It could have been done so much better.
12. "The Seven Stage A Comeback" by Gregory Maguire - "The Seven Stage A Comeback" is a song sung by the seven dwarves after Snow White leaves them for her prince. It is sung in numbered parts, each one corresponding to one dwarf. Finally, the reader sees how forlorn and lost the dwarves are after Snow White goes away, forgetting all about them. They are drowning in despair. They decide to go after her and bring her back by force until the sight of something changes their mind. I actually enjoyed seeing things from the dwarves' perspective, as I had never even considered what it would be like for them after Snow White had left.
13. "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" by Patricia A. McKillip - While this traditional retelling was a little too faithful to the original, I did enjoy the writing and there was a darker twist. A king promises a soldier his kingdom and one of his twelve beautiful daughters as his wife if he can discover where they go each night. The soldier tricks the girls and follows them to the underworld, watching as the girls dance with twelve dead princes. I loved this ghastly version, and the oldest sister took a more prominent role than usual.
A Wolf at the Door and Other Retold Fairy Tales had a much more sinister tone than I was expecting for a book that is supposedly for children. Given its darker tales, I would recommend this for young adults and older. While happily ever afters did exist, they often came at a price. I would have been happier with this book if it had stuck only to traditional fairy tales, and I would have liked to have seen other authors in here, such as Robin McKinley. While there are a couple of gems in here and a few so-so tales, there were some that I could have done without. Overall, A Wolf at the Door and Other Retold Fairy Tales was certainly an intriguing read.