12/12/2012

THE BLOODY CHAMBER ~ AND OTHER STORIES...


There is an enduring fascination with the 'glamour' of fairy tales. Just this year, Philip Pullman published the re-workings of his own favourite stories taken from the collection originally compiled by the Brothers' Grimm. Indeed, the VV went to an event when Pullman read from his new book and talked about the method employed when tackling these well-loved tales - which was not to actually tamper that much with the symbolic structure of the works that tell us so much of the human condition; of love and sex and betrayal and death.



Below you can hear Philip Pullman narrating the opening lines of his version of Little Red Riding Hood and view an animated film which accompanies that tale...



The beautiful artwork for Little Red Riding Hood created by Matthew Young (Designer of Grimm Tales cover), and with paper sculptures by Cheong-ah Hwang


However Angela Carter, another of the VV's favourite authors, took quite a different approach when, back in 1979,  she created her own retelling of tales which were published under the title of The Bloody Chamber.


An illustration from Bluebeard by the Victorian illustrator, Kate Greenaway

This is a collection that will sound familiar to most, being based on tales such as Red Riding Hood, Puss in Boots, or Beauty and the Beast, or else the perennial allure of the vampires and werewolves who stalk through the realms of folklore and myth.



The Bloody Chamber is also a book in which women take on a new dominance, whereas in past interpretations they often played more passive ideals: little more than sexual objects that were to be owned or won by men. But then, Carter was a feminist whose vivid imagination unleashed a series of gothic tales in which her expressed intention was 'not to do versions...but to extract the latent content from the traditional stories.'

An engraving from the story of Bluebeard

Carter's stories are often deeply erotic and, unlike those which Philip Pullman retells, could never have been published in the Victorian era. The first, and also the longest tale, is the one that gives the collection its name. The Bloody Chamber bravely explores the darkness and violence of male desire which is then artfully infused with themes from the classic Bluebeard tale - a story that originally appeared in a collection by the Frenchman, Charles Perrault.

There is much of France in The Bloody Chamber, with its sensual descriptions of decor and clothes, and allusions to the work of De Sade - as well as the writings of Colette who, for so many years, was  privately and professionally dominated by her husband.

The VV tends to agree with Carter's American publishers who described the collection as being seriously 'adult' fairy tales. They are certainly not for the timid,  rather those who are willing to let themselves drown in the sensual flow of Carter's  prose - a wonderfully hypnotic and magical world of subversion and mystery.


Angela Carter


05/12/2012

IONA AND PETER OPIE: THE FAIRY TALES


The VV possesses an ancient and battered copy of this book; one that is so well-thumbed and worn that not a single page remains still attached to the crumbling spine. But that does not detract from the pleasure and inspiration it gives, mainly due to the Victorian illustrations that Iona and Peter Opie selected to embellish the stories within this collection.

How often the heroines in these tales are sleeping and unaware of the world - such as in this image of Snow White...


Or this seductive engraving that shows the Sleeping Beauty...


And this somewhat more anodine version where, despite the presence of the prince about to give the fair maiden a kiss, her appearance and demeanour is somewhat less sensual...


 Another bed scene - this time a birth, though such an event could hardly have involved much pain - shows the arrival of tiny Tom Thumb...


Whereas this delightfully imagined child in the form of Little Red Riding Hood may well be about to experience a somewhat more gruesome experience...


And finally in today's post, with the pantomime season upon us now, here are some pictures to demonstrate the enduring appeal of Puss in Boots...


However the darkness and danger that simmers in many fairy tales is not to be under-estimated, as illustrated in the guise of this sharp-taloned highwayman.




Elijah's Mermaid by Essie Fox contains many references to classic Victorian fairy tales and the horrors in Penny Dreadfuls.