Brain Pickings

My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Modernist Fairy Tales


There’s hardly a genre older and more familiar yet timeless and relentlessly captivating than the fairy tale, and no one breathes new air into this classic blend of folklore and morality better than author and editor Kate Bernheimer. Her latest gem, My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales is an ambitious anthology of 40 modernist fairy tales inspired by classic folktales from around the world and organized roughly by country of origin. With stories by some of today’s greatest fiction writers, including Neil Gaiman, Michael Cunningham, Aimee Bender and Lydia Millet, the book is a literary treasure chest, like the one in your grandmother’s attic where the whimsical and the macabre come to life on cold winter evenings as logs crackle in the fireplace downstairs.

Once you start looking, it is easy to see the variety — the sheer fractal ferocity — and intelligence of fairy tales. This collection contains stories reflective of current trends; it also contains stories told in more linear, straightforward ways. Some of the selections pay homage to midcentury and later styles; others come poetically through modes associated with the tradition of oral folklore. You will find stories that hew closely to their enchantment, and others that announce hardly any magic — until you encounter a tiny keyhole in the wall of their language. In each instance, you will easily enter these secret gardens.” ~ Kate Bernheimer

Beautifully written and utterly enchanted, the stories draw on everything from Hans Christian Andersen’s and Brothers Grimm’s classics to the popular entertainment of medieval Japan to fairy tales by Goethe and Calvino. Brimming with dark whimsy and gorgeous grotesqueness, the imaginative tome is an absolute treat for readers of all ages — so go ahead and treat yourself.

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