Six of the world's most exciting and best-loved writers have chosen six fairytales as inspiration for their own stories in this second volume of Tales from the Tower.
Isobelle Carmody has had over 30 books and many short stories published. She is now working on the last book of her award-winning fantasy series, The Obernewtyn Chronicles, and on a second collection of her own short stories, titled Metro Winds. She lives between Prague in Central Europe and her home on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, with her partner and daughter.
Nan McNab is a writer and editor whose books include Body Bizarre Body Beautiful and Victoria's Market. She lives in Aireys Inlet, Victoria.
I was eagerly awaiting the publication of the Volume Two of Tales from the Tower and it exceeded all expectations. I could not put it down. Featuring prominent writers, especially a favourite in Victor Kelleher, it promised engaging tales and new twists on old favourites. And it delivered. Once I started reading, I found it difficult to stop, and programming and marking were put aside. The introduction written by Nan McNab was enlightening with her etymological observations; it left me wanting to research more and was an enticing lead to the tales themselves. The stories selected for appropriations were interesting. There was the obvious well known story of Cinderella, while other writers chose less common tales that were equally enthralling and had me researching the originals. Fairy tales are often seen as literature for girls’ classes but this is not the case with this collection.
The stories were all unique and although this is the second edition each story was able to capture something new. For example 'Seventy-Two Derwents' is a modern Grimm tale that depicts an all too realistic and frightening modern wolf. I loved 'Learning the Tango', a poetic take on 'The Little Mermaid' that allowed various characters to have a voice. The ending was satisfying too. I could easily rave about each tale separately, as they were all great. I love how the original aspect of fairy tales are incorporated in this collection, no Disney-style sugar-coated stories were included, instead we are confronted with the sinister side of humanity, from envy to gluttony and self absorption.
This book, like its predecessor, is a fantastic text to use in Extension Year 11 English where the focus is on appropriations of texts as this book provides a variety of methods to achieve this. It would also be beneficial to use in a motivated junior class where you could trace the change in fairy tales from their original forms, which were never meant for children, to what we heard growing up, back to this original intent. These stories would also easily serve as inspiration and examples for students' own writing.
Dianne Bond, Shoalhaven Anglican School, NSW
I was looking forward to this collection being published, having really enjoyed the first volume of Tales From the Tower, and this second volume did not disappoint. Six more fairy tales were retold and reworked to highlight certain situations, morals or themes. The changes and what drew the author to that particular fairy tale were explored in depth by each author in a detailed explanation of their writing choices. I found all the tales strong and diverse, but ‘Seventy Two Derwents’ about children at risk, ‘Learning the Tango’, a revised version of the classic ‘The Little Mermaid’ presented in verse by Catherine Bateson, and Maureen McCarthy’s exploration of envy in 'Cinderella' through the eyes of one of the ugly sisters were my favourites, probably because they were based on my favourite fairy tales.
The collection is definitely young adult, rather than teen fiction. The different stories, and their accompanying explanations, are aimed at more sophisticated readers, and there are some more mature elements and challenging concepts in the stories which older readers would be better suited to deal with. The collection provokes interest in a range of traditional tales, and can lead on to reading the original fairy tales on which they were based or to exploring the variety of representations of different tales that have arisen over time. Far from the sanitised versions of Disney, both these retellings and the original stories tend to be dark tales full of foreboding and often death. This gives scope for a lot of discussion with students about the impact of audience on writing, the impact of tone and perspective on the reader, and archetypes and conventions in story-telling. The explanations of the interpretations by the authors are particularly interesting, and offer an insight into the writing process and the author’s minds that is rarely given. In particular, this suits the text to VCE studies which require students to explain their adaptation of the story, theme or key idea of an original text as well as explaining their focus and language choices for their finished piece. I intend to read and show some stories and explanations to my VCE class as examples. There is a great deal of variation between the originals and adaptations, as well as the explanations to provide basis for discussion. Overall, Tales From the Tower: The Wicked Wood provides an interesting read as well as an insight into writing for older and more sophisticated readers.
Anne Sim, Dromana Secondary College, VIC
I adore fairytales, so a book of short stories on rewritten fairy tales was a must for me. This volume is the second in a series (the first is The Wilful Eye) but is a stand-alone volume, containing six short stories. Some were based on tales as well-known as 'Cinderella', others were far more obscure. I have never heard of the 'Irish Tir na n’Og'. One of the most charming traits of many fairy tales is how the strong story and the memorable characters who haunt us throughout our childhood are so readily adaptable. They easily inhabit other forms because it is the message they bring and not the exact form they take that lives within us. Does it matter whether the ugly stepsisters in 'Cinderella' are old crones who fuss over curl papers and refuse to mop or to help Cinderella make the jam or plain Janes who giggle cruelly over mean text messages? They strike the core of our heart anyway because the human condition they represent is the same.
The stories here are presented with a thoughtful introduction by Nan McNab and an Afterword after each story by its author. I found this format insightful and useful, especially with the lesser known adaptations. For instance, I really enjoyed the stories 'Glutted' by Nan McNab and 'Birthing' by Victor Kelleher but was not familiar with the stories they were adapted from. The Afterword was an excellent explanation of what inspired and drove the author and fuelled my interest in both stories.
I could see this book being used in the classroom as either a volume to read from beginning to end or as one to pick and choose from. Tastes range wildly, and it would be interesting for students to find out what appeals to them in an adaptation and why, and discuss the elements of the fairy tale and how it talks through a modern day adaptation.In the stories 'Glutted' and 'Seventy Two Derwents' the adaptation is more loose and more symbolism is employed, whereas 'The Ugly Sisters' is a more faithful rendition of the Cinderella story. What do students find more effective? How does the symbolism and the modern day element work in the transferred story to evoke the same sorts of emotions and bring across the same sorts of messages the fairy tales told us? What fairy tales or myths speak to us and where would we see them placed in modern day? An interesting point made by many of the authors who adapted these stories is they wanted to explore a different side to their character, the Little Mermaid, or an Ugly Sister. They wanted to explore where the story went after it ended in the fairy tale, or try to explain how the events might have begun. Fairytales are often vague on details and often many versions exist. It would also be worthwhile discussing the nature of perspective in a story, how stories change by who tells them and what elements they choose to focus on or what their values are, and how stories may evolve over time to suit the society’s needs.
I enjoyed exploring the fairy tale world very much here, even with the fairy tales I did not know much about. It evoked many memories for me and made me eager to read more fairy tales and try to mine them for further secrets under their seemingly sweet outer layer.
Rebecca Fung, NSW
I have always had a fondness for short stories. They suit the modern lifestyle, with most of us having limited opportunities for the sustained time needed to fully lose oneself in and appreciate a novel, and with our attention span shortened to 90 minutes by our commitment to watching movies. This book of fairy tales is an extraordinary volume of short stories. The familiar fairytales of Anderson, the Grimms, stories from oral tradition, song, and the mythologies of various cultures are given new life, powerfully re-written in ways which kept me reading, reminded me of childhood, made me anxious, and threatened nightmares.
The Introduction by Nan McNab is concise and useful, and the six fairy tales selected by McNab and Isobelle Carmody range through tales by Victor Kelleher, Cate Kennedy, Maureen McCarthy, Catherine Bateson, Kate Thompson, and McNab herself. Each of the authors is given opportunity for an ‘Afterword’ to their story and this is a most satisfying inclusion. The authors are able to explain their selection of the original tale on which their own is based, their reasons for their choice, and the vision they had for the story.
In some cases the original story was obvious to me. 'Learning the Tango' took me straight back to the original 'The Little Mermaid' story, which I have never forgotten for the horror that I felt as a child at the pain chosen by the mermaid for the love of a man, and of which I am reminded whenever the wind blows sea foam onto the beach. Similarly, 'The Ugly Sisters' was a satisfying re-write of the Cinderella story, and the more so for the post-modern feel of it. 'Seventy-Two Derwents' evoked Catie Curtis’s song 'When the Wolf Lives in Your House'; for me, the afterword explained why I had made that connection. 'Birthing' is probably the most ‘magical’ of the tales, with its faerie folk and classical punishments. Neither this nor 'Glamour' are from tales which are familiar to me, although the traditions they come from are instantly recognisable. 'Glamour' is the tale most firmly set in our times, yet with the air of magic, and the additional edge for an English teacher of the protagonist being a poet. 'Glutted' was the tale that haunted me the most, probably because I am both a parent and a grandparent. I was so joyful when the grandmother showed up. And I was so filled with horror for most of the tale that I could hardly bear to turn the page. Yet I could not put it down, and completed reading this tale in the back of the car. I could not read straight through this book. I had to wait after each tale, wait for the tale to ‘settle’ in my mind, and for the author’s Afterword to help make sense of my experience. I can see that this will be a volume I will re-visit.
Helen Wilde, SA
How fortunate am I to be given the opportunity to review two volumes of great writing all based on modern takes of childhood fairy stories? The stories in this second volume are just as strong as those in the first, giving the reader much to think over — especially if their whole relationship with fairy stories is based on Disney or the sanitised versions so often read to children. As can be expected from writers for the adolescent market Maureen McCarthy and Catherine Bateson have put their unique stamp upon 'Cinderella' and 'The Little Mermaid'. Each writer has a unique perspective of the world and its stories that are a joy to read. So much could be done with these stories within the classroom; they should certainly appeal to those who think fairy stories are only for the young.
Peta Harrison, Albany Senior High School, WA
A wonderful companion to The Wilful Eye, following the same formula of retelling a fairy tale from a different perspective, or in a modern or futuristic style, this collection from authors including Catherine Bateson, Victor Kelleher, Cate Kennedy, Maureen McCarthy, Nan McNab and Kate Thompson has produced fascinating stories. Some of the fairy tales are familiar and while others are more obscure but the 'Author’s Afterword' to each tale gives insight into why they chose their fairy tale. This inspired me to research the original fairy tale and read it as it was first written, not the sugar-coated versions we are used to, and I am sure it would prompt students to do so also.
My favourite story from this collection was 'The Ugly Sister' by Maureen McCarthy, a modern 'Cinderella' story told by one of the ugly sisters. I thought Maureen McCarthy’s version was witty and fast paced and would appeal to girls of today, as it could be compared to many contemporary movies such as Mean Girls and the like. Our English teachers have just been doing a unit with our Year 9 students on fairy tales and the meaning behind them; the students have also written their own version of a fairy tale setting it in a different time or location but still having a moral or lesson. I feel that both The Wilful Eye and The Wicked Wood would enhance this unit in the future and I will recommend it to the English staff and students.
Jan O’Sullivan, VIC
I have not read The Wilful Eye, the first volume of Tales from the Tower. That is a disadvantage of living and working overseas where access to book shops is limited. Unlike some reviewers I was not eagerly awaiting this collection of stories as I had not heard of the first collection. I am a fan of retellings though, so I wanted to read this book. It is also hard to resist the list of illustrious authors who have contributed to the collection. I found that my review is late because I kept putting the book down and not getting back to it. It is not a book I could read from cover to cover in a sitting. Partly, this has to do with short stories not being my favourite literary genre. Each of the six stories is unique and deals with the concept of fairy tales in the traditional way. Nan McNab explains in the introduction that the original tales were not intended for children as defined by modern concepts and these re-imaginings are suited to mature or sophisticated readers. Some of the tales are well-known and a few are folk tales that are much rarer. I enjoyed reading the stories and trying to guess the original source if possible. The author interviews at the end of each story provide valuable insight into the choice of subject matter and the reasons for writing in a particular style.
For my situation, I am in two minds about whether to add The Wicked Wood to the collection. The curriculum includes traditional tales in the primary grades and there is a unit in Grade 6 English (first year of secondary school here). The Wicked Wood is not suited to these age groups. I feel it could be suited to mature young adult readers, perhaps grades 11-12 and adult readers. Given the dark nature of the stories and the references to modern Western lifestyles in some of the stories, this book will not suit a conservative Muslim clientele. 'Glamour' by Kate Thompson is an enjoyable read for a Western middle-aged woman but might have limited appeal to a 17 year old unless the book or story is used in a classroom situation. The Wicked Wood could be added to a Western school library collection and would be a valuable addition to the ‘Faerie’ genre that seems to be gaining popularity amongst adolescent readers. Of course, as a companion volume, it should be purchased to add to the series that started with The Wilful Eye. I can envision the book being used with English classes in Australia to enhance units about ways that stories are used, adapted and retold over time. In a school that follows the International Baccalaureate curriculum it could have a place in Theory of Knowledge classes, perhaps. Students doing their Extended Essay might choose to use this book as a basis for their research on a number of topics. Overall, I would recommend this book as a good, thought-provoking read. A good one to discuss at Book Clubs, perhaps.
Kimbra Weeks, Teacher Librarian, ABA – an IB World School, Muscat, Oman