The Wilful Eye (Tales from the Tower Volume One)

Edited by Isobelle Carmody and Nan McNab
AUD $27.99

Six of the world's most exciting and best-loved writers have chosen fairytales as inspiration for this spellbinding and subversive short-story collection.

Six writers - Margo Lanagan, Rosie Borella, Isobelle Carmody, Richard Harland, Margaret Mahy and Martine Murray - have taken inspiration from stories that have shaped us all, tales like 'Beauty and the Beast,' 'The Steadfast Tin Soldier' and 'The Snow Queen'. This collection carries universal themes of envy and desire, deception and abandonment, courage and sacrifice.

Characters are enchanted, they transgress, they yearn, they hunger, they hate and, sometimes, they kill.

Some of the stories inhabit a traditional fairytale world, while others are set in the distant future. Some are set in the present and some in an alternative present. The stories offer no prescription for living or moral advice and none belong in a nursery.

Open the covers and submit to their enchantment.

Author bio:

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 Airey's Inlet, Victoria.

Category: Young adult fiction
ISBN: 9781742374406
Awards: Finalist, 2011 Aurealis young Adult Short Story Award for 'One Window'by Martine Murray

Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Imprint: A & U Children
Pub Date: April 2011
Page Extent: 320
Format: Book
Age: 16 - 18
Subject: Young adult fiction

Teachers reviews

This book is a collection of six modern fairy tales written by a range of modern fantasy fiction authors and gathered by Isobelle Carmody and Nan McNab. In her introduction Isobelle Carmody states: “A fairytale did not try to explain itself. It was not exploring or analysing anything. It did not offer rational or obvious answers or advice. It was like an eruption that you could not help but feel and react in some visceral way.” (pg2) These are essentially the reasons why I love to use fairytales amongst upper primary school and secondary school students. Fairy tales offer a broad selection of topics/interests/locations that allow the student to become engaged in a refreshing manner.
Isobelle Carmody overviews some of the text type differences on page 3 of her introduction. After each story the authors offer a discussion piece. What fairy tale they choose as inspiration, why, where the inspiration for the modern story came from, and at times, the steps they undertook in the writing/creating process. I find the discussion pieces quite interesting and would enjoy offering the same task to my students – choose a fairy tale, rewrite and keep a diary of the creative process or discuss the process.

Each story offers a distinctive approach to writing a fairy tale. I enjoyed the variety on offer, from the various fairy tales selected as inspiration to the stylistic choices. I am a language teacher for all ages and I often use folk tales to assist in cultural learning. To study language we often examine perspective, style and approach in writing/media/word choices. This book is a perfect example of how the one language and literary style can offer a wealth of variety. This book serves as a great model for the students to enjoy. As an exercise in my more advanced classrooms I would offer students a range of Spanish folk tales/myths to rewrite. I would ensure students set the story in one Spanish speaking country and research animals (both mythological and existing), geography and language that is unique to that region.

I am a lover of fairy tales, I believe there is no age where the fairy tale does not suit. Primary school, secondary school and adults we can all learn something from a well-told and well-timed tale. I jumped at the chance to read and review this collection and I was not disappointed. Overall it contains some wonderfully inspired writing, as well as an inspired writing task. It kept me enthralled throughout. I highly recommend it personally and as a student resource.
Lillian Rodrigues-Pang, Various schools, NSW

The first group of short stories in the series, Tales from the Tower, promised much when reading that six authors were given the task of revamping a fairy tale to give it a more up to date tweak. But unsurprisingly, looking at the talents of the authors represented here, Carmody, Harland, Mahy, Murray, Lanagan and Borelli, the stories are fresh and fantastic. The reworking of stories by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson give us a remarkable array of tales to provoke fear, wonder and warnings.
'Catastrophic Disruption of the Head' by Margo Lanagan is an unsettling take on Andersen’s 'The Tinderbox', one of the scariest fairy tales of all time. The story bludgeons the reader into thinking about warfare. 'Eternity' by Rosie Borella a reworking of 'The Snow Queen', tells the tale in a modern, drug-taking scene. Margaret Mahy’s 'Wolf Night' has a gang of Headloppers chasing her hero and heroine in suburban Woodlands, changing the scene from known to the unknown, and getting under the readers’ skin. Richard Harland’s 'Heart of the Beast', is fascinating with its take on 'Beauty and the Beast', but this time extolling the virtues of love and the family. I found the story by Martine Murray disturbing with the boys kept as prisoners in the tower in 'One Window'. And of course, Isobelle Carmody’s take on 'Rumpelstiltskin' was original and frightening.

The book includes a fascinating introduction by Isobelle Carmody, and an afterword follows each story with the thoughts of each author outlining their writing process and inspiration. These tales are not for the young. They are frightening but also challenge the readers with their universal themes, black humour and parallels to known stories. Volume 2 will be just as enjoyable. Other authors who write using this method of reworking fairy stories include Shannon Hale, Laini Taylor and Robin McKinley.
Fran Knight, SA

As a lover of fairy tales and particularly the slant that modern writers take with fairy tale elements this book was bound to be a winner. Isobelle Carmody as editor asked a number of writers to write to the theme of fairy stories and what a wonderfully varied response she received. Each story is developed from a traditional fairy story and has been reworked, some writers have emphasised the moral, some the characterisation, some extended the story from its original parameters. At the conclusion of the story each writer explores the inspiration for both the selection of the fairy story itself and their own interpretation.

As I was reading the tales I was struck by what a rich source of inspiration for the classroom teacher this book is. Very often with lower school students it is difficult to get them to understand the concepts of theme, morals and ethics. Some of the retellings in this book, such as Richard Harland’s, expand and emphasise these thus making it easier to examine them. In some the point of view has changed which would make a great exercise to use with the kids. And then there is always the ‘finish the story’ activity that kids love because they don’t have to think of a beginning but can let their imaginations run wild with continuing a tale already begun. Some of the writer’s in this collection were unknown to me so it is great to be able to experience new writers.
Peta Harrison, Albany Senior High School, WA

I thoroughly enjoyed this engaging project and was mesmerised while reading through the various appropriations of traditional fairy tales. While I must admit, I wasn’t familiar with all the originals, after reading each tale I went and researched the original to fully appreciate the author’s changes. It worked really well that the editors selected successful short story writers as they were able to brilliantly capture the essence of the tale in this shorted format. Each author takes a different tale, looks at what they believe are the essence of the story and highlights unique elements from their tales. It was also fascinating reading the author’s decision making process in the explanation after their story. While all the authors were able to create intriguing twists on the traditional tales they selected, my favourite re-workings were 'Eternity' by Rosie Borella and 'Wolf Night' by Margaret Mahy as they were set in a modern context. I love how all the writers have captured the original sinister aspect of fairy tales. The cover of this book ensures it is obvious this is no children’s book, like the original fairy tales. The fact that they have gone away from the sugar coated children’s version makes this book worth the read. The language used is sophisticated and would be challenging for some students, so it is ideal for senior years in school. This book, and I am sure the volume that is to come, would be ideal to use in the Year 11 Extension course and to compare the originals with these re-workings. It is a book I will use with my class. I can’t wait for the next installation.
Dianne Bond, Shoalhaven, NSW

I have always loved fairytales, and having read many wonderful retellings which put a different spin on the traditional tales over the years I jumped at the chance to review this collection. Composed of six different stories, all of which retell a different fairy tale, the anthology has contributions by some of my favourite authors, including Margaret Mahy and Isobelle Carmody. During the course of reading the stories I have discovered further authors whose other books I must seek out.

Beginning with an informative discussion on the place of fairy tales by Isobelle Carmody, the anthology moves into the first story, a reimagining of ‘The Tinderbox’ by Margo Lanagan. The non-linear first person narrative style changes the story considerably. All the stories work well, though the subject matter and setting of each story varies considerably. The author’s notes, which follow each story and explain what the author was attempting to accomplish or what inspired them in the development of their work, allows insight into the creative process. Richard Harland does a great version of my favourite fairytale, ‘Beauty and the Beast’, and this story, Margaret Mahy’s ‘Wolf Night’ and Martine Murray’s ‘One Window’ all feel like they could, and should, be expanded further into full novels.

This anthology is very accessible for students and could easily be incorporated into a Year 9 or 10 syllabus for study. Stories could also be read singly to younger teens. A study of fairytales and traditional stories would be well supported by looking at this collection, as would looking at the enduring nature of such tales and it could serve as a springboard for looking at other such tales from around the world. It would also be extremely useful in the study of different types of narrative form and the impact of setting on a text. As a prompt for the students own writing, the stories are evocative and stimulating.
I thoroughly enjoyed this collection, and look forward to reading the second volume of six more re-imagined fairytales when it is published in the future.
Anne Sim, Dromana Secondary College, Mornington Peninsula, VIC

Tales from the Tower, is a clever modern, reworking of Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm fairy tales. Six tales are included in Volume One: The Wilful Eye: 'The Tinderbox', 'Rumpelstiltskin', 'The Snow Queen', 'Beauty and the Beast', 'Babes in the Wood' and 'The Steadfast Tin Soldier'. The six original tales have been modernised by six different fantasy writers and the collection edited by Isobelle Carmody and Nan McNab. These tales provide an engaging read and would be appreciated by older teens through to the mature reader. The tales are such an appealing read that once is not enough. However, before a second reading of Tales from the Tower, I was inspired to read the original tales again, to fully appreciate the ingenuity of the modern tales.

This text has unlimited uses in the classroom. As a standalone text it is valuable for a close study of writing; particularly the short story. Both the original tales and Tales from the Tower could be used as a comparative study. As fairy tales are embedded in all cultures, both the originals and modernised versions could be used to engage students in discussion of fairy tales in their own cultures, and comparisons made across different cultures within the classroom. As fairy tales were a didactic means to instil morals and as a form of discipline, older students may find value in approaching the texts from this aspect. Certainly an engaging task would see students modernising their own tales and writing a reflection statement, or ‘Afterword’ in a similar style to the authors of Tales from the Tower. Extension 2 English students should find the ‘Afterword’ helpful at the end of each tale. Isobelle Carmody’s reflection is a personal one that also discusses the choices she made in writing ‘Moth’s Tale’. Carmody discusses her choice of using Rumpelstiltskin, the importance of characters and a general reflection of her writing process. Reading the ‘Afterword’ at the end of each tale certainly added an interesting aspect to the modernised tales.
Jodie Webber, Hurlstone Agricultural High School, NSW

In the introduction, Isobelle Carmody explains how she came upon the idea to ask authors to take a fairy tale that they had loved or hated as a child and interpret it in any way they wanted to, being as gritty and uncensored as they felt they needed to be. A brief afterword by each author explains why their fairytale inspired them, and offers insight into their writing processes. 

  • ‘Catastrophic disruption of the Head’ by Margo Lanagan, based on ‘The Tinderbox’ by Hans Christian Andersen. The imagery in this tale is very brutal, the story is told in a disjointed way and although I found it very disturbing, it was also compelling. I reread it several times to appreciate it fully. 
  • ‘Moth’s Tale’ by Isobelle Carmody, based on ‘Rumpelstiltskin’. I enjoyed the twist on this story. Moth whose task it is to spin straw into gold has a very strong character, instead of being the helpless victim, who needs to be rescued, she takes control of her own fate.
  • ‘Eternity’ by Rosie Borella, based on ‘The Snow Queen’. This modern retelling takes us into dark and forbidding place, where perception is skewed by drugs and the world is full of dangerous situations, you can find yourself trapped in a situations that you can’t escape. Gerda’s friend Kia is acting strangely and when he disappears Gerda is determined to find him. 
  • ‘Heart of the Beast’ by Richard Harland, based on ‘Beauty and the Beast’. This retelling is the closest to the original story of all the fairytales in this book, although it goes beyond the fairytale. Rose is a very perceptive young woman and she is betrayed terribly by her father. She helps the Beast when she realises what he needs and discovers why the Beast felt the need to become more beast than man.
  • ‘Wolf Night’ by Margaret Mahy, based on ‘Babes in the Wood’. In this story the two young people both call each other “Babe”, a nice tie-in, the young girl’s father has recently died and her Mother has remarried to Brook Ardrey. Like the original “Babes”, these Babes are taken to Woodlands, a seedy part of town and left, perhaps they will meet with some unfortunate fate, then Brook will be able to get all Granny’s money. 
  • ‘One Window’ by Martine Murray, based on ‘The Steadfast Tin Soldier’, another story that has a frightening setting. Boys locked in a tower, taken out only to fight, with no hope of ever being released and very little memory of life before they came to the tower. One boy has a secret, he can see someone outside the window and he dreams of one day meeting her. Can he one day be a hero instead of a trapped boy with a club foot?

Fairy tales are very brutal when you think about them, children lost and frightened, chased and eaten by wolves, locked in towers, betrayed by stepparents - I don’t know why we feel they are stories for young children. I enjoyed reading these stories and the notes by the authors about why they chose the stories they did. Some of the content is perhaps suitable for students in years 9 and higher. I will be recommending this book to English staff at my school.
Jan O’Sullivan, Mooroolbark, VIC

Fairy tales hold a special place in the mind of every reader, young and old, and the fact that they have lasted centuries is a testament to the continued worth to our society. As each new generation grows and adopts a love of the fantastic, these fairy tales get renewed and reinvented. Thus, we have The Wilful Eye (Tales from the Tower Volume 1), edited by Isobelle Carmody and Nan McNab. Isobelle Carmody has had over 30 books and many short stories published. Nan McNab is a writer and editor whose books include Body Bizarre Body Beautiful and Victoria's Market. Together, they preside over the numerous authors who grace the pages of this collection, including Margo Lanagan, Rosie Borella, Richard Harland, Margaret Mahy, Martine Murray and Isobelle Carmody herself. Each author has chosen the fairy tale that they most enjoy, or which has most influenced them, and they have reimagined it, presenting the same characters and themes in wildly different times and places. Furthermore, each story is accompanied by a commentary from the author, describing the reasoning behind the choice of tale and how influential it has been to them.

I would recommend this compilation for anyone who is teaching the convention of Fairy Tales, as well as anyone teaching the text type of Short Stories. Also, this book is perfect for any teachers addressing a senior course in Transformations. Ultimately, it has been incredibly thrilling to read how these well written authors have re-imagined these well-worn tales. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Anthony McDonald, Kandos High School, NSW

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