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There are certain stories that we never forget.  Fairy tales sleep inside of us, waiting to be rediscovered like flowers that have been dried and pressed between the pages of a book.  No matter how long it's been since we left our childhood behind, these stories lie ready to live and bloom again in our imaginations.  With the smallest reminder, we are magically transported back to a place out of time where anything is possible: serving girls can become princesses, princes can become monsters, animals can speak, true love can break any curse, and one always, always gets exactly what one deserves.  Is it any wonder, then, that the "fairy tale retold" is such a popular motif in fantasy fiction? 

As children, fairy tales were a safe way for us to explore through story many potentially scary situations life could toss our way.  They helped us to discover the worst and best in ourselves.  For adults, a fairy tale retold at novel length can take these ideas one step further, revisiting familiar settings and characters to explore these concepts in greater depth.  They can help us reconnect with the dreams that inspired us-- true love, self-transformation, success through daring, or the thrill of adventure.  And perhaps-- for a few hours, at least-- we might regain childhood's precious sense of wonder, the steadfast belief that makes the impossible... possible.

There are a lot of authors who have explored this theme.  There are even a few graphic novel series based exclusively around reimagined fairy tale characters (Bill Willingham's Fables (741.5973 Willi) and Linda Medley's Castle Waiting (741.597 Med) are particularly good).  In fantasy fiction, keep an eye out for a pair of names that will never steer you wrong:  Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling.  If they sound familiar, it's because they also co-edited the Year's Best Fantasy and Horror Annual Collections for 16 years (Datlow has continued the series with other partners as Windling moved on to other projects).  Between the two of them, they have written, edited, or inspired an incredible body of work in the "fairy tale retold" subgenre, and most anything they've worked on is a good place to dip your toes.  If you prefer the short story format, I highly recommend their "Fairy Tale Anthology" series which begins with Snow White, Blood Red (shelved at Fantasy Short Stories Snow); their more recent "Mythic Fiction" series is still in progress, with a fourth book due out in April.  In novel format, they edited a superb series of standalones by several different fantasy authors known collectively as the "Fairy Tale Series."

For further retellings, check out one of the titles below:

A.S. Byatt.  The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye (Short Stories Byatt)
Orson Scott Card. Enchantment (Fantasy Card)
John Connolly.  The Book of Lost Things (Fiction Connolly)
Charles de Lint.  Forests of the Heart (Fantasy De Lint)
Jasper Fforde.  The Fourth Bear: A Nursery Crime (Fiction Fforde)
Neil Gaiman. Anansi Boys (Fantasy Gaiman)
Rodrigo Garcia y Robertson. Firebird (Fantasy Garcia y Robertson)
Barry Hughart. The Bridge of Birds (Reading List Hughart)
Kij Johnson. The Fox Woman (Fantasy Johnson)
Ellen Kushner. Thomas the Rhymer (Fantasy Kushner)
Tanith Lee.  Red as Blood, or, Tales from the Sisters Grimmer (Horror Lee)
Roberta Lickiss. Never After (Fiction Lickiss)
Gregory Maguire. Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister (Fantasy Maguire)
Juliet Marillier. Daughter of the Forest (Fantasy Mariller)
Patricia A. McKillip. Winter Rose (Fantasy McKillip)
Robin McKinley. Deerskin (Fantasy McKinley)
Terry Pratchett. Witches Abroad (SF Pratchett)
Salman Rushdie. Haroun & the Sea of Stories (Fiction Rushdie)
Sharon Shinn. The Shape-Changer's Wife (Fantasy Shinn)
Sheri S. Tepper. Beauty (Fantasy Tepper)
Carolyn Turgeon. Godmother (Fantasy Turgeon)
Catherynne M. Valente. The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden (Fantasy Valente)
Charles Vess. The Book of Ballads (741.5973 Vess)
Joan Vinge.  The Snow Queen (SF Vinge)

If you'd like to know more about the study of fairy tales, check out these resources:

Bruno Bettelheim.  The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales (398.45 Bet)
Sheldon Cashdan.  The Witch Must Die: How Fairy Tales Shape Our Lives (398.45 Cas)
Maria Tatar.  Enchanted Hunters: The Power of Stories in Childhood (809.8928 Tatar)
Marina Warner.  From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers (398.2 War)
Jack Zipes.  When Dreams Came True: Classical Fairy Tales and Their Tradition (398.2109 Zip)

The Endicott Studio of Mythic Arts. http://www.endicott-studio.com/
Folktexts: A Library of Folktales, Folklore, Fairy Tales, and Mythology. http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/folktexts.html
Once Upon A Time.... http://www.skyehidesigns.com/mainbook.html
SurLaLune Fairy Tales: Annotated Fairy Tales. http://www.surlalunefairytales.com/

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