By now most of you have some inkling of my love for Gothic Horror, but what you may not be as aware of is my love for Fairy Tales and old school Fantasy. As a grown man, I still thrill to find an old edition of the Grimm Brother’s Hausmärchen, especially if it’s illustrated, or a faithful rendition of the tales of Charles Perrault. I even read essays on them by such scholars as Jack Zipes, and Iona & Peter Opie. I love fairy tales, I love their weirdness, and I love their romance.
I also love the Victorian authors whose stories for children drew heavily from the genre, like Lewis Carroll or George MacDonald. I always saw potential in there to tell darker tales and looked for stories with the magic of these tales but with more grown up themes. Unfortunately, most adaptations are nothing more than an excuse to sex them up or to throw some unrelated tale together and name-drop some fairy tale character for name recognition.
Then one day I found a book that caught my eye and gave me hope. It was a massmarket paperback of Tanith Lee’s “Red as Blood”. These drew from the fairy tales of my childhood, but reinvented them as quality fantasy tales. The only problem is that Lee, like my other Fantasy fave, Clark Ashton Smith, has a tendency to go full on Fantasy, setting stories in totally made up worlds with exotic names and fanciful creatures. I like my fantasy and horror to have some basis in reality for me to identify with and balance the fantastic element.
I was intrigued by the idea, but still hadn’t quite gotten there myself. Then I saw the movie “The Company of Wolves”, which mixed the story of Little Red Riding Hood with werewolves. An obvious conceit at first glance, but the script was smart, with humor and the werewolf theme was explored fully as a folkloric creature not a Hollywood trope.
I was enthralled. It explored some of the latent themes in the original fairy tale of a girl’s coming of age and exploring her burgeoning emotions and desires as she tries to navigate the world around her which is beginning to take notice. All this was there along with the deep folklore surrounding these themes as well as the werewolf legends. In my enthusiasm for the movie I eventually I found out that it was based a couple of stories from the book “The Bloody Chamber” by Angela Carter. In fact, she had written the script for the film. I went on a hunt for this book and I believe I found a copy at the Watersons bookstore on Newberry Street in Boston, which was shut down shortly thereafter when a fire wreaked havoc and destroyed the place in the late 90’s.
I recall jumping to the related stories first: “The Company of Wolves”, “The Werewolf”, and “Wolf Alice”, but it was when I started reading some of the other tales that I began to fall under the spell of Ms Carter and her intoxicating, baroque prose. Every line is carefully crafted. She drops references to history, literature, fashion, cuisine, art, dance, music, she referenced things that I liked and knew about, like obscure decadent authors, but then she hinted at other things that I had yet to discover then wanted to seek out. She was sensual, sometimes explicit, and even vulgar at times, but one forgave her because of the clever or beautiful way she expressed herself. She never shied from Horror and she knew her Gothic tropes. Best of all these were less full on fantasy and more like magical realism, most of the tales took place in an identifiable setting and referenced real things that I could relate to. This also made the fantastic element stand out more and seem all the more marvelous when they appeared.
The clincher however, for me, was “The Lady of the House of Love”, a tale about a female vampire who falls prey to the whims of love. The description of this vampire woman in her lonely abode broke my heart. I wanted to write like this. I have yet to attain her greatness and most likely never will, but I shall try every time I put my pen to paper.
This what I had in mind over 15 years ago when I began writing my own fairytales. I completed 3 tales and began a 4th which is, as of today, still incomplete. I hope to wrap it up someday, but the desert is not much inspiration for such tales. Since my poetry book “Black Hymeneal” is in limbo at present, I am working on a chapbook of these Gothic Fairy Tales, which I plan to call “Mannymärchen” It shall feature the aforementioned tales: “Gothilocks”, “Belladonna”, and “Felo-de-se”, along with an introduction explaining their genesis. I shall attempt to do the cover art, and if that goes well I may try some interior artwork. More on that as things develop.
As a parting thought, I understand Carter wrote an adaptation of “Lady of the House of Love” which she called “Vampirella”. Apparently Neal Jordan had intended to film it but backed out when she passed away. Hopefully someone while pick it up someday and film it. I would love to see it come to life(?).