Hansel & Gretel, Maleficent, Into the Woods: Hollywood has rediscovered the fairy tale in a big way, repackaging these ancient stories for an adult audience. As usual, novelists got there first. Angela Carter was reimagining fairy tales back in the 1970s and The Bloody Chamber is a collection of her stories from that time.
Along with Boris Pasternak (author of Doctor Zhivago), Angela Carter is the finest writer of winter scenes that I have ever read. Her lush descriptions of cold weather are like prose poems:
Outside her kitchen window, the hedgerow glistened as if the snow possessed a light of its own; when the sky darkened towards evening, an unearthly, reflected pallor remained behind upon the winter’s landscape, while still the soft flakes floated down.
Carter also has an amazing gift for imagining these stories from the standpoint of their female protagonists. She gets inside the head of these women, transforming them from dull cyphers waiting to be rescued to living breathing people:
I remember how, that night, I lay awake in the wagon-lit in a tender, delicious ecstasy of excitement, my burning cheek pressed against the impeccable linen of the pillow and the pounding of my heart mimicking that of the great pistons ceaselessly thrusting the train that bore me through the night, away from Paris, away from girlhood, away from the white, enclosed quietude of my mother’s apartment, into the unguessable country of marriage.
Who needs special effects when you have writing like that? Angela Carter really can do it all: descriptions of nature, powerful characterisation, and gripping adventure too:
The child had a scabby coat of sheepskin to keep out the cold, she knew the forest too well to fear it but she must always be on her guard. When she heard the freezing howl of a wolf, she dropped her gifts, seized her knife and turned on the beast.
It was a huge one, with red eyes and running, grizzled chops; any but a mountaineer’s child would have died of fright at the sight of it. It went for her throat, as wolves do, but she made a great swipe at it with her father’s knife and slashed off its right forepaw.
For those who have never encountered Carter before, there are many delights in store in the Gothic horror of The Bloody Chamber.