There is an enduring fascination with the 'glamour' of fairy tales. Just this year, Philip Pullman published the re-workings of his own favourite stories taken from the collection originally compiled by the Brothers' Grimm. Indeed, the VV went to an event when Pullman read from his new book and talked about the method employed when tackling these well-loved tales - which was not to actually tamper that much with the symbolic structure of the works that tell us so much of the human condition; of love and sex and betrayal and death.

Below you can hear Philip Pullman narrating the opening lines of his version of Little Red Riding Hood and view an animated film which accompanies that tale...

The beautiful artwork for Little Red Riding Hood created by Matthew Young (Designer of Grimm Tales cover), and with paper sculptures by Cheong-ah Hwang

However Angela Carter, another of the VV's favourite authors, took quite a different approach when, back in 1979,  she created her own retelling of tales which were published under the title of The Bloody Chamber.

An illustration from Bluebeard by the Victorian illustrator, Kate Greenaway

This is a collection that will sound familiar to most, being based on tales such as Red Riding Hood, Puss in Boots, or Beauty and the Beast, or else the perennial allure of the vampires and werewolves who stalk through the realms of folklore and myth.

The Bloody Chamber is also a book in which women take on a new dominance, whereas in past interpretations they often played more passive ideals: little more than sexual objects that were to be owned or won by men. But then, Carter was a feminist whose vivid imagination unleashed a series of gothic tales in which her expressed intention was 'not to do versions...but to extract the latent content from the traditional stories.'

An engraving from the story of Bluebeard

Carter's stories are often deeply erotic and, unlike those which Philip Pullman retells, could never have been published in the Victorian era. The first, and also the longest tale, is the one that gives the collection its name. The Bloody Chamber bravely explores the darkness and violence of male desire which is then artfully infused with themes from the classic Bluebeard tale - a story that originally appeared in a collection by the Frenchman, Charles Perrault.

There is much of France in The Bloody Chamber, with its sensual descriptions of decor and clothes, and allusions to the work of De Sade - as well as the writings of Colette who, for so many years, was  privately and professionally dominated by her husband.

The VV tends to agree with Carter's American publishers who described the collection as being seriously 'adult' fairy tales. They are certainly not for the timid,  rather those who are willing to let themselves drown in the sensual flow of Carter's  prose - a wonderfully hypnotic and magical world of subversion and mystery.

Angela Carter


  1. Adore these too VV - very captivated by the Erl King in my 20's... must revisit

  2. When I was a young girl, I read all the fairy tales I could get my hands on. I loved them. But they did seem to have these passive females, so I'm so glad that Angela Carter has made these fairy tales into something more fit for brave and assertive women. So wonderful to see you posting about this subject.

  3. I was nearly transfixed by The Hunter.