Review: “Cloaked in Red,” “Tales From the Brothers Grimm and the Sisters Weird,” & “The Rumpelstiltskin Problem” by Vivian Vande Velde

Fairy tales are perhaps the most renown stories in the world due to their natural appeal and relativity.  However, many classics are taken for granted without any attention towards discrepancies within the plots, no character development, badly described settings, and a general lack of common sense.  Therefore, it is not surprising that popular fairy tales still create much curiosity in the literary world surrounding their origins and how they have transformed into the narratives they are today.

One author who has contributed her imagination to the mysteries and dilemmas in many classic fairy tales is Vivian Vande Velde.  Tales from the Brothers Grimm and the Sisters WeirdThe Rumpelstiltskin Problem, and recently published Cloaked in Red are three separate collections of Velde’s takes on what the original fairy tales may have looked like without layers of fabrication and convenient changes made by different narrators over the centuries.  She deeply scrutinizes the fairy tales’ many flaws and weaknesses.  All anthologies by Velde share unusual angles of every storyline they are based on with varying perspectives by individual characters and a pragmatic overview of magic.

Moreover, avarice, pretense, and other human vices are magnified by Velde in each of her own narratives and romance is often eliminated from the plot and replaced by humor and irony.  Fairy tales are usually very simple in outline and content but incongruous in many details, a fact that seems to have been ignored by the general literary public.  The author has finally noticed and questioned these inexplicabilities.

The Rumpelstiltskin Problem and Cloaked in Red feature a scintillating author’s note preluding the stories themselves.  Cloaked in Red focuses on stupidity and gullible personalities in Little Red Riding Hood.  All eight new takes by Velde are notable for the included twists on the original storyline and hypotheses about the reasons for the tale’s puzzling content.  For example, The Red Cloak uses an adolescent sketch of Red Riding Hood’s character, making her a brave heroine who proves to be intelligent as well.  On the other hand, Granny and the Wolf and The Little Red Headache are sympathetic towards the character of the wolf and explain his/her presence in Granny’s cottage.  For the first time, the red riding hood itself gets to tell its side of the story and describe its owner’s temperament in Little Red Riding Hood’s Little Red Riding Hood.

From its troubling beginning to twisted end, Rumpelstiltskin receives a much needed examination in The Rumpelstiltskin Problem.  Witty and very realistic, the six presented versions solve some of the numerous problems of the original.  Straw into Gold is the only romantic interpretation with a gentle twist, but Papa Rumpelstiltskin and As Good As Gold are the other two adaptations that also outrank the rest.  Rumpelstiltskin, the miller, the miller’s daughter, and the king himself all get the chance to not only be characteristically modified but also dictate their side of the story with more details.

Last but not least, Tales from the Brothers Grimm and the Sisters Weird does not critique the composition of one fairy tale but many.  Only eight out of the entire thirteen parodies are actual stories, with five being an assortment of fictional ads, bulletins, and short poems.  Frog and Jack are very innovative re-creations of The Frog Prince and Jack and the Beanstalk, respectively.  Another re-imagining of Little Red Riding Hood appears in The Granddaughter, while Mattresses glares at the character of the princess from The Princess and the Pea.  Twins is the most original version yet of Hansel and Gretel by inserting horror, turning the characters’ positions around in the plot, and evaluating just how innocent Hansel and Gretel were.

Although it is impossible to know for certain what the first, true construction of any fairy tale was, Velde’s satirical accounts will indeed imprint on the reader sensible caution, analytical skills, and skepticism when dealing with confusing works of fiction like fairy tales.

Original review: Part 1: Clever parodies of classic fairy talesPart 2: Clever parodies of classic fairy talesPart 3: Clever parodies of classic fairy tales,


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