The Bloody Chamber & other Stories by Angela Carter

Birthday

Today is the birthday of author Angela Carter and in honour of that I am looking at her collection of short stories in The Bloody Chamber. It is an excellent collection, if you are a fan of fairytales, or love seeing fairytales reinvented in amazing ways, then I suggest you read these stories.

Born in England in 1940, Angela Carter wrote many books in her lifetime, sadly she only lived until she was 51 years old. However in that time she managed to write a large collection of stories, poems, radio plays, as well as children’s books and much more. What I found interesting was that before she died, Carter was planning on writing a sequel to Jane Eyre. I think this would have been fantastic, it was supposedly going to be told from the perspective of Jane’s step-daughter Adele, that would have been interesting to see.

Carter was listed on The Times “50 greatest British writers since 1945” in 2008, at tenth place it is a position I agree with immensely, what I didn’t agree was that Terry Pratchett didn’t make that list at all, but we can only just forgive that because of the others that were included.

Published: July 13th 2006
Goodreads badgePublisher: Vintage
Pages: 176
Format: Book
Genre: Fairy Tales/Fantasy
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

The Bloody Chamber & Other Stories is an anthology of short fiction by Angela Carter. All of the stories share a common theme of being closely based upon fairy tales or folk tales. However, she’s stated: “My intention was not to do ‘versions’ or, as the American edition of the book said, horribly, ‘adult’ fairy tales, but to extract the latent content from the traditional stories.”

The Bloody Chamber was published in 1979 and is a collection of short stories that are dark, sinister, and marvellous all at once. What Carter manages to do is turn the fairytales we know on their head, and she makes us look at them in a new light completely. The book comprises of ten stories, The Bloody Chamber; The Courtship of Mr Lyon; The Tiger’s Bride; Puss-in-Boots; The Erl-King; The Snow Child; The Lady of the House of Love; The Werewolf; The Company of Wolves; and Wolf-Alice.

Carter looks at stories such as Beauty and the Beast, Little Red Riding Hood, Puss in Boots, Bluebeard, as well as folklore tales, and what she has come up with are so unique, and so amazing that it is very hard to think of them as their original stories sometimes. There is definitely so much that that can be read into these stories, I know there are hundreds of references alluded to and mentioned in short story The Bloody Chamber that have scholars running about trying to interpret, but what references that are there does not distract from the story, nor does typically knowing the originals, they are easily enjoyed without understanding the origins, but for well known stories such as Little Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast, or Puss in Boots, then it creates an eye opener for readers.

What is wonderful about these stories is that it isn’t just another version of the traditional telling, Carter brings so much more into these stories, she alternates points of view, and she brings in strong powerful women with highly emotional and intellectual insights that create meaning and force in these tales.

Her story The Werewolf, based on Little Red Riding Hood, had a huge impact on me. Very much like the novels of John Marsden’s when I realised stories did not have to be simple and straight forward; what Carter showed me in this story was that fairytales can be complex and may not be as they appear. From this simple story I suddenly looked at other fairytales like Hansel and Gretel in a whole new light, I realised and embraced that even the simplest stories of the Gingerbread man or Snow White could be recreated in an entirely new light, changing everything it was meant to be.

I already had a huge love for fairytales, and when I read Carter’s reinventions it opened my eyes to a world of interpretation, mixing and transforming these classics into something that is powerful and magical, while still showing signs of the history of the fairytales I knew. Personal favourites would have to be Company of Wolves, Wolf-Alice, and The Werewolf, definitely interesting since they are all variations on Little Red Riding Hood, a story that I didn’t like as a child, and yet has become one that I have enjoyed most in adapted form.

 Company of Wolves was turned into a very good film in 1984. It is classified as a British Gothic fantasy-horror film and director Neil Jordon co-wrote the screenplay with Carter. It is another variation on the Little Red Riding Hood story and is set in the modern day. It is a little gruesome at times, but it is an excellent film all the same.

There is something for everyone with Carter’s works and her writing makes you reconsider writing and storytelling, especially for fairytales. They hark back to the originals where it was more truthful and realistic, certainly told as cautionary tales, but also as a representation of powerful women. To steal from Wikipedia a wonderful synopsis: “By contrasting the barren and horrific atmosphere found typically within the Gothic to the strong heroines of her story, Carter is able to create sexually liberated female characters that are set against the more traditional backdrop of the fairy tale.”

A truly wonderful set of stories that stay with you long after you finish them, I wish Angela Carter a happy birthday and I want to thank her for the influence she has had on my own writing, as well as my ideas about fairytales and the power and possibilities they possess, no matter what the form.

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