Snow White, Blood Red was the first of Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling‘s adult fairy tale anthologies. The series later developed into a treasure trove of beauty, horror, humor, brightness, darkness, and above all, terrific writing. Here, though, many of the authors seem to have focused on the “adult” rather than on the “fairy tale,” on sex and gore rather than on the archetypal power of the tales.
Most of the stories in this collection are filled with visceral, often nauseating, violence. There is also a lot of sex. Now, normally I don’t mind sex in books. But this isn’t erotic sex; it tends to be twisted, sadistic sex, often rape. The sexual content, rather than being erotic, feels like a further extension of the violence. There’s a bit too much gross-out, a bit too much shock value, and not enough that is subtle or evocative.
There are, however, several shining exceptions. The wonderful “The Moon is Drowning While I Sleep,” by Charles de Lint , is a retelling of the British fairy tale “The Dead Moon.” In de Lint’s version, a young woman has a serial dream in which she has to rescue the Moon from some nasty faeries. It all seems very real while she’s dreaming, but her waking self doesn’t know whether to take these nightly adventures seriously. This was probably my favorite in the anthology.
I also enjoyed Susan Wade‘s “Like a Red, Red Rose”, a compelling Gothic story that reminds me a bit of Hawthorne’s “Rappaccini’s Daughter.” The heroine is a witch’s daughter unaware of a family curse. Then there’s Elizabeth A. Lynn ‘s “The Princess in the Tower”, a Rapunzel retelling set in Italy. It’s hilarious — providing some needed comic relief in a rather dark collection — and filled with mouthwatering food imagery.