We live in an age of technological miracles and wonders, but do the humans underneath that tech still need the fairy tales that animated their ancestors? The editors of The Starlit Wood, an anthology of new fairy tales, say “yes.” And here’s why.
NAVAH WOLFE and DOMINIK PARISIEN:
We are children of starlit woods.
From the time we were small, stories were tools we used to navigate the world. We were both voracious readers, devourers of books of all kinds—and we never stopped reading fairy tales. Kids have a tendency to translate the world around them in terms that make sense—and nothing makes more sense, feels more familiar, than the stories that we’ve been reading for as long as we can remember.
Fairy tales may start for many of us as children’s stories, but—as people love to point out, once they discover the true gruesomeness behind some of their most beloved tales—they’re in fact very adult. Indeed, we’d argue that fairy tales are meant to speak to children and adults. The world can be an unsettling, terrifying place, no matter what age or stage of life you’re in—and familiar stories can be a safe language to use to navigate the dark woods of life.
The utter universality of fairy tales can give us the necessary vocabulary to make sense of the woods, to find a path out to safety—or to claim the woods for our own. They help us identify the wolves, witches and dangers lurking in the dark. When you can name something, you have power over it—the power to change the story, to remake it, to reshape it into our own happily ever afters. They’re narrative tools that we grab hold of as children, but they remain useful for our entire lives.
And us? We devoured the original fairy tales and lost ourselves in modern retellings, often edited by people like Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow. And somewhere along the way, our roads led us to co-editing our own anthology of fairy tale retellings for Saga Press, The Starlit Wood.
And the more we explored the world of fairy tales, the more clear it became to us that fairy tales are a lingua franca for everybody. They are a language carved onto bones—bones that can be covered in any skin. Fairy tales originate from anywhere or anytime, but you always know they are fairy tales. The same tropes and themes pop up again and again–terrible parents, wandering children, fantastical animals, enchanted items, moral components—to a point where even if we don’t necessarily recognize the source material, a story still feels like a fairy tale. Side by side with classic, traditional stories, The Starlit Wood contains retellings of a few fairy tales we had never encountered before—but even though they were new to us, they felt familiar, like old friends we had just met for the first time.
And that is the big idea of The Starlit Wood. Fairy tales are malleable stories that can be reskinned over and over as long as the skeleton underneath remains the same. We approached our phenomenal writers and asked them to view fairy tales through a new prism, to discover new hides for these old bones. Some of the stories they chose are very familiar. Others are newly discovered or are from less familiar fairy tale traditions. The contributors each took fresh angles, crossed genres, and found new geographies for their tales. Writers flipped character motivations or even removed elements that one would think are essential to a particular fairy tale, making these stories feel fresh, unexpected, urgent–but still true to their source material.
The resulting stories were beyond our wildest hopes. Seanan McGuire put Red Riding Hood in the desert. Daryl Gregory let his Hansel and Gretel consume something much more problematic than candy. Marjorie Liu wrote Sleeping Beauty as a lesbian romance. Garth Nix turned The Little Match Girl into a Western revenge story. Stephen Graham Jones retold The Pied Piper of Hamelin without any music. Max Gladstone wrote Jack and the Beanstalk–with a space elevator. Naomi Novik turned the ugliness of Rumpelstiltskin into a beautiful triumph for the miller’s daughter that upturns the uncomfortable caricatures of the original tale.
From the woods to the stars, The Starlit Wood contains eighteen extraordinary journeys into unexpected territories, uncharted lands, and unforeseen adventures that are strangely familiar and startlingly different at the same time. We couldn’t be happier with these amazing journeys—so come and be changed with us. All of us, after all, are children of the woods.