The particular edition of The Hobbit that your father read to you when you were a kid. That picture book retelling of Rapunzel with the illustrations you could sink into. The anthology whose pages you pored over for hours.
The book that is so much more than the words. It’s the story and the cover and the illustrations. It’s the heft and the shape, the feel of the paper, the smell of the pages. It’s the book that’s inextricably wrapped up in your memories–the sound of your father’s voice, the slant of the afternoon sun on the back of your neck, the day you first brought it home from the store or opened its pages.
For me, one of those books is The Faber Book of Modern Fairy Tales, edited by Sara and Stephen Corrin. My copy of it–obtained when I was about ten–is at my parents’ house in Karachi and very much out of my reach. So when I saw a used copy of it–with the same cover!–on sale on Amazon marketplace for a mere $5 and change, I jumped at the opportunity to reclaim a bit of my childhood.
These are no retellings of conventional fairy tales, nor are they riffs and twists of them. They are fairy tales, featuring questing young men and faithful woodcutter’s daughters, charmed lives and magical rings, visions and transformations. A squirrel turns into a woman, a young man claps thunder from his hands, a good little girl’s utterances are accompanied by a fall of jewels from her lips. Youths and maidens traverse a landscape of deep forests and vast oceans and on to the edges of the world. These fairy tales are modern in the sense they were written within the past hundred or so years ago, and thus suit today’s sensibilities better. Some are wry or comedic, others poignant and moving, all are enchanting.
It’s hard to pick favorites, but here are a few of the delightful tales hidden between the covers of this anthology:
“The Prince and the Goose Girl” by Elinor Mordaunt: A fearsome, tyrannical prince meets his match in an independent, fearless goose girl–and learns to love along the way.
“A Wind from Nowhere” by Nicholas Stuart Gray: When Tamsin meets a magical talking broomstick, she is thrust into a twilight world of witches and familiars and dark revels. This story made my heart ache.
“A Harp of Fishbones” by Joan Aiken: Nerryn has always been different from the other people in her village. After getting help from an unexpected source, Nerryn makes a harp of fishbones and sets off over the mountains.
“The Great Quillow” by James Thurber: When a giant comes to his town, it’s up to Quillow the toymaker to get rid of him.
… and many more.
Which book is that book for you? What have you done to reclaim a bit of your childhood?