Once Upon a Time: All Grownup

On cold, dark winter days, I love nothing better than a magical story that starts off with “Once upon a time.” This has led me to some lovely adult and teen literature as well as some fairly horrible movie adaptations (Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters – say no more). Even if you’re the type that disdains Disney princesses, don’t let that stop you from exploring these modern tales geared towards adults. These stories entertain with beguiling settings, intriguing characters and surprising magical twists. Like the best classic fairy tales; however, they also challenge you to gaze into the enchanted mirror and explore some of the darker truths of the society they reflect.

In the novel Uprooted by Naomi Novik, every ten years the Dragon chooses the most special girl in the village of Polynya to work in his castle. In return, the Dragon protects the village against the encroaching evils of the living woods. Everything changes the year the dragon chooses Agnieszka the most unlikely girl in the village. This adaptation of a Polish fairy tale will uproot many of your preconceptions about fairy tale heroes and heroines.

In the exquisite but eerie novel Boy, Snow, Bird, Boy Novak weds the widowed Arturo in a small 1950s New England town. Although she loves her beautiful, charming step-daughter Snow, Boy cruelly sends Snow away after giving birth to her daughter Bird. This Snow White adaptation by Helen Oyeyemi explores complex issues of identity, beauty and race.

In The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, an older man decides to revisit the farm of a childhood friend, Lettie. At the pond by the farmhouse, he begins to remember a dangerous and terrifying childhood experience with magic. Lettie, along with her mother and grandmother, try to protect him when an evil force enters his home. Magic, however, always comes at a price in this haunting story that reverberates with classic mythological themes.

In Raven Girl, Audrey Niffenegger marries a dark yet lovely story of personal transformation with aquatint etching techniques. This graphic novella, the subject of a 2013 London ballet, features a lonely postman who rescues and falls in love with a raven fledgling. Tragedy ensues when a doctor offers transformative plastic surgery to their daughter who longs to fly, yet is trapped in the body of a human girl.

-Rebecca Wolff, Fairfax Regional Library

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