When I was 12 or so, a copy of The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm found its way into my dad and step-mom’s house.
This was not the Disney version.
In these fairy tales, the little mermaid was spurned by the prince and turned to seafoam. Cinderella’s wicked stepmother and sisters were given red-hot iron shoes, and forced to dance until they died. And, in at least one story, children were slaughtered and baked into a pie.
Needless to say, I loved the book.
And I’ve never found anything quite like those stories, with their dream-like settings, brutal, capricious justice, and graphic violence.
Until I picked up de Maupassant’s Cautionary Tales.
Narrated by the restless spirits of the dead, these are dark, serious fairy tales. Each story is a warning – against greed, deceit, and even caution – yet they all feel fresh and surprising.
I loved Cautionary Tales even more than the Brothers Grimm collection, because the good Brothers, whether through careful editing or just 19th century German sensibilities, totally ignored human sexuality. De Maupassant, however, embraces sexuality in all its forms, from human to demonic, from the dangerous seduction to the poignant pain of lost love.
Over the course of these short, stand-alone tales, de Maupassant weaves a beautiful world, drawing on Slavic traditions and incorporating her deep knowledge of the culture. These stories transport you to the kitchens, bathhouses, and terrifyingly deep, dark forests of folklore…and the real world seems that much more nuanced and interesting when you return.
Now if you’re excuse me, I’m off the search the forests for a certain flower. Or at least a well-endowed demon…
You can find Cautionary Tales right here.
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