Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Women in Folklore Month: Angela Carter

Oh, where to begin? Angela Carter is an obvious must for this month, but it is so hard to quantify and discuss her. She is the godmother of dark fairy tale retellings, not the inventor. For example, we've already read this month about Anne Sexton who did it previously. However, Carter's influence has been profound upon the genre, not the same since. Just look at the information for last year's conference: The Fairy Tale after Angela Carter, 22 - 25 April 2009.

Burning Your Boats: The Collected Short Stories [This includes The Bloody Chamber collection.]

That said, I have a love/hate relationship with her work myself. She is dark and overwhelming at times. I don't always agree with her themes although I appreciate her intent. She is not comfort or comfortable reading. She never intended to be, so that's expected.

Carter rewrote fairy tales, translated fairy tales, ate, breathed, almost lived them to borrow the cliche. They inform her work and her work has informed what has followed in fiction and story collecting as well, for her collections of fairy tales gathered from around the world were for adults, not children, as is still typical today for most anthologies published outside academic presses today.

Carter's most important influence upon me has been with her story, The Bloody Chamber from the same named collection. I read it after hunting for the collection for a few years. It was not readily available to the seventeen-year-old me when I was first recommended it by a mentor. I finally found a copy a few years later in a bookstore and snatched it up, remembering the recommendation. I am glad that the days before internet and excellent interlibrary loans kept me from reading it too early, for I was ready for it when I did. I read the stories, understood much of the textuality, was already jaded by other stuff for it to make a complete impact, but ready for The Bloody Chamber to capture my imagination. I had never paid attention to Bluebeard before then, but did I ever sit up and notice it afterwards.

And then I chose the tale to annotate for a class...and well, the rest is the history of this whole shebang, really. So, yes, Angela Carter had a critical direct impact on me even if I am not an avid rereader of her work. She is one of the many reasons SurLaLune exists, in a round about way. (That can be said for just about everyone I've written about this month, of course, but Carter's influence is more direct than many others.)

And so I debated what to write and say about Angela Carter and obviously stuck with the personal. You can read more about her around the web, from a helpful collection of links on Wikipedia to the official website devoted to her work: Angela Carter.uk, which hasn't been updated recently.

By the way, Angela Carter's Book of Fairy Tales is the one you want to collect both of her Virago fairy tale books: The Virago Book of Fairy Tales (1990) aka The Old Wives' Fairy Tale Book and The Second Virago Book of Fairy Tales (1992) aka Strange Things Still Sometimes Happen: Fairy Tales From Around the World (1993). Her fairy tale collections have different titles in the UK and US and have gone through a few editions, too. This is the definitive collection of tales.

Once upon a time fairy tales weren't meant just for children, and neither is Angela Carter's Book of Fairy Tales. This stunning collection contains lyrical tales, bloody tales and hilariously funny and ripely bawdy stories from countries all around the world- from the Arctic to Asia - and no dippy princesses or soppy fairies. Instead, we have pretty maids and old crones; crafty women and bad girls; enchantresses and midwives; rascal aunts and odd sisters. This fabulous celebration of strong minds, low cunning, black arts and dirty tricks could only have been collected by the unique and much-missed Angela Carter. Illustrated throughout with original woodcuts.

But really, this is not the place to learn about Carter, but only a place to inspire you to learn more if you are not yet familiar with her work. Follow the links I've provided. Read her work. The Bloody Chamber is the key text, but reading her selection of fairy tales is also fascinating.

For an excellent collection of articles about Carter's fairy tale related work, do seek out Angela Carter and the Fairy Tale (Marvels & Tales Special Issue, 1). There is a plethora of scholarship, but this is one of the collections that discusses her fairy tale work and less of her other writing.

And, of course, if you are a fan of Angela Carter, seeing The Company of Wolves is a must, too. Once again, not for the faint-hearted, but an unforgettable experience to be sure.

1 comment:

  1. I first saw The Company of Wolves when I was about twelve. They used to show horror movies late every Saturday night on TNT and I loved the illicit feeling I got staying up to watch them after my folks had gone to sleep. One night they showed The Company of Wolves and oh boy, did it blow my middle-school mind. It disturbed me how much sense it made and it irrevocably changed Little Red Riding Hood for me. I discovered The Bloody Chamber when I was 15 and I've loved Carter ever since. She's a big part of why I eventually chose to study folklore (Maria Tatar and Roald Dahl share the credit). I also highly recommend her novel, The Magic Toyshop. It's not directly based on a fairy tale (it's more Gothic horror) but it has a very fairy tale feel to it.