This post is part of Witch Week, an annual celebration of fantasy books and authors. This year’s theme is New Tales from Old, focusing on fiction based in fairy tale, folklore, and myth. For more about Witch Week, see the Master Post.
Please don’t miss the chance to enter the giveaway for a gorgeous Folio Society edition of The Bloody Chamber, open through November 7.
Today, we’re discussing Angela Carter’s landmark 1979 collection of dark, sensuous variations on the fairy tale theme. If you’ve read the book, either now or at any time in the past, please share your thoughts in the comments. You can also post on Twitter using the hashtag #WitchWeekECBR.
My own first impression was of how vividly Angela Carter evokes the sensory world with her lush, baroque language. I loved her unusual turns of phrase, and her musical sense of sound and rhythm. Occasionally it could be a bit too much, but overall I enjoyed the word-painting. The stories are very simple in terms of character and plot, so this elaborate language forms an essential element of their structure.
Although various traditional tales are invoked as sources, they seemed to me to be all a variation on Beauty and the Beast. And there is beauty and beastliness within each of us, male and female, human and animal. The emphasis on sexuality can be wearying, ground-breaking though it must have been at the time. I felt like saying “Yes, but what else?” There’s more to human beings than genitalia and lust.
The stories have the weakness of most short stories in my experience: they don’t go on long enough to develop the themes or characters much. The images are powerful and rich, but they pass too soon and too simply. I enjoyed the narrative voice in “The Bloody Chamber” and “The Tiger’s Bride” in particular, and would love to have seen these developed with more complexity into a novel.
I was struck by this quotation from “The Company of Wolves”: “There is a vast melancholy in the canticles of the wolves, melancholy infinite as the forest, endless as those long nights of winter and yet that ghastly sadness, that mourning for their own, irremediable appetites, can never move the heart for not one phrase in it hints at the possibility of redemption…” How do the stories play on these “irremediable appetites,” and is there any hint of redemption to be found in any of them? Can Beauty ever overcome the Beast? Or is there beauty within beastliness?
Have you read The Bloody Chamber? What do you think about how Angela Carter twists and transforms familiar tales? Please share your thoughts in the comments!