This collection of short stories is written by University of East Anglia alumni Angela Carter. Each story is an adaption of a well known fairytale, some involving werewolves and vampires and other mystical creatures. The Bloody Chamber is the longest and leading story in the book but in my opinion not necessarily the strongest. Here I shall write a brief paragraph about each story.
The Bloody Chamber tells the story of a young virginal girl who is married off to a rich descendant of the French monarchy, whom she does not love. After her wedding night, which is sort of during the day given their travel time back to his castle, is followed by his speedy disappearance on business matters. She is left with a bunch of keys to spend the days until he returns as she wishes but is forbidden to enter one specific room . She is a talented pianist and spends many hours playing and practicing, until she gets bored enough to take a wander through the castle. In the forbidden chamber she discovers he enjoys sadistic pornography and has kept the bodies of his previous wives down there. Scared and humiliated she returns to the piano where she discovers the piano tuner listening in and immediately falls in love with him. The Marquis returns home prematurely and, on discovery of her betraying his wishes, sets out to add her to the list of his beheaded wives. And the novel is rounded off with a typical fairytale ending. In my opinion this novel, although considerably longer than the rest of the short stories, went into no further detail and could have been considerably condensed. I found the ending rather a let down and felt the characters could have been stronger. I didn’t think it was a great story to begin the collection, others are significantly stronger.
The Courtship of Mr Lyon was a much stronger story in my opinion. It pretty immediately obvious that this was an adaptation of Beauty and the Beast so I was hooked from the beginning to discover how this could be transformed into something adult and unnerving. The story begins like so: Beauty’s father’s car breaks down and in seeking assistance stumbles upon the house of Mr Lyon. He is lead around the house by a dog, the house appearing otherwise abandoned, and is given supper. Upon leaving he offends the Beast by taking a white rose from the garden. In revenge, Beauty is to take up residence with the Beast whilst her father tries to earn his fortune back. When he does father and daughter move to London and, caught up in living a life of extravagance and luxury, forget the Beast almost completely. The Beast withers from heart ache and Beauty feels she must return and the story finishes the way you would expect it to. This is one of my favourites from the collection as it is engaging from beginning to end, despite the story being predictable and ending with the happy ever after.
The Tiger’s Bride was a slight let down by comparison. The chill and horror created through the use of language worked only half as well but the ending was different, and not predictable in the same way. Beauty is lost to the Beast by her father in a game of cards and she is forced to move into his home. It is revealed that he is not in fact human but a tiger, however, in this alternate ending it is Beauty who becomes a tiger rather than the Beast becoming human. In this happy ever after they live together as tigers, not attempting to disguise themselves but being true to their nature.
Puss-in-Boots was another let down for me. I found the story slow moving to the point of tedious and rather ridiculous. The story is narrated by Puss who, in a plot to keep his master single, and therefore fully faithful to him, sets him up for a one night stand with his love to get the lust ‘out of his system’. The woman is married and therefore it takes a couple of wild tricks to create a situation where master and she are alone together but it only makes him fall more in love with him, which is okay in the end because Puss has fallen in love with her cat too. Personally, the whole ‘cat as con man’ business didn’t work for me and I found the absurdity of it a little too much.
The Erl-King was the story that stuck out for me as being the most weird and creepy. It is an adaptation of the Erlking in folklore, a sort of goblin-like keeper of the woods. In this story a maiden wanders into the woods and is seduced by the Erl-King, a creature who is so much at home in the woods he is almost a part of it, like a personification of the forest. From the mass of birds kept in cages in his home, she eventually realises that he plans to turn her into a bird, as he has done with many previous lost maidens. Realising his plan she murders him and saves herself. This story was harder to follow than the rest and extremely weird. However, I liked it for the intriguing use of description and the fact it is based on folklore, as opposed to fairy tale. I believe it would be interesting to read more adaptations of folklore.
The Snow Child is the shortest of all the stories but also one of the more interesting. A Count and a Countess go horseback riding in midwinter. The Count sees snow on the ground and wishes for a child ‘as white as snow’. Then he spies a pool of blood and a raven, wishing the same. As soon as he thought his final wish a woman of white skin and raven black hair appears before him. The Countess finds herself jealous of the attention the Count gives her, especially when she is made to give her her cloak and boots. At the Countess’s command the girl picks a rose and is cut by a thorn, which causes her death and the Count rapes the corpse. After this her cadaver melts into the snow, leaving only a stain of blood in the white snow, a raven’s feather and the rose she had picked. This is another story based on folklore and although short, is quick moving and gripping. The story unfolds with the typical fairy tale features like the list of three wishes but is kept adult and disturbing by the description of blood, her nudity and the rape scene. This story has a shock element which I believe is very strong.
The Lady of the House of Love tells the story of a soldier travelling alone through Romania by bicycle when he encounters a seemingly deserted village, at which he stops to drink from the fountain and is approached by a housekeeper. She leads him to the house of her mistress for supper and he assumes he will get a bed for the night. After eating alone he is introduced to the lady of the house, a vampire. She survives by enticing each young man who stumbles through the village and feeding off of them. She intends to do the same to this virginal young soldier but his purity has a curious affect on her. When she accidentally cuts herself he kisses it better for her but the next morning he wakes up to find her dead. I found this tale curious, in the sense that the female vampires hated her nature and rebelled against the way of life that was meant for her, whilst being quite a chilling tale. Her feelings of remorse and regret were very powerful. However, I thought it was slow to get in to.
The Werewolf is a take on Little Red Riding Hood, where a girl goes to visit her grandmother and encounters a wolf. She cuts off it’s paw with a knife stowed in her basket and fleas in the direction of grandma’s house. When she arrives she finds her grandmother delirious and missing a hand. In a town where witchcraft is firmly believed, the townspeople establish she is a werewolf and therefore must be stoned to death. She is chased out of town and killed. This story has an ironic ending because the young girl inherits all her grandmother’s money and possessions, making it a not so unhappy ending. This satirical streak of vanity makes a clever ending.
The Company of Wolves begins by explaining how dangerous wolves are using sub stories to retell horrible tales concerning wolves. The main sub story explains how a man who was just married and about to partake in his wedding night when he steps outside to relieve himself and disappears. After years the woman remarries and bears his children until one day when the first husband returns as a wolf. In a fit or rage at seeing how she moved on he bites the leg off one of the children. The second husband kills the wolf but when it falls down dead it has the exact face of her first husband that night he disappeared on their wedding night. This makes her cry and her husband beats her. Back in the main story a girl is described as walking through the forest to her grandmother’s house when she encounters a gentlemen dressed for shooting game. He makes a bet with her that he knows a shortcut and can get to her grandmother’s house first. If he wins he gets a kiss in reward so she lets him win. Carrying his basket with him and therefore her knife, her only source of protection, he walks off into the forest. When entering he pretends to be the granddaughter, mimicking her voice to fool the old lady. He eats her, burns the evidence and waits for the girl. When the girl enters she spies the remains of her grandmother’s hair in the fire place and realises what has happened. He threatens to kill her and eat her too but the girl proceeds to seduce him. I thought the tales at the beginning of this short story rather unnecessary as there was no clear juxtaposition between the emphasis on wolves being bad and the Little Red Riding Hood tale which ended in seduction. I enjoyed this story but I believe the beginning added little.
Wolf-Alice is a third take on the well-known fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood, and by this point, especially with them all continuing one after the other, I felt a little bored of it, and for me this didn’t work at all. The story involves a feral child who has been raised by wolves but then some nuns attempted to make her ‘civilised’, which just doesn’t work at all. When she cannot conform she is left in the house with a vampiric Duke but they have little to do with each other. The tale is very visceral in describing her beginning to menstruate but not particularly interesting and then at the end she realises how in love with the Duke she is, which to me seemed completely preposterous. I’m sure there’s lots of literary symbolism in it which makes it a valued piece of literature but to me the story, although of course it is a fairy tale, simply was too far from being plausible and didn’t really have any messages apart from the fact the nuns underestimated her. For me, ending the collection in this way was a let down.
Overall I enjoyed Angela Carter’s short stories but would rather have read a select few on recommendation than the whole variety as I believe as a collection they are not as strong.