I picked up 'Wonder Tales' on my last trip to London almost in desperation. My train had been delayed by 4 long hours getting there which had swallowed almost all the time set aside for a bit of self indulgence before the thing I was actually there for started. Plans to see an exhibition, consider the whisky offering in Berry Bros and Rudd, and have a really good browse in a really big bookshop were truncated into a bit of a browse in a really big bookshop. Unfortunately being delayed by four hours mostly breeds impatience, good browsing on the other hand requires a state of relative relaxation. My time was almost up, I hadn't found a single book, and there was no way I was getting back on a train without something to read. That's when the one all but jumped out at me, it was quite a relief.
If there's such a thing as perfect fairy tale reading weather then we've been enjoying it for the last couple of weeks, right down to the super blood moon on Monday. There's a slightly unreal quality to how beautiful the days have been recently which is underlined by the cold nights and foggy mornings. It can't last for all it feels like it's still summer whilst the sun is shining and the melancholy that brings fits well with these tales of persecution and transformation.
This is a collection of six stories edited by Marina Warner but translated by a range of different writers. The only one I was familiar with is A. S. Byatt who's version of Marie- Catherine D'Aulnoy's 'The Great Green Worm' is a definite highlight. It's something of a mix between Beauty and the Beast and Cupid and Physche where the ugly sister turns out to be the heroine, also Byatt has a way with snakes which I can't resist. The other highlight is Ranjit Bolt's take on 'The Counterfeit Marquise' which has as much cross dressing as a Shakespeare comedy but without the low farce and is just utterly delightful.
More troublesome is 'Starlight', both Prince and Princess probably deserve each other but neither are very appealing. A prince who swings between love lorn lassitude and murderous soldiering is not my idea of a comfortable husband . Never the less it's an enjoyable collection and an excellent addition to my growing fairy tale library. I see that this edition was printed in 1996, and it does look a bit like it's been hanging about since then (the spine is faded and the pages are yellowing a little). It would also seem to be basically out of print, so I'm not only grateful I found this copy, but am wondering if there was a touch of magic about it. What are the chances that a (signed by the editor) book might wait in Waterstones Piccadilly for almost a score of years just for me to buy it almost despite myself (and certainly despite the best efforts of midland mainline)?