When our bodies are little and our minds are young they tell us these tales to warn us of the wicked things that might come…
Historically, folk tales were used to stop us from getting ourselves in to trouble. We are told them as children to warn us about evil things that might crawl out of the dark. As young women we are supposed to take them as lessons about strangers and what misfortune will befall us for not following orders. Curses are what happen if you don’t listen to mummy and daddy. Curses are what happen if you break the rules.
In this anthology several authors take terrible tales of curses and use them to cast the same wonderful captivating spell that a fantastic childhood bedtime story would. Only this time some of these tales have lessons that grown-ups need to take to heart.
I really enjoyed this story collection. When I opened it and started to turn the pages I couldn’t help but read it out loud like I would have as a child. Christina Henry’s story about Snow and her charming Prince in a fairy tale castle has all the peril of a Princess’s plight wrapped in dark magic. Neil Gaiman has us coming face to face with a manky bridge-dwelling troll that might just haunt your dreams.
A story that gave me chills up and down my spine was At That Age by Catriona Ward. It is a tale about creepy little children that kept me on edge the whole way through reading it. Then there are tales that teach us grown-ups about greed, selfishness and vanity. I loved the unflinching body horror of Skin by James Brogden followed by the intense supernatural fear that was carved in to Maura McHugh’s Fred and Faith. The storytellers in this collection give old lessons a fresh lick of paint so that we can feel their presence in today’s world. Something that Michael Marshall Smith does unsettlingly well in Look Inside when he invites old world conjuring to meet a modern woman in Kentish Town. This one was particularly close to home as my grandmother’s house during in my childhood was on the very streets of which this protagonist was a resident!
Fairy Werewolf vs. Vampire Zombie by Charlie Jane Anders was an absolute joy to read. I read this one out to an empty room like some fantastic dramatic monologue. Perfecting my sweet heavy North Carolinian accent thinking the whole time how this would make an excellent drinking story if I was planning a pub crawl with Spike from Buffy.
Another one I found myself reading out to the air was Henry and the Snakewood Box by M.R. Carey. I set myself up in my very, very best Rik Mayall on Jackanory voice (Something I have been perfecting since I was a toddler and if you don’t think it is great you can just bloody well bugger right off!). The narrator’s soul oozed from the page like some sort of thick literary treacle. It was begging to be performed. It made me laugh so much that I returned to it later and read it out loud again but this time using my best impression of the comedian Tom Allen as the narrator and Psychoville’s David Sowerbutts as his companion. If this becomes an audiobook (I’m gonna put this out there universe!) I would very much like to have a crack at giving it a recording.
In The Merrie Dancers, Alison Littlewood invokes the spirits of Celtic Scotland. She whips up the salty scent of the North Sea and blows an icy folklore tale in to the readers’ mind. Lilith Saintcrow gives us a story embroidered with the essences of legends from China and Germany in Haza and Ghani. Another tale in the collection, Hated by Christopher Fowler has a real Black Mirror vibe.
While there is a lot of fun and thrills in this anthology there are contributions that have really poignant stories like Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple’s sinister story of Little Red and Christopher Golden’s fantastic use of the Peter Pan lore in Wendy, Darling that will really make your heart hurt.
This anthology is defiantly for fans of fairy tales. It reaches out like a voice in the woods tempting your childhood self to step off the path and roam in the darkness for a little while. So build yourself a fort and get a torch and some cookies.
Come children, we have stories to share…
Cursed edited by Marie O’Regan and Paul Kane is published by Titan Books. Click here to go to the site to order a copy.
Thumbnail image: Photo by Arisa Chattasa on Unsplash